Wednesday, October 23, 2019

How Facebook Should Defend Permitting Political Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bugs in the Apple

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Rod Blagojevich Defense

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


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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Needing to Be Careful About What We Say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Grossness Be Gone

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

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

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



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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Another view

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ubiquity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. How do these guys do it?

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Not Paying the Asshole Tax

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, October 11, 2019

Seriously, Buy LED Bulbs

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Brevity is a Whit of Soul

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

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

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

Friday, October 4, 2019

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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