Saturday, April 21, 2018

iPad Word Suggestion Poetry

I just had a dream
that I'd never thought of.
I just had a dream
that I'd never heard of.
I just had a dream
that I'd never had to live with.

The only problem
is that I'd never thought.

Meta Futility
You can try and not be able anymore
and you can try and try again.

Zen Marketing
The app does not work.
The problem is that
it doesn't seem like
a great deal
of a great deal.

Explaining the DNC Lawsuit

If you were wondering, as I was, exactly what's up with the massive DNC lawsuit announced today against Trump, Trump's campaign, Wikileaks, the Russian GRU, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Donald Jr., etc., check out this interesting and clear (though, per her style, irritatingly padded) explainer from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Telling People What They Are

If you ever have the opportunity to tell someone what they are, take it.

This flies in the face of every standard of polite sociality. It's incredibly taboo to characterize people! Most of us know better than to poke around in the minefield of who people are and what they do. Most people agree that the best approach is for you to be you, and to let them be them, offering only vague statements of support and admiration. "You go, girl" tepidity.

And it's true that you can get into trouble with this stuff. I used to play in a weekly jam session, and a woman who deemed herself a particularly enlightened jazz fan and expert kept trying to squeeze into the elevator with me after we finished. I understood that she had a compulsion to share her criticisms of me with me. I'd manage to dodge her, week after week, by dashing out like a gazelle, or pretending to talk on my phone. Eventually, I resorted to taking the steps (from the 15th floor). I didn't want to hear her assessment; I didn't want her in my brain. We all judge everything constantly, but only a neurotic few of us feel obliged to share that mental narrative.

So don't do that! It's also not particularly helpful to tell a violinist she plays well. She'll politely accept the compliment, but it's not really your assessment to make. You are not an arbiter of quality. If you enjoyed the performance, say so. But "you're good!" sounds more condescending than you realize, and you're not telling them something they don't already know.

So there are indeed several ways you can go wrong. That's why social convention says to steer clear of the quagmire of ego and self-image. However, there are special cases in which you might be foundationally helpful, if you'll offer a brief, modest, uncritical word or two about how a person's work specifically affected you.

I once told a singer (really, just a singing waitress in a hippy cafe at the time, without training or aspirations) that I heard deep honesty in her voice. She flashed on this, and, to cut to the end of the story, she's recorded several albums and has a wide following. She hadn't understood what she was. After I told her, she ran with it (all credit goes to her, of course...not me).

She'd known all along that there was something about her singing, but it was lodged in the intuitive, non-verbal part of her brain. She couldn't access it, couldn't focus it, couldn't figure out where to go or what to do, because she had no idea of who she was or what she did. This simple statement brought it into the light. Knowing what she was, she went forward kicking ass.

When I wrote about "The Enchanted Misty Mountain of Tea and Excrement", about dinner in the mysterious and exotic tea temple being built on the side of a Marin County mountain (the final installment of my multi-thousand mile chow tour), I managed, as I occasionally do, to paint an evocative picture. The subject of that piece, tea expert David Hoffman, told me there was "magic" to the result. And that clicked for me. I'd known there was something I was sometimes able to achieve, but it was lodged in the intuitive, non-verbal part of my brain. By bringing it to light, I understood that I was an aspiring magician. A lot of this Slog is the aftereffect of that revelation.

Interestingly, the piece also told David what he was. A strong flavor was evoked, and I'm not sure - even with his masterful tea expert palate - that David was previously aware of his own flavor. Few of us are. He hadn't realized that he seemed as I described. We need to be told.

A couple of years ago, someone greeted me as I came off stage from a set of music. He told me that, strangely enough, my notes seemed to resonate somewhere in his chest, in his heart. This might have sounded appallingly sappy, but he offered it amiably and off-handedly. It was flattering, but, much more importantly, it was useful. While I enjoy a certain open-heartedness on good days (thanks to meditation and stuff), it's not something others consciously notice. And I hadn't realized that music was a contagious channel; I honestly hadn't a clue. I've written often here about the difficulties I've had trying to recapture my earlier musical skills since Chowhound disrupted everything. But now I had something new; something younger Me had lacked. This was foundationally important to know.

