Monday, August 31, 2020

The Antidote to Wistfulness

Whimsicality is the antidote to wistfulness.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mask Laxness

I worry that once we finally cast off our masks I may be unable to stop the mouth-breathing, brazen smirking, silent mumbling, old-mannish lip-licking, and shoddy face-shaving.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Older, Wiser, Richer Data Set

Aging hasn't been what I expected. There've been nice surprises (which I've been cataloging in postings tagged "Aging"). Here's one of the nicest (though perhaps the least surprising) surprises: Data Points!

As a child, I knew that I didn't know. I was smarter and more insightful than I am today, but, lacking knowledge of the world, I couldn't figure stuff out. My mind was like a vacant mill with no wheat to grind. Being all hardware with no software is an uneasy predicament. I watched adults constantly screw up, easily recognizing their fallacies, but couldn't devise better solutions. My imagination kept spitting out ideas, but, unable to mentally model results, it was like extruding confetti. And the worst part was that I knew it.

As a young adult, I was tossed around by a confusing world. I knew that the traditional course - the path of low confusion - was to put my nose down and work some narrow corner of it all, trodding well-traveled, well-lit pathways according to established procedure. But if that were a religion, I'd be the Anti-Christ. It's obviously not for me. I'm way too curious, intrepid, and promiscuous for that.

So I braved the storm, often grappling with the age-old quandary: "Am I crazy, or are they?" Even as I began finding footholds, I'd deliberately shuffle the cards, always opting for novelty. As any software developer will tell you, surprising behavior breaks things, so I often found myself chewed by spinning gears. While I came to an uneasy peace with it, I couldn't understand (among countless other mysteries) why malevolent forces kept thwarting earnest efforts. It was like I'd been denied some essential cosmic manual (I've been building that manual here since 2008). But I settled into a twofold strategy: give it everything you've got...and blithely accept outcomes. That seemed like the only sane course for those who don't understand the rules of the game.

Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable." - Anthony de Mello

I took solace from ants:
I'm like an ant. I'll very contentedly reconstruct a smashed anthill, one grain at a time, even amid multiple re-smashings.

To human beings, I suppose this seems sad. Humans aspire to grander dreams than endless drudging anthill reconstruction. They're taught to rage at the smashing.

But to ants, human beings - who grow ever more crippled and demoralized with every inevitable round of smashings, and who only with great suffering manage to soldier on with reconstruction - are the sad ones.
I couldn't understand this baffling world, or mentally model better results, but I obliviously did my thing, marching to my own drummer, with infinite ambition and infinitesimal expectation.

Eventually, and unexpectedly, the world came to seem more predictable. I could model results. Patterns arose, recognition flickered, and expectant machinery began to hum. The news wasn't always good - as we've all long intuited, human life is even more selfish than we'd dared to recognize - but it's better to know the truth if you don't want to spend your life helplessly reeling from mysterious processes. I'm not here to mess around with obstacle courses or scavenger hunts, and I've weaned myself from Skinner boxes. I've got work to do!

There's still some (though not much) surprise, thank goodness. But it all breaks and baffles a lot less, simply because I've gone down so many corridors so many times. Having watched innumerable people think and act, it's much less mysterious, and the wide swathe of my daily life goes quite smoothly. Sometimes I feel as if I'm gliding.

I know, for example, to expect eye-rolling when I, a seemingly clueless gringo, enter a new Ecuadorian luncheonette. It doesn't throw me. I know to dutifully defuse trepidations via rapid-fire Spanish and entreaties for llapingachos. I come armed, as they say in the movies. I have moves. I've come to terms with the myriad Groundhog Day processes, having iterated so many things so many times that I'm like a deft short-order cook. It's a heady superpower.

I haven't exactly hooked myself snugly into the world's APIs, but I'm intimately aware of their specifications. With this knowledge of how things work, I've found repose. With me, it's never enough to know with my gut alone. I need to intellectually comprehend, or else I flail. It's a critical flaw (as I discussed in the introduction of "A New Explanation of Autism").

Thankfully, the newfound equilibrium seems sturdy. I still roam widely and make room for fresh unconventionality, but I do so with a sense of stability. I'm like a shrewd, conservative investor with a carefully balanced portfolio who sets aside some excess funds for wild speculations, just for kicks. Compulsive caprice has its dedicated sandbox.

Data points, the building blocks of wisdom, made all the difference. Utter bafflement is a difficult state for creative people. We need a stable launch pad. Muses are best summoned from a position of emotional security. To be incessantly thrown by the prosaic is to disrupt concentration and squander energy. Once you've achieved short-order cook fluency with the worldly yadda-yadda, you're free to laser-focus on enticingly blurry frontiers. And the fluency builds on data points. Loads of 'em.

There's peril, however. This is precisely how old people get trapped in shrinking comfort zones (per my recent posting on that). Increased comfort elevates discomfort anxiety, a splash-back effect that is absolutely unavoidable. It explains a lot about old people to understand that comfort zones shrink over time.

My workaround has been to constantly renew my sense of adventure and my compulsion to deliberately color outside the lines. I've configured my comfort zone to demand some straying from itself. I'm hardly the first human to methodically train himself to find comfort in discomfort, though it's not exactly a mainstream move. To most people, it's indistinguishable from masochism or self-destruction. As I wrote here,
Self-destructive people may seem irrational, but they're not. They're acting out a drama, just as we all are, but tweeking parameters for more challenging gameplay. They're working on a more advanced level, that's all.
Most do so unconsciously, while a few choose it consciously. But I digress.

Wherever I direct my mind, I now enjoy an ocean of supportive data points. My modeling works, I feel a sense of security, and I've freed up concentration for discretionary tasks. From this vantage point, I really sympathize with my younger self's modeling frustrations. I attributed flaky results to my own incompetence. I see now that I was doing my best with skimpy materials.
As a kid, I kept hearing a voice urging me to go easier on myself. That voice, I think, is me, now.
Three harder-won measures combined nicely with this free gift:

1. Dropping my fascination with fluffy mental drama - especially obsession with "What's Missing", freeing up my brain for more creative tasks and detoxifying my internal experience.

2. Channeling my natural fluency with reframing created some slipperiness that helps keep me from getting stuck and primes creativity.

3. Meditating restored a baseline perspective, helping me live as the framer (stable and bemused), rather than as the framed (fragile and anxious).

Those measures required sustained effort, while the data set was like a free toaster; a perq of the aging process. Data accrues naturally when you live a long while with eyes wide open; with insatiable curiosity. If a dog were to sniff from the window of a speeding car for 57 years straight, he'd enjoy a vast rich library of olfactory data to help him make sense of his world. That's me!

