Thursday, February 27, 2020

Another Juicy Apple Bargain

So Apple is down 16% from its recent high. Corona virus is a legitimate economic factor that will absolutely affect its bottom line (Apple stores are already low on iPhone batteries). The stock price must crater. A company can't face tangible adversity and not have its price go down.

So what's the chance it never recovers to $327? The corona virus will eventually abate, and, all things being equal, Apple will return to printing money and dominating the market. But of course all things aren't always equal. Any number of freak things might prevent Apple from ever regaining its former position. $275 may turn out to be its new cap; it may never rise from here. In fact, it may finally settle, permanently, a bit lower.

If so, and if you'd bought shares now, you'd fail to profit. Perhaps lose a little. Disappointing, but certainly not a disaster scenario. It's also unlikely. Most likely is you'd make an easy 16% on your money if you're patient to wait for the nearly inevitable recovery. And 16% is great! Try finding a non-speculative pathway to an easy (if not certain) 16% gain! Try finding one with as little downside risk as this!
Complicating things, you won't want to sell for a year (to avoid high capital gains taxes) and it could recover and then fall yet again by then. So timing's uncertain. But, either way, your most likely risk - which, again, is unlikely - is failure to profit. That's not much risk.
But what's the risk that from here the company tanks into toastville, never ever recovering, and rendering your investment worthless? Very, very low, as explained here. This would be the bad outcome, and it's vanishingly unlikely. You're betting on a blue-chip stock, the most profitable company that's ever existed, with over $200 billion-with-a-"b" cash on hand. Some nest egg!

I can't imagine why a person wouldn't buy here. I will, and will buy more if it drops further. And I will be patient. After all, I won't need recovery for at least 12 months! And if corona virus drives it lower, well, that just sweetens the deal for buying more.


I may wait a couple days to see whether it dips much lower, but my greed will likely force me to pay more. Markets are efficient. Everyone knows "corona virus is bad", that's why the stock dipped. Everyone knows it might dip more, that's why it already dipped a lot. Any smart thought you or I could possibly have about this situation was baked in to the stock price long before we even thought it. We shrimpy little shrimps enjoy only one edge: a patient long view (framing!).

Update: sure enough, in the time it took me to write this, it went from $273 to $284!

Are You Sure You'd Want to be Famous?

First of all, a person can't be famous, as I argued here.

But if you've read that and still dream of fame - i.e. to hear your name uttered widely, with or without the use of trained parakeets - then consider this.

I'm quietly friends with a major Twitter celebrity. You've likely heard of him. He's really, really, no, really busy and overextended, and I understand what that's like, so I pretty much leave him alone. I know he won't come to me much; I go to him, and only infrequently. If I delight him, he’ll return the best he can offer: a nano second of attention in the form of some ragged snatch of communication that sounds like it was composed in a war zone but contains a faint but detectable degree of Personal Touch that, from him, required herculean effort. It's the equivalent of a normal person cooking an ambitious banquet for your entire family, or shoveling your driveway after a blizzard. Everything's relative.

We're friends because we're both no-bullshit and we both Know Stuff. We'd never insult each other by expressing the obvious. I send him chancy stuff that would infuriate most people. Candid advice, feeder ideas, and criticism when he screws up, e.g. needs to work his stuff more diligently because frantic pace skewed his judgement.

I'm the only one who does this for him, and he appreciates it especially because of (not despite) the fact that I do so extraordinarily tersely and bluntly, respecting his time. His vast ocean of peeps indiscriminately adore everything he says or does, and he's smart enough to see the danger. I get it, and he gets that I get it. We have an understanding.

Some time ago, I sent a missive, and he didn't reply. He never doesn't reply. Like most super-saturated people, he usually gets back in milliseconds. It's the only way to stay ahead of the tidal wave. But this time...nada. I figured my message got past him. There's a point where even friends get filtered. I get it. But a few weeks later, I sent another and heard nothing. And I concluded that our friendship was over.

Perhaps I'd been overly blunt. Or he'd grown tired of the straight talk. Or I simply stopped being a person who passed his ever-tightening process of human triage. No problem. But I certainly wasn't going to try a third time. I'm not the most prideful person, but I am way too cool to join the mob of fans frantically vying for attention.

I was wrong, it turned out, though I only found out accidentally (again, he's not someone who's, like, checking in much). From his perspective, he just missed a couple emails. C'mon, man, I'm overwhelmed. You know this. Don't be so quick to give up! I thought we were friends!

He's right. But so was I. From my perspective, our friendship was already squishy. A real friend is someone you can send random goofy crap to and they'll put up with it, not someone keeping you (intentionally or not) on tenterhooks re: justifying precious access via judiciously infrequent extra-succulent offerings. Such a friendship seems tenuous to begin with, so if you throw in a couple non-replies, geez, what's left, really?



When Chowhound hit big, and I got mega-slammed, I stopped engaging in much goofy stuff. I grew terser, and became spottily incommunicado with friends, who were hair-trigged to assume I'd evolved into some unfathomable higher-level thing, ala Gary Lockwood in Star Trek. 


Depending on their own insecurity levels, I was somewhere between "Busy doing his thing and no longer accessible; oh well, g'bye!", or "The jackass who thinks he's too good for the likes of me." Few emailed a second time after non-reply, and none a third. They felt, understandably, too cool to join the mob of fans vying for my attention, so they "took the cue" and walked away. All are long gone. Some might be prodded to uneasily come out for a beer or a bite, exactly once, from sheer lookie-loo curiosity (maybe I'd show up in a Bentley with a uniformed driver or whatever; handing out shiny nickels to adoring children and evading paparazzi). But they've all moved on. It was a shock to discover this upon finally leaving CNET, with, at long last, some free time. Ready to hang out. Hey, where is everybody?

How'd you like everyone you know, and nice people you'd want to know, to be hair-triggered to walk away forever if you ever missed a text or two? Everyone else gets away with it. But if you're the least bit well-known, every move seems significant. You appear to send messages via your actions and inactions. One communications slip-up and folks feel dismissed and cross you off their list. And, of course, the tumult of fame (even the Z-list minor-league celebrity I once experienced), plus whatever blood-sucking monster generates your notoriety, ensures plenty of slips. Way more slips than most people. So many slips.

So are you sure you'd want to be famous?


By the same token, if you're famous and are the least bit not-totally-friendly-and-engaging to anyone anywhere ever, you'll forever be stamped as That Asshole. Other people can have bad days, but when eyes are tightly upon you, it's like NASCAR. They're watching and waiting for a bloody crash. They're thirsty for it. This is why big time celebs do that cheery hand wave and jump in the limo. Fans give them the willies.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Yet More TV Tips

For prior TV tips, see postings labeled "Television", duh.

Alan Sepinwall, now at Rolling Stone, is the best TV critic. He does episode-by-espisode recaps for some of these shows.

