Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Leftovers: Oniony Ravioli

Fridge contents

6 Trader Joe's Beef Bolognese Ravioli
Half an onion
Straggly few fancy salad greens
Ecuadorian hot sauce
"What's with all the Ecuadorian hot sauce?" you might understandably wonder. There's an Ecuadoran rotissierie joint near me I hit once per week, and always ask for extra sauce. So there are always some small containers in my fridge. Ecuadoran hot sauce is creamy, like Peruvian ají, but more vegetal. It combines well, and I'm always looking for excuses to use it up.
I wanted to do this but had no tomatos.

So I roughly chopped the onion, and sautéd with lots of black pepper. Near the end, I added the greens atop, letting them wilt. Meanwhile I briefly re-boiled the ravioli to reheat them, drained the pot, splashed the hot sauce in the pot, then added the ravioli/onion/greens, stirring violently for a few seconds.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Vaccine Holdouts

Society is rapidly cleaving into two groups: the vaccinated, who are largely safe from Covid infection and almost completely safe from dangerous Covid symptoms (i.e. they can still, rarely, catch it, but symptoms resemble any very minor respiratory infection), and the unvaccinated, who remain in danger.

My first impulse re: vaccine refusers is to wearily shrug. Like with seatbelts, I do the smarter thing, so I get to enjoy the safety. They could easily be safe, too, so this just represents Darwin at work, expunging the demented and the obtuse from the gene pool.

But there's a different way to frame it. If someone in my life joined a cult and was convinced to move to Guyana and drink poisoned lemonade to die en masse with the Dear Leader, I wouldn't be thinking about Darwin and gene pools. I'd be thinking "tragedy". Brain washing really happens. And ignorance. And stupid obstinacy. Actions have consequences, just as we teach our kids, but the penalty ought not be death. This isn't a cartoon. The 500 ton weight falling on the foolish coyote shouldn't be a real world "LOL".

The big problem with Covid (which nobody mentions because it's inconvenient) is also Covid's great blessing: it's not Smallpox. It infects only a few percent, and kills only a few percent of them. So the people who've been socializing in maskless crowds and refusing vaccine very likely won't die, making the feedback mechanism loose and floppy, and organisms don't learn efficiently from loose, floppy feedback. French kissing strangers probably won't kill you, and such spotty feedback spurs only spotty learning at best. Covid perches diabolically on the razor's edge: too tame to easily compel full compliance, yet too perilous to ignore. That's the big problem with Covid.

Of course, it's horrendously poor risk-assessment to tempt fate even within this grey area. But we don't need to winnow poor risk assessors from the gene pool. Even if they tend to wear red hats, holler dumb political slogans, and support deranged con men.

Here's the best pitch I've managed to brew up for folks on the fence re: vaccines (nothing works with staunch anti-vax loudmouths):
"Look, I'm not going to flood you with facts and information, and I won't call you names or try to make you feel dumb, but I'd really hate to lose you, and Covid's bad, and the vaccines work great. I got the shot, and it was a beautiful experience and now I feel safe. I'd be much happier if you were safe, too. We need good people here. We can't afford people like you dying needlessly. Please reconsider."
That works - a little - if someone's on the fence. Treat them not like skeptics, who just need to hear some sense, but like potential suicides. Treat them like people standing on a skyscraper window ledge. This approach - this framing - resonates.

I'm safe either way. I don't need herd immunity, I've got personal immunity. And I've arranged vaccination appointments for a number of local immigrants with lousy English skills. And I've used my well-polished line of persuasion on all the holdouts I know. But I refuse to shrug and invoke Darwin.

From my long-awaited safe harbor of personal safety, here's how I frame it: ignorance, brain washing, and obstinacy can, alas, be fatal, and these are essentially cult victims. So I, myself, am reminded to be less rigid, less proud of my contrarian tendencies, and more wary of my own poor judgement.

Most of all, like an acrophobic near a cliff, I detect and fear my propensity to fall. I recognize that a person can immerse so deeply into a story he tells himself that he misses the reality right before his eyes. Even as a reframing specialist, I don't always immediately shake off every story that's outlived reality.

