Friday, December 6, 2019

Fixing Recent Posts

Sloppy mo-fo that I am, I forgot, in "Fake Lamination" to explain how the product actually works. I added explanation toward the beginning of the post.

And in "Karma Yoga Dialogue", I forgot to explain why you'd actually want to adapt the perspective of a playful child. I explained this at the end of the post.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Slog Assist

The Slog's back end needed some adjustment after 11 years, so I turned to a company called Confluent Forms. Its proprietor, David Wil-Alon Kutcher, is on the Expert team for Google/Blogger's support forum, so he's got this stuff down cold. Confluent Forms does web development, branding, digital marketing and more - including advice/coordination for issues like web hosting, app development, etc.

Jillions of brash kids and dodgy offshore characters purport to do the same (I've been down that road too many times with Chowhound, my smartphone app, and sundry tech schemes), but David's a solid, experienced person who actually knows stuff. Also, his turnaround (even though I was far from his top priority) is impressive; David consistently replies more quickly than I'm able to process. I'm the slow gear. Highly recommended!

Also highly recommended: friend-of-the-Slog Paul Trapani of LISTnet has been providing ongoing tech help and advice all these years. Paul's skilled in a number of tech and biz areas, and if he can't fix a problem, he knows who can. LISTnet is a network for tech/biz needs, with solid local presence in Long Island (LISTnet = Long Island Software & Technology Network).

Fake Lamination

There's a really good cheap way to "laminate" cards and bits of paper without the use of fancy plastic-melting gizmos. Scotch Self-Sealing Laminating Pouches, Business Card Size are the answer.
It's just sticky plastic stuff that surrounds the paper, and you trim with scissors. Which sounds sort of cheesy and half-assed, but it actually looks totally professional - like magic! - and feels like it would preserve the paper inside for years.

Here's what I use these for:

1. A small print-out I stick in my wallet containing my medical info, proxy and contact phone #s, and prescriptions (in Ariel 10 font). I headline it with "Medical Info" in red-colored Ariel 19 bold, and size/format the printout so the title appears conspicuously just above the wallet slot.

2. The same in Spanish (for trips to Spain and Latin America).

3. Contact info while traveling (hotel, Airbnb host, local emergency contacts back home).

4. A card with frequent phone numbers (I don't know a single number by heart these days, and phones do run out of juice, get stolen, etc., and cloud versions seem especially prone to failure at such moments).

If there's anything you keep in your wallet that gets shredded over time, just fake-laminate it. It's surprisingly professional in quality. And if you don't keep the above in your wallet, that's fine until there's an emergency, at which point you will be deeply, deeply screwed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Karma Yoga Dialogue

-- What do the Zen masters and the yogis, etc., mean when they talk about transcending attachment?

That nothing matters. You absolutely don't need it to matter!

-- So, total nihilism. Just drop out, make no effort, and stop giving a crap....?

No, quite the contrary. Dive in, try hard, and do everything like your life depends on it!

-- You do realize you've contradicted yourself, right?

Well, it's a little bit paradoxical. Try it this way: care mightily about the thing you're doing right now - whatever it is! - but don't care in the least about the result, the reception, how it affects you, how you look, what it means, etc. Do the thing, but don’t make it A Thing.

-- How can you care about what you're doing without caring about the result? Don't they go together?

Not at all. There's a difference between caring about the Doing and caring about being the person who Does. Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. That's why most singers are so awful.

-- Separating those parts sounds like it would take a lot of practice. Plenty of meditation, learning to "stop the mind" or whatever?

Nope. Actually, you yourself were a master of it once. You just forgot.

-- You mean in a past life?

No, as a child. When you played, say, cowboys and indians, you did so intensely, immersing all the way. And yet you always knew you were playing. You never lost track of that. You were deeply involved in the pretending...yet you knew it didn't matter. And you never paused to consider whether you were a convincing cowboy.

Then you came to consider that perspective juvenile. Under the guise of "growing up" and "getting serious", you locked yourself into the pretending and threw away the key - by deliberately forgetting that you're playing. Suddenly everything seemed to matter a great deal. It became a much more adult-seeming game.

Your priorities flipped, so you barely immerse anymore, but you're endlessly obsessed with how you come off. That's backwards to how you used to do it! And your perspective has frozen so tenaciously that when I remind you of your old way, it sounds like paradoxical nonsense!

-- So why is that way better?

Well, young children learn languages (even hard ones!), and assimilate a huge chunk of human knowledge and culture, in just a few years. Adults, by contrast, are considered pretty much unteachable. Young children have much less stress, and they're relatively lithe and energetic, not rigid and sluggish. And they can reframe easily at will, while adults nearly always wind up stuck in some frozen perspective or other.

You had to grow up. It was inevitable. But you made the mistake of assuming you needed to push this change - to play the role and pretend to be the changed person you saw each morning in the mirror - rather than be pulled to new obligations, remaining comfortably as you were. You could have grown up without blotting out your childhood self. But even now, if you simply let go (e.g. via meditation) of the reigns you‘ve pretended to grab, you'll find that the original, fundamental you has remained alive and well and eager to play. The only obstacle is your crusty super-reinforced sense of identity.

I've created a new tag/label for entrees in dialogue form - there are five such entries so far.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Housekeeping Note

I've expanded my previous posting, "Lining up the Ducks", with bagel porn and more.

Lining Up the Ducks

“Man plans, and God laughs.” - old Yiddish adage

“People with goals generally burn the toast.” - yours truly

I have blindly stumbled, scorning myriad opportunities, throughout my life, leaving me stranded high and dry on a remote island separated by vast seas from my hopes and dreams. On paper I'm an utter failure in many respects. And yet this is how I toast my bagels:

One of my favorite postings, "Decision Factors", discusses the ultimate futility of planning and choosing:
Big-picture scenarios are like cartoons, and we don't live in cartoonish big-picture images, we live in trivial moments. This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.

Rich opportunity awaits at every juncture of every decision tree. Any choice, no matter how bright or disappointing, can yield a jackpot or a dud. In the end, it's not about the choice, it's the chooser. It's you, playing the cards you're dealt - both good hands and bad - with delight and exuberance. If you focus on the rich immediacy, rather than the cartoonish big literally can't go wrong.
So... "where do I see myself in five years?" Continuing with my earthworm emulation - i.e. ingesting soil all day while expelling slightly improved soil. It's only a downer if I dramatize it. Which I don't. And, oddly, with that one little flip, I appear, perversely and magically, to win. Slothy ambitionlessness somehow yields surprising results. Not that it's something I think about much. I've got bagels to butter.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Hearing Aid Adventure

Could there possibly be a lamer, less enticing and sexy title? Beige thingie stuck in your elderly wrinkled ear lobe so you don't need to keep hollering "HUH???" at the grandchildren. Awesome! Pure click bait! "Save to Favorites"!

Despite the seeming dullness of the topic, I'm going to go long with this one, because I was surprised every step of the way...and surprises are the stock in trade here in Slogsville. Also: this totally cracks me up, though your mileage may vary.

Betcha can't wait to scroll down! Hell yeah, hearing aids! Here we go!

In the 80s and 90s I was (here’s video proof) one of the hardest-working musicians in New York City. I spent thousands upon thousands of hours laboring directly in front of screaming guitar amps, PA systems, and corn-fed trumpeters whose sense of self worth revolved around playing higher and louder than the human auditory system can tolerate. Unsurprisingly, mine couldn't.

I imagined I'd be ok; that I'd be an exception. Full-time professional musicians are essentially blue collar workers (though better trained than doctors or lawyers), and we have that familiar stoic toughness. I remember watching the guys toiling atop the smoking Trade Center pile after 9/11, all of them figuring that their tenacity, combined with the sacred nature of their mission, made them indestructible. Tough guys don't sweat fumes.

I was horror-struck by the tableau of inevitable cancer. Yet, in my own irrational tough guy pride, I kept returning to my position in front of guitar amps, PA systems, and brutish trumpeters, certain that I was exempt. After all, I performed miracles, screaming my head off on a difficult instrument for twelve hours at a time (often doubling or tripling up my gigs), maintaining high standards even while dead tired. I could tough it out through anything. As someone who could "get 'er done," I was like a Conway Twitty hero plowin' fields with his all-American John Deere slide trombone can I get a "hallelujah"?

Sure enough, I wound up, shmuck-like, with more than 50% hearing loss, mostly high-range (kids' voices might as well be the chirpings of birds). My audiologist didn't just suggest a hearing aid; he was shocked that I'd managed without one. Huh? Managed without one! Huh? MANAG....

Deaf jokes never get old.