As a kid, I never understood the "wisdom of old age". Sure, old people had specific skills and narrow areas of expertise, but I rarely spotted much wisdom. Most continued to pointlessly shadow box with themselves, refusing to love the universe unless it gave them precisely their expected results. Like everyone else, they were entranced in toxic foolishness, and the only difference was their impenetrably thick crust of irritability, built up over a lifetime of frozen perspective. Some wisdom!

But now I can model this, and see how it happens. They've chosen the path of low confusion, putting their noses down and working one narrow corner of the universe, trodding well-traveled, well-lit pathways according to established procedure. They've been cruising highways with windows tightly shut, hardly smelling a thing. Willingly constrained to measly datasets and high comfort, there was scant incentive to develop more advanced skills such as acceptance, reframing, and creativity.

Seeing as how I linked twice to A Tale of Two Chickens - to explain about Skinner Boxes and The Path of Low Confusion - it probably deserves to be read if this posting interested you.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Luxury Hour

There is no free lunch. Delicious food's fattening. Drunken revels yield hangovers. Travel results in jet lag, sex brings STDs and/or babies, and picnicking risks Lyme Disease. We live in a zero sum world where, one way or another, we must always pay the piper.

But I've found a tiny exception. And milked it for everything it's worth.

I always liked the notion of "cocktail hour", the ritualistic imbibing of adult beverages at an appointed time. I like everything about it, really, except the calories, the expense, and the risk of perpetually cleaving one's days into "the sober part" and "the sloppy part". I've had enough WASP girlfriends to glimpse the sordid dissolution just behind the veneer of cosmopolitanism. I'll still enjoy a cocktail, thanks very much, but it's not my ritual.

Instead, I enjoy what I call "Luxury Hour".

When I announce Luxury Hour to guests, I enjoy dashing their raised hopes by informing them that the luxury's virtually insubstantial, amounting to 1.5 grams of powder plus 2 grams of hardened and lightly-sweetened bean paste. All luxury stems from foodstuffs weighing the same as 3 paper clips.

Also, it's 10 calories, total. And it's super, super healthy. Cost, at $1.50, isn't negligible, but neither is it exorbitant. How can this possibly be luxurious? Well, it is. It's free lunch. It's Luxury Hour. Follow my instructions carefully:

Buy a box or five of Trader Joe's Matcha Green Tea Powder, which, as I explained here, is way, way, way higher quality than it needs to be, and, despite what seems a high price, is crazy cheap for the quality. In the multi-century annals of matcha, the current era will be remembered as the Golden Epoch, when one could enter any TJ's location and score heritage-level stuff for a mere song.

Also: buy a dark chocolate bar, 70% dark or more. Just plain chocolate, no almonds or flavorings. And buy quality. Valrhona, Lake Champlain, Cote D'or, Callebaut or Taza are acceptable. Trader Joe's bars are ok, though you'll find foreign objects quite frequently. All those famous goor-may store/Whole Foods chocolate brands are crap. Snob up!

Ok, so it's luxury hour. You'll need a shake cup. Not a blender, or smoothie-maker, or immersion thingee. You may use a matcha whisk, but I recommend a shake cup (this one's fine). Dump in a tiny sleeve of matcha powder, then 17 oz of cold water. Cover tightly and shake like your life depends on it. Remove top and drink from the cup. Do not add, like, cactus honey. Do not attempt a goddamn matchachino. You're drinking sensationally good matcha, and it's subtle, and must be thoughtfully delected.

I always marvel the same question anew: how can 1 gram of powder transform 500 grams of water into something so utterly luxurious? It's a miracle. If you're not a particular green tea fan, I'd advise you not to question whether you "like" it or not. That's not the point. This is a ritual, a sacrament, not some banal snaaaaack. Give it a week. Make it a thing. Go deep.

Once you've finished the matcha, slowly dissolve a chunk of chocolate half the size of your thumb in your mouth (good chocolate takes time to "arrive"). Then relax and unwind for a moment. Examine your state. Your ecstasy. Your bliss. You have experienced Luxury Hour.

Dark chocolate has very little sugar, so this is actually diabetic-approved. And chocolate is only caloric in quantity. And dark chocolate and matcha are healthy in all sorts of ways. My daily matcha habit brought my cholesterol down 15%. It leaves me clear-minded but never jittery (caffeine turns me into Don Knotts).

You've just eaten three paper clips worth of food, with the calorie count of celery. There's no there there, aside from the patina of luxury. You'll savor, then you'll feel guilt, then you'll remember you've eaten nothing, then you'll savor again. Ad infinitum. The feeling is perfectly summed up via the haunting song stylings of Ms. Madeline Kahn. Take it away, babe....

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

My Commencement Address Advice

I happened to be in Lisbon 25 years ago when my friend Claus, a talented trombonist and arranger, was giving a debut performance of his big band, which had just launched a weekly residency in the city's top jazz club.

The playing was good, his arrangements were ingenious, and the packed-tight audience was raptly enthusiastic. Claus is not normally flamboyant, but, poised in front of the band, the placid Dane was actually bopping. Every few tunes, he'd grab his trombone off its stand, shut his eyes into a grimace, and solo to the rafters. He played not his horn, but the room itself. The crowd roared.

Portugal at the time was no hotbed of swinging jazz, but, on this night, escape velocity had been reached, and there was a crackling sense of something really happening. It was electric.

At intermission, Claus strolled over to say hi, playing the blithely weary musican. He was in "gig mode", not wanting to showboat. And, per gig mode norms, he began to complain about the money, and about the logistical headache of gathering all these players at the same time. Too much hassle. He planned to cancel at the end of the month and return to his lucrative (though comparatively vapid) TV and studio work.

I gaped at him with wild eyes, exhorting him, in a tone that surely struck him as way over the top, to recognize that he was peaking. This, right now - RIGHT NOW!!! - was the greatest moment of his life. When he's old and bed-ridden, this is what he'll recall.

It wasn't some new perma-state of eternal hipness and vibrancy. It was not something he could reassemble later on a whim. This was a precious confluence of luck and circumstance. I begged him to re-frame; to recognize what was happening, and not to squander the opportunity. But Claus only gaped at me in baffled confusion. He naturally understood the factors that had brought him to this point, but he was there. This was who he is now, his new normal. He could re-summon this moment with a finger snap.

I soon grew busy with Chowhound and we fell out of touch. But, to this day, I occasionally scan online listings for music in Lisbon, never spotting a reappearance of ClausBand. Claus is likely grey like me, and I'll bet he's wistful. At a certain point, these memories start to cut. I tried to warn him.

Class of 2041, I congratulate you!

I'd like to draw your attention to something magnificent that will happen to you. I want you to frame it correctly when it does.

At some point you will have an experience of storm clouds parting and beams of sunlight illuminating and warming you. You're finally getting your due. Hindrances and frustrations drop away, and things, at last, go as you'd always hoped they would. For once, reality matches expectation.

