Wednesday, October 23, 2019

How Facebook Should Defend Permitting Political Lies

Mark Zuckerberg is facing heat from Congress and the media this week over his insistence that he has no choice but to allow Donald Trump to freely lie on his platform.

Much as I despise Facebook (and Donald Trump), his position strikes me as completely obvious. But I've actually moderated online content, so my vantage point is not normal. Here's how I see it (and how Facebook, if it communicated effectively, should put it):
Say we make a rule that no politician may lie on Facebook. And say an assemblyman from Topeka posts that parking ticket revenue has risen, when it's actually fallen. Must we catch that? And block it?

"That's trivial," you'd protest, and I'd agree. So...where do we draw the line? Exactly how obscure must a politician be, and how trivial their issue, for them to enjoy free reign for lying on Facebook?

Far more important than the impossible issue of where to draw the line is who draws the line. If a Facebook moderator subscribes to very widely-held conservative opinions, should they block liberal politicians from making what they view as false statements? For example, Donald Trump's loyalty to Putin/Russia may seem empirically obvious to you and I, but it is not yet a proven fact. Shall we censor any liberal (or never-Trump conservative) politician who declares Trump enthralled to Putin? Whose set of facts constitute "truth"? Who owns the yardstick?

Then there are other impossible muddles, such as the very soft boundaries between lies and ignorance, and between lies and opinion. Plus the fact that even the very definition of the word "lie" is open to interpretation.

We have a criminal justice system designed to winnow truth from lies. It's a difficult, ambitious process, and no one claims it's efficient, much less flawless. And even that gigantic undertaking restricts its purview in myriad ways. If its scope were expanded to address bad faith or malfeasance of any sort, in any context, that would be all we ever do as a country. It would swallow the rest of society. Honestly, there wouldn't be much left.

Facebook is worth a half trillion dollars. Even if we invested every cent into the task , it wouldn't be nearly enough to catch, judge, and expunge the lies."


Bugs in the Apple

Revelatory short article by a veteran Apple engineer on why known bugs often persist for years, even decades. This explains the sprawling, indignant threads in user forums that continue for years and years without relief.

I simply never thought of the primary reason: bug fixes can create new problems - perhaps worse ones. There's cost and uncertainty, so if a bug's not causing crashes or data loss, or specifically and conspicuously afflicting some splashy new product, its repair will be very, very low priority. I.e. fahgeddaboudit.

It makes sense. If you design and build an office tower, and, eight years later, it's become apparent that the building is a bit drafty, you wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of examining the structure, brick-by-brick to find the gaps. Even though frail old Mrs. Collins on the 16th floor recently perished from pneumonia. And even though tenants are installing space heaters to beef up the climate control.

The one factor not mentioned is the one I'd always imagined the most significant: a company at the scale of Apple can't worry about bugs that affect hundreds or even thousands of people. They think in millions. So they simply shrug at the aforementioned sprawling, indignant threads.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Rod Blagojevich Defense

This post, from February 2018, has stood up well:


Trump and his congressional henchmen are employing the Rod Blagojevich defense:

You've caught me dead to rights, I have no meaningful response or defense to offer, so I will spew vacantly pugnacious bluff, bluster, and bullshit to the bitter end.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Needing to Be Careful About What We Say

For those reading my previous posting, "Grossness Be Gone", in the future, context is necessary. Ten or twenty years ago, this would have read as a perfectly acceptable, though cheeky, commentary even among the fervid left.

Since then entire blocks of thought; of topic; of terminology have been walled off. One avoids even nodding in certain directions. Yet, like a fool who never got the memo, I plowed jeeringly right into it:
I am a white middle-aged man; a baby boomer. "Gross!", "gross!", "gross!", and "totally gross!". Hey, how can I defend the indefensible?

Thank heavens I'm also a Jew. That's awesome, because it stamps my victimization card. Best of all, no one would be caught dead calling me gross for being Jewish. That'd be racist!
Few would dare to write anything like this now, because, by current standards, it comes dangerously close to an assertion that white, male and boomer might be okay things to be. Such a declaration seems adjacent to white pride. It would be unsurprising at this moment in history for people to view it as a cavalier wink at Nazism...batshit crazy though that conclusion would be.

So I’m living dangerously. Monsters like me must be obliterated; forced to crawl up and die via mechanisms we've established for those beyond the pale (we're more extreme than the Soviets, who at least offered forced re-education with a pathway toward eventual reemergence, whereas our transgressors, e.g. Louis CK, are eternally banished). 

My point here is that while the right has gone absolutely nuts, it's not just them. An aberration in one group often augurs a broader issue, despite the impulse to pin it on one side. I believe this is such a circumstance. It’s nuts on both sides.

A few decades ago it was common for the left to call the right "fascists", and for the right to call the left "commies". I never understood such smears. The left at the time seemed to be urging us to treat people like people - whether minorities at home or foreigners deemed enemies by profit-oriented forces. And the right were mostly old-fashioned people lacking a sense of obligation to surrender traditional outlooks to conform to trendy moral pronouncements from distant elites. Different folks with different strokes, both understandable, and neither of them "Fascist" nor "Commie".

But now the right has ripped the veil off its fascism while the left has revealed its totalitarianism. Dark as this is, the very worst remains largely unconscious. We can feel it, our fears are keyed into it, and it controls our behavior, though we haven’t quite consciously confronted the truth of it:
We need to be careful what we say.
Cross the right, and you might activate the goons and be brutalized. Cross the left, and you risk being declared counterrevolutionary and have your livelihood/personhood stripped away. Both commies and fascists are finally coming into focus (and, unbeknownst to them, have much in common aside from tone, tribe, and terminology, e.g. Trump and Sanders both push the same buttons, stoking the very same populist anger and class resentment).

I'm not, of course, talking about “political correctness”, a quaint artifact of 1980s intellectual liberalism. This is vastly more alarming, and not restricted to the left. Consider my Muslim declaration, posted shortly after Trump’s election:
A Public Declaration
I'd like to publicly declare that I am a Muslim. I will continue to state this unequivocally even if we reach a point where it is no longer cute and facile to do so. I will not only submit to persecution and deportation, but I will avidly seek it out if that becomes federal policy. Do me first.
As I hit the “publish” button, I could sense the prickly alarm this would trigger among readers. Even in the riled-up aftermath of 9/11, such a declaration would have risked no actual danger. But in November, 2016 it did, at least a little...and still does.

On the other side of the political coin, yesterday's posting would have been acceptable 10 years ago, but presently it's only my obscurity that allows me to openly state such a view. I could be shunned; forever barred from polite society; from employment and opportunity to ply my talents. I'm a ticking time bomb.

There are things one simply doesn’t say now. We feel it in our bones. Even the fear itself can't be spoken of; meta-discussion feels dicey as well, so our limbic brains restrict behavior and expression. As in totalitarian leftist societies (e.g. USSR) or fascist rightist ones (e.g. Franco's Spain), one learns to shut one's mouth and tow certain lines. Those lines needn't be spelled out. We are made to sense them; to conform. Our limbic centers get the message.

To anyone under age 20, I must sadly explain that this is all new. This isn't how it always was. To the future, I warn: it sneaks up on you while you're consumed with hatred for The Other Side (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?). As stakes raise, values are discarded  and morality follows

The vast majority of us  - my fellow moderates who find themselves pushed into an increasingly pressurized ghetto of centrism, with precarious drop-offs on both sides - must push back. It's hard to resist fearful conformism and limbic line-towing. Yet we must.

Both left and right holler their heads off while moderates quietly ponder nuance - but that doesn't mean we must coddle the riled. Just because toddlers make a scene doesn’t require us to stoically go along. We do not need to cede to the idiots. I'm not suggesting an extremist path for moderates; that would be the ultimate foolishness. But principled resistance goes a very long way, and moderates have the numbers.


I've been talking around this point for several years, sensing that my efforts have struck readers as puzzlingly overblown. Has the message landed a bit more convincingly this time? If so, bear in mind that the lobster, in its lull, doesn't register boiling until it's too late.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Grossness Be Gone

I am a white middle-aged man; a baby boomer. "Gross!", "gross!", "gross!", and "totally gross!". Hey, how can I defend the indefensible?

Thank heavens I'm also a Jew. That's awesome, because it stamps my victimization card. Best of all, no one would be caught dead calling me gross for being Jewish. That'd be racist!

I finally see my course forward. I must grow a long beard and curly sideburns, wear a black hat and coat, and affect a Yiddish accent. But also retain my worldliness - which will seem refreshing ("he's a Jew who knows the best Carolina pulled pork places and who's played in top jazz groups!"). I should have done this years ago, but, finally, I'm movin' on up.



I once had a hellish date with a Marxist professor of Woke Studies (or whatever) who spent the first twenty minutes lecturing me about how white men are a toxic blight upon the world. When she finally paused to catch her breath, I pointed out that I, myself, am a white man. "Oh, no!" she cried, beaming at me with benevolent good will. "You're not white; you're Jewish!"