Justwatch tells you where practically any movie or TV series can be streamed, for free or for charge (interface problem: you need to choose "Movies" or "TV Shows" after initiating a search, when it looks like results don't include your search term).


Mr Inbetween
Just completed second season on FX (you can probably find on-demand)
Season 1 streams at Hulu
People aren't cartoons. People can be lots of things at the same time. The guards at Auschwitz went home every night to their families, and some were surely loving and lovely spouses and parents. The Sopranos felt fresh because never before had we seen villains as just people. But even the Sopranos was light brushstrokes and heightened drama and a bit broad. Show biz. So the creator/star of Mr. Inbetween tried to go all the way and produced a dead-realistic, thoughtful, non-judgmental portrait of a hit man who's a real human being (and great dad) who - like all of us - isn't entirely defined by his day job. It's not some cheap manipulative play of making us like/dislike the guy. And, no, he's not "trying to get out", because he's good at it. The whole thing is subtly superb and hugely entertaining. I can't recommend it enough.
The New Pope
HBO, now playing
I haven't actually seen this, but I recently rewatched "The Young Pope" (pretty much the same show in its first season) in preparation, and it was even better than I'd remembered. Profound and profane, surreal and earnest, sumptuous and earthy, and generally as elusive as a greased pig, it's not for everyone, but I consider it a mesmerizing and surprisingly deep masterpiece ala The Leftovers. And word is The New Pope is equally good.
Shakespeare Uncovered
PBS, done
Stream season 1 on Amazon Prime; buy seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon or Apple iTunes
I've started writing at least five postings about this series, but I can't quite crack the code of what makes it tick. I'll be brief: Everyone - everyone - has the idea of making Shakespeare accessible. Only this show actually does it. A big part of it is that they don't actually show the damned plays, with their archaic language, corny-seeming drama, and jokes and references opaque to anyone not wearing a bow tie. The "way in" is by having a different well known actor host each show, having selected his favorite play, and passionately explaining why, via unstilted personal language, and using a decent BBC budget to set mood. If Shakespeare always feels like vitamins to you, watch this (I particularly recommend "King Lear: with Christopher Plummer, "Hamlet" with David Tennant, and "Henry IV/Henry V" with Jeremy Irons). You'll have better luck with DVDs from UK Amazon. Best of all, cast a DVR "net" by setting a series record order and snaring occasional reruns on PBS.
Better Call Saul
AMC, now in penultimate season
Better than Breaking Bad.
McMillion$
In the middle of six episode miniseries on HBO
Yet another sensational true crime deep-diving miniseries. Who has time? But this, about a scam that intercepted practically all the big winning tickets in McDonald's Monopoly promotion, is an awfully good one, crammed with color and momentum. Good accompanying podcast, too.
Bojack Horseman
Netflix, now complete
You don't need me to tell you about this, but the last season's super good again.
Homeland
Showtime, now in final season
Everyone I know stopped watching Homeland soon after its sterling first season. The producers still keep shamelessly returning to an easy bag of tricks (Saul just got kidnapped yet again! I'm not even spoiling you, because that's obviously what happens to National Security Directors!), Claire Danes still Emmy-cries a lot while quivering her Emmy chin, and nothing makes a damned lick of sense, so don't think too hard. But you know what? It's the most entertaining show on TV. I don't mean hyperactive, I don't mean blowing-up-stuff. It just draws me in magnetically, and the reverse attraction of the showboating, repetition, plot holes, and illogic are nowhere near sufficient to repel me.
Succession
HBO, now on hiatus between Season 2 and 3
Probably the best show on TV. About a billionaire media baron family (nodding vaguely toward the Murdochs). Everyone's a dork or a prick - but also three dimensional and real. The repartee's breathtaking, you're brought to places you've never seen, the acting and writing are remarkable and multi-layered, and it's got every bit of the entertainment magnetism of mixed-bag Homeland. After each episode, thousands of us cluster on Twitter like dazed acolytes, endlessly repeating the best lines and plot points to each other. And I'm totally not usually that guy.
Rick and Morty
Adult Swim, currently in some weird holding pattern within Season 4
First three seasons on Hulu
Whole episodes from Seasons 3 & 4 free on Adult Swim's web site
The smartest, funniest, densest television show ever, by a wide margin. If you need to know about it, you surely already do.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Identification via Grouping

Believe the women! A woman would never lie, because women are honest and women are good. In fact, women are awesome, and that's why we need more women politicians. The men have really messed things up, as they always do, am I right? Time for something different! Time for a woman's perspective!

This is the trendy approach to victimized groups: "You say xxxx people are unworthy? Well, I say they're AWESOME!" Awesomeness, for some reason, strikes us as a precursor to equality and justice. It never works that way, but the fallacy is baked into many people's thinking.

Let me step out of my white middle aged ogre role for a moment and slip on a skullcap so I can go all Jewy (from ogre to awesome in one smooth gesture). Jews aren't awesome. Nor are we a scourge. Jews are just people. So while my "about-to-get-my-ass-kicked" apprehensions peak when folks start screaming "Round up the Jews, schnell!", statements like "Those people are SO GREAT WITH MONEY" come an awfully close second.

Of course that's a cliché, and we know to steer away from the old clichés, even if they seem positive. No woke American would ever flatter me with "great-with-money", or tout women's intrinsic expertise with housework. Those are BAD compliment clichés that make you BAD.

But fresh blanket clichés? Totally welcome! Women are more virtuous, more honest. Less of that TESTOSTERONE, you know? Of course, that doesn't make them passive, oh no. Women are WARRIORS. We need female soldiers on our front lines, because there's NOTHING a man can do that a woman can't! Except, that is, for lying, messing things up, and the rest of toxic masculinity. Mind you: women are NO DIFFERENT....aside from their sterling honesty and overall awesomeness. They're simply BETTER. And NOT DIFFERENT. And BETTER.

Sigh. Listen. No group is great or horrible. Groupings just don't work that way (unless, of course, you're specifically grouping for quality). "WOMEN SUCK" and "WOMEN ARE AWESOME" both stem from the same mistake. Extreme sexists/racists and extreme anti-sexists/racists actually think much alike (the Taoists nailed it with the observation that extremes inevitably morph into one other).

