Saturday, July 30, 2016

"The Professor: Tai Chi's Journey West"



The eye of the hurricane, the sublime master of every art form he practiced, the betrayer of Chinese secrets, Cheng Man-Ching, aka The Professor, brought Tai Chi to America (royally pissing off the Chinese businessmen who'd brought him over to teach them, rather than the American hippies who flocked in). He was so slippery that even his best students failed to find a handhold - literal or metaphorical. In martial arts practice, they reported they could only brush the soft, light cloth of his tunic, never his person. Ching seemed to be nowhere.

Watching the 75 minute film, "The Professor: Tai Chi's Journey West", I strained to remember that the affable, listless, unexceptional man at its center is extraordinary. Without discernible effort, he throws much larger men far up into the air. Watch his opponents, and you see sharp, dynamic action. Watch The Professor, and there's only silence. The mind strains to link cause and effect, but cannot accept that the impassive Professor and the flying bodies have any relationship with one another.

The Professor was also a master painter, producing work that was lushly moving. There, too, he worked with utter casualness. That dude simply does not seem capable of producing these paintings. One student recounts having a casual conversation with him while The Professor appeared to be cleaning his brushes, realizing minutes later, with a start, that he'd been creating a masterpiece the entire time. Totally casual. Like it was nothing.

Same with his calligraphy: there's an utter disjoint between the Professor and the rich miracles flowing from his pen. Once again, his output has obvious presence, yet, regarding The Professor himself, it appears no one's home. You might lightly brush his sleeve, but never find a handhold.

His students, even his family, spend 75 minutes failing to say an insightful word about the man, making this something of a shaggy dog story. One sympathizes with the filmmaker (Barry Strugatz, writer of "Married to the Mob" and original tipster to DiFara Pizza). How does one make a movie about a cipher - an utterly empty vessel? What's to talk about when no one's there behind the empty tunic?

Strugatz nailed it. He pointed his camera at The Professor's output; the ripples, the fruits of his labors. Most of all, we watch and watch his students - mostly senior citizens now, and comically unable to pin him down in words any more successfully than they could with their hands. As the camera lingers on their faces, it becomes apparent that they, themselves embody The Professor, as much as do his gorgeous paintings, sumptuous calligraphy, and piles of bodies thrown high into the air.

Each student is palpably changed. You see him reflected in them; in their faces and spirits. Each is, superficially, a "type" you've seen before, but none turned out quite per original destiny. There's a marked skewing - a twist - no more accountable in concrete terms than any other aspect of The Professor's juju.

It's subtle. The film could never have been made by someone who wasn't himself a lifelong tai chi practitioner. It'd have failed due to the sheer non-materiality of its subject. The student interviews - laughably failing to capture the world's most un-capturable man - would have piled up in a film cabinet, unusable. In fact, I saw early pieces of this film (decades in the making), and worried the project was terminally stalled.

But, in its final form, the film weaves around The Professor, in his insubstantiality, intuiting its way into gaps like a tai chi game of "push-hands". As his students come into focus, you notice (via everything but the words from their mouths) that they remain in dynamic motion, and you can sense (though never glimpse) the hand which propelled them. They've been thrown up into the air, with no idea of what the hell happened to them. They can't read the writing on their walls, but we can.


Here's the DVD , and here is an iTunes link . And here's a short trailer:



Monday, July 25, 2016

Desperately Parched for Surprise

I'm watching the DNC, and every politician is giving The Speech.

Not a speech. It's always the same speech. The same cadences. The same tone. The same pacing. You don't need to speak English to get the full idea. Even with the sound turned off, you know The Speech. I don't know why I'm watching this. I know every single thing before it happens. Why is this worth my time?

Whenever I point my phone's camera, I need to resist the impulse to take The Photo. Just as we're taught through sheer blinding repetition about The Speech, we all know what The Photo is. I don't want to take The Photo! I want something spontaneous and true!

So it drives me batty that people are so happy to give The Speech and take The Photo. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who minds!

It's why I travel. In New York City, everyone is making The Lasagna or The Salad or The Rolls. There are variations, sure, but there's a certain glue. Only minute surprise is possible. But in Cincinnati, the glue's totally different. A different stultifying sameness can feel fresh for a moment. I have a chance of being surprised.

