Monday, February 26, 2018

My Kooky Method for Evaluating Recipes at a Glance

Great sign: Lots of quirky notes and tips around a fairly compact recipe

Good sign: A fairly compact recipe

Bad sign: A long, complex recipe (with no quirky tips) for something that seems like it shouldn't necessarily require many steps.

If you're tackling some terribly ambitious classical French recipe, or a Chinese dish requiring fastidious mise en place, or a Thai curry with myriad labor-intensive moving parts, then fine. Strap in to the multipage recipe and get to work. But for something like meatloaf, or Neapolitan pork chops with hot peppers, or some fun spuddy nacho throw-together, or really 95% of things you'd be likely to ever actually eat, a long, complicated recipe means the author is tap-dancing. Baffling with bullshit in lieu of dazzling with brilliance.

Understand this: unless you have a kitchen full of skilled prep cooks and 10,000 iterations of each dish under your belt, you're just not going to produce much in the way of seriously refined flavor layering. You might work with a long list of ingredients, and perform lots of terribly slick moves, but the result will lie somewhere on the spectrum between "muddled-but-edible" and "good, but way simpler than you'd expect considering what went into it." When it comes to complexity, the curve of declining results is no friend to home cooks - even great ones.

There's a world of difference between home and restaurant cooking, and in many ways I prefer the former. It's healthier, and it can be "deeper", in the sense of not resorting to cheap touches like massive fat or sodium infusions or in-your-face seasoning blasts serving as stand-ins for love, care, and patience. Home cooks needn't take shortcuts - a huge advantage. But those 10,000 iterations allow certain well-orchestrated complexities home cooks will never match.

My cooking is fast and incisive. You can expect a couple of flavor themes playing well with each other, and overall deliciousness. I average about an 8 even though I never treat every ingredient as an ambitious separate project. For instance, I prefer kale to spinach for certain panini, and I will simply chop and steam the greens. No sauté, no seasoning. If I were to coddle them, they'd certainly be more flavorful, but I don't need flavorful kale in this context; it's there to provide texture and health. The panini flavors come from the meats, the spreads, the sauces, the extras. If I made the kale a separate work of art, the result would taste muddled.

A professional kitchen can fit many highly-refined pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle because of those 10,000 iterations, but my tolerances must be looser, because I don't want to eat the same damned thing every day. So I have a general idea of how much flavor must be packed in, overall, for the sandwich to accommodate simple kale without its flavor diluting, and this allows me to serve reliably delicious panini in 10 minutes, rather than more technically meticulous - and flavor-muddled - panini in 30.

I've tried recipes where every ingredient's pampered like a princess. It takes an hour for the meal to come into even distant focus, and I very rarely taste the extra work. It gets lost, and I'm left feeling like little Mr. Star Chef wannabe. Complicated recipes for not-particularly-complicated dishes are almost always a sucker proposition. I just won't fall for them anymore.

Obviously, I'm generalizing. I'll bet you have that one recipe that's an exception. And perhaps it truly is, but in most cases I bet I could strip away 40% without harming the result.

So, cookbook authors: spare me your 23 ingredient, 90 minute pork fajita extravaganza. What I can use, however, are devilishly simple and balanced roadmaps for transcending the sum of the parts (this requires an enormous amount of consideration and distillation that few authors are willing to apply), ideally with interesting tips and pointers. The alternative is to make me to run to the ends of the earth to conjure up and mollycoddle a shimmering dollop of elk fat that may alter the final result by some homeopathic iota. But greatness is about the sum, not the parts, so the more part-obsessive your recipe is, the less greatness I'll expect. Simple recipes require courage, confidence, and grueling work on your end.

John Thorne's recipes are like granite. Tight, honed, thoughtful, monolithic, they whisk you directly to the fruits of weeks/months/years of consideration invested in evoking the dish's heart and soul.

"Cornered Rat" Report #12

Monday, February 26, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 97,900 google search results, up 9% from last week's 90,100.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Steven Pinker Dismantles Political Correctness

If you believe the Left is the sane side while the Right's gone off the deep end, watch this extraordinarily sensible and well-reasoned short talk by Stephen Pinker on how political correctness triggers the antithesis of the tolerance it intends, and bear in mind that leftists (especially academics) have gone absolutely out of their mind stridently condemning him for it:

The Far-Left is just as apeshit crazy as the MAGAs and Alt-Righters. Enough radicalization already. I've had it.

America has had it, too, I believe. We're quite obviously primed for Centrism. I don't know anyone who doesn't want to see competent, rational, reasonable, and non-idealogical leadership, even if their pet splinter issues get muddled in the process. Obama largely fit that centrist bill, and I believe he'd have been far more popular and effective running in 2020. He was ahead of his time.

My fascinations very frequently become trendy as time unfolds, and I've been advocating for centrist politics and bipartisan conciliation here on this Slog since 2008. Mark my words: this country is turning profoundly centrist. At a time when everyone else sees utter partisan bifurcation, I see myriad - perhaps even most - moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats - plus vast hordes of the politically disengaged - eager to let go of (or at least compromise on) their pet issues issues and embrace competent, rational, reasonable, and non-idealogical leadership. America is as tired of left-wing craziness as right=wing.

I'm not describing a ditzy kumbaya of "why can't we work together?" Rather, a pragmatic, realpolitik push to transcend cable news issues and concentrate on the actual process of governance. Not creating a zillion new gov programs, nor smashing it all in some Randian furor. Just calming the F down and getting all Michael Bloomberg up in this thing.

My only worry is whether an appropriate candidate can/will appear (I expect the Democratic establishment to nominate a hard leftist ala Sanders or Harris, those guys being unable to rise to an occasion if a rocket were strapped to its collective ass).

