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 necessary:
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 just 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 than 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.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Forgiveness

Addressing the remaining stragglers (per the intro here, the Slog's perceptual framing jag has thrilled most readers into a walking ovation) - more specifically, the three of you actually pondering the framing issue - here's an enlightening question to ask yourself:

How hard is it to forgive?

If your answer is "not so hard!", great! But play with the slider. Consider worse behavior and more toxic people. Dig deeper into your dark memory. Is there a point where you must acknowledge that, gulp, yeah, sure, that person might be a little harder to forgive?

Thousands of words can be encapsulated into one counterintuitive - yet undeniable - observation. And let me insist in advance that I'm right. You'll know I'm right, deep down. So the exasperated "WTF" you're about to experience is the sensation of your assumptions scraping against the truth. Ok, here goes. Brace positions, everyone!

Forgiving the most egregious people is just as easy as flipping to the other view here:



It's that easy. It's always been that easy.
There are reasons people become who they are and do what they do. Genetic reasons. Psychological damage reasons. Inability to handle fear or anger or other impulses. More than anything: frozen perspective. It doesn’t have to do with you. Nothing anyone does really has much to do with you. People are strapped tightly into their private cinematic experience, and you’re a mere blip on their screen. They don’t talk to you so much as to the “you” in their heads: an avatar; a caricature; a two-dimensional cartoon with your name attached, like a voodoo doll. Unlike them, you’re not locked mercilessly into a movie. You’re free to reframe. You have psychic room to forgive....in less than the blink of an eye. You can forgive the best, the worst, the whole damn lot, just like that! Forgive the thoughtless slights and the brutal clobbers. They know not what they do. You can do it right this instant, preferably with feeling. It'd be infinitely more useful than reading further!

I don't like citations in general (if your point isn't persuasive on its own, corroboration from some authority won't convince me much), and I'm even less into biblical citations (as I once explained, talk of "god" strikes me as the worst sort of name dropping). But I'll just throw in one more: Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you and persecute you. It's not about dry saintly self-denial; quite the contrary, it's about asserting control over your world via a framing choice; a shift of perspective - a perceptual flip - out of ugly bondage and into beauteous freedom; out of Hell and into Heaven (and - for those who give a damn  - this is also how to “be the change” you’d like to see on the world. Someone must go first!). It’s the most gleefully libertine pivot one can make; more tequila and Corvettes than hair shirts and nun habits. More Bugs Bunny than Joan of Arc. Have you just reframed this most puzzling of biblical injunctions as being entirely about framing?

It's probably best to think about the above for a while (perhaps a long while) before reading on. Maybe actually try it. Playfully, like a child teaching herself to wiggle her ears.

Forgiveness and humor are two of the easiest manners of reframing. Both feel great and leave you unburdened (what gets us down in this life can always be traced back to a frozen perspective - inner choice, not outer outcome). Yet some people are too stuck to participate in humor (or at least they draw a line beyond which things are definitely not funny), while forgiveness is downright rare. Many of us are too stuck to forgive much of anything, ever.

Yet both can occur in a fraction of a nano-second (less, actually; unlike cognitive thought, reframing happens instantly, which seems to indicate it happens beyond the physical universe...but that's a whole other issue). The mental effort required is precisely zero. We may have convinced ourselves that it's hard, but, again, the only resistance is our own needlessly frozen perspective.

I once forgave the world utterly in a chain reaction that became all-encompassing...and have never been the same. This reframing is as effortlessly and instantaneously available as any other flip of perspective. Easy peasy! We have infinite options. We just forget.

If you prefer not to forgive - if you don't want to feel great and recognize that you have a great life in a great world - that's perfectly okay. We're not all blue pill people; most of us choose to go along with the foggy dream logic. And that choice makes sense, given that we're all here to immerse in a movie; to pretend to have highly dramatic experiences within overarching stories. It's understandable to not want the show interrupted. A kid banging away on his Game Boy™ would rather not be tapped on the shoulder and reminded "it's just a game!" But just remember: you do have a choice. And it is very, very not "hard".


