Monday, April 29, 2019

Wellness Check

You’re on an airport train, worried that your phone is 20% and you want to save external battery pack for the plane. You discover train has built-in charger next to your seat. On a scale of 1-10, what’s the maximum happiness level one can feel at this moment without normal people concluding you require psychotherapy?

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, April 26, 2019

His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation

After several days of playing the video game “Frogger” around Naples, dodging, in terror for my life, between angrily speeding cars in a dystopian laissez fare traffic system that would make any pointy-headed Ayn Rand disciple nod in resigned recognition of the real-world perils of unrestrained human id, I remembered that I’d previously known about this.

I’ve heard about it. I’ve read about it. It was in my head: Risking demise beneath the wheels of some boxy little European vehicle is one of Naple’s defining features. Come for the sfogliatella, stay for the crushed sternum.

So why was it a surprise?

My first time in dusty western New Mexico, I was chowing down in some roadside diner when a dude strode in with a cowboy hat, and cowboy boots, and a Sam Elliott mustache. “Look at Mr. Cowboy”, I snarked to myself, catching myself a moment later. Whoops. Mr. Cowboy is an actual cowboy. No disrespect, sir. Howdy, or whatever...

All the great truths sound like Cola ads, and this is no different: There’s nothing like the real thing.

There will follow some postings where I report culinary revelations, tracing my process of discovering that long-held assumptions were completely wrong. You can learn a lot about a topic from a distance. But whether the surprises are big or small, the real thing opens a new framing of perspective, whereas secondhand knowledge just throws data on the pile.

Next installment of my Italy trip: The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation

One of the many quirks here in Italy is that whenever you find yourself waiting in line, random people appear, not to wait on line, but to sort of commune with the queue. I suppose this is purely social, ala “Hey, look! People! Let’s stand around over there!”

So whenever you need to buy tickets, or a beer, or enter somewhere popular, it’s fiendishly hard to tell where the line ends. I keep finding myself waiting behind random people who merely appear to be waiting on line when they’re actually just queue-adjacent; queue hangers-on.

It took a few days to process the fact that I’ve explained a perennial pet peeve. I’m standing in some orderly line, facing forward, tapping my foot or otherwise conveying via body English that I’m waiting, when some ditzy person walks up and asks me whether I’m on line.

“No, the others are on line to talk to me.”

“Line? What line?”

“Yes, but for five bucks you can have my spot”

“No, I’m on antipsychotics”

I never say these things, of course, but, in my exasperation, there’s ample time to stockpile flippant answers (I could keep going for days).

Now, finally...finally...I understand this phenomenon. There are places in the world where people cluster near lines - engaging chameleon-ish powers to appear extra queued - for no discernible reason. So when people ask the irritating question, there’s a bona fide reason, buried deeply in deep social memory, for them to do so.

This is why we travel.

Next installment of my Italy trip: His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Fundraiser to Bring Impoverished Young Haitian Musicians Here

Would you please do me the favor of reading this and consider throwing in a few bucks? It would really help these kids.

This, FYI, is the same brass quintet program I reported attending during my first of several post-Chowhound pushes to restore my musical skills. It’s a good one; a direct descendent of the great brass chamber music program I attended as an 18 year-old, and to which I owe a lot.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Naples Diet

Want to get into shape and lose weight while eating lots of the world’s most delicious food?

Consider Naples, the ultimate walking city. Really, you don’t have much choice. Mass transit is minimal, taxis are rare, Uber’s not to be found, and everything’s a 20 minute walk from everything else. I’ve been averaging 7-10 miles of walking per day, more than enough to burn through the rigatoni and sfogliatelle.

In fact, as body builders will tell you, you lose weight faster if you increase eating along with increased exercise. Many dieters make the mistake of eating less and less, putting their bodies in starvation mode (the medical term is “metabolic syndrome”, and it’s bad news). My fingernails are growing 3 times their normal speed, and I’ve tightened my belt a notch. And it’s all about frequent small meals - the healthiest way to do it - in this most noshish of towns.

I’m here on another super-budget traveldeal. There was once a tech bargain alert site whose motto was “Go broke saving money!”, and I’ve been thinking about that more and more. I’ve been to Bogota, Barcelona, Dallas, Savannah, and Singapore in the last couple of years, jumping on freakishly low plane fares and checking into cheap AirBnbs, but though I rarely spend more than $500 on air and lodging (most often a lot less), it’s beginning to add up.

