Friday, July 31, 2020

Milking the Apple Money Machine

I'm glad I bought a bunch of Apple shares when the stock went down to $251 on March 12. Today it closed at $425. Buying Apple during its periodic troughs is the gift that keeps giving.

I've explained my theory on this over and over. Here's one of those explanations.

Chicken Pasta With Angry Onions



Rotisserie chicken (hand-picked and chopped)
Roughly chopped onion
Sliced garlic
Parmesano
Trader Joe's gigli pasta
I added some leftover chopped broccolini after shooting the picture (a guy's got to nutrify)


This is more complicated than it seems.

My previously posted salmon pasta used very gently-cooked onions. In fact, I wrote a whole followup about the proper mindset for gently cooking onions.

This time, I flipped that (in case you haven't noticed, I'm a one-trick-pony. Flipping = reframing, and that's what I do. I've been flipping profitably ever since I stumbled upon the move in college while pondering the odd artifact - an iron - my mom had packed for me).

This time I cooked the onions harshly. I was a real bastard. Medium high heat, hardly any stirring, lots of sizzle. I let them brown nearly to burntness, and there was nothing gentle about it. I wanted them a little dry and a little crunchy and plenty sharp and angry.

The garlic, by contrast, was pampered low and slow, bringing out the sweetness. I used more grated parm than usual, figuring it would bridge the harsh onions to the mellow garlic. It worked.

I added the chopped chicken to the onion/garlic pan, raising heat and stirring madly for just long enough to warm it up. Then I stirred the mixture madly into the pasta along with parm and more olive oil (the latter injects a fresher flavor when it's added at the end, without heating much).

The result was just a bit dry (which is why the photo seems slightly flat). I'd forgotten to add pasta water for finishing sheen (and salt). The struggle continues.


Making of:

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Another Psycho War Story

In yesterday's posting, "Julie", a profile of Chowhound's most persistent psychopath, I tacked on a "Further Reading" section linking to previous war stories. But I forgot to include an important one: "Always Talk to the Mask".

Here's a taste:
When it comes to really horrific people, I've found there are two types. The first is the Moustache Twirler. Moustache twirlers not only consciously acknowledge their bad behavior, but revel in it and generally own it. You know how in movies, villains always openly boast about what they've done? Well, surprise: it really happens that way (sometimes). On message boards, it's easy to spot this sort, as they choose nametags such as 'Torquemada' or 'Ballbuster'.

Obviously, moderators love moustache twirlers. For one thing, they make things easy, and, for another, they're more fun to pick off the video game screen than robot spammers bombarding penis enlargement ads.

The other type of horror is vastly scarier. These are the Psycho Pollyannas: people who retain immutably lofty self-images as they do base and underhanded things. Their high-minded self-image is impervious to the abundant reality of their own behavior.

Julie, of course, was a moustache twirler.

Julie

The events I'm about to recall took place between 15 and 20 years ago. It describes one of the hardest problems I've ever faced, leaving me so rattled that I've waited this long to tell the story. I've often remarked that running Chowhound taught me things I'd preferred not to have learned. This one's a whopper.


Around 2001, a new poster appeared on Chowhound named Julie. She (I have no idea of this person's actual gender) had no interest in food whatsoever.

Why would you post to a food site if you didn't care about food? Don't look for reasons. Seriously, don't. Crazy people - not mere neurotics, I mean full-out loonballs - don't operate in a linear fashion. There is nothing to be gained by trying to suss out their reasoning. In face, the deeper you dig, the crazier you yourself will become. You know all those serial killer movies where the detective is a twisted-up wreck from being too dialed-in? That's not unrealistic.

Julie posted a lot. And she was annoying. That wasn't foreshadowing, by the way. Her annoyingness was the best thing about her. That's a human trait. She didn't have many of those.

To the other chowhounds, who never imagined the true scope of the problem, her annoyance was significant. This was one of many instances where our meticulous management left users blissfully unaware of how bad our raw feed actually was, and how hard we worked in the background to keep it that way. To them, the problem was an annoying poster. To us, we were facing a Visigoth, a Hannibal Lechter, a ditzy gamer kid, and a Tasmanian Devil all wrapped into one opaque shell of a psychopath.

Julie eventually became super-extra annoying and we had to kick her out. Her final utterance under the "Julie" name tag was her version of the Saddam Hussein taunt. Prior to the Gulf War, Saddam had promised "the mother of all battles." Julie's actual words have been lost to the ages, but they were chilling. She'd thrown down her gauntlet. This would be war.

Long story short, after the smoke cleared, Julie had created thousands of user accounts under thousands of nametags, via dozens of computers at dozens of physical locations. She'd switched ISP many times, and even moved across the country for a while. All to defy our ban. We were her project. Her nemesis. Her raison d'etre. Julie was our User Zero.

In the first installment of the epic tale of Chowhound's rise and sale to CNET (now CBS), I noted:
As our audience increased, so did the scary 1%, which ran the moderators ragged (at our size, even the .01% rabid psycopaths at the far end of the bell curve represented a hundred or so individuals, some bombarding us nearly 24/7, one hallmark of psychopaths being, after all, dogged persistence).
Julie was far from our most dangerous psycho (worst of all was a food-loving Russian mobster who'd passed through the legal system several times but had never been indicted - because all his co-conspirators had, whoops, suffered mysterious and very often life-ending mishaps before they were able to testify. He’d decided to try to buy Chowhound for a pittance so he could install himself as the new Alpha Hound. Fun times!). Dangerous, not so much, but Julie at least won Miss Persistence, hands down.

Midway through my year-long tenure with CBS (Julie disappeared forever the instant our sell-out was announced), I visited my former business partner Bob, who'd used his earnings to buy a new car. I suggested he get vanity plates reading "Julie", and we barked out bitter laughter, our expressions devoid of any trace of mirth.

Let's retrace back from that flash-ahead. Julie's first move after going all Terminator in 2001 was to post as "Jeff Goldman". Knowing I was Jewish, she was probing to see whether I'd go easier on a bro. Don't think about this too deeply, as I did. Like I said, there's a level of cray-cray that rubs off if you dive too deeply.

But the turning point moment - causing me to gulp and to reel dizzily around my hovel of an apartment for a good long while, and pick up the phone to consult with every smart person I knew - was when I suddenly realized she could kill the site.

I received an emergency message at 2am from a moderator in Japan. The previous day, someone had posted a vivid posting that was attracting lots of attention. An innocent chowhound had asked about good eats near Tokyo's Narita airport, and someone replied about an alternative international airport in Japan that's way better. That one is located right next to the sea, so you could exit the terminal, out the front door, and take a refreshing stroll by the water. There is a bench you can relax on, and next to that bench, an aged and mysterious vendor of grilled octopus balls does amazing work. It was a pearl of chowhound tippage, and our denizens were taking notice. A star was born.

My moderator, rigid with foreboding, told me that he'd been to that airport. And it's nowhere near the sea. And there's no bench. And there are no octopus balls. It was complete bullshit.