If you ever have the chance to tell someone what they are or what they do, take it.

Just be careful out there. Don't judge. And don't criticize or assess. You're not the arbiter. And don't be all weighty about it, because it's not about you. But do share, tersely, anything highly specific that you happened to have noticed in your experiencing. 

Your genius friends might not realize they're geniuses; they may be drowning in self-doubt. Unconventionally beautiful people may not see that in themselves. Those with some super skill or faculty might not have slightest idea. Much talent comes naturally and doesn't feel special to the doer, so people often have no freaking idea who they are and what they're good at (beyond obvious, easily registered things like "plays violin well" or "runs fast").

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Chicken, Cookies, and Magical Realism

When I was in high school, my family often got takeout from Pudgie's Chicken and Ribs in Bethpage (a half hour ride from our house, so obviously this only happened once I'd gotten my learner's permit and could engage my latent chowhoundish instincts). Pudgie's was the prototypical mom-and-pop place, and it was great.

I woke up one day a few years later, and my obscure little chicken place was suddenly a large nationwide chain (good, not great, though obviously the same basic recipes). I anxiously returned to the Bethpage branch, and found in its place just another generic glossy chain iteration. Mom and pop were gone. Yet I heard they hadn't sold out. Somehow they were helming all this. What???

I found it wildly disorienting. Imagine if the Chinese take-out on your block suddenly became a sprawling franchise, mirrored from coast to coast, or if Emilio the guy at the bodega became "Emilio the Guy at the Bodega" for the entire nation. It's not supposed to work like that!

For that matter, consider DiFara's pizza. I used to be the only customer in the place (Mr. DeMarco was planning to retire due to lack of business), and now it's a treasured landmark countless fans claim to have known and loved long before I ever wrote about it. Wait, what??

Pudgie's didn't work out, they sold the trademark and secret process patent, and a handful of Pudgies/Arthur Treacher's hybrids and three standalone Long Island outlets are all that remain. I half expect the old Bethpage store to rematerialize. In fact, as the oddest possibility, it's also the likeliest.

I also used to patronize a shop called Annie's Cookies in San Francisco's Mission district. They were another unambitious-seeming obscure great local place, and I don't know what happened, but whenever I find myself in Whole Foods or health food stores, I spot boxes of "Annie's Cookies from SF" on the shelves. Not as good, of course, but still: what's happening???

This Slog needs way more animated GIFs....

I understand the concept of "selling out". I did it once, myself. But it's weird when it's some little brand hardly anyone else ever cared about, and weirder still when mom and pop turn out to have been concealing plans for a rocket ship all along.

This is among a number of discordant anomalies (e.g. a bass player who was mean to me once is currently locked up on terrorism charges) contributing to a "magical realism" flavor in my life. Being logical and scientific-minded, I try mightily not to give in to such thinking, but it ain't easy...

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #18

Monday, April 16, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 90,600 Google search results, up 9% from last time's 82,800 but still well below mid February's peak of 101,000.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

The Center is a Super Tribe...but Doesn't Know it Yet!

As a musician and writer, overeducated and based in New York City, I always assumed I was a liberal, in exactly the same way I'm Jewish: i.e. tepidly. I never particularly identified with - much less celebrated - either affiliation, but they felt inevitable. My discomfort with liberal positions felt hazy and semi-conscious. I was appalled by bible-thumping, Ayn Rand-humping, trickling down conservatism, and that aversion kept me loosely in-tribe for years. My political affiliation ran on sheer inertia.

Only later in life did I realize that I had never been a liberal. Who knew one could despise Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh without embracing Hillary Clinton and Michael Moore! The Center's a precarious perch, but I'm much happier having found it. And there's never been a better time for it.

(Here, FYI, is my political platform, from 2016.)

