Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Fan

If you press your face up to a fan - one of those pedestal fans on a pole, like this one:


- you'll find yourself in the midst of unceasing drama and action and change and excitement and turmoil.

But pull your attention just a couple of inches backward to the center point of those spinning blades - right where the incoming air gathers to be expelled - and you'll find, strangely, utter stillness and peace. That place is home. It's the source - the unchanging "cause" - while all the rest is varied "effect".

You have a choice: to identify with the turmoil or with the source of it all (i.e. with the peace you actually are).


As I once wrote, I spend at least fifteen minutes after every gym workout in a lethargic slump. For several years, my slumping bench positioned me in view of a pedestal fan. Like Vasudeva (Hermann Hesse's ferryman) and his river, I pondered pretty much every ramification of that fan.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Midterm Elections

Since I live in New York, with no Trump apologists likely to run in my district, I plan to vote for as many sane, capable Republicans as I can find in the midterms. Here's why:

If Trumpism makes moderates rebound to the extreme left for comfort and revenge, we'll just keep repeating the vicious cycle, swinging the pendulum endlessly to reciprocal extremes. The country does not need a Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein at this point. We need Jack Kemps. Politicians who are decent and bland and boring and centrist (and whose policies we can pleasantly rail against, per normal, knowing our institutions of government will be safe in any event).

We tried forcing Hillary Clinton (who I came to believe would have been a very capable president) down the throats of half our fellow Americans - who, for whatever reason, despised her. And we see what happened there.

Considering all the hysteria on the left, I understand that I am being especially contrarian here. But I refuse to be trolled into confronting extreme with extreme. As I'd tell a rabid Trump supporter: the country's more important than individual emotions.

My father always told me to aim for win/win resolutions to conflicts and negotiations. Whenever possible, leave the other guy happy, too. This will be my voting strategy from here on out. Leave the other side happy (though not necessarily thrilled and delighted). Let's never offer another Hillary Clinton again...not that there was anything wrong with her, not that she wouldn't have been a good president, but because I don't want to support a leader who feels like a stick-in-the-eye to half the country.

Yes, it goes without saying that half the country will inevitably be annoyed, irritated, and geared up to defeat any given candidate...and that the tribal echo chambers will concoct phony reasons for hating anyone on a given ticket. But, still, c'mon people. We knew how Middle America felt - has always felt - about Hillary Clinton. And we put her out there anyway, 'cuz...fuck those people.

That's not a great stance. I didn't appreciate having my legitimate concerns about Trump steamrolled by a base that thinks "fuck those people." I actually like Rust Belt blue collar males between 35 and 55, and am happy to share a country with them, and believe their preferences and concerns matter, even when they strike me as ignorant. Democracy does not mean the smartest ideas win, it means people and ideas I disagree with get a shot. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we ride. Either way, fuck nobody!

So I believe we need a sane Republican party (or whatever party arises to represent America's sane, moderate right wing) way, way more than we need Democratic victory (and I'd feel the same even if I were more of a fan of Democratic ideology). So I'm all about focusing on that.


Please, Lord, bring us another boring Gerald Ford (even if it means another shifty pardoning).

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How We Got Trolled Yesterday: The Story You DIDN'T Hear

Per my posting earlier today about how we're being trolled, here's an example: The executive order yesterday on immigration restrictions was not a huge big deal.

I'll wait patiently while you bellow and rage. The pique level is, as I've said, stuck at "11", and people are prepared to Hitlerize just about anyone or anything. Unless I hastily reaffirm my virtuousness to you via high-minded pro-immmigrant language, you very likely might stop reading and never come back. In fact, some of you stopped reading three sentences ago. That's the moment we're in. That's the problem.

Let's proceed.

The executive order yesterday on immigration restrictions was not a huge big deal. What was a huge big deal was that the sane generals (like Matthis) were removed from the National Security Council, which will be run entirely by Banon and Flynn (Flynn is The Worst Possible Thing, excused only by reason of insanity), putting them in exclusive, unchecked control of the entire national security apparatus, without so much as frickin' input from (sane) career military or intelligence people - none of them will even be at the table. The crazy kids have the keys, unchecked. This is the single most terrifying thing I've seen the US Gov do in my lifetime.

But you probably don't know (or at least don't understand how catastrophic it is) because you, like half the country, were freaking out over the executive order. President Bannon trolled you (via a limited, temporary, executive order subject to judicial counterbalancing - slipping in measures against green card holders just to spark extra sputtering pique), and the media whipped you into a frenzy and then spent the rest of the day covering your frenzy - which wound you up even more. And with that circus going on, two conspiracy-minded whack jobs unapproved by Congress and unfettered by rationality staged a coup. Barely reported, hardly noticed, 'cuz, hey, we're chanting slogans here!

From the perspective of mainstream rust belters, the arty farty liberals were freaking out yet again on TV, this time to defend terrorists. So they didn't even hear the important story. And if they had, it would have concerned them.

