I'll have another

Always fun to see a horse come from behind, especially when the jockey is a long-shot youngster.  For most of this clip, I'll Have Another is way back in the middle.  It's only in the last 300 yards or so that he explodes.  The announcers said as a yearling colt he could have been had for $11,000.

Super duper

The full moon will be will be about 221,802 miles from Earth tonight, which is about 15,300 miles (roughly 7%) closer than average, and therefore is making its way into the popular consciousness as a "supermoon."  Wikipedia sniffs that it's really called a perigee-syzygy, and that indeed all full moons are really just plain old syzygys.  ("Syzygies," which probably is more correct, lacks orthographical style and balance.)  I don't think the snooty name is going to catch on; it's hard to rhyme and it doesn't scan worth a hoot. Although "perigee" and "syzygy" aren't bad dactylic oblique rhymes for each other, they wouldn't make a satisfying limerick.

There's been some crazy talk lately about how much stronger the tidal forces will be, or how big and bright the moon is going to look, or even what social paroxysms may be observed.  Newspapers tend to say it will be "14% bigger and brighter," whatever that means.  A disk area of 14% greater size, I suppose?  That sounds bigger than it looks to the naked eye.  Here's what a 12% increase looks like, from 2011's perigee-syzygy-superdupermegamoon:

As for tides, the effect hasn't been that great in the past.  Supermoons happen pretty often, about once a year.  The variation results from our satellite's elliptical orbit.  Although the moon's orbit has a period (obviously) of one month, the "bump" of the ellipse is out of synch with the full-new-moon-phase cycle by a couple of days, so it takes a little over a year to repeat a line-up of the full moon with the short end of the ellipse.  Solar eclipses (not to be confused with ellipses) also are affected by how close the moon is to the Earth, as well as how close the Earth is to the sun; that can make the difference between a really dark eclipse and one with a bright ring of sun peeking out all around the dark moon.  Eclipses, however, exhibit much longer cycles than supermoons, because eclipses also are affected by the fact that the moon's orbit around the earth is about 5 degrees off of the plane of the earth's orbit around the sun, a retrogressing wobble that makes the plane of the moon's orbit cross the plane of the Earth's orbit in a direct line between Earth and sun only every 18 years or so.

It's been so cloudy here that I'm not sure we're going to see the supermoon at all, but we'll make sure the guns are loaded anyway, in case of a zombie apocalypse.

Sears, Roebuck, and the Blues...

The claim here is that the Sears Catalog was midwife to the blues.

You know what?  Tell me what you think of the argument.  Let's take it from the top.

Rethinking the Crusades

Jonah Goldberg's new book is not of any more interest to me than was his last book, but I saw via Instapundit that he had posted an excerpt on the Crusades.  That is a subject that interests me, so I read through what he had to say.

His general point is that the Crusades should be thought of as a kind of defensive war, rather than a kind of proto-imperialism.  Further, he adds, rather than an affront to Islam they represent one of Islam's minor victories.

Let me offer you a different way of thinking about the Crusades.

Most of what you'll see written on the subject in popular sources will focus on either the First Crusade (characterized by its mystical vision of St. George, and apparently miraculous success in recapturing Jerusalem), or the Third Crusade (with the irresistible characters of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin).  What we call "the First Crusade," though, wasn't really the first one at all.

If by "Crusade" we mean a war undertaken by Western fighting men who fought to capture land from Muslims in return for a spiritual promise from the Church that their sins would be expiated by the violence, we should look to 1063.  The Pope at that time was Alexander II, who sent a bull to clerics in France to encourage French knights to join in fighting against the Muslims in what is now Spain.  This is thirty years before the "First Crusade," but it was followed by several more.

The Papacy held that the Iberian peninsula was the actual property of St. Peter, and therefore belonged to the Church:  a series of Popes from Alexander to the famous Urban encouraged one crusade after another to recapture the land and restore it to the dominion of the Pope.  The kings of the Spanish kingdoms began to enjoy significant success, but of course they didn't wish to accept the domination of the Pope once they had captured the land.  The Church eventually settled its claims in return for properties, chiefly granted to the new Crusader orders -- the Templars and the Hospitallers, that is.  Less well known, though, were a whole series of Crusader knightly orders that were particular to the Spanish crusades, set up by the kings along the same lines as the more famous orders to fight in Spain.