We quickly recognized that this fake posting was Julie’s work. She’d been posting dozens of times per day, and we'd been struggling to keep up and weed them out, and now she'd escalated (the scariest word in a moderator's vocabulary; akin to an alien monster evolving). Using her 30th or so nom-de-guerre, she'd fired a shot, signaling that she intended to fill our message boards with fictional bullshit. She would attempt to dilute us out of existence.

We took action. Necessity mothered invention and we quickly threw together an ingenious gem of a defense system. Every time Julie posted, we all heard about it because an instant email alarm rippled over the surface of the planet to dozens of far-flung moderators, helpers, and Julie specialists. And they had a protocol to follow.

How did the defense system work? Far brighter technical minds than mine would be stumped. How does one identify an individual who uses different computers, different ISPs, different physical locations, and different names each time they created a new account? I'm still not ready to reveal the secret. It's drilled so deep that I'd choke on the words if I tried to utter it, and my fingers would turn gangrenous if I tried to type it. This, for me, is akin to nuclear codes. It was the hail mary scheme that protected Chowhound - a good and worthy thing thanks to the efforts of a million smart and generous people - being reduced to worthless crud by one random kook.

But I will describe our protocol. It was extremely counterintuitive by design, and it was all about framing. I didn't fully understand framing at the time (full understanding - the ability to frame framing - arrived just a few years ago), but I did have a natural flair for it.

I felt a certain empathy - some distant simpatico - for most of our hundreds of psychos (remember our oppressive scaling issue). I could usually grok their motives and anticipate their moves. But not Julie. She was too empty and metallic. I'm not saying she was some awesome mastermind. Just that there was little human meat on those bones. There are people who act like ciphers, and there are ciphers who act like people. Julie was the latter. I couldn't see her because there was no "there" there.

Yet one single thing was always clear about Julie: she was playing a video game. Not just that; she was addicted to the videogame, which explains at least some of her persistence. We all know kids who stay up all night to play Minecraft. Julie stayed up four years to play Chowhound. Understanding this big picture gave us an advantage.

Again, Julie didn't care about food. She just wanted to "score", by posting and engaging. None of it was real; it was 100% emulation. Emulating a full-fledged citizen in a virtual community, like a Real Girl. So a "win" for Julie would mean establishing an identity and being allowed to participate. The problem was that once she'd dug her hooks in, using her nth new name tag, she'd lay eggs and begin to infest that particular discussion, injecting her preoccupations and relentless obnoxiousness, and spreading wildly to other parts of the site until she was sprayed back. Then she'd restart. Over and over. For years. That was the game.

Here's the thing about people settled into a game-playing mental frame: they will assume, unquestioningly, that the other side is playing the same game. Like military leaders throughout history, we discovered the secret: it's a huge advantage to flip the script and find a way to play a different and higher-level game, unbeknownst to your adversary. This relocates the adversary to a sealed box, under a bright light, where they can unknowingly be examined, manipulated, and disarmed. They carry on their fight, and may even feel they're winning, but you can't lose because the conflict's been transparently reframed on your terms.

Of course it’s never quite that antiseptic and seamless. Periodically, Julie would become faintly cognizant that our game did not match hers. At such moments, we were forced to switch tactics and shift protocols, leaving us momentarily vulnerable to further escalation. But she never quite got the best of us.

Julie assumed the game was a simple cat-and-mouse. She'd try to post, and we'd try to detect and delete. If we tipped our hand by rapidly and thoroughly deleting her, that would provide her with juicy, useful feedback regarding our capabilities, and she'd develop countermeasures. Escalation! Julie's prickly antennae were perpetually tuned to this dance. Again, she was no mastermind (for example, she could never quite fully organize her myriad personas), but, like any sentient organism, she could absorb feedback and use it to learn and to grow.

We recognized early on that we were under no compulsion to play the same game. Honestly, we didn't care much if Julie posted, so long as she wasn't damaging the site. Her attempts to ingratiate with the community - to blend in, apparently defeating our defense systems by posting like a normal harmless Chowhound user - actually didn't bother us at all. So we left those up.

Most of them, anyway. We'd randomly delete a few, after waiting a random amount of time, just to confuse her feedback curve with noisy data. Consistency on our end would teach her things.

So we mostly let her linger in the early, more innocuous stage of her curve, where she won seeming victory over us by hiding her malevolence and behaving well. Assuming this was all about her, she failed to realize that, to our perspective, no malevolence was no problem. The mouse itself wasn’t what we were chasing (we had declined to frame it that way, seeing the larger picture quite clearly, which few people in our position would have thought to do). To her, though we were failing pathetically in our mission of Total Julie Annihilation. She was winning, and that's exactly how we wanted her to feel. Loser Julie would have incentive to escalate.

We gave Julie her petty victories. She'd write pleasant postings complimenting someone's taco discovery, giddy at her cleverness in evading our guns by using, say, a library computer. For Chowhound, there was just one more nice person out there adding good vibes. She'd won...but we hadn't lost.

But we couldn't let her settle in, because at a certain point she could not help herself from compulsively filling our message board with irritating nonsense (or worse). Having revealed that she’d been detected, we'd clean up all output from her latest identity....though even that was done on time delay. She couldn't suspect our easy seamlessness. Better to let her assume we were bumbling Keystone Cops, embarrassingly feeble and incompetent, struggling to keep up against a clever Bugs Bunny perennially ten steps ahead. One needn't seek out advanced laser weaponry to defeat feebly incompetent Keystone Cops.

A reader asks: if you could detect her so easily and seamlessly, why pussyfoot around? Why not just block her completely? The answer: fear of escalation. If she tried harder, shaking up her methods even more extremely than she already was doing, she might serendipitously manage to evade us. If so, and we'd been efficiently expunging her, she'd instantly know which shake-up had been successful, because she'd suddenly find herself able to post with impunity. This, in turn, would have clued her into our methods. Escalation is terrifying because it can happen very quickly (like a chain reaction), leaving us nakedly vulnerable and desperately needing to come up with another stroke of genius. We absolutely could not chance that. Like diabetes, Julie was to be controlled, not cured. She needed to feel victorious and mildly complacent, and to view us as low-challenge opposition.



This might read like a tale of strategy and gamesmanship - spy vs spy - but it's deeper than that. It's about framing. I've noted in the past that
Some people can spur others to reframe in certain ways. That’s what art is all about, for example. "Art is any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective." Also, gifted salesmen close sales by changing perspective. A number of people have some visceral notion of reframing, and may have developed ways to induce it in others for fun or profit.
For example, comedy involves reframing. And psychologists (who believe the concept is way too esoteric for the public to understand) have a limited understanding, at least if they're super-good.