As so often happens on dates, I turned to the side camera, wryly cocked an eyebrow, and mumbled "check, please". But not a single titter from the clouds.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Morality

Something has always perturbed me about the widely-held assumption that humans are prone to either positive or negative emotions, intentions, and behavior.

It can't possibly be coincidence - can it? - that "positive"-oriented people are more likely to do the thing that benefits me.

Generous people share their pizza with me, and this makes me happy, which means you've acted positively! Good for you!

Empathy means you listen to my problems, which I enjoy, so, again: positive!

Wisdom helps you sort out my confusion. I feel better, which means you must be a positive person!

Negative human attributes afflict me when I'm doing well. If I'm sitting here with a nice hot pizza, and you're plotting ways to trick me into giving you some (e.g. via flattery), you're manipulative - a negative attribute! If you plague me with endless complaints, that's negative, too, as is your ignorant confusion. Figure it out!

People who help us with our problems are heroes. People who try to ensnare us into their drama are villains. We selfishly admire generosity of spirit.


I don't see a grand distinction between good and evil (for one thing, everyone who's ever tried to define a clean border has failed). I think we're all just following the dramatic storylines in our heads, setting ourselves on courses which gradually cycle us through all the various movie genres, where we do our best to aptly play out scenes that come up. As you know, my friend, there comes a time when a man must nobly straighten his spine and defend himself and his family...though you, on the other side of my rifle (and living out a completely different movie scene) view me as the monster who's about to turn your wife into a widow and your kids into orphans. The scene in one head seldom syncs with the scene in another’s. There's no superseding movie, no single calibrating point of moral truth, because we're all caught up, and spun out, in our myriad parallel individual experiences.

One thing's true, however: as one adopts a longer view/framing, wearing the drama more loosely, like a bemused observer rather than a galvanized participant, one does become more generous, empathic, and wise. This is because stakes no longer seem to be constantly rising and compelling unpleasant choices (consider my definition of character).

Another view

It's often noted that every villain's a hero in his own eyes. As we soak in the truth of this, there's a cold chill as we recognize the frightful degree that people can get themselves twisted up and lose all perspective. But recognizing this doesn't make you exempt (it just makes you observant). This is not a thing that only other people do.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ubiquity

Every few years some company you've never heard of achieves omnipresence all at once.
The prototypical example is Shen Yun. At some point their pamphlets and posters were plastered, en masse, in every bagel shop, tanning salon, and deli in America. If you look into it, it's a propaganda operation from the Falun Gong, which explains the persistence, but I still don't understand how they achieved instant-on ubiquity. One day we all welcomed Shen Yun into our lifescapes. Apple pie, cold beer, and Shen Yun. America!

A year or two ago, Hal's NY Potato Chips - neither good nor bad, just more frickin' potato chips - similarly appeared overnight. Suddenly every deli and convenience store and sandwich shop in the 'burbs north of NYC cleared their shelves of other brands, and it was all Hal's all the time everywhere.

How does this happen? Give me $10B and a mercenary army of gun-toting bad asses, and I still couldn't shift the potato chip lanscape or plaster the nation with Shen Yun like this (and no blood was shed, so far as I know), at least not with this speed and efficiency.

I once saw this roll out in a very personal way (I'm adapting a story previously told here)

When I was in high school, my family got takeout from Pudgie's Chicken and Ribs in Bethpage. Pudgie's was the prototypical mom-and-pop place, and it was great.

I woke up one day and Pudgie's was a large national chain (good, not great, though obviously the same basic recipes). I anxiously returned to the Bethpage location, and found a generic glossy chain iteration. Mom and pop were gone. Yet I heard they hadn't sold out. Somehow they were helming all this. I heard from multiple sources that they'd even funded it themselves. What???

It was wildly disorienting. Imagine if the Chinese take-out on your block suddenly became a sprawling franchise, mirrored from coast to coast, or if Emilio the guy at the bodega became "Emilio the Guy at the Bodega" for the entire nation. It's not supposed to work like that!

Pudgie's didn't work out. They sold the trademark and secret process patent, and all that remain are a handful of Pudgies/Arthur Treacher's hybrids and three standalone Long Island outlets. I pray that the original Bethpage store one day rematerializes; that they put it all back the way it was.

Ok, so now here's another. A Korea's largest food franchise operation, a fried chicken specialist, has suddenly swarmed the entire world (here are their US locations). They plan to have 50,000 outlets by 2020 (McDonalds has 38,000; Starbucks has 30,000).

Their Yelp reviews (e.g. this or this) mostly suck (aside from shill raves from users who've posted like two or three previous reviews), but quality issues can surely be overcome by clever marketing, as exemplified by their thoughtful tagline : "WE NOT MAKE CHICKEN; WE MAKE THE DIFFERENCE"

Their signature innovation is (per their "Why Different" page) that "At bb.q Chicken, we cook all our foods, especially CHICKEN, in olive oil." Apparently the "over 40 researchers studying days and nights with their whole effort" have never heard of smoke point[helpful correction from the Slog’s technical advisor Pierre: extra virgin may have a low smoke point - do not deep fry! - but ordinary olive oil would be fine. I’m so extra-virgincentric that I overlooked the obvious truth]

Anyway, I don't mean to harp on the sucky/dodginess angle. My real questions are these:

1. How do these guys do it?

2. If this can be done, why are not more people doing it? Why am I not waking up every day and finding the landscape everywhere transformed by previously unknown insta-metastasizing corporate operations?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Apple Arcade and Leff's Law of Green M&Ms

Leff's Law of Green M&Ms states that if you absolutely hate green M&Ms, you'll be increasingly horrified by larger and larger bowls of M&Ms, simply because there will be more green ones....even though the proportion remains the same.

Apple has this new Apple Arcade thing ("Play Extraordinary!"). $5/month buys you unlimited access to a big basket of games for all your various screens. No in-app purchases, either. I signed up, but I'm hardly making any use of it. Why? Because amid the dozens of games are a bunch that are not my thing.

I dislike super-realistic games. If I want to experience The World, I go outside. I look to video games for abstraction and for heightened, contrived experience. I don't want to have stilted conversation with uncanny valley characters so I can solve the mystery of the thing with the thing. I don't want an experience of The World, only crappier. I don't want to discover and build and learn when I still don't speak French and can't do a backflip.

But as I rifle through Apple Arcade, those sorts of games (trailer porn designed to look awesome in short demo clips) stick out conspicuously. And even though I'm aware of the Green M&Ms effect, I still can't control my psychology. It feels like that's what it is, and I don't visit much.

Not Paying the Asshole Tax

I just made two luxury purchases for pennies on the dollar:

An iPhone X, used, for $535 (256G of memory). It sold for $1,149 when it was released just two years ago. And this was the last model of iPhone to contain a Qualcomm modem; all subsequent models have very poor data performance with marginal connections. Also, the iPhone X's gorgeous OLED screen still hasn't been surpassed, even by the newly-announced iPhone 11 Pro.

This eye-catching KAI Sandwich Knife, specially-made for Williams Sonoma. Normally $25, but I grabbed the last one for just $9.99.

It dawns on me that it would be 180 degrees skewed to think of this as bargain shopping. On the contrary, buying new/shiny is elitism. And to be elite, one must pay an asshole tax.

We never need to pay the asshole tax, yet most of us usually do, for three reasons:
1. Path Of Least Resistance
It's easier to buy the shiny thing marketed in the shiny way that people are currently talking about...and it's hard to overstate our propensity to choose the expeditious route. It's always easiest to stay with the flock. (To me, mindless flocking is for assholes).
2. I Want It Now
...and I won't be denied.(Asshole!)
3. Status
There are two ways status impacts. The most familiar way is comparatively rare: "Look at me with my cool iPhone 11 Pro!" But there's a more quietly insidious status choice: I'm not the "type of person" who buys closeouts or other people's crappy cast-offs. It feels somehow "unclean", literally and/or figuratively. I've written before about how elitism often expresses this way, driving food and health movements like organics, boutique allergies, and locavorism. You can't be elite without elevation, and you can't elevate without distinguishing your perch from the filth. (ASSHOLE!)
If you're not in it for status, or to indulge momentary impulses, and you're applying your brain, you can spend a lot less. But you're not saving money, you're simply declining to pay the Asshole Tax.

It's not easy to reframe one's consumerism. After hundreds of billions of dollars worth of marketing hypnosis, and a lifetime of contagious conformity, one must firmly shake off murkily unchallenged assumptions and aspirations.


See also "Transformed Attitude Toward Travel" explaining how I travel very frequently and very non-sensationally for a mere pittance.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Seriously, Buy LED Bulbs

I raved about Cree's LED light bulbs back in 2014, when I found them for the cheap price of $9.97 per bulb. They're still expensive everywhere but Home Depot, which these days normally sells them for $7.86 for a two-pack, but right now Home Depot in NY Tristate has them for just $4.36 for a two-pack (after instant rebate from Con Ed).

I hated fluorescent bulbs, and bought a bunch of incandescents when it looked like we'd be forced into miserable lives bathed with sickly light. At this price, I may as well just throw away what remains of that stock.

