Thursday, March 29, 2018

Get Computer Glasses NOW

Listen to me carefully.

If you're of the age where you wear bifocals/progressives, and/or you often need to take off your glasses (and/or put on new ones) to read, and/or you've ever sat down at your computer and seen nothing but an alarming Big Blur until you could arduously manage to focus in:

Buy computer glasses.

I don't really understand what that means or exactly what these do, except they're not normal glasses, and they're not reading glasses, and you can't use them for anything besides computer work.

But they are a choral triumph of blazing grandeur from God (capitalized!). Aside from that, words fail. I can't express to you what I'm experiencing right now, or how I regret years of needless suffering. I just want to sit here and peer at my screen. I may read a novel on my screen. On my screen. On my screen.

Between my new regular glasses and these computer glasses, I'm out a sum of money that could have bought dozens of meals. I've been extorted and raped, my wallet strip-mined by smug opticians in fake white smocks, and I've been left, non-myopic, to rot in some nameless gutter. And yet I say to you: get computer glasses. Don't "research" them. Get them. Go get them. Now. Stand up, walk out, and get them. Now. Go get computer glasses. You need computer glasses. Up you go. Go buy glasses. Computer glasses. Now. Right now. Make it happen. Do the thing. Straighten up and fly right. Don't delay. Go do it. Start walkin', yes indeed. You want this. You need this. You're doing it. There you go. Excellent! Stop reading. I mean it. Time's wasting. Go get some computer glasses. Man, you're gonna love your new computer glasses. Why wait? Don't! Go do it now. You'll have them soon. You're reading right now without glasses, and my whole point here is to not do that! Are you not understanding me? Stop reading! Go get computer glasses!

Also, get anti-glare coating.

Update: See discussion here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Magic is Messy

I'm helping out friends with a writing project. And I'm not completely sure what they're expecting, so while I believe I'm producing something terrific, there's a knot in my stomach at the prospect they'll take one look and cry "What the hell is this?"

So I texted one of them, and asked him to test-read a page. Then I reminded him again. And again. Nothing.

Meanwhile, I kept writing, with an increasing concern that I might be walking off a cliff. I could be headed in the completely wrong direction. It's really hard to tell! The dread mounts.

If he'd simply written back to tell me it's great, or to tell me it sucks, I would have instantly sprung into focus, knowing what to do. Without that, I feel like Schrodinger's Cat, writing something both great and useless simultaneously, the verdict sealed until someone opens the damned box and takes a look.

I saw the guy last night, and after polite apologies for not getting back to me, he revealed what had happened. He was so confident that I'd turn in something great that he didn't figure he needed to chime in. Since I'm so good at this, I could just go do my thing.

At least, that was the view from his perspective.

From my perspective, I'm floundering in a pool of self-doubt. I know the stupidity I'm capable of. I know that sitting down to write entails weaving puke and turds and snot into output that might pass scrutiny. I'm not falsely modest. I'm fully aware that, at my best, I can pull off small magic tricks. That means some people think of me as a magician. That's nice, but they don't understand what that entails, or how ramshackle it all really is. It's the usual appearance-versus-reality thing.

Real magicians are nothing like stage magicians. We aren't suave figures attired in cleanly pressed tuxes, with seamlessly confident control of circumstances and effortlessly socko results every single time. That's not how any of this works. Real magicians dwell among the puke and turds and snot. That's where we live. It's a dirty job no one else will do.

Our process is one of desperation, strain, and grim determination amid nauseating insecurity. We are constantly burdened with the memory of outcomes where we'd forgotten to clean off every last booger and someone noticed, breaking the spell and leaving only a sense of blinking bafflement at how this small, pathetic, whimpering oaf wound up in their midst when they'd expected an urbane, polished prestidigitator.

Remember that nervous, fleshy guy behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, flailing feebly with his flimsy levers to create a limited array of just-barely-convincing effects? Yup. That's us. That's as good as it gets right there. Welcome to my life from my perspective.
"Aw, c'mon, we both know you'll nail this project, Jim!"

"But you can't know that! You don't understand how stupid I can be! You have no idea!"

"Yeah! Ha! 'Stupid'! That's you! Look, just keep writing, it'll be awesome!"

"No! Awesomeness does not flow out of me like pancakes! It's work and pain, and nothing's ever assured. It's always possible I'm a million miles from anything good! That's never not a strong possibility!"
Here's the thing: magic is messy. Repeat it to yourself a million times, so expectations are properly readjusted after years of seeing cheesy, toothy fricking David Copperfield on TV: Magic is messy.

Further reading:
The Perfection Requirement
Explaining Steve Jobs
Cave of Forgotten Dreams

How will this very posting play? Am I whining? By omitting a ton of supporting detail - to make this read more smoothly - have I produced something that will be boiled down to some empty cliché of artistic snittiness and neurosis? Is any of this even remotely interesting? Have I devolved into a self-indulgent blogger? The part about me sometimes being a magician, does that read like gloating? Or, on the contrary, is my self-portrayal so lowly that I've revolted everyone? Is the Slog bogged down in navel-gazing and snide complaints about how wrong people are? Is this turning into a downer when it could just as easily offer a positive message? Is anyone even reading any of this? And is it okay if not? I disliked writing for multitudes - needing to withstand the merciless snark and willful misapprehension - so here, left in peace, I ought to be happy, yet I catch myself fretting about smallness, and about whether I'm disappointing the few who do come around. Is it clear what I'm doing with this footer right now? Does it read like a beleaguered call for help, when I'm simply revealing the sort of inner narrative every truly creative person confronts? David Copperfield never concerns himself with this stuff! David Copperfield never whines!

If any of you are reading this in horror, wondering why I'd torment myself when it's all reading fine and I'm someone whose writing you admire (I frankly have no idea if there are any such people wondering any such thing) and shocked by the harshness of my concerns - then allow me to yet again point out that magic is messy.

It's not a matter of ego insecurity. I don't need strokes. There's no personal self-doubt here, because it's not about me, it's about the material. Is it good? I don't know! No creative person knows!

Actually, that's not true. Sometimes (not always) I do know when it's good. But I never know when it's bad, and that fact can only fail to terrify me if I were to keep up a steady diet of lead paint chips.

Understanding Heart Stuff

A few years ago, I had some heart problems (I'm good as new). When I tried to explain it all to friends, I found that not one understood even the first thing about heart stuff. They kept, like, tearing up amid my explanation, which seemed totally weird to me (per below, I'm far safer than they are, heart-wise!).

You really need to understand about all this, and not have it be some terrifying blob of mysterious badness. Heart stuff isn't as scary as you think. In fact, it's mostly good news these days. Take five minutes to read this overview, which will almost surely surprise you and transform your outlook:

Note: I'm not talking about the various rare and strange ways things can go wrong...or might have been wrong since birth. This is just the scenario most people mean when they talk about heart disease.

