Monday, June 26, 2017

The New Health Insurance Bill

Many of us were exasperated by the right's willful incomprehension during the Obamacare debate. Their over-simplified and ignorant objections were expressed via ridiculous hyperbolic slogans designed to shamelessly rile up their base. "Death panels!" and all that b.s....

So what about this new healthcare bill? It's an abomination, right? You know for a fact that it will leave huge numbers uninsured, and "millions will die" (TM)?

If so, how do you know this? Did you read the bill (I sure didn't)? And are you expert in the arcane details of health policy (lord knows I'm not)? If not, then where does that certainty stem from? The answer, as always in recent American politics, is a potent cocktail of confirmation bias and tribalism.

Let me ask you this: if a nerdy, well-respected conservative health insurance wonk (who earnestly wants to see people well-covered, and doesn't just want to apply a wrecking ball to all things good and just) believed the new bill was an absolute gem, and questions the assumptions behind the CBO's projection of millions of uninsured, and thinks the pools will be made diverse even without a mandate compelling healthy people to buy insurance (so it's not just expensive sick people), would you want to entertain his thoughts? Even if it requires effort, because this stuff is complicated, while the hyperbolic slogans go down a lot easier? Is it possible we've been guilty of the same ignorance, over-simplification, and crazy doom peddling ala anti-Obamacare "death panel" hysteria?

Me? I'm very skeptical of the bill. But I refuse to mindlessly parrot the outrage, because I'm not so Dunning–Krugered up to imagine I understand this realm of policy and can know for certain how this will play out. And I'm not confirmation-biased up to the point where I trust the people screaming on my teevee set. And I'm nowhere near tribal enough to trust the mob parroting the people screaming on my teevee set.

The bill may be an abomination...or it may be "the greatest policy achievement by a GOP Congress in my lifetime," as Avik Roy claims (same link as above). But if you're waving pitchforks after heeding only one set of experts - your tribal elders - what's the difference between you and the pro-Tumpers in their Foxbart bubble?

More from Avik Roy (who I don't find likable, and whose assumptions I don't often share): his Twitter feed, and a recent podcast debate.

If you intend to leave a rage-filled comment, please first verify that you've personally read the bill. Calm opinions, however uninformed, are always welcome, but borrowed, rebroadcasted* outrage is a disease, and I'm highly resistant.

* - When I was in fourth grade there was a presidential election, and my classmates mindlessly parroted their parent's political views. We were too young to understand any issues, but everyone was totally wound up and sanctimonious. I grokked what was happening, but what I didn't understand was that our parents, themselves, were parroting.

It's all entirely tribal. It's always been entirely tribal. Actual policy barely even matters - look how the right effortlessly flipped to champion a candidate who campaigned with a profoundly non-conservative nationalist/populist agenda! It's not about policy, it's about tribal grievance. We obediently parrot our tribal leaders, be they parents, TV pundits, writers, etc., delighting in the pre-masticated, ridiculously simplified talking points with which they inoculate us. Both sides (and me, too) are poorly informed, but willful in our ignorance and unwavering in our intellectual self-confidence.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Best North Indian I've Ever Found in NYC

Nawab (2 Hudson St, Yonkers; 914-909-9700) makes the best North Indian (they're actually Pakistani) food I've ever had anywhere. They're even better than Jackson Diner during its heyday, before it moved to its present location (and went way, way downhill).

The cooking is brilliant, and the clientele gives the impression of driving quite far to eat here (it's worth a ride from most anywhere....note that you can take Metro North from Manhattan). It's on a dodgy back street in downtown Yonkers, but they charge a respectable price (as well they should), with entrees $15-20.

Sunday buffet lunch is the time to go. This is a rare chef who actually thrives on buffets; puts his heart into them, and changes them up every week. Even better, though you just missed it, is the break-fast buffet at sundown during Ramadan (features way more dishes than the Sunday buffet).

But best of all is their feast for Eid al-Fitr, commemorating the end of Ramadan. Management also owns a Kubrickian ballroom, seemingly from the 1920's, right behind the restaurant, and once a year they present a dizzying array of steam table offerings there, along with live music. It's something to behold. This year, it will be served Sunday from 1:30 through to evening. Sorry for the short notice. But if you miss it, worry not. Just go and eat any time. It's revelatory. If you need to bone up on the cuisine, we cover North Indian thoroughly in my app, Eat Everywhere.

Here is Nawab's home page (with menu). Here is Nawab's Facebook page.

The Best Mexican I Ever Found in NYC

Cienaga Grocery And Deli (10432 Corona Ave, Corona; 347-353-2366) is the best Mexican I've ever found in the five boroughs.

Understand that I don't make this claim lightly. I'm deeply dialed into Mexican food, and I don't even bother with most of the known names. I only hit up a few obscure secret holes in walls (Sin Dulce in Yonkers and Port Chester, is atop my list right now). So this doesn't blow away some Yelp-raved West Village place. It blows away the good places!

They're a short walk from another contender, Tortilleria Nixtamal (104-05 47th Ave, Corona), which many of you know. But the food's in an entirely different league.

They're Oaxacan! A whole other state, and a whole other cuisine, from the south of Mexico (this cuisine is, of course, covered in my app, Eat Everywhere, if you're unfamiliar).

Like nearly every nabe-facing (as opposed to gringo-foodie-facing) Oaxacan restaurant in this country, they offer a lot of standard items (tacos, sopes, barbacoa, al pastor - none of which are really Oaxacan....also, grimace, burritos, mentioned as inconspicuously on the menu as possible), but all made, it seems, with a Oaxacan touch (understand I'm extrapolating here....I have not explored the menu yet). And they make ultra-hard-to-find tlayudas and tlacoyos! Plus, a holy grail of mine, panbazos. But I didn't order any of those things.

I spotted a pan full of thick sauce and nuggets of meat, and ordered it on impulse. The sauce was a magical concoction of very smokey chiles (not chipotles, I don't believe) and cumin, and it nearly made me faint. The chicken was just brilliant - not dried out, not generic protein, but some of the best on-bone chicken chunks you'll have this year. That never happens!

It was served with meticulously moist, soulful rice, and correct black beans. Don't expect Cuban style just because they're black - no oregano, no onion, these are more homely and grounded, prepared like northern states make (non-refried) pintos. Earthy, not jazzy.

Along with this, the best horchata I've ever had north of the border (check out the residue in the bottom of my cup).

The tortillas are super high quality but, strangely, not from Nixtamal 1/4 mile away. They make them themselves, and they're super.

Service is kind, but tersely diffident. Not much opportunity to ask questions. And don't expect to see an array of show-offish mole dishes. One homey special is offered per day (like the one I had), and it will have sauce which may or may not be a formal Oaxacan mole. Remember, for these guys, molé's just food, not a whole romantic to-do. I will, however, do whatever's necessary to find, cajole, or special order tamales with black mole (might have to wait for a holiday).

See menu shots below.

Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault

Chew on this little-noticed excerpt for a moment:
"By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Left's Immigration Extremism

Last year, I wrote (in response to liberal indignation at the term "illegal", and perspective toward undocumented immigrants, generally):
On most political issues, I’m a moderate/centrist. But when it comes to immigration, I am one-sided: pro-immigrant in every respect and exuberantly xenophilic. If my views and expression nonetheless put me beneath-the-pale in the view of the American Left, it means the American Left has gone Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, straight into Crazytown on this issue. And I believe that’s had very bad repercussions, as extremism always does. At least some of the current extremism on the right is surely reciprocal. That's how it works: extremism begets extremism...
This new Atlantic article makes the same point. It's an important one. It explains why the nativist rhetoric on the Right is not all necessarily ugly (though I strongly disagree with it).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Southwest by South Trip Installment #3

Installment #1
Installment #2

I'd hit the "hyperspace" button during my Dallas/Austin trip, driving, impulsively, nearly 400 miles eastward to check out a hillbilly Italian area of Arkansas, all on the basis of a single photo I'd seen in a magazine. Here's that photo once again:

Upon arrival in Lake Village, Arkansas, I'd eaten a memorable meal - Italian-influenced, per the spaghetti and fish-on-Friday - at Rhoda's Hot Tamales and Pie. And it was time to hunt down Regina's pasta shop.

It was a tough find. Their Facebook page places them at a major intersection, but they're actually a couple miles away. Finally, I took the route of masculine surrender and called for instructions. The proprietor, with her Granny Clampett accent, confessed she was poor at directions, so she passed me to her husband, who I assumed to be a poor mountaineer named Jed (one can only imagine what I sounded like to them!). Upon arrival, I encountered two faces out of a Boticelli painting; faces just like the ones from my childhood Italian neighborhood in Long Island. I fought the impulse to greet them with my customary "Yeah, how yoo dooin'?"

They do, indeed, operate out of this impossibly backwoods-ish shack (actually, it's perched on a lake), but, surveying their wares, it seemed similar to what you'd find in an Italian grocery in, say, Maine or Minnesota. And, really, why wouldn't it? Hey, I get over-excited sometimes. I guess I was hoping for possum parmigiana.

Anyway, they'd stopped serving lunch (their only meal), and I'd need to wait until tomorrow for any sort of food service.

Now what? Well, the last thing I was going to do was to tell them my story and ask for an exception. First, I just don't do that. I want the real experience. Second, I had no rapport with them whatsoever. Third, I'd seem stark raving bonkers. And, fourth, as a stalling tactic while I regrouped, I'd spun around to examine the little bags of homemade cookies at the back of the shop. And my inner baked goods geiger counter didn't so much as beep.

I recognized those slapdash chocolate chip M&M cookies. I'd grown up with them.

There's something about Italians and Jews. As we assimilate, we unravel, culinarily. The second-generation Italian and Jewish moms on my block back in Long Island all talked a good game, but used crap ingredients, and cooked distractedly and unhappily, with cigarettes dangling from their pursed lips. They didn't give an actual damn about food, and it tasted like it. They produced xerox copies of traditional dishes, as did all the restaurants nearby. In fact, it's the same for virtually every Italian-American restaurant (and certainly every Jewish deli) these days.

The restaurant and home cooking were great back when the first generation was in charge, with deep old-world roots. Today, nobody cooks like grandma did. While the offspring have done well - lots of doctors and lawyers - it's come at a cost. Our cooking is soulless. When assimilated Italians and Jews do cook well, it's in spite of our ethnicity, not because of it.

Those blasé cookies spoke volumes, revealing that it's the same in Arkansas as in Long Island. So while I still would have ordered lunch if it were available (though I was stuffed from Rhoda's), I decided it wasn't worth waiting a day for. I also knew, from my initial survey, that there wouldn't be other finds to find in the area. So I purchased a bag of cookies, thanked the owner, marched dutifully out to my car, and started driving back west.

The normal thing would have been to act out in some bombastic manner. But I'd just eaten that incredible cornbread and pie. And I'd seen things and met people and learned things. And I still had ten hours more adventuring ahead (I'd forgotten to do the mileage math re: the return leg to Austin, which, due to some space/time wrinkle, is much further from Lake Village than Dallas, though Austin and Dallas are not so distant from each other)...which felt like nothing but swell opportunity. I'd had great experiences, and more would surely follow.

As I cheerfully pulled out of the parking area - biting into a cookie, which confirmed my suspicions - I decided to make a brief foray over a nearby bridge into Mississippi, where I enjoyed a glass of saison at a wildly out-of-place craft beer store/bar/homebrew equipment shop (Delta Brewing; 631 Washington Ave, Greenville). The proprietors enjoy cheap, if any, rent in a storefront in the once-sparkling burnt-out downtown. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to adjust to the languor of Mississippi, which, per usual, I mistook for stand-offishness.

Hoping to avoid any sense of stalling out, I once again poked the hyperspace button, riding like the wind along a more southerly route, not stopping until I spotted Cormier's Cajun Catering (1205 Forsythe Ave, Monroe, LA), where I had the exuberant feeling of stepping out of a spaceship into a whole different world:

Cajun people were eating under a permanent tent in a parking lot! Isn't driving amazing???

A portrait in beige! Excellent boudin, good crawfish étouffée, plus a side mound of jambalaya (my waitress applauded my ordermanship). And I finally solved a deep mystery. There's something serious jambalaya always reminds me of, which I can never quite name. It's North Indian biryani! Just that connection alone (scratching a decades-long itch) was worth the trip to me.

I stayed over in Shreveport (birthplace of humidity), and, the following day, made an impulsive visit to Gators & Friends (11441 US HWY 80, Greenwood, LA), an alligator park where I zip-lined over hungry crocodilians (who gathered eagerly below us, making me wonder what precedent they'd witnessed).

Here's feeding time:

My quick lunch at nearby El Guapo (9414 Greenwood Rd, Greenwood, LA) turned out to be the very archetype of Tex-Mex:

....reminding me that sometimes you need to go just over the border - this was five miles from Texas - to experience the platonic form of a thing (e.g. that prototypically Texan bar just over the Arkansas border).

Look. A shaky premise is perfectly fine to hang an adventure on, because premises are just excuses. They're abstractions, not real. We only pretend to pursue a premise, and when we get lost in that pretending, it can needlessly spoil a perfectly good adventure. I'd scored brilliant Texas barbecue, Rhoda's cornbread and pie, serious Cajun, three massive cultural jumps, gators, zip lines, eurekas, socio-economic eye-openings, and terrific stories, all inside 24 hours (plus, the day before, Yall's). Tell me this was failure!

If you wallow dramatically over things gone "wrong", you'll likely miss the chance to relish the next thing. In the long run, nothing ever goes wrong! 99% of mourning is needless meta-mourning; we mostly rue our ruing. Opt out of drama, and it's all just stuff - fun (and sometimes harrowing) movies. We're free!

Next time, a rant about Austin's hipster food culture.

Here's how I finally decided whether to stick around for the next day's lunch. I used an intuition trick I'd developed as an eight year old (I was a much savvier kid than I am a grown-up; here's a series of wise reminders I left for my future idiotic adult self): I imagined myself after lunch the next day, driving back to Texas, in two versions: satisfied and disappointed. And I weighed which version looked truer.

Finally....for the ultimate tale of redemption from a food adventuring dead end, read "The Greatest Chowhounding Story Ever Told".

