Tuesday, January 29, 2019

How to Order a Beer if You're Middle-Aged

I was in a bar in Austin, and though it was only mildly crowded, I could not for the life of me attract the bartender's attention.

As time ticked by, and the situation became increasingly preposterous, patrons near me grew aware of the situation, expressing bemused solidarity and watching to see what I'd do.

"Middle-aged men are not supposed to jump," I announced to the small crowd. "It's almost assumed that we can't; that middle-aged femurs and hip bones won't, like, allow it. So it totally freaks people out when it happens. If I jump up right now, it would change the bar's energy. Conversational volume would dip 30%. And the bartender's attention would focus on me as tightly as if I'd pulled out a shotgun."

I gave my new friends a moment to digest this- to weigh it in their imaginations - and then, maintaining the most neutral, bored Depeche Mode expression on my face, I hopped a couple vertical feet in the air, calmly landing right back in my previous posture. As if it had never happened.

Everything proceeded as I'd predicted. And I immediately got my beer.


See also The "Rice Chex" Method to Standing Out in a Crowd and Two Strategies For Deflecting Cellphone Loudmouths

Monday, January 28, 2019

Four Trendy Enigmas of Retail Engagement

"Take All the Time You Need!"

This one is two enigmas fused together. You're seated at a restaurant with an extensive menu. The waiter shows up 45 seconds later, briskly intent on taking your order. It has not occurred to him that you might be less than ready, even though your head's obviously buried deeply in your menu (which he knows contains 70 gajillion entrees and combo deals), and you haven't made the slightest eye contact to indicate readiness. Despite all cues and all logic, he is blithely confident that of course you're ready to order. Hey, is this not a restaurant? Are you here to eat, or to dick around with your menu?
It takes just hundreds - not thousands - of iterations to train a lab rat's behavior. A certain breed of waiter is impervious to learning.
You ask him for another minute, he indulgently nods and takes off, and you can kiss that mofo goodbye. He will not return before the ice shelves re-advance. Having lost you in his peripheral vision, he's unable to register your angry stares, even your airport arrival terminal full-barreled waving. With your customer status descended to "nonentity", you are quite literally off his radar. It dawns on you that his "Take All the Time You Need!" was less obliging than cackling.
If I understand the psychology, it's something like this: what customers do is they order and they eat and they pay. And they must order to eat and pay. So if you haven't ordered, you're completely outside my workflow; beyond my frame. Just as I don't care where you were and what you did before entering the restaurant, you are similarly beyond my interest in this situation. The play has not yet begun. You are not one of my 25 customers, you are one of the 6,999,999,975 homo sapiens I don't need to pretend to give a fuck about.

Possible workaround: sneak out, then re-enter under disguise and order fast enough to remain solidly in their petri dish.

"Don't Look at the Menu Board"

This one's new-ish. I believe it's completely unremarked-upon, but it's gone viral over the past two years.

You walk into a place with counter or bar service. A large menu board occupies the better portion of a wall, and you stand briefly outside the line of fire to scan it and weigh options. Suddenly your train of thought is interrupted by a worker handing you a printed version of that same menu. They're providing mercy; relieving your pain and gently guiding you to a far better and more civilized experience. Rather than tilting my head 30° upward, wouldn't I prefer to bask in the ease of a 60° downward head tilt?

It inevitably happens the moment I've finally gotten my bearings within the menu board. At that precise moment, I'm guided/subtly commanded to start over, parsing the same data in an entirely different layout/format. With no imaginable benefit. All just because, apparently, the gigantic board - which management put great effort into building and displaying - is an abomination one must not peer at.

The printed version is foisted on you with two unstated but clear intimations: 1. We're doing you a favor, like handing you a towel when you're wet or lighting your cigarette. Isn't this better? 2. This is not optional. You will accept this print version. Only an asshole would refuse. Indeed, if you do decline, workers narrow their eyes and walk away muttering. Sure, asshole, no problem, peer cluelessly up at the board. Enjoy your ungainly slight head tilt! Be a skeevy board-reading rube! Will you be needing to pee into a Pepsi cup, as well? Or have us provide a comfort animal for your visit with us? Let us know what other marginal issues you'll need us to tolerate.
Why did you put that huge board there in the first place? Why have you goaded me into this?

"Do You Need Change?"

I surely don't need to explain.

There is no greater disproof of the free marketer's conviction that business instantly and shrewdly adopts and evolves to serve consumer prefs and needs than the fact that at this late date waiters still ask this most famously irritating of questions. I can only assume it's like direct marketing: a ploy savagely hated by absolute everyone (including its perpetrators), but which is always so dumbfoundingly successful - unrivaled in its success - that, having mixed our signals (i.e. what we say we want versus what we actually do), this is something civilization is stuck with, forever.
In other words, the practice must pay well enough, in the long run, to be worth infuriating slews of customers.

"What Were You Looking For?”

In this posting, I wrote:
One of my pet peeves is when you run into a store, don’t see what you need (you're certain they don’t carry it), and the owner stops you as you exit, indulgently asking what you were looking for. You say “I’m positive you don’t have it”. He kindly replies “Try me”. Figuring you're doing him a favor by informing him of unmet consumer demand, you explain what you were seeking, and he drifts back to his previous task (you're no longer a customer, no longer of interest) indifferently sneering that, no, they don’t have that. Like you’re the asshole.

Apparently dismissed, you silently trod out the door.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

No-Drama Bill Blake

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

-- William Blake (extracted from "London")


Most critics interpret the poem as a Dickensian paroxysm of Industrial Age squalor and misery. It's remarkable how nearly everyone overlooks that the manacles are "mind-forg'd". So Blake's actually saying the very opposite thing. It's yet another example of how people categorically resist being reminded that the drama of it all is sheer mental indulgence, and entirely optional. They resist the reminding because they like it this way (even seemingly traumatized horror movie-goers would be irritated to find a good samaritan gently tapping their shoulders during grueling scenes).

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Yet More Contrast Between Childlike and Adult Learning

I have some thoughts on learning.

Since nobody clicks the links (Damned kids today! Back in the 90's, we clicked every link!), here. Let me paste in the background for you:

Learn Like a Kid
If you try to teach adults to wiggle their ears, they'll try once or twice to engage those muscles, fail, shrug, and give up. If it's absolutely critical that they learn the skill, they'll buy a book or hire a coach, and set aside time for diligent, grinding practice.

If you try to teach kids to wiggle their ears, they return to it again and again at odd moments, playfully experimenting until they finally develop the knack.

That's why kids learn easily and adults don't.

The trick to learning is to do it playfully and immersively, like a child (rather than the way schools have taught you to learn).

Why People Don't Learn
Learning requires feeling dumb for a while. And that's why people don't learn.

