Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Guaranteeing Trump’s Reelection

This is an important article on how Democrats can manage not to help Trump in 2020. The problem is that it fails to address the problem in a way progressives can really grok. Let me take a shot at it.

Progressives! I wish you (apologies in advance to those who reject the "you" pronoun) good morning! Let me sum up what Never-Trump Republican Charley Sykes is saying here in his desperate, panicked desire to assist you in helping to rid America of its current blight. He wants you to perform three acts of kindness and tolerance into the election season. He asks you to recognize that:
1. There are dyed-in-wool liberals outside your cosmopolitan bubble who don't buy into all the boutique issues you deem self-evidently right. Don't alienate them. Broaden, don't narrow.

2. There are moderate Democrats who live VERY different lives from you. Don't alienate them. Broaden, don't narrow.

3. There are Trump-repelled moderate Republicans, former Republicans, and Centrists living in an entirely different universe than you. Don't alienate them. Broaden, don't narrow.
You know how you talk around squares? Talk like that!

You know how in certain social situations (e.g. with your parents' friends) you do your darndest to find common ground, keeping your more doctrinal urgings to yourself? Do that!

And keep it going into the 2020 election. Don't assume Democrats (much less Centrists and apostate Republicans) in Pennsylvania or Michigan, who drive pickup trucks with gun racks, share your lifestyle and your tribal inclinations. Assume that many/most of your potential allies are creepily, disconcertingly, maddeningly behind re: attitude trends you and your friends synch up with via social channels, and maybe decline to eat their flesh for their failure to diligently update.

Tolerate. Embrace. Build a coalition. And, for godsakes, WIN.

At least, do this if you want to defeat Trump. If that's NOT your top priority, then, by all means: as you were.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Frame Yourself in Comedy

Most people go through their lives with greatly inflated notions of who they are and where they're headed. So if you're cursed with even a tad of self-awareness, life becomes hell right around middle age - the age when, it's often observed, you discover who you are. If your self-image was always unrealistic, that's when the mounting evidence becomes hard to ignore.

At that point you have two options:

1. Readjust your self-image, or
2. Live in denial.

#1 seems like the healthier route, and it would be, except for a very perilous trap.
I've written about this trap twice (here and here), in a different context.
If you resign yourself to resetting your self-image with a declaration like "I'm not a hero after all. All my hopes and dreams were just a bunch of empty drama! This, right now, is as good as it's ever going to be!" and if you feel like you're starring in a movie (as nearly everyone does), this will be a sad, sad movie moment. This is where your life movie gets sad and stays sad. You've willed yourself into depression (in fact, I believe this is the most common origin of depression).

It's a shame, because you were so close to nailing it! Confronted with evidence that your self-image was nonsense, and choosing the healthy path of readjusting self-image accordingly, you were so close to equanimity and happiness. But as you spoke the lines to the camera, you decided to play it tragically, gamely adding a quivering lower lip. That's quite a momentous scene; you've placed your character in a box that cannot be climbed out of (at least not without upturning one's framing).

So if you ever find yourself going down that road, forced to concede that maybe you're not the moral paragon and saintly hero you'd imagined yourself to be, and you're never going to pitch for the Yankees, so it's time to readjust your self image, just don't speak to the camera.

Or, if there must be a camera (for most of us it's inescapable), play the scene as light-hearted comedy. Say "I'm not a hero after all. All my hopes and dreams were just a bunch of empty drama! This, right now, is as good as it's ever going to be!", wink mirthfully, and walk to the horizon with a jaunty Chaplin-esque spring in your step, if that fits the character you play. Or walk into a multi-hued sunset, heaving a sigh of relief with your strong shoulders. Or saunter away, cooler than school, having jettisoned the bullshit that had been weighing you down. There are lots of ways to play it, if drama's your thing. If you must be in a movie - if this must be a cinematic moment - find a way to make it a happy one.
“I’m not that great (cute shrug)” as opposed to “I’m not that great (heaving sobs)”. “I probably don’t deserve every great result (carefree grin)” as opposed to “I probably don’t deserve every great result (weighty sigh)”.
It's that easy. It's that stupid. Yet I've seen two people die and more than a dozen people throw away their happiness because they didn't know they could flip this switch.

