Tuesday, November 19, 2019

America

My local supermarket removed its checkout lanes, replacing them with self-serve kiosks. They fired all the workers, holding on to one whose job is to supervise the self-service. And she gets annoyed when you ask for help.

Monday, November 18, 2019

What is Insanity?

I thought my posting Why We Crucify Truth Tellers (and Why They Deserve It) was particularly interesting. But, also, it buried an insight that hadn't occurred to me until I typed it. I'll extract and replay it below, and will label/tag this under "Definitions" (a collection of mostly short postings offering fresh-baked and thought-provoking definitions for squishy terms).


You see someone really suffering in the audience at a horror movie. You tap his shoulder and remind him "It's just a movie, buddy. You're okay!" And he replies the way most people would reply (either in this scenario or in the wider universe of scenarios for which this serves as a parable):
HOW CAN YOU SAY EVERYTHING'S OKAY WHEN THE MONSTER'S IN THE NEXT ROOM?
It's an obvious framing error. Some people have less pliant perspectives. Insanity is the inability to reframe despite clear environmental cues.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Twitter Stuff

Periodic reminder, as politics heat up and history-making turns dense, that I curate a Twitter list of insightful, creative tweeters (heavy on never-Trump Republicans, because I find they have deeper insight into this clusterfuck and don't just run around screaming with their hair on fire like many Democrats).

But Rick Wilson is The Guy. He's a brilliant (and hilarious) political insider who's all-in on dumping his unfiltered takes on Twitter, and has an oddly soothing effect that's attracted an enormous following looking to him to get us through dark times. If you get your impeachment news entirely from him (and the reporting he selectively links to), you'll be well-informed. I also love Rick's best-selling book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies".

And while I don't tweet much (mostly just brief announcements of new Slog postings), my Twitter feed is a lean repository of my retweets of insightful and amusing (often both) takes from smart people on issues of the moment, and not just the usual scrapbook of thoughts I happen to agree with.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The New Yorker on Reframing

Sure, 'cuz if you restructure your environment, you might think about things in a different way - "shift your perspective", so to speak. And this might help you change your behavior.

Of course it'd be crazy to imagine you could simply shift perspective as an internal choice, without pre-arranging external conditions to get them just right. Our inner focus is obviously under the complete control of the outer landscape. Here, let me map it out:

•Changing behavior requires a change of perspective
•The environment controls our perspective

So...

•Change the environment
•Perspective changes
•Behavior changes
•Voila!

Thanks, social psychologist Wendy Wood, for the easy-peasy and not-at-all-unnecessarily-complicated strategy!


I didn't read the article. I'm only responding to the caption. This is 2019 and nobody reads the damned article and everybody snarks back at the caption and I don't see why I need to always be Mr. Stickler. So I'm dipping my toe in this groovy new trend, and I do see the attraction.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Identity and Labeling

In my posting "You Can't Ever Be Famous", I noted that many people have no problem with the fact that the only part of them that can ever be famous is their name tag. I suggested that such people buy some parakeets and train them to screech their names for much the same effect. I also noted that many people - otherwise sane, normal people - do something similar by training their uncomprehending toddlers to rotely utter "I love you, mommy/daddy."

Those are far from the only examples of humans taking odd pleasure in rote positive pronouncements not directed toward them as actual persons (I find this eerie, so I wish my brain would quit slow-brewing further examples, but it has a mind of its own).

Anyone who's ever claimed authorship of a ghostwritten book and feels genuine pride in its success (Trump and Trump Jr, I'm looking at you, though a slew of intelligent non-grifters do likewise) is doing the same move. "I didn't write it, but I'm delighted and honored by the pleasure you've gotten from it! Why? Because it has my name on it. My name did this!"

The first time I heard someone describe a mediocrity as "meh", I beamed with delight at the construction, assuming she'd just come up with it. And she beamed at my beaming. It's deeper than "falsely taking credit" (though there was obvious credit-taking). It's hard to parse the psychology that leaves someone basking in delight at positive reaction to something mindlessly uttered (I love you, mommy!). I can't say I've never stolen a joke from a professional comedian, but I couldn't imagine concluding, from the laughter, that "I'm funny and they like me!"

