Monday, February 20, 2017

TV Tips

The comic book show for people (like me) who hate comic book shows. Created by Noah Hawley, the genius behind "Fargo" (the movie revamp show for people who hate movie revamp shows). The premiere episode was an intense, surreal, outlandishly ambitious feat. Episode two calmed down some, but was still pretty amazing. Amid the plenty of Peak TV, I rarely look forward to new episodes with bated breath, but the next episode of Legion can't get here quickly enough. The great Alan Sepinwall's episode reviews.

The Young Pope
Not what you'd think from the trailers. Not what you'd think from the reviews. This is a surreal, surprising, whack job of a series that miraculously never seems indulgent or eye-rolling. Gorgeously shot, too. AV Club recaps are particularly good for this one, and Vulture, too.

The Expanse
Best hard science fiction since Battlestar Galactica, now into its second season. Great transportive world-building. Plot's a bit complicated, so I recommend following along on AVclub (though they didn't recap the first two epis of season 2).

Meticulously crafted comedy, starring the dude who plays Richard Splett on Veep. It's an original vision; not just another cookie-cutter comedy, and it gives me at least one or two laugh-howls per episode. I'm not saying this is great (yet), but I'm sticking with it.

Midnight Diner
On Netflix. Simple, gentle anthology series featuring the denizens of a late-night diner in Tokyo where the chef/owner ("The Master") will cook anything you ask for (and a certain amount of each show is devoted to the dish). Netflix has season 4, and it's very hard to find English-subtitled disks for previous seasons (and, when you do, they're subpar Chinese-produced translations), or English-subtitled versions of the film (featuring the same actor, Kaoru Kobayashi, as The Master). The original manga series (on which the live action stuff is based) is called "Shinya Shokudō". It's great, and available with English translation if you poke around for it.

I'm glad to see "Atlanta", which I found smshingly good (subtle, funny, brilliant, true), getting the credit it deserves. Wait, I never mentioned it here before? Sorry about that. Definitely catch up on Season One, which recently ended. Your only choices (for now) are Apple iTunes or the FXNow app.

Previous TV tips (including some gigunda round-ups, if you'll scroll down).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tide is Turning

Smart people believe the tide is turning - earlier than expected. Remember those ongoing investigations into Russian campaign exploits and the Trump administration's Russian connections? We haven't heard anything about them, because that's the way of serious intelligence investigations. But an extended briefing of Congress' Intelligence Committee by the FBI on Friday reportedly left lawmakers startled and silent.

Simultaneously, our vice-president, occupying a position not "worth a bucket of piss" in normal times, finds himself as the only administration official who can't be fired. Pence is starting to show open defiance, clearly confident that, to paraphrase Ruby and the Romantics, his day will come. Check his Twitter feed from today and yesterday for full-throated anti-Trumpian support of Nato and Europe (plus a rather pointed linkage between "Holocaust" and "Jews") and bellicose anti-Putinism, with the coup de coup de grace of this hilariously weak-tea lip service to POTUS:

Somewhere in the distance, a fat lady sings.

And after I've spent weeks following the Twitter feeds of journalists and former intelligence officers who've clearly been onto something re: Russia, the stuff they've been saying all along has finally become the mainstream narrative (for the most cutting edge mainstream update on Trumputin, see this jaw-dropping Reuter's piece.

Most telling, perhaps, is Fox News' incipient pivot. First Fox News anchor Shepard Smith went tremblingly batshit re: Trump on Thursday:

....and now the most persuasive account of Congress' get-religion moment in the aftermath of Comey's Congressional briefing Friday (see link in first paragraph, above) was also a Fox News product. When Fox News pivots, look out (obviously, Hannity will stay faithful even through the final days in the Führerbunker).

Russia completely aside, the administration is leaking like a sieve, the rats are starting to chew each other, and this is clearly unsustainable. But let's not put Russia aside!

It seems to have been conceded that Flynn lied to FBI investigators, and that's a felony. The FBI can get mileage from an informed party facing such overhang. Multiple layers of unraveling are taking place, and The Guardian's Louise Mensch has explained why there's reason to think Comey is truly on it - well-informed about even the deepest connections and allegations. So, again, the tide may be turning, and it may happen faster than we'd imagined.

