Saturday, December 31, 2016

DCReport: New Trump Watchdog Operation

I've previously urged everyone to subscribe to Washington Post and NY Times (digital subscriptions), and any other media fighting the good fight. Journalism will be under siege, and we need smart reporting more than ever.

David Cay Johnston is a veteran, old-school, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. He's covered Donald Trump for 30 years(!) and recently wrote a definitive book on Trump (here's a quick overview). He does non-sensationalist, painstakingly reported work. He's not a screamer, he's a nerd, and is thorough and dogged in his investigations. You know, like journalism used to be!

Johnston is starting a new venture, DCReport ("A new kind of news operation for the Trump era") to serve as a watchdog on the new administration (read their short mission statement), and he's working unpaid, because it's too important not to start immediately, before his ducks are in a row. He's seeking public support, and his mantra is "Others quote what Trump Tweets. We report on what the Trump Administration does."

Consider donating today, then again next week (for a 2017 tax deduction). Perhaps increase your standard donation quantity. The Trump administration is well aware that tens of millions of people don't like them, so marching and moaning are of little usefulness. Support operations like like Johnston and crew, that can shed light and counterbalance.


Pass it on, please.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Followup to "The Greatest (Chowhounding) Story Ever Told"

The wildest and wooliest story of the entire hyper-ambitious "Chow Tour" I undertook for CNET (which started here) was reported in installment #31: "The Greatest (Chowhounding) Story Ever Told". It was an agony/ecstasy tale of driving all day in pursuit of multiple holy grails which all fizzled, only to find redemption and divine consolation at the very moment me and my friend JB were sure we'd have our yankee asses trotted off to jail by law enforcement in the hamlet of Mount Vernon, Kentucky. God bless you, Officer Bill, wherever you are.

After you've read it, check out JB's notes from his recent follow-up visit:
10 years after "The Greatest Chowhounding Story Ever Told" I am finally in Kentucky for a Christmas family weekend when Derby City Truck Stop is open for fish fry Friday.

Forget the fresh-from-the-freezer crinkle fries; the store bought coconut cream pie; the overly bread-y hush puppies, and the indelicate frying of the okra. These are only signs that Derby City Truck Stop lacks the staffing to do all things right (with one man in the kitchen and one woman staffing the rest of the restaurant on her own), not that they have lost their touch, which was so evident 10 years ago.

The fried catfish was the experienced headliner, well worth the hour long drive. Appropriately greasy, flavorful, fresh, and apparently limited in quantity -- only three orders available to be hungrily shared by our party of six.

A bonus from the fryer: fried green tomatoes. If the fish wasn't quite the best (those memories of 10 years ago are so hard to top), the tomatoes take that trophy this time. Delicately crunchy, deceptively sweet, savory without being salty, I've never before had food appear as if one more moment in the fryer could have ruined it and one less wouldn't have been enough.

Dessert starred, as well. Cobbler was a touch low on fruit-to-crust ratio, but was the best from first bite to last; fully ripe fruit with an almost savory balance. Bread pudding was indescribable in detail, the heady taste of forgotten nostalgia. 

- JB
Click on each of these to expand for full mouthwateringness...



Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues

I often replay this years-old posting around this time. It reported the single most useful insight I've ever experienced, and launched massive changes in my perspective (see links at bottom for further info).


I don't really celebrate Christmas. I guess that's to be expected, considering that my family is nominally Jewish (though I find the teachings of Christ as inspiring as those of any other spiritual tradition, notwithstanding the chunkheads and psychopaths who've commandeered his message over the centuries).

But even an outsider like me can feel so thickly hypnotized by the holiday script of what we're supposed to do and how we're supposed to feel that it's surprisingly hard to get through the day without comparing myself (unfavorably, of course) to the idealized image.

Never mind that no one really lives that idealized image. Even affable families in big creaky houses full of rosy-cheeked children, hot chocolate and earnest singing of carols come up short. Really, the only person having a duly peak holiday experience is some bratty eleven year old who got precisely the PlayStation shoot-em-up game he'd been whining, pining, and begging for since summer. Settled contentedly in front of his screen, blowing up his fellow man in a pleasant flush of adrenaline, he is the only one experiencing the true American holiday spirit. The rest of us feel a little sad this time of year, because real life never matches the image in our head. We never seem to fully achieve Christmas. It's always a miss. Who can possibly live up to the promise of candy canes and Bing Crosby?

But it's a valuable illustration of the central dysfunction in the human experience. Disappointment, pain, suffering, and alienation all stem from the clash of experience, which is real, with mental constructs, which aren't.

Many of us address the problem by trying to force the world to hew to expectation. That is, naturally, a game of whack-a-mole. Utterly futile. Better to drop notions of how things ought to be, and immerse in how things actually are. Let life simply unfurl, and partake of the rich serendipity missed by those trying to muscle their way to a canned result.

Our problems aren't in the world. Problems stem from the conceptualizing. If you stop telling yourself stories about how things are, then life can be enjoyed as-is, rather than in the context of these hollow stories. My favorite book title, "What's Wrong with Right Now ...Unless You Think About It?", says it all.

The holiday season provides a perfect laboratory for exploring all this. Last night, I sat watching a terrific DVD, with a delicious glass of wine, sunk deeply into my comfortable couch. I was warm and well-fed. Yet my mind would periodically flash on the fact that it's Christmas Eve, and suddenly my experience completely shifted. Suddenly, I felt lonely, isolated and missing out. I was actually having a crummy, small, pathetic night, but hadn't realized it until I'd put it all in mental perspective! Hey, thanks, mind!

Each time the mental construct of "Christmas Eve" flashed into my awareness, my present situation instantly reflected against that context...and my mood fell. Each time I opened my eyes and realized how content and snug I actually felt, my mood rose. This repeated several times, an emotional ping-pong match between reality and conceptualizing. Which is real? Why do we feel so attached to the unreal? Why do we willingly live our lives in a haze of abstract mental concepts, rather than in reality itself? Why, above all, do we make ourselves miserable over nothing?

Regardless of what the gurus say, we can never purge the concepts. The human mind can't help concocting them; it's what we do. But we can bear in mind their insubstantiality. A smidge of awareness is tremendously liberating and joy-bringing; as empty concepts fall away, only peace remains.

So all this, I suppose, amounts to my extraordinarily contrarian expression of holiday joy. To experience Christmas, you've got to expunge "Christmas". Peace on earth good will to men, indeed.


Note: This insight (which really has nothing at all to do with holidays, per se) inspired a series of follow-up postings, such as: "Labeling and Post-Processing", "The Stories We Tell Ourselves", and "Depression Resuscitation Kit". Years later, in a mega-posting titled "The Evolution of a Perspective" I tied it all together.

Trump's Nixonian Playbook

I praised it last month, and Washington Post's invaluable "Daily 202" email (sign up here or read on web here) continues to offer some of the most insightful and non-dramatic coverage of the Trump situation. Always cogent analysis and pointers to stuff I'd missed. The feature assumes you've heard the loud reactions to big ticket news items, so it goes deeper and feeds you fresh thoughts, connections, and reports.

This was a particularly good one, about Trump's would-be "crazy like a fox" foreign policy, and how much he's drawing on Nixon's playbook (and even some of Nixon's players). An excerpt:
THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump appears to have embraced, with gusto, Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” of foreign policy. He thinks he can use his reputation for unpredictability and lack of respect for long-standing international norms to unnerve and then intimidate America’s adversaries into making concessions that they would not otherwise make.

The Chinese government’s decision yesterday to return the naval drone that it had seized in the South China Sea, despite howls of protest about Trump’s braggadocio, might be the first vindication of this approach.

-- A generation ago, Nixon wanted to convince the Soviets and their North Vietnamese clients that he was a hot-head willing to use nuclear weapons. The goal then was to scare the communists into negotiating. In some ways, this was the nub of the secret plan he talked so much about during the 1968 campaign – just as Trump insisted that he had a secret plan to get rid of ISIS during the 2016 race. “I call it the Madman Theory,” the then-president explained to H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, as they walked along a foggy beach one day. “I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘For God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button!’ And Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

Elites in Washington and across the world think Trump is crazy, but the president-elect has demonstrated repeatedly that he can be crazy like a fox. He knew exactly what he was doing when he called for a Muslim ban, for instance, or picked fights with people on Twitter to distract the press from much bigger problems. We’ve already learned that Trump’s phone call with the leader of Taiwan was not some spontaneous faux pas but a carefully-planned recalibration of U.S. policy.

