Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fake Review Mystery Solved

So, regarding yesterday's quizzler (and thanks to Ken, Barbara, Tucker, Max, Flithrandra, Vanessa, Vanessa2, Vanessa3, Little Timmy, Anon3023, Vanessa4, Dave's Daughter Dave, The ICEman Goth, "Mogen" David, Newzealandpithicus, Teen Spirit, Anonymous Frank Nesbitt, and all the other Vanessas for posting their guesses)...

Inevitably, Chowhound attracted dishonest guerrilla marketing. Business owners or their relatives, friends, or publicists would post a profusion of rave reviews under different aliases. We called this "shilling". When we caught them, we'd erase it all and suggest that they direct their energy toward making their restaurant so good that real people have no choice but to rave about it. You can't con people into liking your restaurant.

But here's the surprising thing: good places shilled, too. Including some famous beloved good places. When we caught on, the response from the restaurateur was inevitable: we have all the customers and reputation we need; we don't need to stuff your ballot box.

If only.

It boils down to this: shmucks gonna shmuck. Restaurateurs - even really good ones - are like any other group; some are fine upstanding people, while others are dishonest. And the deceptive/dishonest ones can't help it. That's their approach, and it doesn't shut off just because their short ribs are scrumptious and the seats are full. Success and honesty are unrelated parameters.

Counterintuitively, restaurants don't shill because they suck and feel the need to compensate. For one thing, sucky restaurateurs don't recognize that they suck; they all think they're nailing it. They shill because they see a publicity avenue, and publicity's like profit: you can never have too much.

So when Fakespot finds a shilled Amazon product, discounts the fake reviews, and offers an adjusted star rating identical to the original, it's because the product is both good and shilled. And that's so surprising to our assumptions of how we imagine things work that just about everyone will find it mystifying.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Fake Review Mystery examines Amazon reviews for honesty, grading every product's star rating for honesty/reliability.
Chowhound's moderators and I did this same work day in and day out for the better part of a decade. It wasn't an automated process; we relied on deep experience hosting a forum that many characters found attractive for marketing purposes as a way to guerrilla market and foment word-of-mouth via fake testimonials. If the operation was going to have any value, we needed to weed that stuff. So we got good at it. Work hard/long enough on something - even something seemingly impossible - and you'll get good at it.
In addition to grading reliability, Fakespot readjusts the Amazon rating, disregarding the phony ratings and re-averaging the remainder. Here's an example, where Fakespot adjusted Amazon's 4.5 star rating down to 2.5 stars:
But there's a mystery: very often Fakespot's adjusted rating is exactly the same....even though the product was heavily fake-rated. Two examples:
How can a rating be fraudulent yet also accurate?

It's a deep question. I suspect that even Fakespot can't explain it. But I can, after spending a decade immersed in this extremely thin slice of human experience.

I'll give the answer tomorrow [here it is]. Feel free to guess in the comments.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

You Are Absolutely Right!

People don't want to hear the truth. This is what they want to hear:
You are absolutely right!
It's so engrained that just reading those words likely lifted your mood by like 1%.
You are absolutely right!
It's like a massage, no?
You are absolutely right!
Would anyone be foolish enough to bet against my prediction that this posting will be extremely well-read just because of its title?
You are absolutely right!
I've worked 56 years to eagerly suss out my wrongness. I feast on my wrongness. And in the process - almost as a side effect - I appear to be getting righter and righter, though I scarcely notice, because I feel perennially wrong. The wrongness is what I'm focused on. Having witnessed how spectacularly stupid I can be, I can't - and never will - accept myself as anything but. And this, in turn, leaves me disinclined to tell people that...
You are absolutely right!
....even though that is (literally) how one Wins Friends and Influences People.
You are absolutely right!
I used to figure people just feared bad news. That's why they hate to be surprised; to have their viewpoint challenged; to unfreeze their perspective and embrace other possibilities.

But that's not it. They're just as opposed to good news. If you tell them their lifelong negativity has been unnecessary, and that all their problems have been self-indulgently concocted, and it can all get much much better right in this moment, all they'll hear is "You're wrong!" And that's not what they want to hear. What they want to hear is:
You are absolutely right!
As I've often noted, people would much rather feel smart than be smart (the two are incompatible; this is the basis for the Dunning–Kruger effect). But that doesn't go far enough. People would rather feel smart and be miserable than be happy.