Rated best LED bulb by TheWireCutter, don't buy these because they'll help save the planet (using 83% less energy than incandescent). Buy them because they're as good as incandescents and you won't need new ones until young Barron Trump enters office. With a 22 year lifespan, replacing bulbs is no longer a thing (the warranty's only for ten years, though...save your receipt!). Search around online, and you can find odd and decoratively shaped LEDs to swap out for fancy bulbs.

But these replace ordinary household bulbs (i.e. "A19"). You'll want the soft white 2700K, linked above, for the most incandescent-style result, though you might prefer the Daylight/5000K version for the same price. Cree also makes cheap 40 watt equivalent bulbs in Soft White or in Daylight, or 75 watt equivalent bulbs in Soft White or in Daylight.


Nice extra benefit, seldom mentioned: they don't get hot.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Brevity is a Whit of Soul

Considering the typical ponderousness of this effort, there are a surprising number of pithy postings for those not in the mood for a slog.

Have a look at postings tagged "definitions" (it's interesting to read the one titled "Intelligence, Wisdom, Creativity" from 2013, where my definition of creativity is obviously reaching for the notion of perceptual framing. I'd not yet framed my framing!), or tagged "Leff's Laws".

Or check out the slew of extracted one-liners from the 2014 posting "Uncommon Terseness".

Friday, October 4, 2019

Knowing 1. The Best Taco, and 2. The Best Explanation for the Biden Conspiracy

tldr: Skip down to the 30 second video offering the only smart explanation I've seen as to what Trump's up to with this frothy ditzy Biden conspiracy thing.

To understand why you hadn't previously heard this evident truth - and why lots of dumber takes continue to run rampant - read from the top.



My central message (and dilemma) in my brief existence on this planet has been a simple one: cream doesn't float.

Nearly everyone has the daft idea that society has systems in place to elevate greatness and smart solutions and truth. If the little Italian restaurant down the block from my office were anything special, I'd have heard about it. If someone had developed a brilliant solution to an intractable problem, we'd seize upon it. If anyone ever figured It all out, humanity would take notice and level up.

Nope. Your neighbor, the would-be-novelist, will almost surely not be the toast of the literary town even if his output is unbridled genius. And the answers to important questions may be blowing in the wind, but they will likely not be noticed (and, if they were, they'd most likely be misunderstood and/or undervalued). Fantastic eateries serve superb food without the slightest interest from the wider world. Humanity isn't underperforming, it just has no effective way to recognize and elevate the good stuff.

It's as clear as day to me. Consider the fact that famous food, music, movies, etc., are often shitty (i.e. non-greatness elevates) and that worthy efforts often fail from lack of interest (i.e. greatness fails to elevate). Crap wins and treasure loses. We see these results time and again, right before our eyes, and yet we still imagine that cream rises.

I built a web site devoted to the observation that unheralded culinary greatness hangs heavy on the branches, awaiting discovery and admiration. Treasure hunters were recruited and energized, and thousands of little-known treasures were cataloged and celebrated. Yet the general public persists in the misperception that if something were great, we'd have heard about it.

Food writer Jonathan Gold complained bitterly about how a more famous writer once swept into East LA for an afternoon to determine "the best taco in East LA". The nabe's huge enough to make this an absurd proposition, but the guy anointed some essentially random taco, while Gold watched with endless contempt, having spent years deeply cataloging the area (followup: years later, Gold got himself a prominent writing gig and swept into Jackson Heights - which I'd spent years deeply cataloging - for a day to anoint some random Colombian empanada the best in the nabe).

The journalists, gatekeepers and tastemakers are terrific at seeming authoritative, but they're lazy shleps, every one of them. They miss great stuff, and over- or undervalue, or misunderstand, what they do bump into. And this holds true for every single element in the human experience. Whatever the realm, someone may know the answer, but society is not a funnel for amplifying and disseminating truth. That's just not how it works. The truth that's pushed front-and-center inevitably hinges on the pushing rather than the truthing. Cream doesn't simply float.

So anyway, here's the lonely voice of pundit Eugene Robinson explaining what Trump's up to with this Joe Biden conspiracy theory no pro-Trumper has even attempted to try to sensibly explain (here's a smart explanation of the utter stupidity from an anti-Trumper).



It didn't get picked up. Robinson's observation hasn't been hoisted into the wider conversation - in fact, the smart host and guests on that show betrayed no particular interest (they had their own less-smart takes to sell). But it's the first and only smart take I've seen on the matter.

Friday, September 27, 2019

(Healthy) Oatmeal Breakthrough

I always feel hesitant to start my day with oatmeal or other porridge. Even though I use milk rather than water, I'll still be ingesting a carb bomb, and I feel better when I've carefully balanced fat, carbs, and protein in a meal. If I don't just eat healthily, but also carefully balance those elements, I can experience a whole other realm of culinary satisfaction; a feeling of well-being not available from scarfing barbecue or rice balls.

Weight lifters address the issue by adding protein powder to their cereal, but...yech. Anyway, here's what I did:

When oatmeal is a couple minutes shy of done, lay in 2 or 3 egg whites, dust with a couple pinches of salt (assuming you didn't add salt previously; if so, make it just one pinch) and just a bit of butter or olive oil. Cover the pot and leave the egg whites sitting atop the cereal for a couple minutes. Then, before the eggs have thoroughly solidified, strenuously mix it into the cereal. Stir like a demon. Then cover and let it sit unheated for a couple minutes (you should always let porridge sit, anyway). There's more than enough ambiant heat to finish cooking the eggs.

The result is way better than I'd imagined. First, the egg whites transform the texture, lightening it all up. It would make sense if this were a souffle, but I certainly didn't expect to get that effect here. I love porridge, but the last few bites can feel like a chore, as the heavy texture and earthy flavor begin to feel tedious. The tedium's gone; every bowl gets a racing finish.

And it's more satisfying. Those who carefully balance fat/protein/carbs have experienced the sublime sense of satisfaction this produces (and also how a disproportionally fatty, carby, or protein-y meal leaves you with cravings that ripple forward for hours). Cooked this way, you get that satisfaction. It's like the final piece of the porridge puzzle.

Banana note: if you cook your bananas in from the start, as I do, this absolutely still works - even with the sweet/salty. I'm not sure how this would work with fresh fruit. I wouldn't get too fancy with multiple fruits, granola, yogurt, etc. At least not to start. Try this just with bananas and see what you think.


3 egg whites = 11g protein
1 cup milk = 8g protein
For context, 1 chicken breast = 31g protein

Thursday, September 26, 2019

White House Chain Reaction in Progress

On Tuesday, I dismayed about the Democrats overplaying their hand and falling into a trap. Just 48 hours later, this has become a much bigger, deeper story. Showing cognizance of guilt, Trump had buried the Ukrainian call transcript in a facility normally reserved for matters of highest state security. And there appear to be a slew of transcripts so interred...and a scad of WH staffers know about it.

To my eye, disgusting as this is, it's still not much more damning than behavior in the Mueller Report which did nothing to turn moderate Republican voters (whose support for the administration, however ambivalent, is what's kept Republican politicians obeisant to Dear Leader).

But the current chain-reacting mushroom cloud of news is something new; unprecedented in the short annals of the Orange Throne. It just might trigger a critical turn where the perennial trickle of White House leaks turns into a panicky gusher. As the wry Quinn Cummings just put it on Twitter,
If so, perhaps McConnell miscalculated (there's a phrase one doesn't often see) in rushing the transcript and whistleblower report to public view to coax Democrats into his trap. If the White House staff finally gushes, moderate Republican voters may finally turn around (nothing could shake fervid MAGAs), and there's a remote possibility of conviction in the Senate.

For now, that's merely an unlikelihood (WH staff rebellion) which might trigger an unlikelihood (moderate Republican detachment) which might trigger an enormous unlikelihood (two-thirds majority of the Republican-led Senate votes to convict). But by tonight, at this rate, who knows?

Blue Crow Media


I've been a fan of London's Blue Crow Media for a long time, since I discovered their "Craft Beer New York" smart phone app. It's hard to offer subjective guidance in an app or guidebook - you need to convey an authentically personal-but-knowledgeable voice while being manageably succinct - and their work impressed me.
For those unaware, I recently created my own subjective guidance app, "Eat Everywhere", which coaches you through the ordering/eating experience for every nationality.
Blue Crow subsequently moved out of apps and into maps, and their work remains just as smart and tasteful. The maps feel like your birthday; crisp, luxe paper; deep, interesting colors; and admirably thoughtful design with great attention to detail. If you appreciate the meticulousness of a Steve Jobs or Stanley Kubrick, but reject the up-market fetishist pretension plied by too many of their disciples, this stuff is for you. No single item costs over £20, and most are £8 or £9.

Topics are largely design or architectural; pure geek bait like Art Deco maps for London or New York (they need to add Miami!), Brutalist maps of Boston and London, Concrete maps of Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Tokyo, Toronto, and Melbourne. And lots more. Not many companies (especially UK-based!) would have the cheek to create a "Modernist Detroit Map", and the adeptness to really pull it off.

