Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My Own Robert Mueller Scenario

I once wrote:
Years ago, a few horrendous assholes swaggered onto the message boards of Chowhound.com and proceeded to post in vast profusion, relentlessly pummeling anyone who dared disagree. We asked them to give others a chance, rather than monopolize every conversation, but their compulsive output continued to spread like kudzu. We expunged the nastiest stuff, and, when they howled with indignation, we begged them to start their own forum...which, praise Jesus, they finally did. Predictably, they used the new forum to prattle on about how they'd been forced out because I'd felt threatened by their superior food knowledge.
Here's the thing. Those assholes - and the assholes they kicked out of their forum, who in turn started new forums of their own, plus the assholes those second generation assholes kicked out who went on to launch third generation assholic forums - hurled accusations at me via their own operations, sympathetic bloggers, and any journalist who'd listen, and kept this up long after they'd split off. A nonstop spume of ditzy belligerence and lies.

I was busy. I had a site to run. So I tuned it out and never once responded. Ever. In fact, this posting and the one linked above are the only public utterances I've made. Yet, then and still, it is common knowledge that there was a "feud" between them and myself.

How on earth can a feud be entirely unilateral? Well, it seems that if you taunt someone bombastically enough, you can create the false impression of a relationship. A friend quipped at the time that this was a "feud" in the same sense as Rupert Pupkin vs. Jerry Langford.

The trolling and lies were never a big deal. Just a source of amused consternation with human nature (one of the many mysteries kindling the pondering which fuels this Slog). But the fact that these tactics actually landed for reasonable people was a small trauma which I'm currently reliving thanks to this supposed "feud" between Trump and Robert Mueller.

Mueller has not said one public word, nor done anything but keep his head down and perform his assigned job. There's nothing to judge him on, aside from a splendidly efficient set of indictments and guilty pleas. Yet it seems - to both sides! - like a fight. Once again, a unilateral feud! Forget the apeshit projections from Planet MAGA; even those who sanely recognize that this is nothing but Trump's empty flailing appear to project gnarly reciprocity onto the special prosecutor. Mueller will show him what's what! Mueller's gonna bust his ass!

Is it possible Robert Mueller's just doing his job? Neither a witch hunt nor a Rambo assault, and that it's entirely impersonal? Or that I was earnestly working to foster honest, civil, and useful food discussion in the most principled possible manner?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Racist Racist Racist Racist Racist!!

I'm confident enough in my sexuality that I don't feel obliged to project a particularly masculine image. I'm not constantly self-monitoring to avoid sissy-ish statements or behavior, because I know what I am, and don't need to prove otherwise. I find it strange how many people miss the irony of working to not seem gay, as many guys do. Machismo strikes me as a comic display of obvious sexual insecurity. With nothing to hide, I've cast aside behavioral filters, which paradoxically makes many guys suspect I'm gay. Oddly, no woman (including new acquaintances) ever, to my knowledge, has.

Similarly, I feel comfortable with people of different races. I don't occupy myself with trying not to seem racist, because I know my inclinations are benign. Liberals often dislike how I talk about race (here are some previous postings on the topic), because I eschew the normal filtering. Spotting my inattention to norms, I seem like I might be juuuust a little bit racist. Yet I've never heard anything like that from black or brown people.

(Yes, I realize it's not a perfect analogy. It's nonetheless useful.)

President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist.

I'm guessing you've heard this. It's repeated again and again. In some cases, it's a conscious attempt to stave off normalization; to keep calling it out and to try to remain sensitized. But in most cases, it's like feebly re-striking wet matches. The saying of these words should change something, so, when they don't, we grow confused and try again and again, falling into a loop. Did you know that President Trump is a racist?

Why do we say these words in the first place? Well, that's simply what we do! When we spot racist language or behavior, we call it out, like spraying cleaner on a countertop stain. Stimulus...reaction. We're doing a job; getting it done. Having performed the pattern matching, we speak the words. We're fighting the good fight, with a righteous feeling of being on the right side. You're a racist! Once uttered, the words enter into a higher ledger. That's what we do with racists. We announce them. We label them with our words.