Everyone tasked with teaching anything to adults has ample experience with students feeling anxious and embarrassed for not instantly and perfectly grasping some point or other. It's just not about getting something wrong. It's about the unwillingness to acknowledge or display any deficit at all.

People are accustomed to masking their ignorance and other flaws, but learning requires dropping the mask. And that is horribly, horribly upsetting for most people. So they flail to show both themselves and their teachers that they hardly needed instruction in the first place. Believe it or not, this is incredibly common; the rule rather than the exception. Exactly at the moment when receptive curiosity would serve them best, they're trying to prove how very clever they are.

Children don't do this. Lacking a firm self-image, they're perfectly fine serving as empty cups. That's one reason they learn so easily, while adults are famously incapable of doing so past a certain age. It's not a cognitive problem, it's an emotional one. Learning requires feeling dumb for a minute, and that's just a deal-killer.

If you teach adults, the thing you'll hear again and again is "I knew that". Reassembling their dignity after being forced to bear the prospect that they're missing something, adult students will practically sneer if you tell them something even vaguely familiar. "I knew that!"

As the extreme opposite style of learner (my inner nine-year-old never having ceded control), I have no "I knew that" reflex whatsoever. This probably explains my remarkably high tolerance for sitting through explanations (e.g. books, articles, documentaries, etc) of topics where I'm already expert...even when they offer nothing new.

Feeling no impulse to turn away, I find retread perfectly pleasant (so long as there’s nothing wrong/dumb in the explanation, which would drive me crazy). I might tell myself that I’m sitting through it on the chance of some errant chunk of new info I can use. But the truth is, I’d stick around even if no such chunks were forthcoming.

It's partially that my brain enjoys the micro stimulation of hearing familiar things expressed with words and voices other than my own. It's soothing nano stimulation; like cognitive velvet. Another explanation is that having been weaned on 1960's TV, with no remote control and just four crap-tastic stations to choose from, I'm thoroughly trained in the uncritical acceptance of useless sensory input.

But mostly it's that I'm not eager to assemble my dignity; my veneer of wholeness. I'm always learning, because I’m not a complete person infrequently applying patches but a deeply curious/ignorant person perpetually in dynamic formation. I'm not arrived, like some middle-aged dude. I'm becoming, like a 9-year-old. Having never proudly put self-composition behind me, I have nothing at stake in my in-progress condition. 

We're not supposed to be able to learn once we reach our 30s, but I seem to be accelerating. I started this Slog at the crusty age of 46, and scant little of it could have been produced by my 36-year-old self. All credit goes to childlike learning - to treating it all like play and being satisfied with gathering sloppy, scattershot comprehension and filling in details later.

But at the same time I've grown comically poor at adult-style learning. I’m a complete blockhead with any sort of online learning course or textbook. When I find myself run through a tutorial gauntlet of sequential steps and procedures, I morph into a dimly obtuse 56-year-old, wiping my glasses and frowning gravely. I was never very good at such learning as a kid (my school grades were good-not-great), but that door's nearly shut for me now.

If that were the only way I could learn....yeesh. It'd be too awful to contemplate.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Long Tail is a Snare

Twice now I‘ve inadvertently clicked into Beatles-related discussion on Quora, and, ever since, I’ve been besieged with links to Beatles crap - on Quora's site, in their app, in the weekly digest they email me, and in ads which follow me around the Internet. I am a Beatlemaniac. I've been categorized, and so that’s what I am. It's decided.

Cattle-herding is instinctive for Silicon Valley execs. On a mass scale, it's been shifting us toward a society out of a dystopian 1970s sci-fi film, striated by shallow beehive determinism. As humanity continues to evolve beyond its brutally tribalistic roots, we can thank these brainy visionaries for doing all they can to loop us back into all that, only without the actual culture. Advertising long ago metastasized into a beast so pandemic that it can easily wag the dog, and this is where the wagging's left us: Neo Tribalism. A vapid landscape of spiritually empty, utterly silent (aside from the almighty Marketing Message) granfalloons. Enjoy your silo.

Isn’t this precisely the path of Fox News, making hay with extreme partisanship by stoking and monetizing, stoking and monetizing, like efficient dairy farmers whose livestock is us? They do this while purporting to be of service, which would sound hypocritical except for the regrettable but indisputable fact that foi gras geese really do appreciate the greasy feed perpetually sliding into their waiting gullets. We love us some Skinner Box. As I once wrote, a perpetually rewarded lab animal feels downright self-actualized.
If the subject is a chicken, which is basically a biological device for pecking endless grain, you set up your Skinner box to feed the chicken. And the chicken will never stop responding in the way you've trained it to. It never "gets wise". Blessed with the result it most seeks, there's no reason to ask deeper questions. The chicken thinks it's just killin' it.
For similar reasons, I find identity politics disgusting. Sizing up my schnozz and assuming that I‘m dying to vote for a Jew - or, at very least, a WASP who diligently appears on TV chomping matzoh balls, wearing a yarmulka, and pandering to my assumed vested interest in Israel (one imagines me singing the word cantorially, eyes rolling heavenward in Zionist fervor, as my wrinkled garments emit the haimish odor of stale onion and poppy seeds).

We are the most belligerently anti-racist society in the history of the world, yet reductive stereotypes are our bread and butter; baked into our commerce, our politics, our media, and our advertising...really, what else is there?And we never object, so long as everyone diligently tiptoes around tripwire language. 

I've fallen in love with the “long tail” of current-day commerce, data, and networking platforms. As a person with diverse and often misfit interests - who doesn’t buy any of the ten most popular breakfast cereals and who spurns multiplexes - I saw this coming in the 90s and have basked in it ever since. I can connect directly with any sort of idea, media, or merchandise, always cutting right in at my point of interest (no one on Chowhound ever asked “So how was your day?”). It’s heaven.

My first glimmer of the potential downside came in 2005, when I observed that marketers had grown so subtly insidious that even conscientious resisters like me could be ensnared by their targeting. I never imagined that it would come to this: that each time I shift attention, my landing spot would be of profound interest to myriad algorithmic klieg lights, dispatching virtual bear traps to latch on and ensure my enduring categorization. I never suspected the long tail was really mostly an infinitely multiband snare.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Vegetation For Fun and Profit

This point, which I think is important, got buried in a long post back in 2016 ("Creating a Vacuum to Leech Out Eurekas"), so I wanted to circle back to highlight it.
If you were to observe me, you'd think I was the biggest slacker in the world. When not in mid-project (actually executing the things I've dreamed up), I spend an awful lot of time sitting around, watching TV, ruminating, hanging out, not doing anything productive. This used to mortify me. I figured I was lazy, shiftless, and broken. I've constantly worried about wasting my life. It's been a huge source of shame since early childhood. But at a certain point I turned around, looked back, and noticed, to my surprise, that I'd actually accomplished stuff, and developed a range of skills, even in my seeming sloth. Magically, stuff got done!

