Saturday, January 16, 2021

Now

There is beauty, grace, and perfection in every moment. 


It all depends on how you frame the shot. 



Friday, January 15, 2021

Cancer Cures and the Drake Equation

Bloomberg Opinion says mRNA Vaccines Could Vanquish Covid Today, Cancer Tomorrow. I haven't run the article past the Slog's technical advisor (who, in 30 years of vetting breathless popular science articles I've sent him, has never failed to reply other than: 1. "Empty clickbait!", 2. "Banal...we've long known that!", or 3. "Maybe, but the risks far outweigh the benefits!").

But I sincerely hope it's not true.

I've made the point before, but this time I'll weld it to my theory about the Drake Equation, first proposed here, concluding:
Scientists keep trying to tweek the Drake Equation to explain the absence of evidence of advanced civilization in the Universe. What is the X Factor obliterating civilizations before they can build Dyson Spheres, capturing the totality of a star's energy, or find a way to communicate over the void with brutes like us?

Comfort and wealth, baby. That's the perilous X Factor. Comfort and wealth.
Here's how I reached that conclusion:
The world has perpetually seemed to be going straight to hell just as it's gotten fabulously better and better. Why? Because we're spoiled princesses increasingly vexed by smaller and smaller mattress peas. We're Mrs. Howells endlessly piqued by poor picnic weather and inattentive servants. This explains why the merely wealthy are beginning to foment class warfare for unfettered access to the trappings of super-richdom. This cadre fights not for bread and shelter for the disadvantaged, like their righteous forebears, but for their right to smart watches and Beemers.

When our grandparents urged us to "count our blessings", it wasn't so much an endorsement for Positive Thinking as a means to regain perspective.

Humanity has persevered over illness and lions and warlords; famines, droughts, and extreme poverty, and its pain has only grown in the process. Comfort and wealth will prove an indefatigable challenge.

By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.
Few have noticed this societal turn, as blatantly extreme as it is. It's especially evident around New Years, when fabulously blessed people surge with bitter complaints about their wretchedly insufferable existences. We recently took stock of our latest excruciation: in 2020, we were forced to wear masks for a few months, couldn't celebrate holidays with our extended families, and had an asshole president who upset us by saying unpleasant things. This is what passes for extreme suffering in 2020 (and some weird amnesia blocks us from recognizing how we've kicked each wretched year out on its ass for time immemorial). Our ancestors chortle bitterly.

The other view is that, after an unbroken chain of improbably honorable presidents (including even cocky George W Bush - and his stupid, wicked war and gruesome VP - who we now frame more clearly, much as we'd reframe Trump if we ever wound up under a Duterte, much less a Pol Pot), we had one more typical of the ignorant, narcissistic, racist assholes who've run things for time immemorial - bringing us, somehow, to our pinnacle of inconceivable wealth, comfort, and security. And we faced down the scariest societal predicament short of war and are, happily, mostly all still here, with geniuses coming to our rescue, having hyper-accelerated miraculous vaccines. Meanwhile, we are far more comfortable, safe, and secure, than any person has ever been, and enjoy all of human knowledge, entertainment, art, and global communications via slabs of glass in our pockets.

It's true that some good businesses have, alas, closed (along with a multitude that mulishly failed to innovate), creating stress, inconvenience, and discomfort for some. But the notion that we can expect our lives and careers to proceed in unbroken lines of assured success is a fabulous delusion courtesy of the overflowing gift basket of privilege here in Paradise. In this worst case scenario - global pandemic - you may have been forced to close your dry cleaning business and give up your Netflix subscription - and perhaps move to a slightly smaller apartment - while you regroup. That's the 21st century's version of Dickensian affliction.

Needless to say, critical care health workers have been though the full Dickensian wringer (I brought Thai food to my local ER a bunch of times; wish I could have done more), but, as I wrote:
The people bitterly complaining about 2020 - who are the same people who whined about 2019, 2018, 2017, etc. (an unbroken chain of unsatisfactory suboptimality) - are not the ones in ICUs with tubes down their throats, nor are they the health care workers bravely attending to them. Those folks are all busy. They have no time for whining on Facebook. People confronting actual problems don't reflect over their disappointment. Whining's the exclusive domain of the comfortable.
So let's return to the prospect of these vaccines potentially curing cancer and other scourges. If so, it's not good news. In 2017, I posted "Cure Cancer, Kill Social Order", which I'll reprint below
We appear to have turned a corner, where cures for many forms of cancer may finally be within sight. This is very bad news. I'm not sure humanity will survive it.