The heart's just a pump, and it needs oxygen. The oxygen comes from the arteries that feed in. If the arteries get blocked, oxygen gets cut off, and that's bad (and that's why you should take your Lipitor).

When the oxygen gets cut off, that’s a heart attack. You need to clear that blockage ASAP, before the heart gets starved of oxygen (which is bad). The clock's ticking!
Bad News: It's not going to happen in time. No one is going to crack open your chest and ream out the blockage at the baseball game, or even in the ambulance. That blockage will remain there for at least a day or two.

Good News: That's actually ok, because the moment you're in medical care - ambulance or hospital - you'll be given nitroglycerin tablets, which open things right up. It's one of the greatest "time outs" medical science has devised; a cheap, easy miracle. Now, you shouldn't go rock climbing at this juncture, but if you'll just patiently sit there, with the nitroglycerin under your tongue, danger is averted. The heart gets oxygen, and no further damage will be done. No harm, no foul! Sit back and relax....and schedule your angiogram. The clock has stopped ticking. Time out!
A day or so later, you'll have that angiogram. It's a procedure everyone should want, but it’s bestowed exclusively upon those of us with Scary Symptoms. It's far too expensive to offer to everyone, but you, lucky one, get to jump the line and have your heart thoroughly inspected from the inside!

They slide a probe through a vein in your wrist or pelvis that sends a video camera into your heart, and it finds any/all blockage, and can even remotely clear a bunch of it. If necessary, the procedure can also insert a stent, which opens up even super-blocked arteries, permanently. None of this hurts. All of it's wonderful. It's the thing you point to when people say snide things about modern medical science. This is the sweet spot. This is why it's great to live in the future!

Everyone else is sending you sympathy cards, but I'll congratulate you! You now have something 99% of your fellow humans don't have: complete assurance of clear arteries. Run up the steps or chase the bus; you won't have a heart attack, and not many people can say that! Your friends and family - pitying you for your dramatic-seeming heart condition - might, for all they know, be dangling by a thread. You, however, are the only superman in the room, with a heart that's 100% scanned and mapped and tested and good to go. It's an immense privilege enjoyed only by a lucky few.

The only thing to fear in any of this is failure to get timely medical help (i.e. nitroglycerin). That ticking clock must be responded to, and if you don't, that's a whole other thing. My strong suggestion is that you practice yoga and meditation to develop body awareness which will help you notice the problem way, way before the damage point. The people who don't notice are those whose bodies seem like numb and distant slabs. With body awareness, you'll be fine. In fact, better than fine. You'll be among the privileged few.

Let's talk about stress tests, which very few people understand. A stress test is an attempt to determine whether you're dangling by a forcing a heart attack. Please have a heart attack! Run faster! Keep going! It is literally a stress test - a violent shake-up to see if anything breaks. But don't worry, because the technician has plenty of nice juicy nitroglycerin, which is - remember? - a Time Out. So if that scariest of phrases - "heart attack!!!!" - gets uttered, you're a few seconds from a time out, and probably just down the hallway from an angiogram. Easy peasy. And then you'll have the privilege of knowing your heart's okay all within a safe and controlled environment.

Not to say that a heart attack is no big deal, but it's nothing awful in and of itself. All it means is that the danger clock has started running. The danger isn't the attack, it's the duration before nitroglycerin. Learn to be less terrified of the phrase, but very diligent about responding to symptoms.

It's counterintuitive, but the best thing that can happen to you, heart-wise, is to have a heart attack, get a speedy Time Out before damage occurs, and qualify for an angiogram so you have firm assurance that your heart is cleared for action. That would be awesome! Much, much shakier would be to assume you're healthy, and go shovel snow, uncertain of what's going on in your chest. You, snow-shoveler, may feel terrified of what I've been through. But I'm fine (zero damage, happy stent, I run up steps and scamper like a pup). Really, I'm just worried for you!

So: take steps to develop body awareness. Get help fast if anything seems funny in your chest (angina isn't just pain; it can feel like a lovely fullness). Take your Lipitor, if it's been suggested for you. And understand that a heart attack, in and of itself, is not some unthinkable dramatic horror. This is not 1960!

Slog technical advisor Pierre Jelenc asked me to add that a clean bill of cardiac congestion (from angiogram) "is not a license to commit all sorts of behavioral sins; other arteries can get clogged (although most patients will die of something else first)."

For more on the the Sublime Bliss of Stress Tests, see this posting

For more paeans to the beauty and joy of stents, see the bottom comment beneath this posting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Luxe Life

In the early 90s, I flew to Europe for (music) work at least twice per year. At that time, if you racked up those miles on TWA, you qualified for nearly guaranteed upgrade to Business Class on all flights, and a free (or steeply discounted) membership to the premium flight lounge, as well.

I was one of the poorest people I knew, eking by on $26,000/year (and proud of it - few jazz trombonists at the time could say the same), yet I traveled like a CEO. And I have to admit that I liked it. I also liked the five star hotels I stayed at while touring on the European jazz festival circuit.

But I didn't like it enough to want to devote my life - or to have to exploit others - to preserve that lifestyle.

It's all switched. I'm not impoverished (I own a TV set! I take the pay tunnels into Manhattan! Occasional parking garages!), and I travel coach and stay in ordinary hotels. It wouldn't occur to me to spend an extra $1500 for a slightly wider chair for a five hour flight, nor to lay out $500/night for a luxe hotel. It doesn't seem worth it.

Yet, paradoxically, again, I did really like it.

Fortunately, I don't need to have everything I like.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Curse: Summing Up

Previous installment
First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order

While the previous posting was about my "Curse", I didn't title it as such, because the point I was making was an interesting stand-alone. And I worried that readers understandably fed up with the sordid whackiness of the whole Curse thing might have otherwise skipped it. But now we're back in the series, officially, for a final summary.

One note. A Facebook friend read through this series and expressed concern for my well-being. I had to reply that I have tons of friends unaffected by this stuff (the "Curse" is only a phenomenon with strangers), plus plenty of equanimity. I enjoy, come what may. Yes, there were rough moments, and my composure wasn't always perfect, but I was (and am) ok. This tale hasn't been a wail of pain disguised as a wry mystery. It really was a wry mystery!

The Big Chill-Out

Like diabetes, the "Curse" can be managed but never cured. When I lapse into quiet sub-sub-sub-shlubbiness these days, I still come off like an extreme "zero", while sending out highly discordant vibes of super high intensity and awareness. And the spectacle of a high-intensity "zero" - pretty much a contradiction in terms! - has to seem troublesome and creepy. How could it not? He must be plotting something. He's gonna mess with my kid, or play mind games with my head, or act out in lord knows what manner!