I know now that it's easily explained: creativity is fostered by loosening the belt, by making space for epiphanies. An awful lot can get done via relentless hard work (and I eventually learned how to knuckle down in order to execute my ideas), but creativity is a different animal, and it looks lazy.

Different processes suit different types of work - and different types of workers. "Nose-to-the-grindstone" effort is useful, but not in all cases.

Creative people vegetating are different from lazy, aimless people vegetating. If you're creative, don't let the superficial resemblance throw you. It's essential to foster a vacuum to leech out eurekas, so this is instinctive behavior. Don't question the process...unless eurekas aren't forthcoming. If you don't jump up every once in a while to follow muse with exuberant action, you are likely depressed. Consider my Unique Perspective on Depression, avail yourself of the Depression Resuscitation Kit, and maybe browse my previous writings on the topic.

If you do jump up and follow muse, but results often frustrate, browse my postings on creativity (perhaps working from bottom up).

Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Know You're Being Dumb

If you're having a problem - tech or otherwise - and you google and google without shedding any light (or you find a small handful of other lonely queriers, none answered well), this nearly always means you're doing something really really dumb.

It goes without saying that this only applies to mainstream-ish issues. If you've hit a snag translating Norwegian poetry into Esperanto, or attaching a solid fuel rocket to the roof of your VW Golf, that's a whole other story (though you still are probably doing something really really dumb).


This is something I particularly need to keep in mind. As a very early Internet adopter, who started out surfing with command line tools (via Telnet, Usenet, FTP, Lynx, etc.) and has great fondness for Yahoo for its invaluable curated index of cool web sites, I sometimes forget that nearly everything's now online.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

“Crazy and Stupid“ is Acceptible

“Crazy and stupid” is not evil.

“Crazy and stupid” is not evil.

“Crazy and stupid” is not evil.

It’s a truism I absolutely must learn to internalize in both my macro and my micro. And it’s very hard. “Crazy and stupid” is awful, corrosive, exasperating. It seems like The Worst Possible Thing. But it’s not. There is genuine evil in the world, so anyone (including the crazy and stupid) who’d never imagine going out of their way to deliberately harm is a “5” at very least.

A person can be nasty, selfish, derelict, uncompromising, unreasonable, willfully ignorant, and astoundingly unpleasant without scratching a nanometer toward actual evil. They can inadvertently ruin lives and knock over every worthy thing without being evil. The end result of “crazy and stupid” may be indistinguishable from the end result of evil, but intentions do matter.

All non-evil people are on our team, and that, alas, includes “crazy and stupid”. “Crazy and stupid” is the bottom rung of acceptability, not the bottom rung of humanity by a very long shot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Soothing the Baby

As I grow up, I feel more and more compelled to toss certain esoteric thoughts out there among the 180 quadrillion web pages in case they’re helpful someday - even if they’re of scant current interest.

In a lifetime of finding myself ahead of curves (that's a complaint, not a boast), I’ve noticed that once crowds catch up, my voice is rarely necessary - or even heard - amid the torrent. But in certain realms, where I'm extra ahead, there are chunks which might remain missing. So I’ll risk confusing and exasperating regular readers by occasionally posting such chunks for the possible (if unlikely) use of other people in another time. Which is to say: you may well want to skip this (if only because it’s long!).


I started teaching myself yoga and self-hypnosis when I was around 11.
The notion of "teaching oneself" may be paradoxical, but I've taught myself all my life. This very Slog, which may appear to be teaching you, is really me teaching myself while you eavesdrop (as I recently noted, 95% - perhaps much more - of human communication is actually self-directed; the only difference with me is that I acknowledge it).
I'd borrowed a dopey book about self-hypnosis from the library, and, though I recognized its shortcomings, it stimulated enough exploration that I was eventually able to devise my own approach (I haven’t used it in many years, however). As for yoga, I'd worked through many of the poses on my own while reading a slew of books on Eastern spirituality (most memorably "Powers of Mind" - a lightweight massmarket treatment that happened to ring my bell - plus classics like "Zen and the Art of Archery", "Introduction to Zen Buddhism", "Siddhartha", "The Way of a Pilgrim", "Be Here Now", and the first stanza of the Hsin Hsin Ming - aka "Verses on the Faith Mind by The 3rd Zen Patriarch" - which was as far as I was able to get for years without falling into reverie. Also stuff by Castaneda, Salinger, and certain elements of "Dune" (a bizarre combo, yes, but booting up in knowledge is always jagged because unknowing is the father of knowing).

Actually (it's a bit blurry) I might have read most of those later, trying to understand what I had experienced. But before all else I needed to learn to relax.

Yoga and self-hypnosis both showed me how maddeningly difficult a proposition the notion of "relaxation" is. You could spend an hour splayed out on the floor, breathing deeply and progressively relaxing each muscle group, and however relaxed you might feel, it's still a pale shadow of full-out relaxation.
Spiritual practitioners inevitably overestimate their progress - again and again, as mere pinholes of surrender feel like cosmic gushers. Spirituality has a Dunning-Kruger effect of its own, leading the clueless to prematurely deem themselves holy masters or whatever, which explains all those rotten, greedy, sexed-up gurus we've heard about. The truism "a little knowledge is dangerous" should be translated into Sanskrit.
Yogis practice relaxation in "corpse" pose, and the name offers a lovely clue. Once you've laid there, yielding completely to gravity and feeling yourself as being breathed rather than actively breathing, certain you're as floppily relaxed as can be, my trick was to mentally compare myself to an actual corpse. If you were honest, you'd concede that your muscles remain a roiling hive of twitchy hyperstimulation and your mind's madly atwitter. If you were to drift into sleep (let alone death), your body would splay out in drastic contrast to this superficial oh-look-at-me-I'm-so-relaxed posturing. You call this relaxation? Pffft.
I taught a little yoga at one point. Once, while my students strained to touch their toes, grunting and cursing their stubborn hamstrings, I asked them to imagine someone walking in and shooting us all in the head. Wouldn’t we all execute flawless, effortless forward bends en route to collapse? Your hamstrings, in and of themselves, are not the problem!

I’ve just accounted for the brevity of my teaching career, but this was actually a fantastically useful observation. It normally takes decades for practitioners to notice that their resistance is them.

