Monday, July 15, 2024

Soulful Serendipity Simpatico

Left: Veal spaghetti at Chafariz Snack Bar, Setúbal, Portugal
Right: Hailam Mee at Yut Kee Restaurant, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

There's often deeper simpatico in serendipitous similarity (soulfully rendered) than in some hasty attempt at authenticity.

Processing Hamas Support Through the Lens of Vietnam Protest

It's 1970-ish. I'm a bright eight year old. Carried by the moment, I choose sides, aligning with the younger generation which is touchy about being sent to distant rice paddies to murder Vietnamese strangers and likely return in a coffin (as did several neighbors). The other side, with their crewcuts and cufflinks, seem morally disconnected, so I instinctually chose my side. We had Jimi Hendrix, they had Perry Como. There was never any doubt.

I had a thumbnail notion of the Cold War and I grokked the logic of domino theory. Evil tends to expand, and the cancer must be stemmed. But Republicans seemed hyperbolic in their anti-Communist paranoia. What's worse, they kept calling people like me "Commies" - an awfully disturbing association given their stated desire to mow down Communists en masse. Maybe we were next, after they'd won the rice paddies.

Then Jane Fonda went on the radio over there to spew propaganda at conscripted troops risking their lives, and I felt my first-ever pang of Centrist moderation. Same with activists who expressed solidarity with the Viet Cong. The Left had gone too far - the Viet Cong were plainly abhorrent - but I still dearly wanted us out of Vietnam.

At my tender age, I held a rather narrow view, wired into the immediate. Local kids were dying in distant jungles. Winning the war would scarcely improve my life, but merely serve the paranoid whims of creepy shitheads like Richard Nixon. It seemed simple.

Now, with the better part of a century of experience, I better understand the view of the creepy shitheads. Isolationism had been strongly debunked only three decades prior. I still would oppose intervention in Vietnam, but now I see complexity where I previously beheld simplicity. It's not an improved me, just one with more framing options.

I'm no expert on the Middle East conflict, but I know enough to firmly conclude that there is no righteous party. Each side claims righteousness by reciting a litany of atrocities committed by the Other, and both litanies are full-to-bursting. And, as I predicted, the Israelis were cynically - and quite successfully - baited into barbarism by the Hamas attack.

But that's me, with my broad, higher framing. Younger people, more narrowly framed, behold the latest barbarism in a non-contextualized freeze frame of Right Now. And they're not entirely wrong. Barbarism is barbaric, regardless of one’s litany of atrocity. If you slap a kid in public, your statement of justification will do you little good. You're now The Child Slapper. Never mind that this was the kid’s plan all along. 

I use my Vietnam memories to better relate to the Left's Middle East take, generally. Regarding extremists who've gone as far as to embrace Hamas out of rote solidarity with the enemy of perceived bad guys, I recall the somewhat milder contempt I felt for Viet Cong boosterism. At the time, I could distantly relate to the fools who chose that route. So I revive that impression in my effort to re-associate Hamas cosplayers with civilization; to at least distantly relate to fools who went that route.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Just Run-of-the-Mill Recent Eats

Restaurant Safibel is a fish restaurant run by an elderly woman who does pretty much everything. She's harried and grim, yet insists on baking desserts herself, a rarity since perfectly good bakeries stand ready to supply. Her nut tarts are exquisite. I'm pretty sure I'm the only customer ever to compliment her for them. Here, that actually means something.

Oksana is owned by a Ukrainian woman who speaks perfect Portuguese. She cooks 99% Portuguese food, except one Ukrainian dish one day per week. I may be the only customer who orders this stuff. This week: pelmeni. Dill's hard to find here, and she used to skip it, but I've been urging her, and look how happy the dumplings are for it.

The Bombay-born chef of Leitaria Montalvao knew I was coming and specially prepared an off-menu dopiaza just for me - perhaps the first ever cooked in Portugal.

None of them know my background. I'm just the exuberant American who comes around. But I'm eating extremely well here in Setúbal, pretty much the Utica of Portugal. No one understands how great this place is, including the natives. The small community of American immigrants sticks to shiny joints on the main drag.

I'm the only chowhound in this entire town. Perhaps a bit lonely, but I can't complain, as I'm like a kid running freely around a chocolate factory. Still nowhere near bored, and I've scarcely made a dent in the options of a town with a population smaller than Green Bay, WI.