But this posting suggests we should add to that list those who strategize for a living. Game players, athletes, coaches, and military leaders - at least, super-good ones - intuitively understand a thing or two about framing, and develop the ability to nimbly reframe, at least within certain narrow realms. You can win by bashing your opponent's skull harder than he bashes your's, or you can win smarter by letting him bash away while you shift to fight on a whole other level. The fact that subtlety is dead makes it more advantageous than ever to know how to shift and zigzag. As such moves grow increasingly unpopular, they become more and more of a superpower.

Consider Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They played a whole other game than their adversaries, but they got the result they wanted. And they didn't even need to be sneaky about it. They announced their intentions.


I'm not a naturally a "super-good" strategizer. I don't like being sneaky, and don't enjoy manipulating people any more than I enjoy being manipulated. But circumstance compelled me to fire on all cylinders to protect something I loved. Like I said, running Chowhound taught me some skills I'd have preferred not to master. It's one reason my everyday persona is goofy and ingenuous. I choose not to flex these muscles.


Further reading:

"Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out": the tale of Chowhound's sale to CNET. Installment #1 is quoted above, but the whole series intermittently discusses our psycho travails.
No One Loves You Like a Hater Does
Always Talk to the Mask
The Day Vandals Wrecked Chowhound
My Own Robert Mueller Scenario
...and all posts tagged "Chowhound"

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Death of Subtlety

Here's a two minute video of a guy doing unbelievably difficult things with a skateboard and never falling down. This is widely considered the state of the art (the original version of this video got over 9M views in less than a week):



As I viewed it, I experienced a cascade of epiphanies, which I'll recount in chronological order (the first few aren't super epiphanic, which I note mostly because I'm delighted out of my gourd that this word actually exists):

1. That seems hard.


2. He's not making it look easy.


3. He's not even trying to make it look easy.



4. I think that's because he wants it to look hard.



5. He wants it to look hard because the proposition here is "watch me do hard things".


Making it look hard serves that purpose. Making it elegant and joyful and elevational might mean a more rewarding experience for the viewer, but would distract from the main goal.


6. But wait. Elevating the enterprise to serve viewers would ultimately serve him, because he'd be the guy offering that experience - the elegance and joy and elevation - and that's an even neater trick.

Fred Astaire got credit for being a good dancer, but gobs more extra credit for making it look easy/elegant/joyful/elevational.


7. At some point, “making it look easy” stopped being a thing.

There's something deeper going on here, and it has nothing to do with skateboards. There's been a societal pivot.

Making stuff look easy is a complication; a strategic detour from the simpler goal of being seen as the doer of hard things. This complication once offered ample return on investment. "Making it look easy" being the hardest trick of all, doers of hard things pursued this ultimate challenge - graceful ease. And we recognized and appreciated the feat when we saw it.

But such subtlety has fallen out of favor, removing the incentive to tackle that extra complication. Or perhaps it happened the other way: fewer people pursued it, so the rest of us lost our appreciation. In either case, we've certainly lost something. Fred Astaire would not be revered if he were starting out today. He'd just be another good dancer, whose cool elegance would draw a fraction of the attention paid to artists who make a tortured ordeal of it all. The path’s been simplified. We've removed the knot. If it looks easy, it must be easy, period, yawn.


8. This is part of a larger shift away from subtlety.

There are countless instances in life where it's strategic to self-restrain and perpetrate a zigzag. Dogs wouldn’t comprehend this. They run straight toward the ball, come what may, their eyes squarely on the prize. Humans, more intellectually sophisticated and able to defer gratification, are able to pursue, and to appreciate, a subtler approach. At least, theoretically.

Zigzagging would confuse the hell out of a dog, who'd advise you to "just chase the damned ball!" But much of our culture is built upon certain deliberate restraints, complications, and backtracks. It turned out like this because there were rewards for such behavior.

Concert pianists could walk on stage in tux and tails and simply run through some impossibly difficult technical exercises to reap the acclaim they crave. But taking the trouble to wrap it in actual music is worth the extra trouble. Many more people want to hear Chopin than want to marvel at your fancy fingers (though the two sets certainly intersect). So the conceit becomes to at least feign at offering something substantial - a cultured, elevated veil beneath which, naturally, you scramble for validation of your awesomeness. At least you have the good grace to pretend to make it about something more than yourself. You give them their fucking Chopin. It’s a zigzag.

But as we become increasingly canine and simple, such complications seem confusing and counterproductive. If your eye is glued to the prize of seeming awesome, the gig is to heap on awesomeness without restraint - with nary a zigzag. Why waste time going the other way?

And so it goes. The shift has huge implications beyond concert halls and skateboard parks. We've seen it without connecting the seemingly disparate pieces.

I've written about how people, in flaunting their status, make themselves look especially low-class.
I once dined with a well-known food-writer who I'll call Arnold. We enjoyed a pleasant meal, and, once the check was paid and it was time to go, Arnold headed directly for the door. I yelled after him to wait, because he'd forgotten the profusion of plastic shopping bags he'd left under the table. His boyfriend leaned toward me, and, in a stage whisper, explained that "Arnold doesn't shlep!" He and I hastily gathered the bags and carried them out of the restaurant while Arnold strode majestically ahead, unencumbered.

This was what Arnold deemed having "made it": not having to carry bags. It's a fantasy that could be harbored only by someone with sensibilities firmly anchored in the nineteenth century Eastern European ghettos of his forebears. Which is to say that it marks him, unmistakably, as an absolute peasant, even while he feels most aristocratic.
Taking a self-aware step back from indulging such cringe-inducing impulses would be helpful. But it would be complicated to self-restrain amid self-indulgence. You’d need to pay attention to two different things...and there’s little appetite for complexity when there’s awesomeness to flaunt.

The true high-status move is to not give a damn about status. If you ever meet Queen Elizabeth and make a gaffe, she won't embarrass you. Quite the contrary. If you use the wrong spoon, she'll do likewise. If you affectionately pat her shoulder, she won't bat an eyelash. That's what class and status are: not needing to make a showy big deal over class and status. Making a big deal over status always reveals that you've got none. But that’s a subtle zigzag, less and less popular nowadays when the entire world is essentially nouveau riche. The Queen’s a relic, and the fact that her “go with it” attitude seems surprising must baffle the bejesus out of her.

Here's an older posting titled "Going All the Way in One's Shmuckery":
I've never understood people who insist they're right all the time, and who never allow their minds to be changed. Those with a deep stake in their own rightness ought to live for constant correction, because the only way to attain the Pinnacle of Rightness is by having all remaining dabs of wrongness systematically expunged.

The conceited ought to thrill at being proven wrong, as it brings them one step closer to their self-image of utter perfection. Plus, what better way to seal the legend on one's grandness than to eagerly accept fresh ideas and publicly renounce faulty ones? Only terribly competent and secure people - studly, admirable, heroic people! - behave this way. So why isn't this a more popular pose?

Similarly, people who want to be seen as tough and menacing ought to act immaculately gracious and deferential. One can best signal one's ability to harm by exaggeratedly declining to do so. This pose is slightly more popular (in fact, its roots go back to ancient times), as I learned while commuting to my first-ever music gig, with a blues band in a crack house in Roosevelt, Long Island. By waving a pedestrian to go ahead and cross in front of my car, I discovered that I had been perceived to have aggressively challenged him. It took years before I was able to unravel the psychology.