The popes even went so far as to issue an order forbidding Spanish knights from going to the Crusades in the east, because they were needed to fight at home.

Now, if you factor in the Spanish crusade with the Eastern ones, the question of whether 'the Crusades' represent an Islamic victory looks a bit different.  The Muslims eventually recaptured Jerusalem, and indeed Constantinople; however, they lost Spain entirely.  Furthermore, the structures set up to conquer in Spain were largely transferable to the New World in 1492 -- that is, the year when the last Islamic lands fell in Spain, while Columbus opened the way west.  The effect of the Spanish crusades was thus the conquest and conversion of the entire population of South and Central America; it would have been the conversion of the whole of the Americas if not for the religious wars that split the Christian faith.

In addition, to get a full appreciation of the Crusades you have to look at the ones internal to Europe, where they were about enforcing discipline and putting down dangerous heresies.  The success of these was mixed -- indeed, the religious wars just mentioned could be seen as the final failure -- but they are also an important part of the picture.

Seen as a whole, the Crusades become a different picture.  They were far more than an attempt to recapture lands from Islam, and far more successful than at first may appear.  They didn't win everywhere, or for all time, but the strength and size of Christianity even today is directly related to their prosecution.

By the way, if you want to read a book on the Spanish Crusades, an excellent one is Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain by Joseph F. O'Callaghan.  His writing on medieval military organization and financing is somewhat general, but he puts together the history of events very well.


Now here's a video that's probably worth your time.  It's an adaptation of the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th to a tourism video for Croatia.  The result is, for the most part, remarkable.

Of course, the architecture and a few cultural icons aside, what really carries it is Beethoven.  And that reminds me, again, of a problem we have often considered.  The beauty of the music that came out of Europe from the 1700s to the late 1800s was unrivaled in human history; Croatia has a claim to it because Croatia is European, and indeed a central part of the same romantic movement in Europe that inspired Beethoven.

If the music of that era is unequaled, though, it is we ourselves who fail to equal it.  The lady who performs here is a fine cellist; she replicates her part well.  Who writes for her now, as once he did?

Practicing chaos

H/t Ace.  Naturally I can't find confirmation of any of these quotations, but I did find another unprovable one:  Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop is said to have tried to get a rise out of Winston Churchill before WWII by predicting that, if it came to war, the Italians would side with Germany.  Churchill replied, "It seems only fair.  We had them last time."

Cradle To Grave


Give the man credit:  he's standing up for cradle-to-grave government support, at least for women.  The focus on how women benefit from cradle-to-grave government wardship is an interesting one.

To some degree this is a practical fact of the kind of welfare state we've put together.  We tend to make transfer payments to the poor and the old.  Women make up the bulk of the one category because they tend to be the child-rearing parent in divorced families.  They make up the bulk of the other category because they live substantially longer.

Thus the split is an organic one, sort of:  it grows naturally out of supporting the poor and the old through government transfer payments.  The Obama administration is just doubling down on it, and trying to think of many ways to craft additional woman-specific payments and benefits.

Still, time was that accusing someone of being in favor of "cradle-to-grave" government involvement in our lives was a pretty serious charge.  Apparently the Obama administration thinks that, at least for women, the time has come to embrace it.

"Composite" Girlfriends & Literary Allusions

There seems to be a lot of talk today about the President's admission that the girlfriend in one of his autobiographies is a "composite."  That's an interesting thing to have done.

On the one hand, I can appreciate how it would be a decent act to keep the real girlfriends of one's past out of the glare of the public eye.  If you were writing an autobiography for the purpose of presenting yourself as a public figure, with the intent of trying to push yourself off in politics, it might be kind to leave real names out -- especially when you were talking about sensitive matters of the heart.

On the other hand, a "composite"?  Could you make a composite of two or three people you cared about deeply?  Wouldn't it rather be the case that you can't help but see such people as the individuals that they are?

