Sunday, May 31, 2015

Remembering Is Harder Than Learning

I read some article last week that I can't find again. (I know, "Look through your browser history," but it was a random sidebar that was paired with a main article, and I've been back to that main article several times now and can't get the same random sidebar article to load.) [UPDATE (7/7/15): I found it! (I think.)] Anyway, the article was called something like "Things to change for a better life" or "more happiness" or "better health." Something like that.

What struck me was that almost all of the points were things that I'd figured out on my own over the past 10 years. Things like "go to bed and wake up at the same time every day," "eat more fruits and vegetables, and less meat and processed foods," "listen to music," "ignore the news," "exercise regularly," "get a dog," "get rid of things (just not dogs, evidently)," "have experiences instead of possessions," "forgive yourself," "laugh more regularly," "keep a journal," and "don't multitask." I would add to the list two universal tips(use a daily to-do list, and orgasm) and two idiosyncratic tips (surround yourself in silence, and read P.G. Wodehouse books).

As I read this list, I thought, "Yep, already figured that out. Yep, that too." Which was both satisfying and frustrating. It was satisfying to have some confirmation of my progression over the past 10 years. It was frustrating to realize that these were things I learned, forgot, learned again, and forgot again, over and over. So this blog post is more an effort to help reinforce these ideas in my head so I don't have to learn them anymore.

SLEEP: The things we do late at night are usually just giant wastes of time. The things we do early in the morning are usually productive. So shifting two hours from late night to early morning will raise productivity. For several years, now, I've been trying to be on an "in bed at 10, awake at 6" schedule. I'm usually off more than I'm on, though. When I manage to be on for several weeks in a row, I find my natural sleep need is actually about 7.5 hours per night, so I spontaneously wake at 5:30. As I've been trying to get my dissertation moving along, I've been moving more towards an "in bed at 8 awake at 3" schedule. That's harder to do, because I like my wife, and our kids don't go to sleep like we'd like them to. (I've hinted that my wife could become a morning person, too, and she spat in my eye.) NOTE: I've also decided to start my daily to-do list (more on that later) with the kids' bedtime. Because so much of what I accomplish on Day X depends on how closely I followed my schedule to close out Day X-1.

FOOD: There are those controversial shirts that read "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." I'd change that to "Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels." I've really come to understand over the past two years that "tasty" food doesn't HAVE to be unhealthful, and that the worst foods can deceive you if you become used to them. Eat a cheeseburger every day and you won't notice any problems digesting it. Eat one every three weeks and it will be a giant ball sitting in your stomach for 20 hours. The good thing about it is, once you start eating healthful food, the decision is reinforced. The bad thing about it, though, is that you don't see a reason to start. I watched some documentaries and read some books and realized that the actual tips to healthy living are things we all already know. The diet-of-the-month phenomenon is based on our desire to hear something else is the answer. Sorry, it's not. Eat a lot of vegetables. There's no way around that. (ASIDE: I went to a church fathers-and-sons activity on Saturday and had two hot dogs. And I felt terrible until bedtime and then slept poorly all night, because I had a giant lump of meat in my stomach. I said to my wife, "I'm going to have to start being one of those assholes who brings his own food to pot lucks. 'Oh, you're having hot dogs? I'll just eat my salad.'" But since we started making the effort to reduce our meat consumption (about three years ago, now), my body can't make the occasional relapse to the American diet without severe discomfort.)

MUSIC: I like music. It helps me relax. Related to the prohibition on multitasking, though, I can't listen to music (even lyric-less music) while trying to do anything with words (like reading or writing). But preparing dinner, cleaning up in the evening, or working around the house is all improved with music.

CURRENT EVENTS: I've written recently about Bryan Caplan's recommendation to create a bubble, and my conflicted feelings on it. I agree I can't change world events and they just needlessly stress me, but I also think Jesus has specifically told us to watch the signs of the times. I've compromised with myself and tried to go to a once-a-day check of some news sources for general information.

EXERCISE: Exercising for weight loss is problematic (and, if not paired with eating for weight loss, stupid). But exercising for health, especially mental health, is important. Unless the other players are just giant bastards (as they sometimes are), my favorite part of each week is the two hours I play soccer on Thursdays. There's value in being active.

DOGS: The original list might have said something about pets, but we all know that cats suck. Cats are like the Modest Mouse song "Missed the Boat," which is a perfectly beautiful song that makes you want to kill yourself by the end. I've never spent time with a cat that made me happier at the end. But a handsome, non-aggressive dog is a joy to spend time with. One of the largest failures of my life so far is my inability to buy a home, so we can't own a dog.