Search the Internet all day long and you'll find no hiply wry accounts of "that time I got my hearing aid" on, say, Reddit or McSweeney’s. No amusing stories on The Moth Radio Hour, or comedy sketches from Upright Citizens Brigade. The topic's akin to catheters and walkers: bone dry and inherently "too much information." You do whatcha gotta do, grandpaw, but I don't need to hear about your ear canals...

I get it. Ladies, I don't want to hear war stories about your diaphragms, either. Canals of all sorts are inherently private.

A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!

Thing is, though, that this widespread aversion will soon evaporate, once Ira Glass loses bladder control (sorry for the image) and Generation X turns the corner. But, for now, I find myself once again at the leading edge, the first of his brashly self-aware generation of writers to undergo this. Or, at least, the first to admit it.

In 1997 I was the first food blogger (sample here). Now I've blazed a trail with hearing aids, and look ahead to one day tackling liver spots. Oh, and also, man, don't you just hate it when the worms have eaten through the wood and start wiggling around the box? Remember to tip your waitresses! Home safe!

Funniest hearing aid posting ever! :) :) :)

Tim Conway
My audiologist's waiting room is stocked with folks who can nostalgically recall a time when they'd have been described as creaky. On my last visit, I watched with bated breath as the door opened and remained ajar a very long time until there finally appeared - from my viewpoint to the side - a stooped, stone-faced gentleman eking forward in shuffling micro-steps. His body was so rigid that he appeared to hover, like a ballerina executing a lateral sweep of the stage in delicate mincing steps. Brava, grandpa! Brava!

I maintained a poker face, but he seemed to read my mind as our gazes briefly met, him smirking oh-so-faintly in ironic self-recognition. As a child I watched Tim Conway play the decrepit old guy on the old Carol Burnett show, and decrepit old guys at that time were definitely not in on that joke. But Grandpa Ballerina sure was. The look he gave me was as cocky as his body was frail. Message received: "Laugh up, deaf boy; your time's coming!"

There's no generational divide in an audiologist's office. Welcome to the end of the line.

Deaf Folk Ain't Picky
Here's the aid-iest lemonade I've made from the lemons of 50% hearing loss: I no longer sweat audio quality. At all.

I've never been much of an audiophile; just enough to feel ashamed for doing it wrong and missing The Full Experience. I've up-spent a few times out of this sense of guilt. But no more. My ears are scratchy transistor radios, so I keep nice light low-sample-rate MP3s on my phone, make all audio connections via lousy bluetooth, and will waste no more time lurking on AVSForum.

I also can't drink any more, either, which means no more hangovers, fewer calories, lower (though I was always conscientious) not an iota of a chance of DUI from accidentally going over the line. None of this is "positive thinking"; it's just accurate thinking; a rejection of the commonly-held delusion that negativity is the realer reality.

The average person with hearing loss waits seven years before getting a hearing aid. It's a question of vanity and stigma, and I - still a baby at 56 - certainly felt my share of reluctance.

But in the middle of all this, I realized, thunderstruck, that I've worn, since childhood, a highly intrusive medical device on the front of my face, revealing to one and all the feeble weakness of my vision; my deficit. Yet not only are my glasses no big deal, but I've been deliriously happy to see that, for example, trees have leaves (and not just blurry green halos).

So I can also put on a far less conspicuous gadget and hear individual leaves blowing in the wind and crunching underfoot? Awesome! More perception-boosting gizmos, please!

Having reframed the situation, I felt no hesitation in moving forward.

Truly, this thing is invisible. The days of bulbous beige mushrooms are gone. A stylish sliver hides behind my ear, and you can't spot the filament extending into my ear canal even if you're looking for it. Ear buds are 10,000 times clunkier, and they're stylish; a status symbol. So why did I wait all this time again?

Nobody Wants the Middle Hearing Aid
My health insurance seems to say they'll pay 70% of the cost. As you know, health insurance is a non-transparent con game where they make up the rules as they go along and benefit payments are opaque crap shoots. But, thankfully, hearing aid companies offer generous trial periods and easy I went ahead and ordered the Cadillac of Hearing Aids, which comes in three levels of exorbitance. 

I kept asking the audiologist to explain the price levels and their respective bangs-for-the-bucks, but he remained maddeningly vague, and I finally pieced together why. This isn't like buying a hedge trimmer, where you look for a sweet spot between inadequacy and extravagance. If you're getting a hearing aid, you wanna frickin' hear. Not "modestly sufficient" hearing; you want, of course, duh, to hear extravagantly. My audiologist knew that I would - that everyone does - order the top one. I'm not sure the other models even actually exist. What sane person goes "Geez, that sounds like more hearing than I really need!"

If you have crappy insurance (I might; we'll find out when they actually send the check) or can't afford even the copay, that's a different matter. There are dodgey off-the-shelf alternatives, Costco options, etc. But unless you’re paycheck-to-paycheck, you'll scratch together the (considerable) cash for the good one. Of course you will. Your audiologist only pretends to offer a choice. It’s a charade.

Is This Thing On?
Give a nearsighted person their first pair of glasses, and they may weep with joy, wondering why they didn't do it sooner. It's night and day. But hearing aids aren't like that...for many reasons.

At first I thought the device wasn't doing much. The world sounded like the world, and the differences were awfully subtle. But then I realized the paradox: this is the benefit of getting the best model. Cheaper ones surely make you remember you've got it on! You're paying for this subtlety; for a familiar impression of the familiar world aside from the key targets of delicately precise improvement. Strategic brushstrokes, not augmented reality.

And there are more fundamental reasons why the first reaction to a hearing aid is less revelatory than the first reaction to glasses:
1. The two senses work differently. The world requires reasonably good visual focus, while a blurry blob of hearing serves decently. There's a big difference between not being able to read the menu and having some trouble in certain circumstances making out certain speech from high-pitched voices. So when you put on your first hearing aid, it's not "night and day."

2. Glasses give your retinas exactly the input they'd receive with naturally good vision. Hearing aids are an imperfect, unnatural solution. You need to get used to a new way of hearing. So when you put on your first hearing aid, it's not "night and day."

3. Your brain is less plastic with hearing. Clearer, keener signal is disorienting at first, and the confusion is compounded by the fact that, per above, this is not a natural or perfect solution. So hearing aids take practice. So when you put on your first hearing aid, it's not "night and day."
Everyone embraces glasses from day one. The improvement makes you an instant believer. Hearing aids, at first, leave you agnostic.

Shit's Deep, Bruh
So you're trying to decide whether to move forward and buy. Or whether to keep what you just bought. Here's the crux as it will immediately strike you: How much trouble and expense and discomfort and gizmo management are you interested in withstanding for a slightly better edge on hearing what people are saying?

If you're the least bit introverted, that’s an easy excuse to bail. In your rational, logical mind - where everything that happens is like a two-dimensional comic strip panel - you've been merely not hearing people well. A finite problem. But in the deep gurgling primordial DNA pits of your personhood, not hearing people well is profound impairment....even if you feel like you can still kinda-sorta make out good enough.

The margin between "barely hearing good enough under most conditions" and "hearing good enough" may seem not worth much trouble or expense. But you need to try a hearing aid for a length of time and in a variety of situations. I've had mine for five days, and experienced two momentary intimations that, despite the subtlety of the difference, it's a whole new ballgame.

(One such moment was when a friend told me I was speaking more softly than usual. You mean I’ve been blaring all this time? Shudder! But it felt more relaxing, less stressful to talk. So I stuttered less, and was less at a loss for words. It felt like my 1990 self speaking, and I hadn’t realized I haven’t been him since 1990!)

Distorting your decision is the fact that hearing loss is such a long and gradual process that you're surely worse than you realize. That's why it's very common for other people to notice your hearing problem before you do. And that's why people with hearing loss socialize less without quite understanding why. They often blame it on a blasé disinterest in people - who, not coincidentally, they've spent years straining to understand! Like the lobster in the the gradually-heated pot of water, there's no alarm tripping point to let you know you're in trouble.

What's more, the average seven year wait to correct the problem allows new social habits to harden. If you're thinking there's no one you’re particularly keen to raptly listen to, anyway, consider that this may be your hearing loss at work; a classic wag-the-dog situation. Flip the script, and 1. Improve the hearing and 2. Go out and forthrightly overturn taciturn habits. It doesn't get better if you wait longer.

The Freakier Freakiness
In a posting titled "Expert/Layman Triage Fallacy", I pointed out a problem with talking to experts. When they're not telling you that your freaky observations are actually perfectly normal, they're rolling their eyes at reports which are merely freaky. You, not being expert, can't possibly anticipate. So you look ditzy when your reports fail to hit, because experts are oddly blind to this phenomenon.