Dr. Becky Science Videos and the Mystery of Dark Matter

There are vast numbers of people of varying qualification explaining science news on YouTube. Especially astro-physics, which attracts more laymen attention than, say, molecular biology.

Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford who goes by "Dr. Becky" (because of course she does), has blasted right by all of them. When a given piece of astronomy news hits, all the YouTubers cover it, but Dr. Becky's channel inevitably produces terser, cleaner, clearer, saner treatment. And her graphics and charts are beautifully selected.

Those eyeballs don't glue themselves, however, so Dr. Becky compensates for lack of clickbait hyperbole via general exuberance and cuteness (every video is followed by a blooper reel where, tee-hee, she mispronounces, like, Chandrasekhar or nucleosynthesis).

Me, I disregard the spoonful of sugar and go straight for the medicine. It's great to have astrophysics news directly from someone in that community. You can really get a sense of the momentary consensus.

To bury the lead, it's impossible to overstate the importance of dark matter as a scientific mystery. A mere 5% of the universe is composed of material we've observed or theorized. The rest of it...who knows?

We're working like gangbusters to figure it out, but you can't exactly stay abreast of news because there is no news, per se. We know literally nothing about dark matter because it's only inferred. If your husband often comes home late from work but his office phone line pepetually goes to voicemail at 5pm, you can be reasonably certain there's another woman...but only as a theoretical notion, not an actual person. It's exactly like that.

Dark matter represents a scientific crossroads that will be remembered as long as there are humans to remember. It's a much higher-level mystery than the rest. It's worth taking your vitamins and losing a few pounds to improve your odds of finding out in this lifetime.

Naturally, a splinter group has arisen to insist that dark matter is not real, and that it's just that we fundamentally misunderstand gravity. They propose that gravity, unlike other basic physics laws, varies in different circumstances, and they're hellbent on finding anomalous gravity situations, each of which sparks headlines about the death of dark matter.

The leading cadre are the MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics) supporters, who apparently just got a boost from some strange gravitational lensing results, as explained by another YouTuber, Sabine Hossenfelder (who at this point is more science explainer than scientist, and she was never directly connected to astrophysics). Dr. Becky hasn't covered the gravitational lensing paper, so I suspect Hossenfelder's enthusiasm was premature. But we'll see. I'm MOND skeptical, but nobody is dismissing it out of hand.

Two Dr. Becky videos to get you started:
How do we know how much dark matter there is in the Universe? - a great 16 minute tutorial to bring you up to date.

The search for dark matter on Jupiter - an extremely kooky proposition, since dark matter is normally assumed to be way out there, and certainly not in our neighborhood.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Apple $232

So when Apple's new improved Siri comes out next year and some problem with it gets tons of press, and the stock price falls below $200, you'll all buy shares without my pushing you into it, right?

On the one hand, it takes patience to wait out these long Apple cycles. On the other hand, taxes are awfully low on long term capital gains!

And, speaking of cycles and patience, the stock market is white hot right now. When everyone is losing their mind buying hand over fist, the smart move is to sell. And vice versa. Selling now ensures you'll have the cash to pick up bargains in the coming downturn.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

The Rehashing Mind

I'm easily confused, so I ponder and ponder until I've brewed up some insight. Even if it takes decades! I'll go to the ends of the earth to understand better when things don't make sense to me.

I've suddenly realized, after decades of gear-spinning, that this inclination is 100% normal. Everyone does this; they nurse their confusion points, unconsciously spin gears, and periodically rehash hot topics for reconsideration. But there's an essential difference in my case: I don't dramatize it.

Sit in the window of any urban coffee shop and watch pedestrians stroll by. They're palpably consumed with mental rehashing of sore points. Re-litigating old arguments, contriving more clever responses to That Horrible Thing That Person Said, and reexamining for the hundred thousandth time their waistline, their bank balance, and ten thousand familiar points of aggrieved confusion. And scant few of them exhibit any joy.

I do what they do, but (thanks to lots of meditation) without the angst. By opting out of self-triggering and stress, I enjoy some bandwidth - some peaceful spaciousness - to muse bemusedly. There's room for insight to gather and connections to be made as sundry flips and framings are tried on for size. La dee dah. And the insights bring joy.