For Trump’s stratagem to work, foreign leaders must continue to believe that he’s erratic and prone to irrational overreaction. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump often said on the campaign trail. “We have to be unpredictable!”
Washington Post has been great throughout this catastrophe; support independent journalism by springing for a $99 digital subscription. Don't just moan and groan; support and strengthen the institutions that can push back!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Subtlety of Truth

When I was a child, I worked intently at developing my intuition. I had a feeling (an intuition!) that amid my generally anxious, confused mental activity there was solid stuff. The rub was distinguishing signal from noise. So I worked at that.

Here's what I discovered: real intuition - i.e. "truth" - speaks softly, and does not repeat itself. Here's the glib billboard-ready version: "The Devil shouts, but God whispers." If you have a "feeling" about something, and it's beating you over the head, it's surely just a projection of your fears and hopes. Quiet knowing is easy to miss amid louder, flashier mental activity, but it's always the solid stuff.

I wrote, a year ago:
...a brief explanation of intuition. People often confuse it with hunches - i.e. random guesses we make about the state of something. But while hunches make you think, or worry, real intuition makes you act. The brain does not intermediate. You don't feel a suspicion of something, you feel the actual thing.

If I slow down my car while passing a restaurant and remark that it looks good, it probably is good. A good hunch! But if my car suddenly screeches to the curb and stops and I find myself getting out, without actual thinking, then the restaurant will be great. It's always great. It's never not great.

If you've never found yourself simply acting in some circumstance, without thinking, then you've never experienced true intuition. It most often occurs under great duress, when a deeper, calmer awareness seizes control for a moment. You can easily miss it when it happens. The deeper awareness doesn't call attention to itself. It doesn't change the flavor of things. It quietly steps forward and acts. It does what needs to be done, and then it fades. It's not at all remarkable.
I wrote here about a friend who suffered from crippling muscle bruises. I asked him if he'd tried stretching, and he told me, sure, he does that all the time. He stretches each muscle to the point of pain....and then he stretches it a bunch more. I stared at him, waiting for the sound of his own voice to penetrate. It did not. So I stated the obvious. And he grew angry at me (click the link for the full story).

When I was a young man, I'd holler and harangue to make people see their own folly. It did not go well. After years of meditation, I've turned the volume down and down, until, at this point, I say it very quietly (almost intentionally letting it be missed), and I don't repeat. Sometimes it's heard and it helps, but mostly it's missed. But I no longer feel a sputtering sense of anxiety. It's okay that it's missed. It's okay for people to make themselves needlessly miserable, and it's okay to listen to their complaints and tales of sorrow. At some level they want this - it's the movie they've selected for themselves. Who am I to insist?

Once you've let go of the steering wheel, and dropped the baggage, you find yourself playing for a different team. Instead of awaiting the quiet intuitive voice, you discover that you've given yourself over to it. Your voice speaks that intuition. And it speaks quietly.

Every word of this is horribly counterintuitive for most people. It certainly was for me. Shouldn't truth be loud and brash and all-consuming? Wouldn't the shouting devil tend to win out over a whispering God? It's an important question, seldom-asked.

Take a look around you. Whatever process put these stupendously beautiful trees all over this planet for our delight never bellows from the skies, cajoling us to look up at them more often. "Creation" is the most modest act of creation ever. We are absolutely free to miss beauty, to choose misery, to focus on whatever obsession we please, and, having narrowed our focus, to bitterly decry the world's dreary narrowness. We enjoy the ultimate free-play explorative video game. No card's forced. Humans act in a plethora of ways, many of them bat-shit insane, and that diversity seems to be the beauty of it all. Yet the truth - the solid stuff - pervades, as a silent whisper, far too subtle for most ears (Atlas brushes off the truth-telling because he's so occupied with holding up the universe). It tilts our conviction and will alter our perspective if we make ourselves even the least bit responsive. It's so small. It's so almost-nothing.

But it's inextinguishable. That .00001% tilt of the playing field will, over time, pull in all players. Bold, showy forces frequently seize our attention, but the unwavering truth will eventually prevail.

But how does this apply to Donald Trump, you ask? Strangely, that actually is where I'm headed. Everyone is, understandably, freaking out about our devolution into a post-factual society. With so much falsehood screaming, how can the truth find any foothold? Has connection with the truth been lost?

The quiet answer: humanity is finding yet another knot to tie itself up in. These big, bold moves - up and down, side-to-side - are the game we make for ourselves. It's cyclical (comedy/drama/comedy/drama etc), and it's for our own entertainment (to ponder: why do humans love rollercoasters?). But this tempestuous entertainment plays out on a slightly tilted table.

So don't worry about the truth. With the distinct advantage of being true, it pervades, always, however quietly. It may not grab, but it always tugs - even when we get riled up and ignore those subtle tugs in the midst of bigger bigness. The Devil shouts, but God whispers. As the show gets tempestuous - as the devil shouts louder and we grok the Chinese warning about "living in interesting times" - stay responsive to subtlety. Don't expect God to shout back. That's just not how it works. Nietzsche was wrong; it's not that He's given up.


Every link is essential. They spare me from having to write ponderous 10,000 word essays, rather than ponderous 1000 word ones! My problem in life is that my thoughts hang on a jenga tower of opaque, sadly unique assumptions and conclusions. Only here in my Slog can I refer directly to those building blocks. This is, essentially, my only possible means of expression. If blogging hadn't been invented, I'd be forever trapped in banal smalltalk and manic food enthusing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best Sichuan I've Ever Found in NYC

Totally, unquestionably worth a special trip from anywhere. This is The Best Sichuan I've Ever Found in NYC.

Legend of Taste
2002 Utopia Pkwy, Whitestone, Queens
718-423-4888
Good photos on Yelp.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Oh, Tannenbaum...."

Ah, the holidays. Relentless infection by the earworm of Jingle Bell Rock, plus having my Jewy-ness sized up by everyone I meet as they determine the appropriate salutation ("Don't mention Christmas," goes their inner monologue, "I think he's one of them!"). Fun!

Time to trot out my Guide To Holiday Greetings For Christians. Enjoy a taste of my bitterness via the excerpt, below (if you click to read the rest, it actually turns sweet and weirdly über-Christian at the end; it was one of those postings where I didn't know where I was going till I got there):

The first and foremost thing to remember is that even though I look kinda Jewy, you will not offend me by wishing me a Merry Christmas.

Christmas is, as Fox News adamantly reminds us, a religious holiday. But in America it's also, of course, a secular holiday. "White Christmas" was written by a Jew named Irving. "The Christmas Song" (with the chestnuts roasting) was another Jew, Mel. And these weren't Jew-for-Jesus Jews. We're talking real staunchly Jewy Jews, neither of whom, obviously, blanched at the concept of Christmas. And yet you're still all nervous and weird about this whole thing!

When you peer at the size of my shnozz toward the end of a conversation, gauging my Jewiness in order to appropriately tailor your parting holiday greeting, that's offensive. My shnozz size tells you nothing about my spiritual inclinations. Watching you silently gauge whether I'm one of *Them* doesn't feel, to me, like polite or sympathetic consideration, though I realize that's your intention. It's actually quite an unpleasant sensation.

I do understand the root of it. One will indeed occasionally encounter Jews who smirk ironically when wished a merry Christmas, or even feel offended. But it's not that they're touchy Jews, per se; it's that they're touchy assholes. Every tribe has some, and striving not to offend them is a fool's errand. They'll always find something.

Such people are ridiculous to be offended by a friendly greeting. But if you genuinely offend the rest of us by 1. gauging shnozz size 2. making us feel excluded from an American holiday, and 3. acting all nervous and weird around us, all to stave off any chance of offending the touchy, well, that's just nuts.
More here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Missing Video Link

In my last posting, I recommended a ten minute video, but forgot to provide a link. Here it is.


Is anyone even out there? Or is it that I'm so obtuse that my lapses and errors leave you assuming I've got something intentional in mind?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Race, Trump, Obama

I really dislike how race is discussed on both the Left and the Right (here are my postings on the topic), and ground zero of the liberal variety of ditzy race discussion is MSNBC. Even Chris Hayes, the network's least talking-point-oriented host, usually turns rigidly doctrinaire on racial issues.

Worse, he had, as his guest last night, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, a very bright guy and talented writer who strikes me as wielding his intellect primarily to project a deep and implacable sneer. He seems to be what I've often heard black people describe as "militant" (white people use the term, as well, but that's a different shading, and not the one I'm trying to apply). If you've read this Slog for a while, you know I strongly believe in conciliation - bending over backwards to empathize with seemingly alien perspectives. To me, staunch militancy is often The Problem, even when it serves convictions with which I agree. I get way too much mileage from pliancy - a willingness, or even eagerness, to flip perspective - for me to be a fan of the approach of digging in and scarring over. So he is not really my favorite guy.