We need to stop being trolled; set off by small stuff custom-engineered to trigger us into serving as The Diversion. Breathe! Pay attention! Think! Cease responding in hyperbolic ways that 1. make everyone miss the real story, and 2. make half the country think you're as whacky and over-dramatic as Trump told them you were. The more we freak out about every little thing, the less ammo we have to to make the rest of the country pay attention when seriously bad shit like this happens.

Again, read John Schindler's Twitter feed, an alternative perspective way closer to the truth than what you're seeing in media or in social media (and put up with his anti-Obama, anti-Hillary, anti-PC stance, which is shared by half the country, including lots of nice, sincere, smart people who have a different perspective, and some of whom will help us bring down Trump). To understand his feed, you'll need to learn some new acronyms: IC = intelligence community; NATSEC = national security; EO = executive order; MSM = mainstream media; OIF = Operation Iraqi Freedom; NSC = national security council; FSB = Russian intelligence; DOD = department of defense; USG = US government; WH = White House).

We need to stop being whipped into a frenzy by media and social media. We need to stop triggering at every minor action, statement, and tweet. We need to suck it up when he does the normal right wing stuff he earned the right to do November 8th. We need to stop going to "11" on every distasteful bit of this or that, so we can keep our eye on how he's actually wrecking the country, and so we have some ammo left when little backstage tiptoe moves like this happen, and we need people to hear about it and understand it and pay attention. If YOU dind't hear about it or understand it, then you were trolled.

Nationalism: The Shrinking "Us" and the Swelling "Them"

So many people eager to make America great; so much "America First"; and such great patriotic need to protect America from immigrants and terrorists. America, America, America! And yet these same people can't stand fully half of Americans. How can you profess to love something when you despise 50% of it?

It's a paradox, and it's inevitable.

Nationalism always shaves itself thinner and thinner, because us/them thinkers are eager to increase the "Them" side of an equation, and averse to increasing the "Us" side (it's like a ratchet wrench). Dividing lines grow tortured and irrational. Gerrymandering is hard-coded into the human psyche.

Years ago, I wrote:
Nationalism is always a noble-seeming mask for xenophobia. Show me someone who loves "Us", and I'll show you someone who hates "Them".
Here's a corollary:
Show me someone who loves "Us", and I'll show you someone with an ever-shrinking notion of "us".

There are many extremely avid nationalists in Catalunya. On my first trip a few hours down the Spanish coast to Valencia (the neighboring province), I remarked, with surprise, to a local cab driver, "I didn't realize people spoke Catalan here!" The person I was traveling with, who was Catalan, elbowed me hard in the ribs. It was later explained to me that Valencians speak Catalan, but they call it Valencian, and get very upset at the notion of any equivalency between these two (absolutely identical) languages*. The Catalans watch this utter insanity, yet it never occurs to them to examine the paradoxes of nationalism.

* - read the first paragraph here to see what their pique has wrought, even in neutral Wikipedia (the compromise language atop - about Valencian being a "variety of Catalan" - makes as much sense as saying that apples are a variety of apples).

Crazy Like Foxes: We're Being Trolled

"So what the hell's going on here?" you may well be asking yourself.

I ran a huge online community for eight years, and helped manage earlier online communities since long before there was a Web. I was around and keyed in (Zelig-like) when computer viruses were titillating thought experiments for computer scientists, rather than real world scourges. And I've watched trolling develop as an art form from a front row seat. I've played chess with every escalating generation of scary mega trolls.

And I can confirm that we, ladies and gentlemen, appear to have been trolled.

Read two things: this piece from lefty Mother Jones, and this Twitter storm from John Schindler, a veteran Intelligence Services dude with a very shrewd mind, some far right wing sentiments (some of which may rub you the wrong way, as they do for me), and an earnest patriotic impulse to put country way ahead of party and stand staunchly anti-Trump.

(The anti-Trump movement will only succeed if we really listen to the right-wingers in our potential coalition, who have far deeper insight into the basis of Trump's appeal, so I recommend Schindler's Twitter feed as a daily read...and also click through to his great articles in the NY Observer. He also is keyed into the Russia connections, though if you want to delve into that - it gets way crazier than you'll want to let yourself believe - read Louise Mensch and, if you dare, the guy she cribs off of - who's working at either the hysterical fringe or else at the Very Core Of It All, we shall see: Adam Khan).

Back to those first two links. They're both a little right and a little wrong (though way more correct than any other voices you're hearing right now), but if you add them together, you'll understand how the trolling is working. Steve Bannon is a troll par excellence. It's easy to forget that he's smart.

This explains why anti-Trump centrists like me have had an instinct to plead with people to calm down and be smart and focused, rather than flailing around, pinning the outrage level at a constant "11". I've been sensing the trolling. Now, it's filled in a bit.