It traces, in part, back to the original sin of an offhanded decision we all make in childhood re: how happy we'll allow ourselves to be. We work tenaciously to maintain our chosen equilibrium; to avoid over-happiness.

Have you ever wondered why literally no one ever links to this Slog, even though it's read by a couple hundred successful and outspoken people? Sometimes a "like" but never a "share"? Well, here you have it. This undertaking is devoted to counterintuitive insight - to showing you you're wrong, while (desperately) hoping to inspire you with the good news. 

A writer can either flatter readers or else surprise - and possibly inspire - them, but not both. Writers who flatter do so for their own elevation. Writers who surprise do so to elevate their readers...and must never expect recognition, because they've declined to utter the magic words. #YAAR

Country Over Party

We all just spent three years insisting that secretly Trump-loathing Republican officials put country over party despite 90% Republican voter approval of Trump. We've indignantly demanded their political suicide to serve a patriotic goal we profess to consider supreme to all others: removing Trump.

I, along with other moderates, ask Progressives to likewise put country over party. They may do so without any headwind, much less obliteration! They would survive to push their agenda at a later date, once the menace is gone. We ask far less of them than they themselves have asked of Republican politicians!

Progressives: where is your self-effacing patriotic sacrifice?

When it's time to step up, you alienate moderates in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Texas with talk of reparations and publicly-funded late-term abortions, and by tarring your own leadership as racists? You zealously compete with each other to concoct the most extreme policies to throw in the face of moderate (and Trump-averse conservative) America with sanctimonious relish, spraying radical liberal pheromones all over anti-Trumpism until everyone out-of-tribe is viscerally repelled? You'd eschew restraint and talk full-throatedly about Socialism...while knee-capping fascist/racist moderate DINOs like Biden until they're so tarnished to primary voters that there's no choice but to nominate a firebrand with idealogical purity who'll lose 48 states so you can feel smugly right?


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Train Home to New York from Oregon

I flew to Eugene Oregon, what feels like months ago, on a last-minute flight, with a cold. My ears were incredibly unhappy with this, and never popped (even now, I can’t hear through my left ear). I visited an emergency room and was told I’d risk a perforated ear drum if I got on a plane, so I needed to make, as they say, "other plans" to get home.

I happened to already be driving a rental car with Idaho plates, so I asked Avis whether they wanted me to do them the favor of returning it to Idaho. "We don’t really care about plates; the cars all just sort of float around in a vast pool," I was told. So I asked about renting a car to be dropped off in NYC, and was told that a $400 extra charge would apply due to the one-directional rental. The agent made these paradoxical statements with no trace of irony or apology. In fact, it was conveyed with relish; "I’m-shamelessly-screwing-you-right-to-your-face" relish.

Car transport agencies contemptuously turned me down, as if I were a meth head looking for a car so I could yank out the wiring and sell the copper. Apparently only very carefully-selected, high-status individuals are allowed to perform this work.

So AMTRAK it was. I’d need to wait three days for an affordable berth, and it’d be a seat rather than a sleeper because while seats cost $240, sleepers run around $1000. But, hey, the seat reclines, so it’d be totally cool! 

Thus began my odyssey on The Empire Builder (Portland to Chicago; 45 hours) and The Lake Shore Limited (Chicago to NY Penn station; 20 hours), followed by a jaunt to JFK to pick up my car from an off-site lot whose courtesy van driver had great trouble accepting that I hadn't actually flown home from Oregon.

I won’t offer a diary, as there are plenty of them on the Internet (like this one). Just some random notes.
Note: photos below.

I’m a fan of the "long way round" dramatic trope, e.g. Ewan McGregor’s world-circling motorcycle trip and my favorite Doctor Who episode, Heaven Sent, where the flippantly time traveling Doctor gets trapped in a situation requiring him to traverse 4.5 billion years the hard way. This framed the trip and made it bearable.

The food is surprisingly good. Which is not to say it’s good. It’s not good, it’s bad. But it’s way better bad food than you’d expect. Honestly artless, rather than brutal.

There were tons and tons of Amish people on both trains. Did you know Amish people can actually take cars, they just can’t drive them? Since they’re not driving the train, this is apparently cool. They’re all speaking the otherwise extinct form of German they’ve time-capsuled, especially when they don’t want the “fancy” people (is that the term? I knew this sort of stuff as a kid) to understand. Sort of like my parents talking Yiddish around the kids, which was, come to think of it, another time-capsule version of earlier German.