Coates recently wrote a much-discussed mega-article for The Atlantic titled "My President Was Black." I haven't gotten around to reading it yet (smelling sanctimony in the title), but I did catch Coates on Haye's TV show last night, and found the discussion profound, thoughtful, and pliant. Coates was uncharacteristically humble, low-key, and un-embittered (and he just nailed the problem of Bernie Sanders, however reluctantly). Truth be told, I was blown away. I urge you to watch it (it's just under ten minutes).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Management, Art, and The Price

George W Bush was correct: management is primarily about decision-making. Many, many, many decisions. You must be a decision machine, just spitting them out, one after another. Steve Jobs didn't wear those black turtlenecks as shtick; it simply removed a layer of decision-making from his day. Anyone who's ever managed anything can relate.

To be successful, 95% of those decisions must be smart (I cherish my beloved headroom of 5% stupidity, and viciously defend it whenever astonishment is expressed at my lapses). That's a lot of pressure. And a certain number needs to be beyond smart - either brilliant or else just super creative. That's not pressure, however, because that's a pull, not a push. As I once wrote: "the really good stuff arrives via epiphany, eureka, and inspiration - 'out of nowhere' and hard to claim credit for."

Creativity works the same way - it's all about decisions. This note or that? This color over here or over there? Which word in that place? In fact, art (in all its myriad forms) is a much denser aggregation of decisions - by at least an order of magnitude.

It is very serious over-exertion to try to do both at once. I did it once and barely survived, and now I'm doing it again - and once again experiencing the sensation of trying to warm an ocean. But it will be over soon.

The most important part of myself absolutely thrives from giving my all, but extreme commitment also exacts a terrible price.


When my impending project - which will be unlike anything that's come before - launches in January, I really hope people enjoy it, and support it by spreading the word. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Tightening Loop of Historical Repetition

In an election season bursting with horrible news, perhaps the most significant macro issue has scarcely been discussed.

Many, many people voted for Trump as a protest vote, assuming he'd never win. Or they voted Stein or Johnson as protest votes from that same assumption. Quoting the DNC's Andrew Tobias:
According to one pollster, 25% of [Trump's] votes came from people who — knowing for certain he had no path to 270 electoral votes, because that’s what the media assured them — voted for him to make a statement, but would not have if they had thought he might actually win. If that’s true, and had they voted for Hillary instead, the vote would have been something like 47 million for Trump, 80 million for Clinton. Even more if some Jill Stein and Gary Johnson voters would have voted Clinton if they’d thought Trump could win."
Political observers are correctly blaming the Clinton campaign for projecting over-confidence, the cardinal political sin. They had, in countless ways, signaled that victory was inevitable, leading to false confidence among an electorate which therefore voted for reasons opposed to their fundamental interest in keeping a lunatic out of power.

But what has me queasy is that the exact same thing happened with Brexit. Countless Brexit voters, who voted for something they didn't actually want to happen, because they were confident it wouldn't happen, woke up profoundly rattled the next day. We watched that happen, and proceeded to march straight off the very same cliff.

I accept that societies endlessly repeat mistakes. We forget the lessons of history, and repeat them. The younger generation's waning enthusiasm for democratic systems, for example, makes sense, because the despots of the early 20th Century are gone from personal memory. This crop didn't grow up in the wake of WWII, so history's due for a repeat. I don't like it, but I understand it.

But the Brexit vote was just five months ago! So either our memories are getting so flighty that we now forget our history not within decades, but within weeks...or else we've lost the ability to learn entirely.

This leaves me floundering. World events have always unfolded via an unending series of reactions (usually overreactions) to the previous thing. If we no longer react - even unwisely! - but just randomly poke ahead, then all bets are off.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Jnani Train

You arrive in the midst of the story, like in a dream, finding yourself standing in the aisle of a speeding train, greatly stressed from carrying a titanic load you can neither view nor explain.

Your hands clutch many handles, your shoulders tremble with unseen weight, and the burdens on your back, hips, trunk and neck are impossible to account for - you have no idea where your body ends and the load begins. And you've been here a very, very long time; since before you can remember.

Two things seem certain: 1. The burden is nearly unendurable, and 2. It's crucial that you not drop any of it.

Why must you not let go? Strangely, you'd never considered the issue. Here you are; self-evidently the bearer of this load! Does Atlas*, who holds up the entire world, ever take a moment to ponder the necessity of his sacrifice? Of course not; he's got a world to hold up!

But suddenly there is an epiphany. The train is moving; bringing you somewhere, and your load with it. You don't need to personally transport it; it's not on you! You can drop it - drop it all! - and the train will continue to bear the weight, just as it's actually been doing all along. Your efforts were unnecessary. Unhelpful. Redundant. Wasted energy, all. Silly, really. You surrender and let go with a sense of titanic relief, but also some sheepishness. You'd somehow failed to recognize it was never your load to bear in the first place.

Glancing around the train, you see, clearly for the first time, innumerable others with similarly crushing burdens, and plead with them to simply let it drop. They are, after all, here on the train, which easily bears the weight! But your urgings only irritate them. With all they've got to struggle with, there's no patience for your nonsense.


* - Regarding Atlas, the Greek God who holds up the Earth...first, that's actually a mistranslation. Atlas wasn't holding up the Earth, he was holding up the entire universe. But the Earth makes for a better visual, so let's go with that (though I'd suggest you return and reprocess this adjustment after). Well, here's the truth of the story: Atlas, poor shmuck, could have let go at any time. It'd have been fine.

Also:
The Toddler and The Steering Wheel
The Evolution of a Perspective

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My First Book on Tape; My First Hemingway

I've never been a fiction reader, not sure why. I read the novels one reads in school, the de rigueur sci-fi, and the adolescent classics (Vonnegut, Salinger, Gibran, Robbins, etc.). But I never did a serious read of the classics. Being blessed/cursed with a lifestyle that exposed me to a wide range of people and places, I tried to fathom the human condition via direct observation rather than through the eyes of others.

I never read a lick of Hemingway before last year, when I bought the unabridged audiobook of William Hurt reading "The Sun Also Rises." I planned a drive to Detroit and back to accommodate the 8 hours of playing time, and I popped the disks into my car stereo.

And I quickly realized why I haven't been more attracted to fiction: my internal narrator is incredibly flat. The voices in my head as I read strike a dull monotone. I didn't realize there was any other way until I heard Hurt read. I always found nuance in the language, but never dramatic tone and contour. Strangely, I've had some acting training, and am expressive when reading aloud. But my interior "reading voice" developed before that, and I might be stuck with it.

I don't often do long drives, and my mind's too excitable to submit to a steady regimen of multi-hour books on tape. Instead, I've been trying to train my imagination to be a better actor. However, I'm certainly convinced of the power of great actors to heighten this experience.

Alas, there aren't many truly great actors reading audiobooks. But the Hurt recording is just one of a series of "name" actors Simon & Schuster hired to read Hemingway classics in a series known as "The Ernest Hemingway Audiobook Library" (reviewed by NY Times here)

In the same series:

A Farewell To Arms, read by John Slattery
To Have & Have Not, read by Will Patton
For Whom The Bell Tolls, read by Campbell Scott
Across The River & Into The Trees, read by Boyd Gaines
The Old Man & The Sea, read by Donald Sutherland
Islands In The Stream, read by Bruce Greenwood
The Garden Of Eden, read by Patrick Wilson
True At First Light, read by Brian Dennehy
Death in the Afternoon, read by Boyd Gaines
Green Hills of Africa, read by Josh Lucas
A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, read by John Bedford Lloyd
By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, read by Campbell Scott
The Short Stories (three volumes), read by Stacy Keach

You can order individual ones on iTunes, Amazon, or Audbible or the whole collection, which is expensive (I got lucky and scored a used set on eBay for $75).


Audiobooks Links:
10 Audiobooks That Are Worth Getting for the Voice Acting Alone
The 10 Greatest Audiobook Narrators
The complete, original BBC radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Free Audiobooks Courtesy of LoudLit.org
LoudLit.org's acclaimed audio version of "Heart of Darkness" " for free on iTunes
A master index of free audiobooks, including ones read by well-known figures such as Neil Gaiman and Julian Barnes.
(How to) Put your audiobooks in the cloud with iTunes Match

Friday, December 2, 2016

Westworld: The Reveal is Never That Great!