Third parties are always tough; the worry will be that it'll split the anti-Trump vote, facilitating reelection. But maybe this time it can work. Please, Lord, give us a Schiff/Yates ticket in 2020....

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Name and Shame

The @forexposure_txt Twitter account is a well-curated look into the lives of creative workers and what they put up with. Nobody wants to pay. Nobody. And people always give the same lame pitch: do this for free for me and you'll get exposure!". My standard retort has always been "People die of exposure, you know!"

Here's an example (brace yourself, it's unpleasant): All the posts on this Twitter account are anonymous, with the names of the offending parties obscured. So every day, many times per day, people ask the account's proprietor, Ryan Estrada, why he doesn't "name and shame" the assholes who do this sort of thing. I love his answer (see link below) so much. If you'd care to soak up some perfectly-formulated anti-venom for most of the ills of early 21st century America, give it a read. See if you don't even find yourself getting a little emotional (who knew sanity was cathartic?).

Should You Go to Cooking School?

Every once in a while, someone asks me if I'd advise them to go to culinary school. I'm obviously not a chef (though I'm a good cook), but I can offer a helpful answer because culinary school is exactly like music school, so I know what's what. I'll post this here so I can point to it for future reference.

First and foremost: understand the economic proposition: Pay us $$$$$ and we'll turn even the whiniest, most rudderless and talentless kid into a competent entry-level pro. These schools aren't about giving talented students the extra boost and inspiration to bloom into greatness. There's very little greatness in such places. Hang around a culinary school, and you'll eat some decent, fair, and lousy food, but nothing fantastic. And nary a note in a music conservatory is going to move anyone. That's not what they're aiming for. It's about turning every mopey slob into an uninspired pro who can get the job done. It's an economic instrument, not a creative one. It's frickin' trade school.

In fact, if you enter with talent and momentum, the institution will do everything possible to snuff all that. The craggy, emotional, opinionated, unique creative qualities that make your pasta so wonderful will only get in the way of the process, which is not to foster your uniqueness but to make the most miserable slob competent. When you're in the business of elevating slobs to competency, you've got no choice but to crush the inspired. Welcome to the slob-molding machine!

You may already make superb lasagna. That's irrelevant. You're there to learn to make conventional, uninspiring lasagna, because that's the syllabus. Your quirky brainstorms will amuse and delight no one. You're being trained to throw down boring, unexciting, conventional lasagna, because the mission is to teach you to throw down boring, unexciting, conventional everything, because that's what chef robots do, and the school turns out chef robots. Your preexisting notions, your personal touch, your creativity are like sand in this soufflé. You must be leveled and conformed into a standardized, predictable product. Because if it was about delicate creativity and fickle inspiration, only a few students, touched by the Muse, would graduate ready to roll, and the families of all those other students would be demanding their money back. This is vocational school, not an arty Shangri-La.

School administrators would point out that training for any trade involves learning the standard ways first, and then, once you've mastered it all, you are free to apply your creativity, your touch, your spark. Sure, they produce standardized cook-robots, but they're equipped with skills and knowledge, free to go off and pursue their dreams.

Bullshit. Submitting to a standardized, institutional training process for years is dream-killing and soul-snuffing. Truly creative talented people cannot possibly emerge with spark fully intact.

Deliciousness and competence are very different things. In any given moment, mountains of competent food are being cooked - much of it by culinary school grads - that you or I would never want to eat. That drab hotel breakfast buffet is competent. That mediocre fund-raiser chicken dinner is competent. The expensive "gourmet" catering store where everything's precious but nothing has a lick of flavor? Competent! All the grim non-deliciousness out there, comprising 98% of food service, is prepared by competent robo-chefs who literally can't remember what deliciousness is. They believe they're nailing it, because they're doing the moves they were taught, and they're doing it all correctly.

All these hacky, uninspired chefs cook drab, spiritually neutral food that is, from a technical perspective, right on the money. It's hard to stock that breakfast buffet with ninety zillion individual items! It requires the logistical and execution skills of a small army, and the chefs can be rightfully proud of pulling it off day after day. But they may never register the fact that no customer has ever clenched eyes shut, pounded table with fist, and hollered "Holy CRAP that's great!". Such an outcome is not even on their radar.

Only the kookiest plumber would try to leave customers' pipes delightful, rather than merely functional. Same for the second horn player in your regional symphony or the bassist on some pop recording. There's skill and pride, and the tasks may be challenging. But the mission is to 1. not fuck up, and 2. serve competently as a widget in some machine. Nothing wrong with that, but you absolutely must understand what you're working towards! Never climb a ladder without a clear-eyed notion of where it leads! (I myself made that mistake twice, in both music and writing).

Just like culinary schools, music schools turn out competent musicians, not inspired ones. And the former is not the larval stage for the latter. Competent musicians do not hatch into grandeur. Greatness is a separate track. Talented people are difficult, spotty, opinionated, and inherently non-uniform. They are a poor fit in institutions. Imagine if Tom Waits had spent four years studying opera and bel canto with some pompous prof at Julliard. Would he have packed anywhere near the same power and emotional intimacy after such sustained trauma? Would he still have been, like, Tom Waits?

If you're genuinely talented or creative, and want to do something genuinely good, you must not submit to the assembly line. It's not for you. It will wring all the character and inspiration out of you, and replace it with mere competence.

But if you're from a disadvantaged background, mildly enjoy working with food, and the notion of working 13 hour days in a hot, angry kitchen for pennies appeals to you, by all means, learn to make humdrum risotto in a consistent and efficient way. Use your diploma to get a job cooking on the banquet staff of some hotel, or peeling turnips for the Ecuadorian top chef in a fine dining restaurant fronted by some name dude who spends his days with image consultants. Just don't imagine that you're on a track to become the dude with the media fluffers. You'll never exceed the commitment and visceral drive of the Ecuadorian hero blocking your way...and even he will never, ever get proper credit (much less stardom), though he's to thank for every drop of quality.