Montana is a country. It’s like Texas but without stuff.

The top of the Mississippi River (we crossed it along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border) is nearly as delta-ish as the bottom.

The Lake Shore Limited went from Chicago to NYC via Buffalo/Rochester/Albany rather than through Pennsylvania, an eight hour detour. It did not phase me. On a 65 hour trip, 8 hours is rounding error.

We were also forced to wait for an hour at a dead stop tantalizingly close to Chicago. This was barely enough time for me to sneeze, find my water, and check the weather report. I live in half-days. Minutes shoot by so fast I hardly parse them.

You know things are really messed up when you approach Buffalo - not in a plane - and think "hey, I’m getting close!" I hope I haven't permanently stretched my perception of time.

A highly-experienced AMTRAK passenger from Wisconsin with stage-4 cancer and a hacking cough (he had to tell me about the cancer to relieve my anxiety about the hacking cough) told me that Amish women inevitably wreck the bathrooms. He explained this in slightly greater detail than I’m willing to go into here, but still not enough to make any sense whatsoever. Yet I suspect this bit of random bullshit will forever lodge in my mind: Amish women will take out your bathroom, dude. It’s something to watch out for and to worry about. Add it to the pile.

There was plenty of time to reconstruct some of my previous traveling amnesia, realizing quite clearly that sleep deprivation deeply colors any traveling experience. That’s why traveling always seems slightly blurry in retrospect. In this case, it’s a blessing. Shortened/degraded sleep induces a fugue state fueling the zombification which helps you withstand a 65 hour voyage. Do not attempt this while alert!

One day I found myself in three time zones. How is this “gentler” than jet lag crammed into three hours? It’s still just one day. I don’t understand how it would have lower impact.

Interesting people don’t chatter at strangers.

While nearly everyone talks to strangers in some way at some time, only a few make a habit of it, and those people have a Rap. They're performing this rap for you (which means they're performing it for themselves, with you watching), and it's a narrative they've ceaselessly repeated to themselves, and though it's of absolutely no interest to anyone else, they feel an exhibitionist compulsion to say it out loud to an audience in order to carve out a sense of self-significance, of "having their story heard."

This is not a healthy thing. I think many people sense this, and it's why most people shut down most idle conversation from strangers. It's not unfriendliness, per se. It's just that most idle conversation from strangers is not going to be friendly, it's going to be needy.

I did, however, have a real conversation with someone next to whom I was crammed into a dinner table. We spoke mostly as a survival tactic.

An Idaho native, he’d been an airline pilot, but was let go for lacking the necessary veneer of certainty. As a completely unaffected person, he’d been reported by a fellow officer for curiously asking questions about stuff rather than feigning omniscience.

Like a surprisingly large chunk of the country, he’s resorted, out of desperation, to menial labor in the North Dakota oil fields, where he repeated his mistake of asking questions and confessing ignorance. One of his coworkers scolded him, saying it's important that he pretend to know everything.

I tried to explain about people-who-seem versus people-who-are, but, bright though he is, it was too alien a concept for him. One of the last genuine people is being ground down into dust, and can't understand why. You could see that he was once handsome and hardy, but his shoulders were stooped and brow furrowed as he approached his latest two week unbroken shift of 15 hour days. He has bills to pay, so he, an intelligent man, must feign omniscience among know-nothings to hold on to his $20/hour job.

The photos are so, so much better if you click to expand:

A rural hunter with his wife in knickers (left) chat amiably with an Amish elder (second from right) and a Latino conductor (right) as we wait for more train ("more train"!) to be added on in Spokane. America's still America if you get off Twitter for a minute.

Unhealthy thoughts. The train paused in the middle of  western Montana for some reason and I swear to god the trees were inching toward us.

Whitefish Montana is by far the most tumultuous stop on the whole trip. I can't for the life of me figure out why so many people are trying to get into and out of Whitefish. Guess I missed the memo.

Snow-capped mountain (in July) in the distance. I'm at 3400 feet in Glacier National Park, and, thanks to the miracle of geo tagging, I've determined that this is 7,877 foot Mount Penrose.