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Southwest by South Trip Installment #2

Read previous installment

I read this article in The Economist about hillbilly Italians in Arkansas, and was captivated by this photo:

I immediately started plotting ways to get there, and remembered my Dallas trip was coming up. After hitting the maps, I discovered that Lake Village, Arkansas is a mere six hour drive from Dallas.

A six hour trip on a whim? You bet! What makes me me is that I act on impulses. I track down tips, and don't sit on them forever. I generally do stuff (anyone with a predilection for depression would do well to always choose action in any given circumstance). Nearly everything good that ever happened to me came as the result of what others might describe as impulsiveness.

I always take country roads in the South (and in Texas, particularly) rather than highways. You can still go 70 or 75 mph - in fact, there's less enforcement than on highways - but you get to experience actual life and scenery. So much better!

That's what I did, and eventually passed through Tyler, TX, where I got uncommonly lucky in a rural part of town with a Yelp search that sniffed out Yall's BBQ and Produce, a fun, funny, multiracial operation that appears to serve pretty much only the surrounding half mile or so. I told them I'm from another galaxy, which cracked them up.

They do real home-cooking, such as Tater Tot casserole and an array of shrink-wrapped, home-baked experimental pastries, heavy on various chips (choc, peanut butter, butterscotch, etc). They offer free tastes of everything they make (!), and the casserole was unfancy (understatement), but brilliantly balanced. And while they offered some straight barbecue choices, this is a place that mostly commoditizes it's 'que - it's ingredient fodder rather than fancy rosy-ringed fetish meat.

I never order barbecue solo in a place that mostly uses it as an ingredient, and, in any case, the owner steered me firmly toward a Texas-sized "Texas Spud" which I still don't completely understand.

An abnormally gigantic potato is violently flattened in the styrofoam, whereupon slatherings of cream and sweet sauce and chunks of barbecued beef are applied, with a few surprises strewn under the drapes of Stuff. It was great, though definitely "eating" food rather than "tasting" food.

I was asked whether they play the TV commercial up north where the guy exclaims "New Yorkers? Somebody get me a rope!", and I giggled (it was asked good-heartedly). I said no, but that I never met a Texan I wouldn't want to spend a few days drinking beer and hanging out with....and that Texan tourists in New York always appear to be awfully happy, as well. She asked whether people back home feel superior to folks with country accents, and I told her that you need to be an idiot to feel superior to anybody - so fools who think that way are just demonstrating their inferiority.

That earned me a free soda, a free gumball, and a loyalty card ("Even if you come back years from now, we'll still honor it"), and I was processed through to the back yard where hubby was manning the bbq pit while his crew of shy, kind-eyed, terrifyingly built pals sat around sipping soda. More good-natured cross-chasm banter ensued, though I didn't get to use my prepared line about Trump ("If he makes things great again, I'm all for it. I'm just not sure I trust that billionaire dude to act in our interest. As I see it, you and I are on the exact same side, but it remains to be seen whose side he's really on").

The potato thingee was great, though squadrons of hornets kept dive-bombing my Dr. Pepper. It was a memorable half hour, and I miss Yall's already. Look at all the love they've put into the place:

In Texarkana, I had some fancy rosy-ringed fetish meat at award-winning Naamans BBQ (their brand new "Hot Spot" at 5764 Hwy 59 S). Super-good brisket:

...and the sweet tea was primo, too (when the simple parameters are perfectly in synch, this stuff is like nectar of the gods). I was right on the Texas/Arkansas line, and, disoriented, I asked which state we were in. Note: this is not a polite question to ask. My incensed counterwoman let me know that this was Texas, that she's Texan, and that she doesn't know anything at all about any Arkansas.

I crashed in Texarkana, where I stumbled into Fat Jacks Oyster & Sports Bar (3324 N State Line Ave), my very first really cinematic and unself-conscious Texan bar - the kind you see in movies (see photos here).

I should have ordered a Lone Star, but, instead, I was a prick and got a Shiner IPA (non-horrible). I unconsciously swirled the bottle a little before sipping, and studied the flavor with a brief but perceptible wine snob aroma suck, and I immediately noticed that one dude had seen this, and, quite rightly, was grinding his teeth with barely constrained malevolence. My bad. Happy people, and a great scene with great vibes. Texans really know how to live (but...woops, this was just over the line in Arkansas. But still!).

In Arkansas, I drove through a procession of burnt-out, calamitous small town main streets, each of which had obviously been middle-class shiny/prosperous in 1965. This wasn't grinding static poverty; it was precipitous decay, ala Detroit. America is not doing great. It's Detroit most everywhere.

Finally I arrived at Lake Village, Arkansas, on the Arkansas/Mississippi border, where I passed the irresistible exterior of Rhoda's Hot Tamales and Pie (714 Saint Mary St)....

...and met Rhoda and her husband:

Note that I've stolen the above two photos from Jamie H. and Nolen G. (all other photos are mine).

Remember: this is an Italian area (though Rhoda and her beau are clearly not Italian). And it's Friday. This explains the fried fish, as well as the spaghetti.

The fish was masterful, of course, though not hot/fresh. The spaghetti was homely and soulful, though I don't need to tell you "al dente" was not a goal. But let's talk about that cornbread.

I noted in the previous installment that good soul food is light, not heavy - a miracle, considering the ingredients and cooking methods are all heavy. This titanically scrumptious corn bread was beyond light. It never actually touched any portion of my mouth. It existed in an entirely other plane, and I have nothing else to say. It ranks along with the Oaxacan Medusa Gruel as one of the most remarkable, mysterious things I've ever eaten.

The hot tamales broke my brain. I expected copious cumin and hot pepper, but we were a bit too far east for that. I have no memory of anything but eating like a crazed animal, and nearly blacking out at several points from the deep primal joy.

Rhoda also makes pie: sweet potato, pecan, or a half-and-half pie with both. I got a shot of this mini-pecan, not very different from any other really great pecan pie you've tasted, but a bit less obtrusive in its sweetness, a bit longer in its finish, and a bit perfecter in its balance. The sweet potato pie filling wasn't quite smooth; the micro-chunks seem to have been created via some advanced laser lathing system, achieving a precise, ideal diversity of texture.

No Trump discussion here, as no one in the restaurant could understand a single word I said (don't they hear Yankees in movies and TV?). Seriously, I had to pantomime, as if I was in Burma. Rhoda did eventually come to understand that I was from New York, and expressed her sympathies for 9/11, which I appreciated. There was a brief sad moment, which was as much as we were able to share (I didn't try to discuss astral planes or laser lathing).

After much mapping and phoning for help, I finally managed to locate the mythical Regina's Pasta Shop, but I'll save that shaggy dog outcome for next time.

Read next installment

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tick Repellent

This is supposed to be a record year for ticks, so I spent a full day researching repellent options. I'll share my findings.

This is the best single resource on the web. It's a rundown, based strictly on hard science, by a highly-informed PhD entomologist working for the state of Connecticut (i.e. Tick Central). He's been preparing and updating these surveys for over a decade, and it's all in plain language. It's all you need.....but a lot to digest.

After studying that (and lots of Amazon reviews), I bought (and will use) three products:

1. I'll pre-treat all garden clothes/shoes/hats with Permethrin. I bought this product Note you need to repeat application every 6 washes, and exposure to light also gradually reduces its effectiveness - so you may want to store treated clothes in a dark bag).