Friday, September 6, 2019

Nth Attempt to Remind Everyone We're in Utopia

The following partial list of Utopian improvements we enjoy here in the future previously appeared in a posting from earlier this year. It was buried under a slew of tweets I'd embedded by Tom Nichols, who trollishly enjoys challenging perpetually outraged people on Twitter to reframe perspective and recognize the Utopia they're in. He’s especially savage with people who insist things are getting worse. 

Nichols does this better than I do (so I'd urge you to read the posting above and to follow him on Twitter), but the list I came up with was pretty good, so I've rerun it below. Note that I took a more wordy approach to the issue in a recent posting, "Did You Miss the Part About How We're in Utopia??". And I once took the time to explain why people don't want to be in Utopia, which explains why many of us deem this Utopia a hellscape. Things seem worse as things get better because we've lost all perspective, and the recognition of this stems from clear thinking, not mindless optimism.


Cars never stall (i.e. they “just work”), don’t need to be warmed up, are almost never broken into, and last twice as long.

No gross haze of leaded fuel fumes and cigarette smoke.

It’s vanishingly unlikely you’ll ever be punched in the mouth, even if you’re an insufferable asshole.

Most people are anti-war, whereas that was once a weirdo minority with a semi-derogatory title: “pacifists” (when was the last time you even heard the term?).

The experience of “getting lost” feels like a freaky, outrageous edge case. I used to spend as much time dealing with being lost as I did trying to hunt down facts at the library or looking for a payphone (or for change for the payphone).

Television is a vast portal of endless rich inspiration.

Nobody gets headaches anymore (since bottled water). We were absolutely plagued with them before (I don't mean migraines).

Food that’s better than basic nourishment for under $$$, and waiters who don’t scowl if you’re not wearing expensive shoes.

Sushi; spicy food; espresso and lattes; organics; and authentic Thai, Mexican, and Chinese.

All human knowledge, media, products, and music plus infinite free worldwide communication on a slab of glass in your pocket.

Nice wood floors; not always crappy synthetic carpeting everywhere.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Gun Safety Laws, Mass Shootings, and the Iraq Invasion

I'm re-upping this posting from October, 2015.


I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain the right to the left (I'm myself near the center - a pox on both their houses, etc. - which gives me some perspective). Here are my previous efforts at right-whispering (this one is a good start).

I hate guns. All they've ever done is maim my loved ones. But I've lived in urban and suburban areas, where they're not part of a legitimate culture. If it were up to me, we'd melt them all down, but I recognize (and am apparently rare in the recognizance) that we share the country with other cultures and values, which deserve consideration and compromise.

Whenever these mass shootings happen, many people, understandably, advocate for tighter gun control. But the more intelligent, less emotional voices on the other side make good points:

1. There is nearly one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US. So "lots of guns" is a given for the foreseeable future. It's politically unfeasible (not to mention unconstitutional) to take firearms away from their lawful owners; so any proposal hinging on the need to meaningfully reduce guns is daft. If the mass shooting problem is to be addressed, it must be done with the assumption of a landscape flush with guns as a given, whether we like it or not. That's not a right wing talking point; it's common sense.

2. The crazies will always find access to guns. We can try to tighten their access a bit (mostly to the inconvenience of non-crazies), but crazy people tend to be, if nothing else, persistent. And further stigmatizing and segregating the mentally ill would be no solution (who among us, for one thing, is completely mentally well 24/7?).

3. I'm no expert, but I gather that current gun-control/safety proposals would likely have prevented scant few of the mass-shootings we've seen in recent years. This point seems well-conceded by pragmatic voices on the left.

To me, that last one is pretty convincing. Since it's already unlawful to kill innocents with guns, further legislation needs to be very smart. Or else it can simply fulfill a kneejerk desire to "do something". But good government oughtn't work that way, and, alas, no one claims to have the smart answer. Leaders shouldn't simply flail, even amid horror.