But my bankruptcy will be your gain once I start posting photos. For now, I’ll leave you with this one perfect little pile of ragĂș ala Genovese. Remember this formula: Genovese = onions.

Next installment of my Italy trip: Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Paradise Lost

If you could enter a person's head and listen to their thought stream, you'd hear a nonstop litany of complaints about what's missing.

Most acute is the immediate scanning: If only it were a little warmer. Or a little cooler. If only I'd slept more, or eaten more, or if my chair were more comfortable, or this person with me were more interesting or attractive or attentive. All the food I'm not eating and the sex I'm not having right now! This moment simply won't do. I reject it.

If, despite best effort, your scanning finds nothing immediately vexing to lock on to, it pulls from a go-to bundle of standing vexations. If only I were thinner, or better-looking, or wealthier. If only my job were better, my home bigger. If only my spouse were more understanding. If only my parents had never said that terrible thing.

Finding fault with the moment and picking at scabs is what most people's minds do most of the time (it's no wonder nothing ever gets done!), though we're no more aware of it than a fish knows it's perpetually swimming. We elevate cooked-up mental drama above reality; an indulgence entirely untethered from the here and the now. I've offered this same observation many times (chart my progress here, or else cut to the chase and know that Hell is the realm of What's Missing....while Heaven is What Is). But this time let me ask an odd question.

Before I do, think of the last moment when it all felt perfect; when you wouldn't have changed a single thing. Try to remember. I'll wait.

Now here's my odd question: what took you out of that moment? How was paradise lost?

Did some fearsome warrior assault you, and put you in chains? Did your pet die? Did blood suddenly spurt from your ears? No. Nothing like that. What happened (if you could remember, which you can't, because we don't focus our higher perspective on such shifts) is that your scanner - perpetually operating in the background - locked on to something. You felt a bit too warm. Or cool. Or hungry. Or sleepy. Or you suddenly remembered that you don’t drive a Porsche, or you latched onto that thing your parents said. Your abrupt exit from Heaven was triggered by minute and gratuitous mental perturbation, sending you straight back to Hell, i.e. the reverie of What's Missing.

The ultimate expression of this is depression - another term for frozen perspective. This is a state where you ratchet onto maximally obsessive reverie over some "What's Missing" issue. Depressives are wholly immersed in mental drama (there’s great wisdom in the urging to "come back to your senses!"). They're paying more heed to the phantasmagoric than to the actual. In fact, detachment from What’s Actually Happening strikes most people as completely normal (if you read one link, make it this one...and be sure to also read the first sentence of the first comment).

The instant you opt out of the habit of conjuring up reasons to quarrel with the current moment, you depart the Hell of What's Missing and enter the Heaven of What's Actually Happening. Burdens drop and problems seem to magically disappear (they were illusions - mere thought-knots, aka "First World Problems" - anyway). We call such interludes "peak moments", but they aren't flukes - lucky haphazard occurrences afforded by grace. They're a perpetually available framing choice. You can live there if you’d like.

Reframing to the actual world - diligently returning to your senses; to the raw feed of it all - provides a particularly useful perq aside from the happiness, the unburdening, the disappearance of problems, and the access to Heaven. When your mind isn't occupied with maintaining a regimen of self-torture and malcontentedness (because that’s where you choose to place your attention; you vote via your attention and the mind accommodates), it finds other ways to serve; other things to do. Poetic things, creative things, insightful things.

The free-flowing insight you may notice in labors like this Slog doesn't stem from natural intelligence or talent. For example, I'm not "gifted". I just don't spend every second desperately seeking reasons to be at odds with the universe, and this frees up tremendous resources (cognitive, emotional, creative, and energetic). I haven't elevated myself in the slightest, nor do I enjoy any genetic edge. I'm a hapless shmuck who blundered into opting out of behaving like a lunatic. You can, too. Right now.

If you can recognize, even just as a matter of principle, the self-indulgent and self-defeating idiocy of a life spent ruing What's Missing - i.e. quarreling with the current moment - you are 95% of the way to breaking a habit no more fearsome, really, than sugar craving. This is a choice. It’s not a popular one, so it would never occur to those who frame their world in line with contagious trends. But it’s perpetually available.