2. I'll use this DEET product on skin, socks, shoes, head, pants bottoms. DEET has a fine safety record based on much data for decades. While 100% DEET feels greasy and can damage plastics (and there's anecdotal talk of skin rash in really sensitive people), this is 30%, which is enough (Dr. Stafford says "a concentration greater than 30% doesn’t provide much extra protection").

3. For extra insurance, quick squirts of Oil of lemon eucalyptus, a totally natural product. I bought this.

BTW, it's always good to check highly-rated Amazon products on Fakespot, to see whether the reviews are legit.

Three important reminders:

Ticks can ride in on your clothing, even if they've been repelled from attaching to you. Be careful when returning to your house!

Hot shower right after washes off many/most ticks.

When working in garden/grass, I always pull my socks up around the outside of my pants legs to seal off the route up my legs.

Celebrate: The Two Worst Trumpian Dangers May Have Passed

Most smart people agree that it will be a long, long slog to impeachment, even once Mueller exposes all the rot. We'll need to endure this for quite some time. Yet few have observed that we may have passed the two points of greatest danger:

1. We're Probably Not Marching Off to a Dog-Wagging War
Even before that ridiculous bombing display at a deserted Syrian airstrip showered Trump with positive feedback for seeming "presidential" and showing "strength", many of us worried he'd start a war to distract us from his corruption and incompetence. After the Syrian display boosted his approval ratings, I was shaking in my boots about this.

But while anything's possible, that ship appears to have sailed. Crippled by the investigations, and leading a terrified, lawyered-up, back-biting staff, it no longer feels in the cards. I'd imagine General Mattis would be more likely to punch him in the gut than oblige an order to provoke, say, North Korea.

To be sure, if catastrophe occurs, we're deeply imperiled by having this raging toddler in charge. But he doesn't seem to have the momentum, capital, or consensus to cause a catastrophe of his own at this point.

2. We're Not Turning Fascist
Trump has little respect for rule of law, democracy, separate branches, checks and balances, norms, etc. His autocratic tendencies are obvious at this point. But while he's definitely eroded our standing and our institutions, he lacks the smarts to dismantle democracy and replace it with fascism. You can't perpetrate such a thing while constantly shooting yourself in the foot. Trump can start as many Reichstag fires as he'd like, but we're not going to willingly grant him martial law powers as a result of some Trumped-up emergency. At this point, he's been reduced to more of a monstrous clown than a clownish monster.

A mere 165 days in, we seem to be beyond our two greatest worries. And while Congress remains spineless, and impeachment remains a very distant prospect, this administration is sufficiently beset and unravelled that while brazen resistance is still rare (everyone's afraid of a mean tweet), it has few fully willing pawns.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Southwest by South Trip Installment #1

Just did a $70 roundtrip to/from Dallas, courtesy of my usual source of airfare miracles.

All the great things you've heard about Austin food/beer apply much more to Dallas. Skip Austin, hit Dallas. My rant against hipster (i.e. Austin) food culture comes in a later installment, but for now, just know that Dallas is full of deeper pleasures. Quick hits before I drove (very far) east:

Bubba’s Cooks Country (6617 Hillcrest Ave; 214-373-6527). I've been noting this for years, yet I've never made a dent in a nearly universal misapprehension about soul food: great soul food is not heavy. Heavy soul food is lousy soul food. The good stuff is very, very light (consider: lard's applied to pie crust not to weight things down, but to lighten them up). Good soul food achieves two miracles:

1. Elevating cast-off cheap ingredients (ribs, neckbones, black eyed peas) to magnificence

2. Supreme lightness attained from gravy-soaked heavy foods cooked in heavy-seeming ways.

Bubba's nails all the miracles. It's a fast food place (order from the counter), but the linen napkins tip you off that this is so much more. I don't believe I've ever had a more consistently up-and-up version of this classic meal. And I didn't manage to get a photo of the banana pudding, which was still oven-warm, and pains me to even talk about. The biscuit, being merely very good, felt like an affront.

But wait till you see what I ate in eastern Mississippi. More next time!

Armoury D E (2714 Elm St; 972-803-5151) is a super cool, open-late Hungarian-tinged cocktail bar in the rocking Deep Ellum neighborhood. I had these superb oniony potatoes, the perfect thing for late night beery hunger pangs.

Bru City (13000 Trinity Blvd, Fort Worth; 817-510-6485). If this were merely a decent craft beer bar and bottle shop in a gas station in the worthless boonies of Ft Worth, Dayenu ("it would have been enough"). If it were all of that, and just 10 mins from the airport (where there's famously nothing good), Dayenu. If it were all of that, and had a really knowledgable bartender, who gives out raffle tickets for cool prizes, Dayenu.

But when it's all that, and also the loosest, coolest, best-stocked (beautifully, lovingly-chosen local brands, including many rarities, and fast-enough moving that nothing tasted old) beer bar/shop in town? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Craft and Growler (3601 Parry Ave; 214-821-1122) is my favorite Dallas beer bar. The only one with geeky bartenders I can enthuse with - who'll bring me up to date on new breweries opened since my last trip, and proffer endless samples. I love Bru City truly, but have a deeper, longer commitment to Craft and Growler. Around the corner, Eight Bells Alehouse (831 Exposition) is a bit flakey, and offers only a few lackluster taps, but there's always - always! - one impossible-to-find, magnificent beer on tap, seemingly by accident.

The Waxahachie branch of Campuzano's (which has other, more convenient branches I've never tried) seemed just a bit downhill, but still awfully good Tex-Mex, and, as always, whip-crack efficient service.

Here's what I wrote last time about Campuzano's, along with more Dallas tips.

I stayed at NYLO Dallas South Side (1325 South Lamar St; 214-421-1080). Should be $300/night, but it's on a weird edge of town (still adjacent to tons of good food and beer and nightlife, e.g. the Deep Ellum area two miles away) so it's more like $110-140, and you can get a stiff discount by booking last minute via the Hotel Tonite app (which I previously mentioned here). Great, fun, cool, nice people, stupendously crafted and miraculously spacious rooms (check out the amazing - and accurate! - room photos here). Free wifi, free parking during the week.

Fly Bar in Terminal E at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, right in the gate area, blasts good funk and soul music and poured me a meticulously fresh pint of Revolver IPA - a way better and more indie brewery than you'd ever expect to find in an airport. All just two gates from my departing flight (I watched the boarding line, jumping in at last minute). Peak experience!

En route from Austin to Dallas on my way back, I stopped, as always, at Lula Jane's in Waco (406 Elm Ave; 254-366-0862). Great bakery. Getting crowded these days, though. I had a slice of buttery lemon/raspberry chess pie, and it was old-school soulful yet starchily skillful.

Next time: "Drive East, Touch Mississippi, Come Back" (read it here).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Postcards From My Childhood Part 12: The Maze

Previous installment
First installment

"The child is the father of the man", they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget.

To solve a maze, you don't need to visit every corridor and experience every dead end. Once you have the solution, the maze loses its interest. To dawdle in a solved maze makes no sense at all.