POSSESSIONS: Things are stressful. Things are divisive. Things cause most of the problems in life and then tell you, "You can solve all these problems with a few more things." We came to China with 12 suitcases and our lives are no less satisfying then they were when it required a 27-foot truck to move our possessions.

EXPERIENCES: Since we already had too many things, what were we supposed to get for our kids for Christmas? Two years ago, we presented to them the idea of spending our money on experiences we'd have together. We thought it was an idea we'd invented, but it turns out a lot of people already knew about it. Last year for Christmas they got a book, a toy, and a clothing item, I think. Then we went to Angkor Wat and rode elephants. They talk more about Cambodia and elephants than they would any physical gift. (Cambodia was a comparable option for us because we were already in Asia. If we'd been in America, maybe it would have been Yellowstone or New York City. Anything but a Disney experience, which is the stupidest thing a family could possibly do, in my view.)

SELF-SATISFACTION: My religion was presented to me very, very poorly, which, combined with my natural disposition to depression, produced some terrible results. The more I've learned my religion for myself, the more I've come around to the idea that I can be imperfect and acceptable to God at the same time. I think lots of people have this experience. They say, "My religion made me feel guilty, so I quit religion." I'd submit to you that the problem wasn't religion, it was the religion presented to you. This goes for Mormons who say the same thing. Just because you heard it every week in Sunday School doesn't mean it was an accurate presentation. General Conference talks by apostles and prophets are more trustworthy than a misremembered testimony from the ward's resident weirdo.

LAUGHTER: I read an article once about a woman who decided she'd have a good, uncontrolled laugh and an orgasm once a day for a year. I'll write more about orgasms later, but the therapeutic properties of laughter shouldn't be underestimated. You can't expect to be happy if you don't bring produce the universal signal of happiness: laughter.

JOURNAL: A journal doesn't help you be happy if you use it as a place to write what you wish you were saying to the people who annoy you. (See research about how venting doesn't improve mood.) But recording things helps you reflect on them (like how this blog post might help me remember these things I know).

MULTITASKING: Research shows that people who multitask perform each activity worse than they otherwise would, and they THINK they performed it BETTER. Do one thing at a time. Someone else might call that "being in the moment." I just call it "don't suck at the things you do."

TO-DO LIST: Even a giant to-do list is better than no list. You encourage yourself as you complete a task and cross it off. You have incentive to keep going. You don't feel like you're moving from one crisis to another. You're in control more with a to-do list. And, like I mentioned earlier, running your day from 8 PM to 8 PM instead of from midnight to midnight helps with productivity.

ORGASM: I know I'm out of the mainstream here with many religious people and many of the people I know, but I say an orgasm is a mental health issue, not a reproductive issue. This is more obvious for the female orgasm, but it is true for the male orgasm, as well. The orgasm happens in the brain. The release of endorphins makes you feel better. People do all kinds of things to feel better, from taking a nap to soaking in a bathtub to eating a rich dessert to going to the gym. But since this is probably veering close to uncomfortable territory for most readers, I'll just end by acknowledging that not all orgasms are created equal and that some enhance your intimate relationships while some diminish them, and relationship-enhancing orgasms are of a greater variety than most people are willing to accept.

SILENCE: The other night we were leaving our building. Both elevators arrived on our floor at the same time. My family got in one. I got in the other. That elevator ride was so enjoyable. I've read a few articles about "highly sensitive people," and while I really want to discount the idea as fake (like ADHD and parents who say their poorly-behaved children "are on the autism spectrum"), a lot of it seems to describe me. I cannot get any work done with noise, which is great for the modern workplace where no one is trusted with a private space. I also cannot distinguish between noises, so I often find myself telling my children, "I can't understand you because there's a TV on in the other room, the washing machine is going, the air conditioner is on, and you're mumbling." Of course working in isolation might not be practical, but at least finding longer moments of silence should be. This week my students are all involved in something else, so I came into work this morning and took my comfortable chair from my desk to my classroom. "See you next Monday!" I (sort of jokingly) said to my office-mates. Because this week I'm going to get stuff done.

WODEHOUSE BOOKS: This is related to the point about laughter. I know what makes me laugh. I should be reading a Wodehouse chapter every day. And with the size of his oeuvre, it would be YEARS before I had to repeat a book. (Other books I enjoy include Ian Fleming's James Bond books and the Masie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear. But Wodehouse is designed for laughter, not just enjoyment.)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Portrait Drawing in Church

Several weeks ago, our third kid borrowed my iPad during church and drew this portrait of Jesus.