If you want to fit into a pre-existing slot - e.g. play third trumpet with a symphony, or be salad bar manager for a shiny midtown cafe - go to the best school that will have you. But if you want to be a musician capable of playing a note that will make people’s hearts flutter, or a chef who can make customers moan like porn stars, that’s not teachable. To the contrary, any natural proclivity for such result will be wrung out of you.

The very fact that you're even considering culinary school is a bad sign. It shows a lack of ingenuity and drive. It's possible to learn stuff without pricy teacher-servants pushing it all at you. What sort of spoiled, passive person resorts to institutions to learn to do creative stuff? It demonstrates a lack of....creativity!

If you're not creative enough to figure out how to learn cooking technique under your own initiative, then you're not creative enough to cook anything personal, or to make any impact with that cooking. You probably ought to be turned into a robot! It’s the same with music school. If you dutifully shlep into “Swing Feel” class every Wednesday morning, three things are for certain: 1. you’re probably never going to really swing, 2. you don’t really love swinging, and 3. you don’t possess the ballsiness to get done any of the things you’re eventually going to need to get done to be great.

The problem is that our education system is so damned linear. Kids are led down a track - via punishment and empty reward - for so many years that they fall into a stupor, failing to recognize that there's no pot of gold at the end. If you remain tenaciously on the educational track to the bitter end, and head off to culinary school, you might, if you're lucky, make a decent living helping run the juicing operation at some spa for rich ladies in Minneapolis. But this isn't North Korea. You're promised nothing. At some point, you'll need to step off the treadmill, ready to apply some heavy self-propulsion. Don't look to school for that. School is non-propulsive!

If you want to do something real, something good, get eager to kiss the educational track goodbye, and maybe scorch the bejesus out of it with your exit burn, to boot. Go forth and grow and boldly make stuff happen. Shake off the educational/institutional stupor and grow some balls! Concentrate on these four things:

1. Get Good
However good you are now, get way way better, and then, when you're certain you're good enough, get way way better still. And then get better. Finally, realize you absolutely suck and triple it. Don't wait for an authority figure to goad you into improvement. Make it happen as a matter of survival.

Not that this requires further clarification, but don’t stop improving when people around you start telling you you’re awesome. That happens at the beginning of this cycle. When friends and family start gasping in admiration, that means you’re like one single notch above completely sucking.

2. Actively Acquire Knowledge/Experience
Schools will drill all the necessary skills, to instill versatility. On your own, you'll need to work hard to develop that versatility, but you don't necessarily need it. Tom Waits can't sing Mozart, and that's okay. But don't risk ever being hampered by lack of knowledge, skill, or experience. Read books, ask around, take a class or two here or there. Apprentice somewhere, or befriend someone talented and retired. Be thirsty for knowledge, and pull it toward you, rather than passively waiting for Mama Bird to regurgitate it down your throat. Take charge of your own development! Hustle for it and then practice like crazy (see #1)!

3. Scheme
I used to play in a band with a singer who baked pies in her apartment each week, which she sold wholesale to high-end restaurants. She earned good money from this, and made connections. Finally, she opened Magnolia Bakery, and is now a multimillionaire. That all required a self-starting, creative attitude, and nobody at any point asked to see her culinary diploma. She taught herself how to bake, and didn’t stop relentlessly improving until she was so awesome no one could deny it. She had her own touch, and her own ideas, and she made it happen. Eye on the prize!

4. Network
One advantage of a school is the support system you'd develop among fellow students. You can make connections on your own out in the world, but you'll need to hustle. If you're an introvert, learn to pretend you're not. Shyness is not an affordable indulgence. Remember that 90% of all pursuits is politics - unless you just want to keep your head down and peel turnips!

Ever-Undulating Comment Security

Every year or so, a critical mass of Slog readers complains that they'd like to leave comments, but it's too much of a hassle. I ease security restrictions, and tell them to go for it. And nobody comments, but I have to deal with spam comments and anonymous trolling, so I increase security again. Back and forth; back and forth. There's something telling about the human condition here, but I can't quite articulate it. So I'll just note that I'm raising comment security again today.

I always figured this sort of blog would lend itself to a thoughtful, active commenting community. Oh well!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #11

Tuesday, February 20, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 90,100 google search results, down a bit from last week's 101,000.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What is Tai Chi?

I went to a screening of "The Professor", the Tai Chi film I wrote about here, and there was an appearance by Ed Young, one of the practice's most illustrious teachers. Young said, interestingly, that he used to be able to explain what Tai Chi is, but no longer can (it reminds me of the old line, usually misattributed to Oscar Wilde, that "I am not young enough to know everything").

I've been mulling it over for a couple of days, and came up with something:
Tai chi is the practice of embodying the natural flow one normally pretends not to be a part of.

All postings labeled "definitions"

Weird Fandom Stuff

I once wrote a posting about Fans which described the various types of weirdness that crop up between admirers and the objects of their admiration. I described one such category this way: you talk to them, it becomes eerily clear that they know almost nothing about you - haven't read a word you've written or listened to a note you've sung. They just recognize your name, and that you're well-known in a field they think is cool.

If it seems crazy that such people would consider themselves fans, take mental stock, yourself. Have you actually read every writer, heard every singer, and viewed the work of every filmmaker for whom you have a fond feeling? I'd bet good money that more than one person has approached Ann Coulter to tell her what fans they are, and to encourage her to keep giving hell to those damned conservatives.
People have trouble believing that this really happens. It seems counterintuitive that a "fan" could know nothing about the person's work. But I spotted an example the other day. I was watching the trailer for a film about pop music in the 60s. The narrator mentioned some of the artists appearing, and the list ended with "....and the incredible Ravi Shankar!"