I'm not desperately trying to seize the reins, straighten it all out, and make things go better. I dispassionately peer at knots, obstructions, and outcomes through a microscope, crisply decked out in my starched laboratory smock, while nearly everyone else screams and flails within a virtual reality helmet perma-strapped to their heads. They experience no distance; no remove.
Here's how they reach that point: at first, they pretended to enjoy fake drama - like seeking out rollercoasters and horror movies for momentary thrills. But having over-invested in the pretending, they lose cognizance that it was their choice to begin with. The world freezes into malignity as they forget that the whole proposition was - and remains - elective. They forget their freedom to reframe!
For most people, the tedious replaying of woeful mental tapes feels like torture. Nothing good ever pops out. No golden ticket! But the rehashing is not the problem. If you can relax into it, and toy with it, and dilate rather than constrict - like learning to steer into a skid! - it becomes contemplation, sparking epiphany and insight. It's a framing thing!

Summing up: The mind’s rehashing faculty can be used for contemplation as well as for the standard neurotic self-torture. In either case, we follow instinct, aiming to trigger an epiphany which might reframe the matter and put it to rest. But you can't force it. You can't squeeze it. You can't push a string! As in all sorts of learning, it's most effective to adopt a playful, childlike approach.

Thursday, July 4, 2024


I'm pulling a line out of an older posting, "The Husk", so I can make it one of my "Definitions" entries (which I try to keep short):

Real magic is contriving a whole to exceed the sum of its parts. Fake magic is the mastery of trickery and deception.

Here are all postings labeled "definition".

The Relish of Freddie Miles

I added some key points to yesterday's posting, "Be Freddie Miles". Here's the current version of the paragraph, after the addition:
Most of us collapse, for no good reason, into an unappealing off-the-rack bit/type/cartoon. Consciously or not, we bought a ticket and then we took the ride. But same for anyone like me who decided to remain an earnest, unaffected eleven year old. No points are awarded for that. Freddie Miles is doing it right. If the world compels you to be a cartoon cut-out character serving other people's narcisissistic mental contrivances, at least lean into it. Relish it. And force the card.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Be Freddie Miles

Tying together a slew of Slog themes which are obviously related, though I'm too slow to have previously noticed...

I was famous for a while and didn't like it. This is because one can't be famous. Your name can be famous, and some superficial facet of you can be famous, but not you you. It's a thinly-sketched cartoon-you. This disjoint makes encounters with fans strange at best and calamitous at worst, and explains why it's best not to meet heroes - who impertinently fail to embody the cartoon you assume them to be.

Then I wasn't famous. But as my circle drastically shrunk, I felt a queasy recognition that I wasn't any better "seen". I was just famous (i.e. cartoon-ized) for fewer people. And as I've surpassed Kafka on the existential shrinking scale, this remains true.

People are lost in their heads, terribly occupied with orchestrating an imagined cinematic journey for themselves. The rest of us won't occupy much attention. We're side players - colorful additions to enhance a protagonistic narrative; transactional units given emotional stakes via cinematic gesture. The montage flashes by: The Love Interest! The Pal! The Frenemy! The Boss! It's no wonder sensitive humans perennially feel alienated, feeling like cartoon cut-out characters serving other people's narcisissistic mental contrivances.

But that realization alone isn't worth much. Spotting delusion doesn't mean you're sane; it just means you're observant. It's a huge clue that we only ever rue alienation in the first person. No one pays a lick of attention to how they alienate others. Awakening to omnipresent narcissism is only a tentative first step toward recognizing that you, yourself, are the problem.
It always amazes me to see people mystified by behavior they themselves exemplify. You are the greatest source of information on why people do what they do! I keep flashing back to how my parents were perpetually indignant about how, as they kept moving further eastward on Long Island, the assholes from Brooklyn kept following them and ruining the rural landscape. They never realized that we, ourselves, were the Brooklyn assholes who kept moving eastward and ruining things!
Our thin, washed-out, unrealistic and cartoonish way of viewing celebrities is not a phenomenon of fame. For a narcissist - and nearly everyone in the First World is one - all relationships are cartoonish. Everyone we know is thinly famous - reduced to a prominent characteristic or two.

We warn each other to "never meet your heroes" because as soon as one steps out of character (not their actual character, but the character we've contrived for them), they've committed existential atrocity. Same problem for people in one's immediate circle. Everyone is counting on you to be That Guy - to embody the cartoon you're perceived to represent. Lock in, or else!