Nothing solidifies the Trump coalition like a freak out on the left. When the left freaks out, just like the right, it gets 1. stupid, and 2. reverts to its most divisive tropes, shoring up the other side. Trump was elected, in the first place, as a deliberate move to freak out the left. A cherry bomb, if you will. The tone (repeat: the tone) of the backlash cements his base of support. But people are way too outraged/reactive to see it....just as victims always take comically long to spot a troll's agenda once they've been emotionally triggered.

We've been (legitimately) concerned about Trump's easy manipulability, but, ironically, it's the rest of us who've been manipulated.



For the dim-witted (and smarties who've let outrage temporarily dull their wits): I'm not saying his stances, actions, words, policies, tweets, appointments, etc., are hunky dory. I'm not saying they don't require push-back. I'm not saying we should appease or enable. I'm not saying it's good.

Lefty Mother Jones Writer, Right-Wing Steely Intelligence Dude, and Centrist Blogger Me are all as opposed to Trump as you are, if not more. I'm sitting here puzzling this out, sleepless, at 5:30 am! I'm not saying Steve Bannon won't destroy the country. I'm saying we need to work, not kvetch. John Schindler's essential quote: "Trump will be stopped when a strong majority of Americans accept he's a nut who violates our laws. Not before."

He's talking about the right there, but it applies to the left as well. Acceptance is not agreement. Acceptance is not "normalization". Acceptance is not capitulation. Something about the liberal psyche (the same part of the brain which gives rise to the notion of, jesus christ, "safe spaces") predisposes them to standing there like chickens in the rain, repeating "No no no no no no no no....this is not happening." It's happening. The left's been stuck in this groove ever since he first ranted about Mexican rapists and glided down his golden escalator; the same sputtering "you've been trolled!" reaction again and again and again.

Let's belatedly get past the fact that he's him and he's here. Let's jar loose of our static posture of surprise and shock and outrage. Let's recognize that 100% of the country totally knows you're upset and fearful and hate him (and Trump supporters cares about that as much as you cared how they hated and feared Obama, which, I know, makes you want to plug your ears and shut your eyes and scream "FALSE EQUIVALENCY!!!!"). Ceaseless wailing will not bring about the gratification of your needs! Instead, let's use grown-up steely wits to deal with this. (Here are some suggestions, just for starters). Above all, let's remember that, unlike Tea Party vs Obama, we have coalition partners on the right. That's a huge difference. LISTEN TO THOSE GUYS! (Here's another to read, and one more)


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Perfume

Extremely polite people make me anxious. I wonder what horrible unspoken thing they're waltzing around. Also: I want to crawl out of my skin whenever corporate people lead off by telling me what I did right. The other shoe will surely drop after the pro forma stroking. And I've already explained how effusive people never, ever stick around. I shudder whenever anyone starts flattering my wonderfulness, having a long history of making out infinitely better with those who deem me merely marginally tolerable.

By the same token, perfume and cologne repel me. It's not that I dislike strong aromas. It's because my attention is iexorably drawn to the underlying stink. Something about such fragrances hyper-attunes my nostrils to body odor. I suppose it's a result of three things: 1. my contrarian impulse to always resist misdirection, 2. too many stays in cheap motels where powerful deodorizers only marginally masked the atrocities requiring them (and the horror of gradually becoming aware of the masking's dissipation), and 3. this, which I still haven't managed to flip, except in fits and starts.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Another View of Marches, Plus More Daily 202 Raving

Once again: I love Washington Post's "Daily 202" feature. It's emailed every day, and it's really insightful (not a word I'd use to describe much news coverage these days). It changes my mind on lots of things, and I treasure that. If you're not getting it, and paying close attention, you're really missing out. I'd describe it as left-center.

In today's edition, it (tacitly) makes a point I've deprecated from my own writing about the marches: that marching isn't the same thing as voting. It's a much more active step, and it gathers energy. But it also touches on a concern I expressed in a comment discussion beneath a recent posting: activation on the left can help, but can also swing things too far, leading to Tea Party-style litmus tests, where any Democrat who works with Trump on anything gets assault-via-primary. That dynamic is already starting to fall into place (nothing to do with the marches):
Several of the Democratic senators who want to run for president in 2020 won’t vote for anything Trump wants because they’ll be concerned about opening themselves up to attacks from their left. We got an early taste of this dynamic on Friday afternoon: John Kelly was confirmed as secretary of homeland security by a vote of 88 to 11. Among the “no” votes were four likely presidential candidates: Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris. These kinds of votes will put pressure on more moderate Democrats to follow suit. Imagine the thousands of phone calls asking a lawmaker why they voted for something when Warren, Booker and Bernie Sanders voted against it.
You're not going to see this angle on CNN. And the following is exactly the sort of telling note (not much heard elsewhere) that makes this a daily must-read:

One small but telling illustration of how little the Trump administration actually cares about expanding his coalition: The Spanish-language version of Whitehouse.gov no longer exists. You get a 404 error if you try to visit.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Skin in the Game

You can recoil, or march, or bitch about it, or you can do something about it. Contribute! Like you've never contributed before! If you're normally a $20 donor, give $50 or $100, and check the "recurring" option (one-time donations are vastly less useful than recurring). Consider giving beyond the pain point, and sell some old stuff on eBay to make it up. Bear in mind that good causes hang by a string (I speak from experience), so don't imagine yourself as a negligible part of a vast tide. This isn't like voting; in the nonprofit realm, individual contributors are way, way more than symbolic.

