Thursday, September 26, 2019

White House Chain Reaction in Progress

On Tuesday, I dismayed about the Democrats overplaying their hand and falling into a trap. Just 48 hours later, this has become a much bigger, deeper story. Showing cognizance of guilt, Trump had buried the Ukrainian call transcript in a facility normally reserved for matters of highest state security. And there appear to be a slew of transcripts so interred...and a scad of WH staffers know about it.

To my eye, disgusting as this is, it's still not much more damning than behavior in the Mueller Report which did nothing to turn moderate Republican voters (whose support for the administration, however ambivalent, is what's kept Republican politicians obeisant to Dear Leader).

But the current chain-reacting mushroom cloud of news is something new; unprecedented in the short annals of the Orange Throne. It just might trigger a critical turn where the perennial trickle of White House leaks turns into a panicky gusher. As the wry Quinn Cummings just put it on Twitter,
If so, perhaps McConnell miscalculated (there's a phrase one doesn't often see) in rushing the transcript and whistleblower report to public view to coax Democrats into his trap. If the White House staff finally gushes, moderate Republican voters may finally turn around (nothing could shake fervid MAGAs), and there's a remote possibility of conviction in the Senate.

For now, that's merely an unlikelihood (WH staff rebellion) which might trigger an unlikelihood (moderate Republican detachment) which might trigger an enormous unlikelihood (two-thirds majority of the Republican-led Senate votes to convict). But by tonight, at this rate, who knows?

Blue Crow Media

I've been a fan of London's Blue Crow Media for a long time, since I discovered their "Craft Beer New York" smart phone app. It's hard to offer subjective guidance in an app or guidebook - you need to convey an authentically personal-but-knowledgeable voice while being manageably succinct - and their work impressed me.
For those unaware, I recently created my own subjective guidance app, "Eat Everywhere", which coaches you through the ordering/eating experience for every nationality.
Blue Crow subsequently moved out of apps and into maps, and their work remains just as smart and tasteful. The maps feel like your birthday; crisp, luxe paper; deep, interesting colors; and admirably thoughtful design with great attention to detail. If you appreciate the meticulousness of a Steve Jobs or Stanley Kubrick, but reject the up-market fetishist pretension plied by too many of their disciples, this stuff is for you. No single item costs over £20, and most are £8 or £9.

Topics are largely design or architectural; pure geek bait like Art Deco maps for London or New York (they need to add Miami!), Brutalist maps of Boston and London, Concrete maps of Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Tokyo, Toronto, and Melbourne. And lots more. Not many companies (especially UK-based!) would have the cheek to create a "Modernist Detroit Map", and the adeptness to really pull it off.

This isn't stuff I know a lot about, and one can’t look to these maps as primers. They're all-business, plunging right in without much background info. Yet one needn't be a stern Estonian draftsman with expensive wire-rimmed frames to catch the bug. I’m pretty ignorant of both Modernism and Belgrade, yet I hanker for the Modernist Belgrade map, and would use it to make a beeline for the city (once I spot a crazy-low fare).

Blue Crow's most recent offering is a New York Subway Architecture & Design Map. On one side of the thick, starchy cream/grey paper there's a stylized subway map, resembling the familiar one but a bit less data-dense and much more beautiful. As with much of Blue Crow's work, conventional detail is traded off for something less tangible - flair and framing. The important elements remain; knowing what to leave out is an art. On the flip side lies the good stuff: a dense grid of brief descriptions of four dozen station design fixtures and touches that I, as a lifelong New Yorker, barely knew existed. I was only dimly aware that the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station features a Dutch gable, terracotta, Roman brick, limestone and granite ("Artist George Trakas and architects di Domenico + Partners added a stylized nautical gantry below the interior skylight"). Read in book form, this might seem dry. But packed into the back of a cool map, you want to jump into the subway and tour one's own hometown with fresh eyes.

Traveling away from home, it's helpful to have an orienting framework to start from. I'm not a fan of dashing from tourist mecca to tourist mecca, and soaking vibe from a random park bench only goes so far. These maps provide a basis for taking in a grand new city, and, really, one's basis can just as well be anything, so I treat these as geographic granfalloons. Taking in a city requires a map. And these are maps I love and trust, even if there's nary a taco recommendation.

I also own the 2020 Brutalist calendar, which itself is a brutalist artifact: squat, grey, and authoritative; as implacable as if it were built out of exposed concrete block. I'll actually put this one on a wall (previously I've only gone to that length for yucks, with industrial laundry calendars, horrid Chinese takeout calendars, etc).

As with their Craft Beer app, I find myself carried along by the evident enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. It's a magic trick, and I live for magic tricks. Order a couple of pieces and you'll see what I mean...and might even find yourself enticed into design/architecture nerdom.

Being UK-based, shipping charges can add up. Join their mailing list and you can order scads of maps whenever they offer a "free shipping everywhere" sale. Perhaps one day they'll grow to the point where they add a satellite warehouse in Omaha, and/or I can impulse-buy from Amazon.

While my interests and curiosities run broad, I'm only moderately a map guy and not at all an architecture/design person. So this is sort of like a cat endorsing a waterpark. But I find that my keenest appreciation springs when infectiousness kindles my preferences rather than vice-versa. I'm especially fond of beloved examples from realms which ordinarily leave me cold. Blue Crow Media's stuff brings that infectiousness.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The "R" Word

I like the word "retarded". This, of course, is a problem. I don't use it often, but there are situations where I feel called to invoke the voice of a jaded teen circa 1973, and nothing else gets the job done quite as well.

I know I'm not supposed to. There's a societal consensus on this, and, of course, writers and artists must always heed consensus preferences. That's our role: keep our heads down, tow the line, and stay within the bounds of politesse. Don't be bad. That's how artists roll. I get that.

But I'm not clear on the reasoning. I suppose the word is offensive to genuinely retarded people, but that usage doesn't even exist - the afflicted having been renamed - so I'm at a loss as to whom it offends, exactly. Perhaps simply non-smart people? We don't want to stigmatize low intelligence. But then why can I still say "stupid", or "moron", or "dope", or "lunatic"? Why can I freely shower my writing with "shmuck", "putz", "idiot", and "imbecile"?

I'd imagine the answer would be "Well, you shouldn't! These are highly negative, insulting and hurtful words, so they all should be avoided!"

Again, it's not that I'm not eager to diligently update my adherence to trendy social norms of expression. I just want to sensitively parse the ever-shrinking boundaries. So I have two questions:

1. Why is intelligence special? Shouldn't we proscribe "ugly", "clumsy", "untalented", "smelly", "limp-dicked", "flat-chested", and the many other terms stigmatizing deficiency and otherness?

2. Where do we draw the line? Frankly, "retarded" doesn't strike me as all that extreme ("moron" and "dope" contain far more venom). It's mostly just snide. So shall we expunge all snide speech, for example the description of a singer as "horrendously out-of-tune"? That's undeniably hurtful, no? Should she be "otherwise-tuned"?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Explaining Today's Political Mysteries

I've watched news hosts all day expressing puzzlement over why Mitch McConnell (along with 100% of Senate Republicans) is supporting release of the whistleblower complaint...and (as if they're unrelated!) the administration allowing the testimony plus promising to release the Ukraine call transcript. MSNBC's Chris Hayes "wonders whether there's some strategy at play I can't see" (he makes $6M/year, by the way).

The normally thoughtful and earnest Adam Schiff claimed they're frightened by the "big club" of impeachment. Schiff's either lying or he's dumb as a rock. I'm honestly not sure which.

Here's how this will go down. It's exactly the trap Pelosi struggled to avoid:
  • The whistleblower will testify and it will be horrific.
  • The Ukraine call transcript will be released and it will be horrific.
  • The House will impeach.
  • The Senate will acquit.
  • The way will be cleared for 2020 with Dems having shot their wad and collapsed into an impotent heap.
  • Incensed Republican voters (including suburbanites who don't love Trump, wear MAGA hats, or dream of torturing brown children) will FLOCK to the polls in 2020, energized by what seems to be an attempt to procedurally overturn their 2016 electoral will.
  • Democrats, demoralized, splintered, and still repelling moderates by raving about late term abortions, gun seizures, slavery reparations, and trillions in new spending, lose the election.
Trump and McConnell want to complete this cycle ASAP, giving themselves a nice clean environment for the election. Facilitate the impeachment, recognizing that many/most Dem voters are unaware that an impeached president faces NO CONSEQUENCES, so, without Senate conviction post-impeachment, Trump's sole punishment would be which he's psychologically immune. Some Dems do understand the process, yet still demand impeachment because emotions.

