Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Good Enough" Sucks

I've revealed, twice now (here and here), a key secret of professional musicians. The first was a right-brain explanation, and the second more left-brain:
If a musician tries to play in tune, he'll, inevitably, sometimes play out of tune. But if you try to play really in tune, you'll play reasonably in tune even at your worst. This is a critical life lesson!
The professional musician's trick to playing consistently in-tune is to aim to be far more precisely in tune than you need to be. A serviceable A-natural can be conjured up anywhere between 439.7hz and 440.3hz, but if you relax into that full latitude, you will unavoidable miss those goalposts from time to time, whereas those who shoot for 439.999hz to 440.001hz never miss so widely.
I know a serious chowhound who runs a tavern that serves great beer, but merely so-so food. He explains that the food doesn't need to be so great for such a place. It's "good enough."

Here's the problem with that (and, by extension, with the world): "Good enough" sucks. If you are not trying to do great work, you will do terrible work. If you aim for good enough, results will often not be good enough. You can't get around this fact (actually, it's a law...Murphy's Law).

People who try to do great work usually wind up doing merely good work, unless they're absolute OCD kooks. But if you hope to just keep up with the predominant quality around you - among colleagues and competitors - and try not to suck, I have bad news for you: You suck.

"Keeping up" means sometimes not keeping up (you win some and you lose some, amiright?). This is how under-average performance happens - nobody tries to be below average - and this is how everything turns to crap, generally.

...until an absolute OCD kook arrives to set a new standard, forcing everyone else to aim higher for a while, until it all starts collapsing once again. Entropy is the way of the Universe, and the ultimate human goal is to work against this inevitability. If you're going to fight that fight, you might as well give it all you've got.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The TV To Get At the Best Possible Price

The 55" LG OLED55B7A cost, until a short while ago, $2000, and was a bargain at that price (OLED technology is a whole higher level of picture quality). It's just dropped to $1400 (with free shipping) as a freak sale at, and will settle in, starting Black Friday, at $1500 (including, surely, at Amazon), for at least a couple weeks before the price goes back up again.

$1500 is a lot for a TV, to be sure. But it's tomorrow's technology, so it's future-proof, and it's beyond the beyond, quality-wise. You won't need to do a lot of research. If you need a TV, and can possibly afford it, this is the one to get. If you've been following OLED prices, you know it's ridiculously cheap.

Here's the great David Katzmaier's rave review of the model, and here is his strongly-worded recent suggestion that "this sale is the time to pull the trigger, and this is the OLED TV to get" ("If I was spending my own money now to buy a new TV, I would get the B7A"). I'd recommend reading carefully through that second link.

You should probably skip the $1400 NewEgg offer, though, and wait for Amazon, et al, to drop to $1500 next Friday. As Katzmaier notes:

Also, don't forget that many credit cards offer price protection, so you won't get burned if it drops further (but few people think LG will drop this low again until next fall).

Jeremiah Tower

I caught Anthony Bourdain's company's film "Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent" (it's playing in Bourdain's usual slot on CNN as an extended episode of "Parts Unknown," if you want to record a rerun or search for VOD).

I enjoyed the film. I don't know Tower, and never tasted his food, but we have a degree of separation (my buddy, director Les Blank, was close to Alice Waters in that era - in fact, he's briefly referenced in the film - just before a shot of him twirling around with Alice - as "a film guy"). And I savagely panned Tavern on the Green, where Tower eventually wound up for a few months, before it was fashionable to do so. I'm sorry he apparently missed that article, which dissuaded at least one restaurant veteran from hiring on there. 

The friend who recommended this film described it as "sad and infuriating": "He certainly was (is) very talented but there's a serious disconnect somewhere."

For those who haven't seen it yet (I wouldn't sweat the following minor spoiler), Tower had a lonely, loveless childhood, and faced decades of relentless opposition and disrespect as he tried his damnedest to conjure style, quality, and celebration. Having played an important role in the creation of New American cuisine, he remains underrecognized and appears, at age 74, to be embittered and diminished (though it may very well be that they just shot and edited the film to make him seem that way).

In my view, the greatest human tragedy is to face sustained adversity without being transformed - without coming away with some lozenge of wisdom. Regardless of appearances, the universe is not grinding us into pulp. It's trying to clear our windshields and unfurl our clenchings...if we'll only let it. If we'll simply release to What Is.