This isn't stuff I know a lot about, and one can’t look to these maps as primers. They're all-business, plunging right in without much background info. Yet one needn't be a stern Estonian draftsman with expensive wire-rimmed frames to catch the bug. I’m pretty ignorant of both Modernism and Belgrade, yet I hanker for the Modernist Belgrade map, and would use it to make a beeline for the city (once I spot a crazy-low fare).

Blue Crow's most recent offering is a New York Subway Architecture & Design Map. On one side of the thick, starchy cream/grey paper there's a stylized subway map, resembling the familiar one but a bit less data-dense and much more beautiful. As with much of Blue Crow's work, conventional detail is traded off for something less tangible - flair and framing. The important elements remain; knowing what to leave out is an art. On the flip side lies the good stuff: a dense grid of brief descriptions of four dozen station design fixtures and touches that I, as a lifelong New Yorker, barely knew existed. I was only dimly aware that the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station features a Dutch gable, terracotta, Roman brick, limestone and granite ("Artist George Trakas and architects di Domenico + Partners added a stylized nautical gantry below the interior skylight"). Read in book form, this might seem dry. But packed into the back of a cool map, you want to jump into the subway and tour one's own hometown with fresh eyes.

Traveling away from home, it's helpful to have an orienting framework to start from. I'm not a fan of dashing from tourist mecca to tourist mecca, and soaking vibe from a random park bench only goes so far. These maps provide a basis for taking in a grand new city, and, really, one's basis can just as well be anything, so I treat these as geographic granfalloons. Taking in a city requires a map. And these are maps I love and trust, even if there's nary a taco recommendation.

I also own the 2020 Brutalist calendar, which itself is a brutalist artifact: squat, grey, and authoritative; as implacable as if it were built out of exposed concrete block. I'll actually put this one on a wall (previously I've only gone to that length for yucks, with industrial laundry calendars, horrid Chinese takeout calendars, etc).

As with their Craft Beer app, I find myself carried along by the evident enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. It's a magic trick, and I live for magic tricks. Order a couple of pieces and you'll see what I mean...and might even find yourself enticed into design/architecture nerdom.

Being UK-based, shipping charges can add up. Join their mailing list and you can order scads of maps whenever they offer a "free shipping everywhere" sale. Perhaps one day they'll grow to the point where they add a satellite warehouse in Omaha, and/or I can impulse-buy from Amazon.

While my interests and curiosities run broad, I'm only moderately a map guy and not at all an architecture/design person. So this is sort of like a cat endorsing a waterpark. But I find that my keenest appreciation springs when infectiousness kindles my preferences rather than vice-versa. I'm especially fond of beloved examples from realms which ordinarily leave me cold. Blue Crow Media's stuff brings that infectiousness.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The "R" Word

I like the word "retarded". This, of course, is a problem. I don't use it often, but there are situations where I feel called to invoke the voice of a jaded teen circa 1973, and nothing else gets the job done quite as well.

I know I'm not supposed to. There's a societal consensus on this, and, of course, writers and artists must always heed consensus preferences. That's our role: keep our heads down, tow the line, and stay within the bounds of politesse. Don't be bad. That's how artists roll. I get that.

But I'm not clear on the reasoning. I suppose the word is offensive to genuinely retarded people, but that usage doesn't even exist - the afflicted having been renamed - so I'm at a loss as to whom it offends, exactly. Perhaps simply non-smart people? I guess we don't want to attach a stigma to the lack of intelligence. But if so, why can I still say "stupid", or "moron", or "dope", or "lunatic"? Why can I freely shower my writing with "shmuck", "putz", "idiot", and "imbecile"?

I'd imagine the answer would be "Well, you shouldn't! These are highly negative, insulting and hurtful words, so they all should be avoided!"

Again, it's not that I'm not eager to diligently update my adherence to trendy social norms of expression. I just want to sensitively parse the ever-shrinking boundaries. So I have two questions:

1. Why is intelligence special? Shouldn't we proscribe "ugly", "clumsy", "untalented", "smelly", "limp-dicked", "flat-chested", and the many other terms stigmatizing deficiency and otherness?

2. Where do we draw the line? Frankly, "retarded" doesn't strike me as all that extreme ("moron" and "dope" bear far more venom). It's mostly just snide. So shall we expunge all snide speech, for example the description of a singer as "horrendously out-of-tune"? That's undeniably hurtful, no? Shouldn't she be "otherwise-tuned"?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Explaining Today's Political Mysteries

I've watched news hosts all day expressing puzzlement over why Mitch McConnell (along with 100% of Senate Republicans) is supporting release of the whistleblower complaint...and (as if they're unrelated!) the administration allowing the testimony plus promising to release the Ukraine call transcript. MSNBC's Chris Hayes "wonders whether there's some strategy at play I can't see" (he makes $6M/year, by the way).

The normally thoughtful and earnest Adam Schiff claimed they're frightened by the "big club" of impeachment. Schiff's either lying or he's dumb as a rock. I'm honestly not sure which.

Here's how this will go down. It's exactly the trap Pelosi struggled to avoid:
  • The whistleblower will testify and it will be horrific.
  • The Ukraine call transcript will be released and it will be horrific.
  • The House will impeach.
  • The Senate will acquit.
  • The way will be cleared for 2020 with Dems having shot their wad and collapsed into an impotent heap.
  • Incensed Republican voters (including suburbanites who don't love Trump, wear MAGA hats, or dream of torturing brown children) will FLOCK to the polls in 2020, energized by what seems to be an attempt to procedurally overturn their 2016 electoral will.
  • Democrats, demoralized, splintered, and still repelling moderates by raving about late term abortions, gun seizures, slavery reparations, and trillions in new spending, lose the election.
Trump and McConnell want to complete this cycle ASAP, giving themselves a nice clean environment for the election. Facilitate the impeachment, recognizing that many/most Dem voters are unaware that an impeached president faces NO CONSEQUENCES, so, without Senate conviction post-impeachment, Trump's sole punishment would be shame....to which he's psychologically immune. Some Dems do understand the process, yet still demand impeachment because emotions.

So it will happen, it will fail, and he will win. Enjoy.

Grief Survival Kit

I'm replaying this popular posting from December 2017 because I've added new writing, indented, towards the end.


This works for all forms of grieving - not just for departed loved ones. Feel free to pass it on to someone in need, or bookmark for a future moment. See also the Depression Resuscitation Kit.


To be clear, it's ok to feel sad. Grieving is natural. I'm not suggesting that we should be cold, emotionless robots. But I write this with one important assumption: that you aren't trying to fall in love with your pain. You're not using this sad moment to milk drama and stoke self-pity. You feel bad...and you'd honestly like to feel better. If so, this will help. If not, the following will upset you by minimizing exactly what you're trying to maximize! So consider carefully before proceeding.

Here's the question which you must ask yourself - relentlessly, again and again: What is real, and what isn't? Keep shaving off all the layers of untruth and drama. Slice away until you get to the real part, and then let that hurt (open yourself all the way to this pain; don't deflect it). You do not need to find fake reasons for heightening your pain. Deal with what's real.

Below are a few typical falsehoods (there are many more). They're things we've seen people saying in movies, so we have an unconscious urge to say them, ourselves. But they're just empty memes:

"Poor him/her!"
Whatever you believe regarding afterlife, your dearly departed is certainly not hurting. You can repeat "Poor him/her" ad infinitum, making yourself more and more miserable, but it's not a real thing. You're just hypnotizing yourself, and that's self-indulgence, not grief. "Poor him/her" is not true. Slice it off.

"She/he will never get to see/do X"
We, the living, miss out on things all the time. I'll never play quarterback for the Jets, and most likely none of us will celebrate our grandchildren's 75th birthdays. So what? This isn't the sort of thing we particularly sweat, so why would it be any more so for the dead? And if someone checks out at a low point, missing the happy turnaround, well, that's just normal odds! How many ecstatic peaks have you experienced? And would you have been particularly happy to have died during one them?

So young!
We all die young (at heart, we're the same person we were since we first opened our eyes; we only pretend to be grown-up). This meme, too, has to do with a person's "story", not the actual person. It's not real. Beneath the story-telling, we are ageless presences who watch stuff unfold. This, from their point of view, was just another thing that unfolded - and unfolds for each of us. It's not dramatic in any way. Don't try to make it so.

What a lousy way to go!
Accounts of gristly deaths used to really upset me. But I'm old enough now to have actually lived through some gristly stuff, and you know what? It was all just stuff. Broken bones and root canals seriously hurt! But such things don't ruin our lives. We get through them, and relief follows. Rest assured all suffering's over. It's natural to sympathize with pain, but, question: Did you sob for days when your cousin broke her ankle skiing?

I'll miss him/her.
Ok, now that's real. And that's all that's real. Everything else is just stuff you're telling yourself to heighten the drama and pain. Stay with what's real, open up to it, and let it subside, gradually, to a more manageable level. That's actual grieving, not cinema. Stay with the true!
A couple of years later, having lost my mother, I see that there's still more falsehood to be shaved off. Even "missing" isn't entirely real.