The train needs to stop every couple hours to give smokers their moment. A significant percentage of riders seem to be smokers avoiding multi-hour trips without a fix. I walked the length of the train each time, averaging over 2 miles walking per day.

The juxtaposition of momentous travel with utterly banal detail is a big part of the delight. Welcome to our brief stop for leg-stretching and lung cancer in Havre, MT, home of Hammer'n Hank Tweeten's Auto Body. I hope Hank's doing okay.

Crossing the top of the Mississippi River.

Six hour layover in Chicago. No-brainer!

Monday, July 8, 2019

An Example of Inducing Perceptual Reframing

I wrote in my previous posting that:
[Perceptual] framing comes from within, but it’s contagious. If you’re empathetic enough, and a person is willing to have their lens refocused, it’s not hard to induce a reframing.
To induce reframing in others, you first need to develop the trick, yourself (as I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a book of exercises to help people do exactly that. It’s a tutorial for a lost human faculty; for a muscle we forget to flex).

Artists - at least, great ones - intuitively traffic in this sort of thing:
"Art is any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective.”
...though, ironically, they don’t frame it this way.

Non-great artists simply ply their craft, painting or singing or cooking skillfully, following their training and tradition without the magic - the je ne sais quoi - that kindles transcendence. This explains why great artists are a whole other thing, and not just marginally better versions of good artists

To be moved and inspired, we must be induced into reframing. Our perspective shifts, and the world shifts with it. No one can force us, but we’re highly suggestible.

While humanity remains mostly asleep to the full scope of framing latitude (by reframing we actually traverse the Multiverse), art has been the realm where we’ve concentrated most of our fledgling efforts (also: spirituality; also: hypnosis). Those efforts go back so far that we’ve forgotten much of what was developed eons ago (link skippers, please do read that one).

So how’s it done, exactly?

The ancient Greek maxim "Necessity is the mother of invention" offers a clue. It’s a deeper observation than it appears. Artists hit dead ends when they try to inspire. That’s just not how it works; it’s like trying to push a string. Best results come from responsiveness; a sensitive willingness to be usefully drawn from. That’s what mothers the invention. That’s how artists surprise even themselves.

Last week I delivered a eulogy knowing that the people I’d be addressing would feel wrecked. I saw a way to coax them to reframe, and it worked. Afterwards, the room was unrecognizable, moods markedly lifted. I found it a bit startling, honestly.

While the eulogy was generally appreciated as a performative piece and clever bit of writing, no one appeared to consciously register the transformation. That’s normal. We’re not used to such reflection. We go through life only foggily aware that what we see and feel is a product of framing. We’re nowhere near keyed in enough to recognize shifts as they unfold.

Accustomed to a world that appears to constantly shift, we feel helplessly along for a ride we ourselves have orchestrated via our framing, leaving us too fraught and distracted to witness the through line (this explains why no one has ever driven to Boston).
The mind does two things: think and frame. We pay infinitely more attention to our thought stream than to our framing, so while we unceasingly frame our thinking (unconsciously), we almost never think about our framing. We can, however, be trained to do so (though I don’t believe this has ever previously been proposed).
Below is my effort to induce a grieving crowd into reframing. It was an artistic endeavor, though of an unfamiliar sort, prompted by compassion. It also includes elements of spirituality and of hypnosis, though they, too, are unfamiliarly applied. I offer it not as a piece of writing to enjoy, but as an example of induced perceptual reframing. It’s not a matter of following directions, nor of presenting an argument. It’s coaxing. It’s indirect. It’s intuitive and subtextual. It’s a little bit magical.
I’m good at this. I’m not great at it (the potential scope is vast and I’ve barely dipped my toe), and I don’t want to get great at it. One day, someone will be great at it. As I explained last time, that person has the potential of being the Messiah.

Florence was not a big talker.

And, like most non-big-talkers, she attracted big talkers. Her whole life! Nature abhors a vacuum.

She didn’t mind being talked at. She enjoyed time with other people. But I can assure you that whoever you are, and however much she liked you, or even loved you, when you hung up the phone or closed the door, she did something I saw 10,000 times:

[Deep breath] “Peace and quiet!"

She’d taste the silence. And she’s find it...sooo delicious. She loved silence even more than chocolate ice cream. It’s where she lived. It’s what she was. Enjoying silence for her was like silk sheets. It was like a cup of water being poured into the ocean.