Then, because I'm a bad influence, I undermined his pious righteousness by drawing a portrait of him.

He hates nicknames, but for some reason he has accumulated a lot of them. His standard nickname has grown to "Fritz 'The Spritz' MacGuillicuddy, 3rd Earl of Tootington (a.k.a. Eyebrows Johnson), heir to the Cheerios fortune," but he's also known as Baby Stink Breath (only in the mornings) and The Little Rajah (when he's especially demanding).

He then reciprocated with this portrait of me.

I can't tell if he's taking the mickey out of me or not.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chinese Photo Shoot

We have to get our residency permits renewed. For some reason, this means we will be without our passports for three weeks. This period overlaps the end of the month, when I get paid. Since I need my passport to transfer our money out of the country (a little shout-out to the trilemma right there), I will not be able to transfer any of this paycheck to our American bank account, so we've had to transfer larger sums the previous two months to prepare for this. As a result, we are artificially quite poor for the next week.

Last week we got an e-mail from one of our bureaucrat liaisons (a serious job description though not a serious job title) that said everyone had to give him four passport photos for this process, and when I asked if we could just reprint the photos we used last year, he said our photos from last year were unsatisfactory and he had had to talk the bureaucrat into accepting them. And, while this is a bureaucratic requirement of my working here, any photo expense is on me.

My wife found a place on the main shopping street in our area that told her it would be ¥20 each for a set of four passport photos. So today we went on a family field trip to the passport photo store.

In the front of the shop was a female employee going over photos with a couple. In the next area back were two male employees. I got the impression that the employees were a married couple and an adult son. The two guys asked what we wanted. We pointed at the passport pictures. They asked something else. I said, "Wǒ bù míngbái pǔtōnghuà," which is close enough to "I don't understand Mandarin" to make my point. So they motioned for us to follow them to a back room photo studio, where we took turns getting our chins tilted for us. Screamapilar was a little worried, but we only needed one shot of him looking at the camera, and eventually we got one.

Then came the surprise Photoshopping. This process took longer than the actual photo shoot. In America, when you get a passport picture taken, your face fills the required area and they press "print." I thought things would be similar here, but I was quickly disabused of that idea when they opened the first picture file and removed a mole on Articulate Joe's cheek.

Then my wife and I got to watch them Photoshop us, which was demoralizing. It was less offensive, though, than watching them do our kids. We are aware of our flaws, but we think our kids look great. The photographer didn't, though. The only bit of Photoshopping on our kids with which we agreed, though, was when the guy got rid of all the dried food on Screamapilar's face; my wife was gone for a lot of the day and I was in charge of getting the kids ready for their pictures.

Eventually, the guy printed pictures that are much smaller than we were told to get and on a white background even though the bureaucrats supposedly need a black background, but this dude's job is to print passport photos and my school's bureaucrat liaison didn't give us any instructions in Chinese, so screw them. (If unsatisfactory photos could be accepted last time, they can get them accepted again.) The grand total was ¥180, which was 50% more than they'd told my wife yesterday. Probably all that Photoshopping.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Truths of Life - Classroom Edition

Over the course of this school year, I've developed three Truths of Life for classroom application.

  1. The answer is always "it depends." If asked, "Depends on what?" you should answer, "On a lot of things." This basically means, "I'm so smart that I see not just one reason, and not just two reasons, but 15 reasons, and we don't have time to go through them all." (NOTE: "It depends on a lot of things," while always a true answer, is never acceptable as a response to an exam question.)
  2. Every jerk teacher was once a nice teacher until he'd been sufficiently abused. When Mr. Dondelinger is busy making sure you will respect his authoritah, you should remember that he started his career like Mr. Bergstrom and probably let the kids call him "Harlan." A corollary to this is the truth that every rule exists because it once didn't.
  3. To paraphrase Monty Python, "Nobody expects the Industrial Revolution." Offered as a defense of Thomas Malthus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Up in the Air

Here in China, I find myself thinking about my ancestors a lot. I wonder if they see me here and say to themselves, "What the hell is THAT about?!" They left Greece, Czechia, Germany, and Ireland with the understanding that their descendants would be living in America, not China, but here we are.

Another way I live my life very differently from my ancestors is that I spend so little of it on ground level. Sure, people in large cities have been living this way for years, but it is all new to me, even though I've lived in megacities in the past.