You're in trouble when you start buying into your own cons, no?

And back up the camera. You know how just about everyone is one of a few dozen "types"? The husky-voiced impetuous smart girl, the chill even-keeled amiable dude, the perennially infuriated cranky Fox news watching older guy? A few adjectives can't quite cut it; these are richly functional clone identities people wholly adopt. It's the oddest thing.
Yet it works; if you don't wear a recognizable identity cloak, no one will have the slightest idea who you are or where you're coming from. You'll fall into the "outcast" category of indiscernible type, where everyone projects their fears and neuroses onto your blank canvas. I shouldn't curl my lip at people engaging in the behavior that averts the worst possible social fate. It's not odd at all.
When people register the telltale traits of husky-voiced impetuous smart girl, HVISG feels seen; her unique quirky characteristics duly registered and appreciated (in the 60s, millions bought VW bugs to express their nonconformity). "They get me!"

We are all pretending. I think I've persuasively shown this over the years, here. But I'm continually surprised at how thin the pretending is. Identity is so very thin. It all really does hang on name tags; on the wispiest strands of pretense. It's no wonder people are so anxious, when their entire house of cards is built on...cards!

Here's how it happens. Fish swim, birds fly, and humans identify with characters and stories - i.e. act in dramas. That's why we're able to immerse so deeply and easily into films, novels, and stories, memories, and fantasies. We plug right in, easily buying the name tag and selling the pose. Most of all, we make ourselves believe it. As any video game fan knows, it's no fun if you don't believe it.

There's a woman I've known since her birth who, at age 11, saw someone act a certain way in a movie and from that day forward has molded her voice and mannerisms - her entire personality - on that. To this day she remains that person. And she doesn't realize she did this. On the contrary, she feels most truly herself when she's squarely enmeshed in this role-playing. At least she doesn't realize it consciously. Whenever I get close to gently bringing up the issue, some inner truth detector fires and she becomes cross and changes the subject or concocts an argument or walks away. I sometimes glimpse her raw, uncomposed self in my peripheral vision, and it's very raw indeed. Trembling, unformed, disoriented, and hypersensitive.

The thing that most terrifies most people is the recognition that this role they're playing (when not lost in a plethora of other roles, absorbed by movies, novels, stories, memories, or fantasies) is a flimsy and arbitrary facade; an illusion they've made themselves believe. This is the kernel of all human fear. We sense this truth, and we don't like it, because we've got massive sunk cost in being this person with certain preferences and a certain backstory. If I'm not that person, then who am I?

If you imagine you're exempt - that you're above rote name tag identification - consider this: John Q. Reader (swap in your name) doesn't get lost in identifying with movies, stories, fantasies, etc. JQR is just another role to be lost in.

Ok: now do you have some sympathy for "If I'm not that person, then who am I?"

The answer is fantastically good news. What you are is pure awareness. Behind the curtain of the pretending, we don't have the slightest problem with anything. We blithely enjoy the video game; the Sturm und Drang; the varied and entertaining movies of this world, including the scary and sad ones. It's lovely. The water's fine.

The pretending is fun (we're here to immerse in fun dramatics, just as fish are here to swim) until you forget you're pretending and start to get all grippy about it, rejecting your natural impulse to periodically remember your freedom, and fearing, above all, any pause in the pretending.


I will now reveal the core 24 bytes of code serving as the underlying basis for the entire human experience: Fake It Till You Make It.

(Healthy) Oatmeal Breakthrough

I've improved this recipe by adding egg whites much earlier in the process (I'd add them at the beginning, but I feel like I want some solidity in the mixture first...but will keep experimenting). This makes the result even lighter and fluffier. I also work them in quite vigorously with a wooden spoon. Note: do not use whole eggs unless you want overcooked rubbery steamed scrambled eggs in your oatmeal!


I always feel hesitant to start my day with oatmeal or other porridge. Even though I use milk rather than water, I'll still be ingesting a carb bomb, and I feel better when I've carefully balanced fat, carbs, and protein in a meal. If I don't just eat healthily, but also carefully balance those elements, I can experience a whole other realm of culinary satisfaction; a feeling of well-being not available from scarfing barbecue or rice balls.