How many music fans know anything about Indian music, and are in any position to judge Shankar's playing? How many are the least bit aware of his place in the Indian classical music hierarchy? How many could name even a single other Indian sitarist?

Answer: virtually zero. But Shankar's incredible, right? Not because we've spent hours listening to him play and our well-attuned ears have placed him above his peers, but because he's, like, Ravi Shankar! You know...Ravi Shankar, man! That dude! With the sitar! From, like, George Harrison or whatever!

If someone asked you for your favorite Indian musician, you'd probably call out his name. Even if you've never heard more than a few minutes of his playing. Even if you don't know what a raga is. Same thing, I'll bet, for the guy who wrote the trailer deeming him "incredible".

I can't tell you how many times times people back in the day would corner me at parties - having been told my background and vaguely recognizing my name - to discuss trendy restaurants, or places where they can "see and be seen," or to ask what Andrew Zimmer's really like. They'd ask me these things with eager expectation, expecting to hear the real deal, because I was, you know, one of those guys!

Friday, February 16, 2018

More on that Facebook Scam

The latest random Facebook "like" of the obscure posting I'd chosen to "boost" was by one Rajesh Thute, who

1. is apparently not in the United States (Facebook had promised to limit its boosting to this country, but he goes to school in Maharashtra), and

2. recently reported that he's "Started New Job at wark at Facebook V.I.P Account [sic]." And I'd guess from his grammar and spelling that he's not doing particularly high level work. Probably stuff like, oh, say, clicking "like" buttons for a few cents a pop.

Facebook's Bullshit Boost Campaigns

I made this fairly nondescript post to the Facebook page for my app, "Eat Everywhere".

As always, Facebook offered to "boost" the posting for $10. Even though it wasn't carefully constructed, and didn't really work as a standalone sales pitch, I figured what the hell. I've wasted $10 on greater frivolity.

What happened was very interesting. FB claimed the posting was seen by 202 people. It was "liked" by 54: one real human being (who co-edited the app) and 53 ciphers. Many appear not to be English speakers, most couldn't pass a social media Turing test, and none seem like they'd have the remotest interest in the app....and certainly not this chatty vague posting. What's more, Facebook said that they'd confine viewing to USA residents. Uh-uh!

Consider our new fan ‎سیدعباس‎. Here's his account. Does he seem like a fully-fleshed out person to you, much less someone who'd remotely be interested in my app? Continuing down the "like" list, how about Tran Muon, who could not possibly be more sketchily etched, or more unlikely to "like" this posting? What about 陽菜?

Go through a few more, like Brian Omes and Donna Ramirez and Crystalon Cryer, and you'll sense a pattern. They all have friends, but those friends' accounts are equally stillborn, random, and weird. The pattern is consistent: six to ten photos, few or no actual postings, and a few dozen friends who appear to be in comically different movies. Not one is somoene I'd expect to like the app, much less a vague posting about that app.

Throughout this supposed "campaign", there were no new hits to the Eat Everywhere web site, nor downloads of our iOS or Android apps.

I'm assuming most people who buy these $10 boosts are quite happy with a few dozen "likes" - the Mardi Gras beads of social media ("Ditzcoin"?). People engaged in actual business wouldn't be, but, then again, they wouldn't dabble in these micropayment dangles. So Facebook recruits a mixture of fake people (i.e. bots) with fake accounts, real people with fake accounts, and real people with real accounts to push "like" buttons, and the "client" gets the handful of Mardi Gras beads they hoped for.

I didn't expect much for my $10. But would it have been so tough for FB to zero in on, say, food lovers, when the app's title is so easily parsable to their algorithms? If not, I guess I understand why they can't simply play straight and show 202 real people. 202 actual people will not yield any tangible result. 202 people would not be offering me these 53 Ditzcoins. I mean, one could offer a bona fide update from Jesus Christ himself to 202 random people without drawing more than a single "like" or two....if even that.

But I don't understand how the hell they get away with this. It's so incredibly flagrant!

See followup here

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

SIGA Back From the Dead

I sold off most of my shares of SIGA years ago. The company produced a cure - not a vaccine - for all pox viruses, including weaponized varieties. There are no side effects and the government has already begun stockpiling it. But the history has been almost unbelievably star-crossed, with lawsuits and political shenanigans and reputation sabotage. I bought in at $3 and saw it shoot to $15 before it settled in for a multi-year slumber in the $1s and $2s.

I learned, expensively, that great science and a desperately-needed product with no real competition doesn't necessarily translate to stock market jackpot. Here is my first posting (of many), from June, 2008.

I did hold onto some shares as a long shot. If any of you bought along with me, and held on, congrats: the price touched $5.75 today. A new contract solicitation from the government has been created and will soon be posted, and it looks like there will finally be FDA approval this year (which might unlock foreign sales). They have also finally clawed their way back to the threshold for NASDAQ re-listing. That's a confluence of three pretty happy prospects, and while I'm way too bitter to pronounce the outlook "rosy", the worst appears to be over.

The one advantage we regular people have over super-fast, super-tapped-in, computer-enhanced traders is that we can wait years and years. We don't need to be constantly hitting home runs to sweeten our balance sheets. And, who knows, this long wait may pay off sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #10

Monday, February 12, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 101,000 google search results, a small increase over last week's 92,800.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Pinball Nirvana: FunHouse

There's this place in Greenpoint Brooklyn called Sunshine Laundromat ("Air conditioned and free WiFi for your cleansing pleasure"). After you walk past the rows of washers and driers, if you push in on the drier wall at the back of the store, you'll enter an inner sanctum with cool bar (great beer!) and lots of classic pinball on beautifully-maintained machines. It's amazing.