There's nothing particularly fresh about my story. Tens - perhaps hundreds - of millions of Americans, on both sides, probably feel similarly ambivalent, even if they remain as fuzzy-headed about it as I once was. But here's the interesting part:

For years, I'd hear peers say extremely left-wing things (Bernie-ish ravings about the federal gov's role as all-purpose paternal provider; rigid and sanctimonious adherence to the ever-expanding taboo list of beyond-the-pale speech and thought; outrage culture, identity politics, and neo-Dworkinism; harshly condescending attitudes toward non-urban cultures and traditional values; anti-science positions on nutrition, vaccines, GMOs, nukes, and fracking; Soviet-style intolerance toward free-thinking nonconformity per the Tolerance Paradox, etc.), and I'd conclude that I simply disliked those people.

"No, Jim," some wiser voice should have uttered, "those are liberals, part of a political tribe you happen not to belong to." These people hadn't just, like, thought all that stuff up. They're mostly just conforming. Recognizing this, I see that they're not obnoxious people. They're nice folks caught up (as virtually all of us are) in viral, tribal mindsets, drafting off the tropes of their peers and their favored media outlets because they're way too busy with actual life stuff to persistently question trendy intra-bubble thinking. They have insight and intelligence to offer despite their unexamined ideology.

Their talking points, in other words, don't necessarily reflect their core personhood. It's the equivalent of lighting Sabbath candles simply because "that's how our people do." They're herding, and it's nothing deep.

I had always clearly understood this about rank-and-file conservatives. But clear vision is tougher when viewing your own side...and toughest of all when extricating yourself from a side you were never really on to begin with. Since this was the pervasive tone where I grew up, I hadn't realized it was ideology. I'd figured it was just what people are like.

But from a slightly higher perspective - my comfortable centrist perch, from which the vapidity of both sides is clearly evident - I'm surprised to find myself bifurcating everyone less, not more! The vast majority appear to have recognizably soft and malleable edges, in spite of the credos they parrot. None of that stuff is as entrenched as it appears (which explains, for example, how most Republicans managed to blithely flip their values 180ยบ over the past two years). From the center, practically everyone - aside from hot-headed zealots - seems strikingly sympathetic to my position. I can converse with liberals and conservatives without triggering either into their dumb talking points. Despite my sharp distaste for virtually all noisy political positions (aside from civic-mindedness, empathy, and the rule of law), I have, oddly, never felt more politically kindred to nearly everyone.

The center is a super-tribe that just doesn't know it yet.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Four TV Series

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim) is more of a religious experience for me than just some TV show, but the new season's not coming for a long, long time (console yourself with the Pocket Morty game and/or Rick and Morty comics). Here are some other recos, for the meanwhile, for TV worth your time at a moment when there's so much entertainment out there:

Atlanta (FX) actually may be as good as Rick and Morty, though it's a wildly different show. I watched back when no one did, and wondered why they didn't, and I watch it now that everyone loves it, and still don't understand why they don't love it even more. Rigorously disciplined, unpredictably surreal, ridiculously nuanced, subtle, and honest comedy about the black experience in Atlanta, though you don't need to be black to enjoy it. The protagonist is a hip hop artist, but you don't need to like hip hop (he's a pot dealer, too, and, sorry, but you really do need to be a pot dealer). This series is so good it creates an obligation to review you. How much subtlety can you appreciate? How wide can you open your perspective? How flexibly can you stretch your expectations and assumptions? Above all, how much dense, luscious quality are you able to absorb? This show respects its audience's intelligence as much as Rick and Morty does, and it's more insightful than I'm able to insightfully appreciate. Whoever and whatever you are, it's got you beat. Resistance is futile.

Legion (FX) is the only comics-based (but live-action) series I watch, but it's totally different from the rest of the genre. This is an experimental, batshit-crazy, sizzlingly creative show about the razor's edge between the insane and the extraordinary. I normally don't like showy indulgence, and I generally need stuff to make sense, yet this show is 100% indulgent and non-linear and I absolutely don't mind. I drop everything and let it process me, and that's not my usual groove. It's only possible via immeasurable workmanship and brilliance. Watch on the best quality display you can.

Trust (FX), a limited series on the Getty kidnapping directed by the great Danny Boyle, is sort of in the mode of HBO's "The Young Pope", which I loved but wouldn't recommend to absolutely everyone (please give it a try; you'll know quickly if it's for you, and I think it's truly brilliant). It presents a richly absorbing slice of an unfamiliar life with gorgeous technicals, inspired acting, and just enough loopy surprises to keep you properly entertained. I'm a big fan of Donald Sutherland, who plays Getty.