This is all leading to a confession of error. I've always expressed contempt for people who model themselves as a Type.
There are a few dozen clone lines in any society, no more. People are types, which is adaptive behavior because it lubricates social interaction. When you meet a brassy lady with a gravelly voice and energetic good humor, you feel that you know that person. Love her or hate her, you can deal with her comfortably due to long experience with her clone line. Same for the aloofly ponderous academic. Or the BAD BOY. No one's born as these things. The personas are adopted via modeling, these days mostly via movie and TV actors. In the old days, one modeled the persona of a family member or another local "role models" (turn that phrase around in your mind for a moment!).

We really commit to the role. A person never feels more expressively uniquely himself than when he's being most flagrantly clone-ish. That's exactly how the millions driving VW bugs or listening to "indie rock" manage to feel fiercely nonconformist. "Hey, I'm a free-thinking type! Yeah, one of those!"
I must admit defeat, acknowledging that the person who chooses a type, and sticks to it through hell and high water, wins. That's how you win. Me? I've worked hard to ensure I'm uniquely useful. Don't do that. You know who wins? Freddie Miles wins. Here's Freddie:

Freddie Miles wins. Freddie Miles, who is 1000% affectation and smugness and swaggering ballsy confidence. Freddie Miles is working too hard to embody this superficial cartoon to have any inner life, but it's not his superficiality that makes him, it's his unshakable commitment to the bit.

This is not a deep world. Committing to the bit - and making sure it's a contagious one - is literally all that's called for. That, after all, is the golden ticket. That's the answer. Game over.

Most of us collapse, for no good reason, into an unappealing off-the-rack bit/type/cartoon. Consciously or not, we bought a ticket and then we took the ride. But same for anyone like me who decided to remain an earnest, unaffected eleven year old. No points are awarded for that. Freddie Miles is doing it right. If the world compels you to be a cartoon cut-out character serving other people's narcisissistic mental contrivances, at least lean into it. Relish it. And force the card.

I anticipate your objection. After viewing that clip, you think, "Well, Freddie Miles is sharp! Freddie Miles has energy! Not everyone can be Freddie Miles!"

Wrong. That's just you falling for it, exactly like everyone falls for it. Consider, please, that Freddie Miles was played by a pale fat depressed schlub named Philip (also immensely talented and a beautiful human being, but that's irrelevant) who felt so ill-fitting in this world that he eventually cashed his own ticket.

If Philip Seymour Hoffman can summon an inner Freddie Miles (or some other mass-appealing cartoon), anyone can. And you've just seen Philip Seymour Hoffman literally - not metaphorically! - playing Freddie Miles. It wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if he'd kept it up! It might not be "true", but there's no deeper truth in the social strata. Truth is a matter for one's inner life, not one's persona. A persona is a persona is a persona. Choose a flavor. Nothing deep.

Don't spurn cartoonishness because it's thin and superficial and annoying and pretentious. Just select a good one. And cling to it for dear life. All while nurturing and kindling your inner life behind the firewall. That's how you do it. Freddy's right; I was wrong.

It's too late for me; I'm all-in on developing inner strata. But I've come around from my initial compulsion to wince at pretension and to "see through" smugness. I realize that we need those people to make the world interesting. A world needs performers. It can't all be spectators!

For example, I've learned to appreciate good-looking people who've invested 10,000 hours in front of mirrors, learning to compose themselves; to committing to that good-looking bit. It's not anything like Art or Insight or Creativity or Quality, the commodities which delight and inspire me. But it serves a good purpose, and it's an interesting challenge to pull off, and one I'm unable to provide (I had potential once, but chose a different path).

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Stupid People are Suicide Bombers

The older I get, the more stupidity frightens me.

I could make out ok around a reasonably intelligent criminal by carefully avoiding making it his interest to harm me. But stupid people can't see their self interest. In fact, they often unwittingly operate against it. A stupid person might harm you even if it harms them worse, just because they can't weigh the factors.

Even seemingly "nice" ones effectively make themselves suicide bombers due to 1. their predisposition to mistake your intentions and 2. their inability to recognize a bomb strapped to their chest.

And the worst part is that we're all stupid from time to time.

Considering just the first part, i.e. "mistaken intentions," does Napoleon's quotation, "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence," ring true for you? Have you made that mistake? I certainly have! And my stupid misapprehension of intention puts me halfway there, bare minimum.

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