I recognized that people do, in fact, dawdle in solved mazes. And to some extent, it makes sense. You may discover the best dish on a menu, but the lesser items might be delicious, as well. But there comes a moment when you've mined the value from a thing. Life is an adventure, and every dedicated adventurer learns to recognize that moment and to swiftly move on.

Here's the problem, which I didn't foresee as a kid:

If you develop an instinct for detecting this moment and moving on, things can hyperaccelerate. You find yourself learning and experiencing in lots of different realms in lots of different ways, perpetually thirsting for value and diversity (imagine a dog with his nose sticking out of a car window, hyperstimulated by the myriad passing scents).

But the unexpected truth is that it exhausts. You don't need to learn and experience absolutely everything (just as a maze solver needn't plumb every maze passage) to see clearly through, and to grok the underlying patterns. And value depletes shockingly quickly if you don't stick around for every single repetitive level of every video game.

The world is optimized for dawdlers who endlessly wander the same corridors. The world does not stand up to the scrutiny of those who resist
 the cheap allure of the various Skinner boxes. God, it turns out, pads like a motherfucker.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Simple Way to Understand Enduring Pro-Trumpism

So one of the legions of big-mouthed know-nothings found his way to high office, flaunting his lack of qualifications and his unprofessionalism. The result has been governance via mere gut reaction. A disaster. 

That's how it seems to Anti-Trumpers, who are unable to account for the 38% still supporting him. This shows an alarming lack of perspective. Consider that same narrative, above, but remove the scornfulness. Once you do, it's incredibly clear.

Americans adore the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," where an utterly nonpolitical outsider is elected to straighten out the dysfunctional miasma via fundamental American good sense. It goes without saying that Senator Smith would lack sophisticated command of the issues, and would say and do some dumb things, upsetting pompous windbags who worship the status quo. But has anyone ever viewed the ending of that film with trepidation for the hero's lack of experience, depth, and savvy? Was there ever doubt he'd help put government back on the right track?

The story expressed the very heart and soul of American democracy. And, to many, that's what's happening now! If you share Trump's unsophisticated outlook - his visceral talk radio stances on things - he's your Mr. Smith.

No one can hope to understand the current moment without accepting that Donald Trump = Mr. Smith for many earnest, decently American people. And we who sneer*, viewing them as rubes and hicks, personify the villainous side of the equation. We're the slick, corrupt, condescending status quo. We're the miasma.

* - Reread that first paragraph, swapping in Jimmy Stewart's character, to understand how we come off. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017


I'll gladly accept a .0001% risk of getting blown up rather than tolerate a sizable reduction in freedom.

Many disagree; mostly "small government" proponents demanding seamless government protection, who stoke aggression and violence with their fear-based tough-guy rhetoric. These bellicose, frightened souls, pining for strongman statism, are the very ones normally hollering about freedom and preservation of traditional values.

My sympathies to the families of the latest victims, and my thanks to the brave first responders, but acts of terrorism dwarfed by the day's traffic fatalities represent a level of risk far below what we all happily accept for the relatively puny freedom to drive to the 7-11 in a personal tin can of internal combustion. As for rarer, larger acts: how wound up are we about earthquakes, tsunamis, and flu?

Let's defend, as we can, against all societal risks and threats, duh...but retain some perspective. Just 'cuz it's called terrorism doesn't mean we need to be full-on terrified, making all the familiar mistakes of a panicked citizenry.

On further consideration, I've decided I'm uncomfortable with my comparison to auto deaths. Unlike deaths from driving accidents or natural disasters, terrorism has potential to self-reinforce and to escalate. The driver of a Dodge Charger that accidentally hits a minivan isn't recruiting other drivers to wreak more havoc, nor does he dream of getting his hands on a dirty bomb. And tsunamis don't spur copycat tsunamis.

Crime's different from other perils, and terrorism is far more serious than crime. So while I wasn't exactly drawing an analogy (rather, I was pointing out our otherwise high tolerance for risk in the pursuit of freedom), I want to acknowledge that any such comparison would be horribly inapt.

That said, I'll stick with the narrow argument I was actually making: terrorism, as it stands, is just one of many perils, and, in day to day life of citizens, barely registers as a risk in the scheme of things despite wild sensationalization. It's important to bear firmly in mind that we've always decided, as a society, that we're willing - even staunchly eager - to forego safety for freedom.

Insistence on perfect protection at any cost is irrational, unrealistic, unAmerican, and unnecessary (though, once again, we do need to do all we REASONABLY can....and reasonable minds can certainly disagree about what constitutes reasonability).

Ideally, I'd prefer zero risk of harm. But we moderns luxuriate in a safety level unimaginable to any of our forebears (though there's a cliff in the Canary Islands poised to suddenly dump gigantic quantities of earth into the ocean, spurring a tidal wave that could obliterate the American east coast...and those crafty flu viruses are always mutating). Our freedom and our values, however, remain tottery. For me, those chips are way more valuable.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Creative Amnesia and the Granola's Decline

I once wrote about a terrific small brand of granola which trumpets itself as all about The Love, man. It was made by hippies who'd earnestly bought into the rap. And who was I to argue? The love truly was palpable!

The founder appreciated my praise (I was the first food writer to take notice), and sent me a couple of emails reaffirming the love that goes into their loving with the love and how they love that I love the love they love into get the idea.

A couple of years later, the company had grown, and I noticed they'd made it onto the shelves at Whole Foods. I bought a bag, and, predictably, the special touch had not survived the growth required to scale into a business this size. It tasted like pretty good commercial granola.

I sent a brief note, asking what happened to the granola. The founder wrote back with intense apology. Must have been a bad batch! She sent me a great big box full of love love love love love. Sure enough, every bite was good-not-great.

I tried to explain to her that when the sentiment of love becomes untethered from actual love lavished into an actual thing, it becomes mere marketing shtick. I wished her well, affirming that this is the inevitable way of things. I once played in a band with the founder of Magnolia Bakery, and her cakes and pies (just pretty good even during the bakery's heyday) were deliriously wonderful when she used to bake them by hand. You can't have your cake and fully capitalize on it, too.

I don't believe it penetrated. She figured her believing was what made it good, and the money coming in was confirmation. The granola what it is.

It's not very interesting to point out that when operations scale, they lose that certain (dare I say "loving"?) touch. What I find interesting, though, is that even someone who knows what it is to produce something sensational - who did it once, and who therefore understands the required effort and care - would be shocked by the observation that great effort and care are required. Why is that surprising? Why would you attribute quality to magical thinking when you yourself know what it takes?

The baker of some of the best French bread in the country - a guy who has tinkered with every iota of every baking minutiae, finally managing to bake loaves a nanostep from burnt, from leathery-crusted, from noticeably salty, and from over-dense - is hoping to branch out into cookies. He gave me one to try.

I told him they need perfecting. He seemed confused. "What, you think they're too sweet? Too crunchy?" I replied, "No, not necessarily either of those things. But there are a thousand micro-decisions to be made here before they're truly delicious, and you've just whipped up some cookies. They can't possibly be great yet. You need to sweat and work and consider and polish. Why would you, of all people, not realize this?"

He was nonplussed. He hadn't made any obvious errors, and, hey, they tasted pretty good to him.

Again: how can someone who's discovered what it takes to produce greatness be surprised that any old thing doesn't turn out great?