The speech everyone is giving - the original egg to all these chickens - is based on some archetypal speech in our collective memories that never actually happened. It's a subconscious blurry memory composed of bits and snatches and memes. It's like an early childhood memory you can no longer truly remember because you remember only the remembering. We've come to agree that that's The Speech via the same mechanism that helps birds flock.

It's a soul-killer, and it's dauntingly unavoidable, in the end. Even the most creative people feel this tug (we actually feel it worse; it's one of the reasons we drink so much, do drugs, etc..).

But I have one question: for god's sake, do we really need to relish it so much? Do singers need to feel like they're just nailing it every time they execute one of the soulful-ish vocal tricks we've all heard a gazillion times? Do they need to feel like they've gone super extra deep when they take the exact same-lengthed pause everybody takes when they want to seem like they're going super extra deep? You know...The Pause?

Can't we push back at this just a little? Even if we can't invent and innovate our way around it, even if we're trapped - cursed to be 99.99% unsurprising - can't we at least recognize this phenomenon for the cage that it is? Can we stop dreaming of giving The Speech, or taking The Photo, or singing The Soulful Vocal Trick, or making The Pause ourselves, as the crowning glory of our deepest fantasies?

Can surprisingness at least be appreciated, if not strenuously pursued and fully embraced?


Michelle Obama was fantastic, though...


Putin, Clinton, and Trump

While it seems plausible that Putin directed hackers to hack the DNC emails (and, a couple months earlier, Clinton's own emails), it's ridiculous to think he did so out of "hatred" for Clinton, or as "payback" for her previous affronts.

It's dismaying how often our political pundits assume that international diplomacy operates via playground rules, even when accounting for situations with perfectly rational explanations.

Donald Trump has publicly expressed admiration for Putin and a willingness to work with him. Hillary Clinton publicly embarrassed him by questioning the 2011 Russian election results, and has taken a hard-line against Russia (befitting her neoconservative "Iron Lady" foreign affairs stance).

One candidate admires Putin and wants to work with Russia, the other antagonizes him and negotiates with tough rigidity. Emotion has nothing to do with it; Putin's Russia has a clear and rational reason to prefer Trump.

And there's no reason to assume that Trump's in cahoots. Russia's actions would have been no more effective with his cooperation. To suppose Trump is "in on it" is just more silly childish drama.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Horrifying Portent of Brilliant Analysis of Donald Trump

If the airplane's making funny noises, watch your flight attendant. If she turns super-brisk and super-professional - if her IQ seems to suddenly jump 50 points - that means there's a problem. She won't reveal fear on her face; you'll know it by her rising to the occasion. That's how you know there really is an occasion.

It's famously hard to know, in the moment, when history is taking an auspicious turn. Most times it turns out to be nothing, in spite of popular uproar (remember the anthrax scare? remember the overpopulation scare?). People will get rattled and act out at any little thing. If you want to spot a significant turn, watch for people rising, not sinking, to the occasion.

I found Donald Trump's speech last night deeply frightening for a number of reasons, none of them related to his deliberate efforts to frighten me. And, sure, there's uproar about it. There's always uproar. But what terrifies me is reading through the responses, as reported here. I see reasonably bright and moderately insightful people hitting it out of the park with daunting brilliance. The emergence of pockets of brilliance is, alas, a portent.

The following are from Republicans and Conservatives:

George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter:
"He is summoning primal forces of anger/fear, and displaying leadership without moral guardrails, religious principles or civic responsibility"

Mitt Romney's chief strategist:
Give him credit for this: Donald Trump is a dark, disturbed man, and he sees in the country what he sees in the mirror"

A conservative blogger:
"Trump's speech sounded better in the original German"

Bill Kristol:
"Trump's 'I'm the only one who can fix it' marks descent of the Republican Party from Republican constitutionalism to demagogic Casarism"

Best of all...conservative writer Stephen Miller:
"RNC who made fun of "Yes We Can" for seven years are now chanting "Yes You Will" on the convention floor"

Conservatives normally enjoy trading in fascist imagery about as much as black people enjoy tap-dancing over watermelon.

