Monday, August 19, 2019

"Go Back to Your Country"

A Chinese-American friend was approached in a parking lot by a tight-faced older woman who snidely told him "Go back to your country". He replied, naturally, that he was from Brooklyn.

He's been telling the story to everyone in his circle like a war story - a traumatic experience demonstrating the hellscape we currently inhabit. He found it deeply wounding.

But, as I frame it, the fact that this encounter seems like a horror/trauma proves he's living in Paradise. One can almost hear peels of muffled laughter from graveyards around the globe as generations who sacrificed to bring humanity to the brink of Paradise watch their descendants feel completely wrecked by mere trifles.

The woman was neither performing nor threatening violence. She was wearing no uniform - i.e. in no position of authority. No bloodthirsty mob arose to egg her on. She just got into some grim crappy car and drove away. Was this pleasant? No, it was not. But if brief unpleasantness was the worst thing that happened to my friend on that day, it can mean only one thing: he's living in Paradise.

Practically only yesterday we strode around savannas, bashing each other senseless with clubs for no good reason. One brief generation ago (I still remember it from my childhood!) it was considered perfectly acceptable - even admirably "manly" - to occasionally slug people in the mouth if you didn't like something they said. Now that we've reached a point of ultimate civility, safety, and pampered comfort, some rando uttering an unkind sentiment can aggrieve us just as much as famines and plagues and warlords and lions and 46% child mortality once did.

As I wrote here:
By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.

"If this is the worst thing that happens today, would that mean it's been a good day?" That's always the key question when rich, comfortable entitled people feel compelled to frame trivial slights and discomforts as The Worst Thing Ever. This question, which I treasure as a magical amulet, is a red pill with the power to reveal that we're princesses increasingly vexed by smaller and smaller mattress peas. I've lived through heart attacks and heartbreak, sadistic authority, curses, and more, but I've never had cause to not answer "yes" to the magic question.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Grease, Sugar, Junk Mail, and Cinematic Manipulation

I exasperated my friend, hiking buddy, and favorite documentary filmmaker Les Blank by describing a film I'd recently seen as "manipulative". He was incredulous; nearly sputtering. "All movies are manipulative!" he hollered. "That's the whole point!"

We had six miles of trail ahead of us, so I had time to sharpen my thoughts. Finally, I produced a revision he deemed reasonable: the film seemed brazenly manipulative. The emotional manipulation itself wasn't the problem. It was the failed application.

Whenever someone pronounces food "greasy", I can't help grinning. That person - along with every other human - undoubtedly loves croissants, mankind's crowning achievement in the saturation of starch with fat. A croissant is a delivery system for the maximal fat per volume. No one who's ever curled her lip at a "greasy" dish would ever turn down a competently-baked croissant. So it's not the grease, it's the application.

A phrase that exasperates me is "Not-too-sweet". It strikes us as reasonable praise even though we'd all be bewildered if someone were to praise a steak as "unburnt" or an apple as "non-rotten".

There seems to be universal agreement that desserts shouldn't be too sweet. Yet (thanks, The Diabetes Council!) the average American scarfs down 25 teaspoons of sugar daily. We crave sweetness more fanatically than a swarm of fruit flies.

Everyone despises direct mail advertising yet it works very effectively (guaranteeing the existence of junk mail until the heat death of the universe).

The underlying dope is what entices us, of course, but it must be artfully disguised to spare us revulsion by the bald-faced truth of the unseemly underpinnings. We attribute our attraction to the frills and specifics of execution, which allow us to feign sublimation. Please, good sir, cease this unseemly talk of opium and pass the hookah. I am no addict.
Most high-end wine tasters are raging alcoholics. They maintain a certain veneer by up-paying for lofty grog, though every blessed one of them would go all Bartles & Jaymes if that were all there were.

I've framed these four examples of a certain psychological hiccup a certain way, but they connect in other ways, as well. I'm offering a cognitive lozenge, and invite you to ponder it (ideally for more than three seconds) and see where it leads you. I suspect it reveals something more fundamental than an addict's self-delusion.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Smiley Quiet People with Sweet Demeanors

A lesson I'm incapable of learning:

Smiley quiet people with sweet demeanors can have titanic egos.

It shocks me every time.

Monday, August 12, 2019


My favorite pundit, Rick Wilson, tweeted this:
After decades of invective about us godless depraved NYC assholes, these guys have chosen to worship the very worst of the ilk.

One day they’ll line up solidly behind a Mexican rapist/criminal socialist, just wait and see.

BTW, this move dates all the way back to the beginning with a crowd that maybe wasn’t always super pro-Semitic following a Jewish dude.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Aging: The Video Game

I'm only 56, but I think I see how old age works.

You know how, in video games, you keep leveling up to acquire greater strength, skills, and weapons, but the opposing monsters keep getting commensurately tougher to maintain an overall balance?

Aging is just like that, but the monsters get tougher just a bit faster than you get better.

Eventually, you reach a tipping point where the monsters start winning, and your strategy turns to preserving as much as possible for as long as possible amid increasingly indomitable opposition.

I'm not at the tipping point yet. I'm still gleefully leveling up and slaying monsters. But I sense the imbalance - monsters getting tougher faster than I'm getting better. Each new victory takes just a bit more doing, and my sack of resourcefully clever tricks is not infinitely deep.

I previously answered (on Quora) how old age feels.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Grinders Always Win in the Long Run

Yesterday I saw a woman, about 5'6" and 175 pounds, wearing a fancy new gym outfit and doing terribly ambitious and exhausting things: pulling heavy ropes, leaping up onto boxes, etc. I watched this grimly in my wrinkly beige gym shorts (I think they started out blue; I can't remember) while grinding away on my treadmill, just after having completed my standard grunting circuit of unsexy weight machines. Behold my mindless zombie workout, sweat-and-soreness-producing but certainly not optimized nor scientific. No gym balls, pilates, high-intensity interval stuff, trainers, etc..

Scattered around the gym, inevitably, were several other grim grinders. It's hard to focus on us; we blend in with the furniture. We're like the "townies" of the gym, and we range from marginally overweight to haggardly underweight (i.e. don't know when to stop). None of us are fat, but we see lots of fat people showing up and doing very fancy and ambitious workouts. We can’t remember any of their faces because they never stick around.
Think about that fancy gym outfit for a moment. If she were really gunning for weight loss, why make such an investment in her current size? Me, I curate a full portfolio of homely beige-faded shorts of every size, including the exalted and gleaming "32"s, which still retain a bit of color and which I can barely wedge my thumb into.
Here are the best workouts, in declining order:

1. Half-assed, wimpy, short, easy, barely effective workout every other day that you easily commit to.

2. Half-assed, wimpy, short, easy, barely effective workout daily that you occasionally need to cancel.

3. Exertive workout that leaves you sore and aggrieved and with a bad taste in your mouth (unless you're really locked into the long-term groove).

4. A scientifically optimized highly-effective diligently full-body workout that feels like you've climbed a mountain (non athletes are not wired to climb a mountain every day).

The best workout is the workout you commit to (i.e. the "worst" workout). So I think you've got to tailor your workout to commit-ability above all else.

Resuming after a lapse, I always start with #1 (sometimes even less than #1; once I just sat in the parking lot, lazily checked my email, and drove home...and deemed myself successful). I max out at #3, but only after I've really locked into the long-term groove and actually crave it.

Comfort zones are a deep-seated thing, so I protect mine vigorously. Faithfulness/consistency is my overriding objective, followed by frequency, with exertion/calories/pounds/durations/reps/laps only barely relevant. By the time I’m addicted, I hardly notice that I’m lifting heavy weights and running long distances and sweating buckets. It’s the routine that matters, not the content. Hardware, not software.

This is true for most worthwhile human aims. The creator of the stripped-down meditation style I practice makes an analogy to tooth brushing. If you brush with enormous zeal, you'll just irritate the bejesus out of your gums, ensuring that you miss the next few brushings, thus setting you back in the end. And the fact that your teeth won't look any better even after a couple weeks of eager brushing can break your morale.

That's not how you approach it! You need to recognize that while no one nor ten nor even hundred sessions makes much difference, a locked-in daily practice - even a grim, grinding, semi-conscious one - makes an enormous long-term difference.