Let me be clear: every single gun safety law I've heard about makes abundant good sense to me. I'd love to see them all implemented! The gun trade is horrendously under-regulated, and most Americans are sane enough to recognize that we need to tighten them. But none of them would prevent the shootings we're seeing. These solutions wouldn't fix the problem.

That's why the right is outraged by seemingly common sense proposals. Remember after 9/11, when neoconservatives seized the opportunity to invade Iraq, a long-time to-do item for them - for reasons completely unrelated to 9/11? And do you remember how the rest of us screamed our heads off about exploiting tragedy to pursue unrelated political aims? That's how the right feels when liberals renew pushing for gun control (always on their to-do list) after these tragedies, when those laws wouldn't prevent these sorts of tragedies any more than Saddam's demise would have prevented 9/11. It's not that they're against gun safety. It's that they've spotted the misdirection, and it gets their backs up.


Another thing to remember: anytime you hear astronomical statistics on American gun violence cited by the left, know there's a catch. Suicide accounts for way more than half of it - though it's seldom noted by gun-control advocates. So it's not just the right who bugger statistics and blur fact. Dissemblance makes people mistrustful, and mistrust explains why sane conservatives, otherwise inclined to gun safety laws, push back so hard against them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Software Problems, Gastric Reflux, and the Cult of Eschewing Blueberry Yogurt

If there's a replicable problem with some software, no problem! You write to the developer, reporting that when you hit the button while pressing the key the duck's supposed to quack, but...no quack. The developer tries it himself, and is able to replicate your replicable problem. The bug is squashed, and presto. All fixed!

But some problems are intermittent. You search for a reliable trigger, and the developer struggles to determine the source, but it's all maddeningly unpredictable. Essentially random! Over time, a few dozen, or hundred, or thousand, or million people come to share your anguish, all searching for a cause and a workaround. This can persist for years, even decades.

As a wonky Mac nerd, I've watched this scenario unfold in online forums hundreds of times. The exact same patterns predictably appear each time.

There are the moralists. They, themselves, are not experiencing the problem, which clearly means the others have only themselves to blame. They're morons who are using their computers wrong. Right-users are just fine.

Then there are the drones who offer the same mindless, rote bundle of suggestions for any unexplainable problem. It makes them feel/seem smart, and hey, it might help (this mindless scattershot approach is like asking everyone in a bar to sleep with you on the odd chance someone says yes). Repair permissions! Zap the parameter ram! Reinstall your system software! Clean your keyboard with a Q-Tip and isopropyl alcohol! Folks take the day off from work to diligently work down the list, and not once in the history of computing has it ever fixed a widely-experienced intermittent problem.

Eventually religions form. Human minds cannot tolerate randomness. We resourcefully find some sort of order in even the most staticky white noise. This is what humans do; what we've evolved for (among other things, it makes conspiracy theories attractive). We need to know, and if we don't know, and can't know, we'll concoct some flimsy explanation and make ourselves believe it, religiously, even if the theory keeps disproving itself.

Someone announces that they've finally found The Answer. If you press the button seven times, turn up the volume then turn it back down again, fluff your pillows and eat a danish, then restart your computer twice in 17 second intervals, that seems to work!

Others will follow these arcane instructions and, praise cheeses, find blessed relief. Why? Because intermittent problems are intermittent, which means literally anything you do seems to fix it. Thus a cult is formed, and, like any incipient religious movement, it will reflexively disregard contrary evidence. Yes, the problem came back, but I might not have waited exactly 17 seconds. Also, it's raining. Anyway, it's better now, but there's some other x-factor we haven't quite pinned down.

Meanwhile, other religions arise, offering various incantations and mythologies. Leff's Law of Intermittent Software Problems: the moment when the most people are the most confused is inevitably the moment of the greatest unflinching certainty that it's all been pinned down (non-coincidentally, this is also Leff’s Law of Religion).