The best machine of all is out front, however, in the laundromat. I'd never before heard of FunHouse, a loopy Williams machine from the 1990's featuring a heckling animatronic head named Rudy, but I fell instantly in love. It was designed by Pat Lawlor, who also did the famed and wonderful Adams Family machine (which can be played in the inner sanctum).

Here's a personal YouTube tour of FunHouse, part of the landmark “My Pinball Collection” series:

Read comments/reviews on the game from pinball nerds, and check out this inside info about how they put insane work into having Rudy assign each player a nickname, so he could heckle every one personally.

If you can't get to Greenpoint (and can't find a FunHouse at your local pinball parlor - most towns these days have one, by the way), you can play a terrific simulation of this and lots of other great pinball machines - including Adams Family - on all mobile computers and gaming systems courtesy of the Pinball arcade app. If you figure emulated pinball's got to be lame, you're wrong. They've nailed the physics and gameplay experience. It's a marvel.

FunHouse is great pinball, but the music is what puts it over the top. It was composed by a guy named Chris Granner. Below you can hear the score, but a lot of the brilliance is in how music interacts with gameplay. I’ve never seen/heard anything like it.

Courtesy of Granner's web site:

Funhouse soundtrack #1
Funhouse soundtrack #2
Funhouse soundtrack #3
Funhouse soundtrack #4
Funhouse soundtrack #5

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Green M&M Fallacy

Chowhound opened in July, 1997, and by that fall, it was described as having gone irredeemably downhill by several of our regulars. As the community had grown to 150 or so users, more and more stupid postings by stupid people had appeared, and I was told that they were ruining everything.

The same complaint was heard throughout our eight subsequent years of steep growth. And it completely mystified me, because the smart/stupid ratio hadn't budged. Sure, there were more stupid postings, overall, but we were enjoying a profusion of terrific reports from myriad expert food scouts uncovering massive deliciousness everywhere. How was this ruination?

At some point I had an epiphany, and understood what was going on. I dubbed it the Green M&M Fallacy.

If you hate green M&Ms, you'll prefer a small bowl to a large one, because more M&Ms means more of those nasty greens. Even if you greatly enjoy all the other M&M colors, and would presumably want tons of them, green hatred sharply overrides M&M love as quantities increase. Even if the ratio remains the same. In fact, even if the ratio improves. Mo M&Ms mo problems!

This is a natural consequence of scaling. For example, it explains why rural people are often scornful toward urban life. If you're from a small town in Kansas, and spend an afternoon sightseeing around Manhattan, you'll encounter a dozen openly rude people, two or three doors will not be held open for you, and there'll be instances of drunkenness, foul language, and people saying unkind things to one other. That's more bad behavior and nastiness than you'd see an an entire year back home, so it's understandable that this might be seen as a hellscape. The 6,000 other people you passed, who are quietly thoughtful and kind-hearted, don't register. (Nor does the fact that those 6,000 have made a deliberate decision to be virtuous, party to none of the pressures on small town inhabitants to behave civilly.)

This same fallacy is seen in single-issue politics. That's when a certain contingent - gun owners, pro-choice activists, etc. - are so absorbed by their issue that they support and vote for candidates strictly on that basis. If gay rights is your thing, to the exclusion of other societal concerns, you might have deemed Barack Obama a brutally repressive president for having supported gay marriage only late in his second term, somewhat behind the fast-changing national sentiment. There were political reasons for his delay, but, viewed from single issue tunnel vision, there is no acceptable excuse. At a national scale, the fallout from any delay, any half-measure, is multiplied by many millions. Whenever a president pauses to sip from his coffee mug, he might be wrecking a life or two. But, of course, it's fallacious to look at it this way. You've got to consider the whole.

The Green M&M Fallacy isn't always a fallacy. None of us would eat nine carrots in a single serving, but if you drink carrot juice, that's exactly what you're doing. So even if your carrots contain safe amounts of pesticide on a normal per-portion basis, carrot juice, over time, can be downright dangerous (when juicing or nut buttering, always pay up for organic!). You're not just aggregating vitamins, you're also aggregating the bad stuff. Scaling creates absolute problems above and beyond proportionality.

I've never seen another writer point out Green M&M Fallacy....until today. In his beautifully written New Yorker essay on paper jams(!), Joshua Rothman describes this bane of all offices as

"...a quintessential modern problem — a trivial consequence of an otherwise efficient technology that’s been made monumentally annoying by the scale on which that technology has been adopted."

Cereal Update

Rice Chex are downhill, but Corn Chex are absolutely killing it. So corny!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Subject Time is NOT Time!

Yesterday, I wrote about a quandry:
When I listen to an actual piano smash, and pick out, say, "Ode to Joy", that happens over time. I can effortlessly speed it up or slow it down (which I suspect is a clue!), but the experience doesn't download instantly; it plays out internally over time, just as if the notes were individually played rather than tuned/framed. And if time exists, then change does happen, which unravels the whole observation and re-burdens us with the kludge that is time. It's a problem!

Can subjective shifts be construed as taking place outside time? Is time necessarily object-related? I suspect I need real math and physics to pin this down (or, perhaps, another few years stewing on the issue).

Time passes while you're thinking, for sure. Cognition is a physical process, involving chemical reactions and energy. But perceptual framing happens behind cognition. It's deeper. There's no judgement or calculation or tabulation or taxonomy involved. It's an utterly neutral shifting of the focus of attention. Does it happen in time?
I was just being dumb (it happens a lot).