All my life, people told me I was "hyper" and needed to calm down. So I eventually did. But while some people mellow into a persona of Laid Back Smooth Dude, others wind up three notches below "shlub". It just goes to prove that no advice is one-size-fits-all. I wondered, as a child, whether everyone experienced their own unique universe - or if different people could act and think and do the same stuff with very different outcomes. I am now as certain as a human being can be certain that it's the latter.

I wasn't ever "hyper". I was intense. People don't always apply the right words. For example, the term "eccentric" is used to describe every sort of nonconformist, including those who've found a truly better way (I wrote about this here). For another example, people often compliment my intelligence, when I actually have a middling intellect (I'm poor at following directions, filling out paperwork, following movie and novel plots, and generally at inputting and processing lots of data in a snappy, efficient way...unless something visceral drives me to do so). What I am is creative, insightful, and, in its original sense, "clairvoyant" (which didn't used to refer to ESP - which doesn't exist - but to people who are especially clear in their vision....which is not to say I can't sometimes be cloudier than a hangar full of gauze). But it's easier for people to just figure I'm "smart".

I heard "hyper" a lot, though, and figured all those people couldn't be wrong, so I learned to slow down and chill out. But I was never a Chill Dude. The meditation, etc., that relaxed me only increased the intensity, compounding the real issue. I'd chilled to a puddle, while dissonantly projecting huge intensity and awareness. Hence the "Curse".

Lesson: When people give you bad advice, ignore the advice but pay close attention to the problem...then solve it your way.
I used to go ballistic when editors suggested thoughtless changes to my writing. It took the longest time for me to understand that I was missing a phenomenal learning experience. If I'd simply ignored the suggestions, and focused on the issues prompting those suggestions, I'd have seen all my writing problems helpfully mapped out. Instead, I spent years raging at the stupid suggestions.
I hadn't needed to chill, but I accepted the solution at face value, and paid a steep price.

Escaping the Curse

So how did I escape the "Curse"? I heeded an impulse to speed back up. I've returned to old behavior patterns which had been criticized as "hyperactive". I've reinjected my energy back into my speech and actions. I am a bit more dominating and loud. And I let myself say things that might seem a bit kooky. In so doing, my intensity seems less discordant than when I'd presented with a spooky, hollowed-out affect. Making myself a "character" elevates me a level or so, on the gravitas scale, to "Dude" from The Big Lebowski. I obviously have some sort of shtick going on, so my intensity seems less startlingly out of place. Hey, it's that kooky guy!
If this account of adopting a persona creepily reminds you of the line about psychotics needing to put on their "human suit", believe me, you're not alone. It's troubled me plenty. In the end, however, I'm pretty sure psychopaths aren't compassionate, empathetic, or generous, whereas those things aren't among my deficiencies. I think many mental illnesses reflect an incomplete registration of deeper truth. So it may be that psychopaths in some ways resemble me, rather than vice versa.
Sometimes I forget to speed up socially. So I have harrowing scenes with strangers. But I need these vacations. At this point, adapting a persona gives me a bit of a headache (my maniacal food-loving Chowhound persona had similarly weighed on me). There's a reason devotees traditionally withdraw to caves and monasteries. It's hard to be in that groove while maintaining a facade - but it's socially perilous if you don't.

Confession of Guilt

This entire series has been disgustingly self-justifying and humble-bragging. "I'm so modest." "I'm so spiritual." "None of this is my fault." "They just don't understand me!" I know, I know. So let me inject some self-blame here. There is one thing I've failed to consistently apply. It's this, which is too subtle and interesting to recap, so you'll need to read the link. I'll wait!

A lot of people said they were moved by that post. And it would have helped if I'd followed its approach more diligently. Whenever I'd simply do the small flip of perspective suggested in that posting, a deeper connection often formed.

Yes, it sounds lovely. A hopeful vision for a future where it all comes together! But you might have forgotten the only truly horrific component of all this, recalled in installment #9, and which I'll repeat below:
There was a farm stand I shopped at a few years ago. The elderly proprietor was never kind to me, but one day, late in the season, we exchanged a couple of thoughtful words, and connected for a moment. She looked at me as if for the first time. It was absolutely nothing romantic for either of us, just a touch of soulful bonding. Nice!

The next season, I didn't have a chance to return to the stand. But the summer after that, I did stop by. When the woman caught sight of me, she gasped, and I realized that I'd stumbled into a late scene of a very bad movie. "Where did you go?" she implored in a hoarse, tremulous whisper, her eyes dark wells of pain. I, ah, ghaaahh, uh, I, ah....wuh, er, I, ah....

I wish I could say that was a one-off. And you'll surely understand why I much prefer senseless rejection. The Curse was a trial but also an amusingly goofy story. This, however, was some sort of bona fide tragedy...and, for whatever unfathomable reason, it seemed to be on me! Yikes! I don't want that!! Who would want that???
This is what happens when the Curse flips the other way, and I feel compelled to stave off this outcome with absolutely everything I've got. While it might seem better for me, it's definitely not better for them.

One might diagnose a fear of connection on my part. No. Read more closely, bearing in mind that this might not be the sort of experience you personally relate to. Like the rest of this "Curse" story, it's edge case stuff...which makes the entire tale somewhat unrelatable, though hopefully still interesting reading).

Continue to final installment

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Grand Unification Theory of All Jim-Related Enigmas

There's a very strange thing that happens sometimes. I'll walk into a Hispanic grocery in the boonies, greeting workers in Spanish. They'll furrow their brows and grow confused and agitated. This guy simply can't be speaking Spanish. It's impossible. Expectation is such a strong force that they're unable to understand me, though I speak the language reasonably well. The fact that I'm actually speaking Spanish doesn't overcome the unassailable assumption that I can't. What's more, it's emotionally fraught for them. Faces freeze in shocked horror and confusion. Friendly and well-intentioned though I am, my visit is not a happy experience for them. Nobody enjoys an edge case. There's a level of surprise that really rattles people.

Another example. I once visited a Punjabi restaurant and asked if they could make a "palakwala". This is a very odd dish to request. Not only is it completely unknown to non-Indians, but even Punjabis aren't all familiar with it. It's like our butterscotch pudding - an item you rarely see anymore, and which only older people even know about. So I asked for this, and the counterman scowled, reached with his tongs, grabbed a samosa, and asked me "Samosa?", stressing the syllables to penetrate my limited gringo comprehension.