Gastric reflux is notoriously hard to pin down. Droning doctors will hand you a long list of things to try doing (and to not do). The scattershot approach. No one in the history of reflux has ever been fully fixed by following these rules. Meanwhile, moralists who don't have reflux will tell you (however politely) that you're fat and slovenly and eat poorly; that you're an alcoholic and a general moral failure.

As you dive into online discussion, you'll find a rich array of religious cults built around reflux. You may even create one yourself! "I've figured it out!" you'll at some point announce. "Blueberry yogurt! That's the problem! When I eat blueberry yogurt, I get reflux, and when I don't, I'm fine!"

Lots of problems here. First, "always" getting reflux means it happened twice (three times, tops). And since you don't eat blueberry yogurt all the time, and don't get reflux all the time, odds are high that on any given day you won't eat blueberry yogurt and you won't get reflux, giving a false impression of success. What's more, you're not factoring in all the times in the past when you've eaten blueberry yogurt without a problem. That's not a tabulation you've been running all these years because it's not super interesting. I've probably scratched my left ear twelve million times without triggering a migraine.

Here's how you really get roped in: Amid the vastness of the Internet and its infinite typing monkeys, you'll discover 4 or 5 or 26 fellow travelers who also believe that blueberry yogurt is the answer. Sweet corroboration! This evidence locks in your conclusion, and a new congregation has formed: the cult of eschewing blueberry yogurt.

Faith will soon be tested. On some days without blueberry yogurt, you'll still get reflux (but NOT AS OFTEN!!!!). On some days without reflux, you will have eaten blueberry yogurt (a FLUKE!!!! There's also an X-FACTOR!!!!). These results would challenge the faith of non-believers, but you are fervid, standing by your conclusion while acknowledging that the problem is subtle and multi-faceted. However: you're making progress in sussing out the full truth!

The intermittence of the problem has sucked you in. It's like a reverse slot machine that pays out continuously and briefly stops once in a while. No matter what you do, you'll feel smart - you're doing it right! - most of the time. Each new move feels like it's working, while every queasy bout feels like some nagging x-factor you've not quite closed in on.
In a bullish market, day traders feel like geniuses, because the overall rising market proves every move wise. But markets always dip!
Progress seems to be made. Most of the time you feel good! Hard-won insight like the blueberry yogurt revelation has helped a lot! If you’d made even a cursory effort to track and log your condition - nobody does! - you'd observe that the outcome has always been more or less constant. Nonetheless, we're getting on top of this thing. We're all considerably above average.


Intermittent problems are the big peril with refurbished tech. Easily detected, well-understood problems will generally be addressed, but items may be returned due to intermittent issues, and there's no protocol for checking/fixing them because they're inherently hard to detect (much less repair). Of course buying new is also a risk, but I'd imagine that returned items turned around via refurbishing tend to have a greater frequency of such issues.

Motive

I recently sent a pep talk to a grieving friend, but he took it the wrong way.

I replied:
It may seem like I imagine myself to be preaching from a position of imaginary superiority. But that’s 180 degrees wrong.

I imagine myself beaten, bloodied and sprawled on the tarmac, but finding, to my shock, my equanimity perfectly intact. This makes me the prophet of blithe failure, of worse-case scenario, compelled to deliver to those consumed by comparatively trivial injury the good news of what’s actually possible (i.e. freedom and delight despite the cinematic appearance of things and the neurotic compulsion to judge the current moment by what's missing). If I can coax you into occupying my perspective and feeling reassured for even a moment, the disquieting course which tempered this equanimity will have been worth it!

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that it all boils down to a vanishingly tiny magic trick that I hadn't realized others don't recognize as perpetually available: the ability to lithely reframe. By simply remembering that you can always shift perspective (even while fraught or furious), the prevailing drama loses its grip, revealing stress and suffering to be self-induced and strictly optional.