Settle down and do the work. Momentum quickly dissipates; it is not a viable ongoing fuel source. The grinders always win in the long run.

Have I ever posted anything to this Slog that didn't carry the underlying message that "It's all in how you frame things"? Even before I started zeroing in on the whole framing thing?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Water’s Just Fine, Regardless

An old friend who's one of the best musicians in NYC just told me he's in rehabilitation after having been institutionalized for several months for mental issues. I knew he was perennially depressed, and had struggled with substance abuse while coping with some bad childhood trauma. But it apparently came to a head. I sent him this.

It's the third in a series of examples of induced perceptual reframing, along with this and this. Those two "worked"; this one, we'll see (the payload, tied to his specific background and prompting him to use his toolset, is the short final sentence; the rest is just prep):

I'm very sorry to hear that. Let me know if I can help with any real world issues. I have a car.

I’ve been having the converse experience, probably not much more pleasant.

Most people find a way to make their generally pleasant life experience a living hell. I’ve always been curious about this, and even did it myself for a while. Finally, I tried the opposite move, just for shits and giggles. I dropped my resistance to whatever happened, and to whatever my mind conjured up (worries, memories, etc.). No flinching. No judging. I lean in. It’s all “acceptable” (ha, like the world cares how I label it!).

I made that my move. Whatever happens, I embrace. Not stoically/dramatically (I gave up the dramatization habit), just gamely up for the experience. I just live right through it all, come what may. Not trudging/shlepping amid persecution, just curiously receptive to the latest. Even when it’s horrible.

And it’s been kind of horrible (almost like my resolve's been tested). So while everyone else dramatizes and ruins a pleasant life, I’ve been gamely embracing a life that’s horrible on paper. It only feels horrible if I resist, or take the drama view, though. So I just don’t. It’s sort of like one of those Chinese finger traps, on grand scale.

I recognized that the move that's always made me miserable was to frame the world as events happening to me. That sounds so normal it’s impossible to imagine another view. But the other view is that things happen around me, not to me. I'm just sort of there, blinking and watching, same old me, unaffected.

I know I’m unaffected because the awareness peering out of my eyes hasn’t changed since as far back as I can remember. My body may be completely different, and the contents of my memory and mind may be completely different (that stuff does get affected by what happens) but the awareness, the presence, has never changed, so it’s never been touched. It’s always curiously taking it all in. And that’s who I am. As such, nothing ever happened to me. And I’m gamely receptive.

Like I said, often it feels like a test (“Oh, yeah? Try gamely embracing THIS!!!”) I’ve had horrific things thrown at me, and if I lapse into my old habit of resisting (and self-consciously watching my dramatic character suffer), the suffering can be remarkable. But I don’t lapse as much now. I’m not in a movie. I just live straight through it (not as some insipid “personal growth” bullshit, but as a commitment that required insight and courage and gnarly life experience). As I do so, the water’s just fine, regardless.

Anyway, that’s my story. It’s nice in one view, horrific in another. It’s a fresh perspective on great pain, not a negation of it. We have infinite freedom to shift perspective, which only gets as stuck as we want it to be. The world does what it does, but we can view it in an infinity of ways. I think maybe that’s what creativity is: ingenious reframing.

Your friend,


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

El Paso is a Better America

El Paso is a place where women who look like Mexican telenovela actresses speak better English than I do, and seek out regional Japanese cooking and write knowledgable Yelp reviews about it, yet also speak in rapid-fire Spanish with their abuela.

This is a border town, and we assume we know what that means from movies, but that's mere gloss. A border town can be a profound scenario; less like brotherhood and more like co-joined twins. You can't draw lines, much less build walls, because there's an inseparability, a morphing from one into the other and back again. It's disquieting. It's wonderful.

There are people here descended from the original inhabitants, and others from their Spanish successors, both long predating Texas' statehood. Both lines experienced some "neither-here-nor-there" malaise for a few generations, but as America has become a more comfortable place for Hispanic people - and, not coincidentally, more thickly composed of Hispanic people - there's been a flowering. No longer forlornly rejecting both, many have flipped to embrace both; identifying readily with American culture while feeling renewed pride in their roots.

Folks in El Paso don't like to be called "Hispanic" or "Latino" or (hoo boy; worst of all) "Mexican". It's not that there's some ethnic chip on their shoulders, it's that they're very proudly American - even "'merican", the conservative corn-fed variety of patriotism coastal Americans love to mock. These are pickup-trucks-and-barbecue folks who do not take kindly to hyphenation. The identity empowerment politics of a South Bronx community center has no place here.

El Paso preserves village warmth and charm in a metropolitan area of nearly a million. Many non-Hispanics here speak at least some Spanish. Not the cavalier pigeon Spanish of a Beverly Hills homeowner instructing the pool guy to limpiar la agua pooor favor, but a more heartfelt Spanish representing the same cross-culturalism that resulted in many New York Puerto Ricans speaking decent Yiddish in the early 20th century. This is what magically happens when you pack different people together; they morph into each other a little. They understand each other. They may not always love each other - Benetton's a clothing brand, not a bona fide planetary movement - but the blending goes too far to reverse.

It works both ways. I'm a bit Puerto Rican from having eaten tons of pasteles and arroz con gandules and playing salsa gigs and generally being exposed to the culture. Jews and Puerto Ricans, like Jews and Italians, are somewhat co-joined where I grew up. There's overlap. Anywhere can function like a bordertown, and it's always an improvement. The rest of American could use some El Paso/Queens-style cosmopolitanism. We should all talk a little Yiddish and a little Spanish.

When Trump first started yapping about his damned wall, I didn't need to read polls or listen to man-in-the-street interviews around El Paso to know people there would be furious. Show me a xenophobe and I'll show you a fearful provincial lacking personal experience with The Other...and thus unable to overcome hearsay and stereotype. Most -phobias and -isms stem from unfamiliarity, while border towns like El Paso forge deep familiarity and are improved for it. Blessed with multiple vantage points, they are better suited to triangulate truth. We should look to them for our answers.

I've added an ancient El Paso report ("El Paso to Silver City: A Make-Do Romp Through a Desert of Chow") to the archive of old articles on my web site.

Fired in Two Minutes Flat

As a musician, every once in a while I'd give a younger, less experienced musician a break and call them for a gig that normally would be out of their league. I could tell immediately - by how they walked in the door! - whether I'd made a mistake.

About 25% of the time, the player would walk in quietly, perhaps a bit nervously, and with bristling excitement. It would go well. He'd be on top of his game, listening hard, ever-alert, and eager to contribute. These things would more than compensate for a few inevitable gaffes and inadequacies. He'd be a "team player", helping foster a positive vibe that would lift us all.

75% of the time, the player would walk in bored and blasé, as if it was just another damn gig. Hey, he was sharing a stage with us, which made him, obviously, an equal colleague. Whether his attitude was a contrivance (he was scared stiff) or delusional (he was clueless re: his place in the scheme of things), I'd brace for a bad night. He'd be just as off-handed as a really good player...but without the really good playing. Ouch.

I once needed to recruit writers for a project, and invited a blogger who lacked the expertise and experience of the rest of the crew. I figured he'd work extra diligently, flattered at having been included. On his first day - first minute, really - there was a group meeting about a nuanced decision. He ignored several of the fine points I'd laid out, and barreled forth as informally as if he were chatting idly on Facebook. After listening inattentively, he blurted out whichever idle thoughts occurred to him.

I fired him on the spot.

I'm sure he hates me. But I saved both of us a lot of pain. It would have been much worse if I'd postponed the inevitable.

You might hear this as "I demand to be shown proper respect." Not at all. It's not inter-personal. My point is that if you're not awesome, you need to bring your very best game. And I know, with the certainty of long experience, that you won't elevate your game unless you arrive with a respectful attitude. I'm not looking for respect, per se, but for the sort of results that flow only from that attitude.
From that framing.

Attitude stems from framing, not vice versa. So I know your framing from your attitude. I know which universe you exist in, and what you're capable of, from your attitude. One cannot directly change attitude, but one can effortlessly shift framing...which instantly transforms attitude. "Emotions", same. They, too, stem from framing, are hard to change directly, but effortlessly shift with reframing.