So it will happen, it will fail, and he will win. Enjoy.

Grief Survival Kit

I'm replaying this popular posting from December 2017 because I've added new writing, indented, towards the end.

This works for all forms of grieving - not just for departed loved ones. Feel free to pass it on to someone in need, or bookmark for a future moment. See also the Depression Resuscitation Kit.

To be clear, it's ok to feel sad. Grieving is natural. I'm not suggesting that we should be cold, emotionless robots. But I write this with one important assumption: that you aren't trying to fall in love with your pain. You're not using this sad moment to milk drama and stoke self-pity. You feel bad...and you'd honestly like to feel better. If so, this will help. If not, the following will upset you by minimizing exactly what you're trying to maximize! So consider carefully before proceeding.

Here's the question which you must ask yourself - relentlessly, again and again: What is real, and what isn't? Keep shaving off all the layers of untruth and drama. Slice away until you get to the real part, and then let that hurt (open yourself all the way to this pain; don't deflect it). You do not need to find fake reasons for heightening your pain. Deal with what's real.

Below are a few typical falsehoods (there are many more). They're things we've seen people saying in movies, so we have an unconscious urge to say them, ourselves. But they're just empty memes:

"Poor him/her!"
Whatever you believe regarding afterlife, your dearly departed is certainly not hurting. You can repeat "Poor him/her" ad infinitum, making yourself more and more miserable, but it's not a real thing. You're just hypnotizing yourself, and that's self-indulgence, not grief. "Poor him/her" is not true. Slice it off.

"She/he will never get to see/do X"
We, the living, miss out on things all the time. I'll never play quarterback for the Jets, and most likely none of us will celebrate our grandchildren's 75th birthdays. So what? This isn't the sort of thing we particularly sweat, so why would it be any more so for the dead? And if someone checks out at a low point, missing the happy turnaround, well, that's just normal odds! How many ecstatic peaks have you experienced? And would you have been particularly happy to have died during one them?

So young!
We all die young (at heart, we're the same person we were since we first opened our eyes; we only pretend to be grown-up). This meme, too, has to do with a person's "story", not the actual person. It's not real. Beneath the story-telling, we are ageless presences who watch stuff unfold. This, from their point of view, was just another thing that unfolded - and unfolds for each of us. It's not dramatic in any way. Don't try to make it so.

What a lousy way to go!
Accounts of gristly deaths used to really upset me. But I'm old enough now to have actually lived through some gristly stuff, and you know what? It was all just stuff. Broken bones and root canals seriously hurt! But such things don't ruin our lives. We get through them, and relief follows. Rest assured all suffering's over. It's natural to sympathize with pain, but, question: Did you sob for days when your cousin broke her ankle skiing?

I'll miss him/her.
Ok, now that's real. And that's all that's real. Everything else is just stuff you're telling yourself to heighten the drama and pain. Stay with what's real, open up to it, and let it subside, gradually, to a more manageable level. That's actual grieving, not cinema. Stay with the true!
A couple of years after I first published this, and having lost my mother in the interim, I see that there's still more falsehood to be shaved off. Even "missing" isn't entirely real.

I find myself missing her in instances where I could use guidance or an opinion...and then I remember that I can no longer turn to her for that, and feel a sense of loss and disconnection. Very sad, no? But here's the bizarre thing: I never sought out my mother's guidance. That wasn't her thing (she had other good attributes). She was never that sort of mother, even in her prime, and she hadn't been in her prime for a quarter century. Yet, every few days, I find myself crestfallen about losing something I never actually had!

We all hold a "Mother" idea (in an apron, with cherry pie cheeks and benevolent, nurturing smile) deep in the recesses of our imagination. And a "Father" and a "Child" and a "Husband" and a "Wife". They're images/ideals which may resemble the actual person only coincidentally, if at all. And since an imaginary image never dies, there's no reason to miss it. Deal with the loss of the actual person!
The impulse to torture ourselves with dramatized falsehoods has nothing to do with the departed. It's entirely about our own internal issues. Consider this: If you're this phenomenally upset about death, that can only mean life is truly amazing. So why ruin so much precious alive time with unnecessary drama? If the departed saw you doing this, they'd slap their foreheads and holler "Stop! That's just crazy! Don't do that!! Especially not in my name!" They'd want you to mourn for a while, and then go out there and kick ass, relishing every moment.

Resilience is related.

Monday, September 23, 2019

You Can't Ever Be Famous

I ran into an old friend who's a bit famous now and appears to desperately crave more fame. Unable to control myself, I offered a provocative observation.

"You can't ever be famous."

Of course, he received this in the least thoughtful way, and began to explain how, dude, he's already famous.

"Which part of you is famous, though? Your elbows? Your ear lobes? Are your armpits famous?"

He thought it over, and replied "All of me!"

"No. Not all of you. Hardly even part of you. All that can be famous is your name. The label. And you're not the label. You're a three-dimensional person with an inner life and complex backstory. You're not your nametag (weren't you you before you had a name?), and only your name can be famous."

"My name is famous because of who I am and what I've done!"

"Are you sure of that? Let me ask you something. Are you a film fan?"

"No, not really."

"Good! You've heard of Ingmar Bergman, of course."


"Have you seen any of his filmes?"


"Good! Ok, say you're at a dinner part and Ingmar Bergman turned out to be sitting next to you. Would you be excited?"

"Sure! He's a major figure!"

"So without ever having seen his work or knowing anything about him, you'd nonetheless feel eager and appreciative?"

"Lots of people who do know his work love him, I know that."

"But are you sure they do? Maybe they caught a film in college, years ago, and have utterly forgotten it...mostly remembering the mere act of remembering it. Maybe they hollowly mention his name to make themselves seem savvy. And of those who've made a serious study of Bergman, how many have really keyed in and gotten him - fully appreciating not just the movies as movies but his unique personal contribution in any deep way? Maybe a few hundred, max. And of them, how many know the actual man, beyond interviews and such? How many know what he likes for breakfast?"

"You're being ridiculous!"

"Am I? Back in the Chowhound days, I met a slew of people who recognized my name, got slightly breathless (embarrassing me at first, when I still assumed it had something to do with actual me), and then began chatting me up about, like, trendy restaurants, making it clear they had no idea of me or my work. Just the name. And the name's enough, because that's where the fame hangs; on the name.

Even those with actual familiarity rarely/never showed deep recognition beyond a sense of my voice and vibe. 99% of fame attaches to a name tag, and the remainder - the best case scenario! - recognizes an overarching vibe; an aroma. And that obviously is not who we are. That's why I say a person can't be famous."

"Well, I don't need complete appreciation. I'm happy just to have my name out there!"

"Great! But, then, I have a suggestion: Buy yourself a dozen parakeets, and train them to speak your name. You'll hear it ringing out unceasingly."
I know several mothers who trained their toddlers, early on, to rotely utter "I love you, Mommy," encouraging this behavior via standard psychological feedback actions (none was so gauche as to hand out cookies, like rewarding a dog for heeling, but they all came awfully close). The parakeet thing is not so far-fetched.

See also:
"Obama's Way (and the Dissociation of Fame)"
"Explaining Salinger"

Survival Bias, Supermodels, and Worldly Algorithms

Does everyone's worldly existence unfold according to the same rules and probabilities? The question has consumed me since childhood. If disliked people turned kindly, would they be admired? If self-destructive people took better care of themselves, would their lives be smooth? Is the world, in other words, a clean algorithm where input determines output, or do some of us experience irrevocably different results (above/beyond chance and initial circumstance)?

I once read an interview with a supermodel who claimed that her beauty stems from her inner self. She thinks positively; she cares for herself and treats other people right; she does yoga. And, voila: heart-stopping beauty. Anyone can be beautiful, she insisted, but it was easy to recognize the real message behind the platitude: the problem with the rest of us isn't genetic, it's that we're simply not doing life right. And she's not just lucky, she's better, generally. Daffy though it sounds, this is a natural conclusion from the widely-held assumption that we all share a constant input/output formula.