Early in my food writing career, I met a famous food writer/editor, who'd attained her lofty position through unimaginable cunning and ambition. I was struck by how down-to-earth this person seemed, but there was a discernible "twist" to her humbleness. A certain sort of modesty broadcasts one's power more effectively than any boast, just as a certain sort of graciousness says "I could effortlessly crush you like a bug...but choose not to."

If those who've decided to act like shmucks would simply take their shmuckdom all the way, the end result would be a more pleasant world.
Those are all subtle zigzags, less and less likely these days to ever be appreciated or understood.

Compare architecture today to architecture of years past. These days there are few touches or subtleties. Few nuances; mostly just big bold assertive contours, and grand statements. One might let nuances make the statement, but that would be subtle, and thus doomed. The notion of going small to go big is awfully complicated, and little appreciated. A more obvious and winning approach is that “big is big” and “more is more.” If your eye’s on the prize, why zigzag? That move is for the weakly hesitant.

To successfully pull off a zigzag - to inject subtlety; to adhere to “less is more”; to make it look easy - we’d need to be other-than-canine. We’d need to defer gratification, apply intelligence and restraint, and increase effort and workload - all blindly trusting that people will appreciate a result without a big stupid cheesy sparkly "TA-DAHHHHH!!!" They’d need to look beyond the superficial and recognize low-key extraordinariness. And while that’s never been something one could assuredly count on, at this point it’s extinct. Subtlety, modesty, and elegance are not 21st century virtues.

We no longer sigh at the ease of an Astaire. Few appreciate detail work. Power needs to scream “POWERFUL” to seem like power. Authenticity is an empty term - far too subtle to comprehend - so the truly gracious are stepped upon, and we are far more impressed by intelligent-seeming poseurs than by the genuinely intelligent.

And now here we have this dude, looking miserable and clunky, tiresomely performing pointlessly difficult moves on his stupid skateboard, heedlessly revealing every one of his 20,000 hours of brutish practice while we dutifully peer at him on our ubiquitous screens. There is only one takeaway, with no complication of subtext: This is hard. I am awesome because I’m doing something hard.

He doesn’t enjoy it, and we don’t enjoy it, but enjoyment has nothing to do with it. We’re supposed to acknowledge empty pointless accomplishment, and that’s it. Don’t go looking for anything else. Don’t complicate.

A pianist gives you a sonata. A novelist offers a story. A chef proffers yum-yums. None are generous at heart. All operate from the same vain, selfish impetus. But skateboard kid has dispensed with any quid pro quo.


I may, oddly, have been the only jazz musician on Earth who registered the evident fact that people got dressed up and paid money and sat quietly for hours to hear me make up music in the spur of the moment...and tried conscientiously to rise to this daunting proposition. I framed my job as striving to be worthy of their attention, rather than as a public gathering for the affirmation of my awesomeness.

And the reason my writing is often richly surprising is because I owe something remarkable to those who invest limited time in retracing my squiggly characters across the page. I'd never just "express myself." Seriously, shoot me if you ever spot me expressing myself.

The prospect of watching someone express themself is as tempting as watching them evacuate their bowels. As a reader or audience member, I want something I can use. I want to understand something, or to feel something. I want to be a slightly different person than I was before I arrived. If you don't have the power to induce that, don’t presume to draw people's attention.

Mr. Rogers was quite right: you are beautiful and valuable exactly as you are. However, if you seek to occupy strangers’ attention, you owe more. You are scarcely worthy of it, and must bear that closely in mind if you have even a scintilla of generosity in your heart. Do not come as you are. You owe more. So much more.

As I wrote here:
It's not that every thought in my head is original; it's just that I don't post anything that isn't. I have plenty of conventional ideas and opinions, but can't imagine why you'd want want to hear me repeat what everyone else says. We live in a world where seven billion people say about forty seven things. It bores me, and I don't want to bore you.

Monday, July 27, 2020

New Cars and Pizza and Needlessly Making Ourselves Miserable

You've bought a new car, and every scratch feels like a punch in the face from a malevolent universe.

Eventually, your car ages, and one more scratch barely registers.

Why not? What actually changes?

"It's obvious on the face of it," you reply.

But, no, it's not. Each new scratch mars the car as much as if there'd been none prior. The car doesn't change, only your framing does. And you could just as easily frame scratches as trivial from the get-go. Or, conversely, clutch your chest in pain upon the 10,000th scratch. The only thing that changes is your framing. And you have infinite freedom in how you frame.

We habituate our framing choices. How painful would you like the world to seem? At some point, you create a preference for that, and stick with it. Forever.
Everyone, at a certain point, decides how happy they will be (as with most such choices, cues are taken from the happiness of family members and others around them). This decision becomes a bedrock part of identity - the "I am this kind of person" inner narrative we all maintain.
We ballast our desired happiness level by choosing framings which put us in conflict with the unavoidable. Misery is easy: just deem arbitrary trivialities malevolent. Mere scratches - on a miraculous machine which can transport you anywhere you want to go at high speed in safety and comfort, something our ancestors could scarcely have imagined - can become punches to the face. That’s how far we bend over backwards to conjure misery for ourselves.

Framing is untethered from obvious facts. For example, dieting people do this same move with pizza. We try to avoid eating a slice. But by the time we've had three, we might as well have a fourth. It seems trivially incremental, though of course calories don't magically devalue in the presence of lots more calories. Our framing habits are mostly about justifying primal impulses and deliberately disrupting our natural happiness.

"Natural happiness?" you ask, prepared to bitterly catalog the litany of indignities meted out over your lifetime by malevolent fates. But, comically, this discussion takes place as you're lavishly ensconced on a lovely planet full of sunlight and water and food, enjoying a rich, dynamic, immersive panoply of comforts, entertainments, artworks, and dramatic storylines tailored for your precise needs on the sole speck of color, action, and beneficence in an otherwise cold, dark, tight, vacant universe. As you enjoy this unimaginably privileged existence for a blessed short time, your obliviousness - conjuring Hell amid Heaven, and then ruing the misery - is hilarious.

Well, now that I've put it that way, perhaps you've grudgingly reframed perspective a bit, registering some small bit of spaciousness, joy, and freedom. So what will pull you back out of this framing in the coming seconds? New scratches. Quarrels with your own primal drives. Habitual framings chosen to deliberately ignore the essential perfection of it all (yes, "all", including heartbreak, violence, and kids dying of cancer). What pulls us out of heaven aren’t big red letter issues, but mere wispy trivialities. More precisely: the stubbornly willful bitterness we build up by quarreling with trivialities. So straight back to Hell we go...though it's literally the simplest thing in the world to frame the other way. You just need to want to. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Lofty Framing Behind the Embarrassing Hypocrisy

As you've surely heard, armed secret police are beating peaceful protestors and pushing them into unmarked cars without clear authority or Miranda warnings, Constitution be damned.
Am I repulsed and horrified? Yes. Am I fearful? Not particularly. This isn't how a nation falls into authoritarianism. That outcome would require years of smart maneuvering and patiently disciplined frog boiling, all far beyond the feeble talents of this oafish administration. This is merely Fascism Theater, designed to juice the base, cleave the country, and draw attention from Trump's mishandling of coronavirus.

