Sunday, January 22, 2017

Skin in the Game

You can recoil, or march, or bitch about it, or you can do something about it. Contribute! Like you've never contributed before! If you're normally a $20 donor, give $50 or $100, and check the "recurring" option (one-time donations are vastly less useful than recurring). Consider giving beyond the pain point, and sell some old stuff on eBay to make it up. Bear in mind that good causes hang by a string (I speak from experience), so don't imagine yourself as a negligible part of a vast tide. This isn't like voting; in the nonprofit realm, individual contributors are way, way more than symbolic.

I'm about to write checks, past the point of pain, to the nonprofits listed below, which were smartly recommended by John Oliver on his show a while ago (note that all links go directly to subscription/donation pages; back up to home pages for background). I'm funding the opposition, the disadvantaged, and the at-risk. The following is just a start.

Note: there are services that consolidate your donations. Write just one check, and you can remain anonymous (while still receiving a tax deduction receipt), to avoid follow-up spam, etc.. They do add some overhead expense, but it's mitigated by avoiding multiple credit card fees (you'll just charge once):, and Network for Good. I think (not sure) only the latter handles recurring donations. And neither includes every charity (but I'd imagine they'd be receptive to complaints about gaps).

Ok, here goes:

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Planned Parenthood (even if you have moderate views on abortion)
Center for Reproductive Rights (if you're a bit more leftward on this than I am)
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (way more moderate than the divisive "Black Lives Matter")
The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth
National Resources Defense Council (environmental)
The International Refugee Assistance Project

Also, journalism will be under attack. I've bought digital subscriptions to both WAPO (which has been fantastic in doggedly standing up to Trump, and this daily emailed WaPo newsletter is spectacular) and NY Times (even though I already have a free log-on from a family member), as well as David Cay Johnston's incipient DCReport

If I find a good Muslim rights group, I'll contribute to that. Meanwhile, I go out of my way to patronize Muslim-owned restaurants, and I will join Gloria Steinem's call to register as a Muslim if such a registry arises.

Finally, I am not a Democrat. I'm a centrist/moderate, and I refuse to tribalize. I prefer a mix of thoughtful, sane, rationalize leaders from both sides. But this is an extraordinary time. So I think I'm going to contribute to the Democratic National Committee. Not because I agree with all that they stand for; not because I think people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi have The Solution. But simply because things are out of balance. I'll contribute to help restore balance, assuming that much of my contribution will be wasted in the usual posturing and tone-deaf floundering. And I will work twice as hard as ever to find and support principled (i.e. anti-Trump) Republicans. Such lonely creatures deserve our support and attention.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Endlessly Reminding You That We Hate You

1. Donald Trump, even in his fact-free sycophantic bubble of narcissism, is quite well aware that tens of millions of people don't like him. We had an election for that (just recently!), where we had the chance to express this in a meaningful way (those who stayed home literally don't count).

2. So today there are massive protests, to impress upon Mr. Trump that people don't like him, period. Again, he knows that.

3. So what do we do when he actually does something? When he starts banning Muslims, or persecuting Muslim citizens? Do we trot this out again? The millions who dislike him - who he knew about, and who were tallied in November, and who marched in January - will be seen as griping yet again. Yawn.

Don't get me wrong, it's always fun to goad the opponent, by repeatedly reminding him that we're opposed to him, personally, period, regardless of whatever he actually does. But maybe we can stop "teaching" him something he already knows, and try something different; something that requires some balls. For example, would anyone out there care to join me in publicly declaring yourself Muslim? That move is still priced cheaply; the cost will only rise later. Get in early!

If you'd rather just vent your indignation, cool. Enjoy. But know that there are actual things that can be done.

The next time your urge to stand up and be counted will actually mean something will be during midterm elections. How focused are you on that? How much are you focusing others on that, and preparing to push everyone you know (and make them push everyone THEY know) to register?

Have you purchased subscriptions (digital or print) for every single news publisher you ever make use of or generally admire (see this and the final paragraph here)? Have you badgered everyone you know to do likewise in order to support strong independent journalism?

Will you more than double your normal charitable and political giving this year, past your pain point? (here are some suggestions).

Are you paying attention to local politicians, and supporting the good guys? And generally activating politically? (That doesn't mean reposting snarky FB posts and clucking your tongue at Trump's latest outrageous tweet. It means donating and working and trying and evangelizing, way past the point where it doesn't feel like fun.)

Are you ready to support pragmatic, generally sensible politicians even if they're not your most favoritest - even if they're imperfect and prone to compromise, and even if they don't shmear you with rhetoric about transforming the country into your most perfect snowflake dream? Liberals just spent eight years fuming at Obama for working the system rather than sticking it to the "bad guys." They backed Bernie, who offered them every possible pony. Now that stakes have risen, are you ready to get real, and maybe even feel affinity for right-wing Never Trumpers (read, for instance, Rick Wilson and John Schindler) who don't emanate that comforting tribal smell?