Perceptual framing is instant. It can expand from microbe to Milky Way without the slightest latency. Whenever there is latency (e.g. reframing from Depressed Rumination World back to Worldworld...or from Worldworld to Absolute Reality - aka enlightenment), it's just because certain framings/tunings become habitual, making alternatives slow-budging. But once we do make the flip, it always happens instantly.

The instant-on solidity of framing is seen by considering the optical illusion below. You can see either faces or a chalice, but not both simultaneously. A given framing is quite solid - the possible framings never interact with each other. Until we relax ("let go"!) enough to develop easier control of the reframing, one or the other image might stubbornly endure. But the transition, when it happens, is instant, no? No fade, no blur. If you'll pay careful attention, you'll notice that the reframing is positively otherworldly. It's not like thought, it's not like a movie's not quite like anything else.

The optical illusion is like a fragmentary piano smash. The options (in this case, only two) pre-exist, and perceptual framing "in here" makes a choice, yielding the impression of change "out there".

Since there's no latency, even at vast scale, perceptual framing happens faster than light speed. This means it's outside time - indeed, outside this universe, whose rules preclude anything faster than light. And this checks out. If framing "traverses" (for lack of a better term) the multiverse, it must occur beyond all worlds (for a personal sense of this beyond-ness, consider, once again, The Fan).

Reframing happens outside time, because time is a concept deduced from Worldworld in order to describe Worldworld. Framing is beyond concept, and beyond worlds. It's a neutral shutter, and shutter speed "in here" does not/can not correlate with time passage as we conceive it "out there" (which is, for instance, why we can effortlessly speed up or slow down the tempo of "Ode to Joy" within a piano smash).

Not perfect, but close....

A year later, I connected it to epiphany and inspiration.


A new footer was added to this morning's posting, fwiw.

Is Subject Time Still Time?

I'm badly stuck. The issue will only be intelligible for those who've slogged through The Visualization Fallacy, Visualization Fallacy Redux, and Visualization and Parallel Universes...

If the universe is a piano smash (defined here), with all possibilities presently available for perceptual framing, and the impression of change and movement is created by the tunings of attention ("in here") rather than by actual dynamic movements of things ("out there"), that means time is merely a kludge - just another Worldworld conceptualization. If nothing moves or changes, and all dynamism is an impression of shifting focus, then time doesn't exist. Things need to move/change along a time axis for time to exist, but a static piano smash is timeless.

So time is an artifact of confusing inner reframing with an impression of dynamism. Among other things, this solves the problem that no human has ever experienced the slightest taste of past or future. As countless sages have observed (in various phrasings), it's all a big "Now". The piano smash model embraces the primacy of present presence.

However, when I listen to an actual piano smash, and pick out, say, "Ode to Joy", that happens over time. I can effortlessly speed it up or slow it down (which I suspect is a clue!), but the experience doesn't download instantly; it plays out internally over time, just as if the notes were individually played rather than tuned/framed. And if time exists, then change does happen, which unravels the whole observation and re-burdens us with the kludge that is time. It's a problem!

Can subjective shifts be construed as taking place outside time? Is time necessarily object-related? I suspect I need real math and physics to pin this down (or, perhaps, another few years stewing on the issue).

Does anyone know? Does anyone know anyone (e.g. a theoretical physicist) who'd know?

Time passes while you're thinking, for sure. Cognition is a physical process, involving chemical reactions and energy. But perceptual framing happens behind cognition. It's deeper. There's no judgement or calculation or tabulation or taxonomy involved. It's an utterly neutral shifting of the focus of attention. Does it happen in time?

Next in this series: "Subject Time is NOT Time!"

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Endlessly Reverberating Patronization

I walk into a Hispanic or Latino restaurant. I speak decent Spanish, and my order demonstrates that I know the cuisine (see the "Ice Breaker" headers in my app, "Eat Everywhere"). I'm friendly and engaging, and it's clear that I'm familiar with their culture. And, obviously, I'm, like, there, downing the rice and beans or whatever like a champ. Not bologna sandwiches. And the waiter/manager/owner, with whom I've developed a rapport, baits me with an anti-immigrant statement. Not quite testing to see how I'll respond, but just as a wee bit of patronizing ugliness.

This has happened twice now. The first time, I cringed in horror and hastily disavowed any such sentiment on my end. This is an unfamiliar scenario for me. As someone who's misunderstood 1,000 times/hour, I've lost all interest in huffy disavowals. Whatever you're concluding about me is likely wrong, but completely fine by me. But this time I went through the rigamarole, and it worked, and the worker started (hilariously) skewering "el cerdo" (the pig) of a president and his bigoted supporters.

Gratuitous disclaimer: I am outraged by how immigrants have been made to feel by our government's statements and actions. The abuses and affronts are entirely real, and dig deep. I support full amnesty, open immigration, and am pro-immigrant in almost every respect. I do whatever I can to make immigrants feel comfortable and respected (while also understanding that the assimilation process isn't - and probably needn't be - perfectly gentle and nurturing). As someone who's lived, worked, loved, and hung out with more legal and illegal immigrants than anyone I know, I completely understand why they're freaked out right now.

But I don't feel I should need to disavow the cerdo. I certainly didn't need my Muslim friends and neighbors to state their disapproval of Al-Qaeda. If we all must disavow awful behavior by those who look like us, that's some messed up onus placement! In a civilized society, we ought to assume we're all decent people unless proven otherwise. Especially when chatting in Spanish as I keenly devour the hipper dishes of your cuisine. If every member of a group is assumed to typify that group's worst members, doesn't that validate Trump's characterization of Mexicans as criminals and rapists? Doesn't it validate the whole damned thing?