I'm about to write checks, past the point of pain, to the nonprofits listed below, which were smartly recommended by John Oliver on his show a while ago (note that all links go directly to subscription/donation pages; back up to home pages for background). I'm funding the opposition, the disadvantaged, and the at-risk. The following is just a start.

Note: there are services that consolidate your donations. Write just one check, and you can remain anonymous (while still receiving a tax deduction receipt), to avoid follow-up spam, etc.. They do add some overhead expense, but it's mitigated by avoiding multiple credit card fees (you'll just charge once): Justgive.org, and Network for Good. I think (not sure) only the latter handles recurring donations. And neither includes every charity (but I'd imagine they'd be receptive to complaints about gaps).

Ok, here goes:

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Planned Parenthood (even if you have moderate views on abortion)
Center for Reproductive Rights (if you're a bit more leftward on this than I am)
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (way more moderate than the divisive "Black Lives Matter")
The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth
National Resources Defense Council (environmental)
The International Refugee Assistance Project

Also, journalism will be under attack. I've bought digital subscriptions to both WAPO (which has been fantastic in doggedly standing up to Trump, and this daily emailed WaPo newsletter is spectacular) and NY Times (even though I already have a free log-on from a family member), as well as David Cay Johnston's incipient DCReport

If I find a good Muslim rights group, I'll contribute to that. Meanwhile, I go out of my way to patronize Muslim-owned restaurants, and I will join Gloria Steinem's call to register as a Muslim if such a registry arises.

Finally, I am not a Democrat. I'm a centrist/moderate, and I refuse to tribalize. I prefer a mix of thoughtful, sane, rationalize leaders from both sides. But this is an extraordinary time. So I think I'm going to contribute to the Democratic National Committee. Not because I agree with all that they stand for; not because I think people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi have The Solution. But simply because things are out of balance. I'll contribute to help restore balance, assuming that much of my contribution will be wasted in the usual posturing and tone-deaf floundering. And I will work twice as hard as ever to find and support principled (i.e. anti-Trump) Republicans. Such lonely creatures deserve our support and attention.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Endlessly Reminding You That We Hate You

1. Donald Trump, even in his fact-free sycophantic bubble of narcissism, is quite well aware that tens of millions of people don't like him. We had an election for that (just recently!), where we had the chance to express this in a meaningful way (those who stayed home literally don't count).

2. So today there are massive protests, to impress upon Mr. Trump that people don't like him, period. Again, he knows that.

3. So what do we do when he actually does something? When he starts banning Muslims, or persecuting Muslim citizens? Do we trot this out again? The millions who dislike him - who he knew about, and who were tallied in November, and who marched in January - will be seen as griping yet again. Yawn.

Don't get me wrong, it's always fun to goad the opponent, by repeatedly reminding him that we're opposed to him, personally, period, regardless of whatever he actually does. But maybe we can stop "teaching" him something he already knows, and try something different; something that requires some balls. For example, would anyone out there care to join me in publicly declaring yourself Muslim? That move is still priced cheaply; the cost will only rise later. Get in early!

If you'd rather just vent your indignation, cool. Enjoy. But know that there are actual things that can be done.

The next time your urge to stand up and be counted will actually mean something will be during midterm elections. How focused are you on that? How much are you focusing others on that, and preparing to push everyone you know (and make them push everyone THEY know) to register?

Have you purchased subscriptions (digital or print) for every single news publisher you ever make use of or generally admire (see this and the final paragraph here)? Have you badgered everyone you know to do likewise in order to support strong independent journalism?

Will you more than double your normal charitable and political giving this year, past your pain point? (here are some suggestions).

Are you paying attention to local politicians, and supporting the good guys? And generally activating politically? (That doesn't mean reposting snarky FB posts and clucking your tongue at Trump's latest outrageous tweet. It means donating and working and trying and evangelizing, way past the point where it doesn't feel like fun.)

Are you ready to support pragmatic, generally sensible politicians even if they're not your most favoritest - even if they're imperfect and prone to compromise, and even if they don't shmear you with rhetoric about transforming the country into your most perfect snowflake dream? Liberals just spent eight years fuming at Obama for working the system rather than sticking it to the "bad guys." They backed Bernie, who offered them every possible pony. Now that stakes have risen, are you ready to get real, and maybe even feel affinity for right-wing Never Trumpers (read, for instance, Rick Wilson and John Schindler) who don't emanate that comforting tribal smell?