I know lots of people are watching "Westworld". Here's my gripe (no spoilers):

The problem with shows that tease and tease some mega-awesome mythology, mystery, or puzzle is that when the answer is finally revealed, it can never possibly be that mega-awesome. Wasn't this the cautionary tale of shows like "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica"? Isn't this the lesson well-learned by "Lost" creator Damon Lindelof and insightfully applied to his wonderful follow-up series, "The Leftovers" (where he's made very clear that he'll never, ever explain the show's foundational gimmick)?

Mythologies are wonderful things to bounce characters off of, to see how interesting characters respond to interesting circumstances. But if you make the puzzle the focus, you create impossible expectations...because TRINTG ("The reveal is never that great"). Humans are interesting in the micro ("Rectify"! "Hannibal"! "Louie"!). If you're imaginative, you can make the macro interesting, for a short while (e.g. a two hour film). But the downside of the the length of serialized TV is that your macro gimmick gets tedious fast, and the viewers can feel - even if only subconsciously- that TRINTG.

You could spoil me about "Westworld". Write the answer on an index card, and I'll glance at it, shrug and toss it in the trash. I just don't care! This mythology they're constantly cudgeling us with is nothing but distraction and disruption. The show drops us in a fascinating world, and it's beautifully shot and acted, and I'd like to hang out here week by week, without being constantly clobbered with the pushy demand that I figure out uninteresting mysteries whose reveal will most likely do nothing for me.

More on some of the shows mentioned


There are deeper implications: e.g. human narrative is not as mythic as we'd like to imagine. We're clever livestock. The ways in which we creatively grind against the banal contours of our worldly dramatic narratives can be beautiful and surprising (and no television show has ever risen to the level of "Rectify" in the unflappable commitment to examine the nuances of that). That's our saving grace, our transcendence. But the contours themselves - including juicy conspiracies and mysteries - are non-awesome. That's what makes our desperately hopeful overuse of the word "awesome" so adorable.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Magicians and Their Secrets

There are a few skills and faculties I've worked very hard on for decades (after having started out with natural aptitude), and I've gotten really good at them (though there are way more realms where I'm pathetically lousy; it takes all kinds!). Yet, most often when I find myself around people involved in those very same areas, they pay very little attention. Respect - or even admiration - might be expressed at the outset, but my process - which I never hide - is rarely observed.

I know that a lot of it's because I don't act like a pompous prick. As a low gravitas individual (LGI), I don't exactly compel hushed solicitation. But what I've learned is very surprising: even magicians who are loose and free with their secrets find themselves preserving their shroud of mystery due to sheer disinterest.


Similarly, it's a misconception that you must take great care to protect your creative ideas from being stolen. First, the very few human beings capable of exuecuting ideas into existence are already extremely busy executing ideas into existence, rather than fishing around trying to snatch your idea (unless you've got, like, a procedure for manufacturing a widget for 2¢ less per gross). The problem's never persistent over-interest. It's disinterest. Even those gifted with fantastic ideas and the eloquence to explain them are universally misunderstood and ignored until the big reveal (and even then, good luck with that better mouse trap!). Even the most brilliant innovations are invariably laughed at and undervalued in the beginning (even the iPhone) - and those are just the ones that we've heard of!

To digress from my digression, here's my standard reply when asked whether I've ever "ruined" a restaurant by over-publicizing it: "I've seen way, way, way more great places wither from disinterest than from over-attention."

That's why keeping great stuff secret is a mortal sin in my religion.


Pastor Jim Bakker wants to help you prepare for Trump's America

I've linked previously to Vic Berger's hilarious video edits, but the following exceeds all others in its terrifying hilarity ("hilarifying"?). I've heard people for months now using the phrase "beyond satire", but now, for the first time, I truly get it:



Follow Vic Berger here or on FB. Now that Owen Ellickson's stopped writing "The Trump Leaks", he's all we've got!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Black Friday Deals: Cooking Lessons and Instant Pot

Good tips from Paul Trapani, who doesn't pile onto this sort of stuff rashly....
I've been holding off on buying stuff this year for Black Friday-Cyber Monday, but found two things I couldn't resist:

Rouxbe Cooking School Sponsored Tuition
An online cooking school with really good lessons (knife skills, making stock etc.). Even stuff I knew about, I learned a lot on. It's got videos that show how stuff should be done. Makes a big difference in learning. Normally they have $299 tuition plus $4.95/month. The $299 had been a deal-breaker for me in the past, but a company is now sponsoring, with no strings attached (other than you see their logo when you log in). They cover the tuition, then you can subscribe for $4.99 for as long as you'd like. Well worth 5 bucks per month.

Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker
Instant Pot is one of the best-reviewed Electric Pressure Cookers (and does a bunch of other stuff too). On sale now for $68.00, normally around $120. I ordered one. I have a stove-top pressure cooker and love it, but this has the convenience factor of not needing to monitor as much. One thing though: this thing is a lot bigger than I thought from the picture. It fits on a counter, but it's bigger than a rice cooker.
Instant Pot was raved about on The SweetHome.
Follow-up Instant Pot tips from The SweetHome
Here's a particularly informative Amazon Instant Pot review.
Instant Pot has a great web site with great how-to-cook guides (and timings) like this one.

"Why Would Romney Even Want This Job?"

I didn't think of this. From the Washington Post's invaluable "The Daily 202":
A serious question: why would Romney even want this job? A diplomat tends to be most successful when allies and adversaries believe that he or she speaks directly for the president. This was the case for Condi Rice but not Colin Powell. Romney would be ineffective if foreign leaders did not think that his words carry much weight because they, hypothetically, could send intermediaries to appeal to Trump’s children who are overseeing his financial interests abroad.
Much as I'd love to see a sane, solid, pragmatist as Secretary of State, this is a good point. Anyone sane, solid, and pragmatic will be seen by foreign governments as distant from the capriciousness and drama of Trump and his inner circle. And a weak Secretary of State will indeed augment the corruption likely to flow through the kids (whether that channel "sticks" is irrelevant; even if the kids turn out to be moral paragons, what's important is how other countries see the incentive structure).

I can't express how deeply I loathe Giuliani, but if he was to convey something to a foreign government, they'd certainly believe he had the full weight of his administration behind him. Romney would not only find his assurances cuckolded from above, but foreign leaders would expect that from day one, even if it never happened (and, oh, it certainly would). There is nothing more useless than an impotent diplomat.


WaPo's Daily 202 arrives every morning in my email, just the right length and density for a quick scan, and there's always something enlightening. It's free; sign up here or read online here.

Also: whether you're opposed to Trump or warily voted for him hoping for the best, consider supporting the Washington Post's excellent reporting (which has been the strongest out there on Trump for months) with a $99 digital subscription. Help keep what's left of independent journalism alive during these scary times and be part of "the solution"!
I never read straight down their front page (the way I sometimes do with NYT), but I keep bumping into their articles (via referrals from Twitter or Google News), and it's great having an automatic sign-on and no pesky reading limits. And whenever I read those articles, I find myself thanking heavens above for Washington Post. Really, they're doing the best non-strident Trump investigation and push-back.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hypocrisy

Jon Stewart on today's Charlie Rose show:
"There is now this idea that anyone who voted for [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. But there are guys I love and respect, who I think I have incredible qualities, and who are not afraid of Mexicans and not afraid of Muslims and not afraid of blacks. They're afraid of their insurance premiums!

In the liberal community you hate this idea of painting people as a monolith. "Don't look at Muslims as a monolith! They are individuals and it would be ignorant!" But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith...is a racist."



As I wrote last week: "Liberals work very hard to advocate for tolerance and respect for people who look differently, or love differently, or pray differently. If I had an extra genie wish, I'd use it to help liberals invest some of that same passion into tolerating and respecting people who think differently."

Is Trump's Infrastructure Plan a "Trap"?

I'm not sure of what to make of this article, which describes Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan as "a trap."
"[It's] not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects."
Worse,
"Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway"
And, worse yet,
"because there is no proposed funding mechanism for Trump’s tax breaks, they will add to the deficit — perhaps as much as $137 billion. Yes, some economists think more deficit spending will boost growth. But you can be sure of this: In Trump’s hands, rising deficits will be weaponized to justify future cuts in health care, education and social programs. Just as David Stockman used deficits caused by the Reagan tax cuts as a rationale to slash social programs three decades ago (the “starve the beast” theory), the deficits caused by Trump’s infrastructure tax cuts will be used to justify cuts in programs."
The writer's fourth point seems entirely speculative (and weaselly so, if you'll read the whole piece):
"Buried inside the plan will be provisions to weaken prevailing wage protections on construction projects, undermining unions and ultimately eroding workers’ earnings. Environmental rules are almost certain to be gutted in the name of accelerating projects."
My reactions:

1. The writer, Ronald A. Klain, is, according to the history I was able to find for him, more of a political guy than a policy guy. He does have policy experience, but he's drawn fire for being a political messaging operative known for wading into policy work without real qualifications (e.g. his gig as Obama's "Ebola response coordinator", without prior public health experience). I may be wrong, and I don't doubt that he's a very intelligent and astute observer. But there's an awful lot of conjecture in this article which strikes me, as a writer, as artfully inserted to push buttons.