Does that make it tolerable? Absolutely not. Does "authenticity" matter if you're being beaten by anonymous goons? Uh-uh. But though we flirt with the unthinkable, this is not the news reel we'll watch to recall the point when the totalitarianism started. There's immense distance between our present location and that endpoint. This is to "1984" as pasty-faced suburban douches with citronella torches are to Kristallnacht. This is to a police state what Stephen Miller is to an actual tough guy.
My salient concern is the millions of Libertarians who've spent the past decades screaming their heads off about exactly this scenario. For this, they've subjected us to an unceasing second amendment hissy fit and turned the nation into an arms locker. “Nobody loves school shootings,” they explained, “but if we gave up our guns, who'd confront the tyranny?

So where are those guys right now? Hello?

Obviously, they were never anti-tyranny. They were just against being personally tyrannized, themselves. After all, the sign says “Don’t tread on me”, not “Don’t tread on us”, and certainly not “Don’t tread on them”.

"Hypocrites!" you hiss. And, yes, they are. But so are we all.

The Left is against runaway government spending, hollering "Cut the military budget!" The Right is against runaway government spending, hollering "Cut entitlement programs!" Everyone loves spending on their stuff, but nobody would frame it that way. Both sides claim fiscal responsibility.

Black people stand solemnly against prejudice, but dark-skinned blacks are perennially persecuted by light-skin blacks, and neither is fond of Jews or gays. Their demand is for tolerance applied to them, but they’d never frame it that way. They claim devotion to justice and equality.

Every American is a staunch free speech advocate when someone tells them to shut up. But I can report - from my experience managing a huge community - that everyone wants to make someone shut up about something...though they wouldn’t frame it that way. They claim devotion to truth. Latest example: pressuring Facebook to remove “the lies.” Remove the lies! Just like that!
I'd love to explain the insanity of this proposition, but I'm frozen because the notion is so moronic on the face of it that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps I’d start with the immense difficulty of defining what constitutes a lie, or by observing the fatuous certainty that lies are what other people tell and that arbiters of Truth will always share your values and viewpoint. 
We don’t want to expunge lies. What we really want is to expunge lies we dislike under a hypocritical mantle of righteous full-spectrum truthiness.
If we removed all the lies, you wouldn't like it.

If we let everyone speak freely, you wouldn't like it.

If we thwarted all persecution, you wouldn't like it.


You and yours would get caught in every one of those traps, screaming “Doh!” like scorched lemmings.

The issue isn't hypocrisy so much as unsubtle use of language. We bridle at distinctions and fine-tunings. It's simpler and more flattering to frame a position as broadly and nobly as possible, even if the words don’t quite fit. We couch our personal and tribal agendas in bizarrely universal terms, ensuring hypocrisy as a side-effect of our vain obliviousness.

The Right favors Small Government - except for the vast military complex and monthly disability checks for aging red state boomers. And the Left insists on respecting Scientific Consensus - except issues like vaccination, where they snidely rebuff those so-called "experts.” Nah, everybody just wants their bundle, while wrapping themselves in lofty credos that never truly applied.

The shrunken, calcified psychic pellets exuding our gaseous lofty ideals seem both obvious and ridiculous to a dispassionate centrist. But I’m still stuck on seemingly smart, savvy people demanding that Facebook expunge Lies. Hey, who doesn’t love Honesty and Truth? That’s a good thing, right?

It’s always about other people’s lies. In a late stage duopoly, what's good for the goose is never good for the gander. The Right wants a forceful, even dictatorial executive....so long as he's one of theirs. The Left wants democracy, with power to the people...just not the deplorable half. Both sides twist themselves so badly to avoid self-awareness that it's a miracle spines don't snap. We only notice the hypocrisy and the lies of The Other.

It's hard to imagine a much less tolerant movement than the Left's sweeping, indignant, and messianic demand for ultratolerance on their terms. Rigidly conformist tolerance is demanded for the bundle of realms where intolerance has been declared intolerable, but there's no higher commitment to Tolerance as a consistent principle. Just tolerance for a particular bundle. It's another "Don’t tread on me".

Gripped by the primal impulses of prejudice and contempt they profess to oppose, they’ve forgotten the lesson of the French Revolution: that the worst atrocities arise from blind sanctimony. Again, we couch What We Want in loftily universalist language, ensuring a rich flow of unbridled hypocrisy, and, inevitably, outcomes we’d hate to see flipped. The problem is that history has often shown that treaders may soon find themselves treaded upon. Attention sinners: avoid rock throwing.

Both Left and Right try their damndest to increase presidential power while they hold office. Can everyone possibly be too dumb to recognize the greater danger? Yes, we're that dumb. It's the same stupidity that led us to arm the mujahideen during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. We consider only immediate expedience.

The pivotal political delusion of our era is that geese think it’s all geese, and ganders see only ganders. Lacking the minimal empathy necessary to flip perspective - to consider the reciprocality - we unceasingly find ourselves hoisted by our own petards. Whether we're patriotically opposing an imperial president or patriotically fortifying Our Guy with glorious evil-fighting superpowers, we feel so irrefutably justified, and frame our actions in such lofty terms, that, amid all the righteous glory, none ever ponder the precedents set by their hypocrisy, earth-salting, and doomsday trap-baiting. This will not end well.

Pay no attention to people’s characterizations of their stances. Not the libertarians, not the MAGAs, and not the progressives. It's long been Ideology Theater, all around; a drama of self-justification and self-mythology. We peer at our own reflections, framed in poses of valiant transcendence, as we devolve into vile neotribalism.


Joe Biden's a last bastion of the old way, a ghost of sanity past. We do not deserve him, and it’s abundantly clear why extremists detest him. And, Christ, will both sides ever make his life miserable...

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Noodling Note

I've made a number of tweaks and improvements to yesterday's posting, "Trump is Us". The biggest change was in the final paragraph (above the endnote):
So the nonsense-spouting guy at the end of the bar wanted to play president. I'd reference the banality of evil, but this isn't even evil, it's pedestrian. It’s the sequel to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” revealing how Jimmy Stewart’s character actually made out with his gut-level confidence in his common decency and good sense amid all the slick fancy types.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Trump is Us

The deeper we descend into the yaw of dysfunction, willful ignorance, and utter incompetence that is the Trump era, the more I recognize that he wasn't some Black Swan - an aberrant phenomenon no one could have foreseen. Trump's not a uniquely malign presence who wielded superpowers to seize power and make America grate again.
I'm less and less surprised by Trump's adoring base or his tolerators. They're not gripped by inexplicable madness. They're not uniquely susceptible to Trump's idiosyncratic basket of poison and poisoned candy. He hasn't brought us down; rather, we sunk and he was there, in the sub-sub-sub-sub basement, poised to step jauntily into elevator.