Consider the letter making the rounds today:
“Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism — [T.S.] Eliot is of this type,” Obama wrote in one letter to McNear. “Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter — life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?”
This indicates that the speaker thinks of himself as outside "the western tradition," which ought to be problematic enough for the President's defenders.  What strikes me, though, is the way that the literary figures are completely interwoven with the thoughts.  This is common among people who have spent their lives immersed in literature.

I cannot recall ever hearing the President speak this way, though.  He's given a lot of speeches, but literary references are rare within them, and essentially absent from his off-the-cuff remarks.

Now it could be that the private, girlfriend-seeking Barack Obama is just a very different man from the public speaker; apparently Nixon was that way (as Cassandra recently pointed out).  Still, Nixon was also a lot less public as a public figure:  the times allowed a President to be different in private than in public in a way that they don't seem to do now.

So it strikes me as odd.  Either the literature is deeply embedded in the thought process, or it is not.  I've seen no evidence of it outside the book.  What to make of that?

What Do You Mean By "Compassion"?

So, there's this study that says that atheists are more motivated by compassion than believers.  Now, if you are like me, you read this and you think, "Wow -- that's surprising.  So, if you're a random guy who needs help, you're better off looking for help with atheists than with nuns?  That's not what I'd have expected."

It's also not what the study proves, as it turns out.
"Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not," study co-author and University of California, Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer said in a statement. "The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns."
So, in other words, religion performs the expected function after all:  it drives people to help out that random guy.  Without it, you're likely to help if and only if you have an existing emotional connection with the individual who wants help.

That's not shocking at all.  It's just what you'd expect.


I have to say I find this really, really funny.
Some black bloc man bigger than me with bandana tried to take my camera from me violently fuck that! Smash the state not my camera
Stephanie Keith (@Steffikeith) May 1, 2012
Source: @Steffikeith
It's one thing to be an outlaw if you're prepared to live outside the law.  But if you smash the state, dear lady, who's going to protect your camera?  Twitter?

Eastward, ho

The problem with federalism is that sometimes the states run experiments whose results are hard to discount.  This week has seen a flood of California-is-boned articles, summed up for us in a handy way here, but this short set of statistics stood out for me:
From the mid-1980s to 2005, California’s population grew by 10 million, while Medicaid recipients soared by seven million; tax filers paying income taxes rose by just 150,000; and the prison population swelled by 115,000.
California also ranked in the top five or ten in a number of troubling contests, from most-taxed to most-regulated. It typically shares honors with New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.

Rationalizing markets

A healthcare blog makes the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we treat legal fees like medical costs:
It makes one think: If the lawyers are designing the health-care system, shouldn’t they be forced to operate under regulations similar to those they’re imposing? How, for example, do lawyers get paid? Today, they negotiate fees with clients. That hardly seems fair. In health care, doctors don’t negotiate fees with patients, they get paid according to an opaque schedule determined by health plans. Lawyers should do the same. The solution is “legal insurance.” After all, who amongst us knows when we’ll need a lawyer? It is often an unpredictable expense, and yet the “market” seems to have failed to provide such insurance. Government must intervene.
The sad truth, of course, is that we do something very much like this in all fee-shifting cases in the legal field, and it works about as well there as is does in the healthcare field.  It's a good point, though.  Why don't we imagine that we can apply the lessons of healthcare to every critical need in life?  Why do we trust people to supply themselves with their own food and shelter, for instance?  It's true that healthcare often demands more foresight than our other daily needs.  There aren't many people who are so disorganized that they can't be trusted to plan for satisfying their daily hunger, but many people will fail to plan now for a statistically likely medical bill in ten or twenty years.  Similarly, some people make a concerted effort to save up for their children's college tuition well ahead of time, while others look around one day in shock and realize their eldest is 18 and needs to do something about it next month.  Now where is that student loan application?  And by the way, I'm 55 and would like to retire soon.  Who's been saving up for me?

Nevertheless, it puzzles me why people imagine the government can substitute for their own role in virtually all long-term planning.  As Glenn Reynolds said recently, liberalism includes the belief that the voters aren't capable of planning for their own retirement, but they're capable of planning for mine.

May Day

Today we enter the Cathedral of May, that month when the fullest beauty of spring gives way to the richness of summer.

Though the whitest branches of Georgia's spring come earlier in the year, the mountain laurel are like this now.  Here is a branch from the shoulders of the Oconee.