In his mind, I simply had to have been asking for a samosa. Americans always go for samosas. Sure, my mouth had performed a series of actions that, in some sci-fi universe, might have been a surprisingly good pronunciation of an extremely obscure Punjabi specialty. But you don't need to be a statistical analyst to apply Occam's Razor and give the clueless American the samosa he's obviously struggling to pronounce. Even though "palakwala" doesn't sound anything like "samosa".

When strong expectations clash with very surprising outcomes, people tend to 1. coast along on the momentum of their initial expectations in spite of all counter evidence, and 2. react uneasily and weirdly to the experience. If this happens around you a lot, it might feel an awful lot like a "Curse".

In my previous posting, I continued trying to understand my long-running experience of provoking very odd and unpleasant reactions from strangers. My failure to project superiority parses, subconsciously, as I seem like someone you'd want to disregard. But the important observation was buried in a footer:
The heart of the problem wasn't that I'm dismissible. It was the clash between that visceral dismissive reaction and the discordant fact that I'm actually interesting. A person three notches below "shlub" is not ordinarily the least bit interesting - or accomplished, talented, insightful, hip or funny. Or any other noteworthy thing. That's edge case stuff right there, and it's also unconsciously registered, and the unconscious discordance might understandably provoke irritation, anxiety, and general unease.
It's "gringo-who-can't-possibly-be-chattering-comfortably-in-Spanish." It's my palakwala samosa. That's it! Same dynamic!

When the visceral impression you provoke is extraordinarily at odds with who you actually are, every word or action jars disturbingly against expectations. Even if you don't say a word, and mind your own business, signals conflict. Extreme edge cases elicit surreal/comic results.

Surprising behavior breaks things (and the greater the surprise, the greater the breakage, so be careful about aiming for infinity). I actually wrote a posting five years ago about the problem with surprise, but I didn't tie it all together until today.

I had more Curse theories to write up, but I suppose I can stop now.

Continue to "Summing Up"

Friday, March 23, 2018

Note on Levels of Arrogance/Gravitas

I just noticed a strange compression effect in the levels of arrogance/gravitas listed in my previous posting.

Here's a reminder of the levels:
Every level down to Level 5 thinks they're really at the level below:
Claus von Bülow and Seb Gorka think they're Stuffy Professors.

Stuffy Professors think they're Aloof Professionals.

Aloof Professionals think they're Good Guys.

Good Guys think they're Get ‘Er Done.

On the other end, every level below 5 thinks they're one level above:
Senile/Crazy think they're Me (I attract crazy people, who assume we're kindred spirits)

I feel like The Dude.

The Dude feels like a Slacker.

Slackers secretly fear they're Shlubs.

....and Shlubs definitely think they're Get ‘Er Done.
Get ‘Er Done just get ‘er done.

So if you're trying to place yourself, choose one that sounds right, and you belong in the one above if it's 6-10 and the one below if it's 1-4 (Get 'Er Done has no time for this introspective nonsense).

The Curse, Part 11: Gravitas

Previous installment
First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order 

It's been a while since the last installment, so let me recap.

Something snapped inside me at a phenomenally stressful and hopeless moment, but the fallout, strangely, was entirely external. The world went a bit crazy. Everywhere I went, strangers would grow weirdly enraged with me. I learned to speak like Mr. Rogers, restraining my natural sarcastic no avail. I couldn't shrink myself small enough to avoid being an irritant.

The "Curse" was in play even if I didn't say a word. At the gym, no one ever used adjacent treadmills (body odor wasn't a problem nor was I drooling or muttering to myself (both were checked). This is how Casper the Friendly Ghost™ must have felt!

I've spent years processing this, choosing to consider it a juicy enigma rather than a horrific nightmare. Eventually I worked up some theories, which I began recounting in the previous installment. There can be no one single answer. Extreme edge-case scenarios are the product of multiple factors. And one of them surely involves gravitas....or the lack of it.


As I wrote in my most popular Quora answer (reprinted on the Slog here):
[People are] impressed by the apparent intelligence of people who project confidence, or by their qualifications. They're impressed by educated people who use fancy words and have lots of information stored in their heads. They're super impressed by arrogance.
Gravitas really does impress people...which is why so many of us strike that pose. It's an effective shortcut for insecure wannabes. I like to point out that most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. This explains the origins of gravitas. There's a vast difference between concentrating on Doing versus concentrating on Seeming.

The problem is that Doing is transparent. Even if you do stuff extremely well, unless you puff up it's extremely hard to be taken the least bit seriously. As with certain species of beetles, haughty displays ensure domination and mating...and it's not super deep.

Profound people, it's assumed, seem profound. Smart people seem smart. A vibe is expected, and we're subconsciously predisposed to dismiss those who lack it. And while gravitas can obviously be faked, some part of us sniffs gradations of it and forms snap judgements accordingly. You express, nonverbally, "I am superior to you." The rest of the world replies "Okay."  Done deal. 

But genuinely impressive people are rarely arrogant. With no need to pose, they seem, paradoxically, unimpressive. We humans have quite a weird feedback loop going on, where insecure posers get rewarded and the securely accomplished are ignored.

I've written a number of times about problems caused by my lack of gravitas (this posting illustrates this whole phenomenon). I'm not falsely modest. I know what I'm good at, but I don't see how my good work makes me anything special. And so I read negative on the gravitasameter. Five contributing factors:
Dad: I watched my know-it-all father struggle mightily to preserve his tattered facade of Total Expertise. No one was fooled. Not wanting to fall into this trap, I went the other way, embracing my shortcomings and never forgetting that, per the footer here, "the best among us are shitty little rivers."

Burnt: I was so burnt out from my experience building, running, and selling Chowhound, and then working for a year under a sadistic whackjob, that I'd left it all on the field, as they say. Bedragglement is poor soil for cultivating gravitas.

Food Maniac: I'd maintained a public image during the Chowhound years as a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs food-obsessed maniac. It worked, but I didn't like it, so when I took myself out of the image-building business, I sort of went all the way. Maybe I went overboard.

Anti-Heirarchy: The founding principle of Chowhound was to discourage food lovers from slavishly following experts like me. And I meant it! This propelled me on a certain trajectory.

Om, Baby: Having ardently practiced meditation and yoga since early childhood, beneath my food maniac facade I was, quietly, a surprisingly serious devotee, steeped in silence and not at all fixated by worldly results. Again, I knew what I was good at, but preening - of any sort - wasn't my thing.