It's not just about beauty. There's a survival bias that makes people who've succeeded in any particular realm assume they deserve credit - and, more generally, done life correctly. You must, of course, ignore mountains of evidence: people with immense inner beauty who look like hell; people with super-smart ideas that failed; people who prayed/believed and were kicked in the ass; people with impeccable courtesy and empathy who spent their lives being sneered at; people who dieted, exercised, and thought positively and got cancer.

If the rules were constant, that would mean recluses, for example, are failures for not having done better. They clearly missed the normal marks normal people hit to get normal worldly results. If they'd adjusted their input, the output would have been more pleasing. They had the same potential as anyone, but failed to make it happen.

At this age, having known a huge swathe of people - from movie stars to crackheads, angels to murderers - and having been, myself, at least a half dozen people, plying diverse careers amid diverse circles - I can state with certainty that it's absolutely not the same for everyone. So those who've been trounced do not necessarily have no one but themselves to blame. Recluses aren't always hapless failures, and their choice might even make sense. One can't possibly understand their experience by projecting one's own. The results of identical effort vary very widely.

1. That was my first use of the word "irrevocably" in ten years of slogging. High five.

2. This was absolutely not a political treatise. I'm no kind of Marxist; I find it condescending and morally perilous in nearly all cases to lower standards for "those poor dears who simply can't keep up." That wasn't my point at all. I confess, however, that this sort of observation led me to give up Libertarianism - the favored philosophy of the smugly successful and the ultimate projection of survival bias.

3. Successful people who smugly assume they "made it happen" not only ignore the multitudinous unrewarded virtue and unrecognized talent out there. They also ignore their own copious flaws and blocks and issues. Each and every one of them, had they failed, would be ripe and abundant pickings for explaining why.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The New iPhones Feel Like iPad Nanos

I said a couple of days ago that while the new iPhones look amazing, I'd be opting for a secondhand iPhone X to replace my iPhone 7. I got a chance to try out an iPhone 11 Pro for a few days, though, and while the reception is as bad as I feared in borderline areas (it's fine if there's a strong signal), here were my other findings.

1. I have some games (e.g. PacMan 256 and Strategery) I only play on iPad, and would never think to try on a smaller-screen. But playing them on the intense, generous OLED screen of the 11 Pro was astonishingly comfortable. For the same reason, reading is much more enjoyable on the 11 Pro than on the 7.

2. Audio on the 11 Pro is incredible; totally blowing away even my iPad. I realize they compute the wazoo out it (same for the camera, which does its work much more via algorithmic calculation than lensing and aperture), and, sure enough, the processing is flagrant; nobody's idea of natural - much less audiophile - sound. But it nonetheless feels richly intimate and "wow". It blew me away.

3. After three days with the 11 Pro, I curiously don't feel disappointed returning (temporarily) to my iPhone 7. It's exactly like putting down an iPad and picking up an iPhone. The larger screen size of the 11 Pro; plus the "big-boy" sound/audio; plus the weighty heft of the thing; plus the easier readability; all contribute to make it feel much more like an iPad. It's sort of like an iPad Nano.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Irritating Aristocrats via the Provocation to Think

Readers are unhappy when I write at length. It seems like I'm indulgently running my mouth. Blah blah blah.

Yet readers also dislike dense writing. If their food isn't cut up for them, pre-masticated, and spit down their gullets, it all feels opaquely impenetrable.

The two complaints are in flat contradiction, of course (unpacking dense writing requires ample space), which has bugged me, but I finally realized I'd been overthinking it (speaking of which, have you noticed that I changed the Slog's tagline, above, a few months ago?). I learned long ago to pay little attention to people's explanations for why they do things. Stated self-explanations are usually just retroactive self-justification.

So what's being justified here? Readers don't want to make an effort, period. Lengthy writing requires effort. Succinctly dense writing requires effort. From my standpoint, I'm damned either way, but, from their standpoint, they're just not super into the whole thinking/learning thing, which makes my stuff seem exasperating.
The third way for a reader to justify disinterest in making an effort is to label anything profound, mind-bending, and/or assumption-challenging "philosophy", per the introduction here. "I'm not interested in philosophy" is a euphemism for "Don't expect me to show interest in anything beyond slickly predigested snarky tidbits."
There are two strands: 1. lazy unwillingness to input, process, and think; and 2. aversion to anything that might challenge assumptions or change minds. Re: the latter, we've reached the endgame of confirmation bias. People can only tolerate wee semantic nuggets aligning with foregone conclusions. They don't wish to to consider anything baked fresh, especially when it conflicts with prior assumptions, which feel inviolable.

It helps to bear closely in mind that everyone in the First World at this point functions as a Mrs. Howell-ish aristocrat. That's what makes our assumptions and opinions feel sacrosanct. Those things are the very foundation of me, and I am very, very special.

I'm friends with a lot of Guatemalan and Ecuadoran immigrants. They're extremely sensible and level-headed - they know how to actually get stuff done and get out of their own damned way - and not one of them displays this absurd and unearned confidence in their every assumption, conclusion, and intuition. They're not special radiating beings. They don't imagine they fart pixie dust. They're more like sincere, committed worker ants. I, too, am a worker ant, and I vehemently believe (as any sincere, committed worker ant would, I suppose) that that's the best approach and that everyone else has utterly Lost Perspective.

Obligatory reality check: Of course, it might be that my writing isn’t worth the effort. Don’t imagine for a second that I fail to seriously entertain the possibility, and use it to coax myself to do my very best. At this point, I am, for the first time in my life, mildly satisfied with the work I’m doing. And while that’s likely as high as my self-assessment can go, I remain open to the possibility that it still isn’t worth readers’ effort. Maybe I can do better!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Apple Catch-Up

Lots to catch up with, Apple-wise. I'll touch briefly upon the new iPhones, iOs 13, Apple Arcade, and the stock price:

I bought a slew of AAPL stock last January when it dropped to $145, and will sell after it levels off (I'm hoping for $250), once my purchase is a year old so I can pay low long term gain taxes. I've done this a half dozen times now; it's mostly how I pay the bills. Rinse and repeat. As I've explained a zillion times (most recently here):
The risk is that it won't recover next time - that the most successful company in the history of the world, sitting on a cash pile of $250 billion, will shrivel up and die because of some fleeting issue.

I just don't see that as a real risk. That cash 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.
iPhone 11
The new iPhones are wonderful, and will be a huge hit - especially the 11 Pro. However there's one aspect that's been mostly under-radar amid all the hype: they use weak Intel modems. These modems caused reception issues with the XR and XS, and there's no reason to expect the new models to be much better. If you're mostly on wifi, no biggie, but I'll upgrade my iPhone 7 to an iPhone X - two models back - and enjoy the good Qualcomm modem (note: some, not all, iPhone 8 and iPhone X have the right modem. Qualcomm modem phones have a model number of A1865, while ones with Intel modems have a model number of A1901). I'll buy on eBay from someone with 100% feedback, years of eBay history, and thorough photos and descriptions. I haven't gotten burned yet.

iOs 13
If you already have an iPhone or iPad, don’t upgrade to iOs13. It's buggy. Wait for v 13.1, which comes out in a week or so. Maybe even wait for 13.2.

Also, I'm a fan of the "Take Control" series of books on Apple tech, and this guide to iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 will surely be helpful. As is the screencast by the great Don McAllister of ScreenCasts Online, a service I highly recommend. Here's a preview of the iOS/iPadOS 13 screencast, which you can watch in its entirety if you sign up for a free 7-day trial.

Apple Arcade
For $4.99/month, Apple Arcade lets you play zillions of amazing games on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and/or Apple TV, with none of the in-app-purchases that have been ruining gaming. I'm normally more of an ala carte consumer, preferring to ferret out treasures one-by-one - but this is irresistible, even though I'd never play more than a small fraction (I particularly loathe super-realistic "real world" games - they're either make me hyper-aware of the cheesy shortfall, or else they're creepy in an uncanny valley way and make me wonder why I'm not just outside doing stuff). Check out this two minute supercut trailer:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Those Annoying Teens

It's odd that we knock teenagers for being sullen and moody when they're expected to remain celibate for years after puberty.

How many 30 or 40 year-olds, under a fraction of that hormonal load, could manage this while being bright-eyed delights for those around them?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Why is Deliciousness So Rare?