I estimate I spend under six hours each week on the surface of the earth. I spend about 40 hours each week on the third floor at work, about three hours each week underground on the subway, and about 120 hours each week on the fifth floor at home. That's about 96% of my life either in the air or under the ground.

The numbers would be even worse if I didn't participate in the weekly staff soccer game. That's one third of my surface time alone. And of course this is only for the typical week; last month my school took everyone to the botanical garden where I spent about eight hours at surface level. But at the end of today, I'll have been on the ground for 20 minutes out of 24 hours.

Honesty Week: Stupidity

I'm one of the stupidest people I know. But I'm a high-functioning moron, and I have enough intelligence to know that stupidity is a negative trait, so I do my best to cover it up. I write blog posts or I tweet, trying to present a superior aptitude, but I can't do anything. I can't read quickly or for comprehension. I can't write a flowing argument. I can't concentrate on anything if there is the slightest noise. I can't understand basic concepts that everyone around me knows by heart. And on the off chance I happen to learn something, I can't retain it for any appreciable length of time.

I especially cannot understand modern life. New experiences and activities are beyond me. Everyone else does something new and learns from it, then can do it again. I just get angry and demand that someone be held responsible for not telling me ahead of time how to do it.

I was raised to believe that any self-criticism is just a ploy for attention (and the underlying assumption is that a social creature such as a human should never desire attention). Because of this, I feel the need to specify that this isn't an "I'll say I'm dumb so you'll say I'm smart" scheme. This is just honesty. I'm an idiot. And to cover my idiocy, I've pursued a level of education and a line of work that are typically associated with smart people, because then I can say, "Of course I'm not dumb, look at my job and credentials!" So I have no one to blame but myself for my failures at school and work.

I worked in a garage door factory once. That was probably the only job I've ever had where I wasn't worried someone would discover my ignorance. I could handle that job. Maybe that's a good indication of the level of job I'm actually supposed to have.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Two Months of School Left

My students spent the last two weeks taking their AP exams. As students in the AP program, they are basically done with the school year now.

We have eight weeks of classes remaining.

Well, actually, we have seven weeks of classes and then a week that the students won't be here but the teachers are required to attend.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

No-Pants Thursday

Last night my wife and I went to the store. A dad walked past us with a three-year-old boy on his shoulders. The boy was wearing absolutely no pants.

I took a picture, but I can't share it here because idiots would consider it child pornography. But there was a bare-assed kid on a family shopping trip last night, and my wife and I were the only people in the entire store who thought that might be strange.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baby Sale

Today I received an e-mail from JCPenney telling me that select styles of baby are on sale for up to 50% off. But I shouldn't get too excited, because it's probably just the colicky style.

Speaking of babies that are 50% off, when we had each of our first two kids, with insurance, we got a letter letting us know that, while we didn't pay out of our pocket for the kid, it wasn't exactly free. I tend to remember the cost of childbirth as being something around $30,000. When we had our third kid, without insurance, the cost was under $3,000.

Part of the reason I've always wanted to have twins is because the marginal cost of the second baby is so low. Supposing no strange health problems, why not have as many kids as possible from one pregnancy. Economize on the pain and inconvenience. It hasn't happened for us yet, though.

Which of These Adults Is Abusing Children?

Candidate 1: Maryland parents who allow their children to walk around town unaccompanied.

Candidate 2: Kentucky parents who have been anonymously accused (in a shout-out to Franz Kafka, perhaps?) of living in conditions which were good enough for tens of millions of Americans in the 1800s. (There's no mention of health problems, just poor "conditions.")

Candidate 3: A UCSD professor who requires he be allowed to see a student naked for the student to pass his class.

In the time I spent as a college professor, I did not have a nudity component on the syllabus. But I guess I could have, huh?

Honorable mention goes to the Maryland police who detained the free-range children for hours. Although there's a kind of perverse logic to telling parents "see, when your kids walk around alone they can be abducted, as we just demonstrated."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A New Undeniable Truth of Life

People who say "I'll be brief" are signaling that they will not, in fact, be brief.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Not Quite Obviously Unironic

I was trying to watch a segment of a satirical comedy show, and it started with a commercial. The guy starts out showing you his brand new Lamborghini, and then he says, "But you know what I like a lot more than materialistic things? Knowledge. In fact, I'm a lot more proud of these seven new bookshelves that I had to get installed to hold 2,000 new books that I bought."