Most never do. They endlessly re-tighten their grip on tired and useless impulses and delusions, and the friction wears them down to a joyless stub. Even among those who do surrender - who accept the universe on its own terms - it's often done mutteringly at first, as a sour act of disillusionment. Only later do they fully release into a clearer, more equanimous and open-hearted surrender, hearts cracking open. That's where this is all leading. You can go with the flow, or you can scream, over and over, "This shall not pass!" I have trouble understanding someone who'd choose the latter for 74 harrowing years.

Creative visionaries are treated the harshest, not because the world fears and loathes vision and creativity (though it certainly does), but because such people have been prepared for deeper, harder lessons. Travails and agonies are like finishing school; the toughest and loving-est of "tough love". But from the (probably skewed) impression one gets from this film, Tower appears to have endured hell without claiming his reward. No brass key!

He remains worked up over his legacy and his place in things - The Grand Story of Me, which is precisely what finishing school aims to reveal as empty drama. It's never about the doer, or even the done. It's about the doing. If you can reach old age, having gone through all Tower has gone through, without that realization, and clinging to memories of disappointment and ill-treatment, that means the travails were for naught. And that's very sad, indeed.

As I wrote here:
There are people whose lives have been a never-ending stream of undeserved calamities, and while such people often wind up broken and embittered, they may also wind up illuminated.
...and as I wrote here:
We're so adept at immersion and identification with storylines that we easily lose ourselves. Our problem as a species is that we immerse so deeply in the drama (especially the parts that seem deadly serious - the grisliest, saddest, most turbulent storylines) that we forget we're the ones who signed up for this. The solution is to try to wear it all much more lightly, and to remember that the rollercoasters are merely rides (we waited on line!), not oppressors.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Criterion Collection 50% off at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble's exciting biannual 50%-off deal on Criterion Collection's entire great line of DVDs and Blu-Rays has just begun its fall event. I wrote about it extensively this summer, if you'd like to take a look.

Here's a link to's Criterion page

I'm definitely ordering Repo Man (long live Harry Dean the way, his final film, Lucky, was terrific).

Comedy Just Died

Appalling behavior is not entertainment. Harassment - sexual and otherwise - is not the least bit funny. Watching people be awful to one another should not be how we get our jollies.

This all sounds completely reasonable, but only because it's the new normal. New normals can arrive with startling speed (no one in 1985 would have imagined Americans taking to raw fish). But here's the question: All those years I spent watching the Three Stooges smash each other, and guffawing at "What knockers!" jokes in Young Frankenstein, and seeing Jerry Lewis portray poor motor function and cognitive disability for laughs....was it all a depraved fever dream of me-as-monstrous-brute?

Have we evolved beyond that? Should we view characters slipping on banana peels with due empathy, rather than laughing at their pain and misfortune? Our laughter reflects our ability to desensitize, and human desensitization is the root of all evil. Are we waking up from a long civilizational sickness, and, finally, rightfully spurning the central propositions of comedy?

That seems to be where we're headed. And it's accelerating wildly. I recently predicted that, within 50 years, Marx Brothers films would be viewed as appalling, barbaric, and unfunny. There's nothing to laugh at while watching that asshole Groucho harass that nice Margaret Dumont woman as she tries to throw her parties, or to sing her lovely opera arias! But I'm stepping up that prediction. I believe that within five years, Groucho will be an obsolete relic. No thoughtful parent will let their children watch Roadrunner or Bugs Bunny cartoons. Because we're better than that.

Comedy may well be over, because it's based, fundamentally, on the notion that appalling behavior is entertainment. Harassment - sexual and otherwise - is hilarious. And watching people be awful to one another should be the preeminent way to get our jollies.

Are we evolving into something kinder, gentler, better? Hey, perhaps! I don't discount it! On the other hand, humans deny their darkness at their peril (it's no coincidence that holier-than-thou types so often turn out to be the most secretly depraved). Comedy's a release valve for our crueler instincts, even though it often pushes past uncomfortable lines, just as pro sports are a release valve for our warrior instincts in spite of the concussions and fan hooliganism. The more sensitive we become, the less tolerant we feel toward release valves, because they carry too much whiff of the full-throttled thing.

I can see both sides. Comedy is appalling, if you think about it. It will very likely cease to exist under currently shifting fashions. But when I think of Groucho and Bugs and Wiley Coyote and the Stooges, I have trouble mustering a fashionable sense of disapproval for those assholes. I guess I slightly favor legacy (i.e. decades of enjoyment) over new-fashioned social waves; I lean slightly conservative, at least in this matter.

But here's the thing. When the Marx Brothers films become cultura-non-grata - and they will, soon - many will sincerely believe they always hated those films. Consider how, by 2015, nearly everyone was a crusading gay rights proponent unable to fathom any other position. That was strange, given that only a few years earlier there was virtually no full-throated condemnation of gay persecution (much less support for rights like marriage). I've supported those rights for some time, but I remember when homosexuality creeped me out. But only me, apparently. Everyone else seems to have acquired a weird amnesia. They always approved of sushi.