Barry (HBO) is about a hit man who decides to go into acting, the sort of broad set-up you'd expect a SNL alum (Bill Hader) to make his shticky vehicle, but it's way deeper and better than that. What if the creator/star of some shticky vehicle just absolutely poured himself into the task, giving it thoughtful, deep polish and making it all meticulously truthful? Not everyone got the memo; Henry Winkler unsurprisingly adds 80's sitcom-style broad overacting, and, despite palpable spit and polish a few labels still show. This isn't a breathtaking work of art ala Atlanta, but it's pretty terrific.

I guess I'm an "FX man", whatever that even means...

Quick notes:

I've finally got around to Narcos (Netflix). Good immersive entertainment, but the heavy-handed narration (in every single episode) is a drag, and there's nothing real deep about it.

I just binge-watched Halt and Catch Fire (AMC), and I get why people love it, and don't regret the time spent, but will I grab you by your collar and scream in your face you until you agree to watch? Nyuh.

I will, however, collar-grab you over The Leftovers (HBO), which has finished. Absolutely sublime, and every season blows away the one before (and it started great)!

The Americans (FX), one of my favorites, is still terrific in its final season, though it's built such lofty expectations for itself that fans whine about any less-than-sublime moments. On my must-binge all-time list, it's just after Breaking Bad. Poor Martha!

The Expanse (Syfy) is just starting up again. If you hate sci-fi, this won't convert you, but if you're the least bit open-minded, this is worth it. Note that it gets better after the first season (but you must watch all; it's very plotty).

I'm just starting to watch the new series Killing Eve (BBC America) and The Chi (Showtime). No opinions yet. I'll also be watching season 2 of Westworld (HBO)...skeptically. I'm still actually watching Homeland (Showtime), purely for mindless entertainment (which it still provides), and also to enjoy a refreshing drink every time Claire Danes' chin trembles.

I can't wait for Better Call Saul (AMC) to start up again.

As always, I highly recommend reading Alan Sepinwall's recap/review after each episode. Here's his abbreviated index, or just google an episode title plus Sepinwall.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Glimpse of Madness

I've always taken on the neuroses of girlfriends. I once dated a woman who had trouble mailing stuff - she'd try to find The Perfect Mailbox (they kept shutting off her phone and electric due to non-payment). I never understood what that even meant, but I nonetheless began to insist on The Perfect Mailbox. Right around then the USPS in NYC was doing a poor job of pick-up, so I kept running into post boxes on the street with letters backed up all the way to the slot, which really burned in my aversion.

I never fully shook off the mailing phobia, plus I have a longstanding problem with paperwork, bureaucracy and postal stuff in general (alert readers will recall that I once had a bad scene in a post office). Want to see the handwriting of someone doing three phobic things at once, frantically determined to crash through the barriers and get it done?

Behold, in full blown-up glory, the look of madness:

Every five characters or so, you can see where an undulating wave of anxiety sent my pen just slightly haywire before I wrested back control. I find it hypnotic, in a bad way, to look at. The zip code went ok, but those final two 2s look like the valiant last actions of a man running just ahead of an avalanche. They actually dented the paper a little; see the circular crater around "4122".

Now to find the perfect mailbox....

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ethical Alignments

Moments in history like this are a good opportunity to step back and ponder what makes people tick, ethically. The Dungeons and Dragons system of alignments is one of several thoughtful ways of organizing it all.

I really like this application (not sure about an institutionalist like Comey being anything but "lawful", though, but I guess it refers to the dodgy, precedent-defying way he handled the Clinton investigation announcements):

And, for reference, here's the classic alignment explainer (not sure about Jefferson, though):

I'm pretty sure I'm neutral good. But creative people are often mistaken for chaotic. To the Margaret Dumonts of this world, the Grouchos ruin absolutely everything.


I used to tell music students that they could pay me $150 for me to tell them they're geniuses, or $75 for me to tell them they suck but offer them the solution.

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