Why isn't deliciousness more common, considering that we finally enjoy:
  • Omnipresent availability of nearly every imaginable ingredient.
  • Immense widespread knowledge about cooking techniques once guarded as professional secrets, plus common familiarity with techniques of other cultures.
  • A public that appreciates deliciousness much more than ever (prior to the 1990's rich people dined out mostly as an expression of status and non-rich people were mostly content with basic nourishment - deliciousness being a welcome yet unnecessary parameter for both).
  • Massively advanced food science, fed by multibillion-dollar R&D budgets.
  • Food lovers no longer being considered fussy weirdos. Now that the jocks and the cool kids can be "into food", chowhounds and foodies no longer seem so ditzy.
For one thing, it seems certain at this juncture that delicious cooking doesn't scale; it can't be produced by chain restaurants. If McDonald's could offer scrumptiousness, they'd have done so long ago (wouldn't it be fantastic if McDonald's was great?). If a mid-level family restaurant chain could turn out poached chicken breast or lasagna with the ability to make customers moan with pleasure, they certainly would have. Chains can hire outstandingly talented chefs to create recipes, and leading scientists to innovate processes ensuring a faithful rendering, and yet, it's still all crap. 100% crap across the board, despite vast advances and money and science and economies of scale. It's at least edible, sure; edible drek that can be fluffed and lit and marketed to not detract from a wider brand experience. But it's drek nonetheless.
Popeye's fried chicken is pretty good, yeah, but it's more mindlessly crunchy/greasy/brain-stem-pleasurable than truly delicious. Just try any of their inert side dishes (or their cringe-inducing biscuits) to see the hard limits. Popeye's chicken seems to represent the ceiling of what's possible, quality-wise, in a large chain, and it's really not that good.

I know there are those who insist McDonald's french fries are damn good, but compare them to fries produced by a talented fry cook and I know which batch you'll ignore.
The problem is that there's no talent in the kitchen at a McDonald's or Applebee's or Olive Garden. Just low-priced drone cooks following strict procedures backed by infinite money, research, and industrial design. While it may all flow from genuine talent atop the pyramid in some industrial kitchen somewhere, even the cleverest procedures can't mass-produce deliciousness. This should have been conceded by now (instead, biz types mostly just define deliciousness down).

But while chains are a big slice of the food service pie, there are still countless venues where professional cooks cook. Alas, these mostly pretty much suck, too.

As a picky mo-fo, I'd go so far as to declare the vast majority of celebrated hipster pop-up Yelp-5-star chow more shticky than toothsome. Even the rarified top echelon of today's culinary heap, the pricy, much-lauded tasting menu temples, inevitably leave me cold. They can be extraordinarily competent, but mere competence - even diligent, meticulous competence - cannot yield deliciousness. Deep training and luxe ingredients can't make me go "Mmm", much less lose my mind. Never forget that The Sainted Arepa Lady used supermarket margarine, and I've never found a way to spend my way to her level of aesthetic devastation.

So why isn't food better? Why is deliciousness still such an aberration that its discovery gets people excited? Why are "8"s ("vocal expression of pleasure") so rare, and "9"s ("rational thought breaks down") like meteors? I've thought a lot about this, and much of it, you'll be unsurprised to hear, boils down to limited perceptual framing, i.e. perspective.

Most people in food service have been trained for consistency and competence, not deliciousness (remember Leff's Third Law!). Most food service jobs are about getting it done, not conjuring magic, which is a whole other thing. This is big reason why most food flatlines the deliciometer. In "Should You Go to Cooking School?", I wrote:
Deliciousness and competence are very different things. In any given moment, mountains of competent food are being cooked - much of it by culinary school grads - that you or I would never want to eat. That drab hotel breakfast buffet is competent. That mediocre fund-raiser chicken dinner is competent. The expensive "gourmet" catering store where everything's precious but nothing has a lick of flavor? Competent! All the grim non-deliciousness out there, comprising 98% of food service, is prepared by competent robo-chefs who literally can't remember what deliciousness is. They believe they're nailing it, because they're doing the moves they were taught, and they're doing it all correctly.

All these hacky, uninspired chefs cook drab, spiritually neutral food that is, from a technical perspective, right on the money. It's hard to stock that breakfast buffet with ninety zillion individual items! It requires the logistical and execution skills of a small army, and the chefs can be rightfully proud of pulling it off day after day. But they may never register the fact that no customer has ever clenched eyes shut, pounded table with fist, and hollered "Holy CRAP that's great!". Such an outcome is not even on their radar.
Aspiration frames your perspective, and limited aspiration functions as a constraint. In a posting titled "Framing Failure", I explained that if you don't aim higher than necessary, you'll average lower than intended:
Amateur musicians sometimes play out of tune. This is because they're trying to play in tune. If you try to play in tune, that means that when you fail (and you will fail!), you'll be noticeably out of tune.

Professional musicians don't try to play in tune. They're preoccupied with trying to play really, really in tune. So when they fail (and they will fail), they're still reasonably in tune, though not precisely enough for their standards. They'll wince, and feel like failures, but you won't hear it.

Amateurs conclude that professionals fail less; they must be trying to play in tune and consistently succeeding. Wrong. They're failing as often as anyone, but they're working within narrower tolerances. We're all failures, but they're failing well.
If you're intending to make competent quiche, you'll wind up somewhere below that - nowhere near greatness. And if you try make great quiche, you'll come out below that. Greatness only happens with unreasonably high ("better than great"!) aspirations, and even then only if there's the talent, commitment and endurance to fulfill those aspirations. Why should that be anything but rare?

Greatness is never an accident. Greatness is produced by heroically, obsessively fighting crazily far up the curve of declining results. It doesn't just "happen".

As I wrote in a posting titled "The Most Helpful Insight About Creativity":
"Shitty", "adequate", and "great" are not neighbors. Greatness is a quadrillion times more demanding; a separate realm above and beyond.
To achieve steady output at the high level of "delicious", you've got to be an absolute kook, raving and sobbing and treating your kids maybe not so nice and getting ulcers and dying young. This is not "normal."

Another way of seeing it: you can't achieve escape velocity without a shmear of the slippery, artsy-fartsy, woo-woo stuff - i.e. love,  talent, magic, touch, etc. - which I've been writing about here for years, trying to pin it down (see postings labeled "Creativity"). One of my central points is that that the process leading to that stuff isn't normal, isn't healthy, and you'd turn your head away if you were to glimpse the process. Magic is messy, not clean and prim and shiny. Never forget that Beethoven composed in a diaper.

Consider this: just opening a drably mediocre restaurant and keeping it going day after day is an exhausting experience requiring super-human perseverance (which makes even hacks mistakenly consider themselves deeply-committed artists).

Another factor: restaurateurs undervalue the importance of a chef's touch, talent, and commitment. As I wrote in "What Makes Restaurants Go Downhill?", they think of chefs as hot-swappable modules, failing to "recognize that deliciousness is the outcome not of sound management, diligent investment, and clear vision, but mostly of how lovingly the chef flips the next pancake."

See also "The Non-Linearity of Deliciousness"

See also "Why My Cooking Isn't Great", which confesses:
Why is my cooking delicious and not devastating? Because I'm merely super-hyper-mega committed, which makes me a piker. Seeing the chefs at Nudel, I instantly flashed: they could cook better than me without even trying. So why do I try so much less than they do?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Formula for Falling Asleep

Once you're in bed with lights off...

1. Un-smile your face.

2. Press your head gently into the pillow, then keep applying just the slightest downward pressure (almost none at all).

3. Imagine the minor ways your body will slump once asleep, and do that.

4. Think of a comforting object or pet or deity (just not any actual person). Perhaps your teddy bear when you were a kid, or an imaginary friend, or a departed pet, or Jesus or Buddha or whatever. If nothing comes to mind, buy yourself a rubber chicken or toy crocodile and sprawl it across your nightstand. And let's call it "him".

5. As thoughts, sensations, feelings, memories, worries, and emotions arise, outsource to "him". Something you forgot to take care of? Let "him" do it. Tight hamstrings? Let "him" fix it. Someone you're worried about? Let "him" worry. Tough problem to solve? Let "him" work on it. Bad thing someone said to you? Let him stew over it. Keep doing this unceasingly; whatever your mind or body or emotions produce, hand it over (imagine a sprawling flow chart where every contingency leads away from you and towards this central point that's not you).

Friday, September 13, 2019

Love Thy Neighbor

Two ambiguities have spurred loads of the notoriously un-Christian behavior seen among Christians.

