Friday, December 31, 2021

Don't Miss Long Elon Musk Interview

Heads and shoulders above any Musk interview I've ever heard. He delves into some engineering problems, explained in beautifully penetrable language. This will transform your view of SpaceX (other stuff, too; I haven't heard the whole thing yet; I paused to rave about it). Really, don't miss.

Video Version
Audio Version (with topic time stamp index toward the bottom of that page).

Host Lex Fridman initially struck me as a little "off", but he's actually a heavyweight himself (he's the heavy Deep Learning/AI guy at MIT), which is why Musk respects him, which is why he gave him so much of his time (2.5 hours, which is more than I think Musk sleeps in a night).

Self-Healing: Muscle Pain

This is part of a series of postings on self-healing, which you can access via the "Self-Healing" tag which appears in the Slog’s left margin below "Popular Entries". For general tips and background on self-healing, read this.

The traditional approach to relieving sore, tight, spasming muscles is, logically enough, tenderizing the muscle. That's what we pay masseuses and physical therapists for, that's what vibrating massage machines do, and that's what ice and heat kind of/sort of do as a temporary stopgap.

I found a better way.
I've been going to an extremely talented licensed sports massage therapist (with PT training) for many years. I told him about this technique, and he pronounced it worthy. So at least one expert has corroborated it (even though it's dramatically reduced his income from me).
Find a tendon in the general afflicted area. There's always a tendon nearby.
If you're not familiar with tendons, practice by feeling around for rubberband-ish structures just above your elbow (with that arm comfortably at rest). There are lots of them there.
Gently probe and dig around with your fingertips until you find one (treat your flesh like impartial meat, the way a masseuse might). Then pluck the tendon firmly (nothing crazy), like a bass string, five times or so. Then find another tendon and repeat. If you're unsure whether a given structure is a tendon or a thin bone or something, don't worry. Pluck it anyway. Be eager for bumps to pluck.

Keep going. Work your way around the afflicted area. You'll find that one tendon hurts particularly. That's the one connecting the afflicted muscle. Pluck that one a few extra times. It will hurt some, but nowhere near as much as it hurts when a masseuse digs his claw into a sore muscle. So not only is this faster and more effective, it's less painful.

I assume this works due to leverage. It's easier and more efficient to remobilize a structure from the "stem" so to speak.

You don't need to find the perfect tendon and pluck it with perfect force the perfect number of times. You just need a little patience. Tendons don't present themselves particularly obviously. It's like probing, blindfolded, for raisins in a pilaf (that was bizarre, sorry, but I can't think of a better analogy).

Adults are terrible at this sort of open-ended instruction. They want to download an anatomical map of tendons and be told which to pluck in which order. They want a YouTube video showing what, exactly, "pluck" means. They have loads of questions and confusions and anxieties and are really pretty skeptical of the whole enterprise when they have more serious tasks to take care of, like the 400,000th mental replay of that time when their father said that terrible thing. What they really want is some confident-seeming person to charge them $250 and come do it for them, because they're not the sort of person who knows anything about fricking tendons.

Kids know how to do stuff like this. They know how to explore playfully, without their thought stream hijacking a simple process and turning it into a miasma. They're distractible, sure, but they'll keep coming back to that exploration, again and again. That's how they learn to juggle and wiggle their ears and ride a bike and internalize the basic knowledge of human civilization. Adults have trouble learning, while kids are splendid at it. So approach this like a playful child.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

COVID Hopefulness

Ever the contrarian, I feel hope despite the impending COVID "blizzard". More hopeful, in fact, than at any time since this all started. A few things (with italicized comments from the Slog's biochemist technical consultant, who helped make sure there are no major blunders):

If You're Vaxxed You'll Be Fine

My Republican friends ignore experts and go un-vaxxed. My Democratic friends ignore experts and remain certain they risk agonizing death despite vaccination. No one simply takes the guidance at face value. So let me do the lonely thing and reinforce expert opinion. The following statement is 1. true and 2. easily ascertainable, but would provoke piqued blowback from Americans on both sides of the political divide. Sigh. Here goes:

If you're vaccinated and boosted, your chance of developing a really serious case - e.g. requiring hospitalization - is very, very low. As low as plenty of perils we ordinarily dismiss. Follow local guidelines and enjoy your life.

You might "get COVID", but it almost surely won't be serious....even if you have asthma, a cardiac stent, are old, etc (I'm all three). So, listen, progressives: if you have a neurotic aversion to the notion of "getting COVID" after months of excessive panic, well, knock it off. You can't afford to indulge neurosis amid crisis. This is not The Andromeda Strain, so lay off the MSNBC, which wants you scared and angry. And listen, conservatives: get vaccinated for god's sake (and lay off the FOX, which wants you scared and angry). But I suspect many of you will get vaccinated soon, per the next item.

Vax Will Happen

People who used to get belligerent when I begged them to vax suddenly mostly just listen quietly, with a worried expression. It's different. I expect a decent slice will vaccinate amid the Omicron "blizzard". Here's why.

The seldom-acknowledged "problem" with this disease is that it hasn't been really massively infectious or deadly. It's been just under the threshold of obvious palpability, and it's notoriously hard to get people to be proactive about relatively subtle risks. Every measure to date has been in the interest of civic duty, not critical self-preservation, and "Let's take steps (masking, distancing, etc.) to reduce infection load so ERs don't fill up with the low percentage who get it bad" is a much more subtle pitch (and tougher sell!) than "Act immediately or die".

Now, with Omicron much more infectious, the urgency level is clearly rising, and my Republican friends are feeling it, palpably. I'd be surprised if we don't see upticks in vaccination over the next few weeks.

Also: Trump's finally coming around to taking full-voiced credit for the vaccine (which is not unreasonable), and Biden's been smart enough not to begrudge it (if he were really smart, he'd give Trump a medal, let him really soak up the praise, and transform into Mr. Vaccine...because the dude, beyond all else, is a hell of a salesman).

Omicron May Peak Early

Omicron is perhaps a little less dangerous but vastly more contagious. I'm not a virologist, but I suspect it may burn hot and fast. It will not be pretty, but (per #1) if you're vaccinated, you'll be okay and (per #2) more people might get vaccinated. In any case, I suspect this will be the final big hump to get over (plenty of little ones to follow, however). Hopefully this phase will last weeks, not months. But we'll see.

[Technical consultant]: It's impossible to predict, but logically it should be mild and persistent, that's the way infectious diseases often go.

Jillions Of New Therapies

There are so many therapies now, with many, many more destined to spill onto the market in coming months. It's not great that market factors have hijacked so many researchers into working on this pathogen (there are other problems in the world, and our formerly staid medical R&D platforms have been, perhaps permanently, transformed into a mob of feverishly trend-mongering gold-miners). But at least we'll have a full repertoire of treatments soon for COVID.

Bright Future

As with any moonshot, we've improved a ton of science and tech with rippling benefits. We're eons better positioned for future pandemics. We appear to have maybe solved COVID/SARS, a major sword of Damocles dangling over our heads for some time now (I don't understand how this astounding report didn't attract wide attention). And we have evolved decades' worth of virus/vaccine know-how.

[Technical consultant]: The army vaccine report you link to shows it's only been through phase 1. I think it's good that the media are not gushing prematurely, for once...

Few people realized that among the myriad risk factors for mankind, viral pandemic is the one that (until Musk and his tech pals sounded the AI alarm) has been most troubling the smartest people. While COVID was painful, it wasn't "Everybody Dies". And when "Everybody Dies" arises, we are immeasurably better prepared than we were three years ago. And that's freaking awesome.

Essential TV Viewing: The After Party

Discussing yesterday's "Essential TV Viewing" with friend-of-the-slog Paul Trapani:

Note: Paul knows I bailed out of catching up on The Sopranos in season two. So he's hinting I might feel differently if I watch the whole show.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Tinker Tailor Soldier Copyrightviolation

In my previous posting, "Essential TV Viewing", I raved over a couple of ancient BBC adaptations of John le Carré novels:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy This 1979 BBC John le Carré series starring Alec Guinness still stands up, as does its 1982 follow-up, Smiley's People, also with Guinness. Foundational, masterful, devastating. This, along with the roughly contemporaneous Roots, helped catalyze the notion that TV might be phenomenal.
It turns out someone has uploaded all six episodes of TTSS as well as all six episodes of Smiley's People to YouTube. Good resolution, too. (ht, Ben Finberg)

Essential TV Viewing

Updating and rearranging my 2016 grand index of must-see TV.

I didn't own a TV as an adult until 2006. So for me, TV began in 2006 (notwithstanding a childhood smothered in F-Troop and Gilligan's Island). Here's my assessment, carefully ordered, based not on "quality" (whatever that even means) or my personal fondness level, but on essentiality; the degree to which it would upset me to know you hadn't seen these shows.

I've linked to either my most recent or most in-depth writing for each show (and I might have missed some, so use the Slog search engine if you care).