I find myself missing her in instances where I could use guidance or an opinion...and then I remember that I can no longer turn to her for that, and feel a sense of loss and disconnection. Very sad, no? But here's the bizarre thing: I never sought out my mother's guidance. That wasn't her thing (she had other good attributes). She was never that sort of mother, even in her prime, and she hadn't been in her prime for a quarter century. Yet, every few days, I find myself crestfallen about losing something I never actually had!

We all hold a "Mother" idea (in an apron, with cherry pie cheeks and benevolent, nurturing smile) deep in the recesses of our imagination. And a "Father" and a "Child" and a "Husband" and a "Wife". They're images/ideals which may resemble the actual person only coincidentally, if at all. And since an imaginary image never dies, there's no reason to miss it. Deal with the loss of the actual person!
The impulse to torture ourselves with dramatized falsehoods has nothing to do with the departed. It's entirely about our own internal issues. Consider this: if death's so unthinkable (because living's so wonderful), then why would you pollute your precious alive time with unnecessary drama? If the departed saw you doing this, they'd slap their foreheads and holler "Stop! That's just crazy! Don't do that!! Especially not in my name!" They'd want you to mourn for a while, and then go out there and kick ass, relishing every moment.


Resilience is related.

Monday, September 23, 2019

You Can't Ever Be Famous

I ran into an old friend who's a bit famous now and appears to desperately crave more fame. Unable to control myself, I offered a provocative observation.

"You can't ever be famous."

Of course, he received this in the least thoughtful way, and began to explain how, dude, he's already famous.

"Which part of you is famous, though? Your elbows? Your ear lobes? Are your armpits famous?"

He thought it over, and replied "All of me!"

"No. Not all of you. Hardly even part of you. All that can be famous is your name. The label. And you're not the label. You're a three-dimensional person with an inner life and complex backstory. You're not your nametag (weren't you you before you had a name?), and only your name can be famous."

"My name is famous because of who I am and what I've done!"

"Are you sure of that? Let me ask you something. Are you a film fan?"

"No, not really."

"Good! You've heard of Ingmar Bergman, of course."

"Yes."

"Have you seen any of his filmes?"

"Nope."

"Good! Ok, say you're at a dinner part and Ingmar Bergman turned out to be sitting next to you. Would you be excited?"

"Sure! He's a major figure!"

"So without ever having seen his work or knowing anything about him, you'd nonetheless feel eager and appreciative?"

"Lots of people who do know his work love him, I know that."

"But are you sure they do? Maybe they caught a film in college, years ago, and have utterly forgotten it...mostly remembering the mere act of remembering it. Maybe they hollowly mention his name to make themselves seem savvy. And of those who've made a serious study of Bergman, how many have really keyed in and gotten him - fully appreciating not just the movies as movies but his unique personal contribution in any deep way? Maybe a few hundred, max. And of them, how many know the actual man, beyond interviews and such? How many know what he likes for breakfast?"

"You're being ridiculous!"

"Am I? Back in the Chowhound days, I met a slew of people who recognized my name, got slightly breathless (embarrassing me at first, when I still assumed it had something to do with actual me), and then began chatting me up about, like, trendy restaurants, making it clear they had no idea of me or my work. Just the name. And the name's enough, because that's where the fame hangs; on the name.

Even those with actual familiarity rarely/never showed deep recognition beyond a sense of my voice and vibe. 99% of fame attaches to a name tag, and the remainder - the best case scenario! - recognizes an overarching vibe; an aroma. And that obviously is not who we are. That's why I say a person can't be famous."

"Well, I don't need complete appreciation. I'm happy just to have my name out there!"

"Great! But, then, I have a suggestion: Buy yourself a dozen parakeets, and train them to speak your name. You'll hear those words ringing out unceasingly."
I know several mothers who trained their toddlers, early on, to rotely utter "I love you, Mommy," encouraging this behavior via standard psychological feedback actions (none was so gauche as to hand out cookies, like rewarding a dog for heeling, but they all came awfully close). The parakeet thing is not so far-fetched.

See also:
"Fans"
"Obama's Way (and the Dissociation of Fame)"
"Explaining Salinger"

Survival Bias, Supermodels, and Worldly Algorithms

Does everyone's worldly existence unfold according to the same rules and probabilities? The question has consumed me since childhood. If disliked people turned kindly, would they be admired? If self-destructive people took better care of themselves, would their lives be smooth? Is the world, in other words, a clean algorithm where input determines output, or do some of us experience irrevocably different results (above/beyond chance and initial circumstance)?

I once read an interview with a supermodel who claimed that her beauty stems from her inner self. She thinks positively; she cares for herself and treats other people right; she does yoga. And, voila: heart-stopping beauty. Anyone can be beautiful, she insisted, but it was easy to recognize the real message behind the platitude: the problem with the rest of us isn't genetic, it's that we're simply not doing life right. And she's not just lucky, she's better, generally. Daffy though it sounds, this is a natural conclusion from the widely-held assumption that we all share a constant input/output formula.

It's not just about beauty. There's a survival bias that makes people who've succeeded in any particular realm assume they deserve credit - and, more generally, done life correctly. You must, of course, ignore mountains of evidence: people with immense inner beauty who look like hell; people with super-smart ideas that failed; people who prayed/believed and were kicked in the ass; people with impeccable courtesy and empathy who spent their lives being sneered at; people who dieted, exercised, and thought positively and got cancer.

If the rules were constant, that would mean recluses, for example, are failures for not having done better. They clearly missed the normal marks normal people hit to get normal worldly results. If they'd adjusted their input, the output would have been more pleasing. They had the same potential as anyone, but failed to make it happen.

At this age, having known a huge swathe of people - from movie stars to crackheads, angels to murderers - and having been, myself, at least a half dozen people, plying diverse careers amid diverse circles - I can state with certainty that it's absolutely not the same for everyone. So those who've been trounced do not necessarily have no one but themselves to blame. Recluses aren't always hapless failures, and their choice might even make sense. One can't possibly understand their experience by projecting one's own. The results of identical effort vary very widely.


Notes
1. That was my first use of the word "irrevocably" in ten years of slogging. High five.

2. This was absolutely not a political treatise. I'm no kind of Marxist; I find it condescending and morally perilous in nearly all cases to lower standards for "those poor dears who simply can't keep up." That wasn't my point at all. I confess, however, that this sort of observation led me to give up Libertarianism - the favored philosophy of the smugly successful and the ultimate projection of survival bias.


3. Successful people who smugly assume they "made it happen" not only ignore the multitudinous unrewarded virtue and unrecognized talent out there. They also ignore their own copious flaws and blocks and issues. Each and every one of them, had they failed, would be ripe and abundant pickings for explaining why.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The New iPhones Feel Like iPad Nanos

I said a couple of days ago that while the new iPhones look amazing, I'd be opting for a secondhand iPhone X to replace my iPhone 7. I got a chance to try out an iPhone 11 Pro for a few days, though, and while the reception is as bad as I feared in borderline areas (it's fine if there's a strong signal), here were my other findings.

1. I have some games (e.g. PacMan 256 and Strategery) I only play on iPad, and would never think to try on a smaller-screen. But playing them on the intense, generous OLED screen of the 11 Pro was astonishingly comfortable. For the same reason, reading is much more enjoyable on the 11 Pro than on the 7.

2. Audio on the 11 Pro is incredible; totally blowing away even my iPad. I realize they compute the wazoo out it (same for the camera, which does its work much more via algorithmic calculation than lensing and aperture), and, sure enough, the processing is flagrant; nobody's idea of natural - much less audiophile - sound. But it nonetheless feels richly intimate and "wow". It blew me away.

3. After three days with the 11 Pro, I curiously don't feel disappointed returning (temporarily) to my iPhone 7. It's exactly like putting down an iPad and picking up an iPhone. The larger screen size of the 11 Pro; plus the "big-boy" sound/audio; plus the weighty heft of the thing; plus the easier readability; all contribute to make it feel much more like an iPad. It's sort of like an iPad Nano.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Irritating Aristocrats via the Provocation to Think

Readers are unhappy when I write at length. It seems like I'm indulgently running my mouth. Blah blah blah.

Yet readers also dislike dense writing. If their food isn't cut up for them, pre-masticated, and spit down their gullets, it all feels opaquely impenetrable.

The two complaints are in flat contradiction, of course (unpacking dense writing requires ample space), which has bugged me, but I finally realized I'd been overthinking it (speaking of which, have you noticed that I changed the Slog's tagline, above, a few months ago?). I learned long ago to pay little attention to people's explanations for why they do things. Stated self-explanations are usually just retroactive self-justification.

So what's being justified here? Readers don't want to make an effort, period. Lengthy writing requires effort. Succinctly dense writing requires effort. From my standpoint, I'm damned either way, but, from their standpoint, they're just not super into the whole thinking/learning thing, which makes my stuff seem exasperating.
The third way for a reader to justify disinterest in making an effort is to label anything profound, mind-bending, and/or assumption-challenging "philosophy", per the introduction here. "I'm not interested in philosophy" is a euphemism for "Don't expect me to show interest in anything beyond slickly predigested snarky tidbits."
There are two strands: 1. lazy unwillingness to input, process, and think; and 2. aversion to anything that might challenge assumptions or change minds. Re: the latter, we've reached the endgame of confirmation bias. People can only tolerate wee semantic nuggets aligning with foregone conclusions. They don't wish to to consider anything baked fresh, especially when it conflicts with prior assumptions, which feel inviolable.