2. The article keeps singling out "contractors" as the primary fat-cat recipients of the plan's largesse. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I'm pretty sure most contractors aren't plutocrats or moguls. So what's wrong with supporting middle-class contractors? I realize they're the dudes who vote Trump, but they only support Trump because the Dems neglected them.

3. I supported Obama's Jobs Bill because the extraordinary conditions of the Great Recession warranted Keynesian spending. A consensus of non-extreme economists consider conservative's beloved austerity an outmoded countermeasure to severe economic distress, so I'm persuaded that governmental spending is good to do when economic cycles crater. But while I still think we need jobs, and that we need infrastructure repair, I would not support Obama's original approach at this time. You don't do New Deal-style undertakings at non-dire moments; that's similarly discredited liberal thinking. So I'd actually lean, at this point, toward an approach using tax credits, incentives, and one-notch trickle down (contractors-to-workers, rather than billionaires-to-everyone). That said, I'd certainly want to ensure that an infrastructure bill really does improve infrastructure, and, of course, that this isn't just "starving the beast" toward some nefarious end.

But here's the thing. Beyond my broad viewpoints, I'm beyond my competence. I'm not experienced enough to study policy first-hand; to grok the language and see clearly through to repercussions and consequences. I'm stuck here! But who do I go to for convincing explanation in such a bifurcated society, where absolutely everyone's angry, everyone's spinning, and where even the most sincere, sober analysis can't help but be colored by assumption and emotion?

If I were a liberal or a conservative, I'd have my cozy nest of experts who speak my language and stoke my confirmation bias. Sometimes I feel like the last American not wanting his assumptions stroked and his anger justified. Going it alone means losing certain perqs of tribal membership.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Appalled By His Unexpected Moderation

I watched Rachel Maddow last night rave disgustedly over how Trump's people are denying he ever advocated many of the extreme anti-immigrant measures he clearly campaigned on. And he's disavowed the extremist xenophobe from the transition team who'd been parading around the media all week crowing about the awful things they're about to do.

What? How could he do this? It's just crazy! What the hell's wrong with this guy? Maddow was, strangely, shocked and annoyed by the turnaround. It was hard not to get the impression she's disappointed; that she actually wanted him to be exactly the lunatic she (and I) feared and hated.

I just sat on my couch, slowly wagging my head. Every moderate gesture from Trump's camp feels like relief to me (though I'm fully prepared to scream my head off if he ever indulges his basest instincts). But the Left. My god, the Left.

The Right, when it's scared, gets brutally xenophobic and hawkish. Appalling, but at least there's some internal logic. But the Left just completely loses its shit.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Rant About Reciprocal Extremism

Republicans made clear their plan in 2008: oppose everything Obama does, period. It soon became clear this would include policies Republicans had themselves proposed (e.g. the Affordable Care Act), and actions the country direly needed (e.g. the Jobs bill). Their hatred for the guy and their extreme partisan gamesmanship outweighed their rationality, their patriotism, and their sanity. Mitch McConnell publicly stated his prime goal (above all other goals!): to make Obama's presidency a failure.

The rest of us watched in confused horror. Really? You'd tank the country just because you hate this guy? And, what's worse, Obama was (if any of them stopped to really take a look) clearly trying to rule from the center; taking pains to be everyone's president (though naturally also pushing some progressive policies - the perquisite, after all, of winning). Not one person on the right appeared to acknowledge this (if they did, they'd have been seen as traitorous collaborators; as cavers-in). Indeed, they just stiffened their opposition. They actually seemed provoked by his overtures!

I concluded that these Republicans were uniquely stupid and evil.

Red flag there. The notion that some group is uniquely stupid and evil is always wrong. No one group, no matter how terribly they're behaving, is uniquely bad-behaved. Every human is capable of anything (including Nazi death camp management); we all contain behavioral stem cells for the full gamut, just waiting for circumstances to trigger them. If you assume some specific group is unique, that's just the incomplete registration of a perfectly appropriate misanthropy.
We study the Other...and we don't like what we see. Men rue the cruelty of women; women rue the cruelty of men. Both are quite correct, really.
Sure enough, anyone with a dab of clarity is seeing now that this is not special shit Republicans do. As always, it's shit humans do.

Trump has made one of his first priorities a bill to restore our crumbling infrastructure. It's sorely needed, it's squarely in his wheelhouse (as a builder), and it's a Democratic agenda. But the left is stridently gearing up to oppose. Here's the line, in a (literal) nutshell:


We are completely disregarding his actual post-election words and gestures, because we hate and we're scared (believe me, I do understand both impulses), and that's paramount. Above rationality, above patriotism, and above sanity.

If this Slog were more widely read, I'd be reviled as an appeaser; a facilitator of evil, for saying any of this (the counterargument could be broken down thusly: "But OUR hatred is CORRECT in this case."). The right, which hate/hate/hated Obama even to their own detriment, enforced their ranks with similar tactics and language. "Appeasement". "Collaboration". "Caving". This is shit humans say, not just Republicans. We never learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. There are billions of followers of Christ, and millions of professed admirers of Gandhi and MLK, yet the moment stakes raise or we get frightened, we lose our character, our values, our intelligence, our self-awareness and our shit. We operate like babies. We Trump right back at Trump.

And the guy hasn't done anything yet! (If he bans Muslims or launches unprecedented deportation - Obama deported plenty, btw - or institutes torture, or nuclear war, or disbands NATO, I'll scream my head off, but what's the point of pre-suffering?) What's wrong with hoping he doesn't totally suck, or with offering positive feedback for conciliatory gestures? For not forcing him, unreasonably, to be an Obama - freakishly able to maintain noble consistency of principle in spite of impenetrable negativity - even if he tries to elevate to being his best self?

Ask yourself this crucial question: if things turn out ok during his presidency (aside from some corruption, some scandal, some stupidity, and a bunch of standard conservative initiatives - his perquisite for winning); if he turns out to be just a typical Republican POTUS (or perhaps even a bit more centrist) would you still be fully outraged and opposed? I believe most people I know would be. And that's just not rational. In fact, it scares me even more than Trump does (and he scares me plenty).

Again:
I always surprise and upset foodies when I tell them that if MacDonald's made terrific hamburgers, I'd be the happiest guy on Earth. Who wouldn't want quality delivered with that convenience, efficiency, and price? I'd be very very pro-MacDonald's if their food was great. Why the hell wouldn't I be??


I understand the politics. "Give him a mandate by helping him succeed, and he'll use that mandate to do terrible things." That's exactly what Republicans said about Obama, in spite of metric tons of evidence that - regardless of the fist-bumping, social-justice crusading, left-wing sanctimonious heart he was presumed, not without evidence, to possess - he was trying his darnedest (despite some genuinely progressive initiatives) to please everyone.

This stance can be (and often is) adopted by any opposing force at any time or place. This stance is the opposite of conciliation. This is the stance that we started out with, as cavemen. This is the stance we revert to when we get angry or afraid, or when stakes rise. This is the stance that stalemated the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and that will destroy the country and the world in time. This is the stance that makes it unlikely extraterrestrial civilizations (also likely arising via evolution, and thus selected for aggressiveness and blinkered selfishness) ever get very far. Most awful of all (fuck extraterrestrial civilization!), this is EXACTLY the stance of Donald J. Trump, himself. Which he at least appears to be, for now, resisting...while the rest of us lean in to it.

I understand people are afraid, and angry. I am too. But in the presence of fear, we don’t need to 1. get stupid, and 2. willfully take steps to block and punish positivity from the thing we’re afraid of. We don’t need to react to extremism with reciprocal extremism.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Apple's New Touch Bar

If you follow Apple news, you've heard about the Touch Bar they're putting in the new line of MacBook Pros. A lot of people of been complaining about this being nothing but flash, mostly for accommodating the non-burning need of efficiently adding emoji's to one's writing.  💩

But finally, someone's made a video nicely showing how it actually works, and it seems super useful and quite Mac-like. 


Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Public Declaration

I'd like to publicly declare that I am a Muslim. I will continue to state this unequivocally even if we reach a point where it is no longer cute and facile to do so. I will not only submit to persecution and deportation, but I will avidly seek it out if that becomes federal policy. Do me first. 