And if their racism continues, well, we keep announcing. We keep flicking those matches until something happens. Ideally, they'll lose their job (i.e. their ability to feed and support themselves and their families). That's how it's supposed to go. You say the racist thing, I perform the pattern matching and utter the words, and you crawl up and die, because that's what happens to racists. If the process fails to complete, I grow confused. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist. President Trump is a racist.

I don't think it's very deep. I think it's people behaving like computers, rotely matching inputs to outputs, and getting stuck in loops when the correct result fails to ensue.

I'd like to propose a radical change. What if we simply let racists be racists, given that 1. racists are going to be racists whether we let them or not, and 2. we're all somewhat racist - in fact, nothing feels more racist to me than people who find my Jewishness absolutely delightful, or else something so potentially touchy that they feel compelled to very politely never ever mention it, though it evidently remains the top-most thing on their minds. As I once wrote:
As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?"
The pattern matching procedure never really worked. Context is everything. An Italian drinking buddy calling me a Jew bastard feels fine to me, while being indulgently asked whether it's ok if there's pork in my soup by a hyper-woke waiter who's studied my nose shape and feels compelled to amiably respect my stark Otherness in her glorious rainbow feels icky.

And it's okay. The world intrinsically feels icky, regardless, and always will. In fact, nothing could possibly feel ickier than high-handed sanctimonious attempts to cleanse public sentiment.

What if we let racists live and work among us, in peace? What if we tolerate their free use of language as part of that same glorious rainbow? And what if we club them over the head with the full weight of the legal system if they ever ever act on it by discriminating - i.e. doing actual harm? What if you can be a racist, think like a racist, talk like a racist, but we prevent you from acting on it? Conveniently, we have a legal system, with lots of preexisting legislation, to handle exactly that.

I understand it feels insufficient. I understand the drive to purge all the ickyness, and I understand that some believe it can be purged by screaming "icky!!!" really loudly and waiting for it to be "cleaned up" (in ways that are poorly considered, because, really, why waste thought and consideration on ickyness, which is, after all, icky?).

Most of all, what if we recognize that much of the preoccupation
 with racism is actually projecting insecurities about one's own inclinations; an overcompensating effort to flamboyantly signal one's position on the correct side of things? 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

My Best Shot

By fluke, I happened to land temporarily on the radar of a Never-Trump conservative with centrist tendencies who's likely to play an important part in whatever happens post-Trump - whether a third party, a fresh coalition, or a reformation of the GOP. If you find yourself with a brief window of attention from a person like that - knowing they'll actually read an email or two, so long as you keep it brief and don't sling the usual crap - how would you use that opportunity?

(On a similar tack, I once wrote about how I'd use such an opportunity with Trump - and how it might probably look pretty bad from a distant perspective.)

Here's what I sent. I don't imagine for a second that he'll proclaim that, having finally heard The Truth, he's prepared to go forward and enact my lofty vision. But I know he generally agrees, so if just one granule of my perspective lodges and later helps in some miniscule way, I'd be thrilled. So here's me giving it my best shot:

I wrote:
Your brand of conservatism was never truly right wing. Strip the tribalism, the rote anti-liberalism, and a handful of wedge issues, and it’s pure American centrism, eminently acceptable to moderates on the Left.

With Right extremism inevitably provoking reciprocal Left extremism, there's an obvious opportunity for centrist coalition. The secret sauce would be explicit agreement to unclench cultural baggage (i.e. tribalism, rote anti-ism, and wedge issues). That’s how successful coalitions - in any setting - always proceed. I see you intuitively taking these conciliatory steps yourself.