That awful thing your mother once said that you've paid shrinks $$$$$ to help you grapple with? If you found out your mother was mentally ill, or joking, or rehearsing a line from a play, you'd be fine in a flash. You'd reframe, and emotions would fall in line easy-peasy. So what if you reframe just for shits and giggles, recognizing, say, that everyone's spinning like a top from their own issues, with a long chain of separate reasons for saying/doing silly stuff, none of it having anything to do with you?

Forgiving is reframing. Laughing is reframing. Recognizing other people's long chains of cause/effect is reframing. Realizing other people's errant statements are no more deeply significant than your own is reframing. You can also just go ahead and reframe anytime just 'cuz and without a reason. Flip!

The only thing holding you back is a conviction that the grimmer framing is truer, while more free-spirited framings are lightweight and “unrealistic”. That's an illusion stemming from a perspective frozen in Grim-land. Our most habitual framing feels truest. Try another! Any other! Flip!!

Framing is not a nerdy conceptual mind trip. It's the motherlode of who we are and what we're doing here. It's humanity's ground zero. It directly impacts and centrally underpins every issue in the human experience.

Check out "The Joy of Stepping Up", describing the thrill of my lifetime, when I was lucky enough to be the very worst player in the band.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Day Vandals Wrecked Chowhound

Late in the painful saga of hosting a web forum for nearly a million people without any resources, a horde of strangers stopped by one day to add to our pressures and woes.

Several hundred random vandals blitzed our message boards with smart-aleck comments for a few minutes and were gone. Imagine a crowd of kids bursting into your home with spray paint cans. And imagine the aftermath, as you painstakingly remove the damage.

It was really painstaking. Our software offered no modern deletion system; postings had to be nuked manually one-by-one. If we worked too quickly, it could corrupt the database. So we set to work sloooowly deleting several hundred garbage postings.

Our volunteer moderators - busy people with real lives - treated this like a biblical plague, with much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. For my part, I regretted imposing this extra work (keeping their job loose and fun was my job), but I could view the situation in two ways.

Bugs Bunny was constantly annoying the bejesus out of Elmer Fudd (even when the latter wasn't wabbit hunting). The Marx Brothers kept crashing parties of stuck-up rich lady Margaret Dumont, interrupting her warbly arias and taunting her and her stuffy friends. I loved both. I love it when giddy tricksters collide with self-seriousness. I subscribe to the "keep it light" credo even while at my most serious. Elmer may not have had many days off to enjoy west and wewaxation, but I never considered that. I applauded Bug's efforts to disrupt his twanquility, however sadistic they might have actually been.

As I helped scrape away the garbage postings, I found a lot of them funny. We were an awfully self-serious bunch, oblivious in our warren of foody foodtalk, obsessing - at first ironically, but eventually not-so-much - over yum-yums which, in the scheme of things, maybe weren't the most important thing in the world. And though I'd sweated blood to keep it running, and these people were wrecking the joint and upsetting my crew, I could nonetheless adopt their point of view; their framing of us, and even of me.

I couldn't hold both views at the same time, however. Perspectives are monogamous in a given moment, though they can be flipped sequentially. Each framing felt enormously different. In fact, the entire world felt completely different when I was 1. chuckling at the wisecracks and viewing Chowhound as slightly Margaret Dumontian, or 2. lamenting the heartless defacement of my labor of love. The flip - back and forth, like the two choices of an optical illusion - was instant and effortless because I'd chosen to loosen the reigns and to opt out of the impulse to freeze perspective on the viewpoint I DAMN WELL HAD EVERY DAMNED REASON TO....blah-blah-huffy-blah. Even at the meta level - framing my framing choices - I was more of a free-wheeling Bugs than a tightly-wound Elmer.

Just because the current movie plot appears to call for a certain scene doesn't mean you need to play that scene (realizing this once may have saved my life). You're the screenwriter. You write the script. You get to choose what kind of movie this is. Try something different! Try loving red lights! Or per the video embedded in that link, try framing an insufferable sound as beautiful music.

You needn't play out a sad scene just because someone just said or did something that correlates (in your mental database of social consensus...or of previous conditioning, aka trauma) as sad - "They're messing with my web site! Cue fury and stress!" You can be creative. 

This posting has offered an example of reframing, and of how we're always free to do so but mostly choose not to (and, over time, forget we even have the option). It should be obvious that a lithe, flexible willingness to reframe is helpful and happiness-causing, whereas frozen perspective makes life a tedious torture.

It should also be obvious that a playful pliancy of perspective (PPP!) can really piss people off (the other moderators, understandably, absolutely did not think the vandalism was THE LEAST BIT FUNNY). So be careful out there. Don't get crucified!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Funnel of Weight Loss

I've done daily grueling gym workouts, avoided restaurant and snack foods, and generally eaten immaculately for four days.

I'm sore, I'm slightly disoriented, and I've let other elements in my life go a little....with absolutely nothing to show for it. If I were to keep this up for three weeks - an immense achievement requiring huge sacrifice - I'll have lost 3 or 4 pounds. Nearly insignificant!

In the cartoon version, it makes clean and tidy sense. A pound of weight loss per week is to be expected, and, hey, it's good to shift priorities to healthier living. There! Done!

But we don't live in a cartoon, we live in the living. And in the living, I'm doing a very hard thing, with considerable sacrifice, for a great length of time. A two month hospital stay for physical recuperation would be a tumultuous life-wrecking disruption. You'd send me cards! And this is only a couple notches less disruptive, and will take twice as long.

My little-understood (judging from the comments) posting titled Losing Weight Costs $1000/pound" really stands up, I think. The monetary value of a serious weight loss regimen is $1000 per pound. One must budget accordingly.

Consider this. If I were to ask you to upset your rhythms and patterns for three weeks; to lose your free time, change your diet and deemphasize your social life; to go beyond your comfort zone and feel sore and disoriented while letting some parts of your life go a bit, what would I need to pay you? You'd demand $3000, bare minimum

If you're accustomed to Pringles, iPads and sofas, it's an enormous change. Four days of this feel like an achievement - with no actual visible indication of achievement. Three weeks, which feels downright Olympian, buys you only a small token; a bit of slack in the waistband. You really can't make this work without reframing perspective. You need to shift to liking it, to being it. "Means-to-an-end" thinking only takes you so far.

Saturday, August 3, 2019


Good news! My recent sojourn into difficult postings about mind framings (aka shifts of perspective) and their relationship with creativity, insanity, messiahs, inspiration, and weight loss is nearly over. This will be the final installment, at least for a while. We've lost 75% of our small feisty crowd thanks to this tangent, and I don't imagine they'll be back. But they say it's healthy to thin a herd, so I can only salute your bovine magnificence.

Going forward, I'm at a loss as to what I can do for an encore. I've solved every mystery that's intrigued me (there've been many; I'm abnormally curious). I've connected nearly all my scattered observations and insights in describing a common basis for art, creativity, spirituality, hypnosis, insanity, depression, and self-destructive behavior, weaving an original and credible theology, cosmology, plus a quick-start guide for would-be messiahs. I've accounted for the most elusive phenomena in the human experience - inspiration - and explained how to bottle the lightning.

I’ve also explained why it’s perfectly ok to blindly relish the pretending. Then why understand the greater picture? For those who are curious, obviously, but, more importantly, for those for whom drama has overheated into trauma, and who find themselves on the brink of giving up on the world. Even deliberately intense pretenders can reach a point where they need to pause the movie and have a nice long look around the calm, safe theater. They say Prozac's a helpful drug, but it won't give you that. Reframing will. Booze, sex, and workaholism are blunt reframing cudgels, with wicked rebounds. But the good news is that perspective has been under your control all along.

I feel squeezed dry (especially coming after the two year build-out of my smartphone app, Eat Everywhere, which incorporates pretty much every speck of my food knowledge). But having uploaded himself, your desiccated husk of a slogger has one last trial for your flagging patience.

Before I get to it, I'd like to object to the notion that what I've been doing here is "philosophy". Philosophy is abstract conceptual masturbation, usually irrelevant for everyday people. This material is anything but. All things mind-bending and assumption-challenging are not philosophy! Every "long view" is not philosophy! It's a lazy term. Like "ethnic food", it's a planet-sized drawer where we toss anything not brutally familiar. This material is too singular to sort, so into the drawer it goes. "Smells like philosophy" justifies one's retreat back to a more comfortable diet of endless hours of watching people on TV calling a senile 73 year old moron "racist" over and over again.