Are you staying up on issues by reading primary sources as much as possible (rather than trusting and parroting your usual media gatekeeper)? How in-depth will your command be of news and issues in the years ahead? Will you continue to merely accept bulleted talking points?

Are you reading widely across the political spectrum, and doing everything you can to broaden your views and escape your bubble? To maintain your resolve and values while finding empathy and common ground with those who view things differently? To recognize, for example, that lots of good people voted Trump for totally non-racist reasons?

Are you securing your online communications and (more important) helping less technically competent people do likewise?

Are you going out of your way to make Muslim, Mexican, and generally immigrant neighbors, workers, coworkers, waiters, busboys, etc. feel like somebody's got their back, and making sure they have your cell number?

Are you gonna do something other than just bitch about it?

Friday, January 20, 2017


I was paying at the cash register of my favorite Italian deli this afternoon. Trump was snarling his inaugural address on the TV, while customers stared in horror. The clerk cheerfully announced my total:
"$19.84, sir."

"You're not kidding," I retorted, handing over my money.
No one noticed. No one grinned. Again.

The Inauguration's Empty Bleachers

Empty bleachers for the inauguration. Strident protests before the administration's even done anything. Media and elites strongly, outspokenly against the administration's mere existence. Part of me is heartened by these things! In the cartoon view, the good guys are showing strength.

But this isn't a cartoon. If there's anyone in America besides me that actually wants Donald Trump to find and act from his better nature - to at least attempt to be a good president for everyone, and not use the office solely as a platform to unrestrainedly act out his mental health issues - then you have to wonder what good this does.

Donald Trump may or may not have a better nature, and may or may not be capable of rising to act from such a basis. But one thing's for damn sure: America's most transactional man is not going to rise above provocation. He won't discover his better nature in a headwind. Decency is a heavy enough lift for him, and we're imposing heavy handicaps, besides. We're goading him. We're provoking him. We want to see the very worst Trump.

This happened to Obama, too. They threw everything imaginable at him from the get-go. Yet he never reciprocated. Per the cliche, he went high when they went low, working from the Christ/Gandhi/MLK playbook. Trump won't do that. Can't do that.

So unless we have a yearning to see the very worst Donald Trump (and I'm convinced many of his opponents do; much as the NRA truly wanted Obama to act to take their guns away and are absolutely incensed that he never did), there's something wrong with this picture.

I understand this line of thinking will strike some as appeasement. I'm suggesting we kowtow to our new president so he doesn't get his dander up and act mean to us. I'm a weak sniveler. But I can't counter that, because it's feeling (i.e. fear and hatred) masquerading as thinking. What I see here is that the left loves to deem people beyond-the-pale (the right does, too, but the left has made an art of it), and that this is a seriously unhealthy thing. And this miserable, brutally ignorant conman narcissistic asshole is the ultimate test of that. In fact, it's a more advanced test than we're remotely ready for. If ever we had a villain calling out to be treated with total desensitized disrespect, this is the guy.

If he's indeed beyond the pale - inhuman and therefore deserving of utter annihilation in every respect, from every angle, to the end of time, even at the cost of our nation's success in the coming years - then we're doing it right! But the Left has been worrying (justifiably) that human evolution is heading the wrong way - away from a future where everyone is treated with tolerance, love, and respect. But, meanwhile, they've been goading, inciting, and provoking as hard as possible to spark that very same turn. The problem's never the thing; it's always the reciprocation. The cascading ripples, not the stone. As I've been asking here for years:
Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

The Christ/Gandhi/MLK thing wasn't about being patsies. That line of opposition (and it is opposition!) comes from strength. That's why it's not appeasement. That's why it doesn't enable evil, as more militant partisans inevitably claim. Most Trump opposers would claim to grasp and admire the Christ/Gandhi/MLK approach, while simultaneously regarding anything less than scorched earth hatred as shameless appeasement. I don't know how to help them resolve their contradiction.

Try this, though: a Democracy means that all types get a chance to run things. Even the idiots. Democracy isn't about your guy winning. That's the opposite of democracy. Democracy means we put up with idiots running the country from time to time. That's the gig!!

I keep linking to this page about the Intolerance Paradox. Every paradox has its perfect test case. And I fear that we are, alas, flunking with Trump.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Maybe Cool it With the Sushi

Technical advisor Pierre (who's very well informed but not usually alarmist) has been strenuously urging against sushi for years. But a new report has him extra agitated: "Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America". He says this applies to any raw or undercooked salmon, unless it's been frozen to the FDA specifications, and the same holds (even more) for tuna and a host of others.

Question: Don't reputable sushi distributors freeze?

They are supposed to, but I don't know how enforceable that is. Salmonella contamination is obvious within a day, so it's easy to track back, but worms take months to produce severe symptoms. I suppose some sushi restaurants age their stock on their own premises, like steak houses do, but holes-in-the-wall, probably not.

Remember, though: you're never alone with a parasite...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Car Stereo Layla

Very often these days when I hear live music, applause is tepid, even when the crowd loved the band. Many don't clap at all. Poorly-paid musicians are in it for acclaim and approval, yet audiences can't be bothered to slap their palms and curl their mouth corners. Things have sunk that low.