The big problem at the root of all this "-ism" stuff is fixation with group difference. Staunch avowal of superiority is just more of that pointless fixation. Jews aren't this or that. We can be terrible with money and we can eat wheelbarrows full of pulled pork (mmm....wheelbarrows full of pulled pork!). Most groups are ultimately granfalloons; arbitrary affiliations that don’t mean all that much.
My mind boggles, for example, when people talk about "The African-American Community", as if melanin were a basis for community. I'm just one guy, and the range of African-Americans I've known is far too vastly diverse for any meaningful bundling. However, a thin internal voice calls to us, whispering "C'mon...you know what it means. You know what black people are like. Don't pretend you don’t!" But that voice is the very epitome of racism! The "African-American Community" is a racist construct built by extreme anti-racists for political expedience. It's so horribly twisted up.
If you tell me how terrific it is that I'm Jewish, I don't care whether you use old ditzy clichés or brew up new ones. I know what you're focusing on, and it's not a healthy place to fix your attention, because I am not definable by ethnic/racial grouping. That's the basis for the whole problem: people can be categorized in so many ways that any one label is uselessly superficial at best.
I read Jim's blog because Jews sure are witty!
Transcending identification-via-grouping ought to be the goal. Statements like "Women don't lie" are not only absurd on the face of it (have you met women? So far as I know, every one of them is human in species, and humans lie their asses off). It's sexism in its purest form: again, identification by grouping.
I get it. There are legitimate goals to pursue; violence and injustice to eliminate and wrongs to right. But the ends don't justify the means. If you bugger truth to pursue your goal, any victory will be pyrrhic. Time after time we fail to learn this lesson.
Flattering labels don't make your labeling fixation okay. Blanket effusion doesn't make you super-extra non-sexist/racist. It doesn't work that way. You can't inoculate yourself against assholery by becoming the antithetical asshole (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?). Why not try seeing people as multifaceted individuals?

As I wrote in "A Case Against Empowerment",
The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. And the opposite of being a discriminated-against minority isn't becoming an empowered minority, it's pluralism. Boring old pluralism.
"Empowerment" language just heightens the preoccupation with labels and groupings. Furiously rambunctious monomaniacal figures like Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton set back the arrival of a Barack Obama more than they helped. No one voted for Obama because BLACK PEOPLE ARE TERRIFIC. That line of thinking never leads where people imagine it will.

Similarly, after decades of gay rights being championed by in-your-face dudes defiantly flaunting their nipple clamps, boring gay people made a measured case that everyone should be able to love whoever the hell they want, so long as it's consensual, and very swiftly won over a surprisingly huge swathe of the population.

The answer's out there, and it's been proven effective. But it's extremely hard for people to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. That's because reframing is required, and few of us think to use that faculty (particularly when we feel something deeply at stake).


I once wrote that "Nationalism is always a noble-seeming mask for xenophobia. Show me someone who loves 'Us', and I'll show you someone who hates 'Them'."

This is true of any display of staunch group pride (however conditioned we may be to view that sort of thing as noble). There's inevitably a tinge of seething anger, and it's not, as many prefer to imagine, righteous indignation. It's something else. It's fiendish deja vu; an ugly poison you've seen before. There's no righteous time for poison. It is extraordinarily unhealthy for a society to deem certain hatreds (e.g. anti-Boomer) virtuous. Poison's poison. Why hate anybody?

Having been graced with Christ, Gandhi, and King - a trio many profess to revere, and who showed us a better way - we, alas, still choose to mire like pigs. 

Can’t we finally end the stupid perpetual color wars?

Why Do We Type LOL When We're Not Laughing Out Loud?

I'm replaying this posting from September, 2018.


Thirteen years ago a friend and I devised a surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating food (and other things) on a scale of one to ten. I continue to be amazed at how useful and effective it is. But there's one problem: "8" devaluation.

Here's how the system distinguishes 8s:



The problems began when I first found myself 8-ing without any actual vocal expression of pleasure. Over time, it's gotten worse and worse, to the point where now anything merely good strikes me as 8-ish. And "good" should be 7.

There's no such problem with 9. Either rational thought breaks down or it doesn't. But "Mmmm!" is a mental concept as well as a sound, and if you divorce the two, the concept becomes awfully slack. "Store-bought cookies! Mmmm! Of course, I don't literally mean 'Mmmm!' I'm not making that sound! But I'm typing 'Mmmm' just to express my general affection for cookies!"

Once 'Mmmm!' becomes more conceptual than literal, 8 starts devaluing until it covers anything decent.

This is surely the exact same process that makes us type 'LOL' even though we're not laughing out loud. Once the concept untethers from the physical act, devaluation begins. At this point bona fide LOLs likely account for less than 5% of all LOL reportage.

I've been straining to come up with more examples of this phenomenon, and came up with one:

You know how people in long-term relationships eventually start giving each other those perfunctory kisses? They're more gestural symbols than real kisses. Tepidly theatrical "Mwahh!" kisses never appear early in a relationship. It's where things devolve once love becomes more of an abstraction rather than an actual thing.
The first time an early girlfriend kissed me like that, I told her if she ever again kissed me symbolically, the relationship would be over. I was pretty uncompromising back then, but it's not like I didn't have a point.
When "laughing out loud" is an abstract label - something I would do, even if I'm not actually doing it - then anything vaguely amusing starts to fit that bill. Same for "Mmmm". And same for kissing. This is what happens when the actual dissolves into the conceptual, losing its gist and power.

So one sits stone-faced, munching a merely decent cookie while joylessly reporting "Mmmm!". Or barely cracking a grin at a minor attempt at wit while reporting uproarious laughter. Or cursorily pecking at some cheek with a tightly puckered mouth as a report of loving affection.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Wrong Kind of Dislodgment

I mistakenly published a crude draft of my most recent posting, "Persuasion vs Dislodgment". If you already read it, please give it another whirl.

Persuasion vs Dislodgment

A reader commented on my posting, "Humor and Humorlessness" (also, I think, referencing my definition of art as being any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective) by saying that
Good artists produce art that agrees with one's worldview. Great artists create art that changes/challenges one's worldview from which one can never return. Humor is similar.
I replied:
The word "worldview" is doing a lot of work there
He replied:
Cause I hate writing weltanschauung [a particular philosophy or view of life]
And I replied (lightly edited)
Ha.

But I think framing is a much improved, uh, framing.

Worldview and weltanschauung are opinions; thought objects that can be thrust outward and categorized and examined. Framing is pure subjectivity; how you see things, rather than what you see. Framing is about the subject, not the object, so it's impossible to quantify. Framing's not "for" something. It's just a viewing angle; a perspective.

Your phrasing seems to urge artists to hector, coax, and irritate people into thinking some specific thing. I hate art that manipulates in this way. That's not art, it's something more in the realm of argument, salesmanship, and indoctrination.

Shifts of perspective happen at a far deeper level than mere persuasion. It's not movement toward an idea or opinion. It's movement, period. Dislodgement!

If humor and art are meant to dislodge, then any reframing is a success. There will be as many reframings as there are observers (that's how art 
always works, anyway, like it or not!). The mere fact of a shift - unfreezing creaky perspectives - is sufficient. Doesn't matter where it winds up. It's not about being persuaded (which is crass), but being induced to refresh one's framing (which is inspiring). 
An audience can be "moved", "transported", or "uplifted" (our language groks it better than our conscious minds do!). Such an experience is among the most beautiful delights of the human experience, and it's small-minded and grubby to try to leverage it by pushing audiences to move, transport, and uplift to some specific position. That's how authoritarian propoganda works, and it's effective. But pure inspiration loses much of its oomph when willfully channeled here or there. Manipulative art (e.g. the average multiplex film) earns well, but it's vastly less affecting than art that pays little heed to a targeted landing site.