If you make this choice, which takes effect instantly, you'll have one foot in heaven and your mind will surprise and delight you with on-demand insight and truth. There's no "personal growth" involved, because it's a letting-go rather than an improvement. It's neither woo-woo nor holy, and it is certainly not the exclusive domain of certain people.

It's not even hard! Just break a habit that never did you any good anyway! Obsession is far more difficult, requiring dogged work and relentless attention. Letting go is easy....even lazy (it’s bizarre that we consider forgiveness - one means of letting go - challenging when forgiving happens effortlessly within the wink of an eye whereas grudges and resentment are ambitious, sprawling, labor-intensive projects that must be diligently nursed).

If you find it's too much to do in one step, try meditating first (fwiw I like this stripped down, de-mythologized method). Meditation expands perspective, showing that you are not your thought stream, but, rather, an observer of thoughts that were never under your ownership to begin with. There's no need - nor ability - to "improve" your thoughts, nor to repress them, but you do always have the option of giving them less attention; of letting the engine race without engaging the drivetrain. But this requires a recognition that hasn't dawned on many people: that we are not our narration. Meditation opens breathing room between you and your thought stream.

From there, it's easier to blithely let your mental scanner whirr without giving its reports your attention; without reframing yourself into Hell whenever some nagging tinge arises. You'd had it wrong all along; you never needed to abandon heaven for every itchy toe, full bladder, or strand of recollected mental drama. Happiness can exist even when things don’t turn out as envisioned. It never all needed to go any certain way.

Having forgotten about this posting, I wrote another version a few months later here. If neither version speaks to you, don't worry, I'll probably rewrite it a few more times (this posting serves as a sort of index of my attempts to hit at this point from various angles.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Your Flawed Life as Reflected by Your Poor Knife Skills

It's hard to live in this world if you haven't internalized your multiplication tables. When you see someone bottlenecked amid a complex task because they never invested that effort, you want to implore them to just take a couple hours and learn them. "9 x 7" is not a wheel you should be reinventing every damned time.

Same for amateur musicians who haven't made familiar friends of all 12 major scales. If they don't happily fly out from under your fingers, that just means you're lazy, and it will repeatedly drag you down. Just learn the scales! It's not rocket science! Get it over with!

I once attended a cooking class with a gaggle of local housewives who gasped at my speed and efficiency in cutting up carrots. My proper use of a knife was...magic! They approached their carrots as if their knives were hammers. Shoulders hiked up in tension and fear, they'd raise the tool and swing it down. THUNK.

If you don't have servants to cook for you and you are not an investment banker who eats out every single meal; if you periodically enter your kitchen with intent to prepare food, just, for godsakes, learn to use a knife. Get it over with! Watch a video, take a class, have a friend show you...and then practice for the 45 minutes or whatever it takes to get up to speed so it's never ever an issue. 45 minutes to spare yourself countless life hours of ineffective nonsense.

Similarly: if you spend 1/3 of your life laying down your head on a shitty, flattened-out, uncomfortable pillow, you need to not only replace it immediately with one that costs $10 more; you also need to reexamine your life and how you live it.

Monday, April 15, 2019

It Bugs Me That Your Kid Is Hungry

A few years ago, I made a case for philanthropy as a form of consumerism. I buy things to solve problems that affect me, both here (e.g. I'm out of toothpaste) and there (e.g. your kid's hungry). It's not generosity, it's selfishness. It bothers me that your kid's hungry, like it bothers me to be out of toothpaste, so I buy relief for myself. Your kid enjoying her lasagna is just a bonus outcome.

Most of us stop shoveling snow at our neighbor's property line. But even the selfish must conceded the nagging truth that it's all the same snow; all one problem. The distinction of my problem/your problem is always arbitrary and abstract. If your neighbor's elderly or under the weather (or even able-bodied!), it wouldn't exactly be saintly to clear a path to their mailbox. It would just feel like doing a little more of the same.

"A little more of the same".

It holds up even in the aggregate. Let's say I burn through all my savings before I'm old (a distinct possibility). If it's because I was careless or stupid, I might feel awful living as an old man in a cramped secondhand RV eating instant ramen. But if that's my fate because I’d over-helped, that would be different.