Maybe it's just me, but I read people sensing something truly pivotal in their guts; not just twitchy displeasure. This happens in groups only in the face of auspicious historical turning points. When people start rising to an occasion, that's when you know you're really fucked.


PS: Can we finally please stop focusing on his stupid hair and mannerisms? His buffoonish absurdity is the very least of our problems.


Please vote this year, even if you're normally blasé, and even if you're sure your state couldn't possibly go Trump. Also, please consider adding a similar footer plea to your social media posts, your email sig, etc.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

David Chang's Unified Theory of Deliciousness

You've probably seen this much-discussed manifesto from David Chang, titled "The Unified Theory of Deliciousness". It stems from a consideration of loops:
"DeLong and Hofstadter both found great beauty in what the latter called strange loops—occasions when mathematical systems or works of art or pieces of music fold back upon themselves. M. C. Escher’s drawings are a great, overt example of this. Take his famous picture of two hands drawing each other; it’s impossible to say where it starts or ends. When you hit a strange loop like this, it shifts your point of view: Suddenly you aren’t just thinking about what’s happening inside the picture; you’re thinking about the system it represents and your response to it.'
It's often observed that wisdom is the ability to tolerate paradox. This is an attempt to reverse-engineer that result. If you can present paradox in an easily-digestible fashion (as Escher famously did), you can convey the beauty of wisdom. As artfully-presented paradox surprises and delights us, we experience the revelatory jolt of a creative person's eureka. We get it, at least for a moment. That's why people sometimes nod their heads affirmatively or burst into laughter while reading or listening to music. Epiphany!

It doesn't need to be as blatant as Escher made it. There are many ways to inject paradox, and all good creation has a whiff of it. Without it, you're merely swapping around building blocks. Paradox makes a whole more than the sum of its parts, and that's the entire delight of humanity. Without that gestalt - that magic - all human pursuits would be dully prosaic.

Paradox can be made digestible in any medium, including the literal digestion of cuisine. This is the basis of Chang's thesis. Unfortunately, he then proceeds to set up rules for the swapping around of building blocks. That's the trap creative people inevitably run into whenever they try to codify a process. As I wrote in my attempt to explain Steve Jobs,
What's the source of Steve Jobs' Shakti? He tried to explain in his Stanford commencement address. Ironically, he condensed it into rules. That's always what happens. Again, the rule's not the thing (must one dutifully obey a command to "Think Different"?). You can't codify it. You just gotta surrender to the Shakti. Simple as that.

See also this explanation on why nearly all human art is nothing more than a clever masking of perfection.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Broken Pendulum...or Why I Miss George Bush

When George W. Bush - an empty vessel infested by extremist neo-cons - was elected, I thought to myself "Good. They'll wreck the country a tiny bit, but the long-festering foolishness will come to a head and be seen for what it is. The political pendulum will swing - as it always does - back to a more moderate position." Then he was reelected in spite of his disastrous decisions, and I worried that the pendulum had broken.

Now as I watch the Republican convention, I find myself remembering George W Bush far more fondly than I ever imagined possible. He was, at least, sincere.

During the rise of Trump, I've remained a staunch political Taoist. Here, surely, was an extreme of extremes - a walking reductio ad absurdum of talk radio conservativism who could never be swallowed by mainstream America. But that gulping sound, quite audible this week, indicates otherwise.

At some point, we'll reach a bottom. That's not an expression of faith; it's how the world has always worked. Things will inevitably get wrecked a bit; wreckage is necessary for many people to recognize a "too far" point. Some of us can't spot a dead end until their noses are pressed so hard against the wall that blood streams from their nostrils.

But it's not entirely a matter of the obstinacy of zealots. It's also the lobster principle for moderates. Boil a lobster slowly/gradually enough, and it'll never try to escape the pot. Concentration camp inmates (subjected to steadily increasing persecution for a decade by their tormentors) were fond of saying "it's all good" (s'iz gut). Human adaptability - a feature, not a bug - is easily exploited.

This is why you must register and vote this time. No matter how numb you've been made to feel, don't wait for the next-gen monster; don't wait for total wreckage. Non-voting good people are the problem....and our great hope! The question is: how wrecked will things have to get before we recognize it, and care, and restore our seriously stuck pendulum to equilibrium?