Bona fide problems are exceedingly rare. When they occur, they're immediately acted upon in the moment. If someone ran into your room right now shooting a rifle, you wouldn’t think about it. You'd dive under the furniture without stopping to weave it into your perennially lousy luck or any of the other pain points you've been mentally curating. Real problems needn't metastasize into burdensome stories.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Bemused Bullshitting Colorful Characters Are Not the Enemy (though shouldn't be president)

For previous efforts to explain seemingly inexplicable right-wing behavior (a centrist can explain much better than partisans can!), see postings labeled "right whispering", including this one drawing an interesting connection between left and right hypocrisy on guns and abortions.


Check out this 45 second video:


I know this guy. Not this specific guy, but guys like him. I myself am a guy like him. He makes me feel comfortable.

What he's saying is utter bullshit, obviously. But notice his sardonic grin and deliberately doofy body english. He knows he's riffing colorfully. I mean, he's leaning into it, making himself believe it, but he's 75% grinning and bullshitting....while the rest of Twitter judges and scolds like craggy schoolmarms. Bunch of tight-assed colorless killjoys.

He's being "a character", and thank goodness for characters. I don't want to live in a society composed entirely of smoothed-out corp-bots. Guys like him add color to this giant collaborative art work we're all engaged in here on this planet. More power to him.

That said, I don't want him to be president.

Not because he's dumb (I don't think he's dumb), and not because he's full of shit (I do think he's full of shit), but because he's not qualified. Thing is, I'm positive he's deadly rational and pragmatic and even superior when it comes to inventorying warehouses or installing dry wall or running a small business, or whatever he did in Beantown before moving to Florida. There's stuff he's super good at, but with other stuff, he's a bit loopy. Just like you and me! Reader, would you care to riff on-camera about pork belly futures or geosynchronous orbits or the history of talcum powder production? And try to be entertaining and provocative? Give me 45 secs on those topics, and let's see how you do! You'll sound like him.

Predictably, Twitter is calling him a dimwit, a fool, and much worse. They don't recognize that he is just like them - competent in his area of competency, but a bemused riffer on all else. He knows stuff you and I don't. He just has a different bundle of know-how. The world works because we're all specialists in our bundle. It's a feature, not a bug.

But if he were to feel the brunt of the Twitter tsunami of harsh condescension, he'd surely brew up some reciprocal loathing. Bemused bullshit would condense into seething ire. And condescension-fueled seething ire is at the route of our current socio-political predicament. I hang out in rural Texas a lot. I like it there. And the question I'm most often asked is "do people in New York really hate country people like us?" (I recount one such recent conversation here). If you're a liberal urbanite who feels disliked and disrespected by your red state counterparts, consider how you think/talk about them!

Much as I like this guy, and am this guy, I don't want him to be president, because it's not his key competency. But in 2016 a bemused bullshit character snuck into that office as a fluke; a performative protest against an unlikeable seemingly inevitable victor. Horrible for the country, for sure, but, hey, that's how democracy works; all elements get a shot. And the bemused bullshitting characters who bemusedly voted for one of their own (I'm not talking about the rabid cultists) have since developed seething ire at our merciless condescension re: them and their choice - their sacred franchise to do as they wish with, even flippantly.

Thus bemusement condenses and eyes blind to the calamitous results of a bemused electoral choice. "Hey let's shake the dice" curdles into "Seriously, fuck y'all" after a couple years of being screeched at and deemed racist monsters. Folks unsurprisingly don't enjoy that. It makes them stick more tenaciously with their bemused bullshitting choice. They make themselves really believe in it. Loopy colorful bemusement easily hardens into "fuck y'all" dead seriousness.

This, I believe, describes and explains the lifecycle of this predicament. Or at least reframes it (and the more we reframe, the more clearly we see and understand, so I make it my task to endlessly seek out and try on alternate perspectives).


BTW, If you could read through that without concluding that I assume him to be a Trump voter (fwiw I have no idea), that places you in the top 99th percentile of reading comprehension. Humanity has seemingly lost the ability to parse parallel comparisons.


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