Already, I’m getting toward the end of the usefulness of words. I could talk and talk without getting any closer, plus I’d self-consciously feel her waiting for the peace and quiet part. The part AFTER I shut up. The GOOD part. The part that felt to her like home.

I’m normally good at this. I’m a professional writer. But whatever I say, it will just be words filling silence; delaying the deliciousness.

And anyway, it’s not like I could pay her tribute by stringing together a bunch of “...and then she did THIS!” statements. Her life wasn’t a dramatic narrative of experiences and accomplishments. “And then she traveled to Canada!!”, etc. She wasn’t Marco Polo!

Nor was she a hovering maternal presence in an apron with cherry pie cheeks. That wasn’t her, either. There’s really nothing to be said in words here. She wasn’t this and she wasn’t that. She wasn’t even “dear old mom”. She wasn’t anything, yet she certainly wasn’t nothing.

One thing I’ve noticed over the past couple days is that whenever I seek out that delicious silence, myself, and bask in it, it’s like she’s standing right there. Right there!

So I have an idea. Rather than me going on and on, filling up her beloved peace and quiet, let’s go straight there. Let’s taste the deliciousness of silence. Not the pious “moment of silence” people do at funerals, feeling all tight and straining to think deep thoughts and making themselves sad and shaky. Let’s go the OTHER way. Taste the silence in the room...and find it delicious; find it luxurious. And in that delicious luxury, let’s see if I’m right.

If so, that means no funeral. No ending. Just the same endless repose in the silk sheets of silence. Join me. I’m about to FINALLY stop talking. The good part’s coming! Remember to TASTE it! Here I will start coiling the spring by increasing my rate of speech, more and more intensity! Look, I’m even starting to wave my arms around!! And........!!!

[Deep breath]

Peace and quiet......

Friday, July 5, 2019

You Can Be The Messiah

I figured out that we’re living in Utopia by trying to devise a more utopian Utopia than what we’ve currently got...and discovering that I couldn’t. I figured out why God lets bad things happen to innocent children by contemplating a world where he doesn’t, and realizing that we’d detest it. I’d like to apply this sort of counterfactual thinking to the notion of messiahs.

The scenario of “Dude appears and makes everything better" sounds lovely, of course, but it begs the question of what “all better“ would look like. So lets consider some prospective messiahs, and see how effective their tricks might actually be.
I’ve warned of the perils of climbing ladders before considering whether you really want to wind up where they lead. We think we understood the maxim “Be careful what you wish for," yet it still takes great discipline to bear down and really game out hopes and desires. 56 years into this, I still often turn out not to really want what I thought I wanted. It’s really hard, and this is what I’m tackling the largest possible scale.
HAPLESS MESSIAH #1: Chocolate Cake

Everyone gets a delicious slice of chocolate cake. That’s it. Delicious chocolate cake right here, right now, courtesy of Hapless Messiah #1 (Chocolate Cake). It’s not long-lasting, and it’s not deep, but if your goal is to salve mankind (if not save it), it’s a reasonable approach to aim to slightly soothe, en masse.

Once the allergic have been released from hospital; and crime victims (following the worldwide blood sugar plunge) have healed their wounds and recovered their property; and the starving have reluctantly returned to their diet of bugs, grubs, and berries having briefly refreshed their deprivation, and the rich (whose main gripe is overabundance) fall into a post-sugar malaise about their love handles, that’s when the relatively few who fully appreciated the yummy cake begin to create sad stories about how it’s ALL GONE NOW. NO MORE CAKE. MAYBE NO MORE CAKE EVER.

All in all, Hapless Messiah #1 (Chocolate Cake) has, alas, made things worse.


Your pain - psychic or physical - is gone. Just like that. Poof!

But then, of course, it snaps right back. Because bodies and psyches are built for it. So the Painless Time becomes a forlorn memory. People flail to recreate it. Cults pop up devoted to reestablishing it. People lose their minds, because pain, which no longer seems inevitable, becomes far more difficult to bear.

As with the previous hapless messiah, disruption creates unintended consequences. The seeds were instantly planted for pain’s resumption. As is true with all respites, an inner spring contracts, ready to fuel the Drama of the Bad Times that inevitably follow. “This is what we have to lose!" smoothly dissolves into “That was what we once had!", the cycle repeating endlessly. You may try to weigh down one side of the seesaw, but you can’t freeze the process because that’s how it works here in Cause/Effect World, where it’s always something, and where Jane can never stop this crazy thing.