Whenever my mind, in that sordid RV, scans for someone to blame, it will zero in not on shiftless, idiotic me, but on people out there somewhere enjoying a slightly easier/better life. And that seems...what's the word? Not "noble," not "heroic," but...prudent. A reasonable tradeoff no one could quarrel with. Tidy, fine, acceptable. When that mental image flashes, my mind will let go...and there's nothing sweeter than the sensation of a mind releasing its grasp. “Letting go” is the most rewarding framing (surrender, along with the related letting-gos of forgiveness and self-sacrifice, are the spiritual oldies-but-goodies, no matter how unappealing they might strike us modern aristocrats).

It's taken me a lifetime to recognize that unhappiness stems not from circumstance, but from perspective. Heaven and Hell are framings, both perpetually available in any given moment.

Housing, Parking Garages, and the Selfishness of Bill Gates
Philanthropy: The Factor of Time Urgency

Letting go is the most beautiful of framings.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Smoked Chicken Pasta

My Year of Pasta continues. This follows my Year of Tacos, which, in turn, succeeded my Year of Panini. 

I undertake these obsessive cooking binges for a few reasons:

1. I find that I can't cook anything really deliciously until I've worked the category many many times, experimenting with permutations. What can I say; I'm a devotee of John Thorne.

2. I've told this story before: my Dad was a sculptor who dreamed of painting, but felt overwhelmed by color. He had a brainstorm: he'd paint only with prime colors, taking the issue entirely off the table. It was a brilliant idea that I've tried to emulate. So when I felt overwhelmed by the idea of learning to cook (having no interest in souffles or dug-out potatoes or hollandaise sauce), I decided to take most of it off the table. To this day, I can't make roasts or soup or a conventional omelette, and I haven't fried (much less deep-fried) in many years. But what I do make is hyper-delicious.

3. In order to satisfy dish cravings, I go out. When I cook at home, it's strictly about healthy eating, comfort, and whim indulgence. So I don't require versatility, I just need to be really good at making the sort of thing I like to cook and eat. And who doesn't like to eat panini, tacos, and pasta?

Ok! Smoked chicken pasta!

I don't believe in precise recipe quantities. Like "Door Open" buttons on elevators, they're fake-outs, installed solely to let people vent their anxieties. Use your taste! More or less of something will make the result different, not worse (and your result will unavoidably be different from mine, anyway, due to thousands of micro-decisions you'll make differently). Precise recipes are for people with no commitment to sustained iteration (first efforts are like first-batch pancakes).

Leftover sauceless smoked chicken. Leftover is fine, and the smokier the better (this place in Dutchess County will sell you a whole cold smoked bird that works optimally)
Pasta (enough for two)
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 small tomato, 3 "cocktail" sized tomatoes or 6 grape tomatoes.
Baby spinach
Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Leftover barbecue sauce (optional)

Boil pasta in enough salted water to cover plus 2 or 3 inches (i.e. much less water than most people use).

Pull chicken meat off bones with your fingers, then chop.

Chop onion and finely-slice garlic cloves.

Grate a small amount of parmesan cheese (mostly for umami; you don't want a cheesy effect).

Thinly slice tomato (easiest with a serrated paring knife or steak knife).

Sautee onion on medium heat with a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Once onions soften, add tomato and garlic. Stir frequently for a minute.

Add chicken. Stir thoroughly then cover. When sizzling resumes, reduce heat a bit and let sit for 2-3 minutes (until hot on bottom and warm on top).

Stir chicken mixture, then cover until heated through (monitor carefully to avoid overdoing it).

Drain pasta when al dente, conserving a few tablespoons of cooking water (which will be thick because you used less of it).

Return pasta to pot, turn heat up to medium, generously drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, dump in cheese and a generous handful of baby spinach. Stir violently in wide churning circles with wooden spoon or spatula until spinach is soft. Turn off heat, add chicken mixture, stirring violently, adding several small splashes (maybe 2 tsp at a time) of pasta water as you go (this is what adds the shimmer to the pasta you see in the photo).

Assuming the chicken came with barbecue sauce, and assuming it's good quality, stir a tablespoon in when you add the chicken mixture. Don't overdo it; you don't want a sweet pungent clobber. This is just to help unite disparate flavors. If you don't have decent barbecue sauce, skip it.