Let's briefly discuss those hindrances and frustrations. We all feel them, but we imagine the persecution to be uniquely directed at us. This oddly malevolent headwind is what makes paranoids paranoid. It spurs us to obsess over some attribute (gender, ethnicity, body type, attractiveness, financial position, etc.) explaining the chronic obstruction.

I once wrote that:
If you've got a zit on the tip of your nose, all injustice appears to stem from that. The world is "off", and it has nothing to do with you. Yet, whoever you are, including billionaires and movie stars, things seem stacked against you...and it feels personal. So we (mostly unconsciously) attribute the brunt of it to whichever personal characteristic we happen to focus on.
But, then, for a sweet moment, it abates. You've finally been embraced. And, alas, you will miscalculate, assuming that fate has turned, and that it will be smooth sailing from here.

No. That's not how it works. What you are experiencing is a peak moment. Peak moments always feel like "new normals", and that is always a tragic miscalculation, because peak moments must be relished, not merely digested. Like found money, they are to be spent extravagantly, not just thrown atop one's 401K.

This is not the world finally yielding up your just desserts. It's the very opposite of that. It's undeserved special treatment, like a birthday party. You don't earn that cake, or that song! It's a fluke; a lucky roll of the dice. Enjoy...but, for god's sake, don't recalibrate yourself. You will not be the birthday girl tomorrow!

Just don't imagine it’s your new normal. If you do, you'll fail to properly appreciate the moment, and to profit from the opportunity (i.e. strike while the iron is hot). You must work at it, full-tilt, because such moments are fleeting, and the world soon returns to status quo. Your ducks will scatter out of their row, and the whack-a-moles will start poking up their mischievous little heads, daring you to whack away.

So don't smugly parse peak moments as arrival points. The world does not do "Arrivals". You're not starring in a film. Per this posting:
We don't live in cartoonish big-picture images, we live in trivial moments. This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.
There are no arrivals, there are no happy-ever-after endings, and momentum's a myth. Which is not to say it's all a dismal grind. Quite the contrary, the random, unearned, lucky-roll peak moments are the sugar and spice of it all. It's only when we try to string things into some grand narrative that the inherent infrequency of peak moments casts them as wistful hindsight fuel rather than fleeting delight and opportunity.

When bad stuff happens, it's not the end of life-as-we-know-it, and when good stuff happens, it's not Arrival. Enjoy the ride - every moment of it, if you possibly can (you're here for all the experiences), but, at very least, soak in the peak moments, and put in the work to try to extend them. Don't just smugly toss them atop your mound of treasure. Don't normalize.

Scoop up the piñata prizes off the floor with the joyful exuberance of a chubby kid. That's the only way to play it.

If you imagine this was prompted by wistfulness for the public/media attention I had during the Chowhound debacle, you need to go back to the beginning of the Slog and read it all over again. I hated that part.

And I'm not wistful for anything. I'm an ant and an earthworm and a reed. I decline to fixate on what’s missing. I take it as it comes, go with the flow, and play the hand I'm dealt (while doing what I can to be of service). But, wistful or not, did I fuck up very often by assuming that certain fleeting faculties and opportunities would perennially remain at my fingertips? Oh, yeah, I sure did.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Counterintuitive Musings on Authoritarianism

I'm no history geek, but I recognize two aspects of authoritarianism that are not widely understood right now:

1. The "Strong Man", more often than not, starts out as a mockable dweeb.
Hitler, with his ranting eccentricity, was a laughingstock until he wasn't. There was, at every step of his rise, a reassuringly large public consensus best expressed as "That guy? Seriously??". Franco and Stalin were brutishly ignorant peasants. Mussolini was a cartoon chin and fist. Their names echo down through the ages, making them seem titanic, but all were petty emotional wrecks projecting cheesy Wizard of Oz thunder in cheap stage makeup.

The nauseating erosion of value in public consensus and mockery is familiar to us today, but we assume Trump - weak, cowardly, and whiney - to be an edge case, while real dictators are genuinely awesome. That's wrong. Trump's dumber than most, and is only four years into his progression to tyranny, making him seem more of a vandal/crook than full-blown tyrant, but his pettiness, ignorance, uncontrolled emotionality, and self-defeating tics are directly out of the playbook. This, in all its absurdity, actually is the model.

2. Many of us actually want an authoritarian. Polls have reported (and been met with gasps of dismay, and quickly forgotten/repressed because it's unthinkably awful) that surprisingly large numbers of Americans, including (says the 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll) 32% of young people, disapprove of democracy.

And if you think it's just those damned traitorous Republicans, think again. The sentiment is registered on both sides (though Trump’s gravitational field certainly distorts the data for both).

Liberals feel extra democratic. I suppose it stems from all the activism against US-backed dictators in Latin America in the 1960s. People tend to define themselves via the -anti, and those struggles, and all those "Power to the People!" posters, added up. So how could liberals possibly feel anything but pro-democratic?

Let's do a thought experiment. Say your most favorite dream candidate won the presidency. Perhaps it was a Bernie or an AOC, and, announcing a new day, and a time to dismantle moldy norms and build from scratch, they signed a ton of executive orders to work around an obstructive Congress, loaded the Justice Department with ideologues, stonewalled THOSE ASSHOLES trying to interfere with their obviously righteous agenda, and fought like warriors against government functionaries and so-called watchdogs, who being institutionally conservative, are unwilling to get with the movement. They're finally doing what's right for this country, and if it means bending some rules created by stodgy people in a stodgy era, well, that's just boldness. At some point, they might want to ferret out some right-minded law enforcement agents to hit the streets and arrest RACISTS and HOMOPHOBES just for being the monsters they are, ala the Charlottesville crowd. Who'd shed a tear for such people? Bold moves! Let's fix it! Let's really fix it!

I won't paint the full picture, but take time to ponder the counterfactual, yourself (it's a nifty re-framing exercise). How much of such behavior would you tolerate if it were your guy/gal pushing your program?

I'll go first. And with a real-life scenario, to boot:

When Mike Bloomberg, who I liked and supported, used shady means to blast past term limit regulations, I can't say I was gung-ho about that particular move. I gulped and I prevaricated. But, in the end, I accepted it and went along, supporting his third campaign, because the city was in a profound fiscal crisis and I genuinely believed Bloomberg could fix it better than any of his likely replacements. The end justified the means. And while I still believe that my conclusion was factually true, I acknowledge that I briefly activated my authoritarian-enablement stem cells (I didn't know they were even back there).