Weight lifters address the issue by adding protein powder to their cereal, but...yech. Anyway, here's what I did:

When oatmeal is a couple minutes shy of done, lay in 2 or 3 egg whites, dust with a couple pinches of salt (assuming you didn't add salt previously; if so, make it just one pinch) and just a bit of butter or olive oil. Cover the pot and leave the egg whites sitting atop the cereal for a couple minutes. Then, before the eggs have thoroughly solidified, strenuously mix it into the cereal. Stir like a demon. Then cover and let it sit unheated for a couple minutes (you should always let porridge sit, anyway). There's more than enough ambiant heat to finish cooking the eggs.

The result is way better than I'd imagined. First, the egg whites transform the texture, lightening it all up. It would make sense if this were a souffle, but I certainly didn't expect to get that effect here. I love porridge, but the last few bites can feel like a chore, as the heavy texture and earthy flavor begin to feel tedious. The tedium's gone; every bowl gets a racing finish.

And it's more satisfying. Those who carefully balance fat/protein/carbs have experienced the sublime sense of satisfaction this produces (and also how a disproportionally fatty, carby, or protein-y meal leaves you with cravings that ripple forward for hours). Cooked this way, you get that satisfaction. It's like the final piece of the porridge puzzle.

Banana note: if you cook your bananas in from the start, as I do, this absolutely still works - even with the sweet/salty. I'm not sure how this would work with fresh fruit. I wouldn't get too fancy with multiple fruits, granola, yogurt, etc. At least not to start. Try this just with bananas and see what you think.


3 egg whites = 11g protein
1 cup milk = 8g protein
For context, 1 chicken breast = 31g protein

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mike Tyson Goes Into a Bar

Every once in a while some long-term otherwise silent Slog reader will pipe up to aggressively tell me how idiotically wrong I was about something.

(As I've often noted, I enjoy being told when I'm wrong, but 1. I could do without the aggression, and 2. I need to actually be wrong...which I am sometimes, though, maddeningly, people seldom notice.)

This is all I ever hear. No "hey, nice job figuring out the multiverse!". No "y'know, I think you're right about why God lets kids get cancer!" No "your theories about George and Kelly Ann Conway’s Marriage were hilarious!" Just these errant blips of tart disapprobation, odd coming from people who've stuck around here for years when there are 180 quadrillion web pages to choose from.

The same thing used to happen on Chowhound. In the blurry and feverish mental collage serving as my memory of the period, a framed needlepoint homily hangs warmly above it all, reading "HEY MORON YOUR FAVORITE PIZZA SUX". I quote not random trolls but people whose lives were improved by my restaurant finds, and who spent countless hours enjoying the friendly, useful community built by my adrenal glands. Some of them achieved modest repute imitating my writing style on, like, Tumblr or whatever. And at some point - it never failed - they'd offer heartfelt payback via marvelously brusque critique.

I've finally solved the mystery.

Mike Tyson goes into a bar. And some guy inevitably tries to pick a fight. Not because he dislikes Tyson. He reveres him, demonstrating his respect by the desire to match skill, challenge supremacy, swing dicks, etc.. It wouldn't occur to him to consider how any of this might affect Tyson. This, after all, is what Tyson's for. This is the function of a champion: to serve as the ideal against which we measure our own skills, so we can finally extend our arms into the air as champions, ourselves. Frickin’ cycle of life, bruh. Nothing personal.

If you think interrupting Mike's quiet conversation to make fun of his voice and tattoos makes me a disrespectful asshole, then you're the asshole, asshole! I wouldn't do this if Iron Mike wasn't the KING. Did you hear me? I think he's THE KING! Long live the king...as I do my best to provoke the motherfucker, ruin his night, and ideally beat him to a pulp.