Meanwhile, liberal pundits continue to fully reciprocate the administration's stupidity level. After a month of praying for Republican lawmakers to put nation over politics and to take action against a clear threat to our peace and democracy, they're beginning to smell the endgame, and they don't like it one bit.

While Trump (a man who praises torture, deems nukes tactical, wants to abolish NATO and give Putin free reign to stomp on Eastern Europe, and who is not only controlled by one of the world's most diabolical figures, but has appointed Putin-connected people to many cabinet positions - all the important ones - including a linchpin figure on his national security apparatus) might be a deranged authoritarian monster wannabe, the thinking goes all over liberal media, Pence (being strongly anti-abortion and likely to stock the Supreme Court with people who'd approve policy they'd mostly disagree with) is worse.

Lord, take me now.

Nation over politics, huh?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Tale of Delta Flight 15 on 9/11

Read the beautiful tale of how the residents of a small town in wonderful Newfoundland hosted 10,500 stranded airline passengers after the 9/11 flight ban. It's even true! Please continue only after you've read it (and you really do want to read it).

NYC was pretty great on 9/12, too (every 9/11 has its 9/12). It's in times like these that humans shake off their hypnosis momentarily and remember themselves. Life comes to life. I live for broken moments - personal and societal (as I child I loved playing with calculators whose batteries were almost depleted), and don't understand why most of us fear them so. Breakages, bottoming-outs and reboots are blissful; we all know this deep down.

(The phrase "I give up" - pretty much the most anti-American statement one can utter - is an unsung talisman, if invoked with absolute resolution. Try it someday.).

Try to bear in mind that many of the tens of millions of Americans geared up to "shake up the system" via Mr. Trump subconsciously yearn for this. They hanker for life to come to life, and I can't say I don't sympathize at some level, despite my abject frozen horror. As I once wrote:
The...resistance to surprise is what gave rise to the Hindu goddess Kali being known as the goddess of destruction (remember those depraved cultists in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"?). She gets a bad rap. What she actually is is the goddess of creativity. But to those who tenaciously cling to status quo, her bottomless thirst for change and the immense energy she wields in empowering the world's ceaseless churning represent all that is destructive, dangerous, and deathly. She's the very root of all our fears because, being infinitely surprising, over time she breaks absolutely everything.

Never forget Mr. Rogers' story about his mother:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Trump's Asymmetric Handshake Warfare

You probably already know about the f'd-up power move our President likes to inflict on his handshake victims, but here's an essential 80 second refresher:

Here's what I'm wondering: Will he try this against his boy Vlad when they meet in July at the G20 summit? If so, will Putin, a practitioner of judo (all about using an opponent’s aggression against him; this is all pretty much Judo 101), come prepared?

Justin Trudeau is the only victim who's come in prepped with countermeasures thus far. Read this hilarious play-by-play of their recent match (captured on video here).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Pillow Koan

I tried, last month, to explain why I never celebrate anything. But I didn't quite capture it. So I offer, instead, this koan:

I once slept on a very uncomfortable pillow,
for eight hours every night,
and celebrated everything one is supposed to celebrate.

Now, I've taken the trouble to acquire
a phenomenally comfortable pillow
and never celebrate anything in particular.


"Never meet your heroes."
Anthony Holden, etc.

"Never meet people who consider you their hero."

"Meeting chowhounds always gives me the willies!"
Bob Okumura (Chowhound co-founder)

I've always found it oddly hard to articulate why I've never participated in Chowhound social events (and, for that matter, why I keep a low food world profile even though I haven't worked as a critic in a long while). But I think this gets to the gist of it:

Human relationships can be strange and difficult even for the most sociable of us. We're all more or less ok interacting with neighbors, coworkers, waiters, etc. But even in such familiar relationships, people flounder when situations push them off-script. Such moments can devolve into misunderstanding, offense, and worse.

Humans don't do well off-script. As they flail to regain solidity, randomly bizarre or ugly impulses can briefly arise. Even at best, results are uncomfortable.

And there's very little familiarity, to begin with, when it comes to encounters with admired strangers. There's no script at all for that. I, personally, am not a lover of scripts, anyway. I much prefer improv, so it's no biggie for me, either way. But with script people, things can get weird. 

See a related exploration of how Surprising Behavior Breaks Things ("An exploration of Groucho Marx, computer hackers, beta testers, Banksy, and Kali the Goddess of Death").

...and, of course, the Slog mainstay "Explaining Salinger".