No “you”...no resistance!
I devised two visualizations to bridge the impasse and enable deeper relaxation. Once you’re as relaxed as possible, try this:
1. The Pole
You find yourself in a vast blue sky, clutching a very long horizontal pole receding infinitely in both directions. There's nothing else to grab at, so hands and feet wind tightly around the pole for dear life. Having faith that you'll float, not fall: unpeel a hand, and notice that it doesn't drop. Then repeat with a foot. Then another foot. Then, finally, your remaining hand. The pole, disregarded, disappears, leaving you calmly, blithely afloat.

2. The Tree
You're sitting on a sturdy branch of a mature tree, facing the trunk, with a saw in your hand. Now saw away at the branch.
You never needed to clutch that pole or branch. Your clutching was always entirely pointless...as was every iota of stress you've ever invited into your body. Never, ever, would you have fallen. You can’t fall.

If you practice relaxation - plus these extensions - sufficiently, you can, in time, learn to fully relax - float-not-fall! - within the blink of an eye, even amid life turmoil. Self-help authors at that time wrote about "the relaxation response". I didn't read their books, because it was something I'd already learned.


To briefly review, having mastered superficial relaxation, I spotted the shortfall and acknowledged my self-deception ("I'm sooo relaxed!"), bucking the innate human impulse to feel that we're doing everything right. I resolved to go further, beyond the mere posing. I committed and persevered, learning that I can’t fall, come what may, and that stress is entirely elective.

And then, finally, I added love.
Love is the ultimate secret ingredient shaker bottle, ripe for sprinkling. The bottle we forgot we had at the back of the fridge. It's life's umami, and cosmic de-icer. It’s the solution even where it seems incongruous; the forgotten foolproof trick reliably up your sleeve; the smartphone feature you keep forgetting about.

Jamaican and African athletes don't win those track and field medals because black people are super fast. It's because running is the most visible route for elevating their beloved families from poverty. That's not just a powerful motivator, but, much more importantly, it’s a complete reframing of the situation, likely inaccessible for an equally talented athlete from, say, Düsseldorf.

And consider all those Oscar and Grammy winners deflecting their credit and glory toward god or whatever (i.e. anything beyond themselves). You might roll your eyes, considering them ditzily brainwashed by corny superstition, but when human beings work for a Higher Purpose (anything beyond themselves) - all faculties neatly aligned by the indefatigable flow of maximal love - that's when serious greatness is possible. Those who’ve never won Oscars or Grammys would do well to pay attention when such people freely reveal the secret.

Would you at least concede that books and songs dedicated to dead loved ones tend to suck a little less?
At this time I was a cynical, bitter little shit. I'd discovered early how cruel and ignorant people are. My family had trained me to view fellow humans as a contemptuous herd of stupid fucking assholes deserving neither respect nor sympathy, and this proposition was not a hard sell. I already bore scars from random cruelty, and had witnessed dishonesty, corruption, and antagonism gratuitously wielded even where truth, propriety, and kindness would have better served. At a very young age I was already fed up (and, shamefully, beginning to display touches of needless cruelty of my own).

Lying on the ground, relaxing into a primordial state - a heartbeat from actual corpse-hood - I alighted on the recognition that no one chooses that route. They're all in pain; confused and lost. Knotted up in anguished flailings, they knoweth not what they do.

When a baby screams and writhes in angry hunger, we don't condemn or punish the baby, nor do we try to talk sense into it. We don't allow ourselves to be triggered into raging back. Maturely recognizing its innate helplessness and non-comprehension, we hug the baby. Empathizing with its blameless emotion, we look past the tight, red, hysterical face, the shrieking and flailing limbs, the gross spittle. We...just...soothe the baby, period.

Shedding all armor and yielding to the gravity beneath the floor, I indiscriminately soothed every baby everywhere, large and small, surrendering myself - my very molecules - for the cherishing comfort of even the most seemingly loathsome...who need it most. I pleaded to no one in particular to be atomized into a spray that might infinitesimally erode the massive, massive mound of self-inflicted human pain. Overlooking the stench as if it were an innocent stinky diaper, I reached out with arms and ear lobes and toenails to embrace what I’d previously regarded as a contemptuous herd of stupid fucking assholes, including (especially!) any who'd gone out of their way to do me harm. I forgave, not via weighty judgement, but as we forgive babies for their tantrums; shifting my framing to deem them loveable.

With a hapless gesture of utter stupidity and hopeless hope (the heart is an idiot), my heart swiftly expanded to swallow it all - the entire universe - whole (this sounds like metaphor, but did not feel like one). I immediately recognized that this transcendent embrace had always underpinned the bustling veneer of worldly drama, for me and, equally, for any of us. Within this framing, there was no individuation; only a unity of love embracing love.

This, too, was practiced until it became reliably accessible upon demand (I was a kid who practiced lots of stuff; juggling, ear wiggling, celebrity impressions, boogie-woogie piano...and this felt like more of that). I tried to discuss it with others, but there was a puzzling disconnect. It couldn't possibly have been anything special, because I was just some shmucky kid with merely pretty good grades and who rated no more than middling esteem from authorities and peers. So I couldn't fathom why everyone stared blankly when I'd matter-of-factly bring it up (first with my mom, who listened impatiently to my tale of heart expansions and atomized sprays, finally breaking in to suggest that I go outside and play so she could finish making dinner).

Lacking any context for the experience - and finding no one able to offer any - I took comfort in the unshakable knowledge that this is simply how things truly are beneath the noise and distraction, recognized or not. This truth requires no more attention or maintanence than is necessary to preserve the starry night sky during daytime, so I let myself be pulled back into worldly drama, losing first the immediate access and eventually becoming entirely detached from the Knowing...without ever registering a disconnection. As I recently wrote:
It's hard to distinguish between real remembering and the remembrance of remembering. You'll feel certain you still have "the gist" of it - a sort of mental snapshot - even though actual remembering is no longer available. The gist of remembering smoothly dissipates into the fog of forgetting. While remembering remembering, you can easily forget that you've forgotten.
I had, thankfully, taken the time to send myself forward some well-considered reminders and bread crumbs (including one of the above visualizations), foreseeing that I'd lose my way back. A decade or so later, I fell briefly back in through a different doorway, via the desperation and depression that had accumulated since my turning away (it's much more painful to recently have Known and forgotten than to remain perpetually numbly unaware). Then, with careers to pursue and web sites to wrangle and restaurants to find, I disconnected once again for a very long while. 

The Knowing had resembled the ecstatic fullness of creative epiphany; a premium upgrade version of that more familiar sort of insight/inspiration. As a musician, I would struggle in vain, as does every artist, to "bottle" my muse; to make it accessible upon demand. I never came close (here’s me playing on a good night, when the juice actually flowed). Still later, I bumpily toiled, post-Chowhound, to rekindle my Knowing, finding it difficult to muster the requisite hapless stupidity and experiencing similar slippery frustration. Eventually I was startled to notice that I was indeed able to "bottle" the Knowing...and the creative muse along with it (voluminously cataloguing the secrets thereto here in this Slog).