We're finally getting just a little bit clear on him. There's increasing consciousness - on both the Left and the Right - that what we have here is a guy who wanted the role, not the job.

We've always known this, at a blurry deep-seated level. As early as 2016, I could make even Republican friends grin at the suggestion that we appoint him King - letting him strut around in a robe and a crown while some real administrator does the actual work. They chuckled, and you'd have chuckled, too. We all knew the truth, beneath our outrage or adoration.

He wanted the position, not the job. This should spark deja vu for Slog readers endlessly subjected to this observation:
Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. That's why most singers are so awful.
That's Trump to a tee. And that's all of us, as well. Not just the raving MAGAs, but also the progressive Resistance which spent four years Karenning over what a racist he is, diagramming his three-dimensional chess moves, delving into his psychology, and performatively setting their hair on fire over every trollish tweet, while, really, he's just malignant Chauncey Gardener.

In the long view, all you need to know is that he's that guy: the guy at the end of the bar spouting nonsense who nobody takes seriously, and who, normally, no one would want to see appointed Dog Catcher, much less President. We know the guy. We’ve always known him. He's not the embodiment of evil. Just a vain, loudmouthed ignoramus, and there are always plenty of them out there. We chuckle and shrug, deeming them edge cases.

This particular vain, loudmouthed ignoramus, enjoying some unique advantages (top four: 1. rich Daddy, 2. reality tv stardom, 3. slimy ability to flatter rubes, and 4. the tremendous benefit of a complete lack conscience), rose to the top in a system inherently lacking pre-filters. When he was elected, the loudmouthed ingorami finally had their moment. I'm honestly happy for them. Representative democracy doesn't profess to necessarily elevate the best/brightest - the candidate and policies YOU like. Democracy gives every strata a shot. So if your segment was too complacent, Karenesque, and counter-deluded to defeat the retards, don't blame the system (or, for that matter, the retards).

He's the proverbial horse spastically on the loose in the hospital. And to return to my point, he got here not via startling aberrance, but by being the very epitome of his times. He wanted to be president because he wanted to be president, not because he wanted to lead. And that's not surprising, opaque or mysterious. That's what we imperious rich aristocrats - inhabitants of the First World - do all day.

We use our copious spare time and unwavering sense of entitlement to project images of ourselves bathed in glory, feeling anger and resentment when those images remain unfulfilled, coddled though we are. None of us wants to actually do the work. We're a nation of special cases, each intrinsically superior, an entire society lost in you-go-girl imagery. This makes us susceptible to demagogues who voice our resentment.

So the nonsense-spouting guy at the end of the bar wanted to play president. I'd reference the banality of evil, but this isn't even evil, it's pedestrian. It’s the sequel to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” revealing how Jimmy Stewart’s character actually made out with his gut-level confidence in his common decency and good sense amid all the slick fancy types.


For reasons I can't fathom, people use the term "influencer" with a straight face. And this dude's the ultimate Influencer. This is where that road leads. While presidents post-Biden will likely be less stupid and self-defeating and racist and trollish and corrupt and incompetent, it may be a very long time before we get another president ala Obama, Clinton, or Bush the Elder who wants to do the work more than - ala Reagan, Bush the Younger, and Trump - s/he wants to play the role. Because as a society we're 100% about seeming, not being. We can hardly parse the difference.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Mystic's Revenge

"If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by."

Sun Tzu



Fact check: true.

But it needn't be so martial. You can get very far from this use case and still have it be true. Anything you feel tempted to resist eventually ceases and dissolves. Time is on your side. The most energetic opposition (or even mere annoyance) is defeated by sustained patience.
We all know what happened to the guy who said "Look on my works and despair."
If you are 1. patient (that takes work) and 2. not needy (that takes a lot of work), time is always on your side.
Why "not needy"? Time alone won't bring you ice cream.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Old People's Comfort Zones

I need to insulate pipes in my basement. As do-it-yourself jobs go, this is crazy-easy. You buy fiberglass tubes, open the tubes, surround the pipe, close and pull the paper from the sticky part. That's it! What could be simpler?

Of course, the devil's in the details. The Thing, itself, might be easy, but then there are the many things you need to be careful not to do, and myriad related things to bear in mind (to an insulation expert, these would be referred to as "the ways you could be a complete idiot"). Finally, you'l need to survive the inevitable project snafu (is there ever not a snafu?), and that requires a repertoire of McGiver moves to draw from. The ability to write a compelling ode to a taco won't help much.

So the project has frozen into a titanic mountain, after I've spent $300 on fiberglass tubes and goggles and tape and PVC covers and tacks and what have you. I'm absolutely unable to start.

This happens a lot (I wrote about project paralysis here). And the worst thing is that the part I'm currently most hung up on is laughably slight.

I once bought a small HEPA-filtered shop vac - it's in my basement somewhere - and I'll need it to suck up fiberglass dust when I'm done. But I only used this vacuum once, years ago, and there's some kooky problem with it that I can't remember. Days are going by, and I'm just about breaking out in hives over it.

What's wrong with me? Why can't I go down to my basement, unearth the damned vacuum, and figure out the kooky problem? The prospect fills me with dread. And I suddenly realize I'm looking a lot like an Old Guy.

This, after all, is what Old People are famous for: shrunken comfort zones. Inflexibility with anything outside their norm. They're musty, frozen, stagnant, inflexible, incurious, non-adventurous, preferring to sit in some chair and knit or wittle or spit tobacco than learn how to use their iPhone or reset the time on their microwave.

And I'm that guy. My comfort zone has shunken to the point where the prospect of finding and using an unfamiliar vacuum feels as inviting as crabbing on the Bering Sea.

But, wait. Let's flip it.

Everything else in my life has started to feel insanely easy. The things I've been doing all along have 57 years of practice, which is a ton. I'm a leading expert at my life such as it is. All 57 year olds are high virtuosos at the things they always do. The resultant sense of ease is a heady reward.

When I was 22, I couldn't do much of anything but play trombone. "Ease" was a concept I understood only abstractly. Installing insulation would not have intimidated me much more than any other pursuit. I'd have attempted it in a bleary, blurry fog of ignorance, botched it, found some hail mary move to more or less save it, and moved on to botching something else. Par for the course!

Now, I know ease. And the things outside that bubble of ease quite understandably seem extra-daunting. I'd need to descend from quite a lofty throne to find and debug that vacuum.

So it's not that I'm shriveling and rigidifying into some helpless whiny stick-in-the-mud. I'm just really uninterested in botching, because it's been so long since I botched. Kids botch all the time, so it's no problem. Me? I'm out of practice, and aghast at the prospect.