Monday, February 13, 2017

Apple Stock Tops its Record High

Apple closed at $133, and I've sold half my shares (I'll sell the rest at $140 or so). It's my fifth consecutive killing in the stock.

Every year or two, some analyst gets spooked, the rest glom on, and Apple's stock price plunges 30% or so. At that point, I buy (appearing crazy because the price is going down!, and even intelligent people can't grasp "buy low, sell high"). I hold on for as long as it takes, and when it rises back up, I sell. Rinse and repeat. Over and over again.

Watch! In a year or so, there'll be some new trumped-up issue - bad reception, or bending or cracking or whatever. The stock will, irrationally, plummet, remaining low even after Apple's fixed the issue. I'll buy again, hold patiently again, then ride it back up again.

The risk is that it won't recover next time - that the most successful company in the history of the world, sitting on a cash pile of $250 billion, will shrivel up and die because of some fleeting issue.

I just don't see that as a real risk. That cash horde alone - which doesn't even do anything! - dwarfs the total market value of all but seven other corporations. Apple could throw their entire mega-successful business in the garbage and buy Starbucks, Boeing, and Goldman Sachs. If customers update their iPads more slowly than expected, or a phone antenna doesn't work properly, or a new product line undersells expectations, that's just not going to cause a death spiral. I'm not saying they'll be dominant forever (if I thought so, I'd be buying, rather than selling, at $130). But the downside of buying at Apple's inevitable 30% bullish downturns strikes me as minimal.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Weirdo Cooking

I never cook anything with a name. It's all improvised.

Leftover Management Soup

2 leftover pieces of steamed baby bok choy
1 leftover roasted sweet potato
2 leftover broiled chicken thighs
Trader Joes Lentil Soup with Ancient Grains (in the refrigerated section)
4 cloves of garlic
Chicken stock

Finely slice garlic
Dice chicken breast
Chop bok choy
Sautee all three in a nonstick pan with some extra virgin olive oil until chicken picks up brown highlights and bok choy dries out

Bring 1/2 cup chicken stock to boil in a pot
Add 1 mashed sweet potato
Add 3 rounded tablespoons Lentil Soup
Bring to boil

Serve chicken mixture atop soup mixture.

...and here's Turkey, kale, tomato, and fig jam panini on jalapeño cheese ciabatta: (click for extra porn).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Anti-Trumpers: The Cautionary Tale of Venezuela

Gloating asshole week continues here on the Slog, as I transition from yesterday's posting about how marvelously groovy my music was to today's posting about how smugly right I've been about the whole Trump thing (this is what happens when I lapse my meditation practice for a while; by next week I'll be a full-on megalomaniac).

There've been a bunch of articles circulating from writers living under authoritarian regimes (usually from anti-Putin Russians) warning Americans about what to expect. But this one's special...and terse (you can read it in five minutes). From the Washington Post (which continues to really rise to this occasion - man, have I gotten my money's worth on my $99 digital subscription), check out the article entitled "In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did".

The subtitle says it all: "How to let a populist beat you, over and over again." I'll highlight some passages which may sound familiar. Most of it amounts to "Don't be trolled", and "Fight the polarization". Forgive my butcher-like excerpting:

...Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple. The problem is you.


Don’t forget who the enemy is.
Populism can survive only amid polarization. It works through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon. A scapegoat. “But facts!” you’ll say, missing the point entirely.


Show no contempt.
Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. That includes rebukes such as the one the “Hamilton” cast gave Vice President-elect Mike Pence shortly after the election. While sincere, it only antagonized Trump; it surely did not convince a single Trump supporter to change his or her mind. Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion.

The Venezuelan opposition struggled for years to get this. We wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid Chavismo was, not only to international friends but also to Chávez’s electoral base. “Really, this guy? Are you nuts? You must be nuts,” we’d say.

The subtext was clear: Look, idiots — he will destroy the country. He’s blatantly siding with the bad guys: Fidel Castro, Vladi­mir Putin, the white supremacists or the guerrillas. He’s not that smart. He’s threatening to destroy the economy. He has no respect for democracy or for the experts who work hard and know how to do business.

I heard so many variations on these comments growing up that my political awakening was set off by the tectonic realization that Chávez, however evil, was not actually stupid.


By looking down on Trump’s supporters, you’ve lost the first battle. Instead of fighting polarization, you’ve played into it.