HAPLESS MESSIAH #3: Problem Solver

The problem is that very few people have actual problems (here’s how to tell the difference). They create fake ones as a lifelong project, building woeful narratives like proud works of art. If you puncture it all by showing them that their problems aren’t really problems, you’ve shit all over their Big Project. You will not make friends, much less save humanity.

People fall in love with their pain and with their problems because both are intrinsically self-created. The rare problem that’s not self-created is extra valuable. If you can declare yourself a "cancer survivor", it’s like it’s your birthday. It’s your specialness badge!

My mom died last week. I haven’t told many people, and have been amusing myself by observing the moments when I feel the urge to blurt it out. Inevitably it’s when I crave special treatment or consideration. The potential drama badge feels - to quote the inimitable Rob Blagojevich - "fucking golden!" No wonder people mire in this stuff. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! MY SPECIAL DAY!
How would it help anything to tell people, putting them on an awkward footing and making them feel sad and weird with no benefit for anyone? I realize my proposition is counterintuitive, but if you can come up with another justification for putting such news out there, I’m all ears. I don’t judge others for their choices, but for me it would feel like a “birthday" thing; a special hat for a special kid to wear on his most special day.
There’s a new trope among young people: “Don’t try to fix my problems, just sympathize with my bitching" (they don’t use the word "bitching", of course; that’s just me being a prick). Seek out a cave and spend a month or two pondering that utterance and the Deepest Truths will be revealed to you.

So, anyway, Hapless Messiah #3 (Problem Solver): yeah, good luck with that.

HAPLESS MESSIAH #4: Love Spreader

Emotions are contagious. It’s super easy to make people angry (per above, the easiest route is to try to help), but it’s also possible to delight them. And just as you don’t need to be harmful to anger them, you can shortcut to unearned delight, too. You needn’t spend years developing viola skills or lofty oratory. Emotional nerves are ready to be struck. You needn’t be a paragon of melting loveliness to stoke love (this might be one route).

Say someone gets really good at this and lights up swathes of humanity like Christmas trees, raising human mojo en masse. This is something “spiritual" people often wish for - a pandemic raising of consciousness. So let’s imagine that it happens. What’s next?

Easy one. People channel their newfound ardor into whatever normally absorbs their attention. Ladies: do you find guys creepy and sexually persistent? Well, just wait till their sap rises.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve induced a highly elevated and refined sort of love that’s very non-sexual. Consider the guy I once met who’d driven through Jasper National Park and was generous enough to tell me the scenery was so gorgeous he needed to pull his car over and masturbate - an image I’ve never managed to unimagine (you’re welcome), but which helpfully taught me that for many people the most brutish sexual level is like a black hole easily capable of accomplishing whatever the opposite of "transcendence" is.
So Hapless Messiah #4 (Love Spreader) will spur a worldwide spate of masturbation...and much worse. If you’re hopped up on some cause, a great big jolt of ardor will grease those wheels. That’s how planes get crashed into skyscrapers. People who commit such acts are not cold-blooded villains; they’re hot-headed fanatics driven in terrible directions by wild, incendiary love.

Sorry, hippies, but Love is agnostic. As much evil can been perpetrated from love as goodness. That’s why you really don’t want to tinker with the amplitude. The vast majority of people absolutely should not have their heads heated. Most wouldn’t know what to do with the extra zeal, and the rest would stoke whatever dopey or harmful cause they’re into. And none would take a reflective moment to consider how their fervid actions might affect others. Thoughtfulness stems from coolness, not heat.

So if you want to hand out flowers in airports or whatever, god bless, but let’s never, as a world, hack in on the wellspring of it all. Anyone doing so would be not a Messiah but the angel of frickin’ death.

HAPLESS MESSIAH #5: Wish Granter

What do alcoholics wish for? Booze. Will it help them? No.
What do control freaks wish for? Obediance. Will it help them? No.
What do narcissists wish for? Attention. Will it help them? No.
What do depressives wish for? Isolated rumination. Will it help them? No.
What do victims wish for? Revenge. Will it help them? No.