Not to say I dreamed of NYC's mayoralty degrading into a personality cult with goose-stepping troops and cries of "Heil Bloomberg". But nobody wants that stuff in the beginning. The fall into authoritarianism is a classic frog boil. And it's all 'bout those stem cells, yo. You've got them, I've got them, and not everyone gulps or prevaricates.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Instagram-ish Food

I would like to acknowledge the arrival of a new trend: Instagram-ish Food*. Having metastasized from the Internet, it's spreading like kudzu in what used to be known as the "real world", becoming the basis of how the food industry conceives, prepares and markets. And I'm against it.

Instagram-ish Food has a shiny veneer of slickness and symmetry that doesn't "look good", in terms of conveying any prospect of deliciousness, but has a "good look", which is a whole other thing.

And this "look" is only about the veneer of the veneer. There's rarely any subtlety or personality on display (both of which, non-coincidentally, are nearly extinct, per the links). How could there be, when the entire frame (both literal and metaphoric) is a meager 640x640 pixels?

Instagram-ish Food has a simple basis: flaunting unrepentant cliché. It's about pursuing the most camera-ready ur-form of some familiar or stylishly contrived item. Not a deeper pineapple upside-down cake or a more interesting or yummy one, but a pineapple upside-down cake projecting smug composure in stamp-size, streamlined to be flattered by filters and over-saturation. And then, of course, you up-charge the bejesus out of it.

Instagram-ish Food is also characterized by what it's not. It's often captioned but never described. Wanting to know what's in it would be gauche and passé. It is what it looks like! Why would a thing specifically configured as a sparkly image require more than a mumbled few words of description? When Brâncuși sculpted "The Kiss", it didn't come with an index card explaining what a kiss is, identifying the two subjects, and explaining the context. It is, you philistine, an objet d'art that speaks for itself.

Now, sure, Brâncuși's work is far more than a trifling objet d'art. It's a bona fide art object, with feeling and depth and subtext, while Instagram-ish Food embraces its triviality without higher aspirations. The latter is what it is: delightful knickknacks for display and consumption. No one places decorative ornaments on one's mantle to provoke deep thoughts or provocative conversation, even if they're very expensive. Exorbitant trifles are the perennial decadent indulgence of an aristocracy.

That's what Instagram-ish Food is: aristocratically decadent trifles. Nothing to discuss, or to, like, "rate" in terms of, like "quality", grandpa!

The problem is that this is becoming what food is, at least the "innovative" end of the business, for people who "care about food" and are willing to up-pay for "better". I'm using archaic words, because they're all I've got. But there's nothing more than a vacant 640x640 pixel caricature of innovation, caring, and quality. Most of this stuff isn't even trying to be any of those things.

Really, it's 1963 again. It's like the 90s never happened.

Melania's Rose Garden

Our first lady’s remarkable redesign of Jackie Kennedy’s historic rose garden reminds me of a similarly remarkable renovation in Spain a few years ago....see this link.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

YA Posting on Being and Seeming

A plumber did an ambitious oil-to-gas conversion to my heating system. He was a jovial guy whose stock phrase was "It's all good!"

When he finished the job, it was time to show me how to run the new system. I picked up my iPhone and started recording his instructions. His smile dropped and he told me, menacingly, to stop recording him.

I knew why: liability. He works for a big plumbing operation, which has put the fear of god into him re: liability issues. If he misspoke, or left something out, and my house blew up, I'd have the proof in-hand to sue the bejesus out of them. But, still, I needed to document his instructions somehow.

"Just listen to the instructions. I'll be clear!" he implored. "If you'll come upstairs," I replied, "I'll give you a five minute history of jazz trombone. Even if I'm 'very clear', by the time you get out to your truck, you'll have forgotten every word, because jazz trombone is not your world. Boilers aren't my world."

I asked whether I could shoot photos and take notes. He gravely wagged his head. My efforts to placate were putting him through writhing contortions of pain. Finally, I threw up my hands and asked "WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO 'IT'S ALL GOOD'???"

People say "it's all good" in a desperate effort to convince themselves. It's a talisman for the negative-minded. They're not talking to you. They're talking to themselves. They're acting the way they want to see themselves on the big movie screen in their head. They're being That Guy by saying the line That Guy would say. It's a solipsistic performance.

I've worn Weatherproof coats (both insulated winter coats and shoulder-season zip-downs) since I was a teenager. I always loved them, and had been despairing of ever finding anything like them...when I discovered they're still in operation and selling via Internet! Better still, their coats were discounted to like $30 per, with free shipping.

Being a supportive-minded customer, I wrote in:
Hi, I’ve been wearing your jackets since the 1970s! Question: can I see and try the "FALL 18 MEN” jackets pictured on your web site at 4 Bryant Park (12th Floor)? I realize I could buy and return ones I don’t like, but I’d rather not make you pay for all that shipping! thanks, JIM
They replied:
Thank you for being a long time Weatherproof customer , we are very pleased that you like our product.

Unfortunately the showrooms at 4 Bryant Park are for the sole purpose of wholesale practices and not open to the public.

As much as we appreciate your candor in regards to “paying for shipping “ back and forth , there really is no other way to go about this.

Having said that the only other way maybe, would be to try jackets on in a retail store ala a Macys, Boscovs, Steinmart or L&T , but they also will not have every particular style that is available on our site.

Sorry to disappoint.
Probably, in retrospect, being overly gabby and annoying, I sent this:
Thanks for your reply. Yeah, Macy’s et al don’t have much stock on these jackets at this point.

I can’t live with making you pay $30 return shipping for a $30 sale. So here’s what I propose.

I’ll order 5 jackets at once, and return the 4 I don’t want. I’ll try to arrange with your shipping people to return the 4 rejects in one shipment (to save shipping $$). And I’ll publicize your sale on social media (as a favor to my circles as much as to you!).

Ordering 5 at once, ASAP, also ensures I won’t encounter sold-out items as a result of my own publicity efforts!

If you’d prefer I proceed some other way, let me know (I want you guys in business for years and years).

There was no reply. Which made complete sense. I get it. "Dude, I answered your question, and told you it's not a big deal, and I can't devote this level of time and attention to our chatty little exchange, I have work to do." That's absolutely reasonable, and I had no hard feelings. Sometimes I can be annoying. Ugh. OTOH, would it have killed him to shoot back "Don't sweat it!"?

A few years later, after my most recent order, the guy sent this auto-mailing:
Hi James,

Wanted to take a second and thank you for your business. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an order from a repeat customer, and I can’t express how grateful I am every time.

If there is anything else I can do for you, please do not be shy.

Thank you again, Weatherproof Team

Don't be shy! Let it blast! Get in touch! I'm That Guy!

Jesus Christ...

People who say “feel free to approach me with any questions/issues” are never particularly open to questions or issues. In fact, they're less responsive than average. They say it because they want to be someone who says that. It jibes with their self image and their aspirations. But pose-strikers are not the type who put out and follow through (as I exhaustively explained in my Autism posting).