Audiologists seem to be an extreme version. With no remote idea of what's normal, I blurted out every random observation that occurred to me when I first tried them on. Sure enough, some made him say "Actually, that's not weird at all....", while the rest made him furrow his brow and try to suppress a visceral WTF.

My hatha yoga teacher, Priscilla (who provided the wonderful insight about aiming for infinity) reported about the experience of getting cochlear implants a few years ago, in a series starting here.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Mental Tickertape

If you could peer into a human brain, reading the mental tickertape, here's what it would look like:
I'm cold. I'm bored. I hate it here. I hate my job. I hate my boss. I hate my apartment. I can't believe my friend said that thing to me in third grade. I'm cold. I'm hungry. I'm fat. I need to get back to the gym. My knee hurts. I'm hungry. I'm fat. It's cold.
This is the sort of thing many/most/all people do all day, every day: a running moment-by-moment tabulation of how the universe fails to be optimal, starting with the current sensory critique, leaping to associations triggered by that critique - crackling way back to some painful thing that happened in second grade or whatever - and then re-registering the current sensory critique. Round and round.

If you don't believe me, sit in the window of an urban Dunkin Donuts and study the faces of people walking by. See if your observations don't perfectly jibe with this sort of internal narrative. I challenge you to find one person who's not obviously absorbed in aimless, senseless rumination.

Hell is what's missing, while Heaven is what’s right here, right now. Heaven is letting go into the moment, utterly accepting and embracing it, without resistance, even if it seems unacceptably marred by the recognition that you're cold and you hate your boss and your knee hurts and your friend said that thing and you're cold. Heaven is a perennially available frame of perspective.

The nonstop tabulation of grievance is extremely hard to keep up. It's a real accomplishment! Great job, seriously! People who are unable to finish a book or to work down their to-do lists manage to sustain this ambitious lifelong project. Their commitment is phenomenal, their labor heroic, and they hardly ever waver. In fact, that's why they never get anything else done! They're busy!!

Reading this, you may acknowledge that you ought to work on being more present, more mindful, less critical and ungrateful. Perhaps attend a seminar. Get to work chipping away at the problem. But, no, that's crazy. The lifelong spree of critical tabulation has been the hard thing. Not spending every waking second finding fault with the universe isn't work, nor would it be an accomplishment. The dropping of a task is not a task.

If you found yourself digging a ditch in the blazing noon sun, would it be hard to put down the shovel and go sit under a tree and relax? Would you need to learn how to do this, or practice it? Would you need, like, instructions? No! You'd just let go of the damned shovel!

And the moment you do, you'll recognize how fruitless it's been, all along. You get literally nothing from this. It exhausts and depresses you, disrupting efforts to think clearly or get stuff done. If you knock it off, you'll enjoy 50 free IQ points, a few extra hours in your day, and the ecstatic relief of having cast aside a crushing burden.

Intelligence either stems from plenty of mental horsepower, or else from wasting fewer cognitive resources, freeing up more of the mental horsepower you've got. This Slog is an eleven year record of what's possible when a merely reasonably-bright guy ceases ruminating over useless bullshit. I actually started much earlier - as a child - but only decisively dropped the shovel over the past decade.

Since then, my mental tickertape has become richly interesting. It's no longer a whiny, needy, tedious, unendurable energy-sucking screed. The interestingness had always been there, but the trash-thinking was louder. In rare moments when my grievance tabulation spontaneously paused (due to exhaustion or surprise or emotional shift - or simply from uttering the magic words "I give up!"), I often experienced a brush with epiphany, eureka, and inspiration. It would arrive and quickly be gone, like a bolt from the blue. I never imagined that was, all along, the underlying default, and that I'd been tirelessly working to drown it out.

Hmm, I already made the same point, pretty much the same way, here. After 2373 postings, I suppose it‘s unavoidable. But while there are topics where I ration my retreads (because most people "got" it the first time, or because it's some nerdy narrowness only I'd ever obsess over) this is something we need to hear frequently, and from different angles, hoping some tendril of truth might stick.

I was graced with more than tendrils as a child, and yet it took until my mid 50s to finally drop the shovel and get out of the blazing sun. In my 30s and 40s, I deemed my still-foggy insight some sort of accomplishment. But no. It was a simple flip of perspective; a "reframing", that's all. It's not a matter of acquiring wisdom, it's a comical forehead-slapping recognition of having been an absolute idiot. This is not a leap forward, it's a letting go of what needlessly held you back.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Feature Creature

There is nothing more frustrating on god's green earth than trying to use a powerful application to accomplish a simple task.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Preaching and Lecturing

Mommy feeds you strained peaches. But you don't want strained peaches! You flail your arms at the spoon and the jar, knocking them to the floor, while you scream as loudly as you can to let Mommy know how awful she is.

If it had been puréed meatballs, Mommy would be awesome. But while you seemed to love the peaches last night, that was then and now is now.

I've long been puzzled by the use of the terms "preach" and "lecture" outside their normal realms (i.e. "preach" outside of church and "lecture" outside a classroom). They're always used pejoratively. But what's the difference between eager urging and "preaching"? Or between thorough explanation and "lecturing"?

I think I've figured it out. Preaching and lecturing are when you don't want to hear it. Simple as that! As with Mommy and her peaches, it has nothing to do with intention, or even with the action itself. It's entirely about reception. Your reaction - your mere moody whim - retroactively determines what a writer or speaker is doing, defining their very intentions.

Only an aristocrat would be capable of this narcissistic judo flip. And, sure enough, we live in a society of aristocrats.

If you're uninterested in what a person is saying or writing, the reasonable move would be to recognize this as a preference on your end. It doesn't reflect on chocolate makers that I prefer vanilla. We oughtn't scream at Mommy because she failed to guess our silent craving. But in our narcissism, we assume anything incoming is specially directed at us. And if it's not what we like, we swipe at it. Hey, nobody likes to be lectured to/preached at!

Of course, we love to hear impassioned, thorough talk when we agree. But that's parsed differently, reflecting different motives on the speaker/writer. Mommy's awesome when it's meatballs. And the choir never feels preached to; it just enjoys the confirmation bias.

This also solves a second mystery: lately, one can no longer get away with suggesting that "most people" say/do/are any negative thing. It inevitably draws indignant replies from people firmly disproving your observation with the information that they sure don't/aren't. 

For example, I'm fond of repeating that "most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. That’s why most singers are so awful." This drove one reader, who happens to be a singer, into a pique. Previously a longtime Slog superfan, she stopped reading entirely. In her mind, I'd insulted both her intentions and her talent. It's hard to recognize that the voices in the TV aren't speaking personally to you. But, either way, you're on neither side of the "most" divide. You're everything

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Writer's Puzzle

I'm trying to say that if someone took a certain step, it would draw unintended reaction in overwhelmingly greater proportion. And I want to express it from a certain angle. I've worked and worked on this, and I believe it can't be expressed in English. Here's a ridiculously bad version:
"But do you understand where 90% of your attention would be occupied from?"
There's always a way to completely deconstruct and rephrase. In fact, I did just that in the top paragraph. But if this can be phrased tersely as a question, it's beyond my skill. It seems to be a failure of English, likely related to the fact that it involves perspective, a topic humans seldom consider (we're fabulous experts on objects, but yammering toddlers when it comes to subjectivity).

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pave Paradise, Put Up a Shitty Chocolate Chip Cookie

I keep burying ledes, and then feeling compelled to dig them back up again. Here's another.

Revving up to describe Two Food Miracles in Peekskill, NY, I wrote:
Many of our most sublime foods stem from unappetizing, dirt-cheap ingredients. Cut down a few stalks of grain, grind it into a tasteless powder, combine with mineral scrapings from cave walls and a spoonful of minuscule wriggling cooties. Heat it a while, and, somehow, maxi pleasure ensues. If you're not astonished by this gift, you should spend some time stranded on an Arctic ice shelf or desert sand dune, resetting your baselines.

That said, bread's usually not sublime, due to the appalling meanness of our species. We observe this gaping headroom between price and quality, and deem it opportunity. People don't need "sublime", so let's make it even cheaper and easier, saving 1/4¢, at the cost of a mere 75% quality reduction! Throw in some additives to keep it fresher longer, to make the yeast work faster, and to create better color with less care, and still more to cover up those shortcuts, and...well, here we are in 2019. We're desperately trying to backtrack ourselves away from gratuitous meanness and avarice - and, ironically, charging even more for that. We're like double hostages.