Potential framings are infinitely diverse, and that is just one of a myriad. It is only within the more familiar cinematic/dramatic “my-life-is-like-this” framing that all pain and disappointment reside. From that perspective, I'm a musician who'll soon lose his hearing, a gourmand whose daily aspirin therapy (for a heart condition incurred while eating healthily and exercising regularly) has ravaged his stomach to the point of a lifetime sentence of bland food, and a craft beer superfan no longer able to drink (ibid). I still endure some punishing social headwind from my principled refusal to manipulate and from the misfit juju stemming from my commitment to unsettlingly throw myself completely into everything I do. I've grown terminally disillusioned by The Big Video Game and, mysteriously, can’t seem to interest people in what I consider the most uniquely useful food resource ever created for a mobile device (even being the guy who’s previously done the same for the early Internet).

In terms of drama, it’s a dire predicament. But having been granted every genie wish - notably the aforementioned bottlings - and having weaned myself from the habit of obsessing over What's Missing (another priceless genie grant) and, most valuable of all, discovered that framings are lithely, instantly re-selectable (the proverbial wish-for-infinitely-more-wishes), I want for nothing. As I once wrote, "Ascetics, perennially misunderstood, only look austere. Their internal reality is completely different. Shake off the ash, and the embers glow brightly."


Footnotes:

1. The links (all jillion of them) are essential.

2. The resistance - which, again (remember the gunshots!) is you - is also the baby. So the baby is you. This connection is not apparent (nor even coherent) from within the everyday dramatic/cinematic framing of who we are and what we do, but it’s patently obvious from a deeper, more sober perspective. No need for mental gymnastics, though; none of this requires intellect (except in the explaining!). Take the shortcut. Let go and experience it all as love embracing love and see for yourself. If it doesn't work, you're not relaxed enough...or haven't added umami (recipe, above).

3. Years and years after all this, I stumbled upon Theravadin Buddhism’s “Metta Sutta”, the juiciest part of which says:

With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all beings;
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths.


Fake Tracking

USPS purports to offer "tracking" on first class mail that has no bar code (yeah, I know they inkjet coding data on the bottom of the envelope, but that's for sorting, not tracking) and is thus inherently untrackable. The faux-tracking info, if you're foolish enough to check it, is laughably useless.

Whenever you call AAA for help, they always say "90 minutes". The truck might show up in five minutes or in three hours, but they always tell you "90 minutes". So I just made my first roadside assistance request via Internet, and was given a nifty tracking web page that counted down 90 minutes from my initial request. Every 30 seconds the page refreshed...without change. In fact, the tow truck came and left 20 minutes ago, and it's still continuing that same countdown.

I have an idea to monetize our increasing tolerance for such bullshit. The life expectancy of an American is 76 years. So I'll build a smartphone app, "CroakTimer", which counts down to your demise (there'd be an optional "notification" feature - with suitable ringtone - as a pricy in-app purchase). The app's obviously a luxe proposition, so I'm figuring I could charge circa $900. At first launch, it will ask your age, subtract it from 76, and commence the count down, with a daily sham "refresh".

Monday, January 14, 2019

Yet Another Reason Trump could be a Russian Asset

The NY Times published a much-lauded Max Boot article yesterday, "Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset"

Neal Katyal, Former Acting US Solicitor General, added one:
There's another one missing. A big fat honking one. What Russia wants most of all (beyond sanctions relief) is to sow division; to amplify both extremes among their enemies. Chaos!

And hasn't it been odd that Donald Trump, from day one, hasn't lifted a finger to conciliate with or appeal to anyone beyond his base? Until recently, he was an enthusiastically anti-abortion, anti-gun control Democrat. So while his positions may (or may not) have truly changed, he certainly knows how to talk to both sides. After all, he's from NYC, not North Dakota.

But he hasn't. Not once. He's played the wrestling "heel" in every respect toward his own former circle, his own former region, his own former peer group, fervently stoking the 35% and pugnaciously rejecting the rest. He hasn't just "owned the Libs" to delight his base (which is crappy governance but at least serves the discernible purpose of solidifying his support), he's governed with blinders on even in wonky policy matters where MAGA rubes would scarcely have noticed. For example, his budget stuck a gratuitous dagger in every blue state constituency.

Lots of stuff Trump does is because he's damaged goods. Other stuff is because he's shameless and amoral. And much of the rest is due to his ignorant entrancement with right-wing media and alternate facts. The seamless firewall he's erected between himself and more than half the country may superficially seem like more of all that. But this behavior doesn't fit. It's not in his interest, and it's a rare case where the man actually has latent untapped talent - in this case to broaden his support and add constituencies. To wield his charm and salesmanship, and try to increase his circle of loving admirers (an effort that should come naturally). I'm not saying Trump truly would do anything broadly helpful, but he's all about images and impressions, and he's done absolutely nothing on that front. It really surprised me back in the beginning.

His refusal to at least try - to invest one single nanocalorie in the task - serves no purpose beyond Russia's goal of chaos. So I think Max Boot missed an important reason Trump could be a Russian asset. It's the reason hiding in the plainest of plain sight.

Friday, January 11, 2019

My Two Most Racially Confusing Moments

1. The Halal Food Cart

On Christmas Day, I found myself downtown around the 9/11 memorial. Due to the holiday, the area was pretty empty. I hadn't been down there much, and found the commercialization disgusting, but c'est la free market. And right at the very edge of the WTC site was a halal food cart just ***BLASTING*** Arabic music at full wedding volume.

My thought cascade played out more or less as follows:
Oh, man, somebody's going to, like, kill these guys.

They've clearly been doing this for a while, and they seem perfectly ok; even swagger-ish. Phew!

Is this a Christmas-only indulgence?

Am I actually feeling a little offended?

What's the difference between my being offended by this and all the assholes who were offended by a Mosque being built downtown?

Well, it's clearly insensitive.

When do I ever cluck my tongue over insensitivity? I'd be a hypocrite to pick/choose!

I'd like to talk to those guys and see where they're coming from.

No, they don't look like they want to be talked to. They're real swaggery.

But it's more of a New York swagger than a Middle-Eastern swagger. In fact, this is pure New York: swaggering immigrant food vendors blasting music (actually quite good) that's absolutely a part of the city's patchwork heritage.

Carry on!
2. Tokyo Watermelon

I traveled to Tokyo with an all-black big band for a week of gigs. The promoter who'd made the arrangements held a reception for us upon arrival, featuring a large presentation of cut-up watermelon. I was the only one who understood he'd paid $100 per for those babies.