Maybe instead of marching and kvelling, more of you might want to  put some actual skin in the game. Give the guy space to surprise us with moderate rule (fully expecting the standard conservative policies, which he's certainly earned the right to enact), but put yourselves on the line for in case he doesn't.


Want!

Here's the hardest-won lesson I learned from managing a community with nearly a million participants:

Most of the time, the angry, screaming, aggrieved people simply want. They're not considering any larger picture considerations. They're not thoughtfully parsing the explanation you've already offered. They don't even care whether their strident pique might, in fact, make it much harder for you to give them precisely what they'd like. They just want. It's that simple.

If a baby's hungry, it will scream until it is fed. You can inform the baby about the flat tire you had en route to the grocery, and assure it that you're taking every measure to procure food as soon as possible, but the baby won't cease screaming and crying until it is fed. Baby wants!

It's like that.

Four Ways a Trump Presidency Could Make Us Happy

1. He won't create his media empire, which would've been a vermin-breeding cesspool in the American landscape for decades, pressured by media necessity to take the most extreme positions on everything. Instead, he'll be president for four years, with immense institutional pressure to moderate (it's an entirely different incentive structure). Trump's administration will most likely not normalize the extreme Alt Right folks who'd have been fueled by the media channel. They will recede rather than be further stoked.

2. He's a builder; that's his passion. And the nation grievously needs infrastructure improvements; the can's been kicked down the road since forever. A Democratic president would never get the funding, but a Republican maverick with lots of momentum and a stunned, scared Republican Congress pressured to go his way maybe can get it done.

3. Similarly, no Democrat could persuade Congress to make urgent, critical tweaks to the Affordable Care Act. Trump can - and it even looks like he may.

4. Many parties figure they'll manipulate Trump to advance their policy agendas (few of them good, from my perspective). But if he chooses to be moderate, these people won't budge him an inch, not even his freakish, appalling inner circle of scarecrows: Bannon, Gingrich, Giuliani, Flynn, etc. His stubbornness, in present circumstances, is a fantastic thing. It's possible (if he restrains many of the impulses we saw in the campaign) that we'll get a truly moderate conservative administration; something we haven't seen in ages. And if the entire time he's thinking to himself "I hate hate hate Mexicans," you know what? I don't give a crap. I just care how he rules, period. It's not like Nixon enacted anti-Jewish policies.


This all falls apart if we Obama him - if we subject him to four years of unceasing strident protest and attack even if he does his earnest best to be moderate and measured and be everyone's president. He is, by nature, unable to maintain a steady course through such treatment, as Obama so nobly has (shoot, I'm not sure you or I could!). See my next posting for more.

Friday, November 11, 2016

"Voting for a Bigot is Complicit with Bigotry"

It wasn't skinheads and KKK members who voted Trump into office. Not folks who fell for the con and eagerly bought the bombast. Not belligerants in gimme caps raving about immigrants and demanding their country back. It was moderate conservatives, who believed they were averting disaster by voting against Hillary. They deeply dislike Trump, and never drank his lemonade. Many of them further believed that the status quo could use a shake-up, even by someone damaged.

A number of my friends held this position, and they're lovely people, so I'm taking some of the current invective against them a bit personally. Very few liberals pronouncing on these people actually know any Trump voters. They just see the extremists on TV, and extrapolate. They are engaging in the same faulty reasoning as those who see jihadi lunatics on TV and conclude Moslems are all trying to kill us.

The line I hear again and again is that "voting for a bigot is complicit with bigotry, regardless of other factors".

I staunchly reject that. Bigotry has always been a flaw, but only recently deemed an unpardonable sin, and only among certain idealogical tribes. Failure to deem it an unpardonable sin is neither tantamount to nor condoning of that flaw. It's rigid and unconciliatory to imagine it so. In fact, it is itself an example of bigotry.


Perhaps you share my view that the left is reacting deplorably (and counterproductively) with the flag burning and carrying on, when Trump hasn't actually done anything yet (and has even settled down into behaving like some semblance of a mensch for at least the time being). If so, bear in mind that when we find flaw with the actions of the left or the right; of men or women; or of either side of any other dichotomy, we are always finding flaw with greater humanity; incompletely registering a perfectly appropriate misanthropy. The stupid things groups do are the things humans do.

We were blessed with Obama for eight years, and that was way better than we deserved. This isn't us dropping into a pit. This is just the normalizing descent from that freakish peak. The world boasts 2.5 billion professed followers of Christ and millions of professed admirers of Gandhi and MLK. But - especially when the stakes rise a tad and we get our dander up - the message still hasn't sunk in.


Tips, Tools and How-tos for Safer Online Communications

Much more info on cyber security, per yesterday's posting:


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trust but Encrypt

As I've said, I'm appalled by the pre-judging, the vows to blindly obstruct, and all the rest (I'm not marching; I already voted! That was my marching! My side lost! That happens, and it's okay! That's Democracy!).

Now, more than ever, I ask myself whether we human beings will ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism.

I always surprise and upset foodies when I tell them that if MacDonald's made terrific hamburgers, I'd be the happiest guy on Earth. Who wouldn't want quality delivered with that convenience, efficiency, and price? I'd be very very pro-MacDonald's if their food was great. Why the hell wouldn't I be??

Similarly, if Trump turns out to be even a pretty good president (Obama himself wasn't perfect, and he was great!), I'll be a happy camper. The campaign's over. I'm not longer judging character. I care about what he actually does in his official duties, period. And I'm willing to keep the open mind Clinton and Obama sincerely and appropriately urged me to.

So I'm feeling much more conciliatory than most. With that in mind, I believe the following suggestion is prudent, warranted, and by no means paranoid:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Second Biggest Shock

My second biggest shock today is that I don't hear any liberals or moderates expressing hope that Trump will rise to the occasion, that he'll do better than expected, and that he will abide by the bright promise he made this morning ("I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans").

All I see is granite, clenched-jaw antagonism. That's how Obama was forced to launch his presidency, and we've been much the worse for it. The moment compels our best wishes, as much conciliation as we can muster, and our keeping (per Hillary Clinton's request this morning) an open mind.

Even if he keeps his worst impulses in check, we still won't love all his policies. That's okay, he won; his policies will reign for a while! But pre-hating out of fear and expectation, before he's even entered office, is what they did to Obama. Can't we be better?

I'll say to you what I once said to Mitch McConnell (on my TV screen!): if this president fails, that means we all fail. And if we want Trump to consider his better angels, why on earth would we solidify against him from the get-go, engaging his most transactional and self-serving impulses?

As an American, I want Trump on my side. So I will be on his side until he crosses a line - a truly actionable one, not just some vindictive tweet, or some policy I happen to disagree with (I didn't agree with Obama on all his policies, either, and I think he was a great president).

Look, Love, Think

Liberals work very hard to advocate for tolerance and respect for people who look differently, or love differently, or pray differently.

If I had an extra genie wish, I'd use it to help liberals invest some of that same passion into tolerating and respecting people who think differently.


Read



White People Voting Trump

It's not that White People were in cahoots to keep the others down (well, at least it's not MOSTLY that). It's that working class white people are less sensitized to racist-raving lunatics, even if they are not themselves racist. They hear that shit all the time, even if they dislike it, so it's less of a deal-killer. I'm shocked by some of Malcolm X's tone, and it surprises me when kind-hearted black people - who don't agree with that stuff - let it slide. They're simply paying attention to the bigger points, hardly registering the bellicose yadda-yadda that leaves me horrified.

So these white people can recoil, however uncomfortably, to a Trump - who they dislike and mistrust - when confronted with a candidate they REALLY dislike and mistrust.

If Joe Biden had run, only the beady-eyed knuckle-draggers would have gone Trump.

Distilling the Essential Impasse

Liberals only rarely encounter lunatics spewing hateful ignorance. It's a deeply traumatic experience. Moderate conservatives see that type much more often, so they abide it more easily, even if they disagree.

Opposite's true, as well. Here in the NYC area, there's some liberal extreme/fringe I disagree with. I abide it easily, because I'm used to it. It feels like family.

This is how many kind-hearted, non-racist, non-awful people manage to not be totally put off by Trump's deplorable side. They see what we see, and disagree like we do, but they're less sensitized.


....and they're recoiling from Hillary. Biden would have drawn massive bipartisan votes.

Election Night with My Trump Friends

Forgive the poor writing. Like many of you, I'm feeling a bit foggy/numb. But I have a takeaway I think you might find helpful. Skip to the final paragraph (above the italicized postscript) if you'd like.