Consider: there is no reason for a chocolate chip cookie to ever be less than stellar. Any earnest baker with an iota of talent can make reliably great ones. Yet how many are indeed great? And how shitty and mean and evil do you need to be to deliberately erode quality in something so intrinsically delicious and dirt-cheap? I don't add additives to my cookies, and they taste great. Yet all the ones I can buy are loaded with them, and they suck. "Pave paradise, put up a shitty chocolate chip cookie"!

The miracle of deliciousness perpetually awaits our rediscovery. It doesn't need to be expensive. In fact, that ruins the beauty - the intrinsic generosity - of it all. But it's out there.

The essential point about additives - missed by literally everyone I've ever seen use the term with a sneer - is not that they're bad or dangerous in and of themselves. It's that they're inherently unnecessary, so they are always - without exception! - used to cover up sins of omission and/or commission.

Bread tastes GREAT. If it doesn't, and you spot a list of additives on the package, it's not the simple cause/effect equation you'd initially suppose. If you were to remove the additives from the recipes for Wonder Bread or Keebler cookies, the result would not be wonderment. It would more likely be a greasy grey sludge. Additives prop up unimaginable cheap shittiness, ensuring a result that's merely mediocre, rather than entirely inedible.

It's not the deodorizer that bothers me in cheap hotel rooms. It's whatever problem is being masked.  

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Crocodiles of the Mind

A wise Indian swami once warned me that “there are crocodiles in the mind.” What he didn’t know is that I love crocodiles. So, ever since, I’ve been comforted by this notion.

Sometimes I worry about my mind crocodiles; that they don’t have enough to eat, or that they can’t find a warm spot (imagine the stress of being cold-blooded and unable to warm yourself). I worry, just generally, about crocodiles - though not the way everyone else does. You may deem them fierce, but, to potato chips, we are the fierce ones. Crocodiles aren’t ferocious; they’re just hungry. As are we all.

I recognize that every word of that sounded loopy. But as I once wrote,
Human beings spend their lives in conflict with imaginary people: mentally rearguing old arguments, worrying about faceless attackers and detractors, reliving bygone humiliations, and generally using our imaginations to make our lives a living hell.

That's considered "normal", but using the same faculty in positive ways to help us cope seems, for some bizarre reason, childish and loopy.
To use my more recent parlance, it is absolutely normal to reframe perspective to self-indulgently drum up anger, anxiety, and heartbreak. That seems mature and solid and adult. But reframing toward comfort seems juvenile and dopey. Why?

I figured out as a child that "If you're plagued by nightmares full of scary monsters, the trick is to love the monsters (this was surely the original intent behind giving children teddy bears)."

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Simplicity and Value

The smaller and simpler your life is, the less reasonable it is to be advised not to sweat the small things.

Consider if you were bedridden, and had someone visit three times/day to feed you and make sure you're OK. If one time that person were less than friendly, most people would call you petty for letting it bother you. But if that's your sole human contact, it's an entirely different framing.

Or consider a poor child with only one toy...and that toy breaks. An American kid with overflowing closets would surely say "I've broken a few of mine, too. What a drag! Have your parents go buy you a new one!" A whole separate perspective.

When your world is very small and very simple, everything counts in a way that's impossible for privileged people to understand. For people in the First World - living sprawling, enriched lives - virtually nothing really counts. And the interesting question is: Which perspective is tragic? Seemingly grubby impoverishment? Or our distinctive fusion of jaded aristocratic numbness and hysterical hypersensitivity? Who's got it right?

I'd never tell an Indian or African villager not to sweat small stuff. To do so would be obscene. The fact that this phrase strikes us as not only sensible, but an uplifting priority-restorer only fuels my conviction that everyone here is wealthy. Bunch of swells.

I got strangely rattled the other day at the Ecuadorian buffet I visit several times per week, when the juice lady directed me in incomprehensible vernacular Quiteño Spanish. I wasn't sure what was happening, but she didn't play her part of our usual routine where I shyly order and she hands me my coconut drink, smiles, and wishes me buen provecho. It's then normally my part to accept said coconut drink with the grinning delight of a summer camper receiving his ice cream cup. But this time it didn't happen and I nearly lost it, to my enormous surprise.

The coconut drink is really good (it's like the long lost kind I eagerly hankered for at Miami Airport in the 70s en route to visiting the grandparents), but not something offering any serious gourmet gratification. It's a simple pleasure I could live without. But, for whatever reason, this disruption snuck over my extraordinarily high tolerance for things not going my way, leaving me bewildered and disorientated, like if my toes had suddenly disappeared.

Was I being sucked back into the life drama I keep describing as self-indulgent? It didn't feel that way. I just hadn't previously recognized that this is one of very few things spurring grinning eagerness for me these days. That's just how my life's set up, and intentionally so (I'm not grim, but neither do I grin). With this factored in, my reaction made more sense.

When I went to pay, the drink was waiting for me. Juice lady had simply told me to get in line and that she'd have it ready for me by the time I reached the cashier. I snatched it up like ice cream, knowing enough not to fluff my lingering shakiness into a dramatic hindsight story. Instead, I tried to use the experience constructively, to better understand the world. Hence this posting.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Survivorship Bias and User Ratings

Every episode in a TV series has an innate tendency to draw better user ratings than the previous episode in places like, due to Survivorship bias. People who dislike - or don't particularly love - a show gradually drop out, leaving an increasingly appreciative remainder. Same for show seasons (though of course particularly bad and good episodes and seasons will dip or peak accordingly). It works the same for anything consecutive, including, say, YouTube multi-part series, movie franchises with multiple sequels, etc.

Survivorship bias is a deep trove of insight in the guise of a logical fallacy. You can deconstruct much of the world by pondering Survivorship bias, and, as with all the best insight, the result is reliably "duh" (like the above!). Survivorship bias is so pandemic and intellectually fertile that I've never finished any of the many postings I’ve started writing about it. It's just too much.

People these days can't stop talking about Dunning–Kruger effect and Confirmation Bias (understandable, as they're the intellectual maladies of our day, though I think "everyone's an aristocrat, too sensitive and opinionated to recognize the Utopia they're in" is the more fundamental insight underpinning both). But Survivorship bias is the shizzle.

Another oddity with multi-part series: if Jesus, Moses, and Buddha returned to Earth to offer sure-fire instructions for making everything totally okay, and the message was presented via a series of YouTube videos, installment #2 would have fewer views than installment #1, and installment #3 would have fewer still, etc. etc.. The Law of Dwindling YouTube Viewership (which I just made up, qualifying this post for the tag "Leff's Laws") is rock solid regardless of interest level (though it doesn't seem to apply to movies or TV for reasons mysterious to me). In this case, returning to my previous point, I think user-ratings would remain consistently high (despite those damned satanists trying to game the results).

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Ultimate Victory of the Soviet Empire of the Mind

From Tuesday's Washington Post:
As political theorists Laura Field and Sean Illing have shown, the coin of the Trumpist post-truth realm is confusion and nihilism. The basic goal is to eradicate public faith in the very idea that government professionals like Vindman might actually make reasoned judgments about Trump’s misconduct that are rooted in good-faith empiricism.
This is a truth that many Democrats (who either don't talk to, or else merely scream at, Republicans) fail to understand. Apart from the spittle-spraying proud deplorables flocking to rallies and donning caps, the large swathe of smart, educated, reasonable, non-blind Republicans who've abandoned conservative values and principles (not to mention common decency) to remain supportive of Trump do so for a combination of three reasons:

1. They hate liberals worse.

2. They're scared, in a nebulous way, and “conservative” leaders and media make them feel fake-backbony.

and, most of all...

3. Nihilism. Trump sucks, but so does everyone else. There is no honor, there is no truth, there is no civic duty. It's all a damned joke. A straight-arrow purple heart recipient reports a national security threat, per regulations, up his chain of command, and testifies with honor, precision, and dignity. Well, he might just as well turn out to be disloyal immigrant scum motivated by espionage and sabotage. Six of one, half-dozen of the other...

Educated Republicans (voters, not politicians) are not twisting themselves into pretzels to protect their guy, or falling victim to conspiracy theories due to overactive imaginations. It's much, much worse. It's that they feel that there simply are no good people with clean motives. There is no moral fundament, it's a barren, ever-shifting landscape where there is no truth (and thus no Occam's Razor, hence the conspiracies). Everything's mostly garbage, and while Trump's the most garbagey garbage, at least he's got their back. It's the same thinking that made them vote as they did in 2016: he's OUR garbage king.

Everything's not garbage. In fact, we're living in Utopia, though things seem worse as things get better.