Friday, April 12, 2019

West African Buffet

B&D Halal Food (163 W 29th St; 7 days 11am to 3am) is the best West African restaurant I currently know in the US. They're also the best NYC buffet of any type (the Sunday-only buffet at glorious Nawab blows it away, but it's up in Yonkers).

The offerings at D&B are bountiful and uniformly superb. I don't understand how they make the (very low) pricing work with NYC rents and halal meats - which cost more. The woman with the white turban working around the buffet is helpful if you have questions. And, as always when eating less familiar cuisines (or looking for new angles on known cuisines), my app, Eat Everywhere, is like having me shoot you in-restaurant advice via text messages (we don't have a Guinean section, yet, but the Senegalese one will serve well).

While everything's of uniformly high quality, I'd suggest making a beeline for the following dishes: okra (even if you don't like okra), sweet potato leaves (or cassava leaves if they're out), whichever meat is available in peanut sauce (against the wall and close to the cash register). Oddball tip: jerk chicken seems like a sucker/tourist order, and it's hilariously non-Jamaican, but it's slammingly good as a unique entity.

One thing about buffets: they wrangle so many huge pots of food that every pot eventually burns, and forevermore imparts subtle burnt flavors into the food. As at similar buffets, everything here has a telltale trace, but somehow a virtue is made of it. If I hadn't eaten a lot of West African food at smaller scale, I'd have assumed the slightly metallic/sooty flavor was a distinctive part of the cuisine (it may be one of those serendipities that eventually becomes parsed as "authentic").

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Did You Miss the Part About How We're in Utopia??

In yesterday's posting, "Lost Perspective", I concluded:
Scientists keep trying to explain the Fermi Paradox - the absence of evidence of advanced civilization in the Universe. What is the X Factor obliterating civilizations before they can build Dyson Spheres, capturing the totality of a star's energy, or find a way to communicate over the void with brutes like us?

Comfort and wealth, baby. That's the perilous X Factor. Comfort and wealth.

Humanity has persevered over illness and lions and warlords; famines, droughts, and extreme poverty, and its pain has only grown in the process. Comfort and wealth will prove an indefatigable challenge.
A reader wryly commented that this seemed like "a downer". I get his point, but please reconsider (or reframe, if you will): I also noted, albeit in passing, that we're living in Utopia. 

We're living in Utopia! This is not a small thing. WE...ARE...LIVING...IN...UTOPIA, even with the shithead president, the school violence, and the robo marketing calls. It only feels awful because we're hyper-sensitized to ever-decreasing pools of grievance, discomfort, and dissatisfaction. And while immense jangled irritation with remaining mattress peas will kindle humanity’s eventual undoing, getting to live in Utopia is no small thing. The fact that a reader could skip over the "Utopia" part, and see my posting as a "downer" perfectly illustrates the very framing problem I've been describing!

We're at the sweet spot. We are blessed not just to be living in Utopia (living in Utopia!), but we're not yet close to the end game. It’s the ideal moment! No longer eaten by lions, nor succumbing to ordinary infections, nor starving. Relatively few of us remain doomed to lives of back-breaking labor for our weekly handful of rice. Yet there’s time before the inevitable apocalyptic Crazy fully erupts (when a world full of furiously entitled and self-certain rich folk get "woke" into peak grievance). Perhaps decades or even centuries. 

We are fantastically lucky to be alive when cars never stall, few adults ever experience physical violence, there's more great food, entertainment, education, and information than we know what to do with, and ambulances pick us up for free and bring us to free ERs for swift fixes to maladies that previously would have killed us. I can drive to Chicago this weekend (toll free, and cheap gas!) if I'd like, on a whim, and crash in an AirBnb for $30, and no tyrant/warlord/feudal overlord needs to grant me permission. This is INSANE. It's GASP-worthy. And I didn't even get to the part about having all human knowledge, media, and music - plus, oh yeah, infinite free worldwide communication - on a slab of glass in my pocket.

So, no, this is not a "downer"! If you’ll simply adjust your framing - habitually locked on the tidbits of displeasure - you can enjoy the best human life that's ever been lived and ever will be lived. Even if you work at Walmart. Even if you don't drive a nice car. Even if you've been told again and again that you're poor or persecuted or beaten down or victimized or ugly (or whichever characteristic you blame for your apparently woeful lot). That’s all in your head, the product of obsessive framing leaving you blind to your unimaginable good luck.