The worst you can do is bundle moderates and extremists together and think that America is divided between racists and liberals. That’s the textbook definition of polarization. We thought our country was split between treacherous oligarchs and Chávez’s uneducated, gullible base. The only one who benefited was Chávez.


[note that this is me, Jim, bolding the bejesus out of this next part, not the Washington Post]:

The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy. And all the while you’re giving the populist and his followers enough rhetorical fuel to rightly call you a saboteur, an unpatriotic schemer, for years to come. ...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cultural Stem Cells and Circle Completion

I do something other food writers and chowhounds don't. I go native. All the way. I can't help it; this is how I've been wired since my musician days, when I wouldn't be satisfied until I'd expressed the kernel - the very soul - of the many, many musics I played.

I didn't speak Portuguese, and didn't know more than a few melodies, but when I jammed with a chorinho band in a dangerous bar at 2am on a mountain slope in Rio's Jardim Botânico with a dozen drunken (but spectacularly talented) guitarists and hand-percussionists, they responded to me like I was a long-lost paisano. I didn't swing less than a Brazilian, I swung more. I'm not being dramatic in saying I'd have honestly preferred to be dead than to not do justice to the music (this was partially due to my unusual mentor).

People from different backgrounds frequently considered me a long-lost paisano, and I really was. I believe we're stem cells, with potential to grow into any human permutation, and I never want to merely simulate. I don't try to "fit in" in Ecuadorian restaurants. I nurture and express my inner Ecuadorian. That's the whole point! That's why I'm there! Not just to steal the bait; I'm truly open to the program!

I've determinedly knocked down nearly every obstruction between me and "them." I wrote a few years ago about how, as a kid, I accidentally sent the elevator to the basement of my grandparents' apartment building:
"The doors opened, and Cuban workers, speaking some incomprehensible and alien-sounding language, were eating food that smelled like rotten garbage. I mashed my finger on the "door close" button and held my breath, made nauseous and faint by the stench of the disgusting stuff these strange people were eating.

The smell was garlic. Obviously, I'm well over that now. I also speak good Spanish. And I've sat in plenty of basements with Cubans noshing on garlicky this or that."
I hardly recognize myself in that story. At this point, I have way more in common with the dudes scarfing the plantains!

There are so many more examples. I never "got" the whole Mexican kitsch thing, until I realized that
"...there is no difference between sacred and secular/cultural. Here in Oaxaca, with its deep Indian bloodlines, everything is both.

So many seemingly contradictory parts! Mezcal, Jesus, ancient Indian traditions, European waltzes, shamanic polyrhythms, incense and snapshots. Yet a tangible spiritual continuity subsumes all, and the surreal result feels remarkably unmuddled if you really dive in. You may have seen amalgamated Hispanic cultures portrayed in movies, where the trappings always seem kitsch. Up close and live, it's no such thing.
At these moments of revelation, I enjoy the sublime realization that I've been wrong, and "they" have been right. There's no headier joy.

And they truly are nearly always right! The stuff we arrogant, sophisticated, modern Westerners shit upon, as childish or primitive, is the stuff that makes human beings deep and happy and meriting existence on this planet (how many folks on your block or in your office fit that bill?). And it's always smart, even though recognizing this requires cognitive muscles we've allowed to atrophy.

I've watched bits of 10,000 YouTube videos from all over the world for my upcoming project, and my attitude has utterly transformed at the sight of this or that ethnic grandma kindly welcoming us web surfers into her kitchen. Like this woman, whose enthusiasm seems odd to American ears, or this no-nonsense one, who appears to have an unshakeable conviction that her brief message about Ghanaian rice mash is vitally important for someone out there.

It is vitally important (I really needed it! It was my missing link!) and I feel intensely gratified to have completed the circle. After doing so 10,000 times, I've reaffirmed two conclusions: 1. it's indeed all unity, and 2. no human permutation should ever be viewed dryly (let along condescendingly or patronizingly). How much water you add to your rice ball is both utterly trivial and the most important thing in the world, because, you and I being Ghanaian, the personal stakes are immense! And we are Ghanaian and Ecuadorian and Brazilian when we complete the circle; when we obliterate the separation; when, more than anything, we decline to be bored.

Obviously, I'm learning to feel just a bit more self-accepting of my cultural promiscuity.

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