If you actually talk with pro-Trump moderate Republicans, what you'll often hear is nihilism. There's a strong conviction that "they're" all terrible (whichever "they" you want to focus on). The same is also spreading amid Democrats. And this mass-scale mental corrosion is pure Putinism. Vlad's the current master of a propaganda technique developed more than a century ago by the Chekists, the Czar's intelligence service, that's less about specific persuasion than sowing overall confusion, discord, and moral ennui. Overwhelming torrents of bullshit (sound familiar?) leave all sides - everyone but the regime - exhausted, disoriented, and highly tolerant of corruption and tyranny. Read Garry Kasparov, John Schindler, and Masha Gessen.

Only clear-headed people thirst for higher-level civic virtues. A society needs firm grounding and peace of mind to consider such lofty concepts. It's not something you'd contemplate while disoriented and flailing.

Americans, even educated, normal ones, are starting to sound a lot like Russians circa 1980 - cynical, weary, suspicious, malignant, and oddly combining willful ignorance with impenetrable intellectual self-assurance. The Soviet Empire of the Mind has, ironically, prevailed. With nothing to export but natural gas and bottomless nihilist cynicism, Putin craftily recognized that the latter requires no pipes.

While Trump maintains the dubious fiction that he's the-garbage-who-has-your-back, Democratic candidates have been fulfilling the fevered NRA/FOX fantasy of "liberals taking your guns away" by publicly declaring they'll take your guns away, along with a number of other kooky right-wing prophesies, e.g. late-stage abortions, reparations, trillions in spending, termination of private insurance and border enforcement, etc.. As former caricatures are actually endorsed full-throatedly by an increasingly lefty Left, Republicans seal their conviction that the other side won't even bother to pretend to have their back. The garbage king at least cares enough to pretend (to a nihilist, that's as good as one can expect).

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Gobbling the Lozenges

I've surveyed several Slog readers about a couple of recent postings, and none recognized that I was being snarky here (I've written a gajillion postings about how reframing is instant and effortless, so one certainly doesn’t need to rejigger the environment first) or the irony I was describing here (customers needing assistance is the only thing keeping her employed. Even winnowed to the last remaining employee, she's unable to parse the connection between needfulness and her paycheck), much less with the title of the posting (which I’ll let you ponder).

None of this (except this) is flatly banal small talk. I'm too considerate of your time and attention. There's always some larger point being made - even if it's not always on-target.

If you use this Slog as part of your daily online coffee-sipping quick buzz-thru, well, first of all, welcome, and I'm glad to have you - happy-face-happy-face-winky-winky-happy-face - but why here??? For better or for worse, these are slow-melting lozenges, not quick greasy yum-yums! Don't just gobble the lozenges!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


My local supermarket removed its checkout lanes, replacing them with self-serve kiosks. They fired all the workers, holding on to one whose job is to supervise the self-service. And she gets annoyed when you ask for help.

Monday, November 18, 2019

What is Insanity?

I thought my posting Why We Crucify Truth Tellers (and Why They Deserve It) was particularly interesting. But, also, it buried an insight that hadn't occurred to me until I typed it. I'll extract and replay it below, and will label/tag this under "Definitions" (a collection of mostly short postings offering fresh-baked and thought-provoking definitions for squishy terms).

You see someone really suffering in the audience at a horror movie. You tap his shoulder and remind him "It's just a movie, buddy. You're okay!" And he replies the way most people would reply (either in this scenario or in the wider universe of scenarios for which this serves as a parable):
It's an obvious framing error. Some people have less pliant perspectives. Insanity is the inability to reframe despite clear environmental cues.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Twitter Stuff

Periodic reminder, as politics heat up and history-making turns dense, that I curate a Twitter list of insightful, creative tweeters (heavy on never-Trump Republicans, because I find they have deeper insight into this clusterfuck and don't just run around screaming with their hair on fire like many Democrats).

But Rick Wilson is The Guy. He's a brilliant (and hilarious) political insider who's all-in on dumping his unfiltered takes on Twitter, and has an oddly soothing effect that's attracted an enormous following looking to him to get us through dark times. If you get your impeachment news entirely from him (and the reporting he selectively links to), you'll be well-informed. I also love Rick's best-selling book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies".

And while I don't tweet much (mostly just brief announcements of new Slog postings), my Twitter feed is a lean repository of my retweets of insightful and amusing (often both) takes from smart people on issues of the moment, and not just the usual scrapbook of thoughts I happen to agree with.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The New Yorker on Reframing

Sure, 'cuz if you restructure your environment, you might think about things in a different way - "shift your perspective", so to speak. And this might help you change your behavior.

Of course it'd be crazy to imagine you could simply shift perspective as an internal choice, without pre-arranging external conditions to get them just right. Our inner focus is obviously under the complete control of the outer landscape. Here, let me map it out:

•Changing behavior requires a change of perspective
•The environment controls our perspective


•Change the environment
•Perspective changes
•Behavior changes

Thanks, social psychologist Wendy Wood, for the easy-peasy and not-at-all-unnecessarily-complicated strategy!

I didn't read the article. I'm only responding to the caption. This is 2019 and nobody reads the damned article and everybody snarks back at the caption and I don't see why I need to always be Mr. Stickler. So I'm dipping my toe in this groovy new trend, and I do see the attraction.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Identity and Labeling

In my posting "You Can't Ever Be Famous", I noted that many people have no problem with the fact that the only part of them that can ever be famous is their name tag. I suggested that such people buy some parakeets and train them to screech their names for much the same effect. I also noted that many people - otherwise sane, normal people - do something similar by training their uncomprehending toddlers to rotely utter "I love you, mommy/daddy."

Those are far from the only examples of humans taking odd pleasure in rote positive pronouncements not directed toward them as actual persons (I find this eerie, so I wish my brain would quit slow-brewing further examples, but it has a mind of its own).

Anyone who's ever claimed authorship of a ghostwritten book and feels genuine pride in its success (Trump and Trump Jr, I'm looking at you, though a slew of intelligent non-grifters do likewise) is doing the same move. "I didn't write it, but I'm delighted and honored by the pleasure you've gotten from it! Why? Because it has my name on it. My name did this!"

The first time I heard someone describe a mediocrity as "meh", I beamed with delight at the construction, assuming she'd just come up with it. And she beamed at my beaming. It's deeper than "falsely taking credit" (though there was obvious credit-taking). It's hard to parse the psychology that leaves someone basking in delight at positive reaction to something mindlessly uttered (I love you, mommy!). I can't say I've never stolen a joke from a professional comedian, but I couldn't imagine concluding, from the laughter, that "I'm funny and they like me!"

You're in trouble when you start buying into your own cons, no?

And back up the camera. You know how just about everyone is one of a few dozen "types"? The husky-voiced impetuous smart girl, the chill even-keeled amiable dude, the perennially infuriated cranky Fox news watching older guy? A few adjectives can't quite cut it; these are richly functional clone identities people wholly adopt. It's the oddest thing.
Yet it works; if you don't wear a recognizable identity cloak, no one will have the slightest idea who you are or where you're coming from. You'll fall into the "outcast" category of indiscernible type, where everyone projects their fears and neuroses onto your blank canvas. I shouldn't curl my lip at people engaging in the behavior that averts the worst possible social fate. It's not odd at all.
When people register the telltale traits of husky-voiced impetuous smart girl, HVISG feels seen; her unique quirky characteristics duly registered and appreciated (in the 60s, millions bought VW bugs to express their nonconformity). "They get me!"

We are all pretending. I think I've persuasively shown this over the years, here. But I'm continually surprised at how thin the pretending is. Identity is so very thin. It all really does hang on name tags; on the wispiest strands of pretense. It's no wonder people are so anxious, when their entire house of cards is built!

Here's how it happens. Fish swim, birds fly, and humans identify with characters and stories - i.e. act in dramas. That's why we're able to immerse so deeply and easily into films, novels, and stories, memories, and fantasies. We plug right in, easily buying the name tag and selling the pose. Most of all, we make ourselves believe it. As any video game fan knows, it's no fun if you don't believe it.

There's a woman I've known since her birth who, at age 11, saw someone act a certain way in a movie and from that day forward has molded her voice and mannerisms - her entire personality - on that. To this day she remains that person. And she doesn't realize she did this. On the contrary, she feels most truly herself when she's squarely enmeshed in this role-playing. At least she doesn't realize it consciously. Whenever I get close to gently bringing up the issue, some inner truth detector fires and she becomes cross and changes the subject or concocts an argument or walks away. I sometimes glimpse her raw, uncomposed self in my peripheral vision, and it's very raw indeed. Trembling, unformed, disoriented, and hypersensitive.