One of my best weekends of this decade was spent in a hospital in cardiac crisis, with one of the nurses crying as I was brought in because I'm so young, and counselors doing their best to make me feel properly grave and frail. I felt taken care of. The tech was absolutely magical. The cardiologist became a pal. And my heart's 100% okay, thanks to a stent inserted through my wrist. On my way home, with my hospital wristband still dangling, I detoured to see a friend who'd been especially upset about my predicament. I stood outside her office window waving with both arms from the street, exuberantly jumping up and down on the sidewalk (middle-aged men aren't supposed to jump) and saw awed radiant delight dawn on her face. In that brief moment, she recognized the Utopia we're in. This is absolutely not your father's planet.

So don't you dare tell me this is all coming from a white dude feeling smug in his bubble of privilege, oblivious to the suffering and subjugation of those with legitimate gripes. I've bottomed out in Utopia - in multiple ways, actually, but one sad story will suffice - discovering that it's Utopia all the way down. The only real downer is that so many theatrically grim and dreary people have needlessly frozen their perspectives. 

Enjoy the Good News, if you can. It's for you to notice...or not. If you do, you’ll not insignificantly “be the change” (framing is contagious; the downer - the downfall - is you). 

FWIW, I am working on a book of exercises to help re-connect with one's latent ability to re-frame perspective. The world doesn't determine your framing, it's been completely under your control all along. You are not a slave to the dramatic view of It All that's been drilled in via endless repetition. Watch this Slog for an open call to beta test the exercises (sometime late this year).

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Slog Ahead

So who was first to tell you about this black hole photo? Like, back in 2012?

Lost Perspective

For those who haven't keyed in yet on my MO, I like to approach a point from several angles, trying to weave in connections to other ideas that occupy me. It might seem repetitive (there are thoughts below that you've seen a number of times here), but I'm building momentum via multiple running starts, hoping to crash through to further insight. The following ties together several familiar Slog points in a fresh way, though you may need to read it a couple times to fully follow the thread.

Human beings compress extremes. We regress toward means. In plain language, we narrow our perspective, which means we "clip" the ends of the scale, mentally compressing extremes into a nondescript paste. When every bad thing is The Worst Thing and every good thing is The Best Thing, there's no room to accommodate the truly exceptional.

If I served you a freezer burnt slice of toast alongside a mound of barbed wire Parmigiana, you'd quickly (if temporarily) acquire a keen appreciation for the vast terrain between "Bad" and "Worse". But serve someone just the toast, and they'll grimace, describing their displeasure with extravagant superlatives. Extremes are hazy until a concrete example gets shoved in our faces to restore perspective.

For another example, a few weeks ago, I noted that “crazy and stupid” is not evil.
“Crazy and stupid” is awful, corrosive, exasperating. It seems like The Worst Possible Thing. But it’s not. There is genuine evil in the world, so anyone (including the crazy and stupid) who’d never imagine going out of their way to deliberately harm is a “5” at very least.

A person can be nasty, selfish, derelict, uncompromising, unreasonable, willfully ignorant, and astoundingly unpleasant without scratching a nanometer toward actual evil. They can inadvertently ruin lives and knock over every worthy thing without being evil. The end result of “crazy and stupid” may be indistinguishable from the end result of evil, but intentions do matter.

All non-evil people are on our team, and that, alas, includes “crazy and stupid”. “Crazy and stupid” is the bottom rung of acceptability, not the bottom rung of humanity by a very long shot.
Crazy/stupid feels like the absolute worst, yet it’s only half-way to serious badness. Perspective gets compressed!

Similarly, George W Bush once seemed like a malevolent boob for many of us who presently view him as a flawed-but-menschy statesman now that we find ourselves balls deep in the Donald Trump Experience. Yet, as I recently wrote, Trump himself is perfectly typical of the sort of vulgar, vain, shallow, narcissistic, ignorant, racist men who’ve run most every institution in the world for thousands of years. He only strikes us as appalling because we've compressed the extremes. We've lost perspective.