This is how people who've never done anything great talk. They assume they could easily do so if they tried, with just a bit more than their usual middling, grudging effort. Just by virtue of their own fabulousness and full-heartedness. I get that. Everyone's a latent superstar in their own mind. But I do not understand how this can be the mindset of someone who's seen the falseness of those assumptions; who's reached a peak and knows the agonies required.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Schiff/Yates 2020!

"But wait...we don't know anything about Sally Yates' ideology," you might note.

I don't care. She's competent, honorable, and honest. At this juncture, that's quite sufficient.

Even if I found a politician who was a perfect match for my political positions, there's no assurance they'd actually pursue them, much less successfully implement them.

I've come to recognize that all those people who always voted for president on their guts (rather than on hard/fast issues) may have been onto something. At this point, I'm post-issue. I thirst for honor and decency above all else. 

The question, of course, is whether I can be conned. Not being conned requires an awful lot of experience, insight, and self-discipline. And I'm more cynical than ever about political systems requiring such attributes.

If it sounds like I don't have an answer, well, welcome to human society. If there were an ideal solution, we'd all be living happily and equitably. In fact, if you believe there even is an ideal solution, I inherently mistrust you. From that last link:
"...every century or so eggheads proclaim some smug new utopian plan (which always sounds great on paper) destined to create a permanent steady state of prosperity and happiness. Communism was one. Libertarianism is another. But pure intellectual concepts always lack real world pragmatism. You can announce your brilliant pure plan but I don't believe it, I don't trust it, and I know it's bullshit before you even explain it to me."

Monday, May 22, 2017


Here's what John Thorne, my favorite food writer - and the favorite food writer of many food writers - had to say about my new app, Eat Everywhere:
"An impressively designed and wickedly ingenious app. Endlessly useful, surprisingly entertaining, and highly addictive....the distillation of a lifetime of adventurous eating."
Here's my announcement of the app
Here's the app's Facebook page
...and here, once again, is the app's official web page (containing direct links to the App Store and Google Play Store pages), which you might want to pass around your friends and circles if you think they might like to have my chow knowledge instantly available on their phone for highly effective use in any restaurant of any nationality anywhere, or simply edutaining armchair reading):

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Soft Urges: The Gentle Siren's Song

I go to Philly Beer Week each year with beer geek friends. It means four or so days of drinking all day - 15 or so glassfuls in a typical one. Since they're well-spaced, we never get drunk. But neither are we ever fully sober. It's grueling, to be honest, but great to sample so many terrific brews we wouldn't otherwise try.

Each year, after I get back home, in a moment of repose after a day of recuperation, a familiar voice in my head will pipe up to ask "Hey, why not have a beer?" It's no big deal. And, no, I never do have that beer. Fine! The voice is ok with that. And, a few minutes later, I'll have a great idea: why not open up a beer? I can again refuse. The compulsion is weak, though persistent. And so it goes for a couple of days. Gentle frequent urges, easily overridden. I recognize the route to alcoholism: capitulation to soft urges. So I don't.

Over the years I've come to understand most of the workings of my mind. This Slog is largely a registry of that. But one dark monster has persisted: once in a while there's a task I just don't want to do, and the longer I don't do it, the more of a sinkhole I fall into. It can get very bad. I can lose days/weeks/months. It looks like depression, but it's really more of a paralysis. The puzzling thing is that the task is never very fearsome. When I eventually get to it, it's no big deal at all. So why the aversion?

In fact, there's one such pending task right now. Again, it's no big deal. But the very gentlest of headwinds is enough so that, at any given point, I'll choose a different activity. For example, ten minutes ago, I took a deep breath and resolved to get over the hump - to do the thing I don't particularly want to do. And a familiar voice in my head piped up to ask "Hey, why not write a Slog piece about this?" It was a soft urge, easily overridden. Yet here I am, having given in to the gentle siren song.

Procrastination is complicated.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Driver Ed

Strong people live in a weak world.
Beautiful people live in an ugly world.
Brilliant people live in a stupid world.
Generous people live in a selfish world.
Be careful what you wish for.

My driver education teacher back in high school always said that the greatest danger is when you're either the fastest or the slowest car on the highway.

Break Glass In Case of Ego

Monday, May 15, 2017


I've been hinting, for some time, about an ambitious project I've been working on. Well, here it is. It's an app (for Android and iOS) called Eat Everywhere, which guides you in navigating virtually every cuisine. And it's on sale now.

Eat Everywhere offers on-the-fly help in restaurants nearby or abroad. Based on many years of experience guiding people through eating adventures, it's chock-full of strategies and pro tips for scoring slam-dunk dishes. Everybody loves lasagna, samosa, and pad Thai, duh. But chebureki, pambazos, and mishti doi - and thousands more - are equally lovable. This unlocks everything!

It includes pronunciations for all terms (can you believe no one's ever offered that before?), and painstakingly selected web sites with deep info on each cuisine (can you believe no one's ever offered that before, either?). There are dish suggestions for vegetarians, and for kids and other fussy eaters. "Litmus test" dishes (to quickly gauge restaurant quality). "Ice-Breaker" dishes (not always available, but you'll impress the hell out of your waiter by asking!). And more. Plus, it's witty. Once you dive in, you'll be lost for hours.

I myself constantly refer to this app. It contains not just everything I know, it's everything I wish I could remember, and the chow-how of a team of expert eaters. We spent two years building this 200,000 word magnum opus together.

This has been a dream of mine for decades. Like Chowhound, it's something I desperately wanted as an eater. The Internet needed, and your smart phone needs Eat Everywhere. You won't imagine how you lived without it. Click the logo, above, for more info.

If you'll buy it, I promise you way more than your five dollars' worth. And if you'll also star-rate it in App Store/Google Play, and share our web page with your friends and social network, this might get a little popular, which could help increase appreciation for immigrants and foreigners (we all do what we can)!

Eat Everywhere makes a great gift. It's one of the only food resources that's useful for both experts and newbies. Whichever you are, you surely have someone at the other extreme in your life who could use this! Shoot, who wouldn't want this tucked away on their phone - a lifeline for whenever you find yourself eating outside your comfort zone, or seeking a change of pace, or traveling?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Decent Don

Don't miss this.

The Presidency Looking Forward

The next demagogic populist president with authoritarian instincts won't arrive with an impeachable portfolio of traitorous Russian collusion and mobbed-up money laundering.

Never forget how hard it is to expunge even a brazen cartoon villain. The filter needs to be front-loaded. Always register, and always vote.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Donald Trump and Theory of Mind

Way back in 2015, I tried to analyze the mental process, such as it is, of Donald Trump in a posting titled "Trump in the Skinner Box,". It read, in part:
As for what Trump really thinks, he's a narcissist in an enormous Skinner box. That's all you need to understand about him.
A Skinner Box is a laboratory device that systematically rewards one particular behavior. When the subject learns that a certain action triggers, say, an electrode buried in the orgasm part of its brain, that action will be repeated, over and over again, ad infinitum. It will become the defining action of the subject's life. It's the action that makes the good thing happen.

