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Bullies and Mismatched Senders

As described in Malcom Gladwell’s book Taking to Strangers, a strong body of research has revealed that many people have mannerisms that are incorrectly interpreted by others. The academic literature refers to such people as “mismatched senders,” because their non-verbal communication does not match what they intend to communicate. Or rather, to place the blame where it belongs: Many people erroneously think that they can deduce things from non-verbal communication, and mismatched senders are the victims of that error.

I am a mismatched sender. I have often been told this by people who become acquainted with me. Apparently my bearing superficially suggests an arrogance that really isn’t there. I am prone to smile or laugh when I am nervous or confused. Et cetera. Unless you have read Gladwell’s book, you might be surprised at the problems this can create.

I have also been a target of bullies my whole life. Physical bullying mostly stopped when I became dangerous: At age 12 I gave two bullies black eyes and that was the end of that. There was no payoff to psychological bullying because I didn’t have many friends and didn’t seem to care.

But I’m still an attractive target to people who are looking for somebody to take down a notch. Where do bullies go when they grow up? I believe a disproportionate number go into law enforcement, where they are equipped and paid to bully, and where their victims are at a systemic disadvantage to defend themselves. Police abuse has finally gotten enough attention that this should not be a controversial hypothesis. And this hypothesis might explain some of the abuse I have personally suffered at the hands of law enforcement. (More on that to come in future posts….)

Criminal Injustice: Missing Evidence

Previously I described how being battered by “Alice,” my mentally ill girlfriend, resulted in police arresting me. In this post I will briefly highlight some of the subsequent violations of rights and law committed by the police and prosecutors in that case.

When police entered my house, they ordered me to come out of my office where I had retreated to avoid further battery at the hands of Alice. I complied and was met with two police officers pointing their Glocks at me with their fingers on the triggers. Pointing a firearm at a person constitutes felony assault if not justified. (See the prosecution of the McCloskeys for a recent and famous example.) Were the police justified in assaulting me? The system will never consider that question for several reasons. First: Police officers virtually never stop or hold to account their “brothers in blue” for committing crimes. Second: Even when criminal acts of police are reported, prosecutors virtually never pursue them. Third: This particular assault was not recorded, and here it gets suspicious: Both officers were wearing body cameras. One of them was oriented in such a way that we could see his finger on the trigger, but could not clearly see where his gun was pointed. I believe that the other officer’s body camera did record him pointing his gun at me. However, when we subpoenaed the footage the police claimed that his body camera had failed to record anything until a minute after I was in handcuffs, so that’s all we got.

That’s not the first piece of peculiarly missing recordings. I was taken to the detention area of the local police station. Cameras and signs there prominently declare that everything is recorded at all times. It was there that police read me the Miranda warning, and in response I clearly told the two officers in attendance that I did not want to answer questions while under arrest. One of the officers was wearing a body camera. A few hours later the police questioned me at length. I assumed that, because I had objected to custodial interrogation, my statements could not be used against me if I was charged with any crime. Well, it turns out that all recordings of the detention area from that day were “accidentally” not saved, and the officer who heard me invoke my rights had his body camera audio muted during that period (as is, he claimed, department policy), though after he left the area he was recorded telling another cop who asked about me, “He’s not talking.” I was in fact charged and tried for crimes in this incident, and when I objected to the use of my subsequent interrogation based on having invoked my right, the judge said, “Well, we don’t have a record of you invoking your rights, but what I will do is admonish the police to be more careful in preserving these recordings in the future.”

The prosecutor in the trial also tried to exclude a terrifying audio recording of Alice threatening to kill me and herself. That recording would fall under the category of “potentially exculpatory evidence,” which prosecutors are duty-bound to produce to the defense. (They did not produce it, but I happened to have separately saved the recording, which is how this came to light.) Withholding exculpatory evidence (“Brady material“) is a flagrant violation of the prosecutor’s oath of office, and also a violation of a lawyer’s professional obligations. This was brought to the judge’s attention. Did the judge impose sanctions on the prosecutor for attempting to corrupt due process in his court? No. Was the prosecutor investigated by the bar? No. My lawyer explained to me, “That’s business as usual here.”

There was audio recording of the night in question that Alice had created by (bizarrely) activating and hiding a digital dictaphone in the living room. That device was seized by the police during a warranted search. However, the detective who had analyzed it was retired and unavailable for the trial. Written police reports are not admissible at trial unless authenticated by an officer. My lawyer attempted to get the detective who replaced the retiree to confirm, under oath, what the report said. The detective evaded doing so. My lawyer told me, “I know all of these cops. Some of them are good guys. He is not one of them.”