The thing that most terrifies most people is the recognition that this role they're playing (when not lost in a plethora of other roles, absorbed by movies, novels, stories, memories, or fantasies) is a flimsy and arbitrary facade; an illusion they've made themselves believe. This is the kernel of all human fear. We sense this truth, and we don't like it, because we've got massive sunk cost in being this person with certain preferences and a certain backstory. If I'm not that person, then who am I?

If you imagine you're exempt - that you're above rote name tag identification - consider this: John Q. Reader (swap in your name) doesn't get lost in identifying with movies, stories, fantasies, etc. JQR is just another role to be lost in.

Ok: now do you have some sympathy for "If I'm not that person, then who am I?"

The answer is fantastically good news. What you are is pure awareness. Behind the curtain of the pretending, we don't have the slightest problem with anything. We blithely enjoy the video game; the Sturm und Drang; the varied and entertaining movies of this world, including the scary and sad ones. It's lovely. The water's fine.

The pretending is fun (we're here to immerse in fun dramatics, just as fish are here to swim) until you forget you're pretending and start to get all grippy about it, rejecting your natural impulse to periodically remember your freedom, and fearing, above all, any pause in the pretending.

I will now reveal the core 24 bytes of code serving as the underlying basis for the entire human experience: Fake It Till You Make It.

(Healthy) Oatmeal Breakthrough

I've improved this recipe by adding egg whites much earlier in the process (I'd add them at the beginning, but I feel like I want some solidity in the mixture first...but will keep experimenting). This makes the result even lighter and fluffier. I also work them in quite vigorously with a wooden spoon. Note: do not use whole eggs unless you want overcooked rubbery steamed scrambled eggs in your oatmeal!

I always feel hesitant to start my day with oatmeal or other porridge. Even though I use milk rather than water, I'll still be ingesting a carb bomb, and I feel better when I've carefully balanced fat, carbs, and protein in a meal. If I don't just eat healthily, but also carefully balance those elements, I can experience a whole other realm of culinary satisfaction; a feeling of well-being not available from scarfing barbecue or rice balls.

Weight lifters address the issue by adding protein powder to their cereal, but...yech. Anyway, here's what I did:

When oatmeal is a couple minutes shy of done, lay in 2 or 3 egg whites, dust with a couple pinches of salt (assuming you didn't add salt previously; if so, make it just one pinch) and just a bit of butter or olive oil. Cover the pot and leave the egg whites sitting atop the cereal for a couple minutes. Then, before the eggs have thoroughly solidified, strenuously mix it into the cereal. Stir like a demon. Then cover and let it sit unheated for a couple minutes (you should always let porridge sit, anyway). There's more than enough ambiant heat to finish cooking the eggs.

The result is way better than I'd imagined. First, the egg whites transform the texture, lightening it all up. It would make sense if this were a souffle, but I certainly didn't expect to get that effect here. I love porridge, but the last few bites can feel like a chore, as the heavy texture and earthy flavor begin to feel tedious. The tedium's gone; every bowl gets a racing finish.

And it's more satisfying. Those who carefully balance fat/protein/carbs have experienced the sublime sense of satisfaction this produces (and also how a disproportionally fatty, carby, or protein-y meal leaves you with cravings that ripple forward for hours). Cooked this way, you get that satisfaction. It's like the final piece of the porridge puzzle.

Banana note: if you cook your bananas in from the start, as I do, this absolutely still works - even with the sweet/salty. I'm not sure how this would work with fresh fruit. I wouldn't get too fancy with multiple fruits, granola, yogurt, etc. At least not to start. Try this just with bananas and see what you think.

3 egg whites = 11g protein
1 cup milk = 8g protein
For context, 1 chicken breast = 31g protein

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mike Tyson Goes Into a Bar

Every once in a while some long-term otherwise silent Slog reader will pipe up to aggressively tell me how idiotically wrong I was about something.

(As I've often noted, I enjoy being told when I'm wrong, but 1. I could do without the aggression, and 2. I need to actually be wrong...which I am sometimes, though, maddeningly, people seldom notice.)

This is all I ever hear. No "hey, nice job figuring out the multiverse!". No "y'know, I think you're right about why God lets kids get cancer!" No "your theories about George and Kelly Ann Conway’s Marriage were hilarious!" Just these errant blips of tart disapprobation, odd coming from people who've stuck around here for years when there are 180 quadrillion web pages to choose from.

The same thing used to happen on Chowhound. In the blurry and feverish mental collage serving as my memory of the period, a framed needlepoint homily hangs warmly above it all, reading "HEY MORON YOUR FAVORITE PIZZA SUX". I quote not random trolls but people whose lives were improved by my restaurant finds, and who spent countless hours enjoying the friendly, useful community built by my adrenal glands. Some of them achieved modest repute imitating my writing style on, like, Tumblr or whatever. And at some point - it never failed - they'd offer heartfelt payback via marvelously brusque critique.

I've finally solved the mystery.

Mike Tyson goes into a bar. And some guy inevitably tries to pick a fight. Not because he dislikes Tyson. He reveres him, demonstrating his respect by the desire to match skill, challenge supremacy, swing dicks, etc.. It wouldn't occur to him to consider how any of this might affect Tyson. This, after all, is what Tyson's for. This is the function of a champion: to serve as the ideal against which we measure our own skills, so we can finally extend our arms into the air as champions, ourselves. Frickin’ cycle of life, bruh. Nothing personal.

If you think interrupting Mike's quiet conversation to make fun of his voice and tattoos makes me a disrespectful asshole, then you're the asshole, asshole! I wouldn't do this if Iron Mike wasn't the KING. Did you hear me? I think he's THE KING! Long live the I do my best to provoke the motherfucker, ruin his night, and ideally beat him to a pulp.

Ah, the elevation of the hero...even hapless dudes quietly offering cool little magic tricks for the unrequited delight of total strangers*.
* - Those background circumstances are utterly beside the point, because we're not people to people. We're thin static images in their heads. Nothing's ever about you as full-fledged You. That's why we elevate birthdays. On your "special day", those around you adhere to a ritualized series of timeworn actions and canned utterances in supposed recognition of the real, unique, not-just-in-my-head you. That's the apex*!
* - This observation is only dark and depressing if you choose to dramatize and frame it as such. Disenchantment need not be a permanent state. It is, by its nature, merely transitional. Peer not ruefully back at vanquished illusion but forward to the unremitting love permeating the eternal actual now.

Eleven years ago I noted that No One Loves You Like a Hater Does. People don't click links, so I'll republish it in its entirety:
No One Loves You Like a Hater Does
A large team of workers manages the day-to-day operation of's discussion forums. I haven't moderated the site in six years or so, yet haters continue to flatter me with their persistent misimpression of my omnipresence - i.e. assuming that I've personally deleted their postings. Crackpot blogs frequently make such statements (often with Nazi imagery).

Sanity check: Chowhound receives upwards of three thousand postings per day. Phalanxes of moderators work day and night to vet a mere fraction of it all (our users pick up the slack by reporting missed problems). And yet I still exist for some individuals as an all-seeing Dr. No, ensconced in my acrid star chamber, relishing my power (pause here to suck air through flaring, vindictive nostrils) as I delete their postings when they act like shmucks - as people sometimes do in online communities (me too; I occasionally get deleted, as well).

No one I actually know would ever mistake me for omnipresent. And no mere fan would deem me capable of such awesomeness. No one admires you, respects you, loves you, like a hater does.

I'll never forget the time one of the most piqued of the lot, a man I'd never met, sent me a profanity-laced email expressing in most damning terms what a "self-absorbed holier than thou sociopath" I am. He concluded with an earnest invitation to come to dinner with him and his wife the next weekend (he also once guessed my instant message screen name and popped up to say a chipper "Hi!"). It wasn't the first such invitation I've gotten over the years.

No one...loves you like a hater does.

See also this.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Heaven or Hell in a Bad Back

My back problem used to crop up every few months, forcing me to visit a sports massage therapist. Otherwise it would get worse and worse, creating pain and impairment.

Eventually, I figured out how to fix it on my own via an elaborate and taxing maneuver requiring blocks and ample space and a solid minute of sharp discomfort. It works dependably, but the problem began to recur more frequently, forcing me to fix it every couple weeks, then days, and now several times per day.

Yikes! I'm caught in a tightening trap that can't be escaped. No one can cure this. I have theories about the muscular, postural, and fascial dynamics involved, but I appear to be stuck with them. So this is my new normal, and it feels a bit nightmarish.

But is it really?

That sports massage therapist (a genius named Dom who can fix anything) says my problem is actually common, though other doctors and physical therapists have no idea how to relieve it. Many - perhaps most - of the zillions burdened by mysterious "bad backs" are afflicted by this, and they get worse and worse because they don't know Dom, or my maneuver. They'd give anything for even temporary relief.