I highly recommend reading episodic recaps by Alan Sepinwall for shows he covered - which included many of the following. Sepinwall currently writes for Rolling Stone, but had a bunch of prior gigs, plus a long-time blog, so his output is fragmented (here's an episode-by-episode index of his early stuff). However, his name is fortuitously unique, so just google "Show-Name Sepinwall".

I haven't seen Deadwood or John from Cincinnati yet. And Mad Men was excellent but not transcendent/essential (not for lack of effort to seem so). And The Sopranos hasn’t held up well.

You'll Never Be Whole Until You View

Succession (HBOmax) My Take
Atlanta (Hulu) My Take
The Leftovers (HBOmax) My Take Tip: if you dug this show, check out Station Eleven, currently unfurling on HBOmax, with some of the same writers.
Rectify (You'll have to buy this one from Amazon or AppleTV) My Take
Breaking Bad (Netflix) My Take
Rick & Morty (HBOmax and Hulu) My Take...and another quick take
Patriot (Amazon Prime) My Take
Hannibal (Hulu) My Take

The Wire (HBOmax) At this point, for many people, The Wire seems Shakespearian in all the wrong ways. It's the big bulky tome you never get around to despite everyone's insistence that it's well worth the time and effort. It may have come to feel more like vitamins than entertainment. But stop whining and snap to it. Yes, you'll need to pay attention, but it helps to follow Alan Sepinwall's superb recaps (here's an index - note that he did recaps for newbies and a whole other set for re-watchers)

Prehistoric Bonus
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy This 1979 BBC John le Carré series starring Alec Guinness still stands up, as does its 1982 follow-up, Smiley's People, also with Guinness. Foundational, masterful, devastating. This, along with the roughly contemporaneous Roots, helped catalyze the notion that TV might be phenomenal (buy DVDs for TTSS and for Smiley's People). [UPDATE: Someone uploaded all six episodes of TTSS to YouTube as well as all six episodes of Smiley's People]. God bless the BBC! Speaking of whom, if you never saw Top Gear (the classic UK version up to season 22) and assume it's for car fans, and/or have heard that Jeremy Clarkson is an asshole, watch it this instant (on Amazon Prime or HBOmax) because, at its best, it may be the greatest show on this whole list. I'd suggest working down this list of best-loved episodes. You're welcome.

You Can Maybe Miss, but Why Impose Needless Suffering on Yourself?

Better Call Saul (Netflix) My Take. This will almost surely graduate to the immortals' list, above, but it still has one season to go, and if they kill Kim Wexler, I swear to god I'll never watch anything these people ever make.
The Americans (Amazon Prime) My Take
Perpetual Grace, LTD (Amazon Prime) My Take
Mr. In-Between (Hulu) My Take
The Young Pope/The New Pope (HBOmax) My Take
Midnight Diner (Netflix) My Take
Party Down (Hulu) My Take. Note: they're going to do another season!
Fargo (Hulu) My Take
Legion (Hulu) My Take
The Bureau (aka Le Bureau des Légendes) Buy on AppleTV (it's worth it) My Take
You're the Worst (Hulu) My Take

Note: There are perhaps a hundred more really really good shows, some every bit as good as these. But, remember, this list is about essentiality - major or minor. I loved, for example, Get Shorty, Narcos, Fleabag, and Barry, but if you missed any of them, I'd be okay with it. I'd recommend them, but if you ignored me, I most likely wouldn't chase you down, grab your lapels, and scream in your face like a crazed maniac...whereas the above shows are CYDGYLSLCM (pronounce "kai-DEE-gee-LESS-lah-khem").

"But what's the show about? What's the genre?"

Think about that question for a moment, and consider which side of things it puts you on.

Before TV got good, genre product was produced to sate genre thirst and we all stayed in our lanes. Then TV got good, and transcended genre. A few examples:
  • Game of Thrones wasn't a sensation because millions had an abiding interest in fairies and dragons. Everybody watched because it was great.

  • The Battlestar Galactica reboot wasn't full of bug-eyed monsters and laser-warring spaceships; it was literature (at least up until that sucky finale, which marginally disqualified it from the second list above).

  • You don't watch Better Call Saul because it's a "legal drama", you watch it because Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks and Rhea Seehorn - and their writers, directors, editors, and cinematographers - are fantastic.

  • The Twitterverse is full of Occupy Wall Street types avidly watching Succession while hating themselves for it. They ordinarily have ZERO INTEREST IN RICH PEOPLE AND THEIR PROBLEMS....but the show's just so sublime.
Awesomeness renders genre irrelevant. I dislike tomato soup, but worship the version at Blazer Pub. Not because I "changed my mind", but because it's AWESOME. And I don't have a crush on actress Lizzy Caplan because she's brunette (the crudest taxonomy); it's because she's AWESOME.

If you're still making your viewing choices based on genre ("I like shows about plucky millennials but dislike science fiction"), you are a reactionary force, pulling things back to 1978. If you really value art that transcends, why embrace the damned launching pad?

So what are the above shows about? They’re about filling you with wonder and delight, okay?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

TV Reco: Line of Duty

Watching a for-the-ages great series like "Succession", "Breaking Bad" (I told you about both long before they were popular; the former at the end of season one and the latter early in season two), "Atlanta", "The Leftovers", “Patriot”, or "Rick & Morty", you'll never roll your eyes. No illogic, no gaping plot holes, low dramatic license, and a blessed absence of clichés, transparent fan service, and telegraphing of jokes/explaining of nuances.

But those are all boutique premium cable shows run by pampered auteurs with ample budgets. What if someone decided to do a standard network police show (anti-corruption unit, i.e. watching the watchmen) with that stratospheric level of craft, talent, and intelligence?

You won't come away from BBC's "Line of Duty" dazzled by its immortal greatness, as with the shows name-checked above. But you'll be as thoroughly and intelligently entertained as you ever have been in your life. This is what ordinary TV can be with really good writing, acting, directing, and cinematography, with absolutely every last quid of value squeezed from a wee budget, and your intelligence seldom insulted.

It streams free on Amazon Prime (minus the final two seasons, at least for now) and on Hulu, and while six seasons would normally seem like an ambitious binge, they're short seasons of 5 to 7 shows each. Think of it as six trays of delightful small plates.

Line of Duty's IMDB page (check out the crazy-high user ratings).
The Line Of Duty Wiki (to help keep characters and plot points straight).
Sarah Hughes' excellent recaps for The Guardian (the paywall is a pushover; just click "not now"): Season 1 thru Season 3 episode 5, and Season 3 Finale thru Season 6 Finale (she actually literally doesn’t make it to the end, which is incomparably sad, but you can worry about that when you get there). 
All the Slog's TV postings in reverse chronological order

Next in my TV queue, I'll sign up for Disney+ just long enough to catch up on The Beatles: Get Back, Mandalorian, WandaVision, and Hawkeye.

Then on to:
Arcane (on Netflix) 
Euphoria (on HBOmax)
Dave (on Hulu)
Witcher (on Netflix)
Spiral (on Amazon Prime)
Rake (on Amazon Prime)
Travelers (on Netflix)
The Great (on Hulu)

And I'm saving these two for last: John from Cincinnati (on HBOmax), and Deadwood (on HBOmax, but I'll watch on blu-ray for best quality).

Monday, December 27, 2021

Dave Sit: The Wine Ranger

I know a number of bona fide wine experts. Not just folks with fancy cellars, or who lead tastings at the local community center. I mean serious pundits, some of whose names you might recognize. And the guy they all look up to is Dave Sit, who you've never heard of.

Dave was always too busy to seek wider recognition for his wine know-how. He was running WNYC-TV, producing PBS' NewsHour, helping pioneer solar energy, studying French cooking with Paul Bocuse, making the best Chinese five-spiced duck I've ever had by a very wide margin, and, long ago, authoring a witty theater piece - based on the Christmas story - titled something like "Who Knocked Up Mary?"

Dave's wine hobby was strictly for his own enjoyment, so he never pursued credentials like a Master of Wine degree. He's always just quietly been The Guy. Wine Yoda. Total knowledge, zero snobbery, great teacher. He taught me a lot.

Dave recently retired to the Finger Lakes, where he's been writing a newspaper wine column, "The Wine Ranger", for the Finger Lakes Times, sharing his deep knowledge and heralding new finds. He knows so much about France, Italy, and California that the Finger Lakes should be flattered to have his focused attention. In fact, he's been single-handedly persuading people like me to take the region much more seriously. If Dave Sit's excited about it, who are we to argue?

Finger Lakes Times recently published Dave's five part account of the annual cycle of a winery, and I highly recommend it.
THE WINE RANGER: A Year in the Life of a Grapevine
Part 1: Bud Break
Part 2: Flowering & Fruit Set
Part 3: Berry Development
Part 4: Véraison
Part 5: Finally, Harvest!
His column also sometimes offers bargain recommendations (Dave covers and appreciates high end wine, but nothing makes him happier than a terrific $20 bottle - and the same's true for most winemakers and sommeliers I know). This link indexes all his stuff at Finger Lakes Times. Be choosey about what you click, though, as their paywall only lets you view a few articles per month.