In fact, GWB was a “7” (I'd give Obama an "8.5"), Trump’s a “5.5”, and if we ever landed ourselves a “4”, let alone a "1" or "2" or "3" (Kim's a "3"; Putin's a "4.5", with Caligula, Pol Pot, Hitler, and perhaps Mayor De Blasio swirling around the bottom of the bowl in the "1"s and "2"s), Trump would seem as mild as freezer burnt toast (and GWB would be compared to Lincoln, ‘cuz we’d be compressing the other end).

This is more of the perceptual framing I keep going on about. It’s endlessly lithe, and that's ordinarily a good thing. But without a firm baseline, mere displeasure - for us wealthy, comfortable First Worlders living in a Utopia too sublime for our ancestors to even have dreamed of - strikes us as OMG THE WORST NIGHTMARE I AM SO STRESSED FROWNY FACE FROWNY FACE because our president's a typical vapid boss when we expect only above-average experiences. We compress perspective.
Standard disclaimer: I detest Trump. But, per this very posting, that doesn't make him The Worst Thing Ever. Refusal to compress does not constitute approval!
The world has perpetually seemed to be going straight to hell just as it's gotten fabulously better and better. Why? Because we're spoiled princesses increasingly vexed by smaller and smaller mattress peas. We're Mrs. Howells endlessly piqued by poor picnic weather and inattentive servants. This explains why the merely wealthy are beginning to foment class warfare for unfettered access to the trappings of super-richdom. This cadre fights not for bread and shelter for the disadvantaged, like their righteous forebears, but for their right to smart watches and Beemers.

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

Scientists keep trying to explain the Fermi Paradox - the absence of evidence of advanced civilization in the Universe. What is the X Factor obliterating civilizations before they can build Dyson Spheres, capturing the totality of a star's energy, or find a way to communicate over the void with brutes like us?

Comfort and wealth, baby. That's the perilous X Factor. Comfort and wealth.

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

As I noted here:
By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.
Follow up posting

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


The reason current Conservatives still feel conservative despite having turned their back on nearly every conservative principle is that most Conservatives were never conservative. They were anti-liberal.*

The reason candy factory workers quickly lose their taste for candy is that they were never real candy cravers. They were anti-deprivation.

* - This also accounts for why conservative politicians have always rejected their own policies when liberals propose them (e.g. Obamacare, which came right straight out of the Heritage Foundation, with a bank shot off Mitt Romney's governorship). They're not for what they're for, they're against what The Other is for.

I can relate, having for years assumed I was some breed of liberal simply by virtue of my revulsion at the far right...and in spite of my agreeing with few actual left-wing proposals. I suspect many - perhaps even most - moderates on each side are entirely reactive to The Other...and, if they ever really dissected the actual policies supported by their own (nominal) side, they'd realize they're as Centrist as I am.

The really smart move would be to embrace our perfectly appropriate misanthropy more consistently and completely.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Peace & Quiet

Not one person in the history of the world ever uttered this sentence:
I really value my peace and quiet; maybe I'll try to get laid.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Rich, Richer, Richest

Rich - No risk of death from curable disease; hunger rare and minor; lavish portfolio of modern comforts/conveniences/entertainments; days off; personal possessions; car owner (or access to mass transit).

Soccer Mom Rich - Overabundance of possessions and food seems like a negative; vacations; spare time for hobbies; savings.

Dentist Rich - Late model car; investments; parking garages; frequent $20 meals and infrequent $50 meals.

Lawyer Rich - Occasional business class; fancy car; hires people for jobs they could do themselves.

Entrepreneur Rich - Business class; prestige car; default question is "do I really need?" rather than "can I afford?". Children financially assured.
Fwiw, "Entrepreneur Rich" circa 2004 was merely dentist rich.

The "Rich" in America (what we here call "the working poor") enjoy a lifestyle of comfort, health, security, and entertainment beyond the imagining of aristocrats of past centuries, and are the envy of most people in the Third World today (though, even there, extreme poverty is down almost 26% over a mere 25 years).

The young - as has been the case for time immemorial - are geared up about inequality. In the past, such radicalization has served to focus attention on the impoverished, but it's become perverted in an era when rich people feel poor. The extreme Left embraces Marxist constructs in their struggle for the perks not just of the rich (they're all rich) but of the super-rich. Class warfare between the have-lots versus the have-tons. I've dubbed this strange phenomenon "Liberal Materialism."

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