(Note that there's a trap within the trap. If you're naturally depressive - if negativity is the tone you've chosen for this movie you imagine yourself to be in so that's how you frame most of your scenes - you'll find the brighter comedic framing fluffy and false, whereas the heavier, sadder framing seems truer. That's your own skewing, however; it's not real. Set yourself the task of stretching as an actor, and escaping old habits. Dip your toe in comedy, however unfamiliar it seems, and work to get better at it.)

This is how hypnosis works. We decide how we'll play a scene from a position of relaxed detachment, and, if the hypnosis works, the next run-through is transformationally different (in fact, it's a parallel universe).

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Near-Extinction of Thoughtfulness

News story:
Read this important terse analysis.

Two very similar reactions by two influential people:
He obviously intended to type “ensure” ("stupid threats like this ensure that they won’t"), but thought about it for a few seconds and decided, correctly, that “make it more likely” was more accurate...even though it's less snappily satisfying.

That pause for reflection, with diligent follow-thru, is a nearly extinct move (outside of the crustiest journalists...who are constantly punished by the Left for their measuredness). I treasure it when I spot it.
So that's the new-school approach: thinking/writing like an addled teenager. Trump didn't lose "some" credibility, or even just "credibility". He's lost all credibility. EVERY IOTA of it.

The second guy's an expert, and a lawyer, so if I were to challenge him on this, he'd sheepishly concede the overstatement. Whereas I'd imagine many readers will see no problem with it. Trump is the worst possible president (he's not. He's a mere "4". We're spoiled.), and has no credibility whatsoever (he has poor credibility). Every bad thing is the worst possible thing; every bad move is the worst possible move; and thus our species slogs miserably through utopia toward its inexorable extinction.

Five Theories of George and Kelly Ann Conway’s Marriage

For those who haven't experienced the tingling joy that is George Conway's Twitter feed, go ahead and feast on it for a moment before continuing (here's this morning's best missive).

Five Theories of George and Kelly Ann Conway’s Marriage:

1. Fade-in on Conway house. George and Kelly Ann are screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing things at each other. Home's a complete war zone, with sandbags and shrapnel.

2. George and Kelly Ann languorously sip wine, sitting close in a love seat, smug smiles on their faces, discussing her exfiltration plan per his careful set-up.

3. Kelly Ann comes home from work and makes only the lightest conversation with George, awkwardly avoiding politics. Several faux pas increase the awkwardness, until finally the word “Trump” comes out of the TV and George leaps across the kitchen, throws Kelly Ann to the floor, and makes furious love to her; cursing her and her boss while she urges him on by calling him a “fucking traitor”.

4. George and Kelly Ann, both wearing heavy reading glasses, are perched anxiously around a dinner table piled with with reports and computer monitors. Image consultants are coaching them on their "bifurcated branding operation". Kelly exults about how she just reached 2.5M Twitter followers. George pecks her cheek affectionately and says "love yuh, babe".

5. George and Kelly Ann finish a painfully cold and silent dinner, sitting at opposite ends of a very, very, very, very long table, and say a perfunctory, clipped "g'night" as they head upstairs to their respective bedrooms. Split screen as Kelly Ann fishes a vibrator from her night table and pleasures herself while watching Trump rallies on TV, while George does likewise watching Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's viral dance video [this one's a cheat; George is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who happens to be virulently anti-Trump]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


People often call me "optimistic" or "positive-thinking". It always strikes me as strange, because I'm neither of those things...at all.

Here's the explanation: people are so skewed toward pessimism and negativity - dramatizing the undramatic and catastrophizing the mundane - that being merely levelheaded makes you seem like a Pollyanna ("an excessively cheerful or optimistic person").

79.9% of people are neurotically pessimistic, 19.9% are neurotically optimistic, and .1% enjoy some shred of clarity.