Lagniappe: "The August that almost killed the Finger Lakes wine industry (but spawned a new one instead")

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Souvenirs are Receipts

It finally struck me (because I'm slow) that the penchant for selfies (and, in previous eras, shutterbuggery in general), is largely about proving you were there, or that you met or befriended or worked with or slept with so and so. The photo is your receipt, and it's purely defensive. They'll never believe it, so I'd better be ready to prove it.

I have a different attitude. I've won the moment anyone doubts.

What greater compliment is there than the proposition that whatever you did is so awesome that someone might pretend to have done the thing you did? The disbelief, itself, is the trophy. Proof is entirely unnecessary. Counterproductive. Petty, even. Accept your trophy and move on.

Whenever I tell someone I founded Chowhound - and in the odd event they know what that is - I invariably get the same response: "You founded Chowhound?"

Polite people try to control their impulse to contemptuously curl their lip. Ruder people throw in a nostril scrunch. This scenario could be viewed as an exercise in humiliation ("A haggard dispshit like you did something worthwhile?"), but I've rewired my perspective. I've reframed it.

If it's worth going out of one's way to pretend to be me - or to have done what I've done, or been where I'd been, or met, befriended, worked with, or slept with the people I've met, befriended, or worked or slept with - in order to impress, that means I'm the very definition of impressive.

I'm not often assessed that way. No one ever pipes up in the dentist waiting room to inform me that I'm "the very definition of impressive" (if they did, I'd probably move to another seat). So this is as good as it gets in terms of human tribute.

So I never take selfies. I eschew receipts. I'll thank you for the touching tribute you don't realize you've paid me, take my win, and scram, leaving you to curl your lip, scrunch your nostril, and harbor any doubts you'd like.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Bah Humbug?

I don't celebrate holidays - any of them - or my birthday. And I've spent years trying to figure out why.
As I've written a number of times, my intuition and impulses are very reliable, but my brain is dim and slow and grabby. Brain needs a clear explanation, or else it makes a noisy fuss, generating lots of stress. You are overhearing, on this Slog, my stupid brain laboriously deconstructing the inclinations of my smart intuition. I'm explaining me to me, and it's been gratifying to discover that there are usually good rationales, because, frankly, I've always harbored profound doubts about this guy.

I find awards for showbiz figures offensive. No segment of any society has ever been as over-celebrated as American entertainers. We even call them "celebrities". And while I don't begrudge their success, the last thing they need is extra tribute. I mean, Jesus Christ.

Celebration of Christmas and Mardi Gras and birthdays were a whole other thing in the meager before-times, when these constituted your only break; your sole relief from the grind of daily physical labor. You spent every day of your life looking forward to such brief pinnacles of high-spirited levity. For a precious few hours there was respite from slaving away for the warlord or land baron or King, and it was all about sweet enjoyment for you and your family. There was a time when the phrase "days off" could make one nearly weep with joy.

But in a wealthy, comfortable modern society where even our supposed "working poor" are unspeakably rich and nobody ever stops considering their own enjoyment for a second, and we have weekends and Monday federal holidays and coffee breaks and work-from-home and sabbaticals, vacations, and "funemployment", the last thing we need is another ginned-up excuse to festoon ourselves with yet more specialness and enjoyment.

Without drudge, there can be no lift. As holiday season rolls around and the music cranks up and the lights go on, those of us past childhood can't avoid a certain weariness. The bloom's off the rose, and we feel a bit hustled into canned celebrative gestures. It’s all a bit of a bore, but we keep it up for the kids. In 1848, it wouldn’t have bored anyone but the loftiest aristocrat. But now we’re all Mrs. Howell.

My mechanic, who is skilled, kind, and honest, deserves an award. Instead, we reward celebrities...over and over and over. And there are still places where people need holidays and birthdays. But us? We're too jaded to properly appreciate them. Like a Golden Globe for Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s just another trophy to toss in the cabinet.

In fact, many of us feel dejected by our failure to properly experience holiday transcendence amid the glorious comforts of modern life here in The Future. The institution does more harm than good at this point. Truth is, as I sit in absolute secure comfort - no marauding bandits thirsty to smash my skull, no wild animals poised to break in and eat my loved ones, no risk of dying of infection from paper cuts, and with the entirety of human art, entertainment, and knowledge (plus infinite global video communications) available on a slab of glass in my pocket, as I recline on a comfortable couch in front of a modern TV sipping a delicious drink in my temperature and humidity-controlled home of perfect comfort, its fridge stocked with ridiculously cheap and totally un-tainted food, all while perfect strangers stand ready to make sacrifices to help me not die (drivers will literally pull over to allow a special medical truck to rush me to hospital as the top civic priority, like I was Julius Freaking Caesar) - I honestly don't know what I'd possibly want to transcend.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Tolerating Multiple Layers of Flaw in Otherwise Worthwhile People

If you have someone in your life with mental health issues, there's a counterintuitive hurdle to scale. Above and beyond all the issues you're called upon to handle and tolerate, you also need to let them be an asshole sometimes. Even as you placidly tolerate their litany of special needs, they also get to do the annoying and toxic things every human occasionally does. Their issues don't compel them to be otherwise perfect. They also need to be able to screw up unnecessarily.

If you're a reasonably nice person, it's easy to tolerate the inescapable problems and limitations. But it takes real character to put up with a certain amount of optional problems on top of all that. Yet you must, because humans can't help creating optional problems for themselves and their loved ones.

I just found a corollary. My much-lauded Guatemalan hero contractor, Alfredo, has certain quirks and limitations. A harrowing example: I had an electric socket with a loose faceplate that I asked him to firm up. And I later discovered he'd wedged a highly-combustible wedge of wood behind the faceplate, right next to the sparky electricity. Yikes.

Lest you figure he's an incompetent hack, let me explain that the same guy and his crew/army once jacked up hundreds of ceiling joists above my bedroom (in sweltering August heat), removed the sagging plaster ceiling, and installed a new one made of dry wall in a single afternoon, for $1200 (it's normally a week-long job costing ten times that) without taking shortcuts. He also once replaced and matched a single stair from a wooden staircase that’s inaccessible from below - something any other carpenter would declare impossible. It was magic.

So Alfredo's far from incompetent. It's just that he works to Guatemalan standards, not to US code. I tolerate the cultural differences because he's making my house way better for peanuts and he's a conscientious great guy. So I don't let him go near sockets, and I sanity check all his work. There are also language barriers and crossed wires ("I understand completely" is Spanish for "I don't understand")

All this I tolerate. But sometimes Alfredo  simply forgets stuff. Or doesn't show up per schedule. Or breaks something. Or any of the other micro-atrocities every contractor commits. But I can't expect him to be flawless above/beyond his bag of special considerations. Alfredo also gets to occasionally be a slightly shitty contractor, because if he were consistently flawless, he'd be a brain surgeon earning $750,000/year rather than a carpenter fixing my house for peanuts.

Related: Expecting Damaged People to Self-Repair to Accommodate You

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The War on Hanukkah

Question: when you greet a stranger, which language do you use?

English, right?

But why is that? Why would you assume they speak English? As a pluralistic society, should we greet each new person in (in alphabetical order) Cantonese, English, French, Malaysian, and Spanish, followed by a catch-all Esperanto apology for skipping so many? So we don't make minorities feel like minorities?

That sounds crazy to you, huh? I AGREE. So, as a minority in a country whose majority celebrates Christmas (which, I'll add, is a secular holiday as well as a religious one; sorry, Fox News), I eagerly wish one and all a MERRY CHRISTMAS, for chrissake.

Isn’t it odd that it’s considered offensive to go “¡Hola!” to anyone Hispanic-looking, but everyone gauges potential Jewiness before going “Happy Holidays”?  The former is considered exclusionary, while the latter is inclusive. We must assume you share our language, but not our holidays. 

I will never understand the Left’s view of race/ethnicity (the Right’s is much easier to understand….and to shudder at).

Monday, December 20, 2021

Truth is Like House Lights

The truth never feels like a cool refreshing glass of ice water. Not even for those aflame with unnecessary duress which would instantly be relieved by some illuminating truth. In fact, the greater the unnecessary duress, the more the truth seems to chafe.

Why? As with most insights into vexing human mysteries, the answer is ridiculously "duh": Having fought mightily against truth to put themselves into unnecessary duress, they're unsurprisingly unreceptive to it.

Why do people work so hard to put themselves into unnecessary duress? What's the thinking behind self-destructive behavior?

We suppose it's irrational, but it's certainly not. We're all here to act out dramas, and self-destructive people have tweaked parameters for more challenging gameplay. They're simply working at a more advanced level, like increasing resistance on a StairMaster. They've rejected the easy win, that's all.

Those who've shifted perspective and tasted some truth may feel poised to heal the world. But such people have historically been swiftly slated for crucifixion. Because if you imagine that the truth really heals, the joke's on you. You’re like the lunatic in the audience who rushes to the stage to protect Caesar from the stabbing knives. There's no denying that falsehood would be thus dispelled, tragedy prevented, and the sham nature of the enterprise entirely illuminated. Good job on that. However, you'll have ruined the experience for all present.