I spent last night in one of my favorite watering holes, out of state, where lots of Trump supporters hang out, some of them friends of mine, and all really nice, non-racist/sexist/monstrous people.

The bartender is a youngish guy, way nicer and more sympathetic and respectful to a wider range of people than I am. He admitted he'd voted for Trump, but he couldn't stand the guy. I asked whether he recognized what a shallow narcissist he was, and he frowned back at me, offended. "Duh!" He'd voted Trump because 1. he's in the habit of mostly voting Republican from the old days, and 2. he absolutely can't stand Hillary. That's it. He hadn't been conned by The Wall or any of the rest of it.

Hearing him say this - a real live person rather than a thought experiment - I saw the parallel more clearly than ever before. The vast majority of Clinton voters - including me - voted for Hillary fully aware of her flaws, because they absolutely couldn't stand Trump. It was a recoil. And the other side, like a passing train on the other track, did likewise.

It was an edge case election of reciprocal recoil voting. We find it tough to empathize with the recoilers on the other side - "But she/he's so AWFUL!" we protest. We angrily dispute any assertion of symmetry. But the symmetry wasn't in the candidates, it was in the sentiment. That's how to understand this, and that's how to re-normalize your neighbors.

A reciprocal-recoil election is a dangerous, volatile pit of gurgling emotional irrationality. If Biden had run, he'd have wiped the floor with Trump. The problem with Clinton wasn't with Clinton, it was with Clinton sentiment. On the other side, Jeb probably would have wiped the floor with her.

We imagine that Trump supporters bought into his bullshit. And while some surely did, most were simply recoiling. That's all. And, by this point, every American knows a lot about recoil. The daffy surprise this morning, as the smoke clears, is that we're more alike than we imagine. And the other daffy surprise is that now that the recoiling's over, a big chunk of the other side shares our worry (if not our terror) about what's to follow.

As Trump's victory became clear, my bartender friend didn't celebrate. Rather, he tightened into a fearful thoughtfulness I'm not sure he himself noticed (though it'll likely blossom as the week progresses). I asked if he was experiencing buyer's remorse, and he chuckled nervously. I think he, and a lot of American Brexit voters, are feeling as free-fallish this morning as I am.

The main thing I want to say is that none of the Trump people were celebrating. Seeing avid Trumpies cheering and rejoicing on TV last night was like watching Middle Eastern radicals burning American flags on TV: it's a mistake to assume you're viewing the widespread sentiment. There's a whole lot of Brexit hangover, though the loudest, most strident voices will be seen in media for a while. I'm awfully glad to have a diverse set of friends for a truer picture.


For the third time, I highly recommend "The March of Folly" by Barbara W. Tuchman, a beautiful analysis of how successful, stable societies every once in a while go insane and poison their own water.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Adrenalin in the Voter Booth

A confession: I haven't voted in years. Not due to apathy, or lack of viable candidates. It's that I live in a state that always votes Democratic in major elections, and I've backed major Democratic candidates for the past while (if I'd liked a Republican, I'd have voted, to register my protest). As for local offices, I prefer to see them careen back and forth, one side compensating for the excesses of the other, and that will happen naturally without me.

The nation's leftward demographic shift has suited me pretty well for the most part (since the Republicans dropped into the abyss a while ago), but I'm not inclined to push my weight into it. There will come a time when the pendulum overswings, as it always does, so it's time to coast, not accelerate. I think of my non-voting as an act of engine braking.

But this morning I put on a button-down shirt and belt (after two years creating an ambitious project, having invested everything I've got into making it true and lovable and shiny, I've been slumping around in sweatshirt and droopy corduroys) and headed to my local polling place.

I strode into the booth and I shoved the lever down hard for Hillary Clinton. In my imagination, the click was a crash - alarming, even deafening. I Michael Bayed the motherfucker. And I voted straight down the Dem line, because anyone running on a ticket beneath that guy is too shameless to earn my vote.

I've proudly pushed my weight into this one, contributing to a foregone conclusion. For once, I've fully signed on.


Full disclosure: the preceding account was heightened for dramatic effect. Actually, they gave me a paper ballot and felt-tip marker. But I darkened that circle with absolutely savage intensity.

News flash: my car will survive!


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Toots and the Camry

I've driven my Camry for twelve years. I bought it at 46,000 miles, and it now has over 163,000, and has always been flawless. Literally nothing has ever broken. It does have one quirk, however. My Toyota is super into Toots and the Maytals.

Anytime anyone plugs an iPhone into the stereo system, it opens the Pandora app and chooses the Toots and the Maytals channel. It seems annoying, but the funny thing is that the Toots and the Maytals channel is so great (it's not just Toots; they cover a wide range of soul and reggae) that whatever you were trying to play quickly fades from your mind. You sit contentedly back in your seat, realizing the car knew better. You just can't beat its great musical taste.

Toots is currently touring, for the first time in years, and I went to see him Wednesday night in Williamsburg with my friend John. As he got in my car, John forgetfully attached his phone to play some music. As usual, the car ignored him and went straight to Toots. John, in turn, raised a worrisome point.

"Do you think it's gonna be pissed off that we're seeing Toots live?" he asked. "Jesus, yes, it might refuse to start," I answered. We plotted for a while about how we might back up to the stage door and ask them to prop it open a little so it could hear.

We caught the concert, it was amazing, and on the way home, I noticed the pickup wasn't quite right. The six cylinder monster of an engine hesitated when I hit the gas. I asked whether John had gained weight.

We finally made it back, and the next day I drove back to the city, where the car refused to re-start. I had to have it towed, and eventually learned that the starter was fried.

The new starter did not improve the power problem, though. It just got worse and worse. I'll know for certain on Monday, but at this point I'm pretty sure the engine's blown. Again, it was riding as good as new two days ago. It's been meticulously cared for, the engine is shiny and strong, and has never consumed even a drop of oil.


I do have an idea. Toots plays Boston tomorrow night. If I can get the car up there, and somehow move it close enough to enjoy the show, I feel my Camry might regain the will to drive.


See also the tale of my supremely high-maintenance television.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Moral Peril of Over-Regulation

There's deep anti-regulation sentiment in my presidential platform. I understand that when liberals hear about anti-regulation, they imagine unrestrained plumes of black smoke, rivers full of raw sewage and children crushing rocks with hammers. But there's plenty of room for sane, ethical opposition to overregulation. Governments create thickets of inefficiency - self-defeating, business-thwarting, unintended-consequence-blind doofiness, often arising from good intentions.

Here's an example. I incorporated to produce the Big Secret Project I've been working on. For various reasons, one worker needs to be an employee, not a contractor. And while his job is performed in the comfort and safety of his home office, I need to buy him workman's compensation insurance and disability insurance. It's expensive, plus I needed to take a day off to fill out paperwork (and have him fill out paperwork), speak to insurance agents, and produce various forms and proofs. All for nothing. He's not going to hurt himself doing graphic design on his computer!

To be sure, workman's compensation is a very positive thing. It's done a lot of good. But regulations are comically broad brushes, and in my case it's causing needless expense and paperwork, slowing the development of a product that may generate lots of sales tax and corporate tax, and raising a barrier to the sort of entrepreneurship keeping our country on top in spite of the loss of our industrial base.

A friend chortled when I told him the story. "Maybe I should have shot him a cash payment off the books, but I was trying to be legit," I explained. "'Legit', he replied, "is for suckers."

He's no corrupt cigar-chomping plutocrat. Just someone who's been through this sort of thing ad infinitum. He's been made to think this way. Over-regulation creates moral peril!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Presidential Platform

I thought it might be an interesting exercise to stop bitching about how no candidate ever comes close to my preferences, and to set down exactly what those preferences are.

I'd bet a lot of people would agree with much of this (and tolerate, at least grudgingly, most all of it):


Fully-engaged, tough-minded realpolitik foreign policy, extremely circumspect re: military intervention - i.e. make the Powell Doctrine sacrosanct (as Obama has).

Amnesty for illegal immigrants, ease immigration restrictions and accept refugees generously (with screening). Welcome - even incentivize - top foreign students staying after graduation.

Free trade, no protectionism.

Deep skepticism re: spending and regulation (per 1970s Republicanism), but never blind or pigheaded (per 2000s Republicanism). E.g. we should have passed Obama's Jobs bill, Zika virus research funding, etc., but no lefty utopian laundry lists.

New Gov agency: Office of Deregulation (proactively discarding useless and counterproductive laws). Must slash ten old laws for every new one.

Deep tax reform aiming for simplification and closure of loopholes, but preserving a progressive system to address income inequality. No trickle-down tax cuts. Slash corporate taxes and create aggressive incentives to repatriate capital.