It will be decades before these insights reach broader attention. When that happens, my writing won't play a part. It surely won't be noticed among the 180 quadrillion web pages, but others will stumble into the same conclusions independently (the first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop). I hope you've enjoyed a sneak preview of humanity's next phase of evolution (snarkers: there's your pull-quote). We will realize that we frame; that its not imposed on us; that we're free. This is the only truly effective salvation that can reasonably be imagined.

These conclusions would have been reached far earlier (likely by the Presocratics of Ancient Greece and/or the eerily contemporaneous authors of the Hindu Upanishads) if only they'd had the enormously helpful metaphors of movies and video games to consider.


Since early childhood, I've had the sense that I was really good at something...but it was fuzzy. I dived into music, and was good but not really good. Same for writing, entrepreneurship, food, yoga, meditation, and some benevolent low-profile undertakings. Always dancing around some fuzzy Thing. Finally, at this late date, I see that childhood me was right (as usual; he was so much better than this shleppy, bleary-eyed grown-up). This is what I'm really good at. This is the fuzzy Thing! Glad I found it. I very nearly didn't. The ten year discovery process was charted in real time right here in this Slog (here's a very rough overview, underscoring a different through-line), amid all the lasagna porn and vacation slideshows.

Ok, having run my miserably self-aware little victory lap before a mildly appalled gaggle of jazz musicians, Chowhound loyalists, eating buddies, and ex-girlfriends - a bedraggled juiceless raisin of a man trudging mirthlessly in beige track shorts - it's time for the final (for now) chunk. Embarrassingly, this one actually is philosophy. But here goes:

I recently wrote:
Epiphany, eureka, and inspiration are the peakest experiences a person can enjoy in this world. They dislodge stuckness and open up fresh insight, leaving us euphoric. Who wouldn't want that? They arrive, famously, in a flash, via a mysterious channel that's clearly distinct from everyday thinking.

These blessings stem from reframing that’s all. Blind to our infinite freedom to shift perspective, we enjoy the beneficial aftermath with befuddled gratitude. Since we haven't, as a species, fully framed our framing, major shifts seem to manifest as a thunderbolt from heaven; a gift from the muses. “What the hell was that?!?”
What I'm really saying is that God is a construct upon which we project our framing faculty. 

We frame incessantly. It's how we create and traverse our world. But the faculty is almost entirely unconscious (fish don’t know that they swim!). And so we frame it as an external Framer doing it. The ensuing blessings - the epiphanies and eurekas and inspiration; the creativity and the consolation - are attributed to Him.
...and since those outcomes are extremely wonderful, whoever makes it all happen does indeed deserve immense gratitude. So, hey, give yourselves a nice round of applause!
A book was published back in the 1970's, titled "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes. It sparked much animated discussion.

Jaynes theorized that introspection is a relatively new feature of the human brain. In ancient times, before we came to fully "own" this higher function, our thought stream didn't seem to emanate from us, so we figured it was imposed from outside. The benign hallucination of an externalized inner voice explains all those ancient prophets and their revelations. They heard their own inner voice as the voice of God.

In the final estimation, a consensus deemed this crank science, and the book's barely remembered these days.

But Jaynes was right in the broader sense. We do have a divided mind (cognition vs framing) and we have indeed long attributed the more elusive, loosey-goosey part (framing) to God. He doesn’t talk to us much these days, but our shifts of perspective - along with the associated epiphanies and inspirations - still come from "out of the blue", as even the staunchest nonbeliever would agree.

Jaynes wasn't drawing quite the right distinction, and he got hung up trying to explain this via structural issues of the brain. Humanity will find no neural structures underpinning framing. It's the other way around: Framing underpins all structure (i.e. the entire multiverse). Perspective is pure subjectivity, and there can be no objective basis for it. Subjectivity doesn’t spring magically from objects; objects are an interpretation of subjectivity, and that's why this faculty is so extraordinarily slippery, spurring us to create a God to attribute it to.
Humans, like beavers or ants, are brilliant with objects but brutishly ignorant of subjectivity. That’s why we outsourced the latter to a Supreme Being early on, who we, naturally, immediately objectified.
Most every spiritual tradition includes some quietly-stated acknowledgement that God (i.e. the kingdom of heaven) is within. You are God (and heaven is a perennially available frame). Not the "you" represented by this body with this name. Not the narrative with which you identify; not the Movie of You. There is a more fundamental static self - with clear lifelong continuity - overarching your perpetually changing materiality and your perpetually changing mentality. It has been palpably present since before you had a name or a backstory. It has stared blithely and unwaveringly out of your eyes for as long as you can remember. This is the pure subjectivity that you actually are. Often called "The Witness", what subjectivity really does is frame, via placement of attention. And that is, literally, God’s work. 

There’s nothing spooky or holy or exalted about this framing/being-God function.

It's the function that pays attention to one alternative or the other while viewing that optical illusion I keep pointing to (like here). Only one perspective is inhabitable at a time, but it can be flipped at will.

It's the function that can view Donald Trump as, alternatively, hilarious...or not the least bit funny (one perspective at a time, but flip at will - and, if you'll notice, the entire universe shifts accordingly).

It's the function I used to view a long-ago Christmas Eve as, alternatively, sublimely cozy or depressing and pathetic (choose one, flipping freely).

It's the function that makes 32nd Street seem like heaven if you’ve just been kissed for the first time or hell if you’ve just been dumped...or impels you to lead your entire life as if you've just been either kissed or dumped (the latter’s enormously more popular, yet, still: choose/flip!).

Once we recognize our infinite latitude for shifting perspective - for reframing - it changes everything. You need not wait for a God to do it for you. The faculty has always been freely available. You are, at the ground of your being, the chooser. The Creator.

So has anyone found any good tacos lately?

Reframing/perspective shifting is a bit like breathing or muscle contraction: it's something that we do automatically/unconsciously, but we can also seize intentional control. Unconscious framing choices stem from habitual patterns of attention placement. If, over time, you mildly favor framing minor snafus - stubbed toes and lost car keys - as being part of a pattern of lifelong persecution by the fates, that framing becomes the default, and every subsequent snafu adds to your greater burden. But an infinity of other perspectives/framings can be consciously established as habit (again: kissed or dumped!). The salvation of humanity will be in recognizing that our sowing leads to our reaping.

Oh, and “spiritual enlightenment" is just another the widest possible perspective. It makes for a fine bookmark among the infinitude of framing options, but is no more difficult a shift than any other. They’re all effortlessly available (again: consider the optical illusion, or the piano smash). Reframing is not something we toil to achieve, like with cognition. The only problem - THE ONLY PROBLEM! - is unfreezing one’s ability to consciously frame at all. Once, that is, you've remembered that you even can. And I’m working on a book of exercises to help with that.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Why We Crucify Truth Tellers (and Why They Deserve It)

You're in a theater viewing a gripping horror movie. You turn around and peer at the audience. Everyone is in the familiar transfixed state of cinematic hypnosis. They're not them, sitting with those bodies in those chairs in this theater. Rather, they've framed themselves into the movie. They're the protagonist. And, because it's a horror movie, they're horrified.

You feel special/superior because you see “the truth,” while they seem lost in illusion. That’s wrong (it’s your first mistake). They, like you, are simply making choices. Framing choices. In fact, if anything, they’ve made the smarter choice, whereas you’re the kook perversely ignoring the show you chose to attend.

One audience member seems particularly aggrieved. Tears stream down his cheeks, his face is beet red, and his eyes bug out in sheer panic. You tap this stranger on the shoulder.
Tap tap tap.

Tap tap tap.
Startled, he pivots his head to gape at you.
"It's just a movie, buddy. You're okay."
He has three possible responses. One is insane but common, and the other two are sane but rare (and one might lead to your crucifixion).

Insane/Common Response:
An obvious framing error. Some people have less pliant perspectives. Insanity is the inability to reframe despite clear environmental cues.
Sane/Less Common Response #1:
Oh. Wow. Right. Phew. Thanks! [returns attention to movie and starts getting worked up again - hey, his choice!]
Sane/Less Common Response #2:

In case you didn't realize, this isn't about movie theaters. It's a parable about people needlessly stuck (frozen perspective, remember?) in a hyper-dramatic mind frame while living comfortably in Utopia, and the perils - and improprieties - of trying to help them.