In a MMORPG world, eagerly devoted to drama and affectation, the truth - with all its vaunted power of illumination - is as welcome as glaring house lights suddenly switching on mid-show, shocking dark-adapted eyes and spoiling the deliberate suspension of disbelief.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

I remember when if you went for a drive, you might not arrive...

I just had my twelve zillionth contentious chat with a furiously woke young person clutching a $1100 cell phone and bitching about "rich people" and how awful life is, generally.

This time I thought I came up with an especially good tirade (not that it helped, of course):
I remember when if you went for a drive, you might not arrive. More than likely, your car would stall, or overheat. And even if it held up, you'd almost surely get lost, fishing fruitlessly for maps from your glovebox. You might even die - e.g. getting hit by a drunk driver (who was drunk driving because drunk driving's something we all do, amiright, hahaha?). A nice bracing mugging was always possible, and those don't always end well. Also, some ordinary person might slug you in the face because he thought you got a little mouthy with him (only pussies pressed charges; real men defended themselves). Oh, and with no magical cardiac stents to miraculously insert through an incision in your wrist, a heart attack meant you're gone. So please take it nice and easy; don't wanna stress that ticker which could blow up like a bomb any second.

And that was in the 1960s/1970s, after we'd already enjoyed massive upgrades. A few centuries earlier, the notion of going somewhere would have been unimaginable. What are you, some sort of aristocrat who goes places? Are you a baron or earl? Where the fuck would you even go? And you're just gonna take the afternoon off down at the rock pit or saw mill or hog farm, clean yourself up, put on your church clothes, and take a merry trip in your, well on foot or atop some rheumy old horse borrowed from your slightly more upscale neighbor (not that you could afford the oats to fuel the poor beast)?

Back up a few more centuries, and good luck persuading the local land baron or war lord to even approve your trip (in the highly unlikely event you figured out how to take the day off AND borrow the broken horse AND pay for the oats to feed it). Wait, I know! Maybe you could bribe him with an extra bedding with your wife this month! Honey? Can you come over here for a minute? I need you to help me go somewhere!

I have a friend in southern Mexico, who lives in a village. It's a relatively prosperous one, and he's among the more well-heeled residents, with a large-ish hacienda and many modern conveniences. He's not walking around like the Frito Bandito, wrapped in a blanket, he's a modern dude well aware of pop-culture, tech, etc. He watches Rick & Morty.

I once asked if he might ever come visit New York, and the look he gave me burned into my retinas so hard that whenever I close my eyes, that's all I see: his eyes compressing to pained slits, lip curled in disbelieving contempt while his mouth fruitlessly struggled to form words that might somehow explain to this incomparably stupid gringo that, no, I won't be getting on a plane and jetting my way to The Big Apple for a whirlwind vacation in this lifetime.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Behind the Cherry Pie & Chai

In "The Life Cycle of Moroccan Lefftovers", in addition to offering a glimpse of authentic Moroccan home cooking and a tutorial in my leftover reheating philosophy, I offered a whimsical tour of my kitchen clutter. I will now do likewise for my TV room coffee table clutter in the background of yesterday's photo of Cherry Pie & Chai.
  • 1: "The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray". I watched these movies once in DVD, but now I have a much better TV, plus, many people don't know that the first film was shot on a tight budget and really doesn't look that great, but Peter Jackson did a lot of clean-up work for this release. This set has none of the extra scenes or special features, just the movies, so it's cheap (especially used...I always buy movies/cds/books used).
  • 2: "The Middle East Crisis Factory" by Iyad El-Baghdadi and Ahmed Gatnash. Back in February, El-Baghdadi invited questions on Twitter. I asked, he answered, and this is the book he referenced. I haven't read it yet.
  • 3: "Dwarf Caiman Crocodiles as Pets", which looked great on Amazon but I should have read the reviews, which point out that the "author" just compiled stuff she found online. I was horrified to discover this when the book arrived, but then I thought about it: she freely disclosed her method and credited the online material, and I can't deny that there's value in a "researcher" gathering such data and organizing it into a softcover book. So I didn't return it. She deserves to make a living.
  • 4: AppleTV remote
  • 5: Theratears. Nobody raves about anything anymore, because 1. we're bored, jaded aristocrats (many of us monotonal from antidepressants, to boot), and 2. nobody wants to seem unhinged. That's why you've never heard of Theratears, even though a great many people suffer from dry eye (often without realizing it), and a slim minority have discovered that these eyedrops offer deeper comfort, relief, and consolation than the freshest black tar heroin.
  • 6: White Athletic Sports Tape, leftover from my year-long food injury recovery.
  • 7: Perry Ellis Men's Park Avenue Trifold Wallet
  • 8: Honduran tourist souvenir mug (I've never been to Honduras)
  • 9: Brutalist Calendar 2020 from Blue Crow Media which I wrote about here
  • 10: Pill case. I have a lot of prescriptions. It's popular to feel deeply uneasy about such a scenario, but I get no side effects and they keep me alive. So I eschew the impulse to feel old and frail when I take them, and have flipped my perspective into delight at my good fortune to possess life-giving magic pellets, which I gobble eagerly.
  • 11: Printout of a Financial Times article, "Thomas Chatterton Williams: ‘I never thought ideas were about signalling allegiance'"
  • 12: Trader Joe's Dried Pitted Tart Montmorency Cherries
  • 13: Iconic Trader Joe's Organic Gingermints
  • 14: Nuraphone headphones (which learn your hearing deficit and compensate).
For those keeping score, that's:
  • 35% Media
  • 26% Old Dude Health Stuff
  • 14% Food
  • 7% Art
  • 7% Banal Crap
  • 7% Oddly Random
....which is a precise encapsulation of me.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Cherry Pie & Chai

Everybody thinks they know cherry pie, but I've never seen anyone buy one or eat one. Everyone goes apple, or berry crumb, or, like, lavender bacon salty caramel. Cherry pie's the red-headed step-daughter, and  I'm having a midlife crisis after belatedly discovering its supremacy. I should have been eating it all along, but am catching up for lost time.

Best cherry pie in NY Tristate is from Salinger's Orchard, up near Brewster. The slice in the photo comes from them.

Here's my intensely polished protocol for pie reheating (this stuff matters, people; for proper inspiration, review my Toasted Bagel Tutorial and Manifesto):
  • Preheat toaster oven to 400.
  • Fold aluminum foil and place on baking tray.
  • Plop pie atop foil. If you're doing two slices, separate them widely.
  • Check after 5 minutes. Crust should have browned an additional shade or two, but, if it's near burning, pull it out STAT. If filling isn't warmed through, next time make it 6 minutes.
  • Serve pie plus foil on a plate, per photo (you'll gum up the crust if you try to spatulize it directly onto your plate; the less you fool around with reheated foods, the better).
I have determined that the best thing to drink with pie is masala chai. I'm very much a milk-with-pie guy, but this is better. Containing milk, it offers all the milkiness of milk. But the spicing offsets the pie beautifully. The masala chai to get is from Blue Lotus, either their Traditional Masala Chai or else their Golden Masala Chai with turmeric and maca, whatever that is (if you're not into turmeric, you know what to do). Their stuff is powdered, which is alarmingly inauthentic, but it's fresh, and not sweetened like crappy mixes, and it's great and instant. Here's how I prepare it:
  • Pour 4 oz milk (whole if you can do it without dying) + a slightly less than 4 oz cold water in a pot.
  • Turn on high.
  • Add a heaping bamboo spoon (included) of masala chai powder
  • Don't add the teaspoon of sugar I use if I'm not accompanying this with sugary pie (i.e. my morning drink).
  • Lower the heat to medium (so it doesn't sputter when you pour out the liquid).
  • Let it boil. This provides free frothing. Watch it, though, to avoid a messy boilover. Yes, you normally must never heat tea to boiling...but this is shit tea; it's all about the spicing. You won't turn it bitter, promise.
  • Pour into cup, and top off with cold milk (for perfect drinking temperature).
You have no idea how happy you're about to be with your pie and chai. Pie and chai!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Perils of Egomania

To an egomaniac, the world is a constant source of grave insult. Nearly every happenstance - each outcome, reaction, and data point - is an affront to your unshakeable notion of superiority.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Whence Zeitgeists? Why Cocktails Got Good

Good book
Good review of the book (my favorite line: "These passages will allow you to convince yourself, and perhaps even your spouse, that your interest in getting wasted is an academic pursuit.")

In the early 1990s, I knew exactly two people making super great cocktails. There was the main dude at Angel's Share, a new (at the time) backroom Japanese East Village cocktail lounge hunkering behind a Korean restaurant, and there was the legendary Dale DeGroff, who I respected entirely on reputation (I tried his stuff once under suboptimal conditions at a book party, and it was just okay, but I got the impression he'd be great in his natural habitat). And now I know a slew of places for cocktails at that level.
That's a viewpoint enabled by being old. Younger people can't make facile comparisons spanning three decades and requiring experienced discretion at both sides of the chasm.
Is this like the four minute mile, which was a daunting benchmark until Roger Bannister hit it and then suddenly everyone could? Has mixological talent and genius gone, like, viral? Whence zeitgeists?