Read the latest sanity from the unquestionably nonpartisan Mann and Ornstein

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Feel Good Story About Donald Trump Supporters

I know a grimy pizzeria, in a scrubby blue collar nabe, serving cheap pizza but also, very quietly, a short list of quite good Mexican items on the down-low. I never see other customers opting for sopes or quesadillas. It's all dry wall guys and FEDEX drivers scarfing cheap slices for lunch. Oversized working class white dudes whose car bumpers all seem to have "volunteer fireman" stickers. And, naturally, Trump stickers.

While I awaited my sopes, I watched the scene. Arriving customers warmly greeted the Mexican owner (a big, garrulous guy who, himself, wouldn't look out of place on a fire truck). Ordering was no-nonsense, but wives and children were tersely asked after in both directions, by name. I heard Donald Trump mentioned a couple times, but the Mexican dude didn't tense a muscle. He wasn't just shucking and jiving; he really relates to these guys. I bet he'd vote Trump, too, if it weren't for the virulent racism. Maybe he manages to overlook that part, just as they do.

The burly customers finish their pizza and wave goodbye with warm eyes, like with family. I, from another world, nibbling my sopes de al pastor, received more distant/polite treatment from the staff. I was "sir". The owner was with those other guys. And they were with him. And as Trump brashly blasted on CNN, none of the Mexican workers behind the counter ground their teeth. They're bought in. They like America. And they sympathize and identify with these guys. And here's the thing: I think they absolutely understand all about hijo de puta politicians who talk a lot of shit. They've seen that before, and would never blame the followers for being conned. Same as it ever was.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Subtle Rewards of Quiet Caring

I recently added a new worker to the project I've been cooking up for a year or so. Unlike our other team members, who work as a partnership, her role's more limited, so she's being paid as a clerical worker.

Today I noticed her caring. She did some small things better than she needed to. Not to impress me, and not to make any splash. She didn't realize anyone was paying attention, but small touches revealed sincerity beyond her own self-interest. She'd invested more than was necessary, and the result had some love in it. An ember, not a bonfire. Like a little secret, or a child's wish; small but pure.

I quietly made an adjustment to her compensation which may well translate into a small windfall down the road. I don't believe she entirely registered this; she wasn't really paying attention. (Very few people care when no one's looking - which is why I was touched today - but still fewer care about caring to the point where they notice it in others; it's quite a lonely perch.) But that's fine by me. We'd both quietly done the right thing, without fuss.

In this late stage of capitalism, caring more than strictly necessary seems like an irrational indulgence, and it rarely seems to be rewarded. There were long years when this observation led me to despair. But not all rewards are explicit. The good stuff's subtle (and the great stuff's very subtle). On occasions when you've lavished uncommon care, you really can't be sure it wasn't noticed. And you likely failed to register the quiet blessings that came your way. They just easily blended into your flow, provoking little notice.



It's this ("The times everything worked out.....I was simply caring...a lot. Possibly too much. Likely to a degree the mainstream would consider odd.)
...and this ("The rewards of living life with commitment - pushing oneself to do cool things that help and/or delight people - are entirely intangible...and entirely sufficient.")
...and it grew out of this ("The cure for ennui: make life exciting for others. If you feel you're not getting your due, work to give others their's. If you feel helpless, help others. If no one understands you, show people you understand them. If you're lonely, ease others' loneliness. If you're sad, cheer people up.").


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Victitude: the Sublime Bliss of Stress Tests

As I wrote at the time, I had a stent implanted in my heart two years ago. It was an amazing experience to watch along on the monitor as the surgeon snaked it up my arm and into the valve. A year after insertion, there's vanishingly little chance of further problems. In fact, since my heart's been examined down to the last inch (an expensive and slightly risky procedure unavailable to symptomless people), I have far less heart risk than the average person, who, for all s/he knows, may have been slow-building plaque to the point of blockage*. I know I've got flow, baby!

* - if your doctor recommends Lipitor, please get on it ASAP!