The greenwood in May always brings to my mind the old stories of Robin Hood, who was always happiest in the Maytime.  Eight years ago I quoted part of a ballad of Robin Hood in May:  today I realize that ballad can be sung to the tune of the May Day Carol, given above.  Here's the first few lines:  try it and see!

But how many months be in the year?   There are thirteen, I say; The midsummer moon is the merryest of all   Next to the merry month of May.
IN summer time, when leaves grow green,      
  And flowers are fresh and gay, Robin Hood and his merry men   Were [all] disposed to play.
Then some would leap, and some would run,   And some use artillery:      
‘Which of you can a good bow draw,   A good archer to be?
‘Which of you can kill a buck?   Or who can kill a doe? Or who can kill a hart of grease,      
  Five hundred foot him fro?’
Will Scadlock he kill’d a buck,   And Midge he kill’d a doe, And Little John kill’d a hart of grease,   Five hundred foot him fro.

The Elizabeth Warren Affirmative Action Dust-Up

Pictured: a wild-eyed savage delighting in the destruction of the civilization of the West; and a Cherokee warrior, ca. 1836

AceOfSpadesHQ is having fun with Harvard's alleged use of Elizabeth Warren's citing of perhaps spurious Cherokee ancestry to demonstrate its commitment to minority hiring. As usual, the humorous point wins me over completely, but Ace loses me when he suggests that Warren might not have landed her cushy job at Harvard without this maneuver. Warren was my bankruptcy law professor when she was but a professor at the lowly University of Houston law school, back in the Pleistocene. She was a fine teacher and a very, very bright woman with an organized mind, not at all given to partisan harangues. In the decades since, she's remained in the public eye -- public in the context of bankruptcy lawyers -- publishing a number of quantitative papers about the results of real bankruptcy cases. She seems a perfect match for the Harvard Law milieu.  I don't agree with her politics, but there's nothing wrong with her professional achievements.

The perils of brunch

"No, I don't want a bloody mary with pickled brussels sprouts and beets.  I'm not interested in octopus salad with pearl onions.  I'm a prey animal.  I just want to freeze."

A Question of Scale, and a Question of Proportion

So Dan Rather has a report today -- I had thought he was retired -- on the horror of how our grandparents used to deal with unwanted pregnancy.
In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, being an unwed mother carried a significant stigma in America. It’s now called the “baby scoop” era and during this time young women -- usually in their teens -- were either hidden at home, sent to live with distant relatives or quietly dispatched to maternity homes to give birth. 
Estimates are as many as 1.5 million young mothers who say they were forced -- some just minutes after delivery -- to hand over their babies for adoption during this period.  It was a decision that they seldom made on their own.
It's easy to sympathize with the mothers here, for whom this must have been a traumatic and upsetting experience.  However, note the scale:  1.5 million over a period of thirty years.

The CDC estimates that the number of abortions in America since 1973 is about 50 million.

Even allowing for the existence of a certain number of illegal abortions in the 50s-1973, it's clear that the loss of the social stigma has vastly increased the scale of the problem.  Unintended pregnancies are now much more common than they were.

That's the question of scale; but there's also a question of proportion.  Is it proportionate to traumatize a young woman with social stigma when she has done something so reckless as to create a life she cannot support?  Possibly; it's harsh, but it need not be cruel.  Sometimes a harsh solution is necessary, though cruelty never is.

Is it proportionate to kill a child for the crime of being unwanted?  Of course it is not.

Likewise, there's a question of proportion in terms of addressing the injustice that results.  Insofar as it was wrong to force these young women to give up their children, many of these children can now be located in time for them to share a part of their lives with the mothers who now wish to contact them.  Some will have lived and died, but most should be able to connect even now.  A child killed in the womb, by contrast, can never be recovered:  the injustice to the child cannot even be ameliorated, let alone put right.  Should the mother change her mind, years later, she will find no recourse in the courts.

It appears, then, that our new solution has (a) made the problem far more common and also (b) morally worse.  Our grandparents, so often mocked as oppressive haters of women, may have had the better solution.