Re: wedge issues, it'd be a viable compromise to simply freeze federal gun/abortion/etc. regulation as-is for a couple cycles. I.e. “table” the hot buttons….and temper the neocon hawkishness via a firm commitment to the Powell Doctrine.

If pulled off to its full potential, sparing us the customary ping-ponging aftermath, it'd be a momentous human precedent, breaking an ancient cycle and vanquishing what in retrospect will be remembered as nothing more than the un-self-aware assholes’ pathetic last gasp. I’d do anything to support it.
He replied:
You're exactly right on the centrism. I've always believed that the political homeostasis of a series of generally center right/center left adminstrations was a positive feature, not a bug
I replied:
>>>>the political homeostasis of a series of generally center right/center left adminstrations was a positive feature, not a bug

Yes, but the downside of the gloriously tight American rubber band is that huge swings (e.g. Obama to Trump to a Harris or Sanders) could snap it.

Rarely (never?) in history has a chain reaction of reciprocal extremism been quelled by an active intervention of moderation. If we can pull it off, it would transform all this into something beautiful; marking the death throes of an obsolete way of being. The JC/MLK/Gandhi decency judo perpetrated for the first time sans messianic catalyst.

Most centrists have no freaking idea they’re centrists. Show me a centrist, and I’ll show you a non-zealot who’s grown self-aware, nothing more. As you well know, partisanship's mere tribal identification; few ever really buy the doctrine. That fact has, alas, worked in Trump’s favor, turning nominal “conservatives" 180°, but could just as easily go the other way. Actually, the other way’s easier. It’s the default. Inciting moderates into extremism is aberrational (and, as you say, it cannot endure without Trump himself).

I think a Centrist outcome is comparatively easy. Just ensure conciliation (of cross-tribal moderates) has greater attraction than the reciprocation (of escalating anti-ism). Recognition of this implicit ease is essential for structuring the correct messaging, IMO. The magnetism’s actually all lined up, even if the situation appears like the stark opposite. The Taoists had it right!

While many of us might prefer to see a new third party or fresh coalition rather than a reformed GOP, I think that's wrong. A third party would just split the anti-MAGA vote, carving two sane minorities out of a large sane majority and giving the crazies a perennial crack at running things.

The best way to confine the MAGAs to their minority status is via isolation. And that's likely easiest to achieve via reformulation of a sane GOP (once Trump's gone, and erstwhile right-wing moderates have recovered a bit). Happily, the MAGAs would readily agree to it. They'd be downright eager to exist as a tight bundle under some defiant, roguish banner...unlikely to win another national election.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Once Again: Never Count on Redemption

If you haven't heard of QAnon, it's the insanely ridiculous conspiracy theory for people too stupid for merely stupid conspiracy theories. It's where you go if you can't pronounce "Illuminati". As the great Rick Wilson explained in his classic take-down:
When even aggressive conspiracy-pusher faux-journalist loons and alt-lite thought leaders Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec find QAnon too crazy to promote, it should make you pause. Both men were aggressive promoters of the Pizzagate theory, in which a Washington D.C. restaurant was falsely alleged to be the center of a global child sex-trafficking, cannibalism and prostitution ring. Both were all-in on the cruel and false Seth Rich story, and a raft of other pro-Trump efforts to mainline fantasy conspiracies into the American body politics.
Yet QAnon is white hot right now. Untold millions are super into this thing, which is nothing more than a goofy goof propagated by a few chortling kiddies at 4Chan, the web hangout for bored, emotionally repressed smart kids with time on their hands thanks to free rent in Mom's basement. And "Anonymous" has gotten fed up with it all and threatened to expose them. So it won't last much longer.

When the whole thing fizzles, and believers should be left feeling like rubes, and sheepishly apologize to the rest of us for their poor judgement, and build up some resistance to future horse shit, none of those things will happen. Nor will any of that happen when at least one (probably two, and quite possibly three) Trump Crime Family member winds up in jail, and the horror, corruption, treason, and rot of this administration turns out to be more vast (and more moronic) than even the most hysterical Resistance hothead ever imagined.