I could keep going. But it should be clear that 90% of fervent wishes backfire, and the remaining 10% (a bigger house, a more expensive car, a pay raise, a more attractive or obliging spouse) represent futile attempts to satisfy the unsatisfiable; to fill an unfillable psychic hole. For someone somewhere, your apartment is unimaginably huge, your car is shmancy, and your spouse is AMAZING. So how delighted are you with your good fortune? 

Obviously, it’s nothing but discontent all the way down the line.

So Hapless Messiah #5 (Wish Granter) would, alas, leave us more deeply ensnared in our bottomless neediness.

Where does this leave us? The cake wouldn’t help them; their pain grows back; and making them happy makes them sad makes them happy makes them sad. Solving their problems pisses them off; filling them with love wrecks the world; and granting their wishes just shows how dumb their wishes were.

If you spend years thinking about it, as I have, you cannot escape the overarching truth: it’s not about your situation, it’s about your perspective. Playing the cards we’re dealt. Making lemonade from lemons. Flipping the scenario. Reframing. That’s the only relief, the only salvation, the only happiness. Tinker not with the circumstances but with the interpretation; the subjectivity.
I won’t offer an umpteenth explanation of reframing here. If you’re new to the Slog, you can start here or here, or read previous writings on the topic (in reverse chronological order) here. It’s slippery stuff; not because it’s intellectual/philosophical, but because it’s something almost no one thinks about, even though we all do it constantly. So it’s like trying to explain swimming to fish.
32nd Street is a different universe if you’ve just been kissed for the first time...or if you’ve just been dumped. The two are absolutely not the same streets. While we believe framing is forced upon us by circumstance, we have infinite freedom to frame any scenario in an infinitude of ways, though we forget we have that freedom. We fall into habits of framing in certain ways, mostly via tropes we’ve seen in movies (see this posting where I survey the empty cinematic clich├ęs we use to stoke our grief).

From a messianic standpoint, it’s true that reframings aren’t always permanent. In fact, the beauty of viewpoint is its endless pliancy. But here in the churning whirlwind of worldly foibles, permanency can’t be a thing, anyway.

However, while human transformation is notoriously rare, every instance I’ve ever heard about was induced by a reframing of perspective. Whether it "sticks" forever or not, those who manage to reframe never forget the experience. Shifts shift. So if you’re gonna Messiah this joint, reframing is clearly the way to go.


Framing comes from within, but it’s contagious. If you’re empathetic, and people are willing to have their lenses refocused (i.e they’re not "don’t-fix-my problems-just-sympathize-with-my-bitching" people), it’s not hard to induce a reframing. Perhaps I’ve managed it on occasion via this Slog for some of you; a small magic trick possible because, for now, I’m unfortunately the only person drawn to this least in this way. I’ll explain:
Some people can spur others to reframe in certain ways. That’s what art is all about, for example. As I once wrote, "Art is any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective." Also, gifted salesmen close sales by changing perspective. A number of people have some visceral notion of reframing, and may have developed ways to induce it in others for fun or profit. But I think everyone misses the sheer magnitude - the infinitude - of framing options, and the effortlessness with which perspective can flip, landing anyone instantly anywhere - i.e. on every possible iteration of 32nd Street (this is what the multiverse is). Vast numbers of human beings have laboriously mastered the art of living as if they’ve just been dumped, but vanishingly few recognize they can easily choose to live as if they’ve just been kissed. It’s all a matter of framing; a simple flip of perspective.
No other Messiah holds water. "Reframing Messiah" is the only Messianic Messiah; the only one who can really make things better; the only stoker of transformation; the only bringer of genuine freedom and happiness. Reframing is the sole route to salvation: poke people out of frozen perspectives and into recognition of their infinitely lithe freedom of viewpoint. You needn’t coax them toward positivity; it’s sufficient for them to inhabit a higher vantage point where gratuitous negativity seems entirely needless and is dropped.

Now you know, and you can work on it*, and perhaps help others to reframe. If even just a small percentage of people recognize that this is like a smartphone feature they hadn’t realized they possess, a bunch will soon get way better at this than me. If so (and I’m not being cute; if you’ll take time to really consider this stuff, you’ll see that I’ve built a solid case), you can be The Messiah, and spark an era wherein people remember that perspective is a freedom they can exercise, not a prison to which they’re condemned. I don’t even see much backfire potential.