Dislodgement/reframing is the basis for all elevation; of all the Epiphanies, Eurekas, and Inspirations. We each do our own framing, but it's contagious, and some have a talent for inducing it. Those who do so with an agenda are con men, manipulators, salesmen, and monsters. Those who do so benignly (not to some charming result, but, once again, without regard at all for result) are artists.
He replied:
I don't believe artists implore people to change their minds. An example would be the image of Van Gogh's room all askew with his table in view. After someone sees that it alters the way they look at the world. I don't think van Gogh was making propaganda. I almost believe artists are artists because they must express themselves, not because they want to convince others.
...and I replied:
I get the feeling you side with my perspective, but you're not quite grokking the distinction I'm drawing.

I don't want artists to express themselves. Ever. I want them to get the hell out of their own way and let their work sing. Artists who "express themselves" are the ilk I keep endlessly tossing spitballs at: singers who became singers because they wanted to be singers, not because they wanted to sing.

By declining to "express oneself" and remaining pure-heartedly open to the process of creating art, that's when the deep stuff happens and your deepest, wisest self expresses beyond your conscious volition. It's your subjectivity - deep awareness - not your prosaic thoughts and opinions. Not THINGS. As a fan of creative work who seeks elevation (i.e. reframing), I don't want to sniff anyone's THINGS. Kindly get your THINGS out of my face!

Perspective isn't a thought. Isn't an opinion. Isn't a thing. It's subject, not object. It's the part that chooses, that shifts, that pays attention, that FRAMES.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Stress

From this posting:
Stress is something we choose to do to ourselves in response to life situations we choose to consider non-optimal.
Consider the unattributed vaguely Buddhist line about how "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die". Similarly (and even more foolishly), stress is like drinking poison and expecting the universe to feel guilty.

The posting linked above goes on to note that
...when a stream of surprise and turmoil exceeds our thresholds, many of us reflexively clench against it, so it gets stuck. "This is not happening!" we hoarsely cry out to the universe, lacing our systems with elective stress, as the universe blithely continues its business.
And this posting notes that:
It all has to do with how firm one's preferences are. In other words, how you'd like things to be, versus acceptance of how they actually are. The universe is a machine devised to rub the wrong way against preferences, regardless of how we try to insulate ourselves. And life is about endlessly rediscovering this - ala Groundhog Day - until we finally think to try a more sane and grown-up approach.

My GPS is sanest of all. "Recalculating!" she exclaims, with cheerful equanimity, even when her most insistent demands have been ignored.
Consider the reed

If you have trouble recognizing that stress is always self-generated - that the world itself has no access to the machinery beneath your hood - you can see the case built up gradually by working through the links at the bottom of that last posting.

In terms of perceptual framing, framing itself doesn't create the stress. We certainly can choose framings less likely to impel us to stress ourselves, but however we frame it - including the popular framing of "Total Hell Every Second" - the stress reaction is entirely optional.


For more definitions, see all postings labeled "definitions" here.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Primary Parallels, 2016/2020

If you read one article on the Democratic primaries, let it be this one: "The 5 Lessons from 2016 Democrats Need to Understand If They Want to Stop Bernie".

Anyone politically astute recognizes that the 2020 Dems are repeating the mistakes that led to 2016 Reps unexpectedly nominating Trump. But this account, from Jeb Bush's campaign manager, who was actually flattened by that big-truck-out-of-nowhere, shows that the parallels are way deeper than we think. He does a geat job of tersely and readably explaining the forces and fallacies at work.

Some highlights:



Establishment Figures Who Can Make A Difference Can’t Afford To Wait

Back in 2016 as I was trying to recruit name-brand Republicans to join us and create bad news cycles for Trump, I found a two-phase skittishness. The first phase—which is happening right about now on the Democratic side—was “let’s see how the race plays out and I’ll make an endorsement/donation when the field winnows and I can make a difference.”

That sounds reasonable and it’s true that you don’t want to waste your leverage four months from when voting starts. But remember our first lesson: 11 days from now the race will be functionally over. The time to make a difference is now. In less than two weeks, you won’t be able to make a difference.

In 2016 the phase one excuse-making of February ticked over into phase two excuse-making after Super Tuesday. The second phase was “I don’t want to do anything that might harm the nominee.”

Which also sounds reasonable, except that it leaves aside the fact that you just whiffed on your chance to help shape who the nominee would be.

That “wait and see” approach became “it’s too late to do anything” really forking fast!



ATTACK THE FREAKING FRONT RUNNER FOR GODSAKES

[The other candidates] went to pains not to target Trump and instead aim their fire at the guys in second, third, fourth, and fifth places. Remember the Christie/Rubio murder-suicide? You would think the non-Bernie Democratic campaigns would’ve learned that shivving one another only helps the frontrunner, not the guy or gal holding the shank.

And yet for two straight debates the non-Bernies repeated the same exact Christie/Rubio nightmare scenario.



Establishment Figures Who Can Make A Difference Can’t Afford To Wait

Imagine the consolidation pressure if an Obama or Clinton came out for Pete or Joe or Amy in the way Ted Kennedy did for Obama in 2008. That would be the type of event that could legitimately change the balance of the race. If it happened soon.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Humor and Humorlessness

I don't spend much time around humorless people, because they usually scamper rapidly away from me. But I've recently found myself stuck with a couple such people (and them with me), observing something I'd noticed before: Humorlessness is something deeper. It stems from a profound cognitive shortcoming, and you can spot the issue even when humor's not involved.

For instance, people with a lousy sense of humor can't easily follow a line of thought when a minor chunk is missing or skewed. They don't fill gaps well. If you don't stick closely to a familiar conversational template, they get flustered. I'd bet, for instance, that humorless people would have more trouble than average with this sort of thing:
Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.
When you throw a witticism into conversation, humorless people get momentarily baffled - the essential symptom of humorlessness. But it's not a matter of not getting the joke. The impasse arises before that point. They were thrown by the detour you'd taken to insert the humor ("Wait, what are you doing? Where are you going? Oh, you're joking. I see."). The humorless are stuck in a two-dimensional world of inflexible linearity and homogenous context, steadfastly unable to reframe. They're "square".

Reframing, by its nature, creates surprise, and surprising reframings are what humor is. "Humor", "surprise", "detour", "reframing"....all these terms point to the same phenomenon.
As I've frequently noted, most problems, at least in the First World, are not really problems. We build them out of thin air, nurture them with obsessive attention, and feel parental pride as they blossom. They’re like deranged art projects. If you analyze them with detachment, most sob stories inevitably boil down to "I thought X would happen, but Y happened, #FrownyFace." Rich World Problems are built from the raw material of surprise.