Because, as I once wrote, you can "Never Count on Redemption."

Friday, August 3, 2018

Good Clip of My Trombone Playing Back in the Day

Hey, this is kind of nice. This video slipped onto YouTube without my noticing at the time....a gig from 1992 with the Steve Weisberg Orchestra, which I always enjoyed. This was a pretty big trombone feature, and I was having a particularly good night.

...except, that is, for my tuning in some of the middle sections, which gets a bit cringe-inducing. Explanation: my horn was literally melting in my hands, strangely enough. I have unbelievably acidic skin, and I quickly eat through any metal I touch. This was a magical trombone I refused to discard, even though it had grown too soft and goopy to be entirely playable. I was loyal to it for its gorgeous sound, which produced precisely the timbre I was going for. A year or two later I very reluctantly shifted to another horn, which was never really the same, and not long thereafter I hung it up entirely due to Chowhound turning into an ever-scaling monster. Near the end (around 8':40" and thereafter), I was so involved and riled up that I made this unplayable horn play unearthly perfectly in tune; a minor miracle of shakti.
When you're done, maybe reread this, now that there's context.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Conservative Reaction to Late-Stage Nixon

This beautifully concise explanation of Conservative reaction to Nixon/Watergate is a mirror of our times, confirming that none of the apparent weirdness is new or puzzling. 

Most Conservatives are, and have always been, primarily anti-Liberal. A few Conservatives also have firm principles. But Watergate showed that even the firmly-principled revert to blind partisanship in a crunch, even when this lands them in sharp opposition to their own principles.

At the root is a human tribal reaction. When a Nixon or a Trump gets cornered, the Right supports, blindly, because, for better or for worse, he’s the emblem of their side, and the infuriated people are the other side. It’s not a moral choice, it’s simply human instinct to band together against attack from the Other. This is why dictators always concoct foreign threats. It makes moderates, who’d otherwise disapprove of the regime, fall in line behind the dude nominally charged with The National Interest. What I gleaned from the above-linked article is that domestic factions also exhibit that behavior. 

Liberals do this, too. We all do. But understanding the tendency will be essential for a clear-eyed view of the impending endgame of the Mueller investigation.  The MAGAs will scream their heads off, or course, because he’s their Cheez Whiz Jesus. But many moderate Republicans will shock us with their prolonged defense. Not because they find his crimes trivial, and not because they love his presidency, but just because they’ll parse it as an attack on “our side”, and will instinctively get their collective backs up. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Selling AAPL

I just sold the remainder of my AAPL shares (at a cost basis of $95, bought in February 2016). The price may rise further, but that's ok. I don't need to make every penny. Once it's dropped 15-20% (manipulated via the usual familiar media/analyst scare tactics over some trivial setback), I'll start buying again. Rinse and repeat.

There is something new, however. My Apple investment philosophy, which I've repeated in all my postings about AAPL stock, is that despite the periodic scares, there are no bona-fide existential threats (i.e. the company could - and surely will eventually - deteriorate, but not precipitously). But, as I noted last time, Trump's imbecilic trade war might make China take full-force aim at Apple. China being an enormous market for AAPL, this possibility complicates the calculus.

Effusion is a Red Flag

My posting "Effusion's Startlingly Brief Half-Life" noted that....
It unnerves me to be cursed with knowledge of how easily people can slip from "you're my hero" to "you're an asshole". There's a scene in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories" where a woman is speaking on the telephone as Woody's character (a filmmaker) walks by. She interrupts her call to gush to him about how she's his biggest fan, and asks him to say hello to her son, who's on the other line. He politely declines, whereupon her face contracts into a mask of rage. "Cancer!" she screams. "I hope you get cancer and die! I never liked you!" When I first saw the film at age 18, I assumed this was surreality. But, no, it's terrifyingly true. With a certain type of person, "beloved hero" and "despised asshole" are precisely one notch apart.
It truly never fails!