Are you staying up on issues by reading primary sources as much as possible (rather than trusting and parroting your usual media gatekeeper)? How in-depth will your command be of news and issues in the years ahead? Will you continue to merely accept bulleted talking points?

Are you reading widely across the political spectrum, and doing everything you can to broaden your views and escape your bubble? To maintain your resolve and values while finding empathy and common ground with those who view things differently? To recognize, for example, that lots of good people voted Trump for totally non-racist reasons?

Are you securing your online communications and (more important) helping less technically competent people do likewise?

Are you going out of your way to make Muslim, Mexican, and generally immigrant neighbors, workers, coworkers, waiters, busboys, etc. feel like somebody's got their back, and making sure they have your cell number?

Are you gonna do something other than just bitch about it?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Orwellian

I was paying at the cash register of my favorite Italian deli this afternoon. Trump was snarling his inaugural address on the TV, while customers stared in horror. The clerk cheerfully announced my total:
"$19.84, sir."

"You're not kidding," I retorted, handing over my money.
No one noticed. No one grinned. Again.

The Inauguration's Empty Bleachers



Empty bleachers for the inauguration. Strident protests before the administration's even done anything. Media and elites strongly, outspokenly against the administration's mere existence. Part of me is heartened by these things! In the cartoon view, the good guys are showing strength.

But this isn't a cartoon. If there's anyone in America besides me that actually wants Donald Trump to find and act from his better nature - to at least attempt to be a good president for everyone, and not use the office solely as a platform to unrestrainedly act out his mental health issues - then you have to wonder what good this does.

Donald Trump may or may not have a better nature, and may or may not be capable of rising to act from such a basis. But one thing's for damn sure: America's most transactional man is not going to rise above provocation. He won't discover his better nature in a headwind. Decency is a heavy enough lift for him, and we're imposing heavy handicaps, besides. We're goading him. We're provoking him. We want to see the very worst Trump.

This happened to Obama, too. They threw everything imaginable at him from the get-go. Yet he never reciprocated. Per the cliche, he went high when they went low, working from the Christ/Gandhi/MLK playbook. Trump won't do that. Can't do that.

So unless we have a yearning to see the very worst Donald Trump (and I'm convinced many of his opponents do; much as the NRA truly wanted Obama to act to take their guns away and are absolutely incensed that he never did), there's something wrong with this picture.

I understand this line of thinking will strike some as appeasement. I'm suggesting we kowtow to our new president so he doesn't get his dander up and act mean to us. I'm a weak sniveler. But I can't counter that, because it's feeling (i.e. fear and hatred) masquerading as thinking. What I see here is that the left loves to deem people beyond-the-pale (the right does, too, but the left has made an art of it), and that this is a seriously unhealthy thing. And this miserable, brutally ignorant conman narcissistic asshole is the ultimate test of that. In fact, it's a more advanced test than we're remotely ready for. If ever we had a villain calling out to be treated with total desensitized disrespect, this is the guy.

If he's indeed beyond the pale - inhuman and therefore deserving of utter annihilation in every respect, from every angle, to the end of time, even at the cost of our nation's success in the coming years - then we're doing it right! But the Left has been worrying (justifiably) that human evolution is heading the wrong way - away from a future where everyone is treated with tolerance, love, and respect. But, meanwhile, they've been goading, inciting, and provoking as hard as possible to spark that very same turn. The problem's never the thing; it's always the reciprocation. The cascading ripples, not the stone. As I've been asking here for years:
Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

The Christ/Gandhi/MLK thing wasn't about being patsies. That line of opposition (and it is opposition!) comes from strength. That's why it's not appeasement. That's why it doesn't enable evil, as more militant partisans inevitably claim. Most Trump opposers would claim to grasp and admire the Christ/Gandhi/MLK approach, while simultaneously regarding anything less than scorched earth hatred as shameless appeasement. I don't know how to help them resolve their contradiction.

Try this, though: a Democracy means that all types get a chance to run things. Even the idiots. Democracy isn't about your guy winning. That's the opposite of democracy. Democracy means we put up with idiots running the country from time to time. That's the gig!!

I keep linking to this page about the Intolerance Paradox. Every paradox has its perfect test case. And I fear that we are, alas, flunking with Trump.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Maybe Cool it With the Sushi

Technical advisor Pierre (who's very well informed but not usually alarmist) has been strenuously urging against sushi for years. But a new report has him extra agitated: "Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America". He says this applies to any raw or undercooked salmon, unless it's been frozen to the FDA specifications, and the same holds (even more) for tuna and a host of others.

Question: Don't reputable sushi distributors freeze?

They are supposed to, but I don't know how enforceable that is. Salmonella contamination is obvious within a day, so it's easy to track back, but worms take months to produce severe symptoms. I suppose some sushi restaurants age their stock on their own premises, like steak houses do, but holes-in-the-wall, probably not.


Remember, though: you're never alone with a parasite...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Car Stereo Layla

Very often these days when I hear live music, applause is tepid, even when the crowd loved the band. Many don't clap at all. Poorly-paid musicians are in it for acclaim and approval, yet audiences can't be bothered to slap their palms and curl their mouth corners. Things have sunk that low.