Yet if our way is practically worse, and also morally worse, it is superior in one respect:  it takes better care of the feelings of the adults involved.  The women who make the choice feel that at least society respects them enough not to interfere, however much they may still regret the choice they make; and the rest of us are never forced to deal with anyone who is aggrieved, as these mothers were by the forced adoptions, because the aggrieved party is helpfully dead.  If the standard for judging the policy is how careful it is of the feelings of everyone within our social circle, then this policy is a far better.

Romney Challenges Genghis Khan for "Furthest Right"

Oh, my.   Besen of MSNBC shares some alarming intelligence with The New York Daily News:
Romney has actually become the most far-right major party nominee in generations, eager to make the Reagan and Bush presidencies look almost liberal by comparison.
Apparently Romney has made it clear he'll dismantle the fabric of American society and re-write the social contract.  In fact, the author of this article uses language that I could swear is a verbatim copy from what I was reading four years ago about another candidate:
The man has spent a year showing the American electorate a road map, pointing at a distant, radical destination. Only the deliberately blind could miss the signals, and only a fool would assume he’ll change direction once he’s in power.
I feel his pain.

How not to fight over politics

Miss Manners, as usual, has fine advice for avoiding rude, unpleasant conversational gambits without resorting oneself to rudeness or unpleasantness.  A reader reports that she is well known in her community for espousing a particular controversial cause.  She prefers not to discuss it 100% of the time, however, particularly at parties.  When someone buttonholes her at a social event and wants to chew her out on the subject, Miss Manners suggests:
Try assuming an interested look, and without responding to the attack on your issue, say, “Tell me about your favorite cause. Besides this, what do you think is our most important question of the day?”

This doesn’t just change the subject, if it works. It challenges such a person to show whether he has ideas of his own, or just goes around attacking others. Miss Manners realizes there are risks. He could be tempted to say, “Stopping wrongheaded people like you,” although personal insults at a party would only mark him as even ruder than the confrontation, which might be passed off as conversation. The real risk is that you will then attack his ideas, and it will be a draw. The way to win is to listen intently, say pleasantly, “Hmmm, interesting you should think that,” and excuse yourself to get a drink.
Her readers add even more useful advice (sometimes even WaPo readers can get a clue).  One suggests calling over to a notorious motormouth nearby:  "Oh, Catherine dear, I have someone I want you to meet. Do come over and tell us about your weekend in the Hamptons" -- then escape and leave them to each other.  Another proposes explaining that she remembers better what she reads than what she hears, so would the antagonized person mind writing her a letter? Better yet, invite him to attend her next scheduled public appearance and discuss the matter there, because if he had really wanted a serious discussion he would have already done one or the other.  Another suggests the all-purpose: "I'm so sorry my opinion upsets you. Will you excuse me, please?"

Not all readers could get the message.  One wrote:
Yeah but that is kind of hard to do when the person has been advocating taking away your marriage rights for instance and then you find yourself sitting next to the blowhard at a dinner party. I would take delight in making them as uncomfortable as they have made me in my private life. He should get no pass because he wants down time from his hateful positions. Maybe he should rethink his stand on this issue if so many people are in vehement disagreement with him on it.
Fun dinner guest, I imagine. It was interesting that quite a few commenters got hung up trying to guess what the unpopular cause was, as if they couldn't decide whether Mr. Let's-Fight-at-a-Party was rude until they knew whether they agreed with him on the controversial issue.

A Bourbon Interlude

Although of course we all know Tocqueville, I had not been aware of the political backstory to his famous American tour.
The Revolution of 1830 overthrew the Bourbon king Charles X and put the Orléanist Louis-Philippe on the throne. Tocqueville reluctantly took a loyalty oath to keep his job. This placed him in a difficult position with his pro-Bourbon family and relatives, who thought his actions treasonous. But his oath did nothing to allay the regime's mistrust of him. This suspicion was not unwarranted; in 1832 some of Tocqueville's relatives would be involved in a plot to overthrow Louis-Philippe. Beaumont fell under suspicion for similar reasons. He and Tocqueville therefore sought a pretext to leave the country for a while. 
Fortunately for them, a shift was taking place, not only in politics but also in penal practices: torture and public executions were being replaced by efforts to rehabilitate criminals. The United States was seen as a vast social laboratory, in which prison experiments were being conducted that might profit France. Tocqueville and Beaumont were therefore able to convince their supervisors to grant them a leave of absence to travel to the United States to study American prisons.
It's interesting that was his reason for coming.  The shift to rehabilitation is something we've discussed from time to time; it turned out to be based on theories of psychology that hold no water at all.  Sadly, if anyone followed the American model of prisons, they made a detour into an expensive new way of failing to solve the problem.