I'm inclined to legalize drugs along with gambling, euthanasia, gay marriage, and the rest of the social Libertarian agenda....but I'm concerned about recently escalating drug abuse, so would need to learn more before pushing drug legalization. Definitely legalize pot.

Extreme freedom of speech and press. Legalize hate speech (obviously not 'cuz I like it).

Annually adjust minimum wage for inflation (first adjustment retroactive to 2009, the year it was last raised).

Push back on creeping privatization of schools, jails, and city management, but also deter creeping municipalization a la Bernie Sanders.

Childhood and school nutrition a major priority (zero hunger; push against school cafeteria junk food and soda).

Guns and abortions always available but not necessarily easily conveniently so. Ban assault weapons and late term abortions. Background checks for guns.

Single-payer health insurance.

Eliminate death penalty.

Preserve a balanced Supreme Court (avoid politically-minded justices; optimally the yea/nay votes would be unpredictable).

Bring back Civil Rights Act, use it to thwart any effort of voter suppression (strengthen the law if necessary).

Work hard to find institutional ways to allow Republican party/Conservatism-in-general to remain politically viable in spite of shifting demographics, recognizing that its shrinking viability - and the increasing division and rhetoric it's prompted - has been disastrous. A sane right is vital for the country (even liberals should want that more than they want a perpetually dominant left, and should recognize that we can't have both a sane right and a perpetually dominant left).


If you agree with a lot of this, you, too, might want to splurge for a subscription to The Economist, which comes darned close (not sure where they stand on single-payer health insurance or on jail/school/city management privatization, though).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Our Appliances Rise Up to Kill Us

Donald Trump is a journalistic black hole - a singularity that inexorably draws all attention away from literally anything else.

The recent massive Internet outage was caused by frickin' toasters. Well, not quite, but it was networked appliances like CCTV video cameras and DVRs rather than bona fide computers (fine distinction; my rice cooker has more computing power than Apollo 11).

And they all were made by one Chinese company. You'd think this would get more attention, no?

Only the Assholes are Sane

I've never met a sane person.

I've met people who've learned to feign sanity in certain controlled circumstances. For example, consider an executive who exudes authority and solidity at work, where she's spent 20 years learning to seamlessly exhibit confidence and competence within a narrow and controlled set of circumstances and parameters. She may, for instance, turn into a dysfunctional lunatic outside that controlled environment, where she's forced to respond spontaneously to a noisy array of nuanced, unpredictable situations far beyond her minuscule comfort zone.

Or the dreamy, soulful well-liked dude with infectious swagger who displays perfect confidence and comfort in social circumstances, but who may spend 20 hours per day in bed, or host colonies of vermin amid piles of leftover food (I actually had a girlfriend like that, who, to the outside world, personified glamour and accomplishment). The super-mom who gets it all done may be addicted to pills, or cry herself to sleep every night. One or the other half of that happy, loving couple may, unbeknownst to anyone, be living a lie, but has learned to put on a face of sunny contentment.

We can scarcely imagine the desperation, depravity, and delusion experienced by everyday people when they're not squarely upon their most well-traveled roads. If someone strikes you as sane, that's just someone you haven't gotten to know. You've seen that person operating within their zones of comfort and competence, and/or faking it. But if you watch carefully, everyone's batshit crazy; it's just that some of us hide it better than others.

Although, come to think of it, do you know who's sane? The selfish, nasty bastard who spits venom and lives in unremitting contention with his world. That guy demonstrates absolute consistency and stability. No private life, no crippling doubts, no existential issues. He's never not that person. He makes it happen, with nary a waver, every moment of ever day. Also, the loudmouthed conspiracy theorist is rock solid; never destined to be felled by gluten sensitivities or knocked off-kilter via errant remarks or petty indignities. His shtick - his mask - serves perfectly well in every aspect of his life. He's utterly immersed in his role.

Unhesitant about their places in the world, these folks are each a single solid thing, anchored to the ground so solidly that the universe appears to spin around them. They are never not functional. Unless some chemical imbalance arises in their brains, they'll be resolutely grounded to the bitter end, never once dropping out of character.

Only the assholes are sane.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Myth of Judeo-Christian Monotheism and Indian Polytheism

Interesting reply to my previous posting from a friend who's a religious scholar:
The conversation around the old Religious Studies coffee pot usually gets around to blaming monotheism for most religious violence, although our Hindu friends have often provided many counterexamples. It's fine to say that there's only one God, and any Gods you worship are really that God (a belief that characterizes the Hellenistic period, 3rd C BC- ?), but the worshippers of the one God in any particular form are usually pretty grumpy about people who worship the one God in a different form, or, horrors, not at all. Bahai tried to create a structure for multiple-monotheism, with some success, as well as some good architecture, whole-grain bakeries, and an unfortunate ban on alcohol.
I've got to laugh at Judeo-Christianity being considered monotheistic, while Indian religion is considered polytheistic.

Mankind has never devised a more unity-based view than the ancient Indians did. To them, God isn't a one-off thing "out there" among things. God is awareness, consciousness, and love. It's the underlying, all-encompassing everything, and the world arises within that, as a capricious entertainment that's never a separate thing. All the rest - including you and I - is a mere show of separation, mounted for shits and giggles. There's nothing but God, so the idea of "multiple gods" would be patently ridiculous.

It's true that some of the more reverential Hindu sects use different manifestations to help remember the indivisible godhead of which we're all a part via image/reminders to suit different facets of life. Driving to work? GOD! Experiencing loss? GOD! It's hard to remember we're in a show unfolding within unceasing unity, so customized signposts are created to remind us in every circumstance; to draw us back to the unceasing unity that's so difficult for human beings to unceasingly bear in mind.

The notion that Indians worship a panoply of different-gods-for-different-purposes is the sort of ridiculous, uncomprehending conclusion only a clueless medieval western academic would reach. Indian religion is about oneness. It's so devoted to this, in fact, that it's concocted the phrase "one without a second" to undermine any impulse to make all-encompassing-unity just another "thing" in a world of things. There's nothing "poly" about Indian religion (Polly is the cracker!).

Meanwhile, Judeo-Christianity deems itself monotheistic against all evidence. We offhandedly traffic in the very same contradiction the swami pointed out, a la:
"The worshippers of the one God in any particular form are usually pretty grumpy about people who worship the one God in a different form"
The cheat, of course, is stashed in the phrase "different form." But I don't buy it. If God is God and there's only one, and form is a trivial distinction, then the "grumpiness" (euphemism, I suppose, for persecution, hegemony, and murder) makes little sense. The "grumpiness" between the supposedly monotheistic religions certainly hasn't seemed like collegial squabbling between fine shades of interpretations. To everyone but scholars (who tread carefully to avoid intellectual self-contradiction), all three of the major "monotheistic" religions obviously assume they're worshipping Someone else. And hating other gods is every bit as polytheistic as worshipping multiple ones! Remember the point where the pretext unravels: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Monotheism isn't about choosing a favorite!

We've got it backwards. Judeo-Christianity is polytheistic, and Indian religion is monotheistic. So long as some of us conceive of "god as dude" - as just another (albeit higher-powered) thing among things, there will always be alternative powerful things to swap in to (or defend against slipping in to) the God role. To transcend this quagmire (the splintering of unity into thingness), the time-honored means of transcendence - of re-experiencing unity - is Indian spirituality. And that's the stuff we deem polytheist? Seriously??

Friday, October 21, 2016

Indian Swami on Christianity

A wise Indian swami with whom I once studied Vedanta (the nerdiest branch of Indian philosophy) loved to share the thing he loved most about Christianity, and the thing he liked least. He adored what some might consider a treacly cliché of contemporary evangelical Christianity: "Let go, let God." He'd repeat it several times, with great relish. It was, he believed, up to the standards of the ancient Vedic sages (my version's much clumsier, but perhaps has its charms).

The part that bugged him was a clever bit of theological analysis; he'd precisely pinpointed where it all had gone wrong. There's a fundamental contradiction:
There's only one God (e.g. "The LORD he is God; there is none else beside him," among similar statements).
but....
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
If there's no other God besides God, then everyone's worshipping just right, regardless of the name they do it under. If there's only one God, there's no "wrong God". We're all brothers. Recognition of this would have prevented centuries of intolerance, persecution, bloodshed, and genocide. But someone had to throw in that gratuitous bit of loopy scolding: Don't you dare worship other Gods! All those other Gods are horrible! Oh, and, technically there are no other gods....

From this contradiction have flowed innumerable murders and unimaginable suffering. The scold seems like something which was off-handedly thrown in. But as was sowed, so have we reaped…


Jefferson was right!

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