Humans viscerally fear surprise. We may find our status quo tedious and disappointing, but we'd defend it with our lives, because change and surprise are our deepest fears. Surprise is an unscheduled disruption of linearity and context. We prefer to stay "on track", no matter how crappy the track.

Aversion to surprise explains the widespread disconnection with our innate framing ability. We pretend we can't shift, electively freezing perspective. It's a terrible move, because frozen perspective is the root of depression, boredom, selfishness, and most other worldly tortures. 
And this creates an opportunity for those able to induce reframing to become messiahs.
The best comedians induce pleasurable bits of minor reframing. This is what makes them so highly valued by society (same for great actors, whose magnetism draws us into deep identification with their characters - the most common mode of passive reframing, accessible even for those with otherwise tightly frozen perspective). These are minor league Messiahs, plying an effective (though very limited) bag of reframing tricks.

When reframing shifts perspective, it changes mood, thaws frozenness, and dispels depression. And humor is a fundamental mode of reframing. We love comedy because it provides a safe, manageable dose of surprise; the thing we fear; the disruptor. Some of us seek out a stronger dose - "dangerous" comedy that "pushes the envelope". But it's all vaccination - titillating exposure to denatured wisps of The Worst Thing. It's a way to gingerly dip our toes back into our framing faculty.

Some of us, however, can't bear even that gentle reconnection.

People with a lousy sense of humor will have trouble passing a Turing test.


Those who obsessively joke all the time aren't creative, and aren't reframing. If that's where your attention constantly lives, you've simply created a new status quo for yourself, another unsurprising linearity. To be poetic about it, you're not breaking through if you live on the other side!

Many creative-seeming people are brutally non-creative. These are the ones who endlessly copy, and who repeat themselves. They're soulless simulacra posing as creative; two-dimensional beings faking a third dimension. They're the singers who became singers not because they want to sing but because they want to be singers.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Thwarted Goals

This is dense, I know. It's not a "read", to be skimmed for a cheap hit of confirmation bias. Like many Slog postings, it's a carefully-constructed lozenge for contemplation, which can spur reframing and reward multiple readings (and deep link dives).


One of the scariest monsters perpetually snarling just below my waterline has been a sense of shame at my growing tragic bundle of stalled and paralyzed plans and schemes. I've felt the weight profoundly. It's instilled a deep-seated conviction that I'm a miserable failure, and made every moment of repose feel like truant self-indulgence.
The snarling has, to my immense relief, diminished sharply with age. I'm old enough now to look back and see that I haven't, in fact, wasted my life. I got a lot done while feeling damnably idle and vagrant. I can finally see that my 15,000 item to-do list (not kidding) and gigabytes of stalled articles, books, and projects (some potentially distressingly amazing) are not a shameful burden, but more like a chef's leftover mis en place. One needn't grieve over stillborn chunks rotting in the fridge. The relevant question is: how did the meal go? 
This comforting late-middle-aged realization is - if you can embrace it when it arrives and reframe yourself to the new perspective - the saving grace of the familiar litany of aging indignities.
Like every stress point, this was, from the beginning, nothing but a simple framing malfunction. Think of it this way (flip along with me!): if you doggedly completed every task, idea, and goal you'd ever brewed up, how wrecked would your life be? How enslaved would you have been to your caprices? If you'd served as fervid henchman to your every passing whim, how scattered and random would the cumulative result have been?

The trick is in the winnowing. But no one is more daunted by that part than me. I'm cursed to know that the most substantial and tectonic ideas can be the least realistic; that the most pleasurable-seeming ones can prove the most tedious to sustain; and that the passion and drive accompanying an inception might be significant, but can later seem inexplicable (I once spent three hours feverishly combing Philadelphia for a "Beer & Cheese Love" t-shirt I felt I couldn't live without, and whenever I chance upon that shirt, abandoned in the bottom of my drawer, I cannot make myself understand what the hell I was thinking).
We don't really choose, though. If we did, we'd all be the perfect weight, tautly muscled, speak twelve languages fluently, live in immaculate homes, and never yell at our kids. If we were the choosers, I wouldn’t buy potato chips, nor ruminate over the horrible thing that girl once said. If you make a study of it, you'll find that thinking and choosing is not done by us. We do get to frame - that's our sole freedom - but thoughts and choices arrive as faits accomplis for which our chattering minds claim credit.
The carcasses of expired tasks and discarded goals are mental relics we keep around to fuel our epic obsession with What's Missing. But despite our best efforts, we don't live in the world of What Isn't. We're here for the meal we have, not for the ones we don't...much less for those plastic-wrapped bits of onion and mushroom liquefying in our "crisper". Such artifacts exert no actual pressure on us, unless we go out of our way to needlessly frame them as oppressors. 


Per here, "when an insight seems fully-baked, even after years of digestion, a greater clarity may appear in the very next microsecond, leaving you aware of how ridiculously incomplete or wrong you'd been. It's not like waiting for batter to become cake. It's all eternally batter."

Same for projects and goals. Another moment may cast these smokey, abstract mental constructions in a different light, and we ought not disregard the fresh clarity, even though sensitive responsiveness to such momentary shifts may make us seem aimless and undisciplined (see my posting about procrastination, which is a companion piece to this one).  

With our sole lever being our freedom to direct attention (a.k.a. to frame), best practice is to come back to your senses, opting out of convoluted mental stories about what you're doing and where you're headed, and focus on duly relishing your placement of attention, with the rapt delight of a child at play. In so doing, you're acting as the prime mover in this reality

And then pour yourself entirely into the task at hand (“the meal you have”), however trivial. The results may not ring one of the tinny bells of 21st century culture, but they will be good...and will provide comfort to your elder self (no old person ever regretted heartfelt good work).


Monday, February 17, 2020

Phantom Memories and the Tragic Downfall of "Três Montanhas"

The task I set myself in building out my smartphone app, Eat Everywhere, was monumental. I needed to explain what the food's like, what to order, and how to eat in pretty much every common immigrant cuisine; 75 for now  (it's mostly for "ethnic" eating here at home, but also works well abroad). If science ever allows us to download our mind's contents into a database, I already know what that will feel like. I couldn't quell a nagging thought: Kill me now, for I am redundant. Forty years of know-how was juiced out of me and made freely available to anyone with $4.99 (we should have charged $300. Underpricing was a big part of the problem. Nobody seems to grok exactly what this thing was or what it did - except customers, who've exclusively rated it 5 stars).

I had to opt out of some extremes. It couldn't become a full-fledged encyclopedia of world food, because a firehose approach wouldn't provide the practical in-restaurant advice I wanted to offer - the sort of life-line help friends often request via text message. Nor could I drill down to lots of sub-regions. The app does divide regions of Italy, India, France, Mexico and China, but only because it needed to do so to be useful. Further division would force users to identify the exact region of their restaurant, ruining the newbie-friendliness (the app's surprisingly newbie friendly while also catnip for seasoned vets).