I frequently return to a dandy framing I learned from my old friend Elliot, who taught me that an overly tannic wine is either overly tannic, or else it's lacking in everything else (so the tannins stick out). And this is that situation.

Until recently, crappy bartenders made crappy cocktails from crappy ingredients with a crappy attitude. Now, a bunch of them make an effort, and, surprise, when you try harder than a 7-11 clerk does with the hot dogs, the result tastes way better.

So the whole thing is a bit of a shaggy dog story. From my framing as an old guy able to offer then/now comparisons for a number of zeitgeists, I see that it's nearly always thus. It feels like a leap from "good" to "heavens above" when it's actually gone from "crap" to "good" - and we hadn't realized that our baseline was crap. So there's no electro-magical awakening, it's just about the arrival of fuck-givers.

"Mmmm!" is thousands, or millions, of times better than "Meh".

Monday, December 13, 2021

Ponzi P.S.

A friend texted me in response to my previous posting (on NFTs) to ask how vaporous this new market could be given that people are making 400x or 4000x on their money. My reply:
Bernie Maddoff's earliest clients made out quite well for themselves. No one ever said pyramid schemes aren't profitable for early arrivals. That’s why they've propogated for centuries. Plus, as I said, this one might settle into a legit market. I doubt it, but it's possible.

But saying “It’s not a bubble because people are making 4000x profit” is like saying “It’s not murder because look at all the blood”.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

NFTs Are Like Having an Asteroid Named After You

There's jargon you can ignore, because it's trendy and soon to disappear, and there's jargon you need to have some vague notion about, because it will stick around for a while. NFTs are the latter.
NFT's (non-fungible tokens, a fancy term for the slightly less fancy term "digitally scarce goods") are a way of taking ownership of a digital thing. You don't physically own it (ones and zeroes aren't physical), but while others might possess copies, actual ownership can, thanks to clever tech, be established and recorded.

Copies of a certain digital photo of the Mona Lisa might exist on 10 million computer disks, but say there's an ironclad way to establish ownership. Even if there's no qualitative difference to yours, or tangible benefit, there may be value to the mere abstract assignation of ownership. In fact, if people get excited, that value might be high.
That was not a particularly good definition of NFTs. Get up to speed via this explainer from The Verge; Chris Hayes' podcast episode "Is Bitcoin for Real?", and/or Ezra Klein's podcast "A Crypto Optimist Meets a Crypto Skeptic").

Below I offer a highly creative analogy explaining why NFTs are vaporous bullshit, but also how they may nonetheless become established as a legitimate and widely-accepted financial instrument/market/thingee.

Years ago, there was a dodgy (though not blatantly illegal) proposition. You could send a company some money and they'd name a star or an asteroid after you.

It wasn't exactly a scam, ala selling the Brooklyn Bridge, because no one claimed it would become, like, yours. You just had your name attached to it, which is as "real" as the registering entity. If it were a legit enterprise, so you could inquire at the Hayden Planetarium and have the chief astrophysicist say "Oh, wow, you're THE Sheila Fleischbaum?!?", then, ok, there'd be something to it.

But even so, the inhabitants of planets orbiting New Sheila Fleischbaum would never recognize it by that name, nor would they be responsive to tax bills from Sheila's accountant.

While there’s no tangible ownership, there is some value in merely having your name in a registry - so long as it's a serious registry, and not just some smart-ass kid jotting it down on his Etch-a-Sketch. If you can verify that 1. it's seriously registered, and 2. serious people take the registry seriously, then there may be transactional value, even if there’s no intrinsic value.

Me, I personally wouldn’t be into it. But I'm not into anchovies, either, which in no way detracts from the fact that millions love them and fortunes are made with them.

An increasing number of legitimate-seeming entities are taking NFTs seriously, and NFTs are legit verifiable. So while they may not be tangible or meaningful, they do potentially have value.

Now, say there was a land grab, where suddenly everyone wanted their name attached to an asteroid, and most of the good ones had been sold. Prices begin to rise, per basic economics, attracting a new class of buyers. It’s no longer just a rabble of geeky space nerds. Sharks appear in the water, angling to get in early on the gold rush. And that's where we are with NFTs.

The notion of conjuring value from an abstract notion of ownership seems dodgy, but, as any gold bug would tell you, our entire monetary system is highly abstract, and, in the broad view, terrifyingly dodgy. It seems solid only because masses of people buy into the value. A consensual hallucination. We all agree that a five dollar bill is worth five bucks despite its utter lack of intrinsic value. It’s just a stupid piece of paper, but that's good enough if enough people believe in it.

So if I own an NFT of a photo of some recent LeBron James dunk, I don't own any thing. As with the asteroid, all I have is a marker, valuable only insofar as people 1. acknowledge the proof, and 2. deem it valuable. It's not very different from owning a hundred dollar bill. Since people will trade it for $100 worth of goods or services, its value is real. Or, at least, real enough.

NFTs are a widely accepted proof of ownership of a digital good. The registration is legit. That much is worked out. So it's just a question of whether people will keep buying into ownership value beyond this initial gold rush. For now, it all seems dodgy, but abstract value propositions always seem dodgy in the beginning. Everything hinges on popular acceptance. Value is as value does.

Does success with this sort of contrivance create incentive for would-be trillionaires to find ever more clever ways to wave their wands and create instant value out of nothingness? Yes, it does. And is that what NFTs are? Yes, it is. And the really scammy part is that those "legitimate seeming entities" that are buying in and stoking confidence are the very wand-wavers and registrars*. As we speak, they're wiggling myriad tentacles to ensure they grab a piece of every transaction. The sharks are in a feeding frenzy.

There is an undeniable Ponzi stench to the tableau of wand-waving sharks inviting us to greedily sink money into a shiny new world of meaninglessness. The difference between a pyramid scheme and the creation of a legitimate new market is robust longevity. With the latter, the music can stop without the structure collapsing, and the base of the pyramid profits even beyond the initial land grab. We shall see which one this is, but my advice is to steer well clear, as there's nothing dumber than buying late into a pyramid/Ponzi scheme.

* - The reason bankers cultivate a veneer of stature and proprietary is that they are, at their core, unhinged. They are shamelessly and terrifyingly untethered from any regard for intrinsic value. If they can profit from transacting fluff and smoke - and it's not specifically illegal - then deeply into the fluffy smoke they will dive, well aware that their weighty imprimatur of staid conservatism fosters the perception (some might say “illusion”) of value, to their vast profit.

Here's a very brief postscript

Friday, December 10, 2021

Elon Fricking Musk

I'm beginning to suspect that Elon Musk might be slightly duplicitous.

For one thing, he's savagely attacking Biden's Build Back Better plan for its high spending, including billions to create a charging network for electric cars which would, of course, erode the competitive advantage of Tesla's proprietary charging network. Musk says "Do we need federal support for gas stations? We don’t. So there’s no need for this, for support for a charging network. I would delete it. Delete."

Musk also just hates the proposed $12,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. Which is strange considering how much he liked Obama's tax credits, which helped him build his customer base. But in this case, the credit only applies to cars made by unionized shops, and Tesla is staunchly (some would say brutally) anti-union. But rather than be straight about it, he's attacking it from a "we-can't-afford-all-this-spending" angle.

The little-recognized fatal drawback of autonomous cars is that, in populated areas (especially cities), any pedestrian impatient to cross the street can simply extend an arm or leg or umbrella into traffic and make all vehicles to come to a screeching halt. There's no imaginable way to police this. Urban streets are currently usable for both pedestrians and drivers due to a strategic stalemate: drivers MOSTLY don't want to kill anyone and pedestrians MOSTLY don't want to die. Necessary built-in public safety measures for autonomous vehicles will defang drivers and embolden pedestrians, so driving won't work. It's a hard dead-end.

But, purely by coincidence, Musk really really wants to see us have freer flowing traffic in cities:
“In cities that are congested we’ve got to do something about extreme traffic, which is some combination of double-deckering freeways and building tunnels,” he said. That, coincidentally, would be the only possible way to avoid the arm/leg/umbrella scenario making autonomous vehicles a no-go in urban environment.
It would cost many, many trillions to completely redesign road systems in American towns and cities to segregate pedestrians and drivers (thereby making autonomous vehicles viable), but Musk's all for spending those trillions under the pretense that traffic congestion's, like, such a drag. Build Back Better, however, is just too spendy for his taste. "We’ve spent so much money, you know, it’s like the federal budget deficit is insane,” he commented.

I grabbed all these quotes from this Guardian article, but you can find widespread reporting on Musk's comments. No one I've read, however, has pointed out the full hypocrisy (writers mostly caught the union/non-union issue, which couldn't be more flagrant). Is it really so hard to see the truth? I don't know if it's the fluoridated water or what, but people - including our pundit classes - seem to be getting dumber and dumber. I suppose I should be grateful; lowering sagacity levels allow a writer/musician shithead like me to look like a soothsayer for stating the merely obvious. Wheeee.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Succession Thoughts

I keep getting into stuff like "Succession" ahead of the crowd (I first recommended the series way back in 2018). And then the thing gets popular, and the haze surrounding it becomes so stupid that I'm almost embarrassed to be involved.