At first I chalked it up to people feeling too cool to clap ("I catch every gig; let the giddy neophytes express their vulgar pleasure"). Insider's don't clap, and we're in an age where everyone needs to feel like an insider. But that's not entirely it. At performance's end, if you study the audience, they're all making their sullen, slack-jawed video game-playing faces. No beaming admiration, no recognition that it's their turn to activate in any way. They've been consuming, feeling as much responsibility to "give back" as they would toward their TV sets or earbuds. This is the slack-jawed endgame of extreme consumerism. Welcome to the Wall-E scenario.

I first observed this years ago, when a great many people assumed they were doing me a personal favor by surfing Chowhound, which I provided at Herculean effort as a public service. They'd often speak to me like their servant, brusquely instructing me on how I needed to change everything to fit their bill. If I didn't accommodate snappily, they'd become - often publicly - scornful. I learned in time that this was not the high-handed condescension it appeared to be. I wasn't an actual person - not any more than, say, one of the bosses in Grand Theft Auto. I was a guy manning a spigot, and each individual user's decision to suck from that spigot struck them as the most important thing - no, the only thing - in my universe.

Fast forward a few years. A large team and I have worked ridiculously hard for two solid years on something very ambitious, very necessary, and very heartfelt. It's nearly done, and I've given a few dozen people a preview peak. Among those who've partaken, very, very few have responded in any way. Thankfully, though, I've turned a corner. Ten or twenty years ago, I'd have been in freakout mode, assuming everyone hated it. Now, more firmly grounded in our era, I realize they love it. They're sucking from the spigot, and that's what counts. Who among us would acknowledge Eric Clapton when "Layla" finished playing on our car stereo? Everything is now car stereo Layla.


Three notes:

1. I'm smarter this time. This time, everyone has to cough up five bucks.

2. This whole situation is drastically against my religion.

3. As for people who I invited who never cracked it open, I am completely okay with that. You see, my favorite food writer, John Thorne, is a hero to me. I didn't often have time to read him back in the Chowhound days, and I somehow haven't caught up since. Whenever I pass the stack of his newsletters, I feel a warm glow of joy and admiration. But that's not sufficient; Thorne deserves my readership, not just my affection. So if I'm not eagerly reading every word of Thorne, I must completely forgive anyone who fails to follow my work. I can't expect anyone to admire me more faithfully than I admire John Thorne (more on him).


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Brace for President Pence

So if you've been reading the Twitter feeds I recommended here a few days ago and here on October, then you know that today's fast-unfolding news re: Trump and Russia has been a long time coming, and you even have an idea of what's coming next.

Trump's downfall will be a joint venture between the Intelligence Community (who Trump was foolish enough to war with) and right wing anti-Trumpers who are equal parts 1. patriotically outraged by everything Trump is, does and stands for, and 2. excited indeed about the prospect of President Pence.

Trump's through, it appears. This is a tip of the iceberg, and this is mostly just salacious except for the critical part about Trump's attorney's Prague trip last summer to meet with the campaign's Russian handlers.

For an advance look at the next shoe to drop (contradicting the BuzzFeed leak, it's been reported that Trump's engagements in Russian go back way more than five years, and involve alleged laundering massive cash for the Russian mob, which explains, among other things, how a frickin' casino can go broke), scroll down to Jan 9 at 10:33 AM on this Twitter feed of a very respected intelligence dude, and read forward.

Clickbait Score

For twenty years I've been forwarding science articles to my friend Pierre, who knows everything, and he's written back each and every time to tell me how they're doubtful, overblown, or complete bullshit.

Today, my ship came in. We may actually all be growing ourselves toothy stuff, per A Drug Meant for Alzheimer’s Treatment Regrows Human Teeth

Pierre says (and I feel like the Earth reversed its rotational spin):
"Yes! One of the few truly monumental advances in health care since vaccination! If it pans out, of course, but it does look good."
I can't help but wonder what else might be grown. What if this stuff makes me grow, like, toenails in my liver?

Official News feed of Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea

The Twitter account of the North Korean DPRK News Service (so dead-on and dry that many people wondered for a while whether it was legit) is hitting it out of the park today:

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Quiet Truth About Working in the Arts

Here's a truth which was whispered to me occasionally as I strived towards my writing and music careers: it's not true that it's hard to make a living in the arts.

Yes, there are tons of people angling to get through that door, but if you weed out the poseurs, the assholes, and the self-destructives, the remainder is a comically small group.

The (non-trivial) problem is to avoid that weeding-out, yourself. For one thing, you've got to be good - not just sort of "good enough" (people who settle for "good enough" count as poseurs).

It's a serious problem that a certain number of poseurs, assholes, and self-destructives make it through in spite of themselves, giving false hope all around. Plenty of wannabes survey the scene and conclude that's part of the gig.