Watch. Groucho's going down. And no one will have ever liked him.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Empowering a Government That Might be Run By a Trump

If you're a liberal who can't understand why everyone doesn't share your desire to see social justice goals enshrined in law, the following does an elegant job of tersely explaining the downside.

In fact, it's a keyhole into the moderate view of such things. It's not that we want to keep good people down, it's that we're just leery of using government as a tool for addressing an ever-unfolding profusion of grievances, movements, and trendy crusades:

Libertarians are wrong: government is not our enemy. However, a year of Trump should be enough to convince you that the government is not always going to be our friend, either, and that we must plan accordingly. Take it from Gary Kasparov; he ought to know...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bypassing the Brain, Straight to the Spleen

If you're someone who aims to maintain rationality and balance even when upsetting things are happening - if you don't want to be reverse-spun into the sort of stupidity and extremism that set you off in the first place - then you'll see things like this - which stoke your outrage and stroke your confirmation bias - and have the discipline to run it past your brain, where you'll recognize the hollowness and overreach:

Putting Moore in the Senate will not sacrifice the innocence of any children, duh. That's hysterical, empty nonsense. We don't need to keep him out of the Senate FOR THE CHILDREN (if he's still molesting - and there's no reason to assume he is - he can do so as easily in AL as in DC), we need to keep him out because his history of lawless predation and hypocrisy disqualifies him from leading the nation.

Statements like the above make our spleens pleasantly throb, in the same way that a given scummy hunk of Steve Bannon demagoguery resonates with his people. It completely bypasses the brain.

Don't let anyone bypass your brain. The brain is certainly not everything, but it's our only hope for maintaining rationality and balance in troubling times. The brain is what's missing on the other side. Don't be jerked into imitating them.

Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How to Fall Asleep on Cue

Having practiced meditation for 45 years, I've learned to navigate several states of consciousness. Yet I've never been able to fall asleep on cue. It's bugged me, so I've been working on it. And I've finally cracked it.

I just returned from Singapore, which involved a ghastly 25 hours in the air (the Sun rose and set twice; I thought that was something only experienced from the International Space Station!). So I've had a chance to test this with worst-case-scenario jet lag...and it works!

It's simple - as stuff like this tends to be:

1. Increase the weight of your head

I don't care how relaxed you think you are; you are holding your head oh-so-slightly above your pillow via neck, shoulder, and trunk muscles. Tension! Let your head get heavy, so it sinks further into the pillow. Maybe even push downward, ever so slightly.

2. Let your thought stream get whimsical

Once your head gets heavy and sinks into the pillow, your thoughts will immediately turn dreamlike. And here's the shocking part: you are already asleep. Mission accomplished! Sleep isn't distant. Sleep is always right around the corner...and you've turned that corner. You just don't know it. So there's truly nothing further to do, except....

3. Answer "Yes".

A thought will very soon surface, through the surreal dream imagery, questioning whether you're truly asleep. Just say "yes". And let your head drop. And let your thoughts unfurl. Don't think about this process (it's so simple, there's nothing to think about!). Don't monitor. Don't manage. Just let it go. You are already asleep. Nothing more to be done.

Here's why it took 40 years to develop this (it involved stupidly repeating one of my stupidest-ever mistakes):

For my first twenty years of meditation, I could easily unhook myself from my mental noise and plunge down to a repose of silence (I'm not talking about sleep here; that's a different thing). But quite often, a great big crass thought would trumpet through: "Crap, did I leave the car windows open?" or "I forgot to call so-and-so!" Everything seemed ruined. I was back at the surface, expelled from the depths, needing to start again. I was a terrible meditator!

After two goddamned decades it finally occurred to me that these loud thoughts were just more thoughts; more noise to unhook from. They weren't special. They might trumpet, but they couldn't disrupt my meditation unless I chose to disrupt it by paying them heed. I'd been an idiot to imagine there was an "up" and "down", or that external phenomena could control me. Silence is right here, right now, and it's entirely a matter of where I choose to place my attention.

The issue was prioritization. Garden-variety thoughts ("I'm tired", "I'm hungry", "Am I meditating correctly?") are easy to let go of. Just let them be! But if the house might burn down, well, that seems worth ceasing my meditation for! So my mind learned to produce thoughts which coaxed me into heeding my mind.