Lady Justice struggling with all the missing evidence

Father Birds: Killdeer

Killdeer are common birds of the plover family (like the mourning doves I showed in a previous post). Their name supposedly comes from their loud and distinctive call, which bird guides say sounds like “kill-deer,” though I don’t hear that at all. There’s a video of one at the bottom of this post so you can hear and judge for yourself. As with mourning doves, both parents stay to incubate and protect the eggs, which take 3-4 weeks to hatch. Killdeer chicks are precocial, meaning that they can walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. The parents still tend to them and protect them from danger. They learn to fly when they are about 3 weeks old.

Following is a gallery of photos I took of killdeer I found nesting in my yard. I was alerted to their presence by the antics of the mating pair protecting their four eggs. First was a persistent and attention-grabbing tweet. Once my eye found one of the parents, the bird began its famous “broken-wing” act, which is used to lure predators away from their nests: the killdeer will pretend to have an injured wing, dragging it and beating it against the ground while making pitiful cries. The idea is that a predator will follow the seemingly easy prey as the killdeer leads it further and further away from the nest. When the predator is far enough, the killdeer fly away. This actually makes it easy to find the nest: Just go in the opposite direction of where the killdeer is drawing you. The closer you get the to its nest the closer the killdeer will come to you in an attempt to distract you.

So I did find and photograph their eggs, but I didn’t want to overly traumatize the birds so I returned with my 300mm lens to get these photos from a reasonable distance.

The eggs are sort of camouflaged, but leaving them in a clutch like that on open ground still doesn’t seem to me like a great strategy.

Killdeer doing its “broken wing” distraction dance and cry.

Father Birds: Doves

Mourning doves are one of the most common and widespread birds in North America. They get their name from the distinctive (and incessant) cooing sound they make. Male mourning doves are also devoted and protective fathers. In honor of Father’s Day, here are some photos of both parents caring for a fledgling.

Once a pair of mourning doves mates, they usually stay together for life. They work together to build a nest, usually on a tree branch or a ledge. The nest is made of twigs, grasses, and leaves, and is often flimsy and loosely constructed. The female lays two eggs at a time, which are incubated by both parents for about two weeks. The father usually takes the day shift sitting on the eggs.

After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks “crop milk,” which is a thick mix of protein and fat they secrete in their crops (a part of the esophagus where they store seeds) and regurgitate for their chicks to eat out of their mouth.

Mother mourning dove feeding fledgling

The chicks grow to near full size and fledge in just two weeks! In these photos the fledglings are almost as big as their parents and will leave the nest in a few days.

Borderline Personality Survivor

I survived a relationship with a woman – who I’ll just refer to using the generic name Alice – with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I had never heard of this, and I had no idea how dangerous BPD can be to a romantic partner. Here’s an excellent article about borderline personality. Or watch forensic psychologist Shannon Curry testify about BPD in the Depp v Heard civil trial: When I saw that I thought, “OMG, she could be talking about Alice.”

Before I met Alice, I had a general notion that women can be emotional and irrational and that was just part of life. (Note: BPD is primarily diagnosed in women.) So when Alice began to exhibit those behaviors I figured, “Yeah, she’s a little extreme, but you have to take the bad with the good.” A particularly dangerous part of BPD is the fear of abandonment: Once triggered, that fear would send Alice into a desperate rage. When Alice became violent I would try to retreat to defuse the situation. But in BPD, a partner retreating triggers the fear of abandonment, and in those episodes Alice would do anything possible to prevent me from escaping her presence. I bear scars from her grabbing and clawing at me. She would hide my keys to prevent me from driving away. More than once, she literally tore my shirt off as I tried to flee on foot. After I escaped, she would text and voicemail me the most horrific threats she could conjure.

And then, some hours later, she would recover and would be effusively apologetic. After too many of these incidents I told Alice that if it happened again that would be the end of the relationship. She contritely accepted that ultimatum. Her behavior had become so threatening that I also said that I needed some failsafe to protect her and myself in case it did happen again. To that she said, “Look, it’s the fear of you leaving in that moment that really makes me see red. You’re a big guy, so just restrain me until I get over it. If you don’t leave I’ll calm down quickly.”