It helps to bear closely in mind that everyone in the First World at this point functions as a Mrs. Howell-ish aristocrat. That's what makes our assumptions and opinions feel sacrosanct. Those things are the very foundation of me, and I am very, very special.


I'm friends with a lot of Guatemalan and Ecuadoran immigrants. They're extremely sensible and level-headed - they know how to actually get stuff done and get out of their own damned way - and not one of them displays this absurd and unearned confidence in their every assumption, conclusion, and intuition. They're not special radiating beings. They don't imagine they fart pixie dust. They're more like sincere, committed worker ants. I, too, am a worker ant, and I vehemently believe (as any sincere, committed worker ant would, I suppose) that that's the best approach and that everyone else has utterly Lost Perspective.

Obligatory reality check: Of course, it might be that my writing isn’t worth the effort. Don’t imagine for a second that I fail to seriously entertain the possibility, and use it to coax myself to do my very best. At this point, I am, for the first time in my life, mildly satisfied with the work I’m doing. And while that’s likely as high as my self-assessment can go, I remain open to the possibility that it still isn’t worth readers’ effort. Maybe I can do better!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Apple Catch-Up

Lots to catch up with, Apple-wise. I'll touch briefly upon the new iPhones, iOs 13, Apple Arcade, and the stock price:

Stock
I bought a slew of AAPL stock last January when it dropped to $145, and will sell after it levels off (I'm hoping for $250), once my purchase is a year old so I can pay low long term gain taxes. I've done this a half dozen times now; it's mostly how I pay the bills. Rinse and repeat. As I've explained a zillion times (most recently here):
The risk is that it won't recover next time - that the most successful company in the history of the world, sitting on a cash pile of $250 billion, will shrivel up and die because of some fleeting issue.

I just don't see that as a real risk. That cash hoard alone - which doesn't even do anything! - dwarfs the total market value of all but seven other corporations. Apple could throw their entire mega-successful business in the garbage and buy Starbucks, Boeing, and Goldman Sachs. If customers update their iPads more slowly than expected, or a phone antenna doesn't work properly, or a new product line undersells expectations, that's just not going to cause a death spiral. I'm not saying they'll be dominant forever...but the downside of buying at Apple's inevitable 30% bullish downturns strikes me as minimal.
iPhone 11
The new iPhones are wonderful, and will be a huge hit - especially the 11 Pro. However there's one aspect that's been mostly under-radar amid all the hype: they use weak Intel modems. These modems caused reception issues with the XR and XS, and there's no reason to expect the new models to be much better. If you're mostly on wifi, no biggie, but I'll upgrade my iPhone 7 to an iPhone X - two models back - and enjoy the good Qualcomm modem (note: some, not all, iPhone 8 and iPhone X have the right modem. Qualcomm modem phones have a model number of A1865, while ones with Intel modems have a model number of A1901). I'll buy on eBay from someone with 100% feedback, years of eBay history, and thorough photos and descriptions. I haven't gotten burned yet.

iOs 13
If you already have an iPhone or iPad, don’t upgrade to iOs13. It's buggy. Wait for v 13.1, which comes out in a week or so. Maybe even wait for 13.2.

Also, I'm a fan of the "Take Control" series of books on Apple tech, and this guide to iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 will surely be helpful. As is the screencast by the great Don McAllister of ScreenCasts Online, a service I highly recommend. Here's a preview of the iOS/iPadOS 13 screencast, which you can watch in its entirety if you sign up for a free 7-day trial.

Apple Arcade
For $4.99/month, Apple Arcade lets you play zillions of amazing games on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and/or Apple TV, with none of the in-app-purchases that have been ruining gaming. I'm normally more of an ala carte consumer, preferring to ferret out treasures one-by-one - but this is irresistible, even though I'd never play more than a small fraction (I particularly loathe super-realistic "real world" games - they're either make me hyper-aware of the cheesy shortfall, or else they're creepy in an uncanny valley way and make me wonder why I'm not just outside doing stuff). Check out this two minute supercut trailer:



Monday, September 16, 2019

Those Annoying Teens

It's odd that we knock teenagers for being sullen and moody when they're expected to remain celibate for years after puberty.


How many 30 or 40 year-olds, under a fraction of that hormonal load, could manage this while being bright-eyed delights for those around them?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Why is Deliciousness So Rare?

Why isn't deliciousness more common, considering that we finally enjoy:
  • Omnipresent availability of nearly every imaginable ingredient.
  • Immense widespread knowledge about cooking techniques once guarded as professional secrets, plus common familiarity with techniques of other cultures.
  • A public that appreciates deliciousness much more than ever (prior to the 1990's rich people dined out mostly as an expression of status and non-rich people were mostly content with basic nourishment - deliciousness being a welcome yet unnecessary parameter for both).
  • Massively advanced food science, fed by multibillion-dollar R&D budgets.
  • Food lovers no longer being considered fussy weirdos. Now that the jocks and the cool kids can be "into food", chowhounds and foodies no longer seem so ditzy.
For one thing, it seems certain at this juncture that delicious cooking doesn't scale; it can't be produced by chain restaurants. If McDonald's could offer scrumptiousness, they'd have done so long ago (wouldn't it be fantastic if McDonald's was great?). If a mid-level family restaurant chain could turn out poached chicken breast or lasagna with the ability to make customers moan with pleasure, they certainly would have. Chains can hire outstandingly talented chefs to create recipes, and leading scientists to innovate processes ensuring a faithful rendering, and yet, it's still all crap. 100% crap across the board, despite vast advances and money and science and economies of scale. It's at least edible, sure; edible drek that can be fluffed and lit and marketed to not detract from a wider brand experience. But it's drek nonetheless.
Popeye's fried chicken is pretty good, yeah, but it's more mindlessly crunchy/greasy/brain-stem-pleasurable than truly delicious. Just try any of their inert side dishes (or their cringe-inducing biscuits) to see the hard limits. Popeye's chicken seems to represent the ceiling of what's possible, quality-wise, in a large chain, and it's really not that good.

I know there are those who insist McDonald's french fries are damn good, but compare them to fries produced by a talented fry cook and I know which batch you'll ignore.
The problem is that there's no talent in the kitchen at a McDonald's or Applebee's or Olive Garden. Just low-priced drone cooks following strict procedures backed by infinite money, research, and industrial design. While it may all flow from genuine talent atop the pyramid in some industrial kitchen somewhere, even the cleverest procedures can't mass-produce deliciousness. This should have been conceded by now (instead, biz types mostly just define deliciousness down).

But while chains are a big slice of the food service pie, there are still countless venues where professional cooks cook. Alas, these mostly pretty much suck, too.

As a picky mo-fo, I'd go so far as to declare the vast majority of celebrated hipster pop-up Yelp-5-star chow more shticky than toothsome. Even the rarified top echelon of today's culinary heap, the pricy, much-lauded tasting menu temples, inevitably leave me cold. They can be extraordinarily competent, but mere competence - even diligent, meticulous competence - cannot yield deliciousness. Deep training and luxe ingredients can't make me go "Mmm", much less lose my mind. Never forget that The Sainted Arepa Lady used supermarket margarine, and I've never found a way to spend my way to her level of aesthetic devastation.

So why isn't food better? Why is deliciousness still such an aberration that its discovery gets people excited? Why are "8"s ("vocal expression of pleasure") so rare, and "9"s ("rational thought breaks down") like meteors? I've thought a lot about this, and much of it, you'll be unsurprised to hear, boils down to limited perceptual framing, i.e. perspective.

Most people in food service have been trained for consistency and competence, not deliciousness (remember Leff's Third Law!). Most food service jobs are about getting it done, not conjuring magic, which is a whole other thing. This is big reason why most food flatlines the deliciometer. In "Should You Go to Cooking School?", I wrote:
Deliciousness and competence are very different things. In any given moment, mountains of competent food are being cooked - much of it by culinary school grads - that you or I would never want to eat. That drab hotel breakfast buffet is competent. That mediocre fund-raiser chicken dinner is competent. The expensive "gourmet" catering store where everything's precious but nothing has a lick of flavor? Competent! All the grim non-deliciousness out there, comprising 98% of food service, is prepared by competent robo-chefs who literally can't remember what deliciousness is. They believe they're nailing it, because they're doing the moves they were taught, and they're doing it all correctly.

All these hacky, uninspired chefs cook drab, spiritually neutral food that is, from a technical perspective, right on the money. It's hard to stock that breakfast buffet with ninety zillion individual items! It requires the logistical and execution skills of a small army, and the chefs can be rightfully proud of pulling it off day after day. But they may never register the fact that no customer has ever clenched eyes shut, pounded table with fist, and hollered "Holy CRAP that's great!". Such an outcome is not even on their radar.
Aspiration frames your perspective, and limited aspiration functions as a constraint. In a posting titled "Framing Failure", I explained that if you don't aim higher than necessary, you'll average lower than intended:
Amateur musicians sometimes play out of tune. This is because they're trying to play in tune. If you try to play in tune, that means that when you fail (and you will fail!), you'll be noticeably out of tune.