Leave a person in a quiet room, and he might meditate and one day leave in a state of vast peace. Put some bars on the window and the same person might decay into a debilitated wreck.
I don’t want the gig, and my dawning recognition that I’m weirdly ahead on this gives me the willies. Everyone knows lots about food and beer now, so the world will surely catch up and surpass on framing, too. Please do surpass me. It’s not hard. As I once wrote, there’s nothing special about being first. The first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop. An underlying current carries us all.

* - I’m writing a book of exercises to help people dislodge themselves from frozen perspectives. Watch this space for a call for beta testers.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Silver Lining of Control Freaks

There is a silver lining with control freaks. They are always wonderfully eager to snatch tasks you hate doing - because, naturally, only they can do them right.

Control freaks are the "Mikey" of task allocation. My perceived slovenly incompetence is like a superpower.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Funny Pet Videos Are Not Useless Ditzy Crap

For the past few years, I've had a recurring painful back issue that can only be fixed by paying a sports massage therapist (Dom Lopez, who's - no exaggeration - a genius, with an uncanny ability to put any Humpty Dumpty back together again) for an expensive and painful reset that never lasts more than a few days.

A few weeks ago, after many years of effort, I figured out how to fix it myself, with a certain complicated stretch that takes only like five seconds. Triumph! I'm winning!

But my shoulder, unaccustomed to the torque required to create this stretch (which must be repeated several times per day), developed very painful tendinitis. I had Dom fix the shoulder (I break it, Dom fixes it...that's how it works), but, of course, whenever I repeat my stretch, the shoulder flares back up.

Meanwhile, due to the shoulder pain, I was sleeping poorly. After several days of poor sleep, my immune system lowered and I caught a nasty cold, with fever and nasty cough. So I couldn't go to Dom (debilitating Dom is considered bad form, much discouraged by his other patients).

One more thing: the day before I caught the cold, I developed a toothache. My dentist diagnosed an abscess and put me on antibiotics.

At this point, feeling like I was in "check", if not full "checkmate", a close family member began to die. Lungs filled with fluid and cardiac arrest ensued. As you know from reading this Slog, I'm not one to paint myself into dramatic scenes, but whenever I painfully cough up goop from my lungs, I think my standard ironical thought - "Jesus, I'm gonna die..." - and quickly catch myself. "Oh, wait...."

So, per the "Mad Men" GIF meme, "Not Great, Bob".

But here's why I'm writing. Last night, as I sat in bed with my iPad, tooth and shoulder throbbing in pain, back out of kilter, and lungs struggling with weird sympathetic issues, shocked by bad news, and unable to make anything the least bit better, I instinctively did something I've never done. I surfed YouTube for funny pet videos.

I never do this. I'm not a pet guy, and definitely not a pet video guy. But you know what? Funny pet videos are great. They really are. I finally get it! They are the antidote. They fix it all; like the optimal stretch with no tendinitis aftermath. Please remember this if you ever find yourself in a predicament like this. Funny pet videos are a salvation. No wonder millions flock to them.

Per my posting on Resilience, I'm moving promptly and undramatically to the next scene. I never linger on a cliffhanger, I binge right through into next season, omnivorously eating up plot line. I just live right straight through it. That's what gave me the zeal and resourcefulness this morning to figure out an alternative back stretch that doesn't stress my shoulder, which is already starting to feel better (Triumph!). I'll visit Dom after my cold passes to clean up the damage. And my tooth's much better, though my lungs are worse (for now!). What's more, I've previously learned that grief is mostly about lying to oneself...something I've spent a lifetime learning not to do. And, having found cosmic cheats around lots of typical undue misery, I've decided my lungs have filled with phlegm to ensure that I don't under-suffer (there's surely a Goldilocks point). Each cough forces me to pay attention. Whacky though it is, I can't say it's inappropriate. Anyway, that's my framing.

Still not a bad day, btw. Through cardiac emergencies, crazy worldly friction, a year of indentured servitude to a sadist, and more, I've perennially asked myself a magical question: "If this is the worst thing that happens today, would that mean it's been a good day?" The record is unbroken. It's always been the case. This is a big part of why I believe we're living in Utopia.

And, no, I'm not an optimist. Just reasonably clear-eyed.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Photo Trick

If you're not sure how someone feels about you, ask them to take your photo. You'll discover how they frame you (literally and figuratively).

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