It certainly happened with food media. And now mainstream commentary on this beautiful show has sunk into the muck. For those keeping up on Succession, and reading opinions online, let me debunk some dumb popular takes (with spoilers from last Sunday's episode):

1. Kendall's not dead, duh.

He's just slumping in a pool, blowing bubbles in the water to signal his utter resignation while the director gets his arty BoJack Horseman shot.

2. Logan wasn't trying to poison his grandson, duh.

Kendall did his wryly deadpan little move, telling the waiter, "No, that's his plate." So Logan knocked back. Because Logan never doesn't knock back. Totally expected.

Plus, if Kendall did poison the food, he wouldn't have let his kid eat it. So Logan was in zero danger of actually poisoning his grandchild. I realize that any sentence with the words "poison" and "child" makes certain people feel compelled to SPEAK UP FOR THE CHILDREN, earning Logan a forehead sticker as worst possible human. But maybe we can try to be as nuanced as this show and put away our pricing guns.

3. The Kendall/Logan scene wasn't just evidentiary item #12000 of Logan's bad parenting, duh.

When your kid has been relentlessly, needlessly, stupidly, aimlessly trying to blow up everything you hold dear - just because - including your very freedom as you enter your ninth decade, and you graciously agree to a sit-down where he proceeds to tell you, with his dead eyes, how EVIL you are, when he's a depraved addict and cater-waiter murderer who's spent his entire life sucking at the teet of an operation which makes no effort to hide its nature, really, the only thing you can do is to remind him he's maybe not such a terrific guy due to, for example, the whole murdery interlude, and tell him to fuck off, and stride back to the limo. I mean, what else was he going to do? Vow to reform his ways under the weight of Kendall's hypocritical shaming?

4. Same with Caroline and Shiv, duh.

Viewers are all pissed at their mothers and fathers, so no one can watch drama without projecting their issues. So the previously mentioned scene was Logan being a terrible father (and grandfather), while the Shiv/Caroline scene showed the latter as an awful, awful mother.

Did everyone miss how Shiv painted a portrait of a mother brutally abandoning a poor, defenseless 10 year old...when it was actually the free, calculated choice of a savvy, stabby 13 year old? A choice which, incidentally, broke said mother's heart?

To be sure, Shiv absolutely believes her version, much like Kendall believes he's a genuinely "good guy", whatever that even means. But even having been corrected, Shiv keeps gratuitously stabbing away at her mom, who, quite understandably, finally sighs and says she'd have preferred mothering a pack of dogs.

Do I approve of any of these people, including Logan and Caroline? No. Would I have served that mozzarella to my grandchild just to fuck back at my son? Absolutely not. But awful as Logan and Caroline both are, their kids, who are way worse, forced their hands.

Four more Succession thoughts at this juncture:

1. Logan's Buy-Out Offer

I’ve finally gotten around to understanding Logan’s offer to buy out Kendall.

It was very time-limited and Logan knew 1. Kendall would not accept, and 2. it would mess with his head, and 3. no more offers or money would ever be forthcoming after that, ever ever.

This also explains the mystery, which really shouldn’t have been lost on Kendall (plot hole), of how the company would have even raised that $2 billion.

2. It's All About Shiv

This series is “The Rise of Shiv”. And not just because of the way she's messing with our dear Geri. Shiv is the worst character on the show, way worse than Logan. She's capable of anything. Consider:
Logan legitimately loves his family, though he shows it strangely. Shiv has never loved anyone ever.

Logan has no shame or conscience, but he does operate within a certain code. Shiv has no code, no boundaries, no compass, no nothing. Extraordinarily dangerous.

Shiv is gratuitously cruel with those who don’t deserve it. We have never seen Logan punch down for kicks.

Logan’s a person. Who Shiv is is open to any oppportunistic change of wind. While Logan’s a selfish man with megalomania, Shiv is pure ambition and megalomania, with no human in the equation.

3. Season Four Will Suck a Little

This is two shows: a dark family comedy (for most of the cast), and a Shakespearean tragedy (for Kendall). Kendall's not dead, but he's obviously done as a character. As Alan Sepinwall wrote this week, it's either that Jeremy Strong wants out, or else that show runner Jesse Armstrong has written him into a corner. Either way, that character's done, albeit non-dead.

But the special sauce of this show stems from the deliciously dissonant grind of its two tectonic plates - dark comedy and Shakespearean tragedy. With Kendall out of the picture, it will be just one thing. No grind, like sugary Paul without the vinegar of John. Season four, I predict, will be akin to Paul McCartney and Wings.

4. We Don't Deserve Jeremy Strong

Our society has so lost its aesthetic compass that Jeremy Strong's effort to fully commit to his work makes him seem like an asshole to coworkers and much of the punditariat, regardless of universal acknowledgement that the guy's turned in one of the greatest dramatic performances in recent history.

Geez, don't you imagine the two might be related?

The widespread media/social media takeaway from this recent New Yorker portrait is that Everyone Hates Jeremy....who takes himself soooo seriously.

There's zero evidence that Strong's the least bit stuck up or self-important (if there was, believe me, we'd have heard). He's just trying his best. And it's working. Isn't that admirable? How do people snark at the notion of deep commitment? What's wrong with us??

Dictation Trick

You're dictating to your smartphone, trying to get it to write "See you at 4:30", and you're getting "See you at 430".

Here's the trick. Add "AM or "PM". You'll get "4:30 am" or "4:30 pm" properly formatted. And while those extra characters are unnessecary, your recipient's eye will gloss right over them.

Read some tips that are more conventional in the Siri dictation guide

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand

From the invaluable slashfilm site, I highly recommend this article: Here's Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand.

First, and foremost, it's not you. You're not going deaf. And even if you are going deaf, that's not why you can't understand movie dialog.

So why is this happening? A zillion reasons - so many reasons! - all interesting and persuasive. Like this one, for example:
"We literally have hundreds of tracks at our disposal ... in a final mix, we therefore have a lot to deal with. Unending score smashed up against hundreds of tracks, with the client asking to hear every nuance above every other nuance."

Thursday, December 2, 2021

How to Respond to Conspiracy Theorists

We've become a society of easy, lazy labelers. Once I've affixed a sticker on your forehead, I'm done. Uttering certain words earn you a monster label, regardless of intent or context. Once the pattern matches, and the label's been affixed, the work is done.

This treatment is by no means confined to the Left. Someone called me a Socialist the other day for pointing out that Trump's attorney general Bill Barr and Ben Ginsberg, the top Republican elections expert, both declared there'd been little voter fraud in 2020. Forget the easily-provable truth of my statement, or its utter lack of reference to anyone or anything on the Left. I'd said the thing that makes me the thing. No further consideration is necessary. Having received my sticker, I now was my sticker, and it was time for the good little Socialist to walk away, humbled. Good day, sir.

People aren't whole people for many of us. They're highly reducible. This is expected given the swelling narcissism of a society afflicted with immense wealth and comfort. Each of us, naturally, represents the center point of it all, so its up to us to annoint or reject from our position of casual supremacy. It's suprising that we don't walk around with pricing guns in our hands.

Speak to me soothingly and you get a "Nice Guy" sticker, even if you'd never come get me when my car breaks down at 4am. You don't need to be nice, just seem it, like a TV character. We blandly scrutinize the facade, condense it - good or bad (shades of grey no longer exist) - into meme form, and move on to processing the next incoming object. We're sort of like Vogons.

It's always been thus, of course. Hair-trigger, superficial, lazy stereotyping. But in the past we mostly kept it to ourselves, unless emboldened by a kindred mob. Now one's kindred mob is always live-connected via a slab of glass perpetually within arm's reach. This emboldens us to flamboyantly reduce fellow humans to memey stickers without mercy or shame.

This explains the common reaction to conspiracy theorists. I mostly see people blurt out "That's a CONSPIRACY THEORY!" and, voila; done! You, conspiracy shmuck, have been vanquished, and it's time for you to go crawl up and die!

Unsurprisingly, that's not actually effective. And that's one reason conspiracy theorists encounter so little resistance these days. A label is not the titanium-tipped poison spear many of us imagine it to be. Few of us have any desire to speak to conspiracy theorists like full-fledged human beings. But I've pondered it, and concocted a way of articulating it. that’s far more substantial, and respectful, than strident erasure.

I'm not saying the following has the power to necessarily shake anyone out of their stupor. But it does make them think. It plants a seed. It addresses the actual flaw in conspiracy thinking, prying open some space for reflection:
The conspirators must be smart. I’ve met a lot of supposedly bright and accomplished people, but none seemed remotely capable of pulling off a tightly-orchestrated conspiracy.