The task was to let go of these seemingly high-priority thoughts. To do so, I needed to deepen my commitment to meditation - to convince myself that nothing else was a higher priority. The car windows may be open, and I may hear rain, but the car can fill with water, I don't care. The gas might be on, but my house can explode, that's fine. I'll lose work if I don't return the call,! Deeper commitment meant no disruption could disrupt. I've enjoyed thoroughly peaceful meditations ever since.

I figured this out - that the loud thoughts are still just thoughts - twenty years ago, and yet I've always allowed the "Am I truly asleep?" thought to snare me back into a thinky awake state. Thoughts can't snare you! Only your responsiveness can. Answer a distant, dreamy "yes" and let the sleep you were already in fully envelope you.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Even Consent is Insufficient

The Louis CK situation should be considered differently from Weinstein, Trump, Cosby, et al., because he always asked - and received - permission first. But it's currently believed that even consent can be insufficient. As Louis himself said this morning:
"When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me."
Let's leave aside Louis' weirdo sex prefs (aren't we all supposed to be non-judgemental these days?). Let's also leave aside the obvious fact that power itself is attractive (people with no power have a rough time getting laid). Let's leave aside that beautiful people enjoy a great deal of power over others, and often milk that power for all its worth (for sex and for countless other advantages) with impunity. Let's leave a whole bunch of meshugas on the table and get to brass tacks.

It's been made clear to me that it's "gross" to date women who are younger, and it's "creepy" (and perhaps harassment) to even politely proposition a woman who might be deemed "out of my league" (i.e. has more power than me). I also must avoid sex with women who admire me (because then I have power over them), who might ever conceivably be employable by me or helped by me in their careers (again, POWER), and who have fewer connections and assets than me (POWER!). When there's a power imbalance, even consent is insufficient*.

So who, precisely, am I allowed to fuck? Can someone please tell me?

* - Except for the power of physical attractiveness. If you've got that, go nuts. Enthrall, exploit, and dump as you wish. You're good to go.

Even if consent were sufficient, I still must be prepared to instantly retract and recoil, physically, at any sign of equivocation at any moment in any relationship, because anything less than explicitly/verbally corroborated ardor might be deemed rape. And, as we know, women always know exactly what they want, are never ambivalent or hard to read, never offer positive feedback to assertive men, and they really really love it when guys keep nervously re-verifying their ongoing consent. Consent is a slippery thing, to begin with, and if it's not even sufficient, that means we've gone stone cold crazy.

Update: Facebook discussion of this posting here (be sure to uncompress all the replies).
One last note, since I'm tacking on here:

If Louis CK's sexual preference (which I personally find icky) is to be publicly excoriated because it's icky, then that leaves the door open to relitigate all sorts of sexual preferences. Hey, I don't feel particularly rosy about the practice of chopping off one's penis to "become" a woman, but I've been persuaded - quite rightly! - that I should live and let live. How did that suddenly stop being a thing?

Slick In-Flight Wi-fi Move

Fun fact: you can pause your time with in-flight wifi. This means you can buy just an hour and spread it out. Check email quickly a bunch of times during flight, and pause the service while you compose replies, etc., etc. Of course, if you want to spend the entire flight merrily surfing, you'll still need to pay for full-flight wi-fi.

To pause, just return to the web page where you paid for the service. Somewhere on there (you may need to read a FAQ) is a control to pause service.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Slimy Conniving Toads Burned by Sunlight

This July I wrote:
Historian Consensus Circa 2117

Nixon: Should have burned the tapes.

Carter: Weak; paralyzed by minutiae.

George W Bush: Late to disengage from Cheney's enthrallment.

Obama: Deliberateness is noble; equivocation is not.

Trump: Campaigned to enhance brand and ego, never intended to win. Victory ensured punishment for lifelong criminality that otherwise would never have come to light.
Consider Paul Manafort, a wealthy, powerful man who's now disgraced and destined for serious cell time (on state charges if Trump pardons the federal ones). What in hell did he need this for? The first rule of slimy, conniving toads is always keep a low profile. Of course, Manafort never expected Trump to win, and, man, was that ever an expensive miscalculation (you thought you were harmed by that surprise outcome!)

This will eventually be the long view rap on Manafort: victory ensured punishment for lifelong criminality that otherwise would never have come to light. And the same for Flynn and Cohen, and, finally, Trump and Jared. With the mobbed-up money laundering and all the rest of it, there's way more than just treasonous colluding with a hostile power to swing an election. Mueller has Manafort's and Gates' tax returns, and a granular financial transaction record via FinCEN. He surely has Trump's, too.

He never should have run. Mistake of his life. When all is said and done, that will be the clear assessment.

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