Professional musicians don't try to play in tune. They're preoccupied with trying to play really, really in tune. So when they fail (and they will fail), they're still reasonably in tune, though not precisely enough for their standards. They'll wince, and feel like failures, but you won't hear it.

Amateurs conclude that professionals fail less; they must be trying to play in tune and consistently succeeding. Wrong. They're failing as often as anyone, but they're working within narrower tolerances. We're all failures, but they're failing well.
If you're intending to make competent quiche, you'll wind up somewhere below that - nowhere near greatness. And if you try make great quiche, you'll come out below that. Greatness only happens with unreasonably high ("better than great"!) aspirations, and even then only if there's the talent, commitment and endurance to fulfill those aspirations. Why should that be anything but rare?

Greatness is never an accident. Greatness is produced by heroically, obsessively fighting crazily far up the curve of declining results. It doesn't just "happen".

As I wrote in a posting titled "The Most Helpful Insight About Creativity":
"Shitty", "adequate", and "great" are not neighbors. Greatness is a quadrillion times more demanding; a separate realm above and beyond.
To achieve steady output at the high level of "delicious", you've got to be an absolute kook, raving and sobbing and treating your kids maybe not so nice and getting ulcers and dying young. This is not "normal."

Another way of seeing it: you can't achieve escape velocity without a shmear of the slippery, artsy-fartsy, woo-woo stuff - i.e. love,  talent, magic, touch, etc. - which I've been writing about here for years, trying to pin it down (see postings labeled "Creativity"). One of my central points is that that the process leading to that stuff isn't normal, isn't healthy, and you'd turn your head away if you were to glimpse the process. Magic is messy, not clean and prim and shiny. Never forget that Beethoven composed in a diaper.

Consider this: just opening a drably mediocre restaurant and keeping it going day after day is an exhausting experience requiring super-human perseverance (which makes even hacks mistakenly consider themselves deeply-committed artists).

Another factor: restaurateurs undervalue the importance of a chef's touch, talent, and commitment. As I wrote in "What Makes Restaurants Go Downhill?", they think of chefs as hot-swappable modules, failing to "recognize that deliciousness is the outcome not of sound management, diligent investment, and clear vision, but mostly of how lovingly the chef flips the next pancake."


See also "The Non-Linearity of Deliciousness"

See also "Why My Cooking Isn't Great", which confesses:
Why is my cooking delicious and not devastating? Because I'm merely super-hyper-mega committed, which makes me a piker. Seeing the chefs at Nudel, I instantly flashed: they could cook better than me without even trying. So why do I try so much less than they do?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Formula for Falling Asleep

Once you're in bed with lights off...

1. Un-smile your face.

2. Press your head gently into the pillow, then keep applying just the slightest downward pressure (almost none at all).

3. Imagine the minor ways your body will slump once asleep, and do that.

4. Think of a comforting object or pet or deity (just not any actual person). Perhaps your teddy bear when you were a kid, or an imaginary friend, or a departed pet, or Jesus or Buddha or whatever. If nothing comes to mind, buy yourself a rubber chicken or toy crocodile and sprawl it across your nightstand. And let's call it "him".

5. As thoughts, sensations, feelings, memories, worries, and emotions arise, outsource to "him". Something you forgot to take care of? Let "him" do it. Tight hamstrings? Let "him" fix it. Someone you're worried about? Let "him" worry. Tough problem to solve? Let "him" work on it. Bad thing someone said to you? Let him stew over it. Keep doing this unceasingly; whatever your mind or body or emotions produce, hand it over (imagine a sprawling flow chart where every contingency leads away from you and towards this central point that's not you).

Friday, September 13, 2019

Love Thy Neighbor

Two ambiguities have spurred loads of the notoriously un-Christian behavior seen among Christians.

One is that the New Testament comes tantalizingly close to expressing tolerance for other faiths. If there's only one God - as The Book affirms - that makes all believers of all stripes brothers. One literally can't go wrong! Whoever you're praying to, whatever you happen to call Him/Her, that's the dude! But then comes a plainly self-contradictory and rather dick-ish muttering: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" I visualize that part being scrawled in by some sternly uptight church father with a Sharpie. What other gods??? I thought there's only one???

Here's the other ambiguity:



Everyone assumes "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" refers to the person in the house or apartment next door. But this makes no sense. First, that would mostly just reinforce tribalism (particularly at that time, when neighborhoods were not, shall we say, super integrated), which isn't at all the vibe the teaching appears to be aiming for (nor is it necessary; humans are plenty tribal without any encouragement).

But there's another interpretation that's beautiful and inspiring and is what I'd imagine was originally intended: "neighbor" means the person who's before you at a given moment.

The Uber driver. The clerk at CVS. The drunk wobbling down the street. The Hispanic painter who works on your living room. The waiter. The imperious rich guy raging re: some perceived trivial overcharge. The beggar asking for pocket change (making you rationalize that, hey, you can't help everybody....but she's not everybody; she's your neighbor; the person before you right now). Help that person. Care about that person. At very least, humanize them (crowds are inherently anonymous, but the person next to you amid a crowd needn't be). Take responsibility for your corner of the world, moment-by-moment.

Even blasting by at 60 mph on the highway: give space and show mercy! Do what you can to make it a pleasant and safe ride for others in your corner of the world. Don't push or lag, and if you're about to miss your exit, maybe rather than scare the crap out of other drivers by lunging across lanes, go an extra couple miles to the next one (you might discover good food!).




If you take this seriously, you'll encounter the usual dilemmas experienced by the helpful. I listed a few in my quick-start guide for would-be Messiahs:
What do alcoholics wish for? Booze. Will it help them? No.
What do control freaks wish for? Obediance. Will it help them? No.
What do narcissists wish for? Attention. Will it help them? No.
What do depressives wish for? Isolated rumination. Will it help them? No.
What do victims wish for? Revenge. Will it help them? No.
"Loving" doesn't always mean giving people what they want. And a related question: how much abuse should you put up with from a stranger/neighbor? Well, I know the Christian answer, but the problem is that cheek-turning doesn't help people; it just enables their worst instincts. Cheek-turners might as well be booze-suppliers. For Christ's sake, I don't think...uh...Christ thought that part out real well. But I do love the neighbor thing.


A rare footer to a footer: Speaking of being helpful and not always giving people what they want, yesterday I saw a guy pushing his bewildered 18-month-old daughter in a shopping cart across a parking lot toward his car. When I say "pushing", I mean he was forcefully shoving the cart forward, as hard as possible, laughing, catching up, then repeating. I approached him screaming. Not because I was angry. I was angry, but that's not why I made a scene.

I could have approached him cordially, pointing out that, gee, friend, this may not be like the safest thing in the world given that cars can back out of their spaces at any moment (and aren't watching for children zooming past super-fast in runaway carts), and that carts can easily overturn, and, y'know, concussion and death and stuff. But that approach couldn't possibly spur behavioral transformation for someone so oblivious. It couldn’t have brought him the million miles from “lighthearted-fun-with-daughter” to “my-god-what-have-I-done???” Low-key feedback couldn’t traverse that vast terrain. 

The guy needed to reframe; be shocked into recognizing behavior shocking enough to draw screaming harangues from strangers. So, yup, I screamed, hard, and while he's undoubtedly stupid enough to deem me the entire problem, a dent might persist in his animal brain. Maybe, just maybe, the super fun game of flinging his bewildered toddler around busy parking lots will have been sadly ruined for him going forward ever since that asshole made a scene and embarrassed him. There are times for persuasive argument, but in matters of extreme safety, you gotta imprint.

Screaming at him, in other words, felt like absolutely the neighborly thing to do.


Expecting Damaged People to Self-Repair to Accommodate You

I'm replaying this golden oldie from August 2017. It offers a dandy example of perceptual reframing from just before I learned to fully frame reframing.


When people treat you poorly, there's a critical question to ask yourself before taking offense: do they treat themselves any better?

A plumber friend vented to me one night. He'd gone to the house of a mutual acquaintance to investigate some emergency in his basement. And the basement was a shocking killing field of cat feces and other random, fetid garbage. It was Silence-of-the-Lambs bad. He cringed as he told the story.

The plumber couldn't fathom how the guy could have expected him to walk through all that. Clean it up first! Grab a broom! Show some consideration! He felt, more than anything, disrespected.

I pointed out that the guy lives there. His kids live there. This is how they live! If he were together enough to clean stuff up and make things nice, his life would be vastly better. You can't expect him to show more consideration, diligence and effort for his plumber than he does for himself and his loved ones!

My plumber friend won't be back, but he immediately dropped his anger.

This flip of perspective doesn't come easily to me, even though I'm more conscious of it than most people. I still have to process every single situation through this filter. And I'm shocked by the frequency. This result is the rule, not an exception.