Do powerful people do awful things to seize opportunities as they arise? Absolutely! But massive premeditated conspiracy would require smarts and vision and power and seamless silent stealth that humans only imagine themselves capable of. 
Consider this: How have our trillion dollar attempts at nation-building panned out? That’s a pretty useful high water mark for societal orchestration skills. In the end, I think Gary Larson had it right. We are slightly clever livestock. And often not even that clever.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Legit Comfy Sofa

I've been hunting for 20 years for a sofa with narcotic-level comfort. I think I found it. New-ish company, Albany Park. Online only. Cheap-ish. And huge black friday sale. Their Kova collection is the super comfortable one. If you order one of the couches, consider adding a matching ottoman (I do not understand people who don't use ottomans). Also consider a matching "console" to stow throw blankets and remote controls.

Everything's marked down right now, plus there's a further 10-15% discount until December 1st if you use BLACKFRIDAY promo code.

Wired's "Favorite Couches on Sale for Cyber Monday" included this tack-on:
It is not yet featured in our couch roundup, but WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu is currently testing this couch and likes it a lot. He says it's super comfortable and very easy to assemble, though the pillows do need to be fluffed up frequently.
I know how writers and editors think, and how items get selected and added into these sorts of features, and this is a smitten writer sliding a big find in as a kindness to readers. The editor starched it up some, but you can smell the enthusiasm.

Two customer reviews (I spent eight years mastering the art of spotting fake/shill customer reviews, and these strike me as legit):
If we could actually LIVE on this sofa and never get up, we would definitely do it.
and another:
This is THE MOST comfortable couch I've ever sat on! It wasn't the first day no doubt but like I mentioned before-within the first couple days it really fluffed up and became 10x more comfy. Everytime I lounge on it, it makes me sleepy. My kids always ask to sleep on it and even my toddler has claimed it as his new nap spot.
Here's what I've learned from 20 years in the desert, thirsting for a righteously comfortable couch. Comfy cushions require fluffing, which is why most sofas aren’t comfy. If a company sells a comfy sofa, they’ll get tons of 1 star reviews from readers complaining about sagging, even if they supply copious warnings about the need to fluff daily/weekly. That’s the big problem. The Internet, and its ubiquitous customer reviews, killed comfy furniture.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Someone Call an Ambulnz!

Wow, it's 1999 all over again! An absurdly incomprehensible company popping up after presumably raking in venture capital investment! Behold the "ambulnz" (gotta love the twee lowercasing; perhaps they transport corpses to "#funeralparlor"). I decline to google, but imagine this was pitched as "UBER for emergency vehicles!"

There's so much wrong here (e.g. the logo looks like fornicating snails), but the highlite is their failure to anticipate the requirement to display the actual word "ambulance", clusterfucking the branding and emphasizing the ugly unmemorablity of their faux-zippy company name.

Update: curiosity got the better of me, so I did google, and they're like Uber for emergency vehicles.

Black Friday Madness God Help Me

I posted a cute animal video once (YouTube seems to have removed it), so I'll complete my descent into vulgar mass appeal with, yech, a Black Friday rundown. In no particular order...

I love Today only they have - for $79, not $203 - an excellent digital projector (you'll need an HDMI connector to your mobile phone, i.e. this one for iphone which is much cheaper on eBay, but be very careful you're not getting a knock-off), plus they throw in a totally crap 100" screen. $6 shipping plus the inevitable sales tax. This is a fantastic gift idea: a cool thing no one would ever buy just for fun, yet it'!

Ice maker for $120 off! Cool!

I'm a Chinese tea and pu'er snob, with no interest in Japanese teas other than matcha, which I'm addicted to. No fattening lattes; I drink it straight, briefly heated to 175 degrees and then shaken vigorously with cool water (and, btw, my daily matcha habit is the only dietary change I ever made that substantially reduced my cholesterol).

Trader Joe's matcha is surprisingly good and well-priced (I wrote about it here, and definitely take a look because TJ's sells a confusing ton of different matcha products). But Ippodo matcha is absolutely top quality, and they offer free shipping, this weekend only, for Black Friday.

I recently wrote about J Crew's great Waffle Cut shirts, which are like thermal shirts that went to design school. They're 40% off right now.

Also, the fleece-lined sweat pants from Lands End I raved over in that posting are on super discount right now, as is their fleece-lined hoodie sweatshirt.

Cool cult video subscription for an amazing 50% off. Too rich for my blood, and I'm already awash in un-viewed second hand dvds, but this would make a heckuva gift for any film person...or anyone bored.

Shark ION WiFi RV761 Robot Vacuum, refurbished, for $89 (not $260) plus $6 shipping from’s sister site. I researched it, and it appears to be the best budget one, just like Endgadget says.

For a more mid-range robot vacuum with higher suction (i.e. for pet hairs) and more features, this one was Wired's runner-up choice: Roborock S4 Max Robot Vacuum for $280 rather than $430 (if you click the coupon)

Not Black Friday, just some unbridled recent consumption:

Yesterday I watched the Charleston episode of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" (free on HBO Max) and did two things: 1. dug up a $92 roundtrip fare to Charleston, and 2. made a $40 order from Anson Mills, which does fancy heirloom grains so distinctive that they warn you not to try to use their stuff for any normal recipe. I bought Carolina Gold Rice, Colonial Coarse Pencil Cob Grits, Heirloom Sweet Flint Popping Corn, and Charleston Gold Brown Rice. It hasn't arrived yet, butI already feel a wonderfully light my wallet.

I never got into black pepper. Not for decades. Then I tried Indian Tellicherry black peppers, ground with a decent pepper mill, and finally saw the light. Now I've learned that there's a step-up level for Tellicherry black pepper called Tellicherry Garbled Special Extra Bold (as usual, the best discussion is on Chowhound, here and here). I'll let you dive into the nerdery on that, but while it's more biting and dominatingly flavorful, I haven't found anyone on the Internet who stepped up and regretted it.

I usually buy spices from Penzey's (they have the fancy kind, as well as normal Tellicherry, which really isn't so much cheaper), but Penzey's kills you on shipping unless you buy a ton. I'm nearly out, so I bought this time from highly-regarded Spice Lab via Amazon (the jar's a rip-off - compare per-ounce price to the 4oz resealable bag - and since it's going straight into the pepper mill, anyway, who needs a jar??). Also from Spice Lab, I threw in some of my favorite chili flakes from Aleppo (a real culinary magic versatile), which I also normally buy from Penzeys.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

LED Bulbs

I really liked Cree soft white LED bulbs. They're no longer made, so I spent like five hours diving into LED bulb quality, issues with the current crop, etc., and, to make a very long story short, determined that this is like the first generation of VCRs, answering machines, etc: the original models (i.e. Cree) were over-engineered and great, while succeeding generations were flimsy and problematic. You can maybe get by with EcoSmart, Phillips, GE, et al, but they're not as good, and I'd imagine quality will keep degrading.

Cree 40W and 60W equivalent bulbs are still available new on eBay for a decent price (though considerably more expensive than when Home Depot sold millions of them for just a few bucks each, alas), and I'd strongly urge stocking up. Buy "new" and in original packaging to be sure someone's not just cleaning up their old bulbs and selling them; also, as always, consider user feedback rating.

I like soft white (2700K), which is more like incandescent (i.e. yellowy), but if you want more of a whiter-than-white vibe, go for daylight (5000K).

J Crew's Waffle Cut shirts

So J Crew has marked everything down 40% for Black Friday.

And I just bought some thermal shirts from them. About my third round of J Crew thermal shirts. And these are...better. Way better. They feel great and even look great. They seem tailored. And they're not overly warm. I'm so happy with them that I don't mind having missed the sale. That's how good they are. Here's the henley version, and here's the crewneck.

Actually, as I've foraged for the links abvoe, I see they're not actually thermal shirts. I was serendipitously confused. These are a new thing, called "waffle cut". I guess that explains it. I love waffles! Also, they cost way more than thermal shirts, which also explains it. But now they're 40% off. You're welcome.

PS - These are the greatest sweatpants ever. They're warm, but not crazily so. This is lazyware, not activewear, perfect for cold winter mornings when you feel chilly and the thermostat's not cranked up to 72. Pay close attention to the site's sizing guidance, I use a size lower than my usual.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Slide Hampton

Backstage Encounter

It was around 1982, and I was backstage warming up to play for the biggest audience I'd ever confronted. I was 20, still in school, and while some veteran musicians considered me a contender, I had the sense to recognize that while "potential" is fine and dandy, my slice wasn't fully toasted.

The crowd size wasn't the most daunting factor. My student group was opening for an all-star group featuring a who's who of jazz luminaries like Frank Wes, Billy Taylor, and my then-and-now trombone hero, Slide Hampton.

I was nauseous with terror, and Slide, who'd been compelled to spend the preceding week coaching me one-on-one via a deus ex machina intervention of fate I still can't explain, leaned in to offer what I expected to be words of encouragement:

"If you play well," he whispered in my ear just before I took the stage, "they'll remember for a minute. But if you screw up, no one will ever forget."

It was an unimaginably horrible thing for anyone to say to anyone, much less a veteran to a 20 year old student, much less a hero to his worshipful admirer. At the time, I accepted it as well-intended guidance. Realpolitik. Tough love. But as I've gotten older, it's remained a tiny inner gnarl; a mental lozenge of malevolence lodged in memory with the razorish edge of a nearly-dissolved cough drop.