First, it helps to understand that "cancer" is another way of saying "dying of old age". If you don't develop actual disease (a heart attack, a stroke, flu, malaria, etc.), or get eaten by a lion, then, congratulations, you've won, and will live long enough to be taken down by the normal processes of old age, which usually involves tumors and other familiar signs of DNA break-down, like a calculator running on depleted batteries.

I'm talking about prevalent cancers, e.g. liver, prostate, etc. Rarer and earlier-onset forms of cancer are exceptional, and I'm certainly rooting - and contributing - for their cures ASAP.

Why is there so much cancer now? The Whole Foods crowd will attribute it to those nasty chemicals everywhere. But the actual reason is that many of us are finally living long enough to get cancer. And that's a win. Cancer's not a scourge. Mortality is the scourge, and cancer is a symptom.

Removing cancer from human society would change everything. We're well aware of the mounting problems of financial inequality, though it's seldom pointed out that it skews toward the elderly. Society counts on parents dying and passing stuff on. But that process has been seriously disrupted by people living into their 90s the way they once approached their 70s. That's like wedging in a whole extra generation, and meanwhile our inflation-adjusted income and standard of living have, for the first time ever, gone stagnant. There's less upward mobility in the workplace, college grads are listless and blocked, and it can't possibly be coincidence that so many 70 and 80 year olds are holding the reigns of control (Reagan was a shocking and precarious 70 when he took office, yet no one had serious trepidations about Trump and Clinton both being that same age).

We've messed with our churn, and curing cancer will mess it up way, way more. If, twenty years from now, 95 year olds hold on to their jobs and their assets, consider the fate of 70 year olds (much less 25 year olds), finding themselves caught in a half-century holding pattern, perhaps many of them still living in mom and dad's basement. The pitiful experience of England's Prince Charles may turn out to have foreshadowed a looming new normal.

Who knows; we might manage to shift our social norms to adjust to this radically different framework. But history shows that far less massive shifts can be enormously destabilizing. This is not good.

I touched upon a similar point in this posting from last year. Here's an excerpt:
You may have noticed some tension in our body politic these days, on both right and left. Income inequality is a huge, toxic problem, poisoning society in all sorts of ways. Same for power inequality. As the Olds enjoy greater and greater lock on both, and maintain that lock for longer and longer, there will come a tipping point when the imbalance becomes parsed in these terms. Youngs aren't going to like it. The energy and momentum of Occupy Wall Street, and the anger of Bernie and Trump's followers may be recalled as minor foreshadowings once a generation is clearly seen as refusing to step out of the way.
Comfort and wealth have shown themselves to be the perilous X Factor. Cure cancer on top of that, and we're finished.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Announcing: Year of Crackers

A few years ago I decided to step up my cooking. But I wanted to avoid the standard rigamarole. I didn't want to learn how to make a Hollandaise sauce or butcher a chicken or bake adorable little fresh fruit tarts. I rolled my eyes at the prospect of mastering another field, filling my head with know-how I wouldn't much use. I had no interest in becoming the sort of all-purpose chef bot spat out by culinary schools. So I chose the strategy of Guiless Clunk, cannily plotting a route following my father's lead.

My father was a wonderful sculptor who always wanted to try painting, but knew he had no facility with color. Eventually, he came up with a dazzlingly creative solution: he'd paint only with primary colors. Brilliant! And the results were distinctive and appealing, though not very painterly.

Uninterested in plunging into the whole syllabus, daunted by vast realms I prefered to side-step, I, too, followed the path of self-constraint. I'd always been the sort of guy who could cook a few showstopping things without really knowing what he's doing, so I decided to simply build from there (you can always "build from there", however limited and gimpy "there" may be....this is a key to life). I'd add some more showstoppers to my bag of tricks while remaining stubbornly narrow. I bought a panini machine, and commenced my Year of Panini.

At home, I cooked almost nothing but panini. I could wrap my mind around this, without any feeling of Wile E Coyote suspended in air above the canyon. Year of Panini came with its own comfort zone, so I felt comfortably constrained and thoroughly undaunted. I wasn't becoming a chef; I was just futzing around with panini. Always learn via play if possible. Eager futzing is like a golden ticket.