One is that the New Testament comes tantalizingly close to expressing tolerance for other faiths. If there's only one God - as The Book affirms - that makes all believers of all stripes brothers. One literally can't go wrong! Whoever you're praying to, whatever you happen to call Him/Her, that's the dude! But then comes a plainly self-contradictory and rather dick-ish muttering: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" I visualize that part being scrawled in by some sternly uptight church father with a Sharpie. What other gods??? I thought there's only one???

Here's the other ambiguity:

Everyone assumes "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" refers to the person in the house or apartment next door. But this makes no sense. First, that would mostly just reinforce tribalism (particularly at that time, when neighborhoods were not, shall we say, super integrated), which isn't at all the vibe the teaching appears to be aiming for (nor is it necessary; humans are plenty tribal without any encouragement).

But there's another interpretation that's beautiful and inspiring and is what I'd imagine was originally intended: "neighbor" means the person who's before you at a given moment.

The Uber driver. The clerk at CVS. The drunk wobbling down the street. The Hispanic painter who works on your living room. The waiter. The imperious rich guy raging re: some perceived trivial overcharge. The beggar asking for pocket change (making you rationalize that, hey, you can't help everybody....but she's not everybody; she's your neighbor; the person before you right now). Help that person. Care about that person. At very least, humanize them (crowds are inherently anonymous, but the person next to you amid a crowd needn't be). Take responsibility for your corner of the world, moment-by-moment.

Even blasting by at 60 mph on the highway: give space and show mercy! Do what you can to make it a pleasant and safe ride for others in your corner of the world. Don't push or lag, and if you're about to miss your exit, maybe rather than scare the crap out of other drivers by lunging across lanes, go an extra couple miles to the next one (you might discover good food!).

If you take this seriously, you'll encounter the usual dilemmas experienced by the helpful. I listed a few in my quick-start guide for would-be Messiahs:
What do alcoholics wish for? Booze. Will it help them? No.
What do control freaks wish for? Obediance. Will it help them? No.
What do narcissists wish for? Attention. Will it help them? No.
What do depressives wish for? Isolated rumination. Will it help them? No.
What do victims wish for? Revenge. Will it help them? No.
"Loving" doesn't always mean giving people what they want. And a related question: how much abuse should you put up with from a stranger/neighbor? Well, I know the Christian answer, but the problem is that cheek-turning doesn't help people; it just enables their worst instincts. Cheek-turners might as well be booze-suppliers. For Christ's sake, I don't think...uh...Christ thought that part out real well. But I do love the neighbor thing.

A rare footer to a footer: Speaking of being helpful and not always giving people what they want, yesterday I saw a guy pushing his bewildered 18-month-old daughter in a shopping cart across a parking lot toward his car. When I say "pushing", I mean he was forcefully shoving the cart forward, as hard as possible, laughing, catching up, then repeating. I approached him screaming. Not because I was angry. I was angry, but that's not why I made a scene.

I could have approached him cordially, pointing out that, gee, friend, this may not be like the safest thing in the world given that cars can back out of their spaces at any moment (and aren't watching for children zooming past super-fast in runaway carts), and that carts can easily overturn, and, y'know, concussion and death and stuff. But that approach couldn't possibly spur behavioral transformation for someone so oblivious. It couldn’t have brought him the million miles from “lighthearted-fun-with-daughter” to “my-god-what-have-I-done???” Low-key feedback couldn’t traverse that vast terrain. 

The guy needed to reframe; be shocked into recognizing behavior shocking enough to draw screaming harangues from strangers. So, yup, I screamed, hard, and while he's undoubtedly stupid enough to deem me the entire problem, a dent might persist in his animal brain. Maybe, just maybe, the super fun game of flinging his bewildered toddler around busy parking lots will have been sadly ruined for him going forward ever since that asshole made a scene and embarrassed him. There are times for persuasive argument, but in matters of extreme safety, you gotta imprint.

Screaming at him, in other words, felt like absolutely the neighborly thing to do.

Expecting Damaged People to Self-Repair to Accommodate You

I'm replaying this golden oldie from August 2017. It offers a dandy example of perceptual reframing from just before I learned to fully frame reframing.

When people treat you poorly, there's a critical question to ask yourself before taking offense: do they treat themselves any better?

A plumber friend vented to me one night. He'd gone to the house of a mutual acquaintance to investigate some emergency in his basement. And the basement was a shocking killing field of cat feces and other random, fetid garbage. It was Silence-of-the-Lambs bad. He cringed as he told the story.

The plumber couldn't fathom how the guy could have expected him to walk through all that. Clean it up first! Grab a broom! Show some consideration! He felt, more than anything, disrespected.

I pointed out that the guy lives there. His kids live there. This is how they live! If he were together enough to clean stuff up and make things nice, his life would be vastly better. You can't expect him to show more consideration, diligence and effort for his plumber than he does for himself and his loved ones!

My plumber friend won't be back, but he immediately dropped his anger.

This flip of perspective doesn't come easily to me, even though I'm more conscious of it than most people. I still have to process every single situation through this filter. And I'm shocked by the frequency. This result is the rule, not an exception.

We're clearly viewing the world with a skewed perspective, not to notice this more. I think it's that we presume - against all evidence! - most people to be essentially reasonable, capable, and competent. So we punish them when their defects impact us, figuring they've lowered their standards out of thoughtless disregard.

An irrational person I know lives a fairly desperate life. When she recently managed to needlessly mess up a situation vitally important to me, I flashed with anger. Why couldn't she be reasonable?!? Well...if she could get out of her own way and be reasonable, she'd have better reasons for doing so than meeting my needs!

It’s unreasonable to expect damaged people to self-repair to accommodate you...and very many people are profoundly damaged, whether they reveal (or even recognize) it or not. Expressed this way it sounds completely self-evident; hardly needing to be stated. But I dare you to actually internalize it over time without heroic effort (and that disjoint and difficulty reflects your damage and your oblivious selfishness).

This is all really just an offshoot of Leff's Fourth Law (which, as I later conceded, was expressed way better way earlier by Napoleon).

Thursday, September 12, 2019


A hero is like a person in a dunk tank, but without the laughter and affection.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Supplemental Lesson

Yesterday, I offered a brief story worth $145,000 for its deep revelation about consumer behavior. Today's story is a companion piece, probably worth at least a few hundred bucks. But first a bit of history.

When I was three years old, I looked up at my parents and said "Smart people have no common sense". So I'm not exactly someone who's been overestimating human intelligence, having been thoroughly disillusioned around the time I'd learned to stop making poopy in my diapers. Yet every few years I need to lower my assessment even further. I constantly discover I've been overestimating.

(Fortunately, it didn't take long for me to make a much more important observation - one managed by very few people who recognize human lunacy: I myself am plenty bad and dumb and slow and deluded in my way. Spotting idiocy doesn't mean you're smart; it just means you're observant.)

We invited people to sign up for Chowhound's mailing list, but, as always, had no tech. So we asked users to send a blank email to with their email address in the subject line. We set it up this way so they could sign up addresses other than the one they were mailing from (at the time, circa 1998, many people were locked into their work addresses when emailing from work). And it would be easy for us to cull the intended addresses this way.

Question: What percentage of our users (triple filtered for smarts being computer users, early Internet adapters, and appreciators of a niche all-text web site) would you think managed to follow these directions?

I obviously can't account for those who put their sign-up address in the "To" field. But way more than 50% of the remainder put their address in the body, or didn't add it at all. Most arrived with a subject of "Sign Me Up!"

The fact that many people tend to respond to this story by saying "Duh, you made it super-complicated!" does *NOT* invalidate my point!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Obvious Connection Between My Miata and the Zombie Army

As I've mulled over my previous posting, "The Greatest Lesson Ever Taught", it occurs to me (and I just added as a postscript) that the fact that people can be thwarted by trivial impediment is surely related to the fact that most people do nothing.

My posting last year, titled "Filtering the Zombie Army", read, in part:
Most people do nothing. If they sign on, they won't show. If they pledge money, they won't pay. If you hire them, they'll sit in their cubicle and sip coffee.

You know how most soldiers never actually shoot at people? How as few as 30% perform all the kills? I've decided that this isn't a saving grace of humanistic morality. It's just another example of how most people do nothing.

I'm not saying they're lazy. I'm not saying they're liars or deadbeats. Just that they do nothing. Most people do nothing. I think of them as the Zombie Army.
The practical upshot - the thing you can count on - is this: the thing you want them to do is the thing they won't do. Even if they'd like to. Even if they really meant it when they claimed to be spunkily "all in". Most will do nothing.