Ah, the elevation of the hero...even hapless dudes quietly offering cool little magic tricks for the unrequited delight of total strangers*.
* - Those background circumstances are utterly beside the point, because we're not people to people. We're thin static images in their heads. Nothing's ever about you as full-fledged You. That's why we elevate birthdays. On your "special day", those around you adhere to a ritualized series of timeworn actions and canned utterances in supposed recognition of the real, unique, not-just-in-my-head you. That's the apex*!
* - This observation is only dark and depressing if you choose to dramatize and frame it as such. Disenchantment need not be a permanent state. It is, by its nature, merely transitional. Peer not ruefully back at vanquished illusion but forward to the unremitting love permeating the eternal actual now.


Eleven years ago I noted that No One Loves You Like a Hater Does. People don't click links, so I'll republish it in its entirety:
No One Loves You Like a Hater Does
A large team of workers manages the day-to-day operation of Chowhound.com's discussion forums. I haven't moderated the site in six years or so, yet haters continue to flatter me with their persistent misimpression of my omnipresence - i.e. assuming that I've personally deleted their postings. Crackpot blogs frequently make such statements (often with Nazi imagery).

Sanity check: Chowhound receives upwards of three thousand postings per day. Phalanxes of moderators work day and night to vet a mere fraction of it all (our users pick up the slack by reporting missed problems). And yet I still exist for some individuals as an all-seeing Dr. No, ensconced in my acrid star chamber, relishing my power (pause here to suck air through flaring, vindictive nostrils) as I delete their postings when they act like shmucks - as people sometimes do in online communities (me too; I occasionally get deleted, as well).

No one I actually know would ever mistake me for omnipresent. And no mere fan would deem me capable of such awesomeness. No one admires you, respects you, loves you, like a hater does.

I'll never forget the time one of the most piqued of the lot, a man I'd never met, sent me a profanity-laced email expressing in most damning terms what a "self-absorbed holier than thou sociopath" I am. He concluded with an earnest invitation to come to dinner with him and his wife the next weekend (he also once guessed my instant message screen name and popped up to say a chipper "Hi!"). It wasn't the first such invitation I've gotten over the years.

No one...no one...loves you like a hater does.

See also this.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Heaven or Hell in a Bad Back

My back problem used to crop up every few months, forcing me to visit a sports massage therapist. Otherwise it would get worse and worse, creating pain and impairment.

Eventually, I figured out how to fix it on my own via an elaborate and taxing maneuver requiring blocks and ample space and a solid minute of sharp discomfort. It works dependably, but the problem began to recur more frequently, forcing me to fix it every couple weeks, then days, and now several times per day.

Yikes! I'm caught in a tightening trap that can't be escaped. No one can cure this. I have theories about the muscular, postural, and fascial dynamics involved, but I appear to be stuck with them. So this is my new normal, and it feels a bit nightmarish.

But is it really?

That sports massage therapist (a genius named Dom who can fix anything) says my problem is actually common, though other doctors and physical therapists have no idea how to relieve it. Many - perhaps most - of the zillions burdened by mysterious "bad backs" are afflicted by this, and they get worse and worse because they don't know Dom, or my maneuver. They'd give anything for even temporary relief.

Meanwhile, I can sprawl out with a block or two for a minute and be pain free (at least for the moment). I'm avoiding agony and impairment; privileged to be living a miracle!

This is an example of the sweep and transformational  potential of “framing”. 


Many people accuse me of "positive thinking". I reject that. I don't want to color my thinking either way. I aim for clear thinking. Nothing's more deluded than a brave declaration that "EVERYTHING'S JUST GREAT!" delivered with a quivering chin (those people constantly saying "it's all good" are obviously trying to hypnotize themselves into believing it). Ugh, drama!

If you remove the drama - the needless, contrived spin - there are no actual problems. Undramatized neutral reality - where we don't create silly problems for ourselves, or imagine ourselves bravely rising above fake silly problems - is heaven. But most people are so committed to pointlessly indulgent mental moviemaking (i.e. hell) that neutral clarity looks like the ditzy pixie dust of "positive thinking".


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Slogging for Nine-Year-Olds

This Slog strikes most people as opaque. So here's an outline of the major themes in terms a nine-year-old would understand (though I wouldn't actually give this to a nine-year-old without plenty of further guidance).


When people who've been doing something wrong for a long time see someone else do the same thing right, they won't say "Hey, he's doing it right!" Instead, they will say "He's weird!" Better ways don't seem better, they just seem different. And different is weird, so most people would rather be wrong and "normal" than right and different.