In the parable, you irritate only one person. But if you try this, loudly, in the world at large, bear in mind that you're ruining the show. People will be enraged and they're not wrong. Remember: rage is a sane response to show-spoilers! 

This explains all sorts of "self-destructive" people. They seem irrational, but they're not. They're acting out a drama, just as we all are, but tweeking parameters for more challenging gameplay. They're working on a more advanced level, that's all. You can maybe tap their shoulder once, but, if you persist after they've waved you off, you're deliberately ruining the movie...and deserve their wrath. 

Here's how truth tellers reach this point. Having forgetten yourself in the pretending, your grippy identification with fake drama leads to trauma, and you find yourself tossed awake by the tumult, as sometimes happens with nightmares. You suddenly Remember - briefly, before turning back to the pretending. Your first impulse is to look around, and you observe that people are needlessly gripped by concocted trauma. Just for one thing, it seems like everyone needs everything more than you do.

So you see the problem and want to help. Nice! But it’s a dangerous error to assume that people - even traumatized people - want to be reminded that they're pretending. It's one thing to ruin the 7:35 screening of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child”, but it's quite another to ruin the painstakingly crafted epic story of "My Life and Victimhood and the Weighty Burden I Bear Despite Being a Really Nice Person and Thursdays are Hard Because My Parakeet Died on a Thursday".

Never forget that human beings choose to ride rollercoasters. Human beings pay to ride rollercoasters (here's the broad view on rollercoasters and drama and movies and pretending).

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Epiphany, Eureka, and Inspiration

Epiphany, eureka, and inspiration are the peakest experiences a person can enjoy in this world. They dislodge stuckness and open up fresh insight, leaving us euphoric. Who wouldn't want that? They arrive, famously, in a flash, via a mysterious channel that's clearly distinct from everyday thinking.

These blessings stem from reframing that’s all. Blind to our infinite freedom to shift perspective, we enjoy the beneficial aftermath of inadvertent shifts with befuddled gratitude. Since we haven't, as a species, fully framed our framing, major shifts seem to manifest as a thunderbolt from heaven; a gift from the muses. “What the hell was that?!?”

Feel free to exit here. That was quite enough to chew on, and below there be dragons. Please take your personal belongings with you. We know you have a choice of blogs, and we appreciate your business. Have a pleasant afternoon here or wherever your Internet surfing might finally take you.

God (or Spirit, or Muse, etc.) seems to deliver epiphany/eureka/inspiration because these things appear out of the blue, unrelated to - even disruptive of! - our thought-stream, which we falsely assume to be who/what we are. We forget that we are both thinkers and framers. So if we don't think it, it must be coming from someone else!

Highly creative people, with some inkling of their own reframing latitude, are sometimes deemed "touched by God" because they can periodically pull off small magic tricks, i.e. epiphany/eureka/inspiration. The faculty is notoriously fickle because, again, humanity hasn't quite framed its framing. Once you've framed a process, a clarity arises to make everything feel easy. And it's coming. The messiah will soon arrive, and he will be you.

The connection between reframing and epiphany/eureka/inspiration explains why this Slog belches up more insight than the average blog. I have a naturally lithe perspective, and am increasingly able to frame my framing - it's a work obviously in progress - making these outcomes more easily available (if there were some way to explain this stuff without seeming to boast, jesusfchrist I would do so in a millisecond, and thank goodness for sparse readership so I don't draw my deserved snark).

Epiphany, eureka, and inspiration are a whole other thing from the everyday, that's for sure. Everyone agrees on that. The flavor is utterly different from normal cognition. For one thing, this stuff arrives far more swiftly than thought (contributing to the "thunderbolt from the blue" impression). As I once wrote,
Perceptual framing is instant. It can expand from microbe to Milky Way without the slightest latency. Once we make the flip, it always happens instantly.

A visceral experience of simple reframing can be had by "flipping" between the two views of this optical illusion:

You’ll notice there’s no lag whatsoever. It's not a process, which takes time and uses resources. It's an instant shift (once it happens), effected by the subtlest possible exercise of subjectivity. A choosing, nothing more (and it’s always a hard choosing...we can’t span multiple perspectives at once).

The really big question is: who makes the choice?

I'll direct your attention to the noticeable fact that both options in the optical illusion pre-exist. The whole universe works like that, in fact. All notes are pre-struck, all options pre-exist, and we create the impression of external dynamism via an internal movement of attention. This entire big flashy show we find ourselves in is instigated and animated by the subtle exercise of subjectivity - by ceaseless internal framing. We select.
Per that last link (here it is again), this is also how we traverse/unfurl the multiverse. Each framing choice branches to a fresh parallel universe (did you really imagine we'd go to parallel universes via, like, spaceship?).
We become depressed when perspective freezes. The world appears to stall in a state of monotony. Fluidity is necessary for humans to enjoy their lives, and it’s generated by freely dynamic framing (never blame circumstance; it's all in your perspective!). Perspective freezes because we get lazy, and/or forget that it's we who choose; we who frame; we who shift. We forget we’re free. Freedom’s like a smartphone feature we’ve forgotten about.
Standard note: I'm working on a book of exercises to re-establish the ability to freely shift perspective; I'll need beta testers, so watch this space.
Not to further overload this brutally bottom-heavy posting, but here's a strange truth: you will become depressed even if perspective freezes on a spectacularly lovely framing. This is why very advanced meditators (and, come to think of it, new lovers) often become lethargic. Their bodies are depressed even though their minds relish unwavering delight. Bodies don't do well with unwaveringness of any sort, including "delight" (that's why we insatiably crave widely diverse experience, including so-called negativity). As perspective freezes, the world loses its worldliness.

Again, the big question is: who makes the choice?

Obviously, it's you. But is it the you with a name and a body and a back story? You were framing before you had a name, when your body was completely different and you'd accumulated none of the back story. Here I'm coaxing the reframing of all reframings, if only you'd care to shift. Again: who makes the choice?

None of this can be adequately explained in a 900 word essay, so the links are not pro-forma. They explain the assumptions underpinning these supremely counterintuitive conclusions. I've chosen to develop and explain these ideas - which are way more than dry philosophy (everything that makes your head throb isn't pointy-headed navel-gazing abstraction; this stuff is the key to being happy and creative and evading depression and understanding how the world actually works) - via the medium of blogging because it allows me to leave a breadcrumb trail. The breadcrumbs are essential!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Getting Out of the Way

Do you ever get out of the way of people who need something more than you do?

The guy who's got D-Day stress levels in his eyes because he needs to make a tight flight connection. You let him pass so he can get off the plane. You'd love to get off ASAP, yourself, but he clearly needs it more. So you get out of the way.

A blaring ambulance appears behind you. Though you're within visual range of sorely-needed coffee, you get out of the way.

A kid really really needs ice cream, in a way you haven't needed anything since the 1980s. You're certainly not going to compete with her. It's not that you don't like ice cream - or wouldn't prefer ice cream sooner rather than later. But you know you don't need it as much as she does, so you get out of the way.

If you develop a courteous habit of getting out of the way, you will eventually observe that everyone needs everything more than you do.


1. They don't actually need it either, but they don't know this. Need stems from ignorance.
2. If needing is ignorance, not needing is wisdom.
3. Stepping out of the way is an expression of strength, not weakness.
4. Not needing + stepping away = wisdom + strength.
5. This equation explains Asceticism - which is so ridiculously out of style that westerners drop their jaws at the befuddling mystery of it, deeming it self-abuse (which is, not coincidentally, precisely how you, in getting out of the way, look in the eyes of needy, ice cream-grubbing little kids).

Three clarifications:

1. Ascetics aren't just naked wanderers with leathery skin or dour self-flagellating monks. Anyone who gets out of the way with any regularity is an ascetic, whether they know it or not.

2. I'm not saying asceticism is always about taking less so everyone can have more. I'm just describing how self-denial feels. The truth is topsy-turvy: neediness is deprivation, so who's actually deprived?

"Needing/Having" isn't winning, it's endless entrapment in a humiliating and senseless Skinner Box. "Not-Needing/Not-Having" is freedom and happiness. It's possible even to Not-Need/Have, but that's so beyond Western sensibility and understanding - super zen or whatever - that people have written impenetrable books to try to explain it.

