Sunday, January 31, 2021


Much as Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich guy, Q-Anon is a dummy's idea of smart theorizing.

Saturday, January 30, 2021


Alexei Navalny, Eugene Goodman, Alexander Vindman, Sally Yates, Rodney King, film director Bi Gan, Steve Jobs, The Sainted Arepa Lady, Mamma Grimaldi, Hunter Steinitz, Michael Bloomberg (with reservations), King Juan Carlos of Spain (read his story economically told in The New Spaniards, one of my favorite books).

There are a few hundred more, but this is all I could think of. Maybe by starting this list, others will start popping out of my sludgy brain.

I don't know if John Thorne is my hero, but he's my favorite food writer, plus he helped me understand myself better. Writers and reporters in a previous age felt obliged to try to "do right by their subjects." This credo sounds archaic today, when being profiled leaves most everyone feeling a bit mugged (major media has the power to shape reality, so if you're characterized as X, well, X = you, baby). Few profiles of me or of Chowhound left me feeling like the writer really got it, but Thorne towered distantly above them all. His write-up of my first book actually explained me to me, which is 10 quadrillion times better.

That's what greatness is: when it's 10 quadrillion times better.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

To Flip or to Be Flipped

My last posting, "Resetting Perspective Post-Trump" was a good example of reframing. I even slid in a reference:
Reframe Donald J Trump as just another creature in this universe.
Like a chiropractor, I loosened up the tissue (420 words working up to it) before administering the healing readjustment.

I'm sure none of it struck anyone as strange. Nobody felt HYPNOTIZED (cue scary music). It was clear enough what I was doing, because reframing's innately familiar. We all reframe (except those in the throes of major depression, which is another term for frozen perspective), though usually subconsciously. Since we don't talk or think about reframing, we've developed an assortment of tricks and misdirections to try to coax it, indirectly.

Michael Jordan would find excuses to cultivate hateful impressions of competitors so he could punish them on the court for their grave sins. He gave himself "something to prove." Obviously, it worked. Jordan existed in a whole different movie than other players, having deliberately reframed himself. Reframing is the secret weapon of talented people.
Me, it's really all I've got. Tell me to raise my right hand and I'll need to think about it first. Give me a novel or movie and I'll miss 30% of the plotting and forget all the characters' names. I read painfully slowly, can't follow instructions or retain dry data, and rarely operate flawlessly (writing lets me clean up my mess before anyone sees, creating the illusion of brisk fluency). I feel hopelessly confused nearly all the damned time. All I can really do is reframe - and coax reframing in others. I am a one trick pony, but it's a hell of a trick. I've built worlds with it. And now that I've consciously recognized it for what it is - full awareness having dawned only a few years ago - I'm like frickin' Merlin. And I've been trying hard to pass on the trick, so you can do it better than I can!
But Jordan overcomplicated things unnecessarily. We don't need to trick and coax our way there. Reframing isn't a massive log to be laboriously pushed. It's an effortless, instant flip of perspective, literally the easiest thing a human can do. But, here's the only catch: you have to want to.

Consider forgiveness (as I did here). You can forgive the most toxic person you know in this very moment. You could mentally embrace them, wish wonderful things for them (while meaning it!). You could soothe the psychic constrictions resulting from the foolish notion that harming yourself hurts them. You could do all this right now if you want. If it "seems hard", or "would take time," that's just your internal narrator scrambling for a way to make it fit the fake ongoing story you tell yourself about yourself. You don't really need to weave this new plot development into the storyline. Framing precedes storytelling. The narrative (if you even really need one, which you don't, because you're not starring in a TV show) can catch up later. You might simply reframe; in any direction and at any time. You're free!