Was it a tremendous honor? Or a grievous stereotype?

My colleagues, oblivious to the expense and too hungry and jet-lagged to parse any stereotype, happily ravaged the damned watermelon like crazed locusts.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Tricks for Racking Up Credit Card Charges

Need to make a lot of purchases on a credit card, perhaps to hit a frequent flyer threshold or satisfy a new card's bonus sign-up promotion? Two tricks:

1. Upgrade your gadgets
If you were planning on an X year replacement schedule, you won't lose much by acting sooner. Your current stuff will fetch higher prices without the additional depreciation. This isn't practical if you desperately need the latest version due to launch in a few months, but on items where current's good enough, this is an easy enough move.

2. Buy something expensive on eBay and then resell
Only do this with items where you understand the market (for me, that'd be Apple tech). Look for reasonably good deals, try to haggle down a few bucks (tell them you'll pay immediately), and do diligence to ensure the seller's legit (must be 100% feedback, get them to send you an image of their sales receipt, etc.). Then as soon as you receive the item (after checking for shipping damage, etc) immediately list it for sale on eBay.

If you can market (i.e. write item description) more skillfully than your original seller, or be more patient about awaiting a sale (most eBay sellers are surprisingly desperate), you should get at least the same price, and perhaps enough extra to pay the eBay commission (around $75 on a $2000 laptop) .

If you don't have a 100% feedback eBay account with a decent number (>100) of transactions, build one. This is as useful as a high credit rating. It ensures you can get top dollar on all your sales. I ensure my 100% feedback by being super solicitous (I once emailed an eBay customer from an ambulance to apologize for blowing my shipping date - I threw in a gift DVD - and I'm willing to lose money to keep someone happy).


Update: two more:

1. Amazon gift cards.
If you order as much Amazon prime as I do, you'll go through a few hundred dollars pretty quickly.

2. Pay ahead on bills.
You can send your big cable, mobile, or electric companies as much money as you'd like, and automatically work off the credit as monthly invoices appear. The only hang-up is if you decide to suspend service. But if so, you'll get a check very easily. As awful as Verizon, ConEd, etc. may be, they won't sleaze you out of an account credit. That's just not their particular con.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Shutdown

Here’s how Trump gets out of this shutdown thing.

Get Terry Gilliam to do animations with cardboard cutouts of old British ladies and castles with fart noises, and then when the show comes back on it’s a whole other skit.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Solution to iPhone/iPad Mysterious Battery Draining

Does your Apple mobile device (especially iPads) drain its battery terrifyingly quickly? Maybe even when you're not using it?

You can read through 10,000 bewildered discussion threads recommending a slew of futile solutions....or you can simply turn off syncing of Notes and Reminders in the iCloud settings menu.

Pass it on.

Liberal Materialism

If your worldview is built on the notion that the deprived must be made whole - that wealth-distribution curves represent inherent repression (via specific or institutional racism, classism, misogyny, etc), you will angrily bridle at the observation that "money can't buy happiness"...or any other assertion that perspective trumps circumstance.

Extreme left-wingers would use Marxist vocabulary to scorn this notion as a bourgeois effort to anesthetize workers so they can be easily exploited. More moderate liberals would frame it less formally, but the thrust might be similar: people who feel deprived should never be told to smile and accept. Fuck that, and fuck you.

This meme has hardened into bedrock, though the goalposts keep shifting. "The Poor" no longer connotes sick/hungry/homeless misery. As the First World has grown vastly richer (in terms of comfort, security, health, information, leisure time, entertainment, travel, communications, etc.), there's far less wretchedness. You, yes you, are unimaginably wealthy. So inequality, in itself, has become the new stand-in for "deprivation".

There's good sense in condemning the truly extreme income inequality currently afoot, but if you've been watching the goalpost readjustments, the big picture is apparent: until we all have Macmansions and Playstations - until we're all equal - the work will not be complete. The ditziness of that mindset doesn't bother me nearly as much as the shallow materialism.

For a child of the 60s, it’s all disorienting. Liberals are supposed to be the anti-materialist hippies! Happiness is a matter of perspective, not circumstance. Internal riches - freely available to all - kick ass, while external riches (above/beyond basic needs) lead to jadedness and depression. Some of the poorest people I've ever met have been vastly more happy, equanimous, and wise than many of the wealthiest people I've ever met (does Donald Trump - with all the assets and power one could ask for - strike you as healthy, happy, and content?). The key to happiness is to want what you get rather than get what you want, and to learn to cease one's perennial neurotic sniffing around for what's missing.

That's my hippy side speaking, which is supposed to feel liberal! Yet such anti-materialism is anathema to the current Left. To them, such notions stem not from wisdom but from an out-of-touch, smugly comfortable white middle-aged male who's got his and preaches deprivation from his high-handed conviction that he knows what's best for the rest of us. Spirituality's a crock (their political enemies call themselves "religious", so to hell with both the babies and the bathwater of that ilk) and introspection's worthless. Only materialism can satisfy. It's a foundational human right! We fight not for bread and shelter for the disadvantaged, like our righteous forebears, but for their right to smart watches and Beemers. The have-obscenely-much will be compelled to share their Riedel stemware with the have-slightly-less-obscenely-much. Vive la revolution!

I find this all so baffling that I have little to say (aside from reaffirming my Centrism)...but I will point to a parallel.


The arrogant, irritating, opaque, uncivil but inarguably brilliant Nassim Taleb has been Twitter raging for a while now about the meaninglessness of IQ testing, which he considers unrigorous pseudoscience. He's wrapped up his arguments in an academic paper that, as usual, loses me the moment it descends into fervent math...which Taleb would insist makes me a blithering idiot.

Taleb's very much against the metric of IQ, but he also scoffs, generally, at the sort of rotely calculative faculty IQ aims to measure. He puts far more stock in the approach of "Fat Tonys", his term for street-smart, inarticulate, clever/resourceful wiley SOBs who thrive only when they have "skin in the game", as opposed to the weenies who traffic in sterile academic hypotheticals.

The irony is readily apparent: Taleb is a brainiac who deprecates brainyness; an intellectual elitist raging against intellectual elitism. Predictably, he's drawn criticism from people who see him as poo-pooing the very faculty that brought him success, thereby "keeping the people down" or whatever. That line makes no sense at all here, but, to return to my point, this is the trendy response to anyone who dares to devalue the overvalued from a position of experience.

For example, I recently spotted this vapid and snarky interjection in Taleb's timeline:
It's funny to see someone with a genius level IQ like Taleb literally deny the importance of the metric, when he himself no doubt has a very high IQ, and would not have the cognitive abilities or success he enjoys without it.
...and I tweeted back:
Short people assume tall people have it good, and will snark at tall people insisting otherwise.