After 57 years, I flinch when I hear "come to me with any issues or questions." I know that person isn't talking to me. He's watching himself speak those words on the movie screen in his head. He's convincing himself he's that person. And it never turns out well to interrupt a solipsistic performance with a question or an issue.

Who patiently answers questions? The person who'd never imagine creating an image of super-responsiveness.

Who truly believes "it's all good"? The person who doesn't repeat it like a mantra.

And (referencing, again, my Autism posting) who will come get you when your car breaks down at 3am? Not the person who's perfected the art of branding herself as terrifically supportive, and who frequently assures you she has your back. No. You can count on blah people, who focus not on self-imagery but on actually doing stuff.

Blah people rule. I'm a blah person. In fact, I'm the blah-est motherfucker you ever saw. Sure, I don't write like it, or play like it, or think like it, but those are all doings, not seemings. Doers are occupied by doing, while seemers merely sit there and display. Those who've got the goods don't waste effort on the "seeming" end of it.

One last bit from the autism posting:
Why would you invest effort into seeming smart once you know you genuinely are smart; contriving to seem compassionate when you already actually are compassionate; stating canned lovey platitudes when you truly are in love? It requires an odd sort of downshift to pretend to be what you actually already are.
And one more bonus thought, from this posting about surprise:
For god's sake, do we really need to relish it so much? Do singers need to feel like they're just nailing it every time they execute one of the soulful-ish vocal tricks we've all heard a gazillion times? Do they need to feel like they've gone super extra deep when they take the exact same-lengthed pause everybody takes when they want to seem like they're going super extra deep?

Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. This is why most singers suck.

Followup posting

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Four Scenarios of Authority

Leff's Fourth Law ("95% of apparent maliciousness is actually incompetence") turned out to have been observed by Napoleon centuries prior.

And now the bastard's gone and done it again.

In Part 21 of my epic tale of selling my company, Chowhound to a major corporation (CNET, now CBS), I noted "Leff's Four Scenarios of Authority"(noting that dumb/lazy management can be relatively benign):
In declining order of preference:

1. Smart ideas, good execution
2. Dumb ideas, bad execution
3. Smart ideas, bad execution
4. Dumb ideas, good execution

Scenario #1 is too much to hope for, and #3 is heart-breaking and volatile and makes everyone give up (#4, God help us, is Nazi Germany). Scenario #2 is a stable condition of steady-state status quo (let's call it "Planet Earth").
It turns out that Napoleon got me again:
Someone once asked Napoleon how he decided where to assign soldiers. Napoleon’s reply was that it’s simple: soldiers are either smart or dumb, lazy or energetic.

The smart and energetic I make field commanders. They know what to do and can rally the troops to do it.

The smart and lazy I make generals. They also know what to do, but they’re not going to waste energy doing what doesn’t need to be done.

The dumb and lazy I make foot soldiers.

But what about the dumb and energetic? “Those,” Napoleon replied, “I shoot.”
If you'd told my teenage self that one day Napoleon Bonaparte would be all up in my grill like this, I never would have believed it.

Update: It turns out it wasn't Napoleon who said this, but an anti-Nazi German general, Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord:
The Four Classes of Military Officers

I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.

Friday, August 14, 2020

A New Explanation of Autism

I've had an intuitive feeling about Autism for a while: that it's not what it seems; it's not necessarily a bad thing; it might be the next evolutionary leap; the deficiency is not in autistics' inability to connect, but in everyone else's inability to recognize connection without blatant gesturing.

Because it was strictly intuitive, I've been unable to articulate it in any coherent way. And I can't do much with purely intuitive understanding. Unless my rationality understands the thing I know in my gut, it's useless to me (this posting helps explain why that is). I flounder and flail. This is one reason I'm a writer - I have a strong drive to try to make lucid sense of things.

To that end, I've been teaching myself stuff all my life. A voice in my head explains things to me in third person. I frame it as rehearsal for eventually teaching others, but, really, this is just the way I process gut intuition into useful comprehension. It's a process of self-translation.

In 2008, I began to externalize that inner process via this Slog. And it all began to accelerate. I discovered that it helps to formalize; to not just piece it out, but to go the extra mile of whipping it into camera-ready fluency. I'd previously been content with the mental equivalent of a hasty first draft, but the writing process hones my understanding. Thinking it is better than knowing it; saying it is better than thinking it; and writing it is better than saying it (and, subsequently, reading it - reading my own stuff, like my talking-to-myself teaching method only far more lucid - is best of all). Lucidity is the prize, and it gobbles vast resources. Fine by me; I wouldn’t expect it to come cheaply.

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is one of those aphorisms that's deeper than it seems. It’s a shortcut. My intuitive gut-level understanding becomes more available under real-world pressure. The process of translation-to-lucidity accelerates wildly when actual need arises. So when a friend recently told me he was dismayed about likely being on the autistic spectrum. I intuited that dismay might not be the proper reaction, and the verbalization just sort of happened.

So while it's fresh, I'm dumping out a transcript (the discussion was via text message), along with some sidebars. It's long and repetitive (I circle around my point, shooting from different angles, hoping to score a direct hit). But if you suspect you're on “the spectrum,” it may transform how you think about yourself, or at least explain some of the gaslighting.
If my understanding of autism is correct, the autistic experience is one of nonstop gaslighting by society at large.
If this material doesn't pertain to you or to a loved one, it may still be interesting because it ties together several major Slog themes. I'm far too extroverted to be deeply in "the spectrum", myself, yet, as I observe below, much of this Slog could be seen as a defense and explanation of an autistic's world view.


Friend: I always wondered if I was slightly autistic. I don't really understand empathy.

Me: Well, first, I'm not convinced autism's a bad thing. I suspect it might be a positive evolutionary step, though disruptive to current social norms. There's evidence suggesting that even severe cases (totally non-communicative, etc) have quite rich inner lives and are highly empathic, even though they don't outwardly express it.

And, on the other side of the equation, I rarely see much true empathy out there among non-autistics. Mostly just displays of empathy. Empathy theater, if you will.

Friend: Empathy requires effort. It takes a lot of work to do the theater aspect.

Me: I don't observe that you lack empathy. You're always eager to help, and you care what people go through. You just lack empathy theater. You don’t make a flamboyant display of it.

Friend: But the display helps get other people to the right place sometimes.

Me: Perhaps. But let's talk about you. My point is that autism, if it's a malady (and I'm not sure it is) is a malady of display. And so the vast majority of the population, which confuses display with reality, assume autistics lack empathy because they can't/don't make a show of it. I.e. they feel it, but don't display it. It's the opposite of a psychopath, who only displays but never feels.