Same with black people. As I once wrote, I talk like a jazz musician....though I no longer look like one. And nearly every black person I meet gives me The Look: here's another damned white guy patronizing me. It's given me such a complex that I usually make an effort to talk the whitest of whitey white when I meet black people (say a hardy hello to Morris Morrisblatt CPA!). I do Richard Pryor's imitation of white people. It makes things go smoother. But it's sickeningly crazy. It's profiling. It's stereotyping. My skin color doesn't tell you who I am, nor my background nor motivations. You know nothing about me, so why snap to conclusions? Doing so represents a far worse sort of patronization (and, yes, I'm aware that my whiter-than-white shtick is counter-counter-patronization, though entirely self-deprecating and harmless). 

When a group feels misconstrued via caricature, their impulse, as they strain for justice and clarity, is generally to reciprocate. They caricature back, seemingly aiming for a zero sum re: justice and clarity. I just don't get it. Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

Next time I'm baited into revealing my stupendously-well-concealed anti-immigrant bigotry, I'm going to take the person at face value. What? You don't like immigrants? Bring me the damned check, I'm out of here, and not coming back.

There is a solution. It's out there, and billions profess to admire it. Maybe one day....

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #9

Tuesday, February 6, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 92,800 google search results, a 12% increase over last week's 83,200.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Visualization and Parallel Universes

This is a follow up to two recent postings: The Visualization Fallacy and Visualization Fallacy Redux.

It might seem like I use this Slog to explain things to readers. I do not. I use it to explain things to myself. As I write, connections are made and insights arise. It's discovery, not explication. I step out of the way.

I started my "Visualization Fallacy" posting to describe an interesting fallacy I'd noticed, and, as I wrote, it kept expanding until I realized it had become a sort of cosmology. I'm still rereading those postings to come more fully to terms with them.

Slog reader Paul Trapani kindly left some comments on the first installment, prompting me to expand and clarify. Our dialog deserves its own entry, so here's a lightly edited version. It will read like gobbledygook unless you quickly review the previous two postings first.

Take it away, Paul....

Paul Trapani said...
Some interesting and thought-provoking stuff. I'm still pondering the parallel universe aspect, though. As an analogy, I think it's great, but not sure about actually shifting to a parallel universe. Whenever I think of parallel worlds I'm OK on the theoretical aspect of it - in that these are all hypothetical worlds that could occur after a given point - but not sure about their "existence" in the same way that our world exists. Or maybe they do exist but are inaccessible to us. Of course I get the point that trying to say "our world" is also illusive, as there are billions of "our worlds".

Jim Leff said...
"Existence" is the trickiest word in all existence. In fact, my whole piece (at least the voluminous italicized digression) is an argument that we project even the world we consider the most existent of all. We project and inhabit this world of symbols, shortcuts, and generalizations, hardly investing the least attention/focus into what actually Is. Not one of us lives even 1% of our time in what we generally term "the real world". We languish in Worldworld!

(Extra snaky digression: we can't truly exist in any given World, anyway - not any of them. No one has ever lived in "A World". You're not in a world now; you're in a chair, reading a screen, and your world, for the moment, ends there - and even that chair, per previous argument, is a symbol, not an actual aggregation of matter. We only live in the slice of a given World that we frame our attention around. It's ALL framing! All the way down!)

Our world radically changes - qualitatively and quantitatively - depending on how we internally frame it. You can't say it doesn't. Sure, it's assumed by human beings that there's reality and then there's imagination, but I defy you to find any demarcation point in light of the above. All there is is framing. Attention pivots, zooms, and retracts in a highly creative infinity of moves (though we get stuck in a few habitual ones). That's what gives rise to the impression of movement, time, and rich manifestation amid what's actually a piano smash*. In other words, possibilities are apparent and available if you merely reframe your attention.

* - A "piano smash" is when you sit at a piano and use both forearms to mash down all the notes. If you do so, and keep holding all the keys down (or pushing the sustain pedal), you'll hear every note at once...and you can use your attention to pick out melodies. Any and every melody, really, and harmony, too. All of music is encoded and present in a piano smash, and you can create the illusion of dynamic movement by reframing your internal attention. It is my belief that the universe is a piano smash, with all possibilities present and available for framing, and that internal framing creates the impression of all dynamic movement and change.

Our infinite framing latitude obviously offers infinite universes. It's especially clear given that the universe you and I inhabit is almost entirely abstracted/symbolized/generalized, and so untethered in reality that computers (which are GOOD at working with symbols!) can't begin to parse it. We've framed this apparent universe, in a quite obvious way. Depressives, cut off from the world and infinitely mulling in their dark internal realms, create a different universe via different framing. Forgetting you're in a movie theater is yet another. This is what humans do: reframe and immerse in order to shift realities.

You have created Worldworld via your framing. And you've seen that the world (even what you think of as "external", which is merely signals registering through slits in your head) changes radically depending on your framing. Framing is obviously the paramount factor.

The fact that nobody talks about framing is a clue that it's paramount. They also never talk much about the non-moving part: the presence that's always peered out from your eyes (call it "True Nature" or "Pure Awareness" or "Witness", but shmancy terms are unnecessary). The things that matter are the least discussed.

Paul Trapani said...
Thanks that was helpful, particularly "piano smash." I was considering parallel universes to be like isolated parallel lines never touching, so I looked at it as if I was in World X and then somehow would move to World Y. It makes more sense as a cacophony of possibilities, with attention reframing onto a specific one.

Jim Leff said...
"I was considering parallel universes like isolated parallel lines never touching"

You may be experiencing the visualization fallacy I was discussing in the first place! :)

But, really, the "isolated parallel lines" thing works just as well. It's as good a metaphor as any. It isn't incompatible with piano smash.

With a piano smash, you tune your attention here or there. Nobody has bandwidth to experience the entirety at once (remember how the world contracts into your screen and, maybe, your partial, mostly abstract chair). This "tuning" is what I'm calling reframing.