Never forget that everyone's playing a game, an angle (though they get so wrapped up in the pose that they forget they ever had a choice). Here's how it comes about, and here's why.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Most Helpful Insight About Creativity

I've been gradually sussing out the rules of engagement for creativity (tough to verbalize, since that stuff's inherently native to the intuitive, non-verbal side of the brain). Among these 76 (currently) postings there are some especially interesting ones (several are listed in the left margin <---). But one insight beat all the others. As usual, it was a total "duh" once you heard it.

My posting "Why Hacks Think They're Geniuses" didn't just explain the mindset of drek purveyors (as well as the merely uninspired). It explains what holds them back, and why they'd never heed a call for superhuman commitment. They think they're already doing that. As I wrote:
It's super hard to write a lousy book, compose a lousy symphony, direct a lousy film, or paint a lousy mural. It takes 10 years of instrumental training plus another decade of improvisation experience to even begin to call oneself a jazz musician - far longer than med school! - so it's little wonder that every unexceptional player considers himself some sort of genius.

Every purveyor of crap feels - with good reason! - like they've made the Big Sacrifice. They've tasted commitment and suffered for their art. Every one of them. That's why uninspired hacks nod along in weary agreement when you discuss "commitment". Just getting to square one, assembling and presenting something with some minimal degree of competence, is inhumanly difficult. They all believe they've done the thing because they've done the thing!
I wrote a few weeks ago about how
Human beings compress extremes. We regress toward means. In plain language, we narrow our perspective, which means we "clip" the ends of the scale, mentally compressing extremes into a nondescript paste.
This is an example of that. Authoring a shitty book takes a year off your life, turns your hair grey, and gives you ulcers, so one would assume that writing a great one requires just a little more of that. But no. "Shitty", "adequate", and "great" are not neighbors. Greatness is a quadrillion times more demanding; a separate realm above and beyond the excruciating rigors of producing any old book.

As I wrote in my tribute to Mamma Grimaldi's spectacular lasagna:
Extremes can be strange. You'd expect them to be like lesser instances, only more so. But sometimes they're a whole other thing; a different world.
This accounts for why most lasagnas, most books, most movies, most music, most art, most creative things generally are so sucky. Sucky purveyors, already working hard, couldn't conceive of trying a quadrillion times harder than is strictly necessary. This is what people mean when they talk about creating "with love": doing vastly more than is needed while being crushed to death. It requires a stout-heartedness ordinarily only available to ardent lovers. Most people stop well short of that point...hence suckage.

Continuing my quoting from "Why Hacks Think They're Geniuses":
Just getting to square one, assembling and presenting something with some minimal degree of competence, is inhumanly difficult. They all believe they've done the thing because they've done the thing!

Here's what I'd say to such people: Remember how hard it was just to generate and organize that material and have it be coherent? Well, what if some impossible-to-please tyrant loomed constantly over your shoulder, screaming at you to demolish perfectly adequate chunks and rework them for a result that's far better than it needs to be; far better than audiences will likely even notice, much less appreciate?

What if that belligerent asshole required you to treat every trivial decision like a matter of life or death?

What if every facile choice and easy cliché stabbed at him like a dagger to the heart?

What if, amid the overall death march, he compelled you to weigh yourself down further with seemingly unnecessary extra compulsions and requirements?

What if he demanded perpetual self-questioning, leaving you perpetually unsure whether you've committed the sin of settling for "good enough" rather than riding the curve of diminishing results all the way to brilliance (100,000 times harder...when it's already so, so hard)?

What if you needed to spend time soothing collaborators who might otherwise feel smothered by the intensity of the demands he compels you to satisfy?

And what if you could never, ever evade this person, because it was you?
I await my X Prize for having at long last derived Sturgeon's Law.

As I once recalled:
I used to teach jazz improvisation workshops around Europe. Among my clever exercises and useful bits of advice, the thing that most helped students was a simple, exasperated and brutal observation:

You guys are sitting there, slumped in your chairs, mopey and dead-eyed. You're honking out jazzy notes like it's the latest dreary task in your daily grind, along with vacuuming the living room or tying your shoes. You're not working hard and you're not particularly trying...even though you absolutely need to, because you're not good yet.