Just as a lagniappe, I believe a lot of the vaccine holdouts are extra scared. Scared just in general, and particularly frightened of Covid. That may seem senseless, but have you ever hit the accelerator when you were lost (if you even remember "getting lost", before the age of GPS)? It's the same impulse. The assertion of control - any control, including counterproductive - feels, for many people, like their only backstop from the yawing abyss. This is why very old, very sick, very confused people often argue tenaciously with their doctors. They are proving to themselves that they retain autonomy. It feels like a higher priority than not dying.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

More Cherry Blossoms

Same trees, new day, fresh angles (i.e. tap-dancing while waiting for the other trees to wake up):

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cherry Blossoms

I can’t be in Tokyo, or Washington DC, or even Prospect Park this week. But White Plains has some pretty good cherry blossom (”sakura”) action!

I hate filters and post-processing, i.e. the daft supposition that reality’s insufficient. The whole IG aesthetic stems from a profound misconstrual. Reality can’t be surpassed (it’s all a matter of framing!).

Anyhoo, cherry blossoms (including a photo bombing by one cheeky little tulip):

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hemingway's Alcoholism and Depression

I've been watching Ken Burn's series about Ernest Hemingway on PBS, and this quote from Ernie stuck out:
When you work hard all day with your head and you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?
"Change your ideas". "Make them run on a different plane". He's talking, of course, about perceptual framing; about shifts of perspective. It's not some mysterious woo-joo. We all viscerally realize, at some bleary, blurry, unconscious level, that shifting/reframing is the underlying truth of the human experience. Some people (most often accomplished people) get a little closer to this recognition than others, and Hemingway came damned close.

What he missed, alas, is that we don't need alcohol, or any other external thing, to reframe. We're the framers. We internally frame the world, despite our demented and persistent efforts to coax the world into framing us. That ass-backwardness leads to amnesia. We forget that we possess the ability to reframe at will, and so we get stuck. And frozen perspective accounts for nearly all human darkness, most notably depression. Depression is the clinical term for "frozen perspective".

If your perspective grows stuck and you're desperately evading depression (as Hemingway eternally was), and you've tried lots of hearty world action (as Hemingway certainly did), but you can't keep muscling the world into actively changing your perspective for you - misconstruing yourself as the passive receiver of perspective - until eventually you ruminate/marinate yourself into a state where you're good and entranced/frozen/stuck, then, as I wrote here,
We may grow quite desperate for liberation - for an escape from the monotonous world we've framed via a monotonous perspective. To rouse ourselves from depression, or to attempt, in our desperation, to stay ahead of the stuckedness, we clutch at straws. Things like booze, drugs, gambling, casual sex, and the other addictions serve as blunt instruments for forcing cheap momentary wisps of relief; of freedom. It's a last resort for those who've lost all interest in re-tuning their own perspective, and find themselves burdened and bored by a burdened, bored existence in an apparently burdensome, boring world.

A violent kick to the head is hardly an apt substitute for real liberation. It's not subtle, nor entirely pleasant, and you must contend with repercussions, rebounds, and a build-up of tolerance. But at least you’re temporarily jarred out of the monotony of a frozen perspective. If this is your sole avenue of relief, it will come to feel like salvation.

In the long run, dependence on kicks to the head just heightens the monotony; the freezing. You're imprisoned more and more tightly as you distract yourself from your innate facility for swapping in a different perspective. Reliance on a head kick reinforces the wrong-headed assumption that perspective is dictated by conditions "out there", rather than by your own choices "in here". So your entire life comes to center on some chosen kick (which becomes, itself, a monotonous freeze). You cling to this means of momentarily shaking things up to glean pitifully faint sniffs of the full freedom you’ve chosen to spurn.
It didn't work out so well for Hemingway, whose dependence on kicks to the head just heightened the monotony; the freezing. With all that said, let's do one more pass through his surprisingly self-aware quote:
When you work hard all day with your head and you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?
Just reframe, Papa. It’s your move. You have free latitude to write your story from any angle. You, of all people, should have known that. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

LEFFtovers: Breakfast Hash

Please please touch to expand.

I sautéed onions, then added cut-up chunks of leftover gyro meat and cut-up French fry chunks, and served over an egg white omelet.