You never pet people like bunnies. Yet you never fail to step up whenever you can be helpful. Empathy displayers, by contrast, rarely step up! All about the display, they usually don't have the actual goods. So perhaps the malady really lies on the other side!


I once wrote, on Quora, in my explanation of "How to Spot Intelligence":
The most impressive intellects are not always fast or flashy. Not, in other words, impressive-seeming. In fact, most truly intelligent people I've met haven't been very impressive-seeming, because if you've got the goods, you tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it. Watch out for seemers!
Autistics are entirely disconnected from Seeming. They would never think to adopt empty gestures and indicators. They don't erect a facade, nor do they parse other people's facades in a "normal" manner.

In this posting, I wrote:
I know several mothers who trained their toddlers, early on, to rotely utter "I love you, Mommy," encouraging this behavior via standard psychological feedback actions (none was so gauche as to hand out cookies, like rewarding a dog for heeling, but they all came awfully close).
This would be utterly inexplicable to an autistic. And, perhaps it's because I'm slightly autistic, myself, but if I had to judge sanity, I'd go with the one rejecting empty display. Disinclination for posing and play-acting strikes me as a feature rather than a bug.

In fact, autistics' hearts may overflow. But most people traffic in gestures and indications, so the reality is beside the point. It seems obvious, at least to me, that display is cheesy and empty, and can easily be faked, while actuality is deep and beautiful and genuine. To me there’s hardly any choice at all.

Autistics struggle with the notion of plastering on a cheap "seeming" layer after they’ve already kindled the "being". Why would you invest effort into seeming smart once you know you genuinely are smart; contriving to seem compassionate when you already actually are compassionate; stating canned lovey platitudes when you truly are in love? It requires an odd sort of downshift to pretend to be what you actually already are.

To the rest of the world, an absence of gesture, display, and platitude indicates an absence of the actual thing. If your toddler isn’t uttering the magic words, that can only point to their tragic inability to love. While most people categorically mistake the sizzle for the steak, autistics traffic in steak alone, and don't even really understand sizzle. Though they have trouble coping, socially, within an insane society, they are the sane ones.

Opting out of empathy theater - of grand displays of this or that - doesn't make you emotionally vacant. It just makes you dramatically vacant.

The Crux

I once offered this interpretation to a child psychologist. Perhaps because she was working through her fourth craft beer at the time, she was surprisingly receptive. Giving me benefit of doubt, she asked the inevitable, critical question; one that's echoed in my head for a few years:
Ok, but if you care about people, but don’t do the familiar gestures, how can anyone possibly know?
I felt disgusted by the question. But I did see her logic. She'd expressed the crux of the issue. There is dysfunction here, but it's on the other end; in non-autistic people's inability to parse with any depth of subtlety. If your toddler doesn't mindlessly parrot "I love you Mommy," how would you possibly know there's love there? With no shiny label, how does one gauge the contents? Gross signifiers are all most people can go on! It's shocking!

To me, empathy is demonstrated by actually making yourself helpful. I do so more than most people, but it's rarely noticed. In fact, many are irritated by helpfulness. They don't have real problems, they are doing Problem Theater, so they're seeking not solution but an audience for their performance. They want to be petted with the standard empathy platitudes. They want to be the bunny - to perform that scene - and if you don't play along, reading from the standard dramatic script, you're ruining everything. You're cold and unfeeling. Unempathic!

This makes my head want to explode. But that's only because I have a foot in each framing, giving me perspective both ways. Autistics simply can't parse it. This is utterly beyond their grasp. They're drama-impaired. All they take away is that they're doing it wrong. Again, they’re endlessly gaslit into feeling deficient.
Incidence of autism appears to be accelerating wildly. Simultaneously, the prevalence of drama in everyday life has been accelerating wildly. I believe the two are connected. A forking is taking place - humans are gravitating toward either the Actual or the Seeming.

For now, the latter is deemed normal and the former dysfunctional. But I predict this will flip. Hence my statement that autism is the next evolutionary leap.
Wired to register other people's inner lives entirely via shallow, gross gestures, and lacking any emotional intuition, “normal” people have a devil of a time gauging what's really what and who's really who. Strip away stock facial expressions and catch phrases, withhold dramatics and flamboyant gesturing, and they will behold only a mound of flesh, unable to discern any inner flicker; any human essence. To me, that's eerily inhuman. Who, exactly, is the debilitated one?

Here's a disquieting thought: emojis might not be banal shortcuts after all. What if they're as deep as most people can actually go?

If someone doesn't frequently utter the words "I love you!", many would struggle to recognize love. This is why people are so easily conned.

Reader: I love you! So so so so much! I truly do! I just typed those characters; how could I possibly have done that if it weren't true?

Admit it: you felt a twinge. Me being a wise ass, spewing canned phrases with all the soulful authenticity of a parakeet, can still deliver a slight twinge. It would not give autistics, who are falsely deemed cold, any twinge at all. They know there's nothing like the real thing, baby.

So here's the proposition from normals: “Those who fail to ape standard gestures and social tropes must lack feeling. We need to fix them so they start parroting normally.” This, alas, is the majoritarian view. So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Learn to parrot the damned words! Be more like a psychopath! I love you so much! I do!

Dialog Continues

Friend: Re: empathy, I have to put myself in other peoples' shoes to figure out how to deal with them or help them. And that's hard. So that feels like a deficit on my end.

Me: If they have a bona fide problem, you help, no questions asked. Because you're empathic! But if they have a big dramatic kerfuffle going on in their heads, and they need you to provide some patterned response, that's not lack of empathy on your part. That's, again, lack of empathy theater. You just don't pretend well enough, so there’s nothing to relate to. And I'm not convinced that that's a bad thing.

Friend: I should at least better understand their motivation

Me: But that motivation, with the rest of it, takes place within a cinematic frame. It's fake!

If an old woman falls down shopping, you'll gather her grocieries and help her up, right?

Friend: Of course!

Me: While all the supposedly “empathic” people stand there passively, murmuring to convey their sense of concern?

Friend: Yeah, helping comes easily.

Me: So you're doing reality. The other stuff is pure whimsy.

Friend: I guess it's dealing with folks with mental health issues etc that's hard

Me: That's a whole other thing.

Friend: Yep.

Me: Your tight gravitational tie to reality, i.e. your sanity, creates a clash. You're unable to join flights of fancy. With the mentally ill, such flights are more severe, but it's still all conjured up.

The fact that you're even trying to understand them demonstrates your empathy! Un-empathic people wouldn't feel bad; wouldn't have this conversation or entertain these thoughts! You are highly empathic, but, lacking the drama gene, you can't commiserate with someone over fake drama. And if that makes them falsely conclude that you're un-empathic, that’s not on you.

Friend: My reaction is: Why are they freaking out when things are fine???"