Meanwhile, I can sprawl out with a block or two for a minute and be pain free (at least for the moment). I'm avoiding agony and impairment; privileged to be living a miracle!

This is an example of the sweep and transformational  potential of “framing”. 

Many people accuse me of "positive thinking". I reject that. I don't want to color my thinking either way. I aim for clear thinking. Nothing's more deluded than a brave declaration that "EVERYTHING'S JUST GREAT!" delivered with a quivering chin (those people constantly saying "it's all good" are obviously trying to hypnotize themselves into believing it). Ugh, drama!

If you remove the drama - the needless, contrived spin - there are no actual problems. Undramatized neutral reality - where we don't create silly problems for ourselves, or imagine ourselves bravely rising above fake silly problems - is heaven. But most people are so committed to pointlessly indulgent mental moviemaking (i.e. hell) that neutral clarity looks like the ditzy pixie dust of "positive thinking".

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Slogging for Nine-Year-Olds

This Slog strikes most people as opaque. So here's an outline of the major themes in terms a nine-year-old would understand (though I wouldn't actually give this to a nine-year-old without plenty of further guidance).

When people who've been doing something wrong for a long time see someone else do the same thing right, they won't say "Hey, he's doing it right!" Instead, they will say "He's weird!" Better ways don't seem better, they just seem different. And different is weird, so most people would rather be wrong and "normal" than right and different.

If you know a better way, you really want to help them change! But people don't want to change. They're comfortable doing things the old way, even if it doesn't work. And they especially hate feeling stupid. You need to admit you've been stupid if you're going to change to a better way, and people would rather be wrong than admit it. In fact, people try so hard to keep feeling smart that there's no time to learn to really be smart! (That’s why grown-ups have so much trouble learning new things)

People are not looking for right answers. They ignore them, because they feel like they already know all the right answers. That's why a person might get mad if you try to help. He'll think you're trying to make him feel bad, or that you're showing off (and he might not even know you're right, because what he mostly sees is that you do things differently...which seems weird!),

The big difference between you and him isn't that you both do things differently but that you both think about life differently. Your perspectives are different. A person who wants to feel like he's right (even when he's wrong) will live a very different life from someone who wants to feel wrong so he can fix his mistakes.

But the amazing thing is that it's okay either way. We are all running around with different perspectives. We're all playing different games with different rules. Sometimes it's hard to guess somebody's rules, or to understand their perspective (one of my games is to try to figure them out, and explain here). But we're all playing our particular game, and it's okay if it's a little bit silly or even wrong, because there's no winner or loser, just folks happily pretending (they might not always look happy; some are happiest pretending to be in a game where they need to act sad or mad or anything else).

The game of being right is a fun game, but so is the game of sometimes being wrong. They're all fun! And the world works best with lots of different perspectives, even though it can be confusing. Lots of people playing lots of different games is what makes the world interesting.

There's only one big problem to watch out for. You can pretend so hard that you forget you're playing a game. If that happens, you feel like you've gotten stuck. When things don't turn out the way you want, and you feel stuck, you can get very sad, and life stops being fun for a long time.

The trick is to remember that you are always free to try a new perspective. If you remember that, you will never feel stuck! There are so many perspectives to choose from. You can always flip - instantly! - and see things another way. If you get good at flipping your perspective, then you can play lots of different games instead of always being stuck in the same one. It's like owning every Game Boy cartridge!

Friday, November 8, 2019

I'd Love Bloomberg to Run, but Pray He Won't

If Bloomberg runs, he'd be the one Democratic candidate who excites me.

I think he was a dandy mayor (though imperfect; e.g. I hated the term limit override - which, at least, was due to his concern re: a profound fiscal crisis rather than a matter of ego). His mayoralty was characterized by empathy, honesty, competency, and a nonpartisanship so rare and beautiful that I'm not certain it ever fully registered.

I think Bloomberg would make by far the best president of the lot. I'm hearing many glibly superficial takes about how he's just another billionaire motivated by vanity, but that's absurd. Even if you disagree with his stances, if you know anything about him you've got to respect his menschy sense of commitment.

I've been told - convincingly - that he quietly made up for budget shortfalls on important programs by very quietly tossing in his own money. He actually gave a crap. I'm not saying the dude doesn't have an ego, but it was dwarfed, as a motivating factor, by his earnest commitment to public service (consider his shitty Spanish).


If he runs he'll shave off Biden votes in the primary, ensuring a Warren nomination. And I don't believe Warren can attract crucial independents and disaffected Republicans. They won't all flock to Trump instead, but many will stay home, dissuaded, once again, by an intolerable choice. Same with the powerful African American block in vital states like SC. It's widely acknowledged that they won't vote for a gay candidate like Pete, but they're not super into Jews, either. That's just how it is. I can't afford to be defiantly starry-eyed; an existential crisis such as Trump makes - or at least ought to make - realists of us all.

Bloomberg's primary candidacy wouldn't serve the overriding imperative of defeating Trump. And given that I've urged progressive friends to sacrifice their zealous tenets and personal preferences to line up behind the most broadly-appealing candidate, who's most likely to defeat Trump, I'm compelled to do the same, myself.

Fuddy befuddled Biden wouldn't make the best president, and doesn't ring all my bells. But he'd attract the blacks, indies, and disapproving 26% of Republicans necessary to trounce Trump. And he'd be so much better a president than what we've got that the mind strains to even draw the comparison.

Those Damned Macarons

If you're like me, you long ago dismissed the macarons fad as ditzy/decorative, and you mentally photoshop them out of your landscape. These fastidious little buttons of chicly-flavored whimsy, one quickly learns, offer little deep deliciousness or satisfaction. Give me a hunk of frickin' marble poundcake any day.

But among the forgotten tenets of Chowhoundism is that deliciousness is deliciousness. A great version of a crap thing is nonetheless great and deserving of complete respect. With that in mind, I'd urge you to drop everything and go directly to Ladurée Madison Ave (864 Madison Ave at 71st...though there are branches I haven't tried called Ladurée The Plaza and Ladurée SoHo, whose location you'll never guess). Bring money. And experience the revelation of what these damned things can be in their platonic form.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Realizing I Am Impolite

Just about everything about this world has confused the bejesus out of me. So what I've been doing here is piecing it together. In many cases, you're watching an idiot realize the obvious. In others you're seeing the familiar reassembled from a more distant vantage point. Sometimes I surprise even myself by overshooting and accidentally figuring out, well, sorta everything.

I'm often unsure which it is, myself. I occasionally see things others don't, and (it took 50 years to muster the confidence to concede this even to myself) it often turns out to be right. But unknowing is the father of knowing, so I can't escape the knowledge that every insight was laboriously extruded from a mucky pit of ignorance. And I can’t tell how much muckier my muck is than normal. If feels pretty damned mucky, though...

I'm in the remedial class; a slow kid flailing toward comprehension. Sometimes overshooting, sometimes embarrassing himself. So the following might be stupendously obvious. Consider me your envoy from the land of noncomprehension. I drop my findings in your lap like an eager golden retriever, and they may be gold bars or they may be dead raccoons.

I always imagined I was polite. I'm courteous. I always say "hello", "goodbye", "thank you" and "please", etc. I give people their time and their space and never push. I easily accept those who think differently, and can usually find a common framing. And I’m willing to get out of the way, being thoughtful enough to apply situational awareness. Not imagining myself to be the center of the universe, I make a concerted effort to accommodate others. What I need, and where I need to get to, are not my supreme concerns. I'll pass my exit rather than slam my brakes.

Yet if you passed out surveys to my friends about me, listing various human qualities, "polite" would seldom be circled.

Having pondered this for years, I think I've figured it out. I can only talk about it like an anthropologist describing some bizarre culture, because it represents a foreign world to me (which is precisely the problem!). Here's what I think people do:

They keep up a patter, like a foreign language dialogue.
Hello, John.
Why, hello, Mary!
How are you today, John?
Very well, Mary, and you?
I, too, am well, John. Would you like to go to the library?
Yes, Mary, there is a book I would like to read!
Etc. etc.
No twists. No surprises or wit. Certainly no Salvador Dali melting fried eggs. There's no subtext or wordplay or irony. It doesn't even offer the fresh clarity of simple, forthright communication; it's just stock phrases clumped together. And to me, it's as painful as root canal. I don't want it, nor would I ever subject anyone else to it.

If I stood in John’s shoes, I'd be Bill Murraying up the joint, deliberately toying with the flow, tossing in funny asides and double entendres. I'd make a thing of it. I'm creative, which means 1. I can't help it, and 2. I gleefully feel like I'm conjuring up a fun Christmas stocking full of little presents (eager golden retriever, remember?).