Small touches count (understatement of the century):
  • I did not salt the onions because the gyro is salty. And I under-salted the egg.
  • Those tomatoes were small, so I could have served them whole. But when I envisioned myself eating them, I realized I'd be happier if they were quartered. Cooks can go very far by pampering their predilections.
  • I had a vision in my head of really crunchy/chewy gyro meat, almost like Issan jerky. I also wanted to fully crisp up those fat steak fries, which were mushy from overnighting in the fridge. So I timed it appropriately (the more I make everything like toast - i.e. subjected to micro-concern via vast attentive patience - the more delicious my food turns out).

Friday, April 9, 2021

LEFFtovers: Scallop Thing

Particularly intricate LEFFtover treatment.

Raw materials in fridge:

Less than a full serving of Guatemalan take-out seafood soup
Small amount of leftover soba noodles
Small amount of basmati rice
Sautéed asparagus
Tiny takeout container of Ecuadoran hot sauce
Four raw scallops

Heat seafood soup. When bubbling, stir in soba noodles AND rice. Kill heat.

Sautee scallops with garlic in olive oil, cook 2-3 mins per side.

Upon flipping scallops, add asparagus to pan to reheat. Quarter the scallops after cooking.

Add noodle/rice mixture to a bowl. Top with asparagus. Top with scallops. Top with garlic. Dab each scallop segment with hot sauce. Walla.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Latino Support for Trump

So the big story right now is how Trump picked up way more Latino support in 2020 than you'd ever have imagined possible. Pundits are straining to understand.

I saw it coming. It's a matter of socio-economic peer groups. July, 2016, I wrote about a local Mexican immigrant I know who felt perfectly comfortable with Trump and his supporters, and explained why I thought that was:
I know a grimy pizzeria, in a scrubby blue collar nabe, serving cheap pizza but also, very quietly, a short list of quite good Mexican items on the down-low. I never see other customers opting for sopes or quesadillas. It's all dry wall guys and FEDEX drivers scarfing cheap slices for lunch. Oversized working class white dudes whose car bumpers all seem to have "volunteer fireman" stickers. And, naturally, Trump stickers.

While I awaited my sopes, I watched the scene. Arriving customers warmly greeted the Mexican owner (a big, garrulous guy who, himself, wouldn't look out of place on a fire truck). Ordering was no-nonsense, but wives and children were tersely asked after in both directions, by name. I heard Donald Trump mentioned a couple times, but the Mexican dude didn't tense a muscle. He wasn't just shucking and jiving; he really relates to these guys. I bet he'd vote Trump, too, if it weren't for the virulent racism. Maybe he manages to overlook that part, just as they do.

The burly customers finish their pizza and wave goodbye with warm eyes, like with family. I, from another world, nibbling my sopes de al pastor, received more distant/polite treatment from the staff. I was "sir". The owner was with those other guys. And they were with him. And as Trump brashly blasted on CNN, none of the Mexican workers behind the counter ground their teeth. They're bought in. They like America. And they sympathize and identify with these guys. And here's the thing: I think they absolutely understand all about hijo de puta politicians who talk a lot of shit. They've seen that before, and would never blame the followers for being conned. Same as it ever was.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Plain-Sight Secret About Investing

99% of investors have no idea what the bet is that they're making. It's shocking.
"Elon Musk seems super smart, and he's had so much success in the past, and his future plans sound exciting. Tesla seems like an awfully good bet!"
No. Don't do that. The purchase of Tesla stock is not a bet on the company, like betting on a horse in a race. It's one level more sophisticated and abstract: you are betting on the underestimation of Tesla by other investors. That's the bet; the only bet. You're never betting on a company, you're betting against other investors' sentiment about that company. And those people are all aware of Musk's history, too. That's not privileged information.
Have you ever noticed that many people imagine that when they say the same old shit we've all heard a zillion times it has a special ring? "Now it's me saying it!" In everyday life, this daffy mental miscalculation is annoying. In the stock market, it pays for the 1%'s Lear jets.
This is, oddly, terrifically difficult for nearly everyone to grok. Small time "retail" investors misunderstand because they're naive (naïveté is the single greatest impediment to clarity). Day traders, who grok this in theory, lose touch with it amid the bustle of their manic and complicated trading (complexity is the second greatest impediment to clarity). And professional financiers, who understand this better than any of us, are distracted by their smug self-confidence (ego is the third greatest impediment to clarity).