You can describe the tuning as attention directed to isolated parallel lines, or to elements within a disorganized cacophony. The structure doesn't matter. We're talking about infinity, so any manifestation is not only possible but compulsory. The tuning itself is the interesting part, the rest is just the infinitude of yadda-yadda. The important thing is the scanner, not the scanned.

Resist the impulse to pay attention to the sexier, more dynamic, objects. What's way more interesting (though utterly un-verbalizable) is subject. The Tuner.

The thing that doesn't make sense in multiverses is the notion of "going somewhere". "Traveling to a new world", etc. It's pretty juvenile. Sure, we're talking about worlds, which we associate with a round globe thing. But whatever heaven and hell are, or Earth/Paul-23398 is, you sure as heck don't travel to get there. Nor do we pack our lunch and venture to Worldworld, nor to our dream world, nor to Depressive Obsession World nor to the town of Deadwood. It's a flip of one's attention; a tuning to a different note. That's the sweet spot. The crux is the subjectivity of it.

So, cacophony or parallel lines or doesn't matter. But the one element you can absolutely rule out is the thing most people can't shake (due to Visualization Fallacy): of it being about GOING somewhere. Of a PLACE. There's no place but "here" (or, per the cliche, "Wherever you go, there you are"). Our here-ness is the only solidity amid the kaleidoscope of infinite manifestation.

For a helpful metaphor of the banal simplicity of the actual point of tuning - the eternally here-present pole star around which the infinitude of manifestation roils, and the nowhere/everywhere from which disembodied Subject selects, frames, identifies itself with, and inhabits Object - see "The Fan"

Next in this series: Is Subject Time Still Time?

If you enjoyed this discussion of cosmology, you might want to consider my theology.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Asked and Answered

In this morning's posting, "The Strategized Life", I asked a question that I later remembered having previously answered. Have a look at the updated footnote, or else go directly to the referenced posting from last year (which is actually one of my favorites).

The Strategized Life

Last week in Dallas, I was invited to choose a car from the rental company's row. As usual, I took a full 10 minutes to go from car to car, checking mileage. The vehicles ranged from 32,000 miles to one with only 540, still retaining new car smell. Obviously, I drove out with the latter. Score!

Others choose on the basis of brand (as if all options within a given class on a rental lot aren't more or less equivalent) or color, or simply jump into the first car they see. These people experience the junky alignment and creepy off-ness normally associated with rental cars. Sometimes I feel like the only one applying strategy to my decisions.

But here's the thing: If other people are so non-strategic, why don't I find life a smoother, easier experience? Shouldn't I be winning? Whenever I see someone walk around a parking lot without paying attention to back-up lights, or dehydrating to lose weight, or ordering Domino's delivery when they live across the street from DiFara Pizza (I've actually seen this), I wonder why I'm not emperor of the frickin' world

Update: Hmm. I forgot that I already answered this.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mr. Rogers

Tom Hanks will star in an upcoming Mr. Rogers biopic. Variety reports:
The film is inspired by a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and award-winning journalist Tom Junod. In the story, a cynical journalist begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed.
Here's the original profile Junod wrote on Mr. Rogers, and it's near-perfect and a must-read. Here is the Emmy speech mentioned in the article.

The following won't be useful to you until you've finished the article. It's some perspective on the whole "grace" thing that Rogers pursues with such overwhelming zest.

There are two prongs to spirituality*: fire and silence. Both terms have hordes of equivalents, depending on one's tradition ("fire" might also be called spirit, holy ghost, bhakti, tummo, kundalini, Shakti, etc.; silence can be called emptiness, stillness, peace, communion, Shiva, etc.). If you get out of balance with one prong, you naturally find yourself craving the other.

* - A paradox, given that spirituality is all about unity....but in this realm one soon learns to tolerate and even enjoy paradoxes.

We all love Mr. Rogers. I idolize him. I never liked him as a kid, though. He was way too much of a wet noodle. And here's the thing: it's true; he was a wet noodle. One can be as kind, thoughtful, wise, and respectful as a Fred Rogers without noodling out. Noodliness is not inevitable among saints, who can be quite hot and firey. The hot-headed ones often crave cooling silence. Rogers was the other extreme, which is why he seemed so hellbent (poor choice of words) on acquiring grace* with which to fire up and dry out.

Grace, of course, means other things, as well - most frequently a spontaneous and apparently unearned experience of revelation or communion; what doctors term "idiopathic".

It's revealing that Rogers is quoted as feeling that "he gets it from God, through man." People awash with spiritual heat don't feel that way. They source it from within, and gift it outward (the Mavlevi Sufis believe man serves as a transformer, moderating and directing extreme heavenly energies for Earthly purpose). Just consider this: if grace comes from people, why wasn't Rogers gifting it rather than seeking it? Generous to his core (the gift of his silence elevated the entire country by a notch or two), he'd certainly have showered it forth if he could have. But it simply wasn't his to give.

Different spiritual practices and traditions often stress one prong over the other. Rogers was an ordained minister in the United Presbyterian Church, which is about as silent as it gets. You won't see much in the way of hollering holy-roller preachers or parishioners thrashing around in spiritual passion and speaking in tongues among Presbyterians. On the other hand, it must be noted that if you're going to overdo one prong or the other, it's better to go to excess with silence (I speak from difficult experience).

The thing we loved about Rogers was his silence. The thing we mocked him for was his lack of fire. The two are not unrelated, and this article shows that he spent much time and effort seeking balance. I wish he could have had a brief chat with someone from a more fiery tradition. There were things he could have done to self-balance, without disrespecting his faith. As-is, he's both a saint and a cautionary tale.

My previous posting on Mr. Rogers

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