The reward must be well-suited to the subject. If the subject is a chicken, which is basically a biological device for pecking endless grain, you set up your Skinner box to feed the chicken. And the chicken will never stop responding in the way you've trained it to. It never "gets wise". Blessed with the result it most seeks, there's no reason to ask deeper questions. The chicken thinks it's just killin' it.
Does he believe what he says? You and I have a need to check back and compare our mouth's output against our belief structures. That's our Skinner Box (we feel rewarded when there's unity between what we think and what we say). But that's not Trump's need. He'd look at such a need and be as baffled as we are at his. What? "Check back"? "Beliefs???" That's all completely beside the point. A non-factor.

So, no, he doesn't sit in his limo after each appearance, rubbing his hands gleefully, saying "those clueless assholes ate that right up!". There's no fiendish master plan. He's just at a latter stage of figuring out what he needs to do to get the really good heroin injected in his bloodstream.
Today I saw, on Twitter, a more intellectual way of expressing this, in terms of "Theory of Mind". It's a quick read, and worth checking out.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Schiff/Yates 2020!

I'm just land-grabbing the first online mention here...

Really, I'm stunned that no one else has said it. I'm nearly giddy at the thought of two smart, competent, forthright, thoughtful, non-extremists running the country. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Brexit and Trump: Same Plan, Same Shady People

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked is a new article from The Guardian showing how Trump and Brexit were both products of the same plan hatched by the same characters. It delves deeply into the shenanigans, temporarily setting aside Russian influence, and it's way deeper than anything the anemic American press has managed to produce, though the overview is well-known to everyone who's paid attention.

This is old-school reporting, full of names and facts, but, while it's great that the reporter laid it all out (for other reporters to draw from), don't feel compelled to familiarize with all the data points. Just quickly skim, and know that the bottom third of the article puts it all together.

The really scary thing is that it's not over. Trump and Brexit were just the beginning. Don't imagine the French election has returned us to normalcy.

A few highlights:
"The company that helped Trump achieve power in the first place has now been awarded contracts in the Pentagon and the US state department. Its former vice-president Steve Bannon now sits in the White House. It is also reported to be in discussions for “military and homeland security work”.

In the US, the government is bound by strict laws about what data it can collect on individuals. But, for private companies anything goes. Is it unreasonable to see in this the possible beginnings of an authoritarian surveillance state?"

"Palantir is a company that is trusted to handle vast datasets on UK and US citizens for GCHQ and the NSA, as well as many other countries.

Now though, they are both owned by ideologically aligned billionaires: Robert Mercer and Peter Thiel. The Trump campaign has said that Thiel helped it with data. A campaign that was led by Steve Bannon, who was then at Cambridge Analytica."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

New Pepperidge Farm Cookies

Pepperidge Farm's new "Farmhouse" cookies are a tribute to how strong a brand Tate's has become. It's a total knock-off (at a lower price point).

I can't understand why Tate's very best flavor by far - butterscotch - remains so unfindable. Pepperidge Farm doesn't offer the flavor (apparently too clumsy to have noticed the opportunity).

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rant v1.1

I cleaned up my previous posting ("Passionate Rant Against Nationalism") some; polishing the writing and clarifying a few poorly-stated points. If it was of interest to you, you may want to reread.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Passionate Rant Against Nationalism

I hate nationalism. I feel that anyone paying attention to twentieth century history must conclude that, as I once 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".
It's time to recognize that nationalism is a noble-seeming veneer we stick over our shamefully lingering tribal instincts. Nationalism is the driving force of most large-scale human violence. It is among the most dangerous of the deep, primal strings we must resist plucking. Yet there's something about it that makes people feel supremely righteous. We desperately need to stamp that out.

The bad behavior often ascribed to religious zealotry, for example, always stems from patently obvious tribalism/nationalism. Any sort of group affiliation can trigger the impulse. The banner doesn't matter; any will do. So we need to stop looking at the surface of things, and recognize the deeper tribal pattern. If you watch for it, it soon becomes almost corny.

I've been devoting myself to trying to deprogram nationalists. I'll recount two recent discussions with otherwise reasonable people from places where nationalism flares (both of which seemed to have actually had some effect):

A Turkish Waitress from Izmir:

Her: We are more cultured than the rest of our country. More educated, more modern. We can't relate to the others. It's time to separate!

Me: When I go to Texas, or Mississippi, or North Dakota, it's like another universe. I can't relate to the values, beliefs, or lifestyles of the people there, and lord knows they can't relate to mine as a New Yorker. But it wouldn't occur to me that we should be different countries!

I can't relate to my sisters, either, but we (more or less) agree to exist within the arbitrary, random framework of Family. Siblings don't need to share values or interests. One simply accepts the granfaloon (every human grouping is a granfalloon!) and goes about one's life in a world where someone who looks like you and lives next door might be unrelatable, whereas someone halfway across the world, who speaks a language you can't understand, might be a kindred spirit. There are cascading scales of identification, and it's all quite fluid. We can weave our own affiliations.

Those of us who fully embrace this all-leveling, world-shrinking digital age understand this, innately*. Why not identify with a nation of the spirit; with people who share our values? That's the new, positive, evolved way to go. The trope of making a big deal over geographic border-drawing - over what you call the groupings - and buying into the "loving my people" bullshit, which always entails disdaining the Other (I like the Other! I'm xenophilic!) is an old, musty, stupid pattern. So, so corny. And dangerous!

* - I was in Bogota recently, and the folks typing on laptops in cafes there were absolutely sophisticated and "modern"; indistinguishable in most important ways from my cohorts doing likewise in Brooklyn. I could have long conversations with any of them; we enjoy enormous shared knowledge and outlook. Their parents, however, are half their size and wear, like, blankets. The world is filling with first-generation immigrants to modernity, and we share an evolved sense of kinship. Travel a bit and you'll see...the Internet has changed everything (don't get me wrong, though....these people were all culturally Colombian for sure, just as I'm culturally a New Yorker....but my point is that that's just one affiliation!).

A Catalan musician:

Him: I'm not a totally crazed nationalist, like some people I know. Though I have to admit, deep down, I do feel a strong drive of that. I can't explain it rationally, but something about it just feels right to me.

Me: Let me tell you about a deep drive. You see that woman over there? (I gesture across the bar to an attractive female). I'd like to walk over there, throw her to the floor, rip all her clothes off, and fuck her senseless. This is not a drive, however, that I choose to indulge. Responsible people learn to disregard their drives, even if they might "feel right" at some dark, primal level.

For the ultimate parable of the ridiculousness of nationalistic fine-slicing (which never ends well; in-groups always shrink, and out-groups always grow), consider the Valencians. See the italicized footnote here. I love Valencia, by the way. I deem them completely out of their skulls from a position of utmost love and respect.

Transformed Attitude Toward Travel

Wow: $596 from NYC to Vietnam, roundtrip, including all fees and taxes, courtesy of the addictive and life-changing The Flight Deal web site (previously described here).

I've used the site to fly to/from Austin for $80, Savanna for $96, Barcelona for $325, and Bogota for about $250 (minus another $100, due to a special deal, long story). And I've very nearly pulled the trigger on a bunch more.