Most of all, it's a framing problem. If you're an addicted gambler (as most investors are, at all three levels), you do not possess a lithe perspective (see this for how addiction is a framing problem). You are rigid and stuck. You are compelled to see things like a horse track, and can't find the calm latitude to reframe to a more sophisticated, subtle, abstract perspective. Your attention remains riveted to "GO TEAM,” in all-caps. 

We all have an opinion as to whether Amazon still has room to grow, or if Tesla can maintain profits with big automakers getting into electric. Opinions are like assholes; we all have one. And yours may even be correct. But that's not enough. Because your bet is not on Amazon or Tesla, but against titans infinitely smarter and better informed than you. They effectively set the price, and that price already reflects their (smart) consensus opinion. And there's not a single thought in your head that's ahead of them. So you will not only not win against them; they will, over time, eat your lunch.

So don't read annual reports. Don't try to be a smarty. All info is already baked in to the price by people way smarter than you (if you assume no one's smarter than you, then I have good news: your impending poverty will divest you of that delusion). Again: You're not betting on a company, you're betting against the market's estimation of that company. It's not a proposition of predicting business success.

So why would anyone bet against billionaire geniuses and their office towers stocked full of MIT educated analysts? Wouldn't that be crazy?

Yes. Yes it would. Which is why people should invest in index mutual funds, which rise (and, alas, sink) with the market, often bringing even better success than the outcomes for individual twitchy billionaire geniuses (because the latter are limited by ego and an addict’s perspective).

The only exception is if you have some sort of an edge. Which 99.9999% of the time you won't.

Patience is a potent edge. The billionaire geniuses need to be constantly hitting home runs. They can't patiently wait stuff out. They're twitchy. That's why my strategy of buying Apple in its downturns has worked. I can park my money for a year, and those guys can't. Neither can day traders, who are equally twitchy. So, often, it's only sad little me buying on downturns and selling on peaks, while everyone else spazzes out, flocks irrationally, and goes foolishly the wrong way. They’re pursuing bazooka home runs this quarter while I’m content with 25% gains next year. I gobble up discarded crumbs.

Specialized knowledge can also be an edge. A friend runs a genetics lab, and told me TXG's technology would one day be ubiquitous. He could hardly wait to have it, himself. I bought at $54, and it's now $188. Of course, it might just as easily have crashed. Maybe the CEO is a dork. An edge is not a superpower, it's just a way to marginally de-shmuck oneself. Billionaire geniuses also know people running genetics labs. Mostly, I got lucky. But a little luckier than if I'd flown blind, trusting my own puny acumen.

Years ago, I wrote breathlessly about SIGA, a company with an entirely effective (and no side-effects) smallpox cure. It’s a bio-terror countermeasure (it works on weaponized versions), and it also works on cowpox and monkey pox, which are both still out there. I'm still hanging on to half my shares, and at $7 I've made out decently with my $2 investment, though it's sat listlessly for so many years that it's no jackpot. This year I expect at least one big foreign government sale, and/or a sale to US gov with a different formulation, which should hopefully pop the stock back to $12-15. At that point, I'll sell (there's time pressure: their patent on the drug actually runs out in a few years - insert bug-eyed/astonished emoji - and soon I'll be so old that I'd only enjoy a jackpot by gold-plating my walker), and it will amount to good profit despite the ridiculous time lag. In this case, my patience was my edge, then my stubbornness was my edge, then my religious faith was my edge, and, at this point, my stupidity is my edge. All these things are unavailable to billionaire geniuses. I stay in my lane.

It’s hard to understand this maxim, and harder still to live by it. And it’s almost impossible to find an edge for yourself, and harder still to maximize that edge without being clouded by ego or by addictive glee over successes. 

I seem to be at that latter stage. I’ve been beating the market (I bought in low to CRIS, PRKR, BCRX, and the aforementioned TXG and SIGA, in addition to cultivating Apple’s periodic lulls). But it’s more than likely a blip, like flipping “heads” a few times more than likely. So I’m keeping my outlay prudently low. 

Blog Archive