The Greatest Lesson Ever Taught

You should be charged $145,000 to read the following. I'm not even kidding. It teaches virtually everything you need to know about interface, web design, consumer behavior, and customer friction; the stuff that really matters in commercial enterprise.

Earlier this year I bought a cover for my second car, an old Miata, to keep the birds from crapping all over it. It takes just one minute to easily uncover the car, and another minute to easily replace the cover after I get home.

I have not driven the car once since.

See also "Filtering the Zombie Army"

Monday, September 9, 2019

Past and Future

Talking to someone plagued with guilt over a past action, worried he'll never overcome it:

What do you suppose it will feel like to be you in the future? Try to envision how Future You will feel. Even just 20 seconds in the future! Will the future feel different? Will it feel tangibly futuristic?

Ok, and...we're there! I'm now speaking to Future You! The curtain has pulled back and here he is! So, how does it feel? Futuristic in any way? No? Same old feeling, just like always? Super-familiarly “now”, even though you're Future Man?

Let's try another. What did it feel like to be in the past? Try to remember who you were when we began this conversation. You're recalling through the gauze of memory, so Past You doesn't feel quite real; he's a bit of a ghost. Well, in 20 seconds I'm going to ask you to look back and remember this. So take stock! Do you feel ghostly?

And....20 seconds have passed. We're there! So look back. Who was that person? How did the ghostliness get in? How did the reality drain out? Is there truth to any of that? Can you directly remember it feeling like “now” then, or is the recollection more of a photocopy of the real thing? If it feels like a photocopy now, did it feel at all that way then?

Collate all this information and ponder it (if, like me, you're someone with enough curiosity to constantly reexamine the obvious). The future, looking forward, seems alien. The past, looking backward, seems ghostly, drained of real Now feeling. But actual experience never varies. It's always totally Now. It's never not now. Unquestionably Now-ish always and forever. No one has ever experienced past or future, so they’re not real. They’re intellectual constructs. What's real is right now. And now. And now. Here you are. And here you are. And here you are.

That being true, it means we always start fresh. Every moment starts fresh, with infinite potential.

See also "Baking Fresh Every Time"

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Club™

A business proposal not just for one venue, but a chain of them. This would be a mashup of a coffeeshop, a country club, a craft beer bar, and a buying coop.

People pay something like $2000/year to be in The Club™ (not quite luxury, and plenty of value offered for the price. Comparables: Amazon Prime and airline lounge clubs).

The Club™ offers:
  • A quiet reading room, way more comfortable than a coffeeshop. Great wifi.
  • A bar.
  • A cozy screening room with an impressive library of Blu-Ray movies. Reserve a slot to play your choice, and the schedule gets publicly posted so others can join if interested, with discussion afterwards (plus less formal followup in bar).
  • A small store selling, at near cost, items normally marked way up (batteries, phone chargers and cables, etc.).
  • Fun member events...quality stuff (good lectures by interesting people - draw from membership if possible - badminton and backgammon tournaments, etc).
Coffee, drinks, and light snacks are priced only moderately above cost (bartenders are strict about not serving intoxicated people). Perhaps price rises at peak times, or when occupancy rises above X level.

Beer, wine, and snacks are super well-chosen. Seating is super comfortable. Bartenders are super friendly. The film library is super thoughtful. It's all super clean and super well-run. Elite in terms of quality, not hollow status/luxury (strict quality-mindedness attracts quality members; that's how Chowhound attracted such a great, friendly, expert crowd).

No live music performances in the screening room, because local music almost always sucks, and The Club™ is all about quality.

One-time visit fee $75. Guest fee $35. 

Employees are trained to encourage introductions and friendly interaction, particularly between dissimilar members, engendering this as core The Club™ culture. Members pick this up and do likewise for new members. Social structures are far more adaptive to modeling than people realize.

Rules are strictly enforced. Members can be kicked out (and refunded). Management weeds diligently to ensure a more attractive garden (another facet of the quality-mindedness).

I'm assuming Slog readers don't need to be explained that people need a place to go besides home and work, and current choices are not quite satisfying. Also, the digital age paradoxically makes us crave personal connection and social affiliation more than ever. Yes, British clubs are fading, but the need remains, and could be served by updating the concept and sucking out the musty stodginess.

I have no idea if the numbers could work, but, if not, there's surely a way to add on one or more revenue centers without losing the overall feeling of generosity. Just for one thing, if quality-minded members are attracted, that would be akin to the Chowhound audience, so my never-implemented marketing strategy might apply. As I wrote here:
Chowhounds' appreciation of quality obviously extends beyond food. Nutjobs who trek 75 miles for slightly better muffins don't watch whichever crappy movie is on at the multiplex, and they don't buy uncomfortable socks just because they're on sale at Kmart. They don't purchase lackluster bicycles or radios, and their music collections are full of people who can really sing. These are discerning and diligent consumers, mega brand-loyal folks who not only appreciate quality, but pretty much live for it...and evangelize it!

Companies with truly good products and services would love to connect with such consumers - consumers to whom they can pitch intelligently and on-the-merits. Companies like Virgin, Apple, Aveda, Saturn, Patagonia, and anyone with a particularly high-quality, high-value product - especially the new-and-exciting - could count on chowhounds to take interest, to early-adopt, and to spread word with ferocious passion. Where else can one find an audience so precisely tuned for that? It's a rare occurence, because such people, like cats, resist being gathered.
Would club members likely roll their eyes at a demo of new Tesla or Apple tech? Would they ignore really interesting and intelligent pitches re: genuinely cool things before film screenings, and on wall-mounted monitors?

While I'm not expert re: physical plant issues, I'd imagine you could repurpose franchises out of defunct hotels, gyms, etc.

Saturday, September 7, 2019


Addressing the remaining stragglers (per the intro here, the Slog's perceptual framing jag has thrilled most readers into a walking ovation) - more specifically, the three of you actually pondering the framing issue - here's an enlightening question to ask yourself:

How hard is it to forgive?

If your answer is "not so hard!", great! But play with the slider. Consider worse behavior and more toxic people. Dig deeper into your dark memory. Is there a point where you must acknowledge that, gulp, yeah, sure, that person might be a little harder to forgive?

Thousands of words can be encapsulated into one counterintuitive - yet undeniable - observation. And let me insist in advance that I'm right. You'll know I'm right, deep down. So the exasperated "WTF" you're about to experience is the sensation of your assumptions scraping against the truth. Ok, here goes. Brace positions, everyone!

Forgiving the most egregious people is just as easy as flipping to the other view here:

It's that easy. It's always been that easy.
There are reasons people become who they are and do what they do. Genetic reasons. Psychological damage reasons. Inability to handle fear or anger or other impulses. More than anything: frozen perspective. It doesn’t have to do with you. Nothing anyone does really has much to do with you. People are strapped tightly into their private cinematic experience, and you’re a mere blip on their screen. They don’t talk to you so much as to the “you” in their heads: an avatar; a caricature; a two-dimensional cartoon with your name attached, like a voodoo doll. Unlike them, you’re not locked mercilessly into a movie. You’re free to reframe. You have psychic room to less than the blink of an eye. You can forgive the best, the worst, the whole damn lot, just like that! Forgive the thoughtless slights and the brutal clobbers. They know not what they do. You can do it right this instant, preferably with feeling. It'd be infinitely more useful than reading further!

I don't like citations in general (if your point isn't persuasive on its own, corroboration from some authority won't convince me much), and I'm even less into biblical citations (as I once explained, talk of "god" strikes me as the worst sort of name dropping). But I'll just throw in one more: Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you and persecute you. It's not about dry saintly self-denial; quite the contrary, it's about asserting control over your world via a framing choice; a shift of perspective - a perceptual flip - out of ugly bondage and into beauteous freedom; out of Hell and into Heaven (this is how to “be the change” you’d like to see on the world. Someone must go first!). It’s the most gleefully libertine pivot one can make; more tequila and Corvettes than hair shirts and nun habits. More Bugs Bunny than Joan of Arc. You can reframe this most puzzling of biblical injunctions as being entirely about framing!

It's probably best to think about the above for a while (perhaps a long while) before reading on. Maybe actually try it. Playfully, like a child teaching herself to wiggle her ears.