At first I chalked it up to people feeling too cool to clap ("I catch every gig; let the giddy neophytes express their vulgar pleasure"). Insider's don't clap, and we're in an age where everyone needs to feel like an insider. But that's not entirely it. At performance's end, if you study the audience, they're all making their sullen, slack-jawed video game-playing faces. No beaming admiration, no recognition that it's their turn to activate in any way. They've been consuming, feeling as much responsibility to "give back" as they would toward their TV sets or earbuds. This is the slack-jawed endgame of extreme consumerism. Welcome to the Wall-E scenario.

I first observed this years ago, when a great many people assumed they were doing me a personal favor by surfing Chowhound, which I provided at Herculean effort as a public service. They'd often speak to me like their servant, brusquely instructing me on how I needed to change everything to fit their bill. If I didn't accommodate snappily, they'd become - often publicly - scornful. I learned in time that this was not the high-handed condescension it appeared to be. I wasn't an actual person - not any more than, say, one of the bosses in Grand Theft Auto. I was a guy manning a spigot, and each individual user's decision to suck from that spigot struck them as the most important thing - no, the only thing - in my universe.

Fast forward a few years. A large team and I have worked ridiculously hard for two solid years on something very ambitious, very necessary, and very heartfelt. It's nearly done, and I've given a few dozen people a preview peak. Among those who've partaken, very, very few have responded in any way. Thankfully, though, I've turned a corner. Ten or twenty years ago, I'd have been in freakout mode, assuming everyone hated it. Now, more firmly grounded in our era, I realize they love it. They're sucking from the spigot, and that's what counts. Who among us would acknowledge Eric Clapton when "Layla" finished playing on our car stereo? Everything is now car stereo Layla.

Three notes:

1. I'm smarter this time. This time, everyone has to cough up five bucks.

2. This whole situation is drastically against my religion.

3. As for people who I invited who never cracked it open, I am completely okay with that. You see, my favorite food writer, John Thorne, is a hero to me. I didn't often have time to read him back in the Chowhound days, and I somehow haven't caught up since. Whenever I pass the stack of his newsletters, I feel a warm glow of joy and admiration. But that's not sufficient; Thorne deserves my readership, not just my affection. So if I'm not eagerly reading every word of Thorne, I must completely forgive anyone who fails to follow my work. I can't expect anyone to admire me more faithfully than I admire John Thorne (more on him).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Brace for President Pence

So if you've been reading the Twitter feeds I recommended here a few days ago and here on October, then you know that today's fast-unfolding news re: Trump and Russia has been a long time coming, and you even have an idea of what's coming next.

Trump's downfall will be a joint venture between the Intelligence Community (who Trump was foolish enough to war with) and right wing anti-Trumpers who are equal parts 1. patriotically outraged by everything Trump is, does and stands for, and 2. excited indeed about the prospect of President Pence.

Trump's through, it appears. This is a tip of the iceberg, and this is mostly just salacious except for the critical part about Trump's attorney's Prague trip last summer to meet with the campaign's Russian handlers.

For an advance look at the next shoe to drop (contradicting the BuzzFeed leak, it's been reported that Trump's engagements in Russian go back way more than five years, and involve alleged laundering massive cash for the Russian mob, which explains, among other things, how a frickin' casino can go broke), scroll down to Jan 9 at 10:33 AM on this Twitter feed of a very respected intelligence dude, and read forward.

Clickbait Score

For twenty years I've been forwarding science articles to my friend Pierre, who knows everything, and he's written back each and every time to tell me how they're doubtful, overblown, or complete bullshit.

Today, my ship came in. We may actually all be growing ourselves toothy stuff, per A Drug Meant for Alzheimer’s Treatment Regrows Human Teeth

Pierre says (and I feel like the Earth reversed its rotational spin):
"Yes! One of the few truly monumental advances in health care since vaccination! If it pans out, of course, but it does look good."
I can't help but wonder what else might be grown. What if this stuff makes me grow, like, toenails in my liver?

Official News feed of Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea

The Twitter account of the North Korean DPRK News Service (so dead-on and dry that many people wondered for a while whether it was legit) is hitting it out of the park today:

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Quiet Truth About Working in the Arts

Here's a truth which was whispered to me occasionally as I strived towards my writing and music careers: it's not true that it's hard to make a living in the arts.

Yes, there are tons of people angling to get through that door, but if you weed out the poseurs, the assholes, and the self-destructives, the remainder is a comically small group.

The (non-trivial) problem is to avoid that weeding-out, yourself. For one thing, you've got to be good - not just sort of "good enough" (people who settle for "good enough" count as poseurs).

It's a serious problem that a certain number of poseurs, assholes, and self-destructives make it through in spite of themselves, giving false hope all around. Plenty of wannabes survey the scene and conclude that's part of the gig.

Among the remainder - the comically small group - any sense of competition is an illusion.

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