Does everyone but me already already understand this? I never know! I remember the time I suddenly came to understand the function of glue and thought it was a Eureka!


More postings about aging

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Pace of Technology

It dawns on me that, in the 80s, when 1950s nostalgia was the rage, I watched shows like MASH and Happy Days, both set in the 50s, without once contemplating any tech anachronisms.

In fact, I never fully realized MASH was a period piece. An era three decades prior was completely relatable. People lived the same life, with the difference being mostly stylistic - clothes, haircuts, and music. Not once, while watching either show - or while watching movies shot contemporaneously - did I ever ask "How did people live like that?"

By contrast, now I watch movies and shows set or shot thirty years back, and it's like a different civilization. No cell phones, computers, or Internet. Long distance calls were an exorbitant luxury, we frequently got lost while driving, and resorted to physical libraries to ferret out nuggets of information. Big lumbering leaded-gas-fume-belching cars stalled a lot, and heart attacks were the scariest prospect in an age without coronary stents. 70 year olds were decrepit, and one homogenous pop culture smothered the landscape, hypnotizing most while alienating misfits with no means of escape. Everyone was drunk-driving and smoking their way through lives where their possessions and surroundings were designed solely for conformist appearance, never for comfort or efficiency, making relaxation (e.g. reclining on ungenerous sofas with our big greasy sideburns, polyester shirts, and smoldering piles of cancerous cigarette butts) look squalid.

Watching period pieces from the 80s, I can't take my eyes off the differences, and am frequently jarred by production anachronisms, which seem inevitable. We're too different now for emulation to be seamless (exception: the HBO series “The Deuce,” which even smelled like 1970s New York).

It's hard to zoom out one's framing far enough for a clear view of the pace of change while standing squarely inside the whirlwind. But there are hints. Remembering how easily relatable the 50s felt in the 80s, compared to how remote and barbaric the 80s feel today, shows how wild the acceleration has been.

Criterion Collection Films 50% off at Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble's biannual 50% off sale on all Criterion blu rays and dvds starts today (it's the most wonderful time of the year), and will last for several weeks. In celebration, I'm republishing this posting from 2017. I haven't updated the links to blu ray decks on Amazon, but they're easy enough to search for.

Note: Blu ray is much better quality than streaming, and streaming doesn't give you extras, booklets, and commentary tracks. And if you never care about any of that stuff, then you probably don't love any movie enough to want its Criterion edition.



Barnes and Noble (online and stores, both) is running their biannual Criterion Collection sale, with everything (including box sets) 50% off.

The Criterion Collection is the Rolls Royce of film distributors. They only carry great films, using the best available prints, and they take considerable trouble to improve image and sound when necessary. Their releases include copious extras (usually a printed booklet, too). Their release is the last word on any great film.

A lot of people lose their minds during these biannual sales, because every film is so damn attractive. I've been gaming them for a few years now, and have a few tips to share:

1. Don't buy on the basis of how good the film is (they're all great). You can often get much better deals on non-Criterion releases, or find ways to stream. And unless you're some fussy nerd, you generally won't need the very best print, so don't factor that in at all (unless you've got your sights on some lost film of the 1930s where the standard release is raggedy/terrible). Buy Criterion when you really want lots of extras. So: either favorite films (which you'll periodically rewatch) or else difficult, landmark films which you'll want to "chew on" - films by profound, challenging directors like Bergman or Tarkovsky. In both cases, you'll probably enjoy deep dives into special features and essays. If you'll just watch a film and put it back, Criterion is a waste of money.

2. Check price of used Criterion releases at Amazon Marketplace, half.com, and eBay. They may be even cheaper than 50% off new.

3. The new Criterion release everyone's most excited about is Tarkovsky's "Stalker".

4. There's great discussion in Amazon reviews, and, especially, in user comments on the individual film pages at Criterion's web site (Here, for example, is the page for "Stalker"). Also: Criterion Forum

5. There's no reason to still be using a DVD player. Blu-ray decks are cheap, and they play DVDs, so you won't obsolete your previous disks. This one costs just $46, and this one, for $139, will play DVDs and Blu-Rays from any region (note that some constricted players can be made all-region by entering certain codes with the remote. Google your model number for more info). This one, for $549, is the cheapest great/expensive one with lots of bells/whistles (the manufacturer sometimes has refurb units cheap - email them for more info).

6. Bear in mind that Criterions can go out of print. When that happens, their price may shoot up. So you may want to move quickly (keeping tip #1 in mind) and then hold on to your films as an investment. On the other hand, I've bought $200 used copies of out-of-print Criterion films, viewed, and sold mine back again for about the same price. There's always demand for Criterions.

7. If, like me, you're a huge fan of "The Leftovers", consider "Walkabout", the Australian film which inspired this last season, and starred David Gulpilil (who played the aborigine Kevin's father tried to get the song from).

8. If you're buying "blind" a film you've never seen, be sure to check it through Movielens to make sure it's a film you'll actually like.


Criterion films I either own or am considering buying this time:

The 39 Steps Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Battle of Algiers Director: Gillo Pontecorvo

Brazil Director: Terry Gilliam

Breathless Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Burden of Dreams Director: Les Blank

Burmese Harp Director: Kon Ichikawa

Dekalog Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Don't Look Now Director: Nicolas Roeg

Eisenstein: The Sound Years Director: Dmitriy Vasilev, Sergei M. Eisenstein

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Director: Terry Gilliam

A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman ("Through a Glass Darkly," "Winter Light," "The Silence")

Grand Illusion Director: Jean Renoir

Great Adaptations Director: David Lean

Grey Gardens / The Beales of Grey Gardens Director: Albert Maysles

Hiroshima Mon Amour Director: Alain Resnais

In the Mood for Love Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Jules and Jim Director: Fran├žois Truffaut

La Ronde Director: Max Ophuls

The Lady Eve Director: Preston Sturges

The Lady Vanishes Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Leopard Director: Luchino Visconti

Mala Noche Director: Gus Van Sant

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Director: Paul Schrader

Naked Director: Mike Leigh

Olivier's Shakespeare ((Henry V, Hamlet, Richard III) Director: Laurence Olivier

Orphic Trilogy ("The Blood of a Poet," "Orpheus," "The Testament of Orpheus") Director: Jean Cocteau

The Passion of Joan of Arc Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Paths of Glory Director: Stanley Kubrick

Picnic at Hanging Rock Director: Peter Weir

Pierrot le Fou Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Rashomon Director: Akira Kurosawa

The Rules of the Game Director: Jean Renoir

Rushmore Director: Wes Anderson

Safe Director: Todd Haynes

Scenes From a Marriage Director: Ingmar Bergman

The Seventh Seal Director: Ingmar Bergman

Solaris Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Stalker Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Tanner '88 Director: Robert Altman

This Is Spinal Tap Director: Rob Reiner

Three Colors: Blue White Red Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Throne of Blood Director: Akira Kurosawa

Videodrome Director: David Cronenberg

Walkabout Director: Nicolas Roeg

Yi Yi Director: Edward Yang

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Nazi Paradox Meets Bubba's Noose

Here's what I don't get about neo-Nazis, and have tried to grok since grade school. If I understand correctly, this is their essential rap:
The Jews are subhuman parasites who should be exterminated. And the Holocaust was a hoax. It's a slanderous lie to say the Nazis exterminated the subhuman parasites who absolutely deserve extermination.
Weird, no? They're indignant that their peeps would be accused of doing the central thing they advocate. It's like the NBA screaming bloody murder at accusations that their players dribble.

