All content on this blog from Tim McGhee has moved to the Tim McGhee Substack, and soon, Lord willing, will be found only on that Substack.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

When to have fields of life all plowed

A man thirty years old, I said to myself, should have his fields of life all ploughed, and his planting well done; for after that it is summer-time, with space scarce enough to ripen his sowing.
Source: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

Monday, March 30, 2020

A humbled Venice

This Venice, which was a haughty, invincible, magnificent Republic for nearly fourteen hundred years; whose armies compelled the world's applause whenever and wherever they battled; whose navies well nigh held dominion of the seas, and whose merchant fleets whitened the remotest oceans with their sails and loaded these piers with the products of every clime, is fallen a prey to poverty, neglect and melancholy decay.

Six hundred years ago, Venice was the Autocrat of Commerce; her mart was the great commercial centre, the distributing-house from whence the enormous trade of the Orient was spread abroad over the Western world.

Friday, March 27, 2020

When people need timing calibration

If you’ve ever found yourself unable to get a word in edgewise, or doing all the talking around someone frustratingly taciturn, it’s probably because your cultural timings are ever so slightly miscalibrated for each other, points out the linguist Deborah Tannen.
Source: Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

It's better to give people more time and space to talk than less. If the silence feels awkward, that amount of time may be just what the other person needs in order to feel comfortable talking.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Teen sleep schedules

Recognizing the importance of deep NREM sleep in teenagers has been instrumental to our understanding of healthy development, but it has also offered clues as to what happens when things go wrong in the context of abnormal development.

Many of the major psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and ADHD are now considered disorders of abnormal development, since they commonly emerge during childhood and adolescence. …schizophrenia deserves special mention at this juncture.

Several studies have tracked neural development using brain scans every couple of months in hundreds of young teenagers as they make their way through adolescence. A proportion of these individuals went on to develop schizophrenia in their late teenage years and early adulthood. Those individuals who developed schizophrenia had an abnormal pattern of brain maturation that was associated with synaptic pruning, especially in the frontal lobe regions where rational, logical thoughts are controlled—the inability to do so being a major symptom of schizophrenia.

In a separate series of studies, we have also observed that in young individuals who are at high risk of developing schizophrenia, and in teenagers and young adults with schizophrenia, there is a two-to threefold reduction in deep NREM sleep. Furthermore, the electrical brainwaves of NREM sleep are not normal in their shape or number in the affected individuals.

Faulty pruning of brain connections in schizophrenia caused by sleep abnormalities is now one of the most active and exciting areas of investigation in psychiatric illness.

Adolescents face two other harmful challenges in their struggle to obtain sufficient sleep as their brains continue to develop.

The first is a change in their circadian rhythm. The second is early school start times. …the complications of early school start times are inextricably linked with the first issue—a shift in circadian rhythm.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Unborn world

Have you ever entered a world of seemingly limitless opportunity? That's what it was like. It was so exciting. Things were developing so fast. There was so much freedom to explore, test limits. One could hear all kinds of different sounds.

For a while it seemed as if there wasn't even an awareness of all that was going on in the world and the new entrances to be made in preparation. Eventually hints appeared here and there that more opportunity and development was on the way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A terrible realization

There are realizations which come to us all painfully; mostly, however, such as pertain to ourselves; that we are growing old, for instance; and, more terrible, that we must die.
Source: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

That, however, need not be the end. There is a worse realization still, that a man falls short of the righteousness and righteous requirement of God. There is salvation available from the consequences of that deficiency.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sociable on short acquaintance

We voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco, through wild mountain scenery, and by hamlets and villas, and disembarked at the town of Lecco.

They said it was two hours, by carriage to the ancient city of Bergamo, and that we would arrive there in good season for the railway train.

We got an open barouche and a wild, boisterous driver, and set out. It was delightful. We had a fast team and a perfectly smooth road.

How to defrost a To Do list

Contrary to the opinion of some, being thrown off work that requires in-person interaction is not limited to blue collar work, and certainly not racially based. It can hit a lot of people, all while defying expectations, bias, and prejudice along the way. Plenty of people don't want work that can be done from home.

Nonetheless, as many have become homebound, we would do well to do what we can to find work and other things that can be done from home. Don't want on Congress to meet your needs.

For some of us, there have been several things we've wanted to do from home for some time. If we knew we could turn them into self-sufficient work from home we would, but our confidence level has not been there to fully focus on trying to make that option work.

Now, given circumstances beyond our control or choosing, we're at home with a golden opportunity to focus on those things we've wanted to get done, maybe for years. Time to put the news away for part of the day and get to work.

The question then becomes, Where to begin? The To Do list has a lot of things on it. Some of them are quite large, and need some extended focus time. They've been frozen there for a long time. Which ones do we take on first?

I took a few steps today that I found helpful in this regard.

Friday, March 20, 2020

When a word insufficiently loses meaning

If you didn’t encounter “dear” enough for its meaning to wash out, and the post-letter-writing generations may not have, it feels oddly like calling your boss or your professor your darling.

Even if individual people adopt “dear” for older correspondents, as I did, it’s doomed in the long run if people aren’t using it among their peers, as I would never, never do.

A message for Americans who are scared

At the White House press briefing on the coronavirus today, reporters asked, “Do you have a message for Americans who are scared?” Multiple times, multiple reporters, asking multiple people that same question.

In some ways an answer had already been given in that briefing. The President and his team come before the public each day with the information they have on how they're handling the crisis. And yet the fear persists as the crisis continues.

Congress is working on phase three of legislation to address the needs of the medical industry and other large sectors of the economy directly and severely affected by the coronavirus, and also to provide a cash infusion for people out of work and with suddenly diminished income, this writer included.

People's fears are two-fold. They fear the virus itself, and they fear its economic consequences.