Okay, so something that's better than materialism is buying bookshelves, buying installation services, and buying books. Materialism: bad. Buying things: good. Got it.

I honestly didn't know if the video had started yet. If someone was trying to make a satirical video of this kind of presentation, I don't know what he would have done differently. The video is self-satire.

The worst of it is I happen to know some people who would probably eat up every word this guy says.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Perez Hilton Is My Nemesis

The other night, I had the stark realization that I know entire too much about Taylor Swift. I mean, she seems like a lovely girl. She's very pretty and appears to be genuinely caring and friendly. But there is absolutely NOTHING I need to know about her. And about any other "famous" person. Or anything in popular culture.

This made me realize that there is no reason to check how my sports team has done. The game is over and I didn't watch it. It makes as much sense to check yesterday's Pirates score as it does to check the result from 100 years ago. (May 6th, 1915, the Pirates defeated the Saint Louis Cardinals 9-3 at Forbes Field.)

A case could be made that knowing about popular culture helps with social connections. Only cranks respond to every discussion of popular culture by pointing out that they don't follow such things. But that just means I need to know that Taylor Swift exists and that she can be categorized as a singer/songwriter. Beyond that, I can admit ignorance, which should actually help me socially, since people like to talk and to feel important by sharing information.

The case can also be made that this year's baseball results matter because they determine if my team will win a championship. But how much does that actually effect me? Why not just continuously relive the 1979 season? (May 6th, 1979, the Pirates lost to the Saint Louis Cardinals, 4-2 at Busch Stadium.)

While I was thinking this, I was going through blog posts on my Feedly feed, and I came across one of Tyler Cowen's "Assorted Links" posts on Marginal Revolution. I tweeted, "What if @tylercowen 's 'assorted links' is just a way to keep us busy reading interesting garbage while he is actually productive?" Dr. Cowen immediately retweeted it, and since he had 51,900 followers (and I had 31), that sort of increased its exposure. I picked up another follower (yea, 32!) and my tweet got 12 additional retweets and 40 favorites.

Of course, the entire point is, none of that matters. I'm wasting my life learning the fake-rap parts of Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" while I continue to speak woefully-inadequate Mandarin Chinese.

(Speaking of wasted lives, what happened to Comic Book Guy between 1997 when, facing annihilation, he said, "Oh, I've wasted my life," and 2007 when, in the same situation, he declared, "Life well spent!"? One online commenter speculated that his heart attack in 2001 changed his perspective, but since Comic Book Guy isn't real and so doesn't have a perspective, I say the more-believable answer is that society has rejected the idea that there are larger ideals to serve than your own gratification. In 1997, there still existed an objective standard against which to measure how a life was spent; 10 years later, anyone who still believed that had been brainwashed by the patriarchy.)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Texts From My Marriage

ME: You can come "visit" me during teaching hours, since none of my students are here today.

ME: Although right now I have two Chinese people standing outside my classroom staring at me.

ME: But maybe you're into that.

MY WIFE: [smiling emoticon] Totally my thing, right?

EDITOR'S NOTE: That is not my wife's thing.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Like a Nosey Herzog

I've written before about the ways in which I identify with the protagonist of Saul Bellow's Herzog, and that I'm aware of the implications of thinking, while reading about a man suffering a mental breakdown, "This guy makes a lot of good points." I've also written about the freedom that comes from being everyone's least-favorite family member.

What happens when you combine these things? I really want to start writing letters to my family members telling them exactly what I'm thinking of them.

Not all of them would be bad things. At least two of the letters would be very complimentary. But there are some things going on in my family right now that everyone thinks are terrible but no one is saying anything about it (and for my reading family members, I'm talking about more than just the obvious one). And I feel like I would lose absolutely no social capital (because you can't draw your social capital account down below zero) if I told some of these people the truth.

"Oh but, A Random Stranger, what if they returned the favor?" Please, be my guest. There's nothing you think is wrong with me that I haven't already cataloged in detail in my brain. Bring up a topic and I'll provide all your evidence. Eventually Herzog comes to self-criticism, too, right?

Saturday, May 02, 2015

How to Start Counting Counties

Some of you know that I keep track of the counties (and county-equivalents) I visit. (See my blog sidebar for an update on my progress.) Recently my friend Cristin sent me a message about her eldest son taking an interest in this. She asked for advice on how he could get started without having to use a computer. Since I'm super lazy, I've decided to use my response as a blog post, thereby getting double the use out of the three minutes I spent responding.