The odd thing is that in the 35 years I've been slowly grinding away at this paradox, not one speck of additional evidence has materialized. No connections have crept up, no metaphors conjured, no corollaries developed. It's just a singular puzzle, unique so far as I can tell.

Until now.

Bubba Wallace, the NASCAR driver who reported finding a noose in his garage after demanding that NASCAR drop the Confederate flag, has been accused (mostly/only by President Trump, so far as I can determine) of lying about it.

Which, hey, is possible. With a population of 328 million, anything/everything imaginable can and will happen here and there. So that's not the interesting question for me.

What draws my interest is the fact that the sort of person who'd cry "Hoax" is precisely the sort of person who'd leave a noose in the garage of someone attacking the Confederate flag. The pro-noose people are also the noose skeptics. I have trouble processing this, and, as I made the effort, it immediately associated with the other paradox.

If I understand correctly, this is the rap:
"God bless the Confederacy, and god damn the darkies, who ought to be strung up from trees, and who push the slanderous lie that there are people out there who'd string them up from trees."
I'm still confused - by the paradox, not by the hatred part, which feels completely non-mysterious.
In fact, the hatred part is, more than anything, boring. An old meme. A last gasp.

When, in 1977, the American Nazi Party marched in Skokie, a town with many concentration camp survivors - a demonstration which many of us supported as a civil liberty test case - those guys were bona fide scary, but we all laughed at the absurd goose-stepping relics, dismissed as lunatic fringe. Forty years later, a gaggle of pasty-faced citronella-bearing douchebags gather in Charlottesville, and scabby losers like Steve Bannon claim hilariously to be the master race, but the intervening decades of comparative tolerance make them seem like a titanic threat. As hatred slowly fades, remaining specks strike us as disproportionally worrisome.

As I wrote here
By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.
While the hatred part of the equation strikes me as a last gasp of a fading perspective (consider the elderly demographics of the hardcore MAGAs) the other part - the paradox - continues to puzzle. But I now have two data points to consider; not just one. Thanks, President Trump.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Misfires and Bullseyes

The greatest kindness one can pay a creative person is to amiably tolerate misfires.

I don't trust people who hit all bullseyes. It means they're holding back and not giving their all. Or they're cheating somehow.


Shiny David Copperfield always nails it.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Precipice and the Virus

The fear you feel in high places isn't really about the danger. The fear's palpable even if the danger's removed; by, for example, installing a barrier. It's your own inclinations that you're afraid of.

It’s not the fear of jumping intentionally, with kamikaze exuberance. It’s the sudden gulping recognition that your error margin - your grey area of uncertainty - encompasses "death plunge". A scenario is imaginable where...whoops.

The fear stems from the unholy juxtaposition of trivial/comical "whoops" and oblivion. The two are so disparate that they can't be framed simultaneously. We must flip back and forth, like with the alternate perspectives of an optical illusion. Whoops....Oblivion. Whoops....Oblivion. The flipping is what causes the vertigo. The most daunting precipice isn't the one between current position and prospective destination. Far steeper is the distance between "Whoops" and "Oblivion". That's the truly nauseating drop-off.



I have a perennially self-defeating and neurotic older friend who hasn't left his apartment since March. Hasn't seen a human being, hasn't breathed fresh air. He will not converse through the window when I deliver his groceries. His windows remain firmly shut.

He doesn't own a mask because he's not going outside - perhaps ever. He doesn't follow the guidelines, because he's uninterested in skirting the edge between safety and danger. He'll remain far, far back, in safety, thank you very much. Even if it kills him.

At first I assumed he felt like he was being extra safe. But after consideration, that's not it.

I tried encouraging him (via phone) to put on a mask and enjoy a nice walk down his breezy, deserted suburban street. But as he ranted - citing opinions from the television (dodgy to begin with) that he'd misheard, misremembered, and misapplied, about persistent viral clouds and uncertain modes of transmission - I glimpsed the actual precipice. It wasn’t the virus he was afraid of. A perfect clarity settled in. I could envision the truth as clearly as if I were the Oracle of freaking Delphi.

If he did finally go out, he'd do so in the fraught state of shaky failure he reserves for urgent circumstances. His nose would stick out from his mask, if there were any mask at all. He'd walk, inexorably and hopelessly, toward the sneezes. He'd touch only things lots of other people had touched. And, returning home in a state of mindless agitation, he'd find a way to 1. not wash his hands, and 2. touch his face. Whoops...oblivion.

My urgings were wrong-headed. He unconsciously senses his fraught self mismanagement, and that’s what keeps him - appropriately, I suppose - indoors. His choice is to either retract to the opposite end of the universe from the danger (putting himself in converse peril), or else self-immolation. Simply going about his business is unthinkable.

I know what you're thinking. "Huh. Crazy people. What are you gonna do?" But consider this: how many of us can stand with our toes against the ledge of a 10,000 foot drop-off while remaining calmly normal?


Also factor in this scenario, if you can (it's a tale about reaching for the comically/tragically wrong tool in the face of danger).

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Biden Does it My Way

"Never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself"


In May of 2016, I published a posting titled "The Smartest Thing Hillary Clinton Could Do".
Two points are inarguable:

1. No one who likes Donald Trump will have their mind changed by anything Hillary Clinton has to say.

2. No one who dislikes Hillary Clinton will have their mind changed by anything Hillary Clinton has to say.

There's nothing for her to do. It is not in her power to increase his negatives or her own positives. For those rubbed the wrong way by her love-it-or-hate-it voice, six months of Clinton grinding over what a prick Trump is will only work against the intended narrative. And in the course of those six months, she and Bill will commit many unforced errors. All while Trump trolls the bejesus out of her (America's brashest troll meets America's tightest coil).

This election is Clinton's to lose. She's got as strong a margin as she started with (and feebly squandered) against Obama and Sanders. So the smartest thing Hillary and Bill could do would be to rent a nice house in the south of France until November, and disappear. Not say a word. Let her proxies (not Bill) snipe at Trump. Let Trump be the only candidate committing unforced errors. Give him the total spotlight he craves. Let the nation experience nothing but wall-to-wall Trump for six months. Let Trump undo Trumpism.
This time around, Biden's been doing precisely that. It's debatable whether he'd have gone this route without the cover of Covid-19. But all parties seem to agree that it's helped him to give Trump - increasingly out of step with the country, as tiresome as an old meme, and incapable of adaptation - loads of room to stumble.

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