Among the remainder - the comically small group - any sense of competition is an illusion.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Leaking Back to Russia...Or the Appearance Thereof

I've been plumbing the Twitter feeds of people (like Mr. Dog Tags Hot Tub, here) who are tapped into America's intelligence Community ("IC") to try to glean some perspective on the Trump/Russia thing. And one oft-repeated thought is: it's got to be tough for intelligence officers to be briefing Trump (and/or his team) about their delicate, hard-won information sources and methods, when Trump's so phenomenally undisciplined and he (and especially his cohorts) has such uncertain ties with Russia.

These briefings are some of the scariest, most worrisome things these guys have ever had to do. I haven't heard anyone suggest the following, but I like to try to look ahead to the "next step" of things:

If Putin's goal is to build up Trump as an American strongman vulnerable to his manipulations, he won't touch any of these sources or block any of these methods, even if Trump (or, more likely, Flynn or Manafort) send him a full accounting (which, for the record, I think is unlikely).

But if Putin's goal is to sow maximal chaos in America's Democratic process and institutional confidence, his move would be to burn as many sources and methods as he's able to identify - even if nothing's leaked to him! - to ensure maximal division and uncertainty within American government. If a secret American mole or two (perhaps one previously identified but left in place for just such an eventuality) gets slaughtered, that'd certainly, as Larry the Cable Guy (who I assume voted Trump) would say, "get 'er done."

I suspect Putin would rather burn us down than further build an erratic Frankenstein who's influenceable for lord know how much longer. So, maybe not now, but in due time, I'd imagine he'll try to make CIA think Team Trump leaked - no doubt planting evidence with Democrats. This strikes me as the KGB way.

New Hero: Carlos Kleiber

The rabbit hole du jour I've been plunging down to avoid doing work: Carlos Kleiber, a conductor I'd never heard of until two days ago when pianist/thereminist/velamintist Rob Schwimmer posted this video, entitled "Carlos Kleiber in Agony", to his Facebook feed:



It's slow-burn comedy gold, but, as Rob noted, it's especially impressive to musicians for the fact that this mofo never, ever misses a beat (watch his unperturbed baton hand's sweeping, lovely motions while his other hand cringes). I had to learn more, and, woah, was there ever a lot to discover. Here's a map of my subsequent surfing:

Wikipedia: Carlos Kleiber Good starting point.

Carlos Kleiber, A Reclusive Genius An article accompanying an ambitious radio profile.

Carlos Kleiber Audio Documentary That radio profile streaming online, complete with tons of musical excerpts.

Carlos Kleiber - Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon Free to stream if you have Amazon Prime.

1990 article from The Guardian Lots more background here.

Tristan Und Isolde from the above collection As mentioned in that Guardian article.

Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber

A Study In Contrasts – Carlos Kleiber I just love that he left "Kleibergrams" on the stands of individual musicians.

2004 Obituary in The Telegraph The first part of the eighth paragraph is extremely affecting.

The thoughts of inveterate contrarian Norman LeBrecht

Friday, January 6, 2017

Trolling Trump on Russia

Well, you come here for unorthodox opinions, and here's something you won't hear amid the deafening chattering re: Trump and the Russian hacking.

Why is Trump being so weird about the Russian hacking? One might figure it's because the Russians have something on him. And they very well may. But even if Putin has a sex tape of the guy being impotent (nothing else would suffice), or if Putin's slipped him a couple of his alleged hundreds of billions of dollars, what Trump's doing now isn't helping Putin (who is definitely not afraid of a congressional investigation), And it's certainly not helping Trump. So why is he doing this - denying the undeniable, fighting the intelligence community, and allowing himself to look thoroughly squirmy?

Easy. This parses to Trump and his circle as an attempt to delegitimize the election. We're trying to take away his win, so he's doing what Trump does: fighting tooth and nail, against all logic and sanity. The reaction is entirely predictable. An eight year old could have seen this coming, yet I haven't heard anyone on the left or even the anti-Trump right concentrate on this.

If the anti-Trump forces were truly outraged at Russian behavior, above/beyond any issues with actual election results - if they actually want everyone to transcend partisan bickering and focus on Putin, they would tell Donald Trump this: Relax. Have your win. This isn't about you. Join us in getting to the bottom of this, and we pledge that even if Putin personally hacked voting machines, we will let the election results stand uncontested. And he'd go along even if Putin was his daddy, because appearances. 

But I've not heard anything like that out of Schumer or Pelosi, have you?

In the absence of such reassurance, Trump is doing what Trump does; pushing back as hard as he can. Which makes him look bad. Which is of course, the point. It's a trap. I don't mean the Russians didn't really interfere; they plainly did. But by not reassuring Trump, the main priority becomes apparent. If the Democrats really wanted to rise above politics, they'd address Trump's point of anxiety. They won't, because this is a trap; a trolling. 