There was an incredible moment when I was given a stress test two months later. After weeks of coddling, and viewing my own chest as terra incognita, I sweated, I worked, I huffed and puffed, and my heart behaved just like a heart. Durable! Not-delicate! I strode out of the medical office like an Olympic champion, far more confident in my body than ever before. I deeply understood what I'd been blessed with, both re: my new lease on life (if this were 1965, I'd be dead) and re: the original equipment itself. I could walk fast up steep hills - without dying, to boot! - and it felt deeply victorious. Since I'm not a competitive person, victory is not a feeling I'd previously known. This was an exultant blend of victoriousness and gratitude. Victitude!

This weekend, I felt some strange sensations in my chest. I emailed my cardiologist, who really hates losing 53 year old patients (particularly yogis with low heart rates and no stress levels), and who therefore rushed me directly into a same-day stress test (after an EKG), and stayed two hours after his normal office hours to watch me take the test in person, biting his lower lip the whole time.

A stress test is a highly controlled attempt to coax a heart attack. It's the only effective way to determine your headroom - i.e. to know whether you're living on the brink. That's awesomely useful and life-saving knowledge to have! Yet it sounds horrifying, because most people have a 1965-ish reaction to the phrase "heart attack". A quick explainer:

A heart attack is nothing more than your heart not receiving the oxygen it needs. If it occurs during a stress test, they spot it on the EKG, they pop a nitro glycerin tablet in your mouth, and things open back up again super-quickly, no harm no foul (though you'd damn well better address the underlying issue ASAP, because you now know that you have no headroom). A heart attack is only a problem if the oxygen deprivation is lengthy. Look at it this way: technically speaking, a sponge diver, holding his breath for three minutes, risks brain death. But there's no need to be so dramatic. When he surfaces to breathe, all is well. Again: no harm, no foul. It's all about duration.

The test once again brought exultation - victitude - as I worked up to the most grueling stage without the slightest problem. It is impossible, even for a veteran writer, to articulate how it feels to know one can frickin' murder ones heart with exertion and have it perform like a champ, after a few hours of uncertainty about the vagaries of this mysterious pump buried in ones chest.

Now, here's the thing I need to tell you (quickly, before the immediacy fades for me, degrading this message into empty words): you should feel exultant, yourself. Even if this vast universe turns out to be rife with life as we know it, it is still exceedingly rare for matter to be invested with the ability to move of its own volition for a few precious decades. Each twitch of a finger is a miraculous defiance of inertia, a complete and utter victitude.


That was the idealist interpretation of my feeling of triumph. The more cynical view is represented by the first joke I ever learned as a child:

Q: Why do you keep hitting yourself in the head with a hammer?

A: Because it feels so good when I stop.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Offense

Offense is the closest citizens of wealthy societies ever come to tasting the delicious sanctimony of victimhood.

Offense-prone people zealously nurture their hot buttons and shoulder chips. To question their indignation can evoke seething wrath. Challenging their entitlement to take offense is a far greater affront than the offense itself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Six Pointed Stars + Money = Scandal

Warning: shield your eyes from the horrifying imagery below:



The fact that the Republicans can run an ignorant authoritarian thug for president, and Democrats feel compelled to drum up some ridiculous anti-semitic controversy over a six-pointed star having been placed near money really drums home why I'm a moderate/centrist.

Here's the thing, bleeding-heart liberals: if you scream "anti-semite" whenever anything the least bit vaguely Jewy (to you) gets associated with anything the least bit fiscal, that mostly just shows where your minds are at. Thank you for undermining efforts to call out Trump for his actual monstrousness.

As I once noted,
"As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?"

Intensity

If you're an intense person - whether via meditation, or by having overcome tough challenges, or simply because it's how you're configured - you've surely noticed that other people often respond to you in strange and unpredictable ways. The following are counterintuitive insights from 53 years of trying to understand why.

Intensity is most often mistaken for anxiety, because that's such a common channel for human intensity. Anxiety is the clammily inadequate holding pen for our most bombastic impulses (depression is another intensity holding pen, but it doesn't look like it from the outside).

In cases where intensity simply is, rather than having been tamped down into anxiety, it's still (literally) always misinterpreted. The problem is that human beings can't parse free-floating-ness. So they subconsciously associate intensity with some concrete intention - one they're afraid of, or one they habitually obsess over. They make it a thing.
People afraid of anger will interpret the intensity as rage.

People who fear loss of control will interpret it as pushy aggression.

Insecure people will interpret it as arrogant superiority.

Paranoid people will interpret it as nefarious attention on them.