I also constrained mostly to can't-miss dishes. Millions know and love samosas, pad Thai, and sushi, but it's crazy that Bengali mishti doi, Russian chebureki, Brazilian pao de queijo, Burmese shway gee mote, and Egyptian eggah are not equally craved. To try them is to love them, and the app's like a magic key unlocking the whole world‘s rapture.

I did, however, hold on to one strict and ambitious edict: don't screw up. No flagrant mistakes. I knew readers would head straight to their own family's nationality to gauge whether the app's legit, and while, per above, it will necessarily seem incomplete, it can't seem unsavvy. It needed a consistent insider's view, rather than the standard aspergery gringo foodie treatment. We wanted Ethiopians and Cambodians to assume we had paisanos on staff. We needed to do justice to all these cuisines we so love, which meant: no big blunders. No naiveté. You may argue with what's been included/excluded, and your family might make tamales differently. Plus there are, alas, surely hundreds of minor errata. But no big fat ones. No shark-jumping.

The big problem is that I picked up my food knowledge on the fly. This helped me learn to eat like an insider (insiders just eat, they don't think about it, taxonomize it, poke at it with a pointer, or fetishize it into a stamp on Instagram), but the problem with empirical knowledge is - as I discovered to my horror while pushing every last speck through a verification grinder - that 5% of my knowledge was skull-crushingly wrong all along.

Early drafts included a dozen dishes that don't exist. Some I'd concocted mentally - phantom memories of hallucinated meals - and some were accurate recollections of restaurant contrivances bullshittedly claimed to be authentic. Some of these dishes had been foundational for me, and helped define my view of a cuisine. I confess with mortification that I've referred to some in my (professional) writing. But none of them googled because, jesuschrist, they don't exist. Finding and extracting fake foods, false memories, and general misapprehensions was a fraught process - literally and figuratively akin to brain surgery.

Wait, I'd keep asking myself. Do I know FOR A FACT that Thai people eat noodles with chopsticks? Or that Tibetan soup is called (much to a musician's delight) "thang"? Or that Koreans may quietly add rice to their soup at the table despite the nominal taboo? How do I know anything in my head is rigorously right? The fact that I'm considered an expert only makes it more nauseating.



So, anyway, this just happened:

I listed for a Portuguese person the cities I've performed in in Portugal. And it turns out that one of the major ones, Três Montanhas, doesn't exist. Never existed. Mind you, this was no minor data point. The locality had, for decades, occupied a prominent place in my mental map of Portugal. Yet there IS NO "TRÊS MONTANHAS". Nothing even close to that name. My friend helpfully ventured that I'd simply been in a place near three mountains.

No. The Três Montanhas I know - in the universe I live in - is a pillar of northern Portugal, especially its cuisine. I'd absorbed the style they cook there, spending hours at restaurant tables being explained the history and fine points of it all while course after delicious course emerged, clearly misunderstanding the Portuguese (or the Portuguese-accented English). I don't remember who I was with, so I have no one to ask. Who could possibly advise me about a place that's not a place? How does one find GPS coordinates for Shangri-La?

If there's no "Três Montanhas", then nothing in my life makes a lick of sense. All is open to question. I find myself (per my open letter to Bernie supporters) feeling like a blotchy pink mole rat, blinking confusedly. 

I'm in epistemological crisis, especially after pondering how one can ever declare a conclusion verified when (per here) "a greater clarity may appear in the very next microsecond, leaving you aware of how ridiculously incomplete or wrong you'd been." 
 

Update: thank you, Jesus

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Turing Test Postscript Postscript

I added an explanatory video clip at the bottom of the preceding posting, Turing Test Postscript.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Turing Test Postscript

My recent posting Artificial Intelligence, Turing Tests, Art, and Reframing concluded with this:
The secret to effective Turing testing is to ply agile reframing and see whether the AI keeps up. But it won't. This will always be its limitation.
I was being glib, and wound up saying something dumb.
It's hard to decide when a thought is mature (much of what I post here on the Slog has been incubating for 40 years or more). When an insight seems fully-baked, even after years of digestion, a greater clarity may appear in the very next microsecond, leaving you aware of how ridiculously incomplete or wrong you'd been.

It's not like waiting for batter to become cake. It's all eternally batter, making it madness to ever write anything down (the Hindu vedas have a story about this; see the indented portion here).
Well, half-dumb, anyway. Challenging an AI to reframe is indeed the smart way to trip up an AI. The problem is that most people have frozen perspectives. Having forgotten that they have the ability to reframe, they'll fail the test, as well. My Turing test strategy rejects all but the most creative people.

The dismaying question is this: should I try to think of a better Turing test strategy - one that never rejects humans - or is this one right after all because most humans allow themselves to become as flat and square and inflexible and blinkered and machine-like as machines and therefore shouldn't pass?


How lithe is Margaret Dumont's reframing ability in this clip?


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

AAPL Strategy Keeps on Giving

I just sold the Apple shares I bought at $146, for $327.

One day, historians will recall that $146 opportunity as a unique aberration: a chance to buy a blue chip stock (with $200 billion-with-a-"b" cash reserves) at an insane 100% discount. If this were jellybeans, people would have been shooting each other in the streets for a chance to buy.

I likely won't get that return again, but the cycle will surely repeat. And the next time AAPL sinks due to some crappy worry snowballing into irrational panic, I’ll buy, per my trusty strategy.

I’m not faster, richer, or smarter than the market, but I am more patient, my sole edge. And in this gloriously endlessly repeating case, I know with near certainty that whatever issue may tailspin Apple’s stock will not drop it permanently into penny stock territory. So while one day I may fail to profit from a subsequent recovery (nothing's forever), the disappointing sales report or tariff rumor or bendy iPhone case at least won't tank the company into nothingsville, and that constrains my downside. The upside, meanwhile, continues to pay my bills.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Artificial Intelligence, Turing Tests, Art, and Reframing

Art is any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective. (more definitions)

Computers can't freely reframe perspective (though they can be programmed to reframe in canned, finite ways). They're essentially stuck. That's what conveys the sense that computers are basically "dumb" - which we all recognize despite their prodigious calculative prowess. They're not hip. They can't get the joke. They're married to the page. They are, in other words, machine-like, and there's no higher threshold of yet-more-awesome-calculative-prowess that will allow them to transcend that (Kurzweil's "Singularity" be damned). Your bookworm friend who can't get a date won't improve his results by reading another 200 books. 

Maslow's hammer can only do so much, even if it's an outstandingly great hammer. The problem is that framing is a whole other faculty, completely unrelated to calculation. So while computers can certainly simulate artwork (someone has even built a writing bot), and even lousy art may spur a person to reframe, reframing is not something a computer can register, much less devise and anticipate. That's the part a computer is missing. 

(Who, exactly, frames?)