If you know a better way, you really want to help them change! But people don't want to change. They're comfortable doing things the old way, even if it doesn't work. And they especially hate feeling stupid. You need to admit you've been stupid if you're going to change to a better way, and people would rather be wrong than admit it. In fact, people try so hard to keep feeling smart that there's no time to learn to really be smart! (That’s why grown-ups have so much trouble learning new things)

People are not looking for right answers. They ignore them, because they feel like they already know all the right answers. That's why a person might get mad if you try to help. He'll think you're trying to make him feel bad, or that you're showing off (and he might not even know you're right, because what he mostly sees is that you do things differently...which seems weird!),

The big difference between you and him isn't that you both do things differently but that you both think about life differently. Your perspectives are different. A person who wants to feel like he's right (even when he's wrong) will live a very different life from someone who wants to feel wrong so he can fix his mistakes.

But the amazing thing is that it's okay either way. We are all running around with different perspectives. We're all playing different games with different rules. Sometimes it's hard to guess somebody's rules, or to understand their perspective (one of my games is to try to figure them out, and explain here). But we're all playing our particular game, and it's okay if it's a little bit silly or even wrong, because there's no winner or loser, just folks happily pretending (they might not always look happy; some are happiest pretending to be in a game where they need to act sad or mad or anything else).

The game of being right is a fun game, but so is the game of sometimes being wrong. They're all fun! And the world works best with lots of different perspectives, even though it can be confusing. Lots of people playing lots of different games is what makes the world interesting.

There's only one big problem to watch out for. You can pretend so hard that you forget you're playing a game. If that happens, you feel like you've gotten stuck. When things don't turn out the way you want, and you feel stuck, you can get very sad, and life stops being fun for a long time.

The trick is to remember that you are always free to try a new perspective. If you remember that, you will never feel stuck! There are so many perspectives to choose from. You can always flip - instantly! - and see things another way. If you get good at flipping your perspective, then you can play lots of different games instead of always being stuck in the same one. It's like owning every Game Boy cartridge!

Friday, November 8, 2019

I'd Love Bloomberg to Run, but Pray He Won't

If Bloomberg runs, he'd be the one Democratic candidate who excites me.

I think he was a dandy mayor (though imperfect; e.g. I hated the term limit override - which, at least, was due to his concern re: a profound fiscal crisis rather than a matter of ego). His mayoralty was characterized by empathy, honesty, competency, and a nonpartisanship so rare and beautiful that I'm not certain it ever fully registered.

I think Bloomberg would make by far the best president of the lot. I'm hearing many glibly superficial takes about how he's just another billionaire motivated by vanity, but that's absurd. Even if you disagree with his stances, if you know anything about him you've got to respect his menschy sense of commitment.

I've been told - convincingly - that he quietly made up for budget shortfalls on important programs by very quietly tossing in his own money. He actually gave a crap. I'm not saying the dude doesn't have an ego, but it was dwarfed, as a motivating factor, by his earnest commitment to public service (consider his shitty Spanish).

But...

If he runs he'll shave off Biden votes in the primary, ensuring a Warren nomination. And I don't believe Warren can attract crucial independents and disaffected Republicans. They won't all flock to Trump instead, but many will stay home, dissuaded, once again, by an intolerable choice. Same with the powerful African American block in vital states like SC. It's widely acknowledged that they won't vote for a gay candidate like Pete, but they're not super into Jews, either. That's just how it is. I can't afford to be defiantly starry-eyed; an existential crisis such as Trump makes - or at least ought to make - realists of us all.

Bloomberg's primary candidacy wouldn't serve the overriding imperative of defeating Trump. And given that I've urged progressive friends to sacrifice their zealous tenets and personal preferences to line up behind the most broadly-appealing candidate, who's most likely to defeat Trump, I'm compelled to do the same, myself.

Fuddy befuddled Biden wouldn't make the best president, and doesn't ring all my bells. But he'd attract the blacks, indies, and disapproving 26% of Republicans necessary to trounce Trump. And he'd be so much better a president than what we've got that the mind strains to even draw the comparison.

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