Slog reader's note on Sunday morning:
"Your thoughts have been a huge help to me."
Same reader's note on Sunday evening:
"Please go on with your vanity of a blog (no one reads it)."
People get angry, I get that. And when they get angry, they stomp away sniffily. I get that, too. That's all just normal human stuff. It's the rewriting ("I never liked you/your work!") that amazes. I think the truth is that neither the praise nor the contempt were worth much. When both are flippantly doled out, neither has value.

This is why you see some people (especially creative types) flinching uncomfortably at effusive praise. It's not a matter of modesty or embarrassment so much as the knowledge that the other gun's invariably locked and loaded.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Wish Lists, Queues, and Release Valves

I've learned to maintain wish lists for books, DVDs, apps, etc., that I definitely want but which I wouldn't use right away. If I buy something upon first craving, it will most likely sit around unused, while if I wait until it's needful, the price will often have dropped (especially on the second-hand market).
I'm a fan of DVDpedia, CDpedia, and Bookpedia from Bruji, great software for Mac that lets you catalog both libraries and wishlists.
The purchase impulse can easily unhook from actual needfulness, and wish lists act as a release valve to get back into sync. A wish-listed book I eagerly want to read (once I get through 30 others!) doesn't feel lost. It's merely queued in a pre-sale state. It feels like it's in my ownership, just not yet in my possession.

I very rarely buy the stuff on my wishlists (unless I find something super-cheap), so it's a perfectly effective release valve. Terrific books/music/films are terrific, so it would pain me to deny myself. But this is not self-denial, it's just queueing in pre-sale! I'm waiting for the right moment or for a great deal...perhaps forever. It feels cheerful.
I do the same with long online articles, which get queued to Instapaper or Pocket, aka Read It Later.

I've always argued in my head a lot, especially while on hiatus from meditation. It's a writer thing; I'm always plotting expression on all fronts. And last year I tried an experiment. When someone annoys me, and I found that I've mentally played forward the conversation to craft a response to the imagined next line, I actually write out that response...and stow it away.
It helps me to write everything out, hence this Slog. The creative impulse is not playful delight so much as feverish compulsion...at least if you're doing it right. The creative flow is a magical thing but it is, alas, never optional. Be careful what you wish for!
While it would be daft to actually shoot off a snappy reply to a statement that has not yet been made, it gives me a sense of security to know it's ready. So perhaps once per week I'll queue such a response, and it's like a release valve. But here's the thing: I have yet to send even a single one.

When annoying conversations continue, they never go in the direction I'd imagined (my intuition is quite good, but in this one context it fails me utterly), so these pre-prepared missives remain stillborn. Occasionally I browse through with a sense of horror, beholding a pathetic litany of sputtering exasperation. My shadow self on full display! Meanwhile, my actual replies surprise me with their temperateness. It's not self-restraint, it's just that Real World me is different from Fantasy Imagination World me. In the Real World, I'm not the egotistical center, and a person is a real person.

I cringe at the seeming madness, but have come to realize that it isn't crazy, it's progress. A great many people - including many who've glued a thin veneer of simulated moderation over their seething toxicity - never leave Fantasy Imagination World. That's all there is. Everything's always about them, and other people are mere objects. I seem to be describing narcissism, but if you add in the sane-seeming veneer-gluers and self-deluded mask wearers, this is a huge swath of the population (though obviously not you!).

Monday, July 30, 2018

Giuliani/Trump Logic

Putin Logic: "We did not interfere in your elections...and everyone interferes in each other's elections."

Neo-Nazi Logic: "Jews must be exterminated...and it's a blatant lie to say the Nazis exterminated the Jews."

Giuliani/Trump Logic: "The collusion was totally appropriate....and it's a blatant lie to say we colluded."

Groucho Marx Logic: "The food is awful at that restaurant...and such small portions!"

Blog Archive