The year-long proposition taught me a thing or two about iteration, generally. As noted here,
Every time you cook something, criticize it like it's a restaurant. And next time, make tiny adjustments to ensure it comes closer to your pref. Think Grand Canyon: macro progress via cumulative myriad micro-iterations.
This wasn't tedious iteration, it was blossoming iteration. The trunk sprouted branches, the branches sprouted twigs and leaves and blossoms, and panini became a full and fertile channel for my creativity. I didn't feel the least bit constrained. Any incipient whiff of boredom just spurred my creativity to devise novel thrills. Creativity flourishes under impediment!

Meanwhile, the overarching process - the iteratation of iteration - built up my confidence. I learned where I need to pay attention, and that part receives laser focus. The rest I deftly manage with swift, unerring motions. I cook panini with full professional swagger.

I learned broad lessons about the interaction of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, and developed what might be mistaken for OCD-level devotion to the subtleties of doneness. I developed tricks for evoking luxury without facile reliance on fat and salt. Along the way, I guess I even learned how to cook. You can be a master chef without ever having whipped up a stew. Just get super good at some dim corner of it all. The Sainted Arepa Lady didn't lose points for her unfamiliarity with the French "mother" sauces.

I followed up with Year Of Tacos (tacos ARE sandwiches), and then Year of Pasta (another equilibrium of carb, protein, and fat; just more harmony to achieve and iterations to bloom). Next, I was planning Year of Soup, hoping to finally make use of the Instapot that's been sitting unused on my counter for six years. At long last, stock! But I just couldn't get started. It's too big a leap from panini, tacos, and pasta. It's too damned Hollandaiseian.

So I've settled upon Year of Crackers.

I like crunchy things, generally, and crackers, specifically. And this seems like a non-fussy entry into baking, in case that interests me (if so, the iteration chain will bring me there tidally). Crackers lend themselves to micro-variation; an iterator's paradise. And I really like toasting - the diligent effort to nail the precise point of optimal doneness. Crackers are all about nailing that point, and I'm already calibrated. You can't go wrong leaning on your strengths while pushing into unfamiliar territory. Even better if you're led by primal drives like my omnipresent cracker jones (incidentally the name of my 1970s boogaloo revival band).

Best of all, after Year of Crackers, Year of Soup should feel like the natural next step. What else will I do with all those crackers?

Coming up, I'll share some of the recipes I'm considering for starters.



Inorganic



Bro, bro, if you tryin to eat right bro you need to check this out bro seriously bro you aint gonna eat right if they lock U up bro that's the thing like its all process carbs bro and you're body mass ratio will be FUUUUUUUUUGGED by the time they let you out of there bro so FUUUUUUUUUGGED so you shouldnt be like breakin in to gobermint buildings bro because yeah sure U get to turbo the Insta for a hot minute and everbody checked out you're sick gear and yeah you look super righteous bro but you gotta think long term bro about your Temple your Temple bro seriously bro you gotta think about that because the garbage they feed you in prison bro that stuff is gonna pollute you're situation and its not paleo and its not organic and its not clean protein and they aint gonna let you juice an shit its just messed up bro so bro don't be thinking about you're Insta bro instead you gotta look at the big picture bro an take care of your Temple ok bro peace out U-D-Man

Monday, January 11, 2021

Personality Cults and True Believers

Rebels without causes are easily attracted to personality cults. They slip easily into the comfort of a kindred mob's nonspecific fury, claiming no lofty ideals beyond a vague notion of an empty image of an aloof figure upon whom they project their hazily bilious aspirations.


If you've never read "The True Believer", it's a beautifully-written short book that (along with Barbara Tuchman's "The March of Folly") is required reading for our era.

Everyone knows the term coined by its title, and the book was once considered an essential classic, but its decline into obscurity paralleled our own critical decline. We should never have lost touch with the key principles therein.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

It Helps to Understand the Scam

There's a clear fact everyone with political experience understands completely but which news media will not explicitly say because it can't be "proven":

Trump doesn't fear impeachment because it will bar him from the presidency in 2024. He doesn't care. He hates being president. But if he's running (which - why the hell not? - he'll announce on Jan 21) he gets to suck money from his supporters for the next four years. And never forget (he sure doesn't) that half a billion dollars of debt is soon coming due.

The voter fraud charade was a fund-raising scam. He milked hundreds of millions from followers who thought they were helping his legal fight. That fight consisted of three idiot lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits without even making an effort. Virtually all were thrown out of court while Donny pocketed the cash. That was the point. That was the gist of this latest con.

His reelection campaign would continue that same scam. An excuse to pocket money. Impeachment (with conviction) would ruin it, because the "2024 campaign" pretense would no longer work. That's why he fears impeachment. It's about the money.