Since arrogance works, it stands to reason that less gravitas impresses less. So what happens in extreme cases? Let's look at the descending levels of arrogance/gravitas:

10. Claus von Bülow
Titanically arrogant. If gravitas were a cologne, he'd have been drenched in it. At this level, you jump species, becoming more reptilian than mammalian. If you don't remember Claus, Seb Gorka will do. 
9. Stuffy Professor
This is the sweet spot, where gravitas seems like a natural outgrowth of your expertise. Cause/effect get confused, as people assume you're naturally radiating mastery, rather than striking a pose which preceded any actual accomplishment. Score!
8. Aloof Professional
Too busy doing their super important thing to indulge in much pomposity, but they definitely "don't suffer fools gladly" (a self-congratulatory phrase much beloved by the arrogant).
7. Good Guy
The over-achiever whose efforts to convey ordinariness reveal an underlying sense of superiority. "My humility is just another facet of my awesomeness!" These are the people who preface boasts with "I am humbled by..."
6. Get ‘Er Done
Just trying to keep all plates spinning. Little bandwidth for contemplating one's place in the hierarchy of it all. Nonetheless: pride.
5. Shlub
Perennially disoriented, like a particularly stiff wind landed him in his present circumstance. Uncomfortable in his skin, he lives too reactively to cultivate gravitas or strike any other pose.
4. Slacker
Has let go of caring what people think. Low ambition and low productivity are a virtue. Still, doesn't this require a deeper core of smug self-satisfaction?
3. The Dude
You know, from The Big Lebowski. Wandering around in a bathrobe, oblivious to all pretense. No gravitas at all (yet defiantly proud of it - a sort of anti-gravitas gravitas) but no real-world leverage, either.
2. Me
Utter lack of superiority...and not particularly proud of it. Absorbed, unsettlingly, in endless bemusement.
1. Senile/Crazy
Too captivated by whatever's drawn you into a stupor to even consider external phenomena.

See this followup posting.

Level 5 ("Get ‘Er Done") is the lowest socially-acceptable gravitas level. Beneath that, we start delving into the detritus of society. Not on the merits, per se; just in terms of our gut instinct. Shlubs make us roll our eyes. Slackers revolt us. The Dude in real life would be an object of scorn and ridicule. Beyond that, our visceral reaction to a mere glance is "Yeah, I definitely don't have time for this nonsense." I'm beneath this threshold. And the next level below me is so stigmatized that any bluntly descriptive terms - e.g. "senile" or "crazy" - sound downright rude and offensive. I am, in terms of status signalling, one notch below a bathrobe-wearing eccentric, and just barely scraping above senility. This explains a sizable chunk, no?

The thing is, if I were to wear, like, a saffron-colored monk's outfit, my Level 2 affect would at least have context (accurate, to boot). It would also, however, create a new slew of grinding incongruities, e.g. my sardonic sense of humor, high energy and enthusiasm, and craft beer obsession. What kind of weird-ass monk is that?? To make it work, I'd need to cultivate a smiley, conspicuously gentle and soft-spoken persona. Yet more posing. Ugh!

One final note. This is getting complicated, but the heart of the problem wasn't that I'm dismissible. It was the clash between that visceral dismissive reaction and the discordant fact that I'm actually interesting. A person three notches below "shlub" is not ordinarily the least bit interesting - or accomplished, talented, insightful, hip or funny. Or any other noteworthy thing. That's edge case stuff right there, and it's also unconsciously registered, and the unconscious discordance might understandably provoke irritation, anxiety, and general unease.

As an illustration of the weird-out effect of confused expectations, behold Mr. Six Flags:

Thanks to Paul Trapani, who also collaborated on "Eating by the Numbers", for his input on the Arrogance Levels.

Continue to Grand Unification Theory of All Jim-Related Enigmas

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Inputting Hard Copy Edits

The final editing pass for my app, "Eat Everywhere" involved marking up 1500 pages (front and back) of text with red pen. Behold my ordeal:

This stage was, alas, necessary. The material would have read fine without it, but many people have complimented the polished feel of the app's writing, and this is how that happened. Eat Everywhere informs you quickly on the fly (i.e. in restaurants), but you can also kick back and read it like a gigunda book, funny and entertaining (much credit, also, to our copy editor Laura Siciliano Rosen, proprietor of "Eat Your World", who also helped write the food content).

While I love writing, I hate inputting edits from hard copy. Knowing this huge task was looming, I bought an Apple Pencil for my iPad and tested every PDF mark-up app, hoping I could save some pain (and some trees) by avoiding print-outs. But these apps are all clunky, so final editing had to be done on paper, then manually input, after all. If you've ever done this, you know that, among other pains, it's hell on the eyes to keep switching between hard copy and screen. And fussy to keep the hard copy well-positioned. And just crazy-making, generally.

Here's my ingenious solution, which I'm very proud of:

1. Mark up hard copy in red pen (I use Paper Mate Flair Felt Tips, though they've gone downhill in recent years)

2. Put each page under this lamp (or one like it), choosing the coolest white quality. It lets you shoot a photo without casting a shadow on the page.

3. Shoot each page using the Scanner Pro app (set to "color document" so it correctly captures the red pen strokes) for iPhone, or any similar one for Android. You can shoot with the native camera app, but if you want this to "just work", scanner apps are better (I'll explain why in comments upon request).

4. The pages will be combined into a PDF. Send to DropBox (or other cloud service, or email to yourself).

5. Open the PDF on your computer, blowing up the window until it fills half the screen. Then arrange it next to the document window you're inputting to.

No eye strain! No fussy copy stands! No squinting! Plus, you can scroll both windows as you work. I'd be dead right now if not for this workflow. If you ever work with hard copy next to a computer, this is something you need to be doing!

It looks like this:

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #15

Monday, March 19, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 91,700 google search results, just a bit more than last week's 91,000.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Picatext: If You Can Read It, You Can Copy It

There are many situations where Mac users can't copy a given bit of text to their clipboard. You can't select text in the Mac App Store, in images, in Google Books, in certain apps. For example, just try to select and copy the text in the image below:

Enter PicaText. Fire it up, select some portion of your Mac's screen, and it does on-the-fly OCR to extract the text of the area you've selected. Here you go:

Results are very good, though not always perfect (Picatext missed the space between "but" and "you"). Suddenly every bit of text readable on a Mac becomes  available to cut/paste. It's magic - a brilliant creative solution to a problem no one ever expected to solve. And it's only $3.99, and nobody knows about it. Can we fix that? Pass the word!

Friday, March 16, 2018


Critics usually aren't masters of the thing they're criticizing. Great violinists and film directors tend to play violin and direct films, rather than write about it. So you can imagine the contempt many creative people feel for critics, who can seem like the most annoying sort of hangers-on.

I'm in a unique position, having worked creatively in several fields in addition to my critical work. Even before I was a critic, my perspective was unusual. If a critic would write about some technical thing I'd done ("interesting use of tritone substitution in an otherwise modal passage!"), or try to figure out which players had influenced me, I'd need to repress the urge to slap them. Even if they were right! Because that's all just stagecraft. It has nothing to do with my aim, which is to engage and move listeners. If you're poking at me and measuring me - analyzing how I do what I do - you're not paying attention to what I'm actually up there to do. Were you moved? Did you feel anything; were you taken anywhere? Was any spell cast?