3. Anticipating pushback re: the word "needs"....

When people in the First World talk about "needs", we are really talking about preferences. 90% of us have our basic needs met as a foregone conclusion 90% of the time. As I once noted, America is so rich that we mistake mere discomfort for bona fide poverty (which has led to an aberration I've termed Liberal Materialism).

But all the above applies to genuine need, too. Ascetics don't need their needs until the tank's pretty close to empty. Why? They've reframed to a broader view (which gives them character). And as I said in my previous posting, "Once you've framed something...a clarity arises that makes everything feel easy. It helps immensely to have a framework for understanding who you are and what you do." Kids (and most adults) view ice cream, et al., in extreme closeup, and can't imagine any other framing.

Note: I'm coming at this from a slightly different angle from two previous efforts:
An Adult View on Preference
The Inside Story on Asceticism

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Lose Weight by Reframing!

Ice cream is sweetened butter.

It's absolutely true, but we don't frame it that way. We think of ice cream as its own food group, a happy wholesome treat. That's how it imprinted when we were children, and while our adult minds recognize it as pure animal fat (aside from the gobs of sugar), it still viscerally strikes us as a visit to some bright candyland universe with vague consequences, rather than a nutritional bear trap.

I've never been drawn to large servings of ice cream. After mulling it over, I figured out why. Ice cream is sweetened butter, and I wouldn't want to scarf down like a pint of cold butter. I'm grossed out by the thought! And now that I've consciously staked out my position - my framing - on this, I find that I'm happy with smaller and smaller portions. A tablespoon of butte....I mean ice cream seems like plenty. I have reframed it!

Another reframing was what I called "The Best, Easiest, and Most Sustainable Diet Tip:
At some point in every meal you've ever eaten, the following mental question has arisen: "Do I want to eat some more?" It's always asked quietly - so quietly that it may not consciously register. And our reaction is, nearly always, to shrug and eat a few more bites. What the hell!

1. No one in the history of the human race has ever asked themselves this question while still hungry. Genuinely hungry people just eat! The fact that you're asking means that you have, in fact, eaten enough!

2. The gratuitous few bites you take after this point will probably add 10-20% more calories to your meal. And most of us are 10-20% overweight, so these are the marginal calories that make us marginally overweight. So drop your fork!
....and yet another was my "Pizza Protocol":
I was ordered on a permanent low fat diet....and I cooked up the following ground rules:
I'd eliminate all bad pizza.
I'd eliminate all so-so pizza.
Really good pizza is permissable, but only one slice.
If really necessary, I could occasionally enjoy two slices.
Since I already cooked healthy at home, I'd cook at home a bit more to offset the errant slices.
This policy eliminates 90% of my normal fat-ingestion-via-pizza, while removing only 10% of my enjoyment:
Dieting doesn't work if you just try to change your behavior. When the diet ends, you will, of course, simply spring back. What's required is reframing. But most people have no facility for reframing (they mistakenly think framing is imposed on them by external circumstances). That's why they can't lose weight. Or change in other ways. It's why adults famously can't learn.

Frozen perspective prevents change, stifles creativity, and causes depression. My framing spiel is not dry philosophy. It's nothing less than salvation, the remedy to humanity's blocks and unhappiness. Plus: it just melts off the pounds!

Many Slog postings - particularly the ones you may have found insightful or clever - are the product of perceptual reframing. That's always been my little trick: a simple flip of perspective.

Until recently, I was fuzzy about my own trick. I hadn't framed my framing! Once you've framed something (as you surely have in some aspect of your life - surely attributing it to "learning", "growing" or "maturing", though framing happens in the blink of an eye whereas those other things are processes), a clarity arises that makes everything feel easy. You don't want to trap yourself in a frozen meta-perspective, nor do you want to be like the centipede who thinks so much about his hundred legs that he's unable to walk. But it helps immensely to have a framework for understanding who you are and what you do.

I often note that I use the Slog not to explain stuff to you, but to myself. I can see now that what I've been doing all along is framing my framing. It's not intellectual philosophy, it's extremely practical. It's everything.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Another Example of Inducing Perceptual Reframing

Earlier this month I published an unconventional eulogy, which I offered as an example of successfully inducing perceptual reframing. The following is another example of induced reframing (also successful, at least for now). Both of these can be read at three levels: 1. uplifting reading, 2. inspiration to unfreeze/shift your own perspective, or 3. a quick-start guide for potential messiahs.

Ten years ago, a musician friend in another country suffered an aneurysm that nearly killed him. He was saved by an improbably coincidental spinal blockage which protected his heart while leaving him without the use of his legs. He'd been permanently paralyzed, poetically, by the process that saved his live.

Having stared down near-certain death, he experienced a profound shift of perception - what I call a "reframing" - leaving him exuberantly grateful to be alive. A shockingly short while later, a friend and I sat misty eyed in a jazz club, watching our friend play his guts out in a wheelchair. He was smiling so hard we thought his face might break.

The exuberance gradually eroded over the years. Then medical errors left him in hospital for the entire past year, fighting horrendous bone infections. Worst of all, sloppy doctoring led to the lost of his use of his hand. No more music.

"Depression" would be an inadequate word to describe his condition. Our mutual friend says "He is tired. Even his body language is different, his head often bent down." He no longer discusses solutions. He just stares at the TV.

Necessity once again mothered invention. I sent him the following. Like my eulogy, it reads like gentle persuasion and reminding, but that's only the surface. Really, it's designed to directly coax a shift of perceptive - a reframing - on its own. It appears to make a proposal, but the proposed outcome is actually executed (it's like launching a computer background process, aka daemon).

This may sound manipulative, but it wouldn't work if the person wasn't fundamentally in agreement (this, interestingly, is also how hypnotists defend their practice from fears of sinister controlling: you can't hypnotize someone to do something they don't already want to do. And, as I noted in the eulogy posting, hypnosis, along with creativity/art and spirituality, are the main repositories of humanity's sparse know-how re: perceptual framing).

I've been informed about your situation. Your friends and I are looking into alternative treatment. Please give us some time, and know that wheels are turning.

I'd like to remind you about something important. When you were first paralyzed, you were not depressed. You were euphoric. This was because you experienced a change of perspective. You saw the truth of the world, and it shifted you into a clarity where you understood that simply being here is a profound gift. Your heart (metaphorically) expanded, and everything was perfect, even though you had just gotten some extremely bad news.

When I saw you for the first time after you left the hospital, I asked you several times to try not to forget. Perspectives are habitual. It is very easy to fall back into an old perspective. And in the time since, I have watched you slowly forget, and return to your former perspective, where your life is a challenging drama and not a euphoric gift.

People don't get sad and negative because of what happens to them in their world. We are sad and negative because of our perspective on what happens in our world. We don't suffer because of what happens to us. We suffer because of our REACTION to what happens to us. The world is fine. It's all fine. The only problem is in our interpretation (and we have infinite options of interpretation).

This is demonstrably true. You know people with terrible narratives who are happy, and  MANY people with fantastic narratives who are miserable. What matters is viewpoint. You shifted to the optimal viewpoint for a year or two. You can recover it! 

The world - even your world - is delightful. You just forgot. There is no level of bad dramatic narrative that makes the world not delightful. It's 100% perspective. You yourself learned this once when you discovered you’d never walk again yet your spirit was completely dancing. You will dance again; I won't let you pretend you can't.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Explaining Celebrity Perversion

It's pretty widely accepted that Jeffrey Epstein is a dam, and when his case breaks, all sorts of famous, powerful people will be publicly embarrassed (at the very least). It seems reasonably clear, though not yet conclusively proven, that he's been running a massive extortion racket around a massive child prostitution operation, with his clients/blackmail-ees paying millions into his "wealth management" service in exchange for provision of pleasure + avoidance of pain (a perfect carrot/stick ploy).

The question, of course, is why so many rich/powerful people would be titillated by child rape. Are the rich and powerful extra perverted?

My take is that wealth and power is all about whim fulfillment, so a mere latent whim can easily become lifestyle. For example, a normal person might have reveries about unattainable girls he crushed on in junior high, while billionaires can go out and buy one of those.