Framing is contagious, and this opens up realms of possibilities. It's ultimately a matter of personal choice, but it can be assisted. If that sounds odd, let me phrase it more conventionally: it can be inspired. I define art as any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective. The shift of perspective we experience from movies or poetry or music is the same shift empowering forgiveness - or making a mortal enemy of the opposing team's point guard. Art is a way of inducing shifts from outside, a neat trick (explaining why we revere great artists...and why we find them "inspiring"). We can effortlessly flip perspective, ourselves, in any direction at any time (we're free!), but it's an extra groovy delight to be coaxed into flipping from the outside in.

For example, here are the first two paragraphs from a harrowing account of Financial Times writer Tim Hayward's experience with a particularly gnarly case of Covid-19:
I’d been under the weather for four days. Back then, in mid-November, the government’s pet message was the three symptoms of Covid-19: a persistent cough, loss of smell or taste, or a raised temperature. I had none of these, just the sort of chesty flu that hits me every autumn. My wife, Al, and my daughter, Liberty, both had bouts of something flu-like, so I followed orders. Then, on November 15, things suddenly got very weird, very quickly.

I woke feeling unusually short of breath. I’d bought, on the recommendation of a medical friend, a little gadget that measures SAT, the concentration of oxygen in the blood. My score was not out of the ordinary — above 94 — but something felt wrong nonetheless. Just after lunch, I called 111. I felt “out of it” and had an overpowering feeling that life would be a lot better if I could just take one decent full breath. The ambulance was outside in 15 minutes.
Wow. "An overpowering feeling that life would be a lot better if I could just take one decent full breath." Were you exactly the same person after reading that? Was the world the same world, your inner experience the same experience? This sentence was a masterful little bit of judo. Suddenly, I'm no longer standing. I'm flat on the mat. And nearly ready to call an ambulance, myself.

So how does it work? What gives these words the power to reframe us, to bring us completely into the world of the writer?

I don't know. Sorry.

I'm a guy with lots of answers (the inevitable result of a lifetime spent persistently asking myself lots of questions), but I can't explain this magic. Physics-defying miracles are not possible, but the ability to coax reframing (wielded by everyone from standup comedians to artists to politicians to therapists to messiahs) is miraculous, though utterly inexplicable (one helpful tip: you need to bake fresh every time).
If it could be explained, then it could be reduced to formula, which would make this a vastly different planet. Consider deliciousness. If you could formulize it, then McDonald's, with its billions of R&D, would long ago have ensured that each bite made you weep tears of joy. The best artists coax reframing, and great chefs are artists, and truly delicious results defy cheating and shortcuts despite massive commercial effort.
You can neither describe nor explain a shifting of perspective. That’s why eurekas and “peak moments” and “spiritual enlightenment” are so notoriously slippery. It is about subjectivity. While objects (stuff!) can be described and explained ad infinitud, subject (perspective) is mysterious, though not in a religious, hushed/awed way. That's a misinterpretation (other religious implications here). It's banal mystery, because, being the essential core of who we are, it's our most familiar part.
Swimming, if you discussed it with a particularly intelligent fish, would strike him as both utterly mysterious (because he has no idea he does it) and utterly familiar (because it's all he ever does).
I can, however, help you foster it. This Slog, among other things, has been an instruction manual in exactly that (e.g. this, this, this, this, and this, just for starters). But before you can help induce shifts in others, you need to reclaim the faculty, yourself. Meditation gradually unfreezes your access (fwiw, I do this practice, along with this breathing thing, and skip the other writings, forum, etc.). And just play with your camera. Frame things differently and see what happens! You’re free!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Resetting Perspective Post-Trump

We do not need to think about Donald Trump anymore. We do not have to utter his name many times per day. We needn’t be trolled by him. It’s not necessary to reacknowledge, for the quintillionth time, that he's a racist and a narcissist.

We do not need to follow news about him. We do not need to engage with media efforts to dose us with Trumpy titillation, pro or con. We can opt out of the storyline.

We do not need to follow the debate about how to investigate his administration, nor follow the daily tick-tock of any such investigations or trials - regardless of media's efforts to suck us in. The outcomes will be, inevitably, shocking, unsurprising, and ultimately unsatisfying, like all Trump revelations. No surprises remain. He's spent; just another 74 year old tediously replaying tired shtick. He's boring. And he's out.