They're subject to an additional complaint, which is that they were probably worse forms of torture than the ones they replaced.  Prisoners were forced to remain silent twenty-four hours a day, and kept in solitary confinement when they weren't working in gangs:  they were also lashed regularly.  The stated point was to "break down their sense of self," so they would be easy to reform.  It's roughly the idea later mocked by A Clockwork Orange, but before the advent of psychoactive drugs.

So it turns out that Tocqueville came to learn about something we did poorly but were reputed to do well, and ended up learning about (and writing about) something we did well in fact.  That shows a good judgment. 

Ice Cream

I went into the kitchen a while ago, and poking around in the freezer I found a container of ice cream that I didn't know we had.  It's been a rather warm day, so I took it to my wife and asked her if she would like some.  "No," she said, "but you enjoy yourself."

So I stuck the container against her bare shoulder, which caused her to kick and scream until she could get away.  This took a moment as she was trapped against a countertop at the time.  "What?"  I said.  "You told me to enjoy myself.  Can you think of anything I could have done with the ice cream that I would have enjoyed more?"

And do you know, she went red in the face, turned on her heels, and fled running out of the room!

Women.  Who can understand them?

When communication makes you feel further away

A Maggie's link led me to a shrink site I'd never seen before, which emphasizes judgment over feelings.  Not pretending feelings aren't there, just remembering that we have other cognitive functions, too, to keep our lives in order and avoid repetitive disasters.  His advice for the lovelorn:  feelings are exciting, but next time work on finding someone with good character before you dive deep into the great emotional rush.  Also: "Before we discovered communication as the solution to family conflict and misunderstanding, we knew better. Back then, people thought before they spoke."

Dr. Lastname offers sensible advice to a mother who worries that she's trapped in an endless cycle of post-binge feeling-fests with her adult son, when what she really needs to do is send him to AA:
Tell him he has to find strength in himself by thinking hard about what he wants for himself and what drug and alcohol abuse does to him. He’ll need to get a lot stronger before he can stop and stay stopped, and talking to others about addiction and hearing their stories can give him the strength. Still, he’ll have to work hard every day, and the part of him that wants to use is pretty strong and will never go away. 
No, you’re not discouraging him — false hope yields false courage — you’re telling him that life and his own feelings have totally discouraged him and he’s going to have to learn how to think differently in order to get his courage back. You’re not telling him anything he won’t learn from AA, but they’re the lessons that will help him take back his life. 
The immediate response may well be negative; he may claim you’re letting him down and making him feel worse, and may openly regret talking to you. Instead of getting defensive, tell him you see a positive way forward and that your vision differs from his. Then stand pat, don’t argue, and stand ready to help him whenever he takes a positive step. It may be awhile before you feel close again, but, if and when you do, it will be the real thing. Until then, you can talk all the time, but every conversation will make you feel further away.
He also offers excellent practical advice for dealing with intrusive nags:
If your mother is needy and believes that intimacy is a matter of sharing spontaneous feelings, it’s natural for her to try to get close by asking you direct, intrusive questions and then sharing her honest response. Anyone who does that is, however, is just somebody who has never figured out that this method never works (and probably never will). She gets an A for expressing her feelings, and you know what grade she gets from me. 
Don’t make the same mistake by assuming that sharing your honest objections (to her honest questions) will lead to improvement; she might never learn her lesson, but you should know better. If your goal was to see whether confronting her negative behavior works, now you know. No need to repeat the experiment, the results will always be the same (and awful). 
So put aside your disappointment and consider other approaches, like steering the conversation to pleasant topics of common interest, or politely refusing to talk about personal topics. The more you stifle your own need for intimacy, the more likely you are to steer the dinner table agenda towards topics that work and come away appreciating the desert and not hating the conversation.