Whenever a listener tells me they "don't understand jazz", that means they've heard crappy jazz. Jazz isn't supposed to be about jazz. It's a medium for expression, and if expression doesn't express, that's the performer's fault. I prefer not to play for jazz experts. Absorbed by stagecraft, they're the worst listeners.

For my entire career as a restaurant critic, I couldn't cook a damned thing (I've since learned). And I caught grief for it. But I always considered my naiveté a super power. When a puppeteer attends a puppet show, he keeps his eyes on the strings, not on the puppets. Who do you want to read for puppet show recommendations: someone for whom the puppets were alive and magical, or someone bent on explaining how the mouth gestures were derivative and sloppily calibrated?

Of course, you don't want a critic to be a complete shnook; a tabula rasa. Critics need enough experience to recognize when something's special and when it's a bust. But while a chef might gauge the evenness of the slicing, I gauge the likeliness you'll say "Mmmm!" (most chefs have forgotten that "Mmmm!" is even a thing).

To chefs, this makes me look ingenuous. I seem to be reading all sorts of capriciousness into the food. A very long time ago I wrote this about Sal and Carmine's Pizza:
Sauce and crust are merely adequate (though they proof their dough the old fashioned way, in wooden drawers), but they are carefully, exactingly designed and crafted to superbly support the cheese. Crust doesn’t distract, but provides the canvas for this artistic study in cheese. Sauce binds and activates entirely behind the scenes, providing a subliminal buoying catalyst for the slice as a whole. When eating at Sal and Carmine’s, one must remember to eat (conceptually) from the CHEESE DOWN, not from the crust up!
They'd taped the review up on the wall, and I asked Sal (or was it Carmine?) what he thought of it, without telling him I'd written it. His immortal reply was one of the unforgettable highlights of my career: "I don't know what the fuck the guy's talkin' about!"

To chefs, who spend their time occupied with slicing the damned tomatoes and shepherding the right dishes to the right table at the right time, my dreamy conceptualization can seem like utter ditzy indulgence.

I get it. A chef is perpetually occupied with the nuts and bolts of producing food, only unconsciously imbuing it with personal touch via innumerable micro-decisions (ideally aligned via the magical combination of experience and love). But my domain is the opposite end of that process, where diligently packed pyrotechnics erupt into splendor. It's my job to dream about it! But what artist wouldn't want to inspire dreaming?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Three Seemingly Insurmountable Problems with Autonomous Cars

I love to drive, but am nonetheless looking forward to autonomous cars, which are due sooner than we expect. For one thing, I'll enjoy an unprecedentedly active old age. As I wrote a few months ago:
What if you could go to sleep in your camper or RV, and wake up 500 miles away? Achieving that without the least preparation or staging would ... feel one notch away from teleportation!

And once highways are 100% autonomous, speed limits could safely increase, so maybe you'd wake up 800 miles away! Just for one thing, it would be a chowhound's utopia: you might read about a great breakfast joint in Jacksonville, FL, and be there the next morning for pancakes...just like magic!

It's a pretty irresistible prospect. Especially if I'm 80 years old (it'd likely take that long to happen anyway), and otherwise not getting around very much.
But there are problems. Not just challenging problems, but seemingly insurmountable ones, and these are just the three I've thought of. All are most problematic in urban areas, but those are the locales where autonomous cars are expected to be most concentrated.

1. Pedestrian Tyranny

The prime commandment of any self-driving algorithm must be: don't hit humans. This tops all other priorities.

As is, an uneasy truce exists between motorist and pedestrian right of way, and it has little to do with signage (if we locked up all the jay-walkers, there'd be no one left free). The only reason pedestrians ever let cars pass through an intersection is the prospect of getting hit. A driver could be drunk, inattentive, or psychopathic, so it's not worth the risk.

But if cars are constrained from running you over, you can step off the curb nearly any time, and all traffic will politely allow your passage. They will even opt to rear-end each other in order to accommodate you. In fact, all you need to do is wave your arm or umbrella into the roadway. Screech.....bam....walk.

The only alternatives I can think of (1. make jay walking a felony and position police at every intersection, or 2. make every citizen wear or implant an identifying chip and position sensors at every intersection)- seem impractical to say the least.

2. Destination Overload

The great thing about autonomous cars is they remove the issue of parking. Your vehicle drops you at the door, then heads off to the outskirts to park cheaply and await your summons. It may be even easier than this. In the future foreseen by both GM and Uber, car ownership will be effectively over by the middle of the upcoming decade. With no humans needing to get paid, autonomous taxis will be irresistibly cheap, so we'll be using them for everything. In either case, people will no longer approach their destination on foot, having parked in one of the plethora of surrounding options or emerged from various mass transit. Most of us will be driven to the door every time.

So what happens in front of, say, a post office when ingress is no longer a mixture of mass transit, foot traffic, and a slim percentage of drop-offs? What would 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue look like at 7:15pm when nearly every theatergoer arrives by car directly to the door? What does midtown Manhattan look like before a concert or basketball game at Madison Square Garden? We have not yet imagined how bad traffic jams can be. This will choke all traffic movement for many blocks away.

3. Hailing Woes

It's hard to get a cab as-is, especially when crowds disperse or weather turns rainy. This is mostly due to limitations on number of taxis, but what happens when a swarm of autonomous cars is available to inexpensively take everyone anywhere? When you push the "hail" button on your iPhone 15, and many people immediately around you do the same, how will the result not be like the chaotic car service pick-up lane at airports, only many times worse?

Between hailing woes and destination overload, how will any proposed nightclubs or movie theaters ever get permission from local community boards, when they'll absolutely choke their neighborhoods? One solution to all this potential mayhem would be to very sharply limit or tax all vehicles in urban areas, but that would make hailing much more difficult than it is now, plus we'd be back where we started, with expensive taxis (perhaps more expensive in light of limits/taxes) and the usual half-assed mass transit...but without the option of driving in and parking. The average citizen would come out worse.

Most cars on city streets are trying to park. This ensures a fanned-out driving pattern. It's polluting and inefficient, but it works. Without this inefficiency, the vast majority of traffic will converge on the top few dozen most popular locales. On the other hand, I suppose that with pedestrian tyranny, no car will ever move anywhere, anyway.

One more thing: if you want to get rich, invest in alcoholic beverage companies starting around 2021. As soon as autonomous cars hit a tipping point, the suburbs will see a level of public intoxication not experienced since medieval England. If, around the same time, we figure out a way to eat caloric foods without gaining weight, things might get interesting.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Perfection Requirement

Enjoy another hulking mound of buried ledes and disparate half-baked thoughts, all weirdo stuff no one else has seen fit to point out.