Me: that strikes me as a patently reasonable question! But note that an unempathetic person would ask “Why are they freaking out when things are fine for ME?" But that's not what you're saying, right?

Friend: Yes.

Me: There's no lack of actual empathy. Just non-theatricality. Being well-grounded in reality, you can't take fake emotional trips. But if they drop the groceries, you'll help. I pronounce you healthy and normal; please pay the girl on your way out!

Severe Autism

Let's consider severe autism, where a person offers zero feedback to other humans. Perhaps they whirl around, hollering. They appear disconnected; off in some nowhere-land.

But what if they're extraordinarily grounded in the here and now, and caring a great deal about you, but unable to create the usual facade of composure? What if they see and feel with utmost wisdom and clarity, but don't feel any call whatsoever to seem like it?

I'm not saying such a condition isn't problematic, but, again, the real problem may not be their inability to express grossly, but our inability to perceive subtly. For those lost in abstraction - the dramatic, gestural, empty emblemization of it all - non-emblematic people seem existentially disconnected. But that doesn't mean such people aren't supremely present and deeply connected within themselves. They just can’t understand why you’d need them to not only be that way, and feel that way, but to also work to seem like it.

I can relate to this. I think a number of people can. Those who can’t (e.g. the tipsy shrink) ought to consider whether the dysfunction might be bilateral.

Slog Connection

Peering into this framing, much of this Slog could be seen as a defense and explanation of an autistic's world view. I've written a lot about the difference between real problems and fake ones, and about how we lose ourselves in fluffy drama. We obsess over fake drama until we're gripped by depression, explaining why our unprecedentedly wealthy, comfortable society is massively unhappy and depressed, and why every New Year's eve we kick the previous horribly awful year right in the ass.

I also talk a lot about "seeming"; about authenticity versus imagery. As I often note, "Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing." The poseur perspective is what gives this world its slightly washed-out photocopy affect. It's why we're so seldom surprised. It's why most cooking is so inert. Everyone is utterly transfixed by surfaces; by appearance rather than actuality.

Seeming-rather-than-being is why so many of us eagerly make themselves clones of a certain type of person (have you never noticed there are only a few dozen models of people?). It's how iconoclasm and nonconformity manage to congeal into cliché. It’s why we make parrots out of our kids.

Call me autistic, but I’m not super into the seeming, either. I absolutely don't "seem" like an Internet pioneer, or a yogi, or a hipped-out musician, or like anyone insightful. In fact, I don't seem like any of the people I am! I'm too busy actually being those people! If you've got the goods, why waste effort on the "seeming"?

Is that really so crazy a perspective? Apparently so. By failing to self-signify, I appear to strangers like a goofy hapless loser. When I meet Chowhound fans or Slog readers, I watch with amusement as they struggle to reconcile my unaffectedness. That guy? Really?

The autistic, god bless them, don't get within a light year of "seeming". Being 100% genuine, they appear as blank ciphers to the shallow and superficial. But their only deficiency is their incapacity for fluffy delusion!

Dialog Continues

Friend: I often think to myself: I have no idea what they're feeling but if I do something right, maybe I can somehow help put out the fire!

Me: Look at the level of actuality. If there's something real, you know what to do. Get to work! If not, it's surely best to detach a bit. But don't be surprised if you present as detached!

Friend: Knowing what to do in such cases is a learned response on my part, it's not natural.

Me: Nor is their behavior natural. They are drumming up big feelings for themselves, to make themselves feel something. It's the same reason we go on rollercoasters. To feel more extremely!

So, yes, you can develop learned responses to fit into fake emotional vignettes, but it's not really necessary, because it's their movie, not yours. Just admire their show! Who are you in all this? An engaged and sympathetic spectator, nothing more. So just patiently enjoy the star's carrying-on. That's sufficient. That's what they want from you: to view them like a movie, periodically murmuring to convey your supportiveness or whatever.

I suppose that's the "cure" for autism (at least the mild sort). Learn to recognize that most people watch themselves on a movie screen. So observe their scene passively. Read-only. You're not in it. It's their movie, and you're the audience (or a non-player character). There will be Big Feelings, but it's flaunting, not actionable. Suspend disbelief and react with delight. It's easy, really. Just don't mistake it for anything actually happening (much less needful of any action on your end).

Eschewing Froth

In a society mired in drama, to be firmly grounded in reality (the very definition of sanity) and unable to accompany people on flights of fancy, makes one seem unempathetic. But the inability to fake-sympathize with fake drama does not represent a lack of empathy. Just a lack of empathy theater.

The odd irony is that, on the other side of the equation, the flamboyantly empathic may present a good game but it's normally mostly froth. Don't expect them to lift a finger to actually help, beyond rote gestural affirmation. As I've previously observed, people don't actually do anything.

Autistics don't comprehend frothy drama. They have deep feelings (deeper than normal, I believe), but feel no compulsion to externalize them via gestural display. Meanwhile, most everyone else believes that gestural display is all there is. No reality, only gesture. Their feet never touch the floor.

Over the years, I've made an informal study of Great Guys. You know, the people with thousands of social media friends, who everyone considers a "Great Guy!" Here's the thing about Great Guys: If you've broken down on the Jersey Turnpike at 3am, the Great Guy in your life will never come and get you. You can call him, and he'll remind you how fantastic you are, and how bravely you're handling this very traumatic situation, and after he's gracefully gotten you off the phone, you'll be left feeling terrific about yourself, but it's cranky, un-demonstrative guys like me and my dialog friend who'd actually get dressed and come get you.

People like us don't pet people like bunnies. We don't hang out a shingle broadcasting our niceness. We lack the vanity and manipulation to try to convince people. But if you need us, hey, you've got us. Hardly anyone thinks of me as a "Great Guy". I lack the shingle, and the shingle’s everything. 

The Right likes to taunt the Left's "Virtue signalling", and it's a keen observation. But it goes way deeper than politics, and is equally popular on both sides of the cultural divide. In a society that's all about seeming rather than being (most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing), is it any wonder that those who reject the Seeming are deemed repulsively deficient?

It’s essential to understand that an autistic wouldn’t fathom any of this explanation. Everything I'm saying is 100% cuckoo talk. Autistics won’t throw their heads back in revelation, crying “Ah, that’s what’s going on with the world!” They're empathic, but they're not drama-empathic, so they have no vaguely similar impulses they can plumb in order to relate. They just don't get it, period. If you reread the dialogs, my friend wasn’t really registering the distinction I was making; he just kept restating the same bafflement (and impression of self-inadequacy). The disjoint is particularly clear in the final dialog snippet, below. But, first, one last sidebar.