AI will only pass Turing tests via clever pre-programmed chicanery. The secret to effective Turing testing is to ply agile reframing and see whether the AI keeps up. But it won't. This will always be its limitation.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The New Illiteracy

I belong to a an online group for my block. We're not a very up-market neighborhood, but, still, I'd guess >75% are college-educated. Yet it's stunning how bad people are at the basic tasks of forming a coherent posting and knowing exactly what usefulness to expect from an online forum.

For example, someone just posted:
Does any one know of a CPAP supply store that is open on Sunday? My mother is visiting and our puppy chewed part of her mask. We’re looking for replacement or alternative parts.
There are occasions for web searching, and occasions for posting in an online forum. This would be a web search moment. I was joking with a local friend about it:
Uh, yeah, my kid’s heart stopped beating. Does anyone know like a pediatrician or whatever? Really, I guess any kind of doctor, even, heh, a vet, at this point could potentially be helpful. Standing by.
But it's a serious thing, even at a more basic level.
  • Many people don’t know how to choose an online tool for a given task.
  • Many people can't devise effective search terms for web searching
  • Many people can’t type worth a damn.
All three should be taught. Not in schools - kids are already good at this stuff - but for adults who've missed out. It’s the new illiteracy, afflicting many otherwise well-educated people, and no one’s talking about it because those who've developed these skills are only dimly aware that many haven't, and those who haven't lack a sharp sense of exactly what's missing.

Such people blurrily shrug it off by saying they're "not good at computer stuff”. And if it's a big blurry blob of "computer stuff", there's no hope of fixing it. In fact, the blobbiness is the problem. It feels like an enormous mountain of ignorance built from every tech situation that's ever frustrated them. From reinstalling system software to changing desktop background to creating macros and spreadsheets, all that stuff gets globbed along with the far simpler and more necessary basics.

You don't need to be a speed demon with the mouse or know how to set up a peripheral daisychain, but you do need to effectively web search, choose appropriate online tools, and type out a couple sentences in under 15 minutes. And here's the key concept people don't get: These are not computer tasks. They're more like home appliance tasks, like punching in a phone number or adjusting a thermostat. There's no soldering required. It doesn’t take a "hacker".


Media doesn’t help. They still categorize stories about YouTube videos or Twitter trends as “tech”. We need to finally decouple basic tasks accomplished with a computing device from tech/computation. By 1950, telephone users felt no need to understand, say, switches and trunk lines. Web searches, online tools, and typing are more involved than using a telephone, but they are still appliance tasks, not tech tasks...though lots of people don't realize this.

Dear Bernie Supporters

Dear Bernie Supporters,

I think you're being played for demagoguery rubes by yet another guy who's discovered the inertial power of a great big angry mouth and whose proposals are as patently unviable as "bringing back coal".

Bernie would fracture the country pretending to accomplish those ridiculous fake goals - while inciting you to a high Taliban pitch (we've seen that game up close once already). And it dumbfounds me that you've failed to notice that Bernie's grown old and wrinkly while holding extreme power for decades and achieving nothing - not even incremental evolutionary progress, much less the complete transformation of our political and economic system he promises (mirroring the shameless empty moron hubris (#moronhubris) of "Only I can fix it!").

It's obvious to those of us outside his alternative cult of personality that Bernie is all mouth, all incitement, all brutish anger, with no pragmatic substance (sound familiar?).

And yet.....fine. Really. Tis the season for demagoguery, I get that, and I cannot hold your preferences against you. You have the right to support and vote for whomever you want. Bless you, and same for my MAGA friends. Democracy doesn't mean my side always wins. Everyone gets a shot. Hell, I'll even vote for him, though a Democrat will undoubtedly carry New York either way.

However, I have a question.

If the Democrats nominate Bernie and he loses 44 states because the critical segments of Trump-averse Republicans and moderate Democrats both turn out poorly (figuring "A pox on both demagogues!"), will you guys say "It was still worth it"? Will it seem worth four more years of Trump to have gotten your message "out there"? If so, I can respect you as I hastily move north to Canada.

However, when those results come in - and those results will come in - and even one of you says, "Whoa, what the hell happened?!?", I will erupt with the fury of a thousand suns. My peak will blow and my lava will spit.

I will carry neither gun nor knife, to ensure no one's murdered (jail food would not agree with me). I will wear velcro sneakers to remove the strangling temptation of laces, and attach pillows to my fists, elbows, knees, and feet to avoid injurious gratification of my savage fury. But my mouth...my mouth will be unstoppable. My words will dissolve your brain and reduce you to a mumbling, insensate vegetal state. I shudder at the imagining.

I can view MAGAs - even the vicious ones - sympathetically. They know not what they do. But you (gifted with higher perspective from recognition of the intrinsic con of the large MAGAllanic cloud from the other mouthy/angry outer boroughs demagogue - and having been given an opportunity to restore sanity by declining the sugary enticements of Bernie's small MAGAllanic cloud) will be left, post-election, stranded, naked, with neither shield nor excuse; a blotchy pink mole rat choking on its own spleeny foolishness, blinking confusedly at the panicked citizenry of a nation you've failed. It will all be on you.

Again, if Bernie's the candidate - and so Trump inevitably wins 44 states - and you feel, in the aftermath, that it was worth it, that's a different thing. There's a consistent through-line there that I can respect as I pack my bags for Canada. But you'd better be damned well prepared to own that result.


I've been kicking myself all these years for voting Nader in 2000 (an immoderately reactive pendulum swing away from my renounced libertarianism), helping to elect George W Bush and make possible the Iraq debacle, but your action will make that look like the sanest, wisest, savviest, most beneficial political choice any citizen ever made. What Trump's done for the legacy of Warren Harding, you'll have done for me. And I won't even appreciate it.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Delectable Opportunity to Finally Be The Asshole You'd Always Aspired to Be

I have an old musician friend who was always extremely talented. He knew it, we all knew it, but he was a nice, normal guy - though he worked so seldom that I sometimes had to house and feed him. I lost track of him during the Chowhound madness, and he'd gotten a bit famous. I gave him a call and we made plans to grab a beer, but he, awkwardly and apologetically, asked me not to also come to his gig the same night. Other childhood friends, he explained, had shown up at gigs and behaved poorly, embarrassing him. Really, that scenario just never works out well. (I actually knew him in his 20s, when I was a busy and well-regarded player, but he seemed to recall that as his chrysalis period, before the dawn of Real Time.)



I bought a painting once from a student painter, seeing something in his work. He was quite a down-to-earth nice guy. A year later, he won a young artist prize, and immediately transformed into a sneering arrogant lout.



An old friend who's been a respected amateur in a certain field went pro three days ago, to no particular acclaim (it takes time). I complemented his first professional effort, and he aloofly ignored me, like I was a stranger complimenting Beyonce for her singing. Later in the same conversation, he informed me that "I don't make mistakes."