People obsessed with sex will interpret it as sexual attraction, in either direction (this can be a big problem especially if the person is otherwise uninterested; you'll feel like unwelcome attention at best, and, at worst, their ambivalent impulses will be projected back at you in wildly inappropriate ways).

People obsessed with religion will interpret it per the mythology of their particular religion.
Intensity aside, your mere superficial difference leaves you prone to the usual playground social dynamics which arise from "otherness".

The scariest thing is that the the more invisible you try to make yourself, the more nefarious your agenda appears, because it parses as if you're hiding your true intentions...even if you have none.


The same happens, inversely, as well. Many people can't parse their own free-floating intensity, and wind up channeling it into one drive or other. They actually do become obsessed with sex, or religion, or some sort of fear.

When you channel non-specific intensity (i.e. g
eneric radiant love), great things can happen, but there are problems from the unbalancing. We learn to "let go", in meditation, prayer or selfless service, to unkink old habits of intensity constriction. The tremendous "kundalini" energy experienced by advanced spiritual practitioners is the sum of this energy wrenching free from its moorings.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Lazy Fat Lonely Kings

The late, great, Elie Wiesel reviewed Disneyworld, back in 1957, and reported that it beats the hell out of Auschwitz. The article about this been linked everywhere this week for the following line:
I don’t know if a Garden of Eden awaits adults in the hereafter. I do know, though, that there is a Garden of Eden for children here in this life. I know because I myself visited this paradise.
But his description of the House of the Future was what got my attention:
Futuristic man will live such a wonderful life! Everything will come to him so, so easily! If someone knocks at the door, you won’t have to go to see who it is: He will appear on the screen of your television. If the telephone rings, you’ll be able to see the person you’re speaking with and not just hear his voice. And a thousand other such conveniences will turn your house into a royal palace and transform you yourself into a lazy, fat, lonely king.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"The Asshole Friend": Why Trump's Supporters Will Put Up With Literally Anything

The Huffington Post reports:
If a candidate solicits big money from special interests, that candidate is on the take. Or so argued presidential candidate Donald Trump — the same Donald Trump who now, as the presumptive Republican nominee and despite that year-long stance, is nevertheless soliciting big money from those same special interests...

...A HuffPost/YouGov poll found that a full 64 percent of Republicans who had voted for Trump in the primaries reported they were “not bothered at all” by Trump reversing himself on accepting special interest money — even though 75 percent of those same Republicans had moments earlier said they were more likely to support a self-funding candidate. Only 3 percent said the new position bothered them a lot, while 30 percent said it bothered them a little.
Something strange is afoot, everyone is mystified, and I find myself eagerly raising my hand toward the front of the classroom, certain I know the answer.

One of my oldest musician friends is a serious hustler. He's a master of political maneuvering, and does everything in his power to make every single person he meets love him, freely doling out shoulder massages and kind words, cultivating the Mr. Warmth image required to get ahead. You can't actually count on him for anything, and he's actually pretty dark inside, but this is his shtick, and it works (he's a top guy, making good money). Most of his friends and colleagues are similarly full of shit. I, alone, am not (full of shit), and I've always been a great curiosity to him. For 25 years, he's been awed by my sincerity and honesty, while I've been awed by his indefatigable weaponized charm.

One day a couple of years ago, amid some trivial discussion, he decided I was posing somehow. I honestly don't think I was, but he was sure of it. His eyes lit up like roman candles and he created a scene in a restaurant, screaming "You are totally full of shit!" over and over, to my confusion and to the shocked horror of others at the table. I retraced my last few sentences, but there was nothing there, so it dawned on me he was saying that I'm full of shit just generally. Apparently, some veil was lifted. We've never spoken again.

Again, nearly all of his friends are impressively full of shit. Full-of-shittedness is no disqualifying factor for his love or friendship. But I'm the honest guy, so I can't get away with it. Not even the appearance.

If you're the honest guy, or the unselfish gal, or the "go-along" person, your relationships are forged around those roles. So if, at some point, you tug even just a bit the other way (or merely appear to), you will jeopardize your relationships. A wildly emotional friend who angrily tells you off can be tolerated, but a normally quiet, controlled friend doing the same probably won't be. It's a firing offense.