Now, consider me. I'm a professional. I'm good. In fact, I'd sound good even if I sat back like a mope, treating this like some dreary task. Yet I don't. Look at me here, trying phenomenally hard. I'm sweating bullets and considering every note as if my life depended on it. Why are you working and caring so much less than I am? Does it make even the slightest bit of sense?!?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Problem Solvers

People who pride themselves on their sharp problem-solving abilities are frauds. Don't listen to them.

You want the person who walks with a limp and is missing half a tooth and who flinches whenever you move your hands fast. That's the person who has deep experience with coping with problems.

It's another facet of the David Copperfield thing. Shiny, composed people who seem superior have worked hard at shiny composition - at seeming superior. Seeming is a completely separate track from being. Those who've actually got the goods tend not to waste effort on the seeming part. So they're overlooked (here's where I made my original case for that, talking about how hard it is to recognize who's intelligent).

"You know so much about computers!" remarked a friend as I fixed her Mac. "I've had a long string of computer disasters dating back to 1992, and never had someone to zoom in and rescue me...so I gradually figured stuff out," I explained. I didn't sound superior. I didn't seem expert. Just aggravated, aggrieved, and beaten-down.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Vintage Kitchenware

My supposedly stainless steel slotted spoon rusts if it sits in the sink overnight.

My colander is so flimsy that it dents if you drop a spoon in it.

The shiny surface of my flatware is wearing off, revealing toxic copper.

My folding steamer basket jams.

My measuring cup chips if placed within an inch of any dishwasher item.

I feel like I'm 22 again, living an ad-hoc life on the cheap with everything jury-rigged and temporary. But now there are no alternatives.

You might decry it all as "Chinese-made crap", but that meme's wrong. China also manufactures our iObjects - to a level of refinement and build quality no American factory could match. Same for your fancy TV. The problem isn't crappy Chinese manufacturing, it's cheap American consumers demanding ultra-cheap essentially disposable crap. That market is so dominant that higher-quality operations can't compete. Few of us will pay an extra dime for quality.

If only I'd intercepted my mom before she'd thrown out all her housewares prior to moving to an assisted place. Her measuring cup, her slotted spoon, her steamer baskets and silverware and colander had performed for decades. I remember them like a dream of my more grown-up era before backtracking to my flimsy life as a 22-year-old. A more substantial, less aggravating existence - my gentile upbringing on a Viennese estate where the kitchen staff (Jakob and Sophie and dear old Magdalena) labored with weighty, substantial spatulas. Having fallen on hard times, I obsess endlessly in my quest for a proper potato masher.

Next best thing: I intercept other moms. I head to eBay and insert the search term "vintage" along with the item. Zillions of households are selling this stuff. There's a premium, but I'm happy to pay 1.5 - 2x the going rate. Like the 1945 Buicks still going strong in Havana, the good stuff will last forever. It never dawned on me that my Mom's Ekco slotted spoon was a potential heirloom.

I don't mind the additional expense because it doesn't add up to much overall. Thankfully, I'm not a "lovely coffee table person" (LCTP), my shorthand for people who need to establish for themselves and others that they're cultivated "nice" people who "have nice things". This preoccupation gets very expensive, and becomes a mindspace-dominating neurosis. I lack the LCTP gene, so none of this is a question of status. I just want stuff to work.

Clarification: I'm not saying you must not have a nice coffee table. I'm not calling you decadent bourgeoise for owning anything decorative or lovely. It's the compulsion that you have to. LCTP are people for whom everything must be perfectly lovely and decorative. They feel they're living on stage, and anything cheap-seeming or not perfectly matched makes them tremble with unease, like they're revealing fractures in their desperately glossed image.

I frequently note in this Slog that we're not living in a movie; that it's a horrible mistake to neurotically pull back the camera to view one's own life as if it were some cinematic narrative (that's what Narcissus was about, IMO, though the Greeks, lacking film cameras, were forced to use a less precise metaphor). This impulse is the source of all unhappiness, and the extreme version is seen in the LCTP person. If you happen to own a nice chair - or even a nice coffee table, whatever - god bless and enjoy. Me? I own a jacket.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Day My Life Changed

I was anonymously part of an online discussion where someone asked for tips for launching an online community. He received dozens of replies, many of them highly-rated, but all of them primitive from my expert vantage point.