I wouldn't be in that market even if I could afford it. However, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to deem my infrequent steamy recollections of lovely Dorothy G back in eighth grade tantamount to thought crime, given that I'm remembering as a 56 year old.

Thinking and acting are different things, but those who spend their lives machinating to be in a position of easy whim fulfillment (i.e. the rich and powerful) tend to have poor impulse control. That's what drives them in the first place. Me, I don't need a billion dollars because my whims are pretty tamped down...a situation that happens not to strike me as a screaming injustice.

Finally (courtesy of Dave Halpern), if you live The Big Life, quotidian pleasures no longer suffice. Bigger thrills are eternally sought.

When I sold Chowhound, and it was widely assumed that co-founder Bob™ and I were swimming in dough (we wound up decently recompensed for our years of unpaid work with no bonus for the risk or deferment), a Chowhound regular who'd made hundreds of millions from some crazy deal emailed me some advice. He suggested that I "enjoy the money; it stops meaning anything pretty quickly." Oddly, all these years later I still thrill whenever I take a paid tunnel into NYC or order multiple side dishes or use a parking garage (rather than endlessly circle for parking). I go Cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs every damned time. I honestly believe there's something structurally wrong with my brain (I've also never taken a single kiss for granted, even with long-term girlfriends).

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Tick Tips

Some follow-up to my big tick primer from last year:

I explained to my doctor that I am immense (at 6 feet and 200 lbs my skin could upholster an Italian sports car), hairy, and near-sighted, so being told “inspect yourself for ticks” is basically demonic cruelty. She had a smart suggestion: shower when you get inside going over yourself thoroughly with a loofa. I’m gonna buy one of these or else one of these.


1. Must inspect loofah after shower for any embedded ticks.

2. Ticks might go down drain and (yikes) climb back up.

BTW, best way to kill a tick (I love this!) is to trap it in an inch of tape stuck to itself. This also preserves the specimen if you need it checked by a lab for Lyme virus. Crap, I already wrote this .

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Slog Commenting Note

Sorry to Slog commenters, but I've reconfigured comments so you need a Google account to post (compensating some for the hurdle, I've also removed the Captcha...though Blogger may disregard that choice).

You may have noticed that we have a new troll here in Slogland. A very old acquaintance (to whom I've always been kindly supportive) had been posting anonymous snark and potshots, eventually growing so infuriated by my failure to courteously respect his anonymized snarky sock puppet that he flipped his gourd and went into embittered war mode. In his framing, he's bringing down The Man. In my framing, I cringe for him (no biggie, he knows I can expose him and his long-standing nom-de-flame to the Internet and to his employer if he escalates to actual threats).

I easily identified him, and would have preferred to preserve this as an outlet for him to blow off steam, but I don't want to repeat the pattern. So...if I know you, post as you, and I'll treat you like you. Simple! This new setting won't guarantee identity disclosure, but it will reduce the spray of Anons blasting away with typical anon brio. I'd rather avoid seeing other friends snapped into poor mental health via their unwise choices and bad behavior.
A hot microphone on the Internet is like leaving one's swimming pool un-gated; they shouldn't have been there, and can blame only themselves, yet it's nonetheless unpleasant to stroll into one's backyard and discover floaters.
If you don't have a Google account and would like to comment, please 1. let me know (so I can understand the problems I'm causing) and 2. send me your comment via email and I'll post it for you myself, just as a stopgap.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fake Review Mystery Solved

So, regarding yesterday's quizzler (and thanks to Ken, Barbara, Tucker, Max, Flithrandra, Vanessa, Vanessa2, Vanessa3, Little Timmy, Anon3023, Vanessa4, Dave's Daughter Dave, The ICEman Goth, "Mogen" David, Newzealandpithicus, Teen Spirit, Anonymous Frank Nesbitt, and all the other Vanessas for posting their guesses)...

Inevitably, Chowhound attracted dishonest guerrilla marketing. Business owners or their relatives, friends, or publicists would post a profusion of rave reviews under different aliases. We called this "shilling". When we caught them, we'd erase it all and suggest that they direct their energy toward making their restaurant so good that real people have no choice but to rave about it. You can't con people into liking your restaurant.

But here's the surprising thing: good places shilled, too. Including some famous beloved good places. When we caught on, the response from the restaurateur was inevitable: we have all the customers and reputation we need; we don't need to stuff your ballot box.

If only.

It boils down to this: shmucks gonna shmuck. Restaurateurs - even really good ones - are like any other group; some are fine upstanding people, while others are dishonest. And the deceptive/dishonest ones can't help it. That's their approach, and it doesn't shut off just because their short ribs are scrumptious and the seats are full. Success and honesty are unrelated parameters.

Counterintuitively, restaurants don't shill because they suck and feel the need to compensate. For one thing, sucky restaurateurs don't recognize that they suck; they all think they're nailing it. They shill because they see a publicity avenue, and publicity's like profit: you can never have too much.

So when Fakespot finds a shilled Amazon product, discounts the fake reviews, and offers an adjusted star rating identical to the original, it's because the product is both good and shilled. And that's so surprising to our assumptions of how we imagine things work that just about everyone will find it mystifying.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Fake Review Mystery examines Amazon reviews for honesty, grading every product's star rating for honesty/reliability.
Chowhound's moderators and I did this same work day in and day out for the better part of a decade. It wasn't an automated process; we relied on deep experience hosting a forum that many characters found attractive for marketing purposes as a way to guerrilla market and foment word-of-mouth via fake testimonials. If the operation was going to have any value, we needed to weed that stuff. So we got good at it. Work hard/long enough on something - even something seemingly impossible - and you'll get good at it.
In addition to grading reliability, Fakespot readjusts the Amazon rating, disregarding the phony ratings and re-averaging the remainder. Here's an example, where Fakespot adjusted Amazon's 4.5 star rating down to 2.5 stars:
But there's a mystery: very often Fakespot's adjusted rating is exactly the same....even though the product was heavily fake-rated. Two examples:
How can a rating be fraudulent yet also accurate?

It's a deep question. I suspect that even Fakespot can't explain it. But I can, after spending a decade immersed in this extremely thin slice of human experience.

I'll give the answer tomorrow [here it is]. Feel free to guess in the comments.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

You Are Absolutely Right!

People don't want to hear the truth. This is what they want to hear:
You are absolutely right!
It's so engrained that just reading those words likely lifted your mood by like 1%.
You are absolutely right!
It's like a massage, no?
You are absolutely right!
Would anyone be foolish enough to bet against my prediction that this posting will be extremely well-read just because of its title?
You are absolutely right!
I've worked 56 years to eagerly suss out my wrongness. I feast on my wrongness. And in the process - almost as a side effect - I appear to be getting righter and righter, though I scarcely notice, because I feel perennially wrong. The wrongness is what I'm focused on. Having witnessed how spectacularly stupid I can be, I can't - and never will - accept myself as anything but. And this, in turn, leaves me disinclined to tell people that...
You are absolutely right!
....even though that is (literally) how one Wins Friends and Influences People.
You are absolutely right!
I used to figure people just feared bad news. That's why they hate to be surprised; to have their viewpoint challenged; to unfreeze their perspective and embrace other possibilities.

But that's not it. They're just as opposed to good news. If you tell them their lifelong negativity has been unnecessary, and that all their problems have been self-indulgently concocted, and it can all get much much better right in this moment, all they'll hear is "You're wrong!" And that's not what they want to hear. What they want to hear is:
You are absolutely right!
As I've often noted, people would much rather feel smart than be smart (the two are incompatible; this is the basis for the Dunning–Kruger effect). But that doesn't go far enough. People would rather feel smart and be miserable than be happy.

It traces, in part, back to the original sin of an offhanded decision we all make in childhood re: how happy we'll allow ourselves to be. We work tenaciously to maintain our chosen equilibrium; to avoid over-happiness.

Have you ever wondered why literally no one ever links to this Slog, even though it's read by a couple hundred successful and outspoken people? Sometimes a "like" but never a "share"? Well, here you have it. This undertaking is devoted to counterintuitive insight - to showing you you're wrong, while (desperately) hoping to inspire you with the good news. 