There's a steep social penalty for high-mindedness - for honesty, generosity, equanimity, and kindness. While assholes get tremendous latitude because they are what they are, the righteous must carefully watch their every move. And it scales. The more of an asshole you are, the more latitude you get (and the more high-minded you are, the less tolerance you receive).*

Donald Trump, to his supporters, is that asshole friend who says all sorts of crazy shit. You put up with his bigotry, his lying, his bragging, his nastiness, and his pettiness because that stuff is unsurprising, having been on display since day one. Those who've chosen to remain in a relationship with him chose, early on, to tolerate it. You don't fire your asshole friend for being an asshole.

* - That's why it's a time-tested negotiating strategy to cultivate an image as the biggest possible asshole, to stake out leverage. This, of course, is the famous "North Korea Strategy" .


This same counterintuitive effect is certainly at play for people who remain in abusive relationships. It's not necessarily a matter of dysfunction or self-destruction. Even healthy relationships require cultivating the ability to turn a blind eye, and to tolerate what's normally intolerable.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Warning: Icky Posting

There are a few gross body topics I've saved up, and will dump them, NPI, below. If you're squeamish, or the sort of person who giggles nervously when a yoga teacher says to "relax your groins", you'll want to stop reading now.

We'll be looking at indigestion, pee flow, daily digestion cycles, and the IBS cure I mentioned here. Not amusing reading, but valuable info if you can use it.



After 53 years of errant nighttime abdominal discomfort (mostly just feelings of "sour stomach"), and a whole lot of heroic effort to understand and solve it via terribly advanced yoga insights, diet changes, herbal cures, and medical tests, here's the great wisdom I have to offer: almost every abdominal pang (unless you have some really serious condition) is attributable to trapped gas. That's it! And that, in turn, can be attributed to tension. Learn to deeply relax your pelvis and abdomen (work progressively, area by area). And don't eat even a bite after your (preferably early) dinner. Note that it's just generally healthier to eat a light dinner and a heavy lunch.


Speaking of tension, that's what reduces pee flow, but not tension where you'd imagine. Try relaxing in the hamstrings and the backs of the knees, all the way the backs of the legs to the achilles tendons. Really sense the ground beneath the soles of your feet; feel the gravity sucking you into the earth. Makes a surprising difference (if not, guys, get your prostate checked!).


The reason you wake up at the same time every day (even if the alarm clock isn't set) is that most humans have surprisingly precise defecation timers...and they attend to that soon after awakening, so that's what rouses you. If you can make a habit of taking care of that a couple hours after your weekday wake-up time (as with most body habits, 2 or 3 days training is all that's needed for a reset, because your body is always trying to accommodate you), you'll find that you can sleep later on weekends.


Not gross, but I'm throwing in an insomnia tip. If you can't sleep, let all your intelligence, all your thoughts, drain into your pillow (and keep it up - send all thoughts there, let the thinking itself happen down there). Make your pillow smarter as you get dumber and dumber!

Feeling a little sleepy already? See, I told you!


I alluded a few months ago to a cure for IBS. Here it is all at once, though you'll need to go one step at a time.

1. Learn to retract your gut at your belly button. It helps to practice standing up, and slightly hunched forward. Note that yogis call this uddiyana bandha, and there's lots of info on the web about it. Note that pilates teaches the same action, and a couple classes (e.g. at your gym) would be helpful...in all sorts of ways!

2. Once you've really got control of that action, move the retraction 3-4 inches south, down to your pubic bone (you just trained at the navel because it's easier there). You won't be able to retract much so low down....it will feel more like an isometric clench, producing no externally observable result...but you'll feel it. Let the action be small/slight, but concentrate on it!

Ok, that's half of it. The front half. Now the back half. I'm going to be pretty explicit, you've been warned.

3. Visualize your rectum extending back into your body, all the way toward the pubic bone. 

4. Make the connection that you are extending your rectum toward your pubic bone, and your pubic bone toward your rectum. Unify these actions. Make them touch.