That's the dynamic here. Bear this in mind amid all the pro-wrestling fake beef bullshit from the right and the credulous face-value reporting from the left and center.


Prediction: if he's impeached and convicted (unlikely but possible), he'll still fake-campaign for 2024, and his followers will still send him money.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

"Cornered Rat" Report #30

The last "Cornered Rat" report, in December, 2018, found the phrase "cornered rat" in 144,000, Google search results.

It's now up to 185,000, a gain of 28%.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Twitter Stuff

Just a quick note to say that I'm incredibly selective about what I retweet from my Twitter account. I never just stoke my own confirmation bias. It's either 1. counter-intuitive and credible takes, 2. particularly well-expressed surmises, 3. nuances previously missed, or 4. super funny. Plus brief announcements of new Slog postings.

You can also read over my shoulder my "Must-Read" Twitter list. It includes a few dozen people of diverse political opinions (all anti-Trump; I failed to find a sane MAGA voice) plus some additional color. There is a disproportionate number of conservative anti-Trumpers, because they tend to view this whole situation with insight rather than blind fury (I'm super-sick of being told he's a racist and this isn't normal. I got that the moment he rode down the escalator spouting about how Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals).

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Right This Second is The Beginning of the End of Trumpism

The swarming of the Capital (turn on your TV) is, in my view, a positive development.

The spittle-flecked violent nuts and hoodlums perpetrating this are utterly beyond reason. They've always been out here, and will always remain. I don't waste much time thinking about them.

I'm thinking entirely about my Republican friends and neighbors - nice, reasonable people who for various reasons (largely: tribal momentum, political underinformation - they're busy! - and misinformation via Fox News) supported Trump while disliking lots of things about him.

They are (mostly) not spittle-flecked, and have not enjoyed Trump's post-election antics. They're sensible enough to recognize a sore loser. And they're not going to be cool with armed insurrection in the US Capital. This will only help the fever to break.

This is not hoodlums and brownshirts taking over. This is edge case extremists emboldened to sufficient excess to lose their tether with the tens of millions on the center right. This is too far.

To be sure, one or two of my neighbors are likely stoked with this news. But not most of them. And foundational societal movement - especially the critical inclination of Americans to revert to the mean - is about majorities, not edge cases.

We've been hearing about the Civil War in the Republican Party this week - first among Georgia Republicans, but very quickly spreading to Washington (see Mitch McConnell's speech today and Pence's letter, both breaking free of the cult), and now it's super-rapidly consumed the country. This isn't MAGAs versus Libtards (as these crazies in DC imagine). It's center right versus radical right. This is where the center begins to unhitch from the extreme. It's by no means the death of Trumpism, but it's definitely the beginning of the end.

The Big Lie

Many families have a Big Lie, or even several. You know; the thing everyone knows to never mention.

It amounts to a curse placed by elders on their loved ones.

The kids are never directly instructed, because that would require talking about it. So they're forced to glean their marching orders from nonverbal feedback. And they don't know where it ends. The embargo might be about one certain thing - one realm - or it might encompass half the world. They have no way of knowing, because you won't explain, because non-discussion is the whole point.

From the parents' perspective, it's clear enough: simply stay away from this one certain subject. Easy! Aside from that, sure, truth, honesty, and knowing are highly valued. The parents see a crisp boundary.

But the children don't experience this crispness. The Dark Matter feels like an indeterminate blob, and they can only conclude that truth is pliable at best. One can't revere truth while silently harboring falsehood. Parents think they've simply created an exception - a trivial carve-out from the greater good that is Truth. But kids are left wondering where to draw the line. Which way is up, and which way is down?

The inevitable result of Big Lies - in the "micro" of family or the "macro" of nation - is the feeling of living under autocracy, where leaders dictate Truth itself. Life becomes essentially truthless when indeterminate cut-outs silently lurk.

If your family harbors a Big Lie, consider whether its repression is worth cursing your kids to queasy truthlessness. Remember, the cut-out was carved on your terms and you've left them no determinate map. You own the compartmentalization, and while you can easily see its contours, your no-mention policy leaves those around you struggling through a dark maze of indeterminate scope. A gulag.

Consider sitting down your kids (even if they're grown) and finally talking it through. Give them some closure; some sensation of ground beneath their feet; some reassurance that truth isn't an empty affirmation to be sneered at whenever inconvenient. Free them from the gulag, even if the truth is unflattering to you or to the myths that prop up your self-esteem.

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