Having learned, early in my writing career, to draw readers into highly polished, easily-digested narratives, I continue to go the opposite way, assembling insightful hairballs requiring multiple re-readings and sustained reflection. It's not self-indulgence, as I work hard to ensure every lock is provided a corresponding key. But, dammit, the present-day conviction that everything worth knowing ought to be effortlessly swallowed is just wrong. The contemplative approach may be a poor fit for this iPhone age, but stubborn fools persist.

I hated slogging through difficult, dense writers like Kant and Hegel in college, which inspired me to develop a crisp, immersive, entertaining writing style, painstakingly primped to coax readers into sleekly gliding though, like butter. But we've all been butter-gliding for way too long. Much of the human condition remains unexamined, thanks to our mulish disinclination to closely observe, analyze, and integrate.

I've always assumed there were smart, insightful people working that end of things, so I contented myself, for years, to kvell over stroopwafels. But as I've gotten older, I've observed, with horror, that the ball's largely been dropped. So I keep slogging for the handful here who haven't yet been repulsed. Perhaps one day the tide will turn and this sort of writing will become interesting again. As-is, I'm embarrassed by it, but I do feel compelled to persevere.

It's happened literally thousands of times. I say something unscripted that contains some cleverness, and someone - who'd previously assumed from my lack of gravitas and pretension that I'm some goofy asshole - cocks an eyebrow.

Wait a minute. What on earth was that? That was either the craziest thing I've ever heard, or else I've misjudged this guy!

They look more closely, trying to decide: crackpot or sage? But they see before them nothing but goofy asshole, with no detectable deeper nuggets of magnificence. I bemusedly watch their mental gears turn (any process observed thousands of times affords what might be mistaken for superpowers of intuition), and the result is inevitable: "Ok, yup. Crackpot!" Attention dissipates, and there's literally nothing I could say or do to stir them from their permanently settled disinterest. I could levitate and spit gold coins from my ears, but, please, they've had quite enough of this guy's goofy nonsense.

Yet sometimes not. Sometimes someone projects the existence of some nugget. It must be projected, because there truly aren't any, because I am merely (and proudly) a shitty river. Per the footer here:
Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.
But this time, for whatever reason, someone has begun to pay closer attention.

Understand that this is a very rare occurence. At this point, we've lost the 90% who weren't listening in the first place, the 75% of them who listened while lulled by their own inertia of boredom, low expectations, and the sing-song surface of what's being said - and are distracted by eagerness to find offense, to narcissistically connect everything to their own drama, and to catch you unwittingly falling into some deprecated meme. If you can emerge from this asteroid belt of random chatter, dull inattention, and poison, a bit of consideration might occasionally be paid even though you decline to push the buttons that normally command attention.

That last part is a big thing. People who demand attention - and learn to push buttons to get it - are seldom worth any actual attention. Demanding and deserving are very different gigs. I once wrote this about intelligence:
The most impressive intellects are not always fast or flashy. Not, in other words, impressive-seeming. And it takes ample intelligence to be impressed by actual impressiveness rather than by mere impressive-seemingness. Most truly intelligent people I've met aren't very impressive-seeming, because if you've got the goods, you tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it.
The seeming/being disjoint applies beyond intelligence into every realm of the human experience. We register merit via the most superficial and fake-able of indications. Consider: we all have a super-nice person in our circle. This is the person who gives lots of shoulder rubs, and always has a kind word and bubbling positivity. They have 3000 Facebook friends, and if you ever really need them, they're nowhere to be found, because their thing is seeming nice, not being nice.

Genuinely kind people have no reason to manipulate people into deeming them kind. Where's the kindness in that?!? They don't offer shoulder rubs, and they don't effusively coo at you, but they'll go out of their way to help if you're in trouble, without expectation.

Again: if you've got the goods, you tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it. But our phenomenally superficial society rarely looks beneath the Seeming. This presents an enormous problem for secure people who don't anxiously tend to their facade. Insecurity and fakery are rewarded, while security and authenticity are overlooked.

So let's say (quoting from one of the links above) you're not a pompous, boastful, stuck-up "Do You Know Who I Am?!?" prick, leading with your accomplishments, playing the part, and prepared to pee at least as hard and as far as any alphas in your midst. And you are therefore seen as a goofy asshole. But you've just said something clever, and the rare person has not only caught it, but stirred from their reverie long enough to ask themselves whether you're a crackpot or if you're really on to something. And they're tending toward the latter.

What then? This has to be the happy ending, right? Victory?

No, this is where it gets really weird and counterintuitive. We do things at this juncture that we don't consciously realize we do.

We begin to scan for flaws. We wait, with baited breath, to hear something dumb, or wrong. Like good scientists, we scan for contrary evidence. How are we supposed to admire perfection if we haven't thoroughly scanned for flaws?

So a timer starts, and the longer we fail to find flaws, the more excited we become. We've finally found That Perfect Person! And the more excited we get about it, the more attention we pay. Our admiration is inextricably entwined with our flaw-scanning. This is because our heros have always been those we've deemed flawless. (Why are there no heroes anymore? Because we've all grown way more sophisticated in our flaw detection!)

On the other end of that equation, it feels like a high-energy laser blasting at you, measuring and modeling your every cell and pore, hellbent on detecting every iota of fraudulent inadequacy. The attention level of someone who suspects they've found a hero is thirty kajillion times greater than everyday attention. Attention multiplies via emotions like hope and awe. Finding themselves shocked on unfamiliar ground, people give it all they've got. Flaw-scanning and admiration, admiration and flaw-scanning, the two create a vicious circle.

Have you ever met a stunningly beautiful person? Not just someone made up to look attractive, but blessed with an appearance that draws you into a far deeper place than you normally go? You can't stop looking at them. If this person were to laugh an uncomposed laugh, revealing some unconscious ferile, unrefined quality, the spell would shatter. One tiny scar, one piquant fart, and, suddenly, nope. Just another damn person. You'd immediately and intractably lose appreciation for the asymptotic beauty you'd previously registered. The person would descend to a status beneath mere prettiness.

This is why we feel such sharp scorn for our exes, after the momentous come-down from the impossibly lofty elevation of infatuation.

So when I encounter the one in a thousand who's able to hear, process, understand, and appreciate some bit of cleverness, and their attention turns fully in my direction, the clock begins ticking. Like a NASCAR racer, the seemingly admiring crowd relishes the prospect of a juicy crash. With the first disappointing thing I say (and I say many dumb things, because it's never been my intent to construct an image of omniscience), the spell will be broken, attention dispersed, and the primordial question reappears: "sage or crackpot?" Heads nod. "Yup, I thought so. Crackpot!"

Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes a few hours. When expectations rise, and there's a failure to be perfectly wise, perfectly insightful, perfectly equanimous (or even if one manages those things, but in an unexpected, unrecognized way), the value of everything previously said and done plunges to near zero. Remarkableness is not appreciated in the absence of perfection. Dabs of mild talent and cleverness, no problem. But once a higher level registers, the clock starts ticking.

A couple quick examples:

Steve Jobs was such a fucking asshole, amiright? I mean, obviously, all of us can be pretty rude, impatient, stubborn, and arrogant. That's just human nature! But Jobs was supposed to be, like, great, and if you've heard the stories about the dozen or so times he behaved poorly, you know the real truth! And JD Salinger, who stopped seeking publicity and engaging with random strangers - who led the same private life as anyone else - was obviously a crazy, bitter old shut-in!

Three addenda:

1. This explains this.

2. Beware of anyone projecting an image. Remember: those who've got the goods tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it. There is a reason, for example, that so many spiritual gurus, aiming to build a following, have been cinematically bearded and smiley...and secretly scandalous. The cranky random dude who sells you your cigarettes might be the real deal.

3. Stage magicians wear perfectly pressed tuxedos. Each gesture is suave, and every result is polished to amaze. And it's all fake. Real-life magicians are everyday slobs with problems and issues, doing their utmost to help and delight, not to impress. Real magic - which is subtle and not physics-defying, and rife with creativity - is messy, never shiny.

"Cornered Rat" Report #14

Monday, March 12, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 91,000 google search results, continuing a recent pattern of dropping, this time from last week's 93,900.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Benefits of Hearing Loss

As I've mentioned before, I have more than 50% hearing loss. And it's great.

1. I won't spend another dime on audio equipment (e.g. my crappy stock car radio will serve perfectly well). I've never been a nutty audiophile, but it's been one of many parameters I've felt driven to bear in mind and factor in, and I've freed up some RAM by letting that drop.

2. I can buy digital music, rather than buying/ripping CDs, even though it's lower fidelity.

3. I remember when I first got glasses, as a child, the sense of relief that my unfocused (pun unintended), semi-conscious impression of something being "off" had a legitimate basis. It didn't just reflect some random neurotic sense of unease. Rumpelstiltskin!

4. It's easier to tune out things I don't want to hear.

Re: that last one...

The downside of my unusually engaged attention - there's an upside and downside to everything - is that I've spent an extraordinary amount of time tuned in to nonsense and banality (which has fed my dismay with the repetitiveness of worldly life). A very long time ago I noticed that people only take in a small fraction of signals directed their way - even in one-on-one conversation - and I always found this unfortunate. But these days, I consider oblivious disconnection something worth aspiring toward. In fact, I believe my thinking and creativity - as evidenced on this Slog - has improved as my attention has sharpened as my occupation with nonsense and banality has subsided as my hearing's decreased.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Why Do People Love Guns?

I've been thinking a lot about guns. And talking to a lot of perfectly kind-hearted people who are really, really, really, really, really into guns.

There are two kinds of people: those who surf more or less blithely over the trials and tribulations of life, and those who aim to wrestle the fucking universe into submission and make things go their way. Both are perfectly normal approaches, but the latter, obviously, loses in the end. You don't need towering mountains of wisdom to see that the universe doesn't care what we want. At all. We have very little control over how things go (even within your very own compass; e.g. how goes that resolution to hit the gym 3x/week?).

The universe will generally give you what you truly need (Free air! Free water! Emergency rooms! $1 pizza slices!) if you can be flexible about your needs. But some people view their needs with fraught needfulness, and see no alternative but to fight, fight, fight until they get some gratification and some sensation of control over it all. It's all a delusion - a hilariously transparent game of whack-a-mole - and this only heightens their anxiety and needfulness. Welcome to planet Earth!

Why do some people armor themselves with muscle? Why do some people make a conspicuous display of their toughness, rather than simply being tough? Because it gives them a feeling of power. Blithe surfing - i.e. acceptance - seems passive. By contrast, they're out there making it happen. Resisting, not accepting. And if you make yourself an obstacle to them, they will stand their ground, defend their interests, and make you awfully sorry you picked on the wrong person. You know, just like a video game.

The truth is that every one of these anxious bad asses is - just like every one of us - a squishy and whimperingly vulnerable human skin bag. And they know it. And it drives them crazy, because deep down they know it's all a pose....which only feeds their sense of anxiety and vulnerability. By carrying a gun, they gain actual power. Their real world bad-assery comes into better alignment with their pose. Who's squishy now, motherfucker?

Why do people love guns so much? The question is seldom asked or answered, at least with any insight. They're fun to shoot, sure. But lots of things are fun without inspiring such emotion and paranoia. The key is understanding that guns are the only thing making bad-asses, universe-wrestlers, and defenders of self-interest, anything more than regular hapless human beings. 

It might sound like I'm savagely putting gun people (some of whom are friends of mine) down. I'm totally not. Life is scary, and it's precarious to be a powerless squishy human skin bag, and we all cope with this fundamental discomfort in different ways. In my case, a gun wouldn't help, because my dread is too subtle and complex to be abated by anything as simple as a killing gadget (also: I would definitely wind up shooting a bunch of people - litterers, for starters). But for those who view it all as more of a video game, it's very easy to understand the primal need for weaponry.

This is why we're not going to have any deep gun control. This is why half the country freaks out at the mere suggestion. It's not about "liking" guns; it's a deeper, more existential issue. Gun people are no crazier than anyone else. Humans always choose irrational and self-defeating ways to cope with the deep-seated realization that we're not actually controlling this thing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Ultimate Political Litmus Test

I believe I've struck upon the perfect behavioral litmus test for political affiliation. I haven't tested it, but it feels inarguably true:

Liberals choose Sugar In The Raw, while conservatives choose Domino (sugar substitutes are bipartisan).

As a centrist, I see the folly of both sides. Choosing Domino reveals a lack of imagination and a mulish inclination toward complacent conformity. But Sugar In The Raw is gestural fakery, exploiting the vain appeal of shallow faux-high-mindedness.

Monday, March 5, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #13

Monday, March 5, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 93,900 google search results, down a bit from last week's 97,900.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

The Presidency, Looking Forward...Again

This is your periodic reminder that the next demagogic populist president with authoritarian instincts won't arrive with an impeachable portfolio of traitorous Russian collusion and mobbed-up money laundering, and won't shoot himself in the foot 10,000 times per hour. 

Never forget how hard it is to expunge even the most brazen cartoon villain. The filter must be front-loaded. Always register, and always vote.

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