I wrote up 500 words - 500 golden words - with the weight of authority and hard-won knowledge. It was insightful and smart. You didn't need to know my history to recognize that 1. I knew my stuff, and 2. I was right. I'd offered, perhaps for the first and only time on the Internet, a terse but complete guide to online community design and management. A gem. Sorry, it just was.

My reply was completely ignored, aside from a couple of users who took snarky potshots at it.

I was long accustomed to being ignored and to receiving potshots. I've lived a bifurcated life in which I feel both eccentric/crazy/annoying and correct. I have tolerated this paradox, self-identifying both ways: batshit eccentric and also quietly correct. Crazy and sane. Right and wrong.

"Rightness might not be everything, but it's got to count for something." That was the plaintive maxim I held onto for decades. It sustained me, and I needed the support. You'd need to be a supreme egotist to walk around with straight spine and haughty superiority in a world that unanimously insists you're out of your mind. Your internal mental tickertape would need to sound like this:
What a horror that would be! Fortunately, I'm capable of only one mousy, hesitant refrain.


For one thing, I couldn't be sure. I didn't love everything that came out of my brain. I'd failed at stuff, I have blocks and shortcomings and slowness and fog. I once noted that
I read slowly, I memorize poorly, I have trouble following instructions and following novel and movie plot points. I don't digest data points quickly or easily. I was a B+ student, and am shockingly poorly-read. My cognitive horsepower is, at best, mildly above average.
Also, I recognize that all sorts of people are better at all sorts of things than me. Recognizing my own spottiness (and having been raised around people with a strange ironclad faith in their phenomenally ignorant convictions), I always accepted the possibility that I might be far less reliable than I believed.

But then this online situation happened, and I could only see one side. In this one instance, for the first time in my life, I felt 100% assurance. When I'm 90% assured, or 99%, or even 99.999%, I can comfortably continue my bifurcation, and live my life as daffy-overheated-weezil-but-also-probably-onto-something. But not this time. And that's when it all began to unravel. Worldly reaction had jumped the shark.

As I've come to recognize my general rightness (my patches of wrongness feel wonderful and refreshing when I discover them; I bathe in them with considerable relief), the one thing I haven't done is to flip the switch launching an inane narrative about how being right makes me awesome. It just doesn't connect. My mechanic can rebuild a transmission - something I couldn't learn to do with a century of instruction - yet he doesn't feel particularly awesome. And assurance, it turns out, feels way better than arrogance, anyway.

But the gaslighting's over. That's the main thing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Opportunity of Endless Iteration

If I took a cooking class - even a great one that lasted for a thousand years - it wouldn't help me cook anything great. I'd make fewer mistakes, but I wouldn't advance one nanometer toward deliciousness (see my thoughts on culinary school).

But for 15 years I've channeled meal time hunger into culinary improvement. Simple. Mild. Gradual. Torturous. And while I'm not completely there yet, I'm starting to become the sort of cook I myself might (lightly) praise.

The writer Nassim Taleb, who coined the term "Black Swan" (and who is an arrogant shlub whose thoughts should never be taken at face value - useful intellectuals are self-doubtful, assuring that their insights get pre-passed through a belligerent filter, whereas self-worship makes for spotty thinking), talks about "skin in the game" as being the key to success and creativity.

He's right, it's true. Humans do their best work when it's tightly keyed in to their deepest needs and desires. If you cook and work and love and breathe in a rote get-from-point-A-to-point-B fashion, you're missing the opportunity; you're squandering the rocket fuel.

And dryly resorting to books or videos or classes to improve yourself won't help you cook up anything truly great - in any realm - no matter how hard you work at it. You must have skin in the game (this is why black athletes do better).

Be more ant-like, and let your preset needs and desires drive you, through the endless iterations of daily life, to transcendent result.

From here:
Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.
From here:
Billions of people yearn for greatness.
Millions of people do things they hope will make them great.
Thousands of people do great things with nary a thought about where it will leave them.

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