See also "Our Albatrosses are Red Herrings".

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Expert/Layman Triage Meta-Fallacy

One of the more insightful Slog regulars couldn't quite distinguish the problem I was trying to highlight in my recent posting "Expert/Layman Triage Fallacy". There was a long comment thread beneath that posting where we both seemed to talk past each other. It's noteworthy that the commenter acknowledges himself to be in a profession prone to this very fallacy.

I showed that discussion to a couple other people in relevant lines of work, and was surprised that they, too, sidestepped my point. It occurred to me that the very same fallacy might be in effect. They even fall into it while reading illustrative anecdotes!

So I mapped it out for one programmer, as follows (you'll want to briefly reread that posting first):
Expert: "A" is useful, but "B" I find completely insufferable...and only I am able to distinguish. Okay....go!

Me: Heartfelt apologies if this is "B", but might this instance be an "A"?

Expert: Yes. Reward.

Me: Heartfelt apologies if this is "B", but might this instance be an "A"?

Expert: Yes. Reward.

Me: Heartfelt apologies if this is "B", but might even this instance be an "A"?

Expert: I punish you for your insufferableness.

Two problems are at work here, but only one is of interest to me:
1. The expert lacks empathy for the position of the non-expert; i.e. his inability to triage.

2. The expert utterly fails to perceive (much less acknowledge) the obvious pattern he's created.

#1 can be attributed to Aspergers or any other reason for failure to empathize with a different perspective. It's not particularly interesting. But #2 is utterly mysterious. And, per above, the strange failure to recognize the pattern holds even while reading anecdotes deliberately highlighting such patterns.

If the expert was aware of the pattern, he'd neutrally, amiably wave off the insufferable result. But there's naked exasperation, regardless of any pre-apologies and disclaimers. That exasperation stems from failure to register an obvious pattern. This obliviousness is a weird, and widespread, cognitive hiccup.

Again, I'm not underscoring the inability of non-experts to triage, or the lack of empathy from experts re: this imbalance. What I'm interested in is the puzzling blindness to a pattern they establish, actively encouraging non-experts to keep blindly presenting, inevitably bringing them withering punishment...even if their presentations are couched in copious apologies and disclaimers hoping to lubricate the process (such efforts do absolutely nothing to mitigate the negative emotional reaction when triage goes the wrong way).


One of my pet peeves is when you run into a store, don’t see what you need (you're certain they don’t carry it), and the owner stops you as you exit, indulgently asking what you were looking for. You say “I’m positive you don’t have it”. He kindly replies “Try me”.

Figuring you're doing him a favor by informing him of unmet consumer demand, you explain what you were seeking, and he drifts back to his previous task (you're no longer a customer, no longer of interest) indifferently sneering that, no, they don’t have that. Like you’re the asshole.

Apparently dismissed, you silently trod out the door.

It’s another triage imbalance, with inappropriate exasperation stemming from blinkered failure to recognize the overarching dialog. It may be the same hiccup.

As with the doctor and the programmer, no quantity of pre-preparation can possibly shake the inevitable behavior. You might try your best (e.g. "I'll tell you, as a favor, what I was looking for. Maybe this will help you make stocking decisions. But bear in mind that I'm taking this time to do you a favor, and might return another time to buy stuff!"). But he'll blink at you in incomprehension, listen as you name the item that both of you know he doesn't carry, and mutter indifferently, ignoring/dismissing you to slink out. He can't see it... any more than the doctor or the programmer can.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Anti-

The reason current Conservatives still identify as conservative despite having turned their backs on virtually all conservative principle is that most Conservatives were never actually conservative to begin with. They were anti-liberal*.

The reason candy factory workers quickly lose their taste for candy is that they never actually loved candy. They were anti-deprivation**.


* - It's much easier to inculcate "anti-them" sentiment than "pro-issues" sentiment requiring education and placing intellect above emotion. Hence Fox News' business plan...and thus hence our national predicament.

This also explains why conservative politicians always reject their own policies when liberals try to implement them (e.g. Obamacare, which came straight from the conservative Heritage Foundation with a bank shot off of Mitt Romney's governorship). They are not particularly for the things they're for. Mostly, they're against what The Other's for.

And I can totally relate, having for years assumed I was some breed of liberal simply by virtue of my revulsion at the far right and in spite of my visceral queasiness with left-wing principles. The realization that I could eschew both Left and Right was liberating. In my case, I embraced conciliatory Centrism. Others unwinding from one spool or another understandably embrace the loudest, flashiest, most charismatic other option. They're actually more evolved than the conventional partisans who consider them dolts. They just didn't know where to go or what to do with their liberation, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation.

** - This holds through for all kinds of jadedness and falling favor...including slumped relationships. Many people seek relationships because they're anti-solo. Many married people get married because they want to be married people, not because they want to marry (yes, I'm riffing on my epigram about singers...see top entry here). 

Another exploration of "anti-" perspectives

TV Tip Catch-Up

In my last TV tip sheet, I raved over "Succession" (HBO), "Killing Eve" (BBC America), "Better Call Saul" (AMC), "Bojack Horseman" (Netflix), "Sharp Objects" (HBO), and, provisionally, "Kidding", the Jim Carrey Showtime vehicle. In retrospect - after viewing Kidding’s whole first season - I was wrong about the point it was making. There was a ton of misdirection, and, once smoke cleared, they turned out to be exploring even deeper themes - though with a most delicate touch and plenty of sugar to help the thoughtfulness go down. None of the critics fully grokked it. My advice is to focus your attention on Frank Langella, the Rosetta Stone of everything he's ever in. Not sure how he does that.
Speaking of Langella, here's yet another plug for his wee film "Starting Out in the Evening," which you can rent/stream on Amazon for $2.99.
More recent shows I've been into: "Escape at Dannemora" (Showtime), Ben Stiller's straight drama prison escape, as flawed as the critics say, and neither subtle nor surprising, yet still enjoyable, "Deutschland 86" (Sundance), whose second season was a step downhill, but still excellent. Faint praise, sure, but then there's "Mr. Inbetween" (FX), an irresistible, lovingly-crafted Australian sleeper about a Bad Guy who's not necessarily a bad guy, and "Succession" (HBO), a soapy treatment of a Murdoch-ish family that wouldn't normally be my cup of tea if it wasn't so well done - subtle and surprising! - that I'm still thinking about it months after the first season ended. It's very nearly as good as "Killing Eve" (returning this spring!) which is a Unesco World Heritage Must-See.