We're clearly viewing the world with a skewed perspective, not to notice this more. I think it's that we presume - against all evidence! - most people to be essentially reasonable, capable, and competent. So we punish them when their defects impact us, figuring they've lowered their standards out of thoughtless disregard.

An irrational person I know lives a fairly desperate life. When she recently managed to needlessly mess up a situation vitally important to me, I flashed with anger. Why couldn't she be reasonable?!? Well...if she could get out of her own way and be reasonable, she'd have better reasons for doing so than meeting my needs!

Narcissists take note - and I've met very few non-narcissistic humans: it's unreasonable to expect damaged people to self-repair to accommodate you (and very many people are profoundly damaged, whether they reveal - or even self-recognize - it or not). Expressed this way it sounds completely self-evident; hardly needing to be stated. But I dare you to actually internalize it over time without heroic effort.


This is all really just an offshoot of Leff's Fourth Law (which, as I later conceded, was expressed way better way earlier by Napoleon).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Heroes

A hero is like a person in a dunk tank, but without the laughter and affection.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Supplemental Lesson

Yesterday, I offered a brief story worth $145,000 for its deep revelation about consumer behavior. Today's story is a companion piece, probably worth at least a few hundred bucks. But first a bit of history.

When I was three years old, I looked up at my parents and said "Smart people have no common sense". So I'm not exactly someone who's been overestimating human intelligence, having been thoroughly disillusioned around the time I'd learned to stop making poopy in my diapers. Yet every few years I need to lower my assessment even further. I constantly discover I've been overestimating.

(Fortunately, it didn't take long for me to make a much more important observation - one managed by very few people who recognize human lunacy: I myself am plenty bad and dumb and slow and deluded in my way. Spotting idiocy doesn't mean you're smart; it just means you're observant.)



We invited people to sign up for Chowhound's mailing list, but, as always, had no tech. So we asked users to send a blank email to list@chowhound.com with their email address in the subject line. We set it up this way so they could sign up addresses other than the one they were mailing from (at the time, circa 1998, many people were locked into their work addresses when emailing from work). And it would be easy for us to cull the intended addresses this way.

Question: What percentage of our users (triple filtered for smarts being computer users, early Internet adapters, and appreciators of a niche all-text web site) would you think managed to follow these directions?

I obviously can't account for those who put their sign-up address in the "To" field. But way more than 50% of the remainder put their address in the body, or didn't add it at all. Most arrived with a subject of "Sign Me Up!"


The fact that many people tend to respond to this story by saying "Duh, you made it super-complicated!" does *NOT* invalidate my point!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Obvious Connection Between My Miata and the Zombie Army

As I've mulled over my previous posting, "The Greatest Lesson Ever Taught", it occurs to me (and I just added as a postscript) that the fact that people can be thwarted by trivial impediment is surely related to the fact that most people do nothing.

My posting last year, titled "Filtering the Zombie Army", read, in part:
Most people do nothing. If they sign on, they won't show. If they pledge money, they won't pay. If you hire them, they'll sit in their cubicle and sip coffee.

You know how most soldiers never actually shoot at people? How as few as 30% perform all the kills? I've decided that this isn't a saving grace of humanistic morality. It's just another example of how most people do nothing.

I'm not saying they're lazy. I'm not saying they're liars or deadbeats. Just that they do nothing. Most people do nothing. I think of them as the Zombie Army.

....

The practical upshot - the thing you can count on - is this: the thing you want them to do is the thing they won't do. Even if they'd like to. Even if they really meant it when they claimed to be spunkily "all in". Most will do nothing.

The Greatest Lesson Ever Taught

You should be charged $145,000 to read the following. I'm not even kidding. It teaches virtually everything you need to know about interface, web design, consumer behavior, and customer friction; the stuff that really matters in commercial enterprise.


Earlier this year I bought a cover for my second car, an old Miata, to keep the birds from crapping all over it. It takes just one minute to easily uncover the car, and another minute to easily replace the cover after I get home.

I have not driven the car once since.


See also "Filtering the Zombie Army"

Monday, September 9, 2019

Past and Future

Talking to someone plagued with guilt over a past action, worried he'll never overcome it:


What do you suppose it will feel like to be you in the future? Try to envision how Future You will feel. Even just 20 seconds in the future! Will the future feel different? Will it feel tangibly futuristic?

Ok, and...we're there! I'm now speaking to Future You! The curtain has pulled back and here he is! So, how does it feel? Futuristic in any way? No? Same old feeling, just like always? Super-familiarly “now”, even though you're Future Man?

Let's try another. What did it feel like to be in the past? Try to remember who you were when we began this conversation. You're recalling through the gauze of memory, so Past You doesn't feel quite real; he's a bit of a ghost. Well, in 20 seconds I'm going to ask you to look back and remember this. So take stock! Do you feel ghostly?

And....20 seconds have passed. We're there! So look back. Who was that person? How did the ghostliness get in? How did the reality drain out? Is there truth to any of that? Can you directly remember it feeling like “now” then, or is the recollection more of a photocopy of the real thing? If feels like a photocopy now, did it feel at all that way then?

Collate all this information and ponder it (if, like me, you're someone with enough curiosity to constantly reexamine the obvious). The future, looking forward, seems alien. The past, looking backward, seems ghostly, drained of real Now feeling. But actual experience never varies. It's always totally Now. It's never not now. Unquestionably Now-ish always and forever. No one has ever experienced past or future, so they’re not real. They’re intellectual constructs. What's real is right now. And now. And now. Here you are. And here you are. And here you are.

That being true, it means we always start fresh. Every moment starts fresh, with infinite potential.


See also "Baking Fresh Every Time"

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Club™

A business proposal not just for one venue, but a chain of them. This would be a mashup of a coffeeshop, a country club, a craft beer bar, and a buying coop.


People pay something like $2000/year to be in The Club™ (not quite luxury, and plenty of value offered for the price. Comparables: Amazon Prime and airline lounge clubs).

The Club™ offers:
  • A quiet reading room, way more comfortable than a coffeeshop. Great wifi.
  • A bar.
  • A cozy screening room with an impressive library of Blu-Ray movies. Reserve a slot to play your choice, and the schedule gets publicly posted so others can join if interested, with discussion afterwards (plus less formal followup in bar).
  • A small store selling, at near cost, items normally marked way up (batteries, phone chargers and cables, etc.).
  • Fun member events...quality stuff (good lectures by interesting people - draw from membership if possible - badminton and backgammon tournaments, etc).
Coffee, drinks, and light snacks are priced only moderately above cost (bartenders are strict about not serving intoxicated people). Perhaps price rises at peak times, or when occupancy rises above X level.

Beer, wine, and snacks are super well-chosen. Seating is super comfortable. Bartenders are super friendly. The film library is super thoughtful. It's all super clean and super well-run. Elite in terms of quality, not hollow status/luxury (strict quality-mindedness attracts quality members; that's how Chowhound attracted such a great, friendly, expert crowd).

No live music performances in the screening room, because local music almost always sucks, and The Club™ is all about quality.

One-time visit fee $75. Guest fee $35. 

Employees are trained to encourage introductions and friendly interaction, particularly between dissimilar members, engendering this as core The Club™ culture. Members pick this up and do likewise for new members. Social structures are far more adaptive to modeling than people realize.

Rules are strictly enforced. Members can be kicked out (and refunded). Management weeds diligently to ensure a more attractive garden (another facet of the quality-mindedness).

I'm assuming Slog readers don't need to be explained that people need a place to go besides home and work, and current choices are not quite satisfying. Also, the digital age paradoxically makes us crave personal connection and social affiliation more than ever. Yes, British clubs are fading, but the need remains, and could be served by updating the concept and sucking out the musty stodginess.

I have no idea if the numbers could work, but, if not, there's surely a way to add on one or more revenue centers without losing the overall feeling of generosity. Just for one thing, if quality-minded members are attracted, that would be akin to the Chowhound audience, so my never-implemented marketing strategy might apply. As I wrote here:
Chowhounds' appreciation of quality obviously extends beyond food. Nutjobs who trek 75 miles for slightly better muffins don't watch whichever crappy movie is on at the multiplex, and they don't buy uncomfortable socks just because they're on sale at Kmart. They don't purchase lackluster bicycles or radios, and their music collections are full of people who can really sing. These are discerning and diligent consumers, mega brand-loyal folks who not only appreciate quality, but pretty much live for it...and evangelize it!

Companies with truly good products and services would love to connect with such consumers - consumers to whom they can pitch intelligently and on-the-merits. Companies like Virgin, Apple, Aveda, Saturn, Patagonia, and anyone with a particularly high-quality, high-value product - especially the new-and-exciting - could count on chowhounds to take interest, to early-adopt, and to spread word with ferocious passion. Where else can one find an audience so precisely tuned for that? It's a rare occurence, because such people, like cats, resist being gathered.
Would club members likely roll their eyes at a demo of new Tesla or Apple tech? Would they ignore really interesting and intelligent pitches re: genuinely cool things before film screenings, and on wall-mounted monitors?


While I'm not expert re: physical plant issues, I'd imagine you could repurpose franchises out of defunct hotels, gyms, etc.

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