Forgiveness and humor are two of the easiest manners of reframing. Both feel great and leave you unburdened (what gets us down in this life can always be traced back to a frozen perspective - inner choice, not outer outcome). Yet some people are too stuck to participate in humor (or at least they draw a line beyond which things are definitely not funny), while forgiveness is downright rare. Many of us are too stuck to forgive much of anything, ever.

Yet both can occur in a fraction of a nano-second (less, actually; unlike cognitive thought, reframing happens instantly, which seems to indicate it happens beyond the physical universe...but that's a whole other issue). The mental effort required is precisely zero. We may have convinced ourselves that it's hard, but, again, the only resistance is our own needlessly frozen perspective.

I once forgave the world utterly in a chain reaction that became all-encompassing...and have never been the same. This reframing is as effortlessly and instantaneously available as any other flip of perspective. Easy peasy! We have infinite options. We just forget.

If you prefer not to forgive - if you don't want to feel great and recognize that you have a great life in a great world - that's perfectly okay. We're not all blue pill people; most of us choose to go along with the foggy dream logic. And that choice makes sense, given that we're all here to immerse in a movie; to pretend to have highly dramatic experiences within overarching stories. It's understandable to not want the show interrupted. A kid banging away on his Game Boy™ would rather not be tapped on the shoulder and reminded "it's just a game!" But just remember: you do have a choice. And it is very, very not "hard".

Friday, September 6, 2019

Nth Attempt to Remind Everyone We're in Utopia

The following partial list of Utopian improvements we enjoy here in the future previously appeared in a posting from earlier this year. It was buried under a slew of tweets I'd embedded by Tom Nichols, who trollishly enjoys challenging perpetually outraged people on Twitter to reframe perspective and recognize the Utopia they're in. He’s especially savage with people who insist things are getting worse. 

Nichols does this better than I do (so I'd urge you to read the posting above and to follow him on Twitter), but the list I came up with was pretty good, so I've rerun it below. Note that I took a more wordy approach to the issue in a recent posting, "Did You Miss the Part About How We're in Utopia??". And I once took the time to explain why people don't want to be in Utopia, which explains why many of us deem this Utopia a hellscape. Things seem worse as things get better because we've lost all perspective, and the recognition of this stems from clear thinking, not mindless optimism.

Cars never stall (i.e. they “just work”), don’t need to be warmed up, are almost never broken into, and last twice as long.

No gross haze of leaded fuel fumes and cigarette smoke.

It’s vanishingly unlikely you’ll ever be punched in the mouth, even if you’re an insufferable asshole.

Most people are anti-war, whereas that was once a weirdo minority with a semi-derogatory title: “pacifists” (when was the last time you even heard the term?).

The experience of “getting lost” feels like a freaky, outrageous edge case. I used to spend as much time dealing with being lost as I did trying to hunt down facts at the library or looking for a payphone (or for change for the payphone).

Television is a vast portal of endless rich inspiration.

Nobody gets headaches anymore (since bottled water). We were absolutely plagued with them before (I don't mean migraines).

Food that’s better than basic nourishment for under $$$, and waiters who don’t scowl if you’re not wearing expensive shoes.

Sushi; spicy food; espresso and lattes; organics; and authentic Thai, Mexican, and Chinese.

All human knowledge, media, products, and music plus infinite free worldwide communication on a slab of glass in your pocket.

Nice wood floors; not always crappy synthetic carpeting everywhere.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Gun Safety Laws, Mass Shootings, and the Iraq Invasion

I'm re-upping this posting from October, 2015.

I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain the right to the left (I'm myself near the center - a pox on both their houses, etc. - which gives me some perspective). Here are my previous efforts at right-whispering (this one is a good start).

I hate guns. All they've ever done is maim my loved ones. But I've lived in urban and suburban areas, where they're not part of a legitimate culture. If it were up to me, we'd melt them all down, but I recognize (and am apparently rare in the recognizance) that we share the country with other cultures and values, which deserve consideration and compromise.

Whenever these mass shootings happen, many people, understandably, advocate for tighter gun control. But the more intelligent, less emotional voices on the other side make good points:

1. There is nearly one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US. So "lots of guns" is a given for the foreseeable future. It's politically unfeasible (not to mention unconstitutional) to take firearms away from their lawful owners; so any proposal hinging on the need to meaningfully reduce guns is daft. If the mass shooting problem is to be addressed, it must be done with the assumption of a landscape flush with guns as a given, whether we like it or not. That's not a right wing talking point; it's common sense.

2. The crazies will always find access to guns. We can try to tighten their access a bit (mostly to the inconvenience of non-crazies), but crazy people tend to be, if nothing else, persistent. And further stigmatizing and segregating the mentally ill would be no solution (who among us, for one thing, is completely mentally well 24/7?).

3. I'm no expert, but I gather that current gun-control/safety proposals would likely have prevented scant few of the mass-shootings we've seen in recent years. This point seems well-conceded by pragmatic voices on the left.

To me, that last one is pretty convincing. Since it's already unlawful to kill innocents with guns, further legislation needs to be very smart. Or else it can simply fulfill a kneejerk desire to "do something". But good government oughtn't work that way, and, alas, no one claims to have the smart answer. Leaders shouldn't simply flail, even amid horror.

Let me be clear: every single gun safety law I've heard about makes abundant good sense to me. I'd love to see them all implemented! The gun trade is horrendously under-regulated, and most Americans are sane enough to recognize that we need to tighten them. But none of them would prevent the shootings we're seeing. These solutions wouldn't fix the problem.

That's why the right is outraged by seemingly common sense proposals. Remember after 9/11, when neoconservatives seized the opportunity to invade Iraq, a long-time to-do item for them - for reasons completely unrelated to 9/11? And do you remember how the rest of us screamed our heads off about exploiting tragedy to pursue unrelated political aims? That's how the right feels when liberals renew pushing for gun control (always on their to-do list) after these tragedies, when those laws wouldn't prevent these sorts of tragedies any more than Saddam's demise would have prevented 9/11. It's not that they're against gun safety. It's that they've spotted the misdirection, and it gets their backs up.

Another thing to remember: anytime you hear astronomical statistics on American gun violence cited by the left, know there's a catch. Suicide accounts for way more than half of it - though it's seldom noted by gun-control advocates. So it's not just the right who bugger statistics and blur fact. Dissemblance makes people mistrustful, and mistrust explains why sane conservatives, otherwise inclined to gun safety laws, push back so hard against them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Software Problems, Gastric Reflux, and the Cult of Eschewing Blueberry Yogurt

If there's a replicable problem with some software, no problem! You write to the developer, reporting that when you hit the button while pressing the key the duck's supposed to quack, quack. The developer tries it himself, and is able to replicate your replicable problem. The bug is squashed, and presto. All fixed!

But some problems are intermittent. You search for a reliable trigger, and the developer struggles to determine the source, but it's all maddeningly unpredictable. Essentially random! Over time, a few dozen, or hundred, or thousand, or million people come to share your anguish, all searching for a cause and a workaround. This can persist for years, even decades.

As a wonky Mac nerd, I've watched this scenario unfold in online forums hundreds of times. The exact same patterns predictably appear each time.

There are the moralists. They, themselves, are not experiencing the problem, which clearly means the others have only themselves to blame. They're morons who are using their computers wrong. Right-users are just fine.

Then there are the drones who offer the same mindless, rote bundle of suggestions for any unexplainable problem. It makes them feel/seem smart, and hey, it might help (this mindless scattershot approach is like asking everyone in a bar to sleep with you on the odd chance someone says yes). Repair permissions! Zap the parameter ram! Reinstall your system software! Clean your keyboard with a Q-Tip and isopropyl alcohol! Folks take the day off from work to diligently work down the list, and not once in the history of computing has it ever fixed a widely-experienced intermittent problem.

Eventually religions form. Human minds cannot tolerate randomness. We resourcefully find some sort of order in even the most staticky white noise. This is what humans do; what we've evolved for (among other things, it makes conspiracy theories attractive). We need to know, and if we don't know, and can't know, we'll concoct some flimsy explanation and make ourselves believe it, religiously, even if the theory keeps disproving itself.

Someone announces that they've finally found The Answer. If you press the button seven times, turn up the volume then turn it back down again, fluff your pillows and eat a danish, then restart your computer twice in 17 second intervals, that seems to work!