She went several months without an incident. And then, one night, she flipped out again. So I tried to restrain her. I had 50 pounds and 8 inches of height on her. How hard could it be? It turns out that even a relatively small woman in a rage takes an enormous effort to physically contain. I didn’t want to hurt her, so I held her wrists so that she couldn’t claw me. Then I sat on her hips so she couldn’t kick me. Then I held her from behind so she couldn’t bite me. (I was almost certain that one bite to the back of my neck had broken my skin and I would have to go to a hospital for intravenous antibiotics.) After at least half an hour of this she was still enraged and fighting, and I began to doubt my strength to continue protecting myself (and her, since her tirade of threats included all manner of self-harm). Then I remembered that I had recently bought handcuffs to use in photos that I do of firearms (like these). With considerable effort, I maneuvered us to the room where those were stored and eventually got her hands loosely cuffed behind her back. That did not dissuade her at all. She came back at me, so I ran to the bedroom, got her on the bed, and straddled her thighs while keeping her head far enough away that she couldn’t bite me. I begged her to stop, cajoled her to snap out of it, tried to reason with her; but her verbal and physical assault continued for hours. I finally accepted that her suggestion that she would calm down if I didn’t leave was not going to work. So I gave up on that idea: I got her on her stomach, removed the handcuffs, and ran to my office. She was hot on my heels and I barely got the door closed. Then she began ramming the door. I braced my back against the door with my feet pushing against a heavy desk. She actually managed to pound the door latch through the strike plate, and I began to worry that I couldn’t keep her out since it was then just the weight of me and this desk on a slick wooden floor opposing her attack on the door. And then … she got another idea: Alice called the police.

Police showed up to find a woman freely roaming my house and saying that I had locked myself in my office, where I had a bunch of guns. They called out to me and I thought, “Well at least now she’s their problem.” Ha! Never underestimate the ability of police to make a bad situation worse. They ordered me to come out with my hands raised. I emerged as instructed to find two cops pointing their Glocks at me with their fingers on the triggers. I complied with their commands and was promptly and tightly handcuffed and sat on a chair. I described what had happened. I was bleeding from bites and scratches to my face, neck, and arms. Alice had no visible injuries. So did police conclude that I should be taken to a hospital and Alice should be referred to mental health professionals? No. The police decided that I should be arrested and jailed while Alice should be taken to file for a restraining order against me.

This was the beginning of an outrageous experience with the criminal justice system, which I might make into a series. Suffice it to note for now: BPD can be extremely dangerous to a partner. And a woman, no matter how small, can inflict serious physical injuries on a man – particularly when he is unwilling to injure her in his defense.

Yale Course Critique (A Brief History)

Spring cleaning my paper files I found copies of the Yale Course Critique from when I was an undergraduate in the 1990s. I wrote for that publication, served as a department coordinator, and was a senior editor 1998-1999.

The Yale Course Critique was a student production, affiliated with the Yale Herald. At the end of each semester, volunteers collected paper surveys and, for those courses with sufficient responses, aggregated ratings and summarized feedback in a 3-4 paragraph blurb. We printed a few thousand copies (sponsored by ads) and distribute them in dining halls at the beginning of each semester when students were trying to figure out which of the ~1,000 available Yale University courses to enroll in.

When I first encountered the Yale Course Critique I knew this was my kind of project: Collecting and disseminating data to help improve peoples’ ability to make important choices? And the university didn’t support this? Sign me up!

But why, I wondered out loud, wasn’t the University itself doing this? Most professors and departments distributed survey forms to students at the end of the semester. Only some agreed to share those with the Yale Course Critique. For those that didn’t, we had to solicit student feedback separately – in dining halls, and even posting volunteers outside the larger lectures to distribute and collect our survey forms from students.

I became a crusader for the cause. First as a “department coordinator” I tried (with some success) to convince individual professors and department heads to voluntarily share their surveys with us. As a senior editor I aggressively lobbied leaders in the Yale College Faculty to make sharing survey data a university policy. We did not succeed in that before I graduated in 1999, but I just spent some time researching this and found that by April 2002 the (student) Yale College Council passed a resolution requesting the university to “create a comprehensive online course critique,” and by November 2002 the Yale College Faculty unanimously agreed.

There has been some subsequent intrigue: By 2014 Yale College, now in full control of the data, tried to limit its use. They threatened students who summarized it on a separate website. In response to that another enterprising student, Sean Haufler, wrote a browser app that produced the summaries directly in client browsers.