I'm not one to fester on painful lozenges. I try to use such foibles to better understand people. Calm examination normally reveals mitigating factors. There are reasons for things. People are confused, and contend with issues and blocks, and it's hard just to get up in the morning, much less say/do the right thing with any consistency. We all unwittingly cause injury, so we ought to grant plenty of slack. Very often I've ascribed to malice what could have been better explained by incompetence. Processed from a higher perspective, this is a far less daunting world than we imagine.

This memory, however, is one of a tiny few that worsen with examination. What twisted insecurity makes a jazz legend destroy a skinny little kid in shorts before his crappy little student combo opens for an illustrious cavalcade of stars? It's like Usain Bolt deliberately tripping a child jogging alongside, or Rocky Marciano slugging his sparring partner in the balls. I've had trouble coming to peace with it.

My Hero

Slide Hampton is not only my favorite jazz trombonist, he's also pretty much the only trombonist I really like. There are others who I respect and admire for certain skills and qualities. But if I ever want to listen to music that happened to have been played on a trombone, rather than listen to someone playing trombone, he's the one. The only one not wrestling a difficult horn to produce (successfully or not) some veneer of fluidity. Slide is lyrical and swinging. He's free-wheeling. He sings up there, not just wrestling cleverly with five pounds of brass tubing.

Well, all that's true on a good night, and under certain conditions.

Slide spent his early career as an unabashed disciple of the more famous JJ Johnson, who hailed from Slide's home town of Indianpolis, and who'd struck it big while Slide was a kid. JJ handled the tube-wrestling aspect with a droll facade of burnished confidence. While sax players gushed eighth notes, and trumpeters spat staccato flurries, JJ would lay back, genteelly expelling wry burrs of cognac. Aloof doodads and effetely pat asides. To me, it sounded affected and passionless. He never dug in, or broke a sweat. It was like the ash never fell from his cigarette. JJ never popped out of character; never riled to catharsis; never transcended. And the very point of music (or any art) to me is surprise, catharsis, and transcendence.

Slide tried to follow in JJ's footsteps, but he was naturally more of a preacher. He'd get riled up and his tuning might turn a little funky, his technique showing seams. He just wasn't that guy. But under the right circumstances - with a really swinging rhythm section, late at night on a gig with no career stakes - Slide might let his hair down and be himself, and he'd move you and surprise you. I've heard it, and will always be a Believer, as is everyone who ever experienced peak Slide.

Unfortunately, those moments were vanishingly rare. Slide, like many black musicians of his generation, had been through some stuff, and he staunchly insisted on dignity preservation. He always wore nice suits, conducted himself a certain way, and insisted on being paid in reflection of his status. Which is to say, Slide didn't work much. And, when he did, it was high-stakes, big-money gigs where he'd reflexively return to his comfort zone, playing safe by imitating JJ Johnson.

I'd have given up a couple toes to hear Slide play a humble gig with a sparse audience where he could just let 'er rip. But that scenario didn't comport with his (understandable and well-earned) sense of dignity. Which, alas, boxed him in.

Leveraging His Late Career Rennaissance

Happily, Slide had a career renaissance in the early 00s, at long last drawing wider attention. And while he was already getting up in years, he was more than technically ready. Slide was famous among musicians for his herculean practice habits. Young musicians would cycle in and out, like sparring partners, as he practiced 8, 10, 12 hours per day.

So what was Slide working on? Toward what end was he investing all that work? And how would he channel his late-blooming attention? In light of the vignette which started this tale, you won't be shocked to hear that he was settling a score.

I wrote several years ago about Bill Watrous. Bill was the hot trombonist in the 1970s, blessed with unbelievably agile technique, which he used (to my preference) to little musical purpose, but which brought him bright commercial heat for a while. Bill never really impressed the mainstream jazz community, though, so by the 80s he was well-settled into the anonymity of the LA studio scene, earning a living recording Dorito's jingles and film scores...and maybe once in a great while playing a jazz gig or two.

Slide, meanwhile, had become the grand old man of jazz trombone, with all the credibility in the world, and enjoying international tours with the best of the best. But Slide never forgot how this Watrous guy had sucked all the trombone oxygen for a hot minute 30 years prior while Slide labored in obscurity. So in 2002 he called Watrous east to make a two-trombone record. It was an odd proposition. A has-been hotshot lured into the inner sanctum to collaborate with the incomparable Master. Come play a song with me, my pretty!
I know Slide's side of the story. He'd deny all that vehemently. He’d honestly never had a bad word to say about Watrous. He admired his prodigious technique. And Slide conceived himself as a lifelong learner, so he'd been simply trying to pull even, that's all. The recording gave him an opportunity to try to match up with the one-time phenom. That's how Slide spinned it, and I think he even made himself believe it. Slide had articulate policy positions on things, and they all painted him as 100% all-about-the-music.

I don't think Slide saw, much less owned up to, his darker impulses, which (I'd bet the remainder of my toes) compelled him to bait Watrous into that studio, with impeccable cordiality, to settle a long-simmering score. To cut him down and destroy him. It was a mop-up operation. The vestiges of a trombonist who'd once risen, gallingly, to "sensation" status would be shredded, leaving Slide supreme on a proving ground existing only in the murky recesses of his own mind.

This was what had spurred those 100,000 hours of intense practice: a lingering Ahabian obsession with Watrous' already-irrelevant white whale. And while there's no denying that the new, improved Slide could play really really fast, you just can't "defeat" people in art. If it vexed the Arepa Lady that Jean Georges was given greater respect and a fatter paycheck, and she reacted by spending 20 years in Paris honing the art of French cuisine, I'm sure she'd cook that stuff fantastically but it wouldn't render JG, like, vanquished, you know? That's not how it works! 

Actually, that was backwards. Slide was by far the more famous and respected player by that point, so it was more like JG devoting himself to mastering Colombian corn-cakes in order to put down the street vendor who’d once garnered some attention.

On the recording, Watrous did his usual spectacular, uniquely personal and (to my preference) rather unmusical thing, while Slide sounded like he'd wrestled the tubing into full and utter submission - which was very far from Slide at his best. It wasn't at all free-wheeling. In trying to supplant Watrous (who, let me emphasize, had not posed a professional threat in three decades), Slide only diminished himself, while Watrous, that rascally rabbit, simply did his thing.

Watrous was the best Watrous that ever Watroused, and while Slide had figured out how to play really really fast, he couldn't match that glib ease any more than he'd been able to perfect JJ's burnished wryness. If ego compels you to not just be the top guy, but to slaughter and liquify all the rest so you can be The Only, that's a fool's errand. Artistic rivals can't be occluded or subsumed. One can't, like, eat them. This, after all, is bebop trombone, not the Mongol horde!

Slide went on to play really really fast for some years, which added absolutely nothing to his greatness (and made him the sort of player I listened to more for trombonistics than for music) while Watrous returned to LA. I'd imagine his Slide Hampton experience felt a bit like my own: thrilled to be in his circle, but disturbed to note, despite all the cordiality, the loud, discordant sound of sharpening knives.

The Bad News

Slide passed away this week, and I'm devastated. I've been going through YouTube bootleg videos to see if anyone ever bottled the lightning; maybe a late-night set in a little club somewhere. I already own every legit recording Slide ever made, and there's lots of greatness, but nothing at his best. Nothing free-wheeling. It's all safe playing, pressured by self-imposed high stakes. He kept getting in his own way, always self-conscious about legacy, always trying to be The "All-About-The-Music" Guy rather than being all about the music. But that's the takeaway from a breathless fan paying way too much attention to fine points and shadings. By any standard, Slide was a legend, and he brought me immense joy, and I can't imagine how I'd have played if he'd never existed.

During the week I spent with him, Slide went on and on about how he'd toured for a full month with JJ and never heard him miss a single note. I somehow found the nerve to respond with this:
"JJ never missed notes because he never took chances!"
Slide fell silent. Reflective. His jaw throbbed lightly, leaving me expecting an indignant chew-out. But Slide, who I loved for being surprising in unguarded moments, surprised me with his reply:
"True. That's true. It's our job to take what we learned from him and make it more musical in our individual ways."
That wasn't just a policy statement. It was profound, honest, and disarming. Free-wheeling, even!

Backstage assault aside, Slide had encouraged me that week (much as Watrous had two years prior). I suppose he had to, given that I'd slyly played almost all his own recorded solos at him, verbatim, as we jammed together (the coolest of cucumbers, he never betrayed a trace of recognition).

Finally, I've decided to seal the tomb on his backstage words, deeming them tough love, well-intended. In fact, I find myself mentally scanning the full length of my career (as a writer, too!), and concluding that Slide was absolutely right about audiences, and that it helped me far more than it hurt to hear this so early on.

So having laboriously ungnarled the memory, I'd like to express this with my full heart: RIP, Slide. You absolutely preserved your dignity down here, so please take humbler gigs up there. Let your hair down and enjoy playing without pressure. You've earned some glee and wild abandon. Just let it slide!

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