Others will follow these arcane instructions and, praise cheeses, find blessed relief. Why? Because intermittent problems are intermittent, which means literally anything you do seems to fix it. Thus a cult is formed, and, like any incipient religious movement, it will reflexively disregard contrary evidence. Yes, the problem came back, but I might not have waited exactly 17 seconds. Also, it's raining. Anyway, it's better now, but there's some other x-factor we haven't quite pinned down.

Meanwhile, other religions arise, offering various incantations and mythologies. Leff's Law of Intermittent Software Problems: the moment when the most people are the most confused is inevitably the moment of the greatest unflinching certainty that it's all been pinned down (non-coincidentally, this is also Leff’s Law of Religion).

Gastric reflux is notoriously hard to pin down. Droning doctors will hand you a long list of things to try doing (and to not do). The scattershot approach. No one in the history of reflux has ever been fully fixed by following these rules. Meanwhile, moralists who don't have reflux will tell you (however politely) that you're fat and slovenly and eat poorly; that you're an alcoholic and a general moral failure.

As you dive into online discussion, you'll find a rich array of religious cults built around reflux. You may even create one yourself! "I've figured it out!" you'll at some point announce. "Blueberry yogurt! That's the problem! When I eat blueberry yogurt, I get reflux, and when I don't, I'm fine!"

Lots of problems here. First, "always" getting reflux means it happened twice (three times, tops). And since you don't eat blueberry yogurt all the time, and don't get reflux all the time, odds are high that on any given day you won't eat blueberry yogurt and you won't get reflux, giving a false impression of success. What's more, you're not factoring in all the times in the past when you've eaten blueberry yogurt without a problem. That's not a tabulation you've been running all these years because it's not super interesting. I've probably scratched my left ear twelve million times without triggering a migraine.

Here's how you really get roped in: Amid the vastness of the Internet and its infinite typing monkeys, you'll discover 4 or 5 or 26 fellow travelers who also believe that blueberry yogurt is the answer. Sweet corroboration! This evidence locks in your conclusion, and a new congregation has formed: the cult of eschewing blueberry yogurt.

Faith will soon be tested. On some days without blueberry yogurt, you'll still get reflux (but NOT AS OFTEN!!!!). On some days without reflux, you will have eaten blueberry yogurt (a FLUKE!!!! There's also an X-FACTOR!!!!). These results would challenge the faith of non-believers, but you are fervid, standing by your conclusion while acknowledging that the problem is subtle and multi-faceted. However: you're making progress in sussing out the full truth!

The intermittence of the problem has sucked you in. It's like a reverse slot machine that pays out continuously and briefly stops once in a while. No matter what you do, you'll feel smart - you're doing it right! - most of the time. Each new move feels like it's working, while every queasy bout feels like some nagging x-factor you've not quite closed in on.
In a bullish market, day traders feel like geniuses, because the overall rising market proves every move wise. But markets always dip!
Progress seems to be made. Most of the time you feel good! Hard-won insight like the blueberry yogurt revelation has helped a lot! If you’d made even a cursory effort to track and log your condition - nobody does! - you'd observe that the outcome has always been more or less constant. Nonetheless, we're getting on top of this thing. We're all considerably above average.

Intermittent problems are the big peril with refurbished tech. Easily detected, well-understood problems will generally be addressed, but items may be returned due to intermittent issues, and there's no protocol for checking/fixing them because they're inherently hard to detect (much less repair). Of course buying new is also a risk, but I'd imagine that returned items turned around via refurbishing tend to have a greater frequency of such issues.


I recently sent a pep talk to a grieving friend, but he took it the wrong way.

I replied:
It may seem like I imagine myself to be preaching from a position of imaginary superiority. But that’s 180 degrees wrong.

I imagine myself beaten, bloodied and sprawled on the tarmac, but finding, to my shock, my equanimity perfectly intact. This makes me the prophet of blithe failure, of worse-case scenario, compelled to deliver to those consumed by comparatively trivial injury the good news of what’s actually possible (i.e. freedom and delight despite the cinematic appearance of things and the neurotic compulsion to judge the current moment by what's missing). If I can coax you into occupying my perspective and feeling reassured for even a moment, the disquieting course which tempered this equanimity will have been worth it!

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that it all boils down to a vanishingly tiny magic trick that I hadn't realized others don't recognize as perpetually available: the ability to lithely reframe. By simply remembering that you can always shift perspective (even while fraught or furious), the prevailing drama loses its grip, revealing stress and suffering to be self-induced and strictly optional.

Bona fide problems are exceedingly rare. When they occur, they're immediately acted upon in the moment. If someone ran into your room right now shooting a rifle, you wouldn’t think about it. You'd dive under the furniture without stopping to weave it into your perennially lousy luck or any of the other pain points you've been mentally curating. Real problems needn't metastasize into burdensome stories.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Bemused Bullshitting Colorful Characters Are Not the Enemy (though shouldn't be president)

For previous efforts to explain seemingly inexplicable right-wing behavior (a centrist can explain much better than partisans can!), see postings labeled "right whispering", including this one drawing an interesting connection between left and right hypocrisy on guns and abortions.

Check out this 45 second video:

I know this guy. Not this specific guy, but guys like him. I myself am a guy like him. He makes me feel comfortable.

What he's saying is utter bullshit, obviously. But notice his sardonic grin and deliberately doofy body english. He knows he's riffing colorfully. I mean, he's leaning into it, making himself believe it, but he's 75% grinning and bullshitting....while the rest of Twitter judges and scolds like craggy schoolmarms. Bunch of tight-assed colorless killjoys.

He's being "a character", and thank goodness for characters. I don't want to live in a society composed entirely of smoothed-out corp-bots. Guys like him add color to this giant collaborative art work we're all engaged in here on this planet. More power to him.

That said, I don't want him to be president.

Not because he's dumb (I don't think he's dumb), and not because he's full of shit (I do think he's full of shit), but because he's not qualified. Thing is, I'm positive he's deadly rational and pragmatic and even superior when it comes to inventorying warehouses or installing dry wall or running a small business, or whatever he did in Beantown before moving to Florida. There's stuff he's super good at, but with other stuff, he's a bit loopy. Just like you and me! Reader, would you care to riff on-camera about pork belly futures or geosynchronous orbits or the history of talcum powder production? And try to be entertaining and provocative? Give me 45 secs on those topics, and let's see how you do! You'll sound like him.

Predictably, Twitter is calling him a dimwit, a fool, and much worse. They don't recognize that he is just like them - competent in his area of competency, but a bemused riffer on all else. He knows stuff you and I don't. He just has a different bundle of know-how. The world works because we're all specialists in our bundle. It's a feature, not a bug.

But if he were to feel the brunt of the Twitter tsunami of harsh condescension, he'd surely brew up some reciprocal loathing. Bemused bullshit would condense into seething ire. And condescension-fueled seething ire is at the route of our current socio-political predicament. I hang out in rural Texas a lot. I like it there. And the question I'm most often asked is "do people in New York really hate country people like us?" (I recount one such recent conversation here). If you're a liberal urbanite who feels disliked and disrespected by your red state counterparts, consider how you think/talk about them!

Much as I like this guy, and am this guy, I don't want him to be president, because it's not his key competency. But in 2016 a bemused bullshit character snuck into that office as a fluke; a performative protest against an unlikeable seemingly inevitable victor. Horrible for the country, for sure, but, hey, that's how democracy works; all elements get a shot. And the bemused bullshitting characters who bemusedly voted for one of their own (I'm not talking about the rabid cultists) have since developed seething ire at our merciless condescension re: them and their choice - their sacred franchise to do as they wish with, even flippantly.

Thus bemusement condenses and eyes blind to the calamitous results of a bemused electoral choice. "Hey let's shake the dice" curdles into "Seriously, fuck y'all" after a couple years of being screeched at and deemed racist monsters. Folks unsurprisingly don't enjoy that. It makes them stick more tenaciously with their bemused bullshitting choice. They make themselves really believe in it. Loopy colorful bemusement easily hardens into "fuck y'all" dead seriousness.

This, I believe, describes and explains the lifecycle of this predicament. Or at least reframes it (and the more we reframe, the more clearly we see and understand, so I make it my task to endlessly seek out and try on alternate perspectives).

BTW, If you could read through that without concluding that I assume him to be a Trump voter (fwiw I have no idea), that places you in the top 99th percentile of reading comprehension. Humanity has seemingly lost the ability to parse parallel comparisons.

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