That's it! Once you can do #4, that's all you'll need. The problem is that it's a bit tricky to learn, plus it's hard to concentrate on tricky actions under duress (i.e. during an attack). So here's some help that will bring at least some relief until you've mastered this, and offer a chance to practice:

1. Learn cobra pose. It's not hard, and you don't need to do it perfectly. Next time you have an attack, do cobra, and concentrate on pulling your trunk up and back right at that pubic bone area (try it, it will feel natural). This will help you do the retraction (step #2). Very important: relax the glutes! No clenching in the rectum, either. Relax all that stuff, and focus on the front of the abdomen, at the pubic bone. This will bring some relief, but only temporarily.

2. When the discomfort returns, switch to child's pose. Concentrate on the back of the body - extending the rectum back to the pubic bone. When discomfort returns, repeat the cycle. You're sort of dividing up the two actions. Doing them together is better (and would fix the attack much sooner), but this is more doable while you're learning.

You may need to repeat this cycle of the two poses ten times or more before the attack dissipates, but it will mitigate a reasonable chunk of the discomfort, while helping you practice the two essential actions. As you refine the actions, and learn to perform them amid discomfort, you'll eventually be able to rely less on the yoga poses. In time, and with practice, you'll be able to dispel an attack instantly, via step #4 alone pubic bone to rectum connection...and you're done. Relax your glutes!

Realized, Shmealized

I met a guy once who casually informed me that he's enlightened. That is, he'd realized he's not a separate entity, but, rather, the infinite consciousness underpinning it all.

So, yah, the separate entity which he isn't claims credit for this cool achievement! Hey, that's not messed up at all!

I grinned and told him "You know, that's funny. Just last night, I had a dream where one of the dream characters told me he's awake!"


There is nothing sillier than an iceberg wearing its "World Melting Championship" medal.


If you ever meet someone claiming enlightenment, you're welcome to use the dream line. Or else the iceberg line, depending on how snarky you want to be about it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Brace Yourself for Brazen Casual Racism

So I'm standing on a street corner in Brooklyn, and two guys are speaking loudly near me. In the most matter-of-fact tone possible, one of them casually drops into the conversation disparaging remarks about Jews and gay people.

I managed to record, via high-speed mental camera, my brain's reaction:

1. Holy crap, did he really just say that?
2. It's been a very long time since I heard anything like that spoken in full voice in public.
3. These thoughts clearly aren't new to him; the only new element is the brazenness of his open expression.
4. Brazenness is a virus. It can spread quickly. He feels he's riding a wave, hence his calm assurance.
5. Trump.
6. Better out loud than bottled up. "Just shut up about it" has never struck me as a winning solution.
7. There's nothing I could say to make him rethink.
8. This is a death throe. The wave's not strong enough to succeed this time. Society's progressed; tolerance now predominates. Social rejection - explicit, plus subtler nonverbal-yet-palpable aversion - will aggregate for brazen bigots, swinging the pendulum back, and suppressing this once again.

Previous postings on racism.


Something unfortunately few people realize: a great many Jews in early 20th century Germany were extraordinarily assimilated - arguably as much so as American Jews today. Nazi ghetto and concentration camp photos often show bearded Hassids, mostly from places like Poland and Hungary. But that strata wasn't the primary target. The Final [sic] Solution was originally directed at patriotic, unaccented, culturally assimilated, non-pious, thoroughly modern and indistinguishable Jews in Germany. And I'd imagine #8 is what a lot of them were thinking around 1934. (Understand that I'm not seeing the current situation through a narrowly Jewish lens - we likely wouldn't be the major scapegoats this time, not that this provides much consolation. I'm simply reporting my mental connections here.)


FWIW, I don't parse racism like most people. As a political moderate/centrist, I find myself easily agreeing with both sides' characterization of the other. The left is horrible, yes. The right is horrible, yes. I alone seem to register that the problem isn't with the other group; projection helps us avoid the darker truth that the problem is pan-human. As I once wrote: "racism, sexism, classism, etc. are nothing more than the incomplete registration of a perfectly appropriate misanthropy."

So when I hear sneers at savage blacks, greedy jews, hectoring women, and all the rest, I swap in the word "humans", and nod sadly in agreement. Not to say that I approve of time spent counterproductively ruing this. Dwelling on these aspects is no way to transcend to the divinity - the creativity, poetry, and wisdom - that humans are also capable of. We undeniably come from mud, but the origin is not the journey, nor the destination.

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