There's a lot of uncertainty. Things upon which many relied have now become uncertain, at all levels with all magnitudes. A sense of dependency has invaded every corner across the land. Thank you, Captain Obvious, right?

There are some things not much said publicly yet which are of utmost relevance to this situation—a message every American needs to hear.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The origins of sleep-deprived residency

All of us know that nurses and doctors work long, consecutive hours, and none more so than doctors during their resident training years. Few people, however, know why. Why did we ever force doctors to learn their profession in this exhausting, sleepless way?

The answer originates with the esteemed physician William Stewart Halsted, MD, who was also a helpless drug addict.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lincoln vs. the trend of the 19th century

Exactly what gives its real dignity to the figure of Lincoln is that he stands invoking a primitive first principle of the age of innocence, and holding up the tables of an ancient law, against the trend of the nineteenth century; repeating, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, etc.,'

to a generation that was more and more disposed to say something like this: 'We hold these truths to be probable enough for pragmatists; that all things looking like men were evolved somehow, being endowed by heredity and environment with no equal rights, but very unequal wrongs,' and so on.

I do not believe that creed, left to itself, would ever have founded a state; and I am pretty certain that, left to itself, it would never have overthrown a slave state.
Source: What I Saw in America by G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The readiness of power

Power, you know, is a fretful thing, and hath its wings always spread for flight.
Source: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

Monday, March 16, 2020

The magnification of Lake Tahoe

That is all very well, except the “clear” part of the lake. It certainly is clearer than a great many lakes, but how dull its waters are compared with the wonderful transparence of Lake Tahoe!

I speak of the north shore of Tahoe, where one can count the scales on a trout at a depth of a hundred and eighty feet.

I have tried to get this statement off at par here, but with no success; so I have been obliged to negotiate it at fifty percent discount.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The origin of 'hello'

The greetings popular in the 1800s were based on knowing who you were addressing and when you were addressing them: “Good morning, children.” “Good afternoon, Doctor.”

But when you pick up a ringing telephone, you have no idea who’s calling (during the many decades before caller ID), and you can’t even be sure whether you share a time of day with them.

The teleconnected world desperately needed a neutral option.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Explaining sleep apathy

Society’s apathy toward sleep has, in part, been caused by the historic failure of science to explain why we need it.

Sleep remained one of the last great biological mysteries. All of the mighty problem-solving methods in science—genetics, molecular biology, and high-powered digital technology—have been unable to unlock the stubborn vault of sleep. Minds of the most stringent kind, including Nobel Prize–winner Francis Crick, who deduced the twisted-ladder structure of DNA, famed Roman educator and rhetorician Quintilian, and even Sigmund Freud had all tried their hand at deciphering sleep’s enigmatic code, all in vain.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The American mood

In America there are no moods, or there is only one mood.

It is the same whether it is called hustle or uplift; whether we regard it as the heroic love of comrades or the last hysteria of the herd instinct.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The mind's multitude of sensitivities

The smallest bird cannot light upon the greatest tree without sending a shock to its most distant fibre; every mind is at times no less sensitive to the most trifling words.
Source: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

Monday, March 9, 2020

The jolliest laughter that could be imagined

We took an open barouche and drove two miles out of Milan to “see ze echo,” as the guide expressed it. The road was smooth, it was bordered by trees, fields, and grassy meadows, and the soft air was filled with the odor of flowers.

Troops of picturesque peasant girls, coming from work, hooted at us, shouted at us, made all manner of game of us, and entirely delighted me. My long-cherished judgment was confirmed. I always did think those frowsy, romantic, unwashed peasant girls I had read so much about in poetry were a glaring fraud.

We enjoyed our jaunt. It was an exhilarating relief from tiresome sight-seeing.

We distressed ourselves very little about the astonishing echo the guide talked so much about. We were growing accustomed to encomiums on wonders that too often proved no wonders at all.

And so we were most happily disappointed to find in the sequel that the guide had even failed to rise to the magnitude of his subject.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Why greetings can mean less than their words

When I was in high school, I had a linguistic game I used to play on my unsuspecting schoolmates.

Moving through the hallways between classes, we’d normally call out to the people we saw every day, “Hi, how’s it going?” or “Hey, what’s up?”

But I practiced giving the opposite response without skipping a beat. To “What’s up?” I’d answer, “Good, how’re you?” while to “How’s it going?” I’d say, “Not much, what’s up with you?”

What surprised and delighted me every time is that people never seemed to notice.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Why we get sleepy

At this very moment, a chemical called adenosine is building up in your brain.

It will continue to increase in concentration with every waking minute that elapses. The longer you are awake, the more adenosine will accumulate.

Think of adenosine as a chemical barometer that continuously registers the amount of elapsed time since you woke up this morning.

One consequence of increasing adenosine in the brain is an increasing desire to sleep. This is known as sleep pressure, and it is the second force that will determine when you feel sleepy, and thus should go to bed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Because we are different

Nations can love each other as men and women love each other, not because they are alike but because they are different.
Source: What I Saw in America by G. K. Chesterton

When I was in college, one time in chapel I heard Dr. Bill Brown say, “We're not equal because we're the same; we're equal because we're different.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The easiest way to be disliked

As a rule, there is no surer way to the dislike of men than to behave well where they have behaved badly.
Source: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

Monday, March 2, 2020

Images pretend to reveal the heart

Wherever you find a Raphael, a Rubens, a Michelangelo, a Carracci, or a da Vinci (and we see them every day,) you find artists copying them, and the copies are always the handsomest. Maybe the originals were handsome when they were new, but they are not now.

The colors are dimmed with age; the countenances are scaled and marred, and nearly all expression is gone from them; the hair is a dead blur upon the wall, and there is no life in the eyes. Only the attitudes are certain. …

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