From the less cultured regions of my brain, I'm a "Life Below Zero" (National Geographic Channel) cultist (that's the show about people getting by in the frozen wilderness). Watching these folks for seven years, presented in what seems like The Tube's least staged/shticky reality treatment, has taught me many meta-life lessons, none of them intentional. One day I'll write about them, but if you're not hip to, say, Agnes and Chip Hailstone's approach to caribou skinning, I'm not sure I can make you understand.

Here are all my TV postings in reverse-chronological order.

This posting from 2017 is still relevant, referencing some currently ongoing series like "The Deuce" (HBO), which just finished a very good-not-great season 2, "You're the Worst" (FXX), about to start its final season, and I'm a huge fan (it's a rom-com about awful people, and so inventive it never gets stale), "Rick and Morty" (Adult Swim), a titanic gift to humanity that hopefully debuts its new season soon-ish, and which, n.b., my astute hematologist needs to binge ASAP. "The Expanse" (Syfy) returns soon (switching to Amazon Video), and it's terrific science fiction (though not great enough to transcend genre, if that's not your thing; if you dug the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot, don't miss). "Midnight Diner" (Netflix), about the denizens of a warm late night Tokyo eatery, remains the great series nobody knows about (set expectations for slightness and atmospheric sweetness), and I loved "Atlanta" (FX) early, so I still feel compelled to evangelize it even now that it's blown up huge.

For backlog bingeing tips, see this and this. But if you feel like dipping back into classics, the towering gorilla-in-the-cathode-ray-tube is "Leftovers" (HBO). You just need to persevere through the gloomy and extraordinarily WTF first season (which is actually great and must not be skipped). OTOH I haven't seen "Deadwood" yet (I simply don't want to use it up. I perennially have a full helping of Deadwood freshly available to me).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Expert/Layman Triage Fallacy

I love ferreting out common cognitive failings that are otherwise unnoticed. This one is huge - you can spot it everywhere - but I've never seen anyone point it out. It’s so unilluminated that it’s nearly impossible to make someone see it when they’re in the midst of it. In fact, it's so hard to explain that I can only do so anecdotally. Two examples:

Example #1

Computer Programmer: "Please stop adding tasks to this job. I am full up. Consider the request line closed unless you're ready to pay me a ton more money."

Me: "Ah, ok, sure. It's a pity, as I was really hoping you could make the thing do the thing when they do the thing."

Programmer: "Oh, well, that’s trivial. I can do that, no problem."

Me: "Oh, great! Also, it would be nice if it did the opposite thing if you don't make the thing do the thing when they do the thing."

Programmer: "That’s just a simple toggle. You’ll get that, absolutely."

Me: "Wow, fantastic! Hey, one last thing. Those last two turned out to be trivial, and there’s another, though I will not - repeat: will not! - add it to your task list if it's time-consuming. If it's okay, I'll ask just on the odd chance that, like those two previous things, it turns out to be super trivial. Can’t hurt to ask, right? Hahaha! Would it maybe be super easy to make the blue thing act like the red thing when they press the yellow button? Again, if this is a pain, just ignore this."

Programmer: "Jim. My friend." [Speaking through clenched teeth] "I enjoy working with you, and I wish you every success with your project. But I have already informed you that the task list is closed. What you ask would take hours of work. Kindly stop burdening me, effective immediately."

Me: "But...but...but...you just said...."

Example #2

Patient: "I'm not sure if this is meaningful, but my handwriting keeps getting smaller and smaller."

Doctor: "That’s very meaningful. It's a classic warning sign of Parkinson’s. Hold on while I muster every possible medical resource to stave off this debilitating illness."

Patient (a year later): "I have this strange numbness radiating down my left arm. It's not really bothering me, but it's weird. And I can't quite catch my breath."

Doctor: "Thank goodness you told me. You are quite possibly having a heart attack."

Patient (a year later): "I know this is crazy, and I doubt it's of any importance, but sometimes minor stuff's significant, so here goes. My thumbnail is growing more quickly than usual."

Doctor: "It means Spring's coming late this year? Maybe you're part lobster?" [suppresses eye-roll, mentally noting this classic example of petty patient alarmism]


Patient: "But...but...but...you just said...."

Followup posting here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy Asterisk New Year

Happy New Year as of whichever date your chosen belief system appoints as its annual reset.


Genie Wishes

Every wish I've ever wished for myself has come true. Not all my wishes were smart ("be careful what you wish for" is a notoriously hard lesson to learn), but I accepted the results with equanimity. How can you complain when you've gotten your wish? And some of my more poorly-phrased wishes yielded evil genie prank results, and I took those on the chin, too. But a slew of clear-eyed wishes were granted exactly as I'd hoped.

My big apparent wishmanship shortcoming was the failure to request ongoing gratification. There were no "process" wishes. Only once, for example, did I play a solo trombone gig in a cool nightclub before a raptly spellbound audience which erupted into lengthy cheers while the bartender handed me, on cue, a perfectly poured foamy Belgian ale in a "Leffe" goblet. That was never my norm.

I'm not sure how it could have worked, anyway. I'm not someone who'd be happy mindlessly repeating rewardable behavior in the world's various Skinner Boxes, so I’m not sure how ongoing gratification could possibly have gratified. I'd almost surely have risked evil genie prank response.

But it doesn't matter, given that the immediacy of the moment is paradise if you're not perennially scanning for what's missing. That disappearing trick, in fact, was the best genie grant of all. It makes all other wishes - including "process" wishes - unnecessary.

I no longer find the story told in one of the most popular Slog postings, "The Monks and the Coffee," uplifting or provocative. It's just a "duh" if you've dropped the nonsensical habit of scanning for What's Missing.


Even an inveterate lasagna lover can't suffer on lasagna-less days if he simply declines to concoct indulgent fake mental drama over it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Stalinist Bounceback

The extreme right perennially flirts with fascism, while the extreme left perennially flirts with Stalinism. Each side has reason to smear the other with these respective terms.

We've recently become exceptionally well-acquainted with the Right's end-stage affinity for fascism. Scary, but this current iteration - let's call it The Turd Reich - is way, way too stupid to successfully execute on its dark ambitions (not to say lots of shit won't get randomly broken).

I'm more worried about the bounceback (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?). The angrier and more fearful the Left gets, the more it radicalizes, becoming increasingly brazen about indulging Stalinist instincts. Even out of power, the muscles flex.

The Twitter feed of the arrogant, spotty, opaque, maddening, and occasionally brilliant Nassim Taleb (here are some of his 2018 best-ofs) has nicely boiled down the Stalinist process into three stages (though I disapprove of his context, which is why I won't link to the tweet): "pathologize, punish, and then criminalize dissent."

That sequence could be our future. It would be helpful to drill it in now, so it feels less surprising later. Remember!


Consider, for example, the extreme Left's prescription for racism.

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