Between, Airbnb (or Hotel Tonight for nice lodgings at sharp discount) and Uber, my attitude toward travel has changed entirely. I treat it all like an informal drive to Boston or DC, i.e. minimal planning and fuss. Just go and sort of...hang out. Chowhound a bit, try the beer, sit in at some jazz clubs and try to make contacts. Otherwise, it's about feeling perfectly normal while I'm somewhere completely different (as a touring musician, I've had a bit of a head start on this mindset).

A friend recently proposed hitting Paris for culinary exploration. That (airfare aside) would cost serious dough. I'd need to plan carefully...and disappointing results would feel crushing and wasteful. The stress  doesn't appeal to me. It's just not how I travel anymore. I'm not looking for home run experiences. 

In an era when I can spend a week in Bogota for under $500, total, I'm content to find a park bench to read a book, and to scarf some randomly-found street arepas, while feeling blissfully happy about the momentary flavor of my life. It involves making a big thing into more of a small thing, but enjoying the hell out of that small thing.

I can work just as I do at home - have laptop will travel - but, when I step away from my tasks, I'm somewhere breathtaking. I don't gear up for it. I don't bone up on the history, or try to really "do" the city. I essentially "go to ground". No sights, no guide books. Rather: I just blend in, feeling normal and at-home, except I'm not in Kansas anymore.

I didn't invent this, by the way. This is a Thing...and it's called "digital nomadism".

$600 is too expensive for whimmy travel, so I won't be hitting Vietnam. But still....tempting!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Finding Empathy for Trump's Enduring Support

From today's Daily 202 email from Washington Post:
Trump’s approval rating is at record lows, but he maintains credibility with his base. Our new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that his overall approval rating is 42 percent, but his rating among those who voted for him is 94 percent. Only two percent of his voters now regret doing so.
Here's my go-to move to empathize with Trump supporters. I think back to the point where it looked certain that the 2016 election would be Bush v Clinton, and I remember how demoralized I was at the prospect of such very weak tea - representative of the entitled "because it's his/her turn!" strain in American politics which seems so hidebound and ill-suited to the new century. I recall wishing that someone (Bloomberg? Huntsman?) would shake things up.

Perhaps you wished, too. Many of us did. And, low and behold, we got the "surprising" rise of Bernie and Donald. I wasn't a fan of either, but there's no denying they disrupted the process. They were not weak tea. And they were neither Bush nor Clinton.

These days I find myself wailing about the importance of norms. But I've flip-flopped. I felt less affection for norms when Bush vs Clinton inevitability was making me physically ill. Lots of people felt the same, but many of them didn't flipflop. They wanted disruption, they got disruption, and they're delighting in the disruption, even though polling indicates that many of them disagree with Trump's tweets, tone, and policies (not that he's the least bit consistent with the latter; he's just a wrecking ball, and that's why they love him).

Of course, my disruption-mindedness didn't compel me to embrace every sort of disruption. But this is a route for returning to the point before many of us branched. Mentally returning there again and again helps me maintain empathy for reasonable Trump supporters (if not the rabid rally attendees in MAGA hats), though certainly not with Trump himself.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the phenomenon of Trump's enduring support, I return to my crestfallen reaction to Bush vs Clinton inevitability. Then I refocus my vision, recognizing that many people felt strongly enough to act from that perspective.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Obsession or Creativity

I was in a restaurant eating lunch when I happened to re-check (for the 50th time) the website for my upcoming project (which launches publicly next week). I noticed a minor error. And while I didn't sputter or stress over it, I did feel a very strong impulse to abandon my meal, run home, and fix it.

Of course, I did no such thing. But a daemon, had been created, and would not easily relent. I was gripped by a powerful urge.

Again, this was only a very small issue. So my behavior might seem "obsessive". But labeling it that way would show a poor understanding of the creative process. It's taken me over five decades to understand that this sort of thing isn't neurosis. It's a feature, not a bug!

"Obsession" is the unhealthful and unhelpful application of deep attention to random, trivial, or even self-destructive tasks. It's the neurotic misappropriation of a perfectly admirable faculty. When, by contrast, a mother checks in on her baby just one last time before going to bed, we wouldn't call her obsessive. We'd recognize her to be elevating to her best self; showering her loving care and attention. Though the baby would be fine without the extra check, few of us would sneeringly deem the mother "obsessive". She's being a good parent!

Creativity is being a good parent, too!

OCD happens when creative people deny themselves a creative outlet (or have never stumbled upon an apt one). Their impulse to deeply care and commit becomes overwhelming, so they latch on to any (or every) random stupid thing. It's a perversion of the creative process, but it's a far worse perversion to use the language of dysfunction to describe someone engaged in genuine creative activity.

Your neighbor who stays up all night counting his rice grains is certainly "obsessive", but a Beethoven, wearing a diaper to ensure unbroken concentration while composing his symphonies, would be a very different case. An artist isn't a more functional obsessive; obsessives are malfunctioning artists. The behavior itself is only as detrimental as its application! (examples)

OCD is not the only mental health scourge that arises when creative impulses are misapplied to pedestrian or negative ends. Consider depression.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Leftovers Soup

Sauté in nonstick fry pan:

Thin-sliced half onion in olive oil, salt, and pepper, with a bay leaf

Add 1/2 leftover baked yam, roughly mashed

Add one leftover broiled chicken thigh, diced

....and continue until mixture starts to brown.

In soup pot, boil:

1/2 cup chicken stock

Leftover chili

Handful of chopped kale

Generous handful of Trader Joe's "Melodious Blend"

Serve boiled mixture in a bowl, topped with sautéed mixture.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Is there an afterlife?

My latest Quora posting: Is there an afterlife?

My two most popular Quora postings: In a fine dining restaurant, what is a polite way to tell the sommelier the price range for the wine you're considering? and How do people judge whether others are intelligent or not?

Ironically, my answer to the second question explains why I rarely get more than a scattering of up-votes. I only post when I have something surprising to offer, whereas the posts that get wildly popular tend to stroke people's preexisting biases and assumptions. Few of us are looking for surprising insights with the power to change our perspective. If people relished having their minds changed, the human condition would be very different.

I love surprise, myself. I love having my perspective shifted and my mind changed, so I've developed my capacity to surprise others. But I find myself endlessly relearning that most people are not wired to enjoy that sort of thing.

As a jazz musician, I understand that if I string together cliches, audiences will have a more soothing experience, because their unconscious predictions of how phrases will resolve turn out correct. It feels, to them, like a "win". Some musicians respond to this pressure by defiantly dashing all expectations (see Thelonious Monk), but I try to be a good storyteller, sensitively balancing familiarity and surprise. If only more people noticed...

More on consistency and predictability here.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mama Grimaldi: Part 3

Coverage continues of my friend Andrea's trip home to his mother's kitchen in Rome (part 1, part 2, a slideshow of Andrea himself at work in the pizza oven in his garage, and photo spreads from two previous visits (this and this)

This time we're seeing some serious soul food. You don't see these things in restaurants.

Two notes:

1. Andrea would like to note that it's spelled "Mamma" in Italian.

2. Clicking to expand photos (every one of them) is obligatory.

Neapolitan Broccoli/Sausage

Macaroni Frittata

"O Père e 'o Musso" (Neapolitan dish of boiled pork cuts)

Orecchiette with Broccoli

Tortano Napoletano (a rustic Easter bread)

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