I couldn’t find much history of the Course Critique. There is mention of one in 1969. Another shows up in 1985 with a note that none had been published since 1982. The “Yale College Course Critique” I joined appears to have been revived in 1993: The hardcopies in my archive show Volume 3(#2) dated September 1996, through Volume 6(#1) dated January 1999. Not much was captured online. Here are are few pages from fall issues in 1996, 1997, and 1998:

Hummingbirds

The word for hummingbird in most other European languages is colibri. I can’t find an explanation for why English didn’t adopt that. I put out a feeder with a 1:4 solution of sugar : water, and once they find it hummingbirds come for a drink every 15 minutes for the entire day. Here are photos of one frequent visitor:

Sometimes they perch, and sometimes they maintain a hover while drinking. They get a little territorial about the feeder, even though it has four perches and flowers to drink from: when one hummingbird is at the feeder, often another will approach and provoke it and they’ll flit away rapidly spiraling around each other.

Hummingbird species encompass not only the smallest birds but also the smallest warm-blooded animals. During the day they maintain the highest metabolism of any vertebrate. This requires a nearly constant supply of sugar. (At night, when they can’t feed, they perch and enter a hibernation-like state of vastly reduced metabolism called torpor.)

In terms of flying skills, they can keep their head perfectly still in a hover, even as their wings are fluttering back and forth dozens of times a second. I have seen them hovering at the feeder in the heavy winds preceding a thunderstorm. In the morning and evening I can see hummingbirds hovering and swooping to eat tiny flying insects.

No other vertebrates can maintain a true hover in flight, and the size range for hummingbirds runs from 2g to 20g. This suggests that any smaller and an endoskeleton and/or homeothermic metabolism becomes too expensive for a hovering animal. Any heavier and it becomes too difficult for a biological system to process and supply the energy needed to hover.

Creating Music with FL Studio

One of my boys wanted to play with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) called FL Studio, so I bought a license. I figured if he was interested I might as well play with it too, and I was immediately overwhelmed. It’s a software system used by professional music producers.

I didn’t expect a steep learning curve. After all, I began playing with a keyboard synthesizer and MIDI in the 1980s. (Some of the stuff I did is still floating around my old website.) More recently I spent time transcribing and arranging music with MuseScore. But the sound production community has a separate lineage going back to analog media and hardware – think of those huge mixing boards in sound studios – with its own practices and terminology that have carried forward to the latest DAWs.

I persisted. I watched a lot of tutorials on YouTube channel In the Mix. I’ve spent on the order of a hundred hours playing with this thing. And my bewilderment at the depth and breadth of the state of the art of sound production has only grown.

The best way to learn anything is to have a test project. I had just finished watching the second season of White Lotus, which has an amusing opening theme song. So I set out to reproduce and elaborate on that. My first cut did not stray far from its inspiration:

Over the next few months I put in more hours playing with different ideas and ended up with this:

Here’s a screenshot of the project in FL Studio:

Screenshot of David Bookstaber's first project in FL Studio.

I think the results are OK, but only until I listen to something that has been done by a professional. Leaving aside the fact that I only used FL Studio’s basic synthesizer for the instruments, what I have now is relatively muddy, lacking the crispness and separation of sound that I wanted. I have just scratched the surface of a few of the dozens of standard tools and techniques used by professionals, which I didn’t even know existed until I started this project.

Vultures

My house in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, sat on a hill overlooking dense woods and a small stream. Deer in that part of the state roam suburbia in large herds and, because hunting is severely restricted, their only predators are cars. Every few months a deer would end up dead down by the stream. (Why there? A wildlife officer explained that injured deer tend to go downhill and towards water, and so that’s where they die.) I could tell because vultures would start to appear in the tall trees near my house – black vultures and even larger turkey vultures, which seem to get along quite well. Hard to miss because they are massive birds, and before long they would be perched in large numbers and for days would swoop down to feed on the deer carcass until nothing was left but bones and hair. Here are photos I captured of these impressive birds:

A group of vultures congregated on the ground around a carcass is called a “wake.” Which is a very good description: Vultures are silent, so they seem like respectful mourners … aside from the ones that are actively picking at the carcass. A group of vultures perched in trees is called a “committee” – also a fine description as they will stand together solemnly on a branch for long periods.

It’s hard to convey how large these birds are. Their wings span 5-6 feet, and when they land it looks like their legs are flexing under a substantial weight.

Violin Accessories

When I resumed seriously playing I had some very old accessories. In the picture below on the right is the old rag I used to wipe up rosin dust, and an old block of rosin, both dating back roughly 30 years.

David Bookstaber's new violin accessories

In addition to new strings I got new rosin, a new dust cloth, and in that little black cylinder next to the violin are concert ear plugs I began to wear in my left ear while practicing to prevent further hearing damage.

I spent some time researching strings to find something that would dampen the excessively bright timbre of this violin. Some suggested getting synthetic core strings, and I now play on Pirastro Violino strings, although the improvement over other strings I tried is subtle at best.