I can't say I completely object. I think Trump's an existential threat. But I feel we need to be careful not to damage institutions in the effort to deflect and deflate a man whose chief peril is his disregard for institutions. I worry this trolling will create the same sort of destabilization we fear Trump generating. The medicine can be worse than the disease.

I will say this: it's a clever trap. And I'm happier to see Americans trapping and manipulating Trump than foreigners.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

High Impenetrability From My Pointy Pointy Head

That last posting had a Flesch–Kincaid readability score of 8.81. Here, courtesy of Wikipedia, is how that breaks down (god help me):



I can only hope my rhythmic flow (I try to write like Elvin Jones plays) redeems it.

Here's where I measured.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cooking for a Sensation of Vitality

When I got out to eat, I want either spectacular flavors, or else to be moved by refinement and subtlety. I need something to happen. A lot of people try to recreate the restaurant experience at home, which makes no sense to me. At home, I aim for a feeling of vitality, even if nothing particular is "happening". I don't sit with perfect posture, elegantly flairing my nostrils as I appreciate the perfection of my efforts. I'm not this guy:



Nor do I eat in a sloppy, unconscious rush. I savor, but it's a different kind of savoring. Rather than be all involved with the exquisite depth of my demi-glace, I bask in the afterglow of thoughtful, healthful cooking. Jean Georges is 10,000 times the chef I am, but he cannot offer this. I may leave a restaurant savoring with my palate, but never with my whole body. Wellness isn't the goal, and it's not to be found (even in so called health food restaurants). This is something restaurants don't do - can't do - and it's what I've spent the past 10 years learning to cultivate.

It's a question of finding, via experimentation, an optimal balance of carbs, proteins, and fats, while ensuring that carbs are complex (no white sugar or flour), fats are healthy (e.g. extra virgin olive oil), and proteins are lean and "clean" (pepperoni calzones are not an apt protein). Cook from whole foods (lowercased), not processed. And ease off with the salt (here's a trick).

The last time I wrote about this, I offered this experiment:
If you're unsure of what it even means to feel great after eating, I propose the following experiment. Here's your shopping list:

A jar of organic raw almond butter (budget around $17; this stuff's expensive). Note: I'm not an organic extremist, but concentrated foods (e.g. nut butters, juices, oils, etc.) concentrate pesticides as well as nutrients, so it's worth it to shell out for organic versions.
A loaf of high-fiber, high-protein, whole grain bread (look for at least 4g of fiber and 4g of protein; 5g of each is even better - e.g. Milton's 100% Whole Wheat Bread, available at Trader Joe's)
Some natural, unsweetened no-fat yogurt.


Ok, here's what you do:

Eat a good healthy breakfast, including some "clean" healthy protein (lo-fat milk, egg white/spinach omelette, etc).
A couple hours later, before hunger turns ferocious, toast a slice of the bread and slather it with a tablespoon and a half of the almond butter (mix in the oil if it's separated).
Eat the toast and the yogurt (if you must, mix in a teaspoon of honey).
Set an alarm to go off in 45 minutes.
Go do something productive. When your alarm rings, observe how you feel.
So here's another, using only foods available at Trader Joe's:

Ingredients:

Low-Sodium Chicken Stock (packaged goods aisle)
Lentil Soup with Ancient Grains (refrigerated section)
Frozen Artichoke Hearts (frozen)
Sprouted Tofu (near cheeses)
Baby Spinach (produce)

Boil a half cup of chicken stock (along with a bay leaf if you have one, and perhaps some hot sauce or chili powder).
Add a few artichoke hearts, spinach, and cut-up pieces of any leftover vegetables.
Add half of one of the tofu blocks, roughly diced
Reduce heat and stir frequently.
Once the frozen stuff is warm, add half the container of lentil soup.
Stir violently, cover, and cook 3 minutes on low heat.
Serve into bowl, and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil (I like TJ's "California Estate" oil).

The flavor should be a solid 7.5. But see if you have even the slightest cravings afterwards. See how you feel.


More:

My series "How (Perennially) Fat People Diet"
...and A New Way of Healthy Cooking


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Celebrate Good Times....Come On!

I just thought of a clear explanation for why I don't celebrate anything (seriously: anything).

If my life ever reaches a point where I don't feel like I'm really living until Friday rolls around, or until Christmas or my birthday arrive, or until the Mets win a World Series, etc. etc., then a piece of cake won't help. If periodic arbitrary bits of elevation serve as dog-track rabbits - if they're the arrival point - then I'm absolutely fucked. I'd be living Peggy Lee's nightmare.

But I don't fall out of love with the universe when events go this way rather than that way, so I'm never awaiting an arrival point. And if you're not awaiting an arrival point, then what's to celebrate, beyond the unceasing present moment?


That said, if you waited in line all day on a cold Minneapolis afternoon to buy a bottle of Surly Darkness imperial stout, and you were to offer me a taste of it just because it's My Special Day, I'll absolutely play along. And I'll also gladly pretend to celebrate your birthday.

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