I know from painful experience that Mary might mistake my offering for an affront, though I've never quite understood why. I'm aiming to be entertaining and lively. I hate to bore people. We dehumanize each other by failing to make an effort to differentiate ourselves from machines (it’s like the ever-compounding evil of serving the world lifeless sandwiches). Everyone deserves our best, so I try to always make it special.

But Johns and Marys aren't looking for specialness. They bask in the familiarity of consistently-met expectations. What I see as boring strikes them as comfortable. Skating the surface - diligently avoiding the "meta" and other forms of self-awareness - is how one soothes.

If you don't soothe - if you mess with the pacing and defy expectations and turn things upside down to be entertaining or interesting; if you knock yourself out by baking fresh as a unique gesture for the unique soul standing before you; you're doing the opposite of soothing. And that’s what impoliteness is.

So I think I get it. Courtesy isn't about thoughtful kindness or yielding right of way. Not consideration or generosity. It's about how seamlessly you preserve the patter of the surface narrative. How deftly you establish rapport via the most easily-digested, non-disruptive response. How conscientiously you avoid flipping the script, playing with the words, deconstructing the thoughts, and inserting freshly-baked treats. Courtesy means sparing people from needing to think.

Courtesy means sparing people from needing to think.

I am, alas, the most discourteous of human beings - even though I desperately wish most people well. I figured my benevolence was what counted. This was a ridiculous and catastrophic misapprehension.

I figured it out while watching the great British TV series "Fleabag". Like all British comedies, Fleabag is full of horrible, highly unpleasant people saying absolutely disgusting things to each other, but doing so Britishly - with a tart little smile and seamless composure. Pretending to be non-angry and non-awful while excoriating is the epitome of politeness. Benevolence has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Artifice is the aim. Politeness is in the pretending.

Politeness is in the pretending.

I once found myself in London, late, in a pub. I was chatting with a local who was saying ghastly things about Americans in the most charming tone, and shamelessly hitting on my girlfriend whenever I turned my back.

Enjoying the pub and the whole scene, I wasn't paying particular attention to the villainy of it all. But as the affronts accumulated, finally I broke the rhythm of our lively banter to speak beneath the veneer. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was not antagonistic or cutting. It wasn't unpleasant, much less disrespectful. I just rather bluntly punctured the charade of it all.

He gasped. All blood drained from his face, leaving him looking like a stunned vampire. I'd delved beneath the surface. I'd been impolite!

Sure, he'd been awful in a multitude of ways, but one couldn't question his manners. I, however, was a barbarian - though I bore him no ill will and showed no anger. My refusal to keep up my role in the parlour scene was a primal affront, leaving him like Wile E Coyote perched frozen in space beyond the cliff's edge. And that's simply not done.

What's he supposed to say now? What's his line? I'd left a brother human being adrift, without a next line!

Only a rude boor breaks up the chatty la-di-da; declines to maintain the veneer that's the intrinsic right of every member of polite society; and is so uncouth as to reframe a conversation to recognize that real people with internal lives are engaged in the current banter. I'd shined a light on the backstage area, and a gentleman never, ever, turns on the light.

This might explain why I tend to get along best with Southern Europeans, Latinos/Hispanics, and African-Americans, who are less grippy about pretense (which, in turn, might explain why those cultures are looked down upon by certain others). Come to think of it, maybe it's just that their prosaic surface la-di-da, being a bit syncopated, is more to my liking.

Please understand that none of this is self-justifying. I'm not saying "The superficial multitudes can't handle the truth", nor that I imagine myself on some superior plane. That's not it. I'm not an adolescent. I respect the propositions of human culture.

It had long been clear to me that people are uninterested - even averse - to delving below-surface; to reframing to some different perspective from the initially locked/loaded one. I've recognized the primacy of The Narrative Thread (which explains why many people are panicked upon losing their train of thought). But I hadn't realized that charade preservation was what politeness is. I honestly never got that. I feel like a newborn baby, unsure what to even do with this information.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Unnoticed Element of Republican Support for Trump

A fundamental issue has come to a head in the age of Trump without attracting any notice at all. The Left, in its chaotic fury, has overlooked it, and the never-Trump Right, in its slowly unfolding acknowledgement of the dynamics that brought us here, has not yet processed it.

Republicans have always been comfortable with the notion of a figurehead president: a boobish frontman who signs the paperwork while presenting a likable persona to the public (keeping them on-hook for policies benefitting a small coterie of plutocrats).
Why? Because the Ayn Rand-ish wing which has come to dominate the party doesn't want smart government run by smart people with smart ideas, because that tends to be expansive. Better a dim functionary firmly tied into The Program.
Senile second term Reagan suited them just fine (as did disinterested shallow first term Reagan). Same goes for brash pinhead George W Bush, with Cheney quietly pulling his strings. And I scarcely need mention Sarah Palin, potentially a heartbeat from office.

It's not that Republican leaders go out of their way to anoint figurehead boob frontmen (Romney, McCain, Dole, and elder Bush had bona fides). But they don't mind them. Democrats, by contrast, have never once run (much less elected) a figurehead (Carter might have been weak, but he was highly involved and detail-oriented - to a fault, even).

A reasonable chunk of the mystery of enduring Republican support for Trump - from the leaders who secretly despise him to the voters dutifully roused by the floor show - is accounted for by the fact that the proposition of a lost child in the Oval is no shock to Republican leaders, power brokers, and media. Trump is merely a particularly poor iteration - a deranged and damaged lost child - of an entirely acceptable scenario.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Apples Record High

Today Apple is at $247, so I've made a 72% profit on shares I bought in January at $144. The only problem is I'll need to wait a couple months to sell, so I can pay low long-term gain taxes. But if it drops before then, I'll just buy more. Win-win.

This is about the fifth or sixth time I've done this with Apple (usually making more like 30%). It'd be a great return even for a speculative biotech stock (I still own some SIGA, btw, and will sell the next time it rises ahead of the next isolated bit of good news). But you're not supposed to get that sort of return with a blue chip stock. Blue chips are supposed to be safe and sturdy. For high returns, you're supposed to need to take risks. I keep making tons of profit for very little risk. And, yet, I feel all alone. I don't know - haven't heard or read about - anyone else plying this rather obvious strategy. I think it's too simple.

Most investors have smart theories and slick moves I barely understand. Me, I just see the most successful company in history constantly manipulated by fear-mongers, and while shorts and hedgies make millions from the periodic manipulation, I keep making thousands riding effortlessly along the other way with extremely low risk - the risk of a company with hundreds of billions of cash on-hand, which makes products everyone adores, and does what it does with vision and integrity. Blue-chip risk!

Apple will not keep boosting to new highs forever and ever. So while one day I'll fail to profit, I don't see how I'd lose my shirt. The next plunge won't go to zero. A disappointing product or a tariff or a manufacturing snafu cannot sink the company. I once wrote:
That cash hoard alone - which doesn't even do anything! - dwarfs the total market value of all but seven other corporations. Apple could throw their entire mega-successful business in the garbage and buy Starbucks, Boeing, and Goldman Sachs. If customers update their iPads more slowly than expected, or a phone antenna doesn't work properly, or a new product line undersells expectations, that's just not going to cause a death spiral. I'm not saying they'll be dominant forever...but the downside of buying at Apple's inevitable 30% bullish downturns strikes me as minimal.
The rationality of this observation is too quiet and simple for investment geniuses to parse. But I learned early in life the power of guileless clunk.

Fake Fakes

Speaking of Mark Rothko...

You can buy reproductions of his "Untitled 1956" from a plethora of online companies, including this one, which includes a "Certificate of Authenticity" ("provides an assurance and verifies the authenticity of the hand painted fine art reproduction you purchased"). It's expensive, but, hey, this isn't just any art; it's a reproduced Rothko!

Except no, it isn't. Rothko Untitled 1956 wasn't painted by Rothko, it was a forgery.

The following photo is of the original fake, not the fake fake. So it's only a reproduction of a fake, rather than a reproduction of a reproduction of a fake. Much more authentic!


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Rothko's Very Early Landscapes

Painter Mark Rothko was notorious for being a late-bloomer, showing few signs of genius before he struck upon his unique approach late in middle age. Like many, I'm not a fan of his early work, but I do like these Oregon landscapes painted very early, at age 30. They don't reveal even a glimmer of the totemic power and brilliance of his later output, but I like them. The bottom four can't be seen elsewhere; I grabbed them from the PBS documentary "Rothko: Pictures Must Be Miraculous", viewable for free here.

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