This is not an unknown phenomenon, of course. What's surprising is the instantaneity. I came in late on my musician friend's lofty ascendance, so I didn't track it in real time, but the painter and the amateur-gone-pro transformed in a flash upon the slimmest achievement. I'd always assumed people got high-and-mighty via accretion over time.

I also got the distinct impression that they'd been waiting for it. Not for the success, or the validation, but for the opportunity to be assholes. They'd been assholes-in-waiting the whole time, and seized upon the first excuse to become That Person. In fact, the painter's hardly produced anything new in years. I suppose he got what he wanted.


My dad owned and ran an auto parts store with two partners, one of whom, "Bernie", was older. I remember my father saying that Bernie would soon reach a stage in life where he could sit in the back room at a nice desk, working less and worrying less. Count the money, kibbitz with visiting salesmen, etc. He said this with a cherishing look in his eye, which surprised me, because I never realized he thought so highly of Bernie.

Turned out, he didn't. Rather, he was cherishing his own fantasy. Bernie died, my father got older, and, yup, he lorded over the back room at a nice desk, working less and worrying less, counting money and kibbitzing with visiting salesmen, as he'd envisioned all along. Finally, he'd blossomed into his true self. Meanwhile, his surviving partner - and younger partners they'd brought in - struggled to hold up disproportionate shares of workload. I suspect that was part of his glee.



See "Mike Tyson Goes Into a Bar" for more confused delusions of self-elevation. Oh, and don't miss "Cringeworthy Displays of Status".

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Feeling the Bern

"Bernie Sanders is currently favored to win the nomination, a prospect that would make Donald Trump a heavy favorite to win reelection, and open the possibility of a Corbyn-esque wipeout," reports the savvy Jonathan Chait.

History always unfolds via a succession of immoderately reactive pendulum swings. Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

Relaxing, Littering, Cleaning, and Earthworm Gratitude

When I was a child, I devised a sadhana (spiritual practice) for myself, stitching together stuff I'd read about, stuff I'd read about and improved, and stuff I'd figured out for myself (lengthy details here).

At that time, relaxation was a craze, and the big cliché was "in with the good air, out with the bad air". I used this as part of my routine, but never felt comfortable with it. I'm rabidly anti-littering, and this struck me as the apotheosis of that same selfish "screw y'all" mindset. Take-good/expel-bad seemed viscerally wrong. But, with reservations, I practiced it for a while, feeling that it was the only way I could purge a critical mass of poison. I needed the support, and promised to repay later.

It turned out to be a surprisingly beneficial move, because as my reservations built (like a debt accruing), a spring was compressed, destined to be sprung extra cathartically once I finally reversed direction, as recounted in the link above (here's a rerun).

That happened the instant I forgave the world and loved it unconditionally, including the stinky parts, the evil parts and the parts that had gone out of their way to harm me; even chefs who add bell papers to their home fries (well, maybe not them...let's not get crazy). In essence, I made it "in with the bad air, out with the good air", and discovered, to my surprise, that 1. We have infinite good air, and 2. the bad air can only poison you if you frame it as bad; if you can't expand your perspective.

In spiritual parlance, I'm describing purification. It's a ridiculous word that connotes snowy white cleanness ("I'm so fucking pure!") - when, really, cleaning is the dirtiest job there is. You know how I keep observing that one can either be smart or feel smart, but not both? Similarly, you can try to feel pure or to actually be pure....and the latter never feels pure from inside because it requires miring in filth, because that's exactly what cleaning is (if you ever feel clean, that's your caked-on muck talking!). Saving grace: the dirty life of a cleaner is viable if you reframe the dirt as something other than dirt. And that very reframing is the cleaning, aka the purification.

Lots of lofty talk right there. Yeesh. Let me bring it back down to earth: The following telling is no less true, and a whole lot more explicable:

You know what earthworms do all day? They take in dirt, and shit out slightly better dirt. And it never upsets them, nor depresses them, nor burdens them. It doesn't strike them as sacrifice (have the earthworms ever once risen up to demand our gratitude?) because they don't frame the dirt as something bad. It would never occur to them. On the contrary, to them, it's food.

I'm an earthworm (also an ant).


The reed, unendingly assaulted by violent wind, never suffers. It never ocurred to the reed that the wind was a separate, external thing. Insofar as the reed thinks at all, it thinks it's dancing.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Coin Confirmation

I'm the guy who posted to CoinTalk about the wheat cents!

The Death of Taste

It recently dawned on me that I haven't seen anyone use the word "taste" (in the sense of "having good taste") in writing or in conversation in many years.
It's sort of like "headache". When I was a kid, everyone had headaches all the time. Like chapped lips or razor burn, it was something one accepted as a part of daily life. My theory is that this ended with the advent of bottled water, and hydration consciousness, generally.
The decline of a word does not necessarily augur the decline of the thing it signifies. But in this case, it did. Taste is far less valued than it once was. Look at older buildings and notice the detail work. Consider the panache of 60s and 70s sports cars (and even just everyday cars). Consider the multitudes going out to dinner or boarding planes in sweat pants.
Even aside from his racism, corruption, stupidity, authoritarianism, and treason, consider our president, perhaps the most vulgar man in America (who makes crass cohorts like Cohen, Parnas, and Giuliani seem relatively earnest). There's always been an eager market for demagogues (if you haven't seen it, do not miss "A Face in the Crowd", just $3 to rent on Amazon or Apple iTunes), but I can't help but think that 1970s or 1980s America would have rejected him on tastelessness alone.
As I write this - especially the sweat pants rant - I feel myself edging toward elitist territory - all those unsavory plebes in their grubby clothes, etc. And this reveals what's actually happened. "Taste" now seems like a fussy, effete, snobbish quality. Real men wear baseball caps. We "keep it real". Extra effort - designing gargoyles into an edifice, placing the vase not there but here, putting on a button-down shirt to go out to a show - seems/feels pretentious. Applying the extra bandwidth to not just do a thing but to thoughtfully consider how you do it strikes us as sheer affectation.

Another way of looking at it: "old money" has perennially clucked its tongue at nouveau riche vulgarity. And at this point, the entire country - the whole First World - is nouveau riche. Tastelessness is yet another result of the pandemic aristocracy.

It's strange for me to be arguing this, as I myself am at the extreme low end of the gravitas/pretension scale. I'm no fan of affectation, yet I really appreciate taste. What a shame that the two seem to have been glued together and thrown down a well.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Why Aren’t Extremely Wealthy People More Generous?

I thought this answer I wrote on Quora was pretty good, though only one Quorite (Quoraer? Quarashi?) agreed.
I always expect people to enjoy realizing they’ve “been wrong all along” as much as I do, and to be as skeptical toward conceptual flattery as I am. Following the Golden Rule on this has been a big mistake I can’t seem to stop making. You know how to get ahead and make people feel great? Tell them, with bubbling delight, that they are absolutely right.
My highest rated answer on Quora, which I’ve linked to before, was to “How Do I Tell If Someone is Intelligent?”


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