On "Seeming"

I want to reinforce the steep, sharp difference between "seeming" and "being", which I see as critical for understanding autism (or, conversely, so-called normality). I once wrote:
I recently overheard people trying to figure out where to eat. They didn't want chains, they didn't want obvious big names, they prefer "ethnic" and need something really great. Geez, if only there were a leading expert nearby! [Note for newcomers: I’m pretty much The Guy for that. Loads of books, etc, etc.] 
I broke in shyly and offered to advise. I didn't reveal myself with suave confidence; I certainly didn't start with "This must be your lucky day!" As their eyes focused on me, I saw them mentally scanning and assessing some random dude who doesn't look like anyone they'd normally socialize with. Is he hitting on us? Is he nuts? Is this a marketing come-on? What does he want? The scanning ended - the assessment unflattering - and they excused themselves with quasi-politeness and walked off. 
This happens reasonably often, with food and other topics where I might have more to offer than anyone they'll likely meet. I suppose I could have summoned my polished TV voice and bowled them over with self-confidence, boasting of my accomplishments, and signaling via sparkly eyes that, hoo, boy, you've really found That Person! Your lucky day! Yes, I'm exactly the guy you need, the one with answers, here for you and asking nothing in return. That magical person with the million dollar smile and impeccable tuxedo. It's happening! It's really happening!

But no. Seeing is believing, and one sees only a random, tuxedo-less nobody.

People who work on "seeming" are a very different breed from people who work on "knowing", though absolutely no one seems to realize this. While awaiting Seemers, we grind out our cigarettes on the Knowers. You can recognize them from the countless burn marks.

Final Dialog

My ability to fully relate to autistic framing only goes so far.

In a follow-up discussion, I raised what I thought was an interesting and telling question. It was answered exactly as I'd expected, but I couldn't coax my friend to look where I was pointing. We talked past each other. The gaping chasm came clearly into focus:

Me: Do you lose yourself in movies? When the lights come on, do you need to briefly recompose yourself?

Friend: Nope

Me: That's the same phenomenon, no?

Friend: Usually I get out my phone and check stuff. 🤣

Me: Are you always aware you're you, in a body, in a seat, in a theater, watching a screen, for the full 90 mins?

Friend: It sort of flickers in and out.

Me: Mostly in or mostly out?

Friend: Hard to say. Depends on how engrossing the movie is.

Me: Can you flicker into someone's dramatic/emotional trip for a while? It's like a movie. Same thing, right?

Friend: Usually it's the plot that draws me into a movie.

Me: I mean in the everyday world with people.

Friend: Like I'm trying to guess the murder suspect.

Me: Yep, got it.

Friend: I remember guessing the twist in The Sixth Sense.

Me: Great movie.

Friend: I still enjoyed it.

Me: Sure.

[end of discussion]

Failing to parse the more abstract, less concrete meta-issue says it all. The side-stepping reveals everything discussed above.

When you lack whimsy, some baby gets lost along with the bathwater. It's useful to be able to think in a looser, more capricious way. Reverie - a light theatricality - has its place, but it's summarily unavailable to autistics, who are confined to literality (or, at best, carefully literalized subtext). My observations, above, don’t describe mere preference or tendency. It's incapacity. An unyielding blind spot.

But everyone has blind spots. And I still feel that this condition will eventually be seen as more of a feature than a bug. For now, it suffices to observe that sanity has arisen...and, predictably, deemed a malady.

One last tie-in. I've been working on hacking insomnia for some time (this posting is overdue for an update). The primary hindrance to falling sleep is logical, linear thinking. If you're pondering your to-do list, you'll never drift into sleep. One's mind must blurrily let go into daisy flakes and dixie cups to make the necessary shift. It's not something I'd think autistics would be good at, and, sure enough, insomnia is an enormous problem for them.

More practical examples.


Give someone a single Hershey’s kiss every week, and they’ll gratefully stick around forever. Give them 14 tons of gold per hour and they’ll be gone in a day (and curse you as they go).

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

If I Were Joe Biden's Speechwriter

"Kamala was tough on me in the debates. Some of her words stung. We've made up since then, obviously, but here's the thing: I don't make choices based on my ego. We've had more than enough of that sort of leadership. Kamala Harris is what's best for the country, and that's the only thing that matters to me. I work for you. I want what's best for you. This isn't about Joe Biden, it's about the United States of America."

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Dragon Dropped

As a lifelong geek, space stuff always captivates my emotions. But I didn't expect to find myself, a grown-ass man, tearing up at this landing.

I suppose I've been more traumatized by the political and health stuff (y'know, mass death, encroaching authoritarianism, yadda yadda) than I'd realized. So seeing something good happening feels like (to quote Steve Jobs) a glass of ice water for someone in hell.

Killer 49 Seconds of Classical Trombone

This is my favorite classical trombonist, Norman Bolter, crushing Ravel's Bolero. It's just 49 seconds, and well worth it:

I previously wrote a whole comic opera about the apocalyptic level of anxiety provoked in trombonists by this piece, and the time it blew up real bad once for Norman's Boston Symphony colleague Ron Barron. In that article, I related that disaster to a stupendous blunder I'd made while going a bit apeshit eating cowboy food in Grapevine, TX (near Dallas).
Watching this video, my first thought was, wow. Every note, every beat, every nuance, every vibration of this is exactly, precisely how I think it ought to be played. That's the ideal I'd shoot for, right there! And my second thought was that since Norman was my teacher for a short (but meaningful) while, this should not be in any way surprising.

I was boggled by how my dog had been wagged by all this. My preference had been implanted by the guy whose preference had struck me as strikingly right-on. Loopy loopy! So Christopher Nolan, y'know?
This may be the fulfillment of my greatest fear: that my stuff here isn't the least bit fresh or insightful, and I'm just a retard slowly cluing himself in to the patently obvious (the prototypical example, as always, being "Breaking Free of the Adhesion Mafia", wherein I laboriously rediscover the value of glue). When I reread old Slog postings and find that some actually are as inventive as I'd dared to imagine, it's a drastic relief. But I suspect this isn't one of those.
My other association, listening to this, was to the video of me playing in a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1992 which I keep linking to (because it was a good night, and musicians huddle for warmth around recordings of their good nights so they can pretend they always sounded like that). I suddenly realize that, among other things, I was thinking Bolero in that performance. And I was using what I'd picked up from Norman Bolter. And that's one reason the performance is unique. There aren't many bohemian jazzers in smokey nightclubs channeling highbrows like Norman frickin' Bolter. It's like the fry cook at your local Wendy's sneaking some demi-glace into the onion ring dipping sauce. all comes together.

As a special bonus (and please don't pass the link around; this is just for Slog readers), here's Norman's legendary euphonium soloing from the first movement of Mahler's 7th with the Boston Symphony. You can't miss him, he's featured nearly throughout the movement. I highly recommend the whole recording.

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