The easiest way to start is also fairly cheep: get one of those large atlases from Walmart or Target. They're about 11 x 17, published by Rand McNally, and have county lines shown on each state map. They cost about $5.99 or $6.99 or so.

The reason this is best is because it shows county lines, most towns, and most highways, all while being cheep. So you can see where you've been, how you got there, and mark the counties visited with a marker.

You might think a more-expensive atlas will be even-more useful. You should stop creating Veblen goods. The "fancier" versions of Rand McNally atlases are actually less-useful for what you want to do. One version is smaller, only about 8.5 x 11. It doesn't display county lines. One version is a truck driver's atlas. It already has some routes highlighted in orange. Just stick with the cheepest atlas you can find, which will be the best for what you are doing.

I trace the county boundary and underline the county name for each county visited. (Outlining alone is insufficient when you've been to all of a county's surrounding counties without having visited the county itself.) Outlining requires a steadier hand, and a keen eye for noticing where the boundary runs, but it's generally better than trying to color the entire county with a highlighter, which will use up several highlighters if you've been to western states with large counties. But if you are trying to keep a kid quiet for as long as possible, have him use some colored pencils or something.

Most people start by asking, "Where have I been?" and then figuring out how they got there. Probably you will want to first start tracing with a highlighter the highways traveled and then once you are sure you've marked all your journeys, determine which counties you've visited.

One thing I remember from getting started myself is that some counties blend together unless you know they're there. For instance, the Rand McNally atlas is going to make Santa Cruz County, CA, and San Mateo County, CA, hard to distinguish unless you know where to look. So try to maybe compare your initial reading on the atlas to a Wikipedia image showing the state's counties. This will be an easy way of seeing if you're overlooking a hard-to-see boundary.

If you want a map of all your counties visited on one sheet, that gets a little trickier to find. But you can find maps for sale online which show all American counties on one national map. Then you can transfer your markings over from your atlas to your wall map. That's later, though. To start with, I say get the cheep Rand McNally atlas from Costco or wherever and start marking it up.

POST SCRIPT: Why not use a computer? Well, for younger kids it's not as easy, but if you're an adult, it might be worthwhile. I use a website called "Why Do You Think They Call Them Counties?" The guy running it is friendly and helpful and is doing it because he's nice. You send him a message that you want an account created and what you want your username and password to be, and he creates it for you (both my account and my daughter's account have slight misspellings; just think of it as added security). Then you click on the counties you've visited in an easy-to-use map-based format.

For a while I had found another site like it. The account creation didn't require relying on someone else. The maps and web design were slightly more visually appealing. I recommended it to all my friends. Several of them started using it. Then the dude running it decided to stop and gave no warning that he was going to dump everyone's entered data. I asked the guy running the remaining site if he knows what happened there. He said the other guy didn't really explain anything to him, but did indicate the data was gone.

So that's why a website may not be enough. And GIS programs that allow you to do your own mapping, which I use, are probably too specialized for the average person to want to use.

A Theory of Murder-Suicides

There's no good way to lead into this without making the reader freak out: I've been thinking some lately about murder-suicides.

Not like I'm thinking of staging my own or anything. But I wonder why people do it. I get the suicide part; it's the murder part that leaves me scratching my head.

Following last month's Germanwings crash, the conventional explanation was that the pilot was so depressed he crashed the plane. I saw a tweet that said, in essence, "Years of living with severe depression has made me want to hurt myself, but never made me want to hurt someone else." I agree. I think the conventional explanation shows that most people still don't understand depression and are quick to believe false narratives that rely on their prior misconceptions.

But then how to explain the murder-suicide? Here's what I've come up with. A depressive wants to kill himself, but he is too cowardly to do it. He knows it's going to hurt, and he's afraid that, no matter how bad his life is, whatever comes next could be worse. So he steels his nerve by doing something so heinous that he will no longer hesitate to kill himself. Also, in a bizarre way it takes care of feeling guilty about leaving a grieving family. Also, he's crazy so it doesn't have to make sense.


I have an Irish colleague. Earlier this week he was wearing a rugby jersey emblazoned with the advertisement of a restaurant called Paddy O'Shea's. I said to him, "I feel like 'Paddy O'Shea's' is such a stereotypical name that if I had suggested we name our Irish pub that, you would have been offended."

He said, "That's right; that's our term for it. You can't use that."

I said, "It would be like calling an American restaurant Porn McCheeseburger's."

He said, "Or Gun McCowboy's."

I said, "I'm offended, but I want to eat there."