A writer can either flatter readers or else surprise - and possibly inspire - them, but not both. Writers who flatter do so for their own elevation. Writers who surprise do so to elevate their readers...and must never expect recognition, because they've declined to utter the magic words. #YAAR

Country Over Party

We all just spent three years insisting that secretly Trump-loathing Republican officials put country over party despite 90% Republican voter approval of Trump. We've indignantly demanded their political suicide to serve a patriotic goal we profess to consider supreme to all others: removing Trump.

I, along with other moderates, ask Progressives to likewise put country over party. They may do so without any headwind, much less obliteration! They would survive to push their agenda at a later date, once the menace is gone. We ask far less of them than they themselves have asked of Republican politicians!

Progressives: where is your self-effacing patriotic sacrifice?

When it's time to step up, you alienate moderates in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Texas with talk of reparations and publicly-funded late-term abortions, and by tarring your own leadership as racists? You zealously compete with each other to concoct the most extreme policies to throw in the face of moderate (and Trump-averse conservative) America with sanctimonious relish, spraying radical liberal pheromones all over anti-Trumpism until everyone out-of-tribe is viscerally repelled? You'd eschew restraint and talk full-throatedly about Socialism...while knee-capping fascist/racist moderate DINOs like Biden until they're so tarnished to primary voters that there's no choice but to nominate a firebrand with idealogical purity who'll lose 48 states so you can feel smugly right?


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Train Home to New York from Oregon

I flew to Eugene Oregon, what feels like months ago, on a last-minute flight, with a cold. My ears were incredibly unhappy with this, and never popped (even now, I can’t hear through my left ear). I visited an emergency room and was told I’d risk a perforated ear drum if I got on a plane, so I needed to make, as they say, "other plans" to get home.

I happened to already be driving a rental car with Idaho plates, so I asked Avis whether they wanted me to do them the favor of returning it to Idaho. "We don’t really care about plates; the cars all just sort of float around in a vast pool," I was told. So I asked about renting a car to be dropped off in NYC, and was told that a $400 extra charge would apply due to the one-directional rental. The agent made these paradoxical statements with no trace of irony or apology. In fact, it was conveyed with relish; "I’m-shamelessly-screwing-you-right-to-your-face" relish.

Car transport agencies contemptuously turned me down, as if I were a meth head looking for a car so I could yank out the wiring and sell the copper. Apparently only very carefully-selected, high-status individuals are allowed to perform this work.

So AMTRAK it was. I’d need to wait three days for an affordable berth, and it’d be a seat rather than a sleeper because while seats cost $240, sleepers run around $1000. But, hey, the seat reclines, so it’d be totally cool! 

Thus began my odyssey on The Empire Builder (Portland to Chicago; 45 hours) and The Lake Shore Limited (Chicago to NY Penn station; 20 hours), followed by a jaunt to JFK to pick up my car from an off-site lot whose courtesy van driver had great trouble accepting that I hadn't actually flown home from Oregon.

I won’t offer a diary, as there are plenty of them on the Internet (like this one). Just some random notes.
Note: photos below.

I’m a fan of the "long way round" dramatic trope, e.g. Ewan McGregor’s world-circling motorcycle trip and my favorite Doctor Who episode, Heaven Sent, where the flippantly time traveling Doctor gets trapped in a situation requiring him to traverse 4.5 billion years the hard way. This framed the trip and made it bearable.

The food is surprisingly good. Which is not to say it’s good. It’s not good, it’s bad. But it’s way better bad food than you’d expect. Honestly artless, rather than brutal.

There were tons and tons of Amish people on both trains. Did you know Amish people can actually take cars, they just can’t drive them? Since they’re not driving the train, this is apparently cool. They’re all speaking the otherwise extinct form of German they’ve time-capsuled, especially when they don’t want the “fancy” people (is that the term? I knew this sort of stuff as a kid) to understand. Sort of like my parents talking Yiddish around the kids, which was, come to think of it, another time-capsule version of earlier German.

Montana is a country. It’s like Texas but without stuff.

The top of the Mississippi River (we crossed it along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border) is nearly as delta-ish as the bottom.

The Lake Shore Limited went from Chicago to NYC via Buffalo/Rochester/Albany rather than through Pennsylvania, an eight hour detour. It did not phase me. On a 65 hour trip, 8 hours is rounding error.

We were also forced to wait for an hour at a dead stop tantalizingly close to Chicago. This was barely enough time for me to sneeze, find my water, and check the weather report. I live in half-days. Minutes shoot by so fast I hardly parse them.

You know things are really messed up when you approach Buffalo - not in a plane - and think "hey, I’m getting close!" I hope I haven't permanently stretched my perception of time.

A highly-experienced AMTRAK passenger from Wisconsin with stage-4 cancer and a hacking cough (he had to tell me about the cancer to relieve my anxiety about the hacking cough) told me that Amish women inevitably wreck the bathrooms. He explained this in slightly greater detail than I’m willing to go into here, but still not enough to make any sense whatsoever. Yet I suspect this bit of random bullshit will forever lodge in my mind: Amish women will take out your bathroom, dude. It’s something to watch out for and to worry about. Add it to the pile.

There was plenty of time to reconstruct some of my previous traveling amnesia, realizing quite clearly that sleep deprivation deeply colors any traveling experience. That’s why traveling always seems slightly blurry in retrospect. In this case, it’s a blessing. Shortened/degraded sleep induces a fugue state fueling the zombification which helps you withstand a 65 hour voyage. Do not attempt this while alert!

One day I found myself in three time zones. How is this “gentler” than jet lag crammed into three hours? It’s still just one day. I don’t understand how it would have lower impact.

Interesting people don’t chatter at strangers.

While nearly everyone talks to strangers in some way at some time, only a few make a habit of it, and those people have a Rap. They're performing this rap for you (which means they're performing it for themselves, with you watching), and it's a narrative they've ceaselessly repeated to themselves, and though it's of absolutely no interest to anyone else, they feel an exhibitionist compulsion to say it out loud to an audience in order to carve out a sense of self-significance, of "having their story heard."

This is not a healthy thing. I think many people sense this, and it's why most people shut down most idle conversation from strangers. It's not unfriendliness, per se. It's just that most idle conversation from strangers is not going to be friendly, it's going to be needy.

I did, however, have a real conversation with someone next to whom I was crammed into a dinner table. We spoke mostly as a survival tactic.

An Idaho native, he’d been an airline pilot, but was let go for lacking the necessary veneer of certainty. As a completely unaffected person, he’d been reported by a fellow officer for curiously asking questions about stuff rather than feigning omniscience.

Like a surprisingly large chunk of the country, he’s resorted, out of desperation, to menial labor in the North Dakota oil fields, where he repeated his mistake of asking questions and confessing ignorance. One of his coworkers scolded him, saying it's important that he pretend to know everything.

I tried to explain about people-who-seem versus people-who-are, but, bright though he is, it was too alien a concept for him. One of the last genuine people is being ground down into dust, and can't understand why. You could see that he was once handsome and hardy, but his shoulders were stooped and brow furrowed as he approached his latest two week unbroken shift of 15 hour days. He has bills to pay, so he, an intelligent man, must feign omniscience among know-nothings to hold on to his $20/hour job.

The photos are so, so much better if you click to expand:

A rural hunter with his wife in knickers (left) chat amiably with an Amish elder (second from right) and a Latino conductor (right) as we wait for more train ("more train"!) to be added on in Spokane. America's still America if you get off Twitter for a minute.

Unhealthy thoughts. The train paused in the middle of  western Montana for some reason and I swear to god the trees were inching toward us.

Whitefish Montana is by far the most tumultuous stop on the whole trip. I can't for the life of me figure out why so many people are trying to get into and out of Whitefish. Guess I missed the memo.

Snow-capped mountain (in July) in the distance. I'm at 3400 feet in Glacier National Park, and, thanks to the miracle of geo tagging, I've determined that this is 7,877 foot Mount Penrose.

The train needs to stop every couple hours to give smokers their moment. A significant percentage of riders seem to be smokers avoiding multi-hour trips without a fix. I walked the length of the train each time, averaging over 2 miles walking per day.

The juxtaposition of momentous travel with utterly banal detail is a big part of the delight. Welcome to our brief stop for leg-stretching and lung cancer in Havre, MT, home of Hammer'n Hank Tweeten's Auto Body. I hope Hank's doing okay.

Crossing the top of the Mississippi River.

Six hour layover in Chicago. No-brainer!

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