For me, the worst thing about these past years was needing to direct my attention to this imbecile many, many times per day. His fondest wish was granted: an entire nation preoccupied with Donald, his name unceasingly in the air. Finally, we're released. He's lost his leverage. We are no longer strong-armed into fulfilling his wish.  

I'm not saying we should bury our heads in the sand. We needn't melodramatically banish all mention of "that vile man!" within our perimeter. That grants him too much power, and leaves us blind to dreggy shenanigans. Weekly or biweekly check-ins will suffice. Scan headlines, and then return to your non-Trump-based life. Allot him 5-10 minutes of attention per month, max.

But you can't return to a Trump-less life if you've forgotten that's even possible. Framing patterns become habitual. So we all must deliberately unhook. It's time to go on a diet, reconditioning ourselves to expect a single greasy weekly Cheez Doodle after years of incessantly gobbling tractor-loads.

Like all diets, we must establish a solemn commitment to change. Only then can we sever the trumpbilical cord and start to forage for fresh sources of angst and umbrage. Or perhaps we might learn new tricks, like gratitude and apprecianity.

Yes, Trumpism is far from dead. Yes, he will continue to desperately seek rent-free space in our heads. And, yes, the fate of our republic compels us to remain reasonably wary of threats from him and his followers. But that's a 5-10 min/month obligation. So wean, baby, wean. Scrape yourself away from daily, hourly, minutely, secondly attachment to this guy.

Reframe Donald J Trump as just another creature in this universe. You can change subjects when friends bring him up, and switch channels when media tries to push the drug at us (one thing's certain: they will not willingly let politics become boring again). Opt out not with consternation - which feeds the beast - but with boredom. “Oh, god, that guy again?” Let’s make it uncool to go there. 

Let Trump be like skinny ties: a stupid trend from a million years ago. None of us still mutters about skinny ties. Why on Earth would we?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Embracing Failure to Get Good

Teaching music students, I've seen the same phenomenon over and over again:
"Argh. Sorry!"
"One more time."
"God, sorry..."
"Jesus, wait, let me try that again."
It's not because I'm standing there, judgmentally. This is how they practice, alone, too. Oops; ack; sorry; I'll get it this time.

It seems humble. But it's not. It's egomaniacal. It reveals the person's self-image: unquestionably competent and impeccably correct. Blunders are aberrations to be blotted out via exclamation, apology, and various other bursting stress spasms. That wasn't the real me who just did that. Just because I made an error does not mean I'm someone who'd err.

There's a visceral desire to rewind the tape; to retract the aberration and preserve their unblemished record (unblemished, that is, aside from the ten billion previous boo-boos hastily rewound via apology, exclamation, and stress spasms). It's kooky, it's deranged, and it's how most grown-ups approach learning....which accounts for the proven fact that most humans can't learn at all past a certain age (the secret is to learn like children do).

If one starts out with an assumption of flawlessness, how can one grow? Learning requires wallowing in the fetid mud of your shitty incompetence. Fun! You must expect and even welcome failure, because that's the grain you’ll be laboriously grinding between your millstones. Learning isn't a glorious acquisition of virtuosity; it's a humiliating revelation of inadequacy. If you can't handle the latter, you won't/can't learn. In fact, you'll run, terrified, away from anything smelling the least bit like learning.

What is there for perfect people to practice, labor over, and develop? One can't polish perfection; one can only produce it and peer upon it rapturously. Work, practice, development, improvement, and aspiration require slop, much as soap requires dirt. 

If you like to work on stuff - to improve, grow, and develop - you need to love your muck. More muck, please! When the muck runs out (spoiler alert: it never will), what's left besides bong hits and masturbation? The end of muck would be an excruciating steady state of dreary boredom.

Those who cry out "Whoops!" and "Sorry!!!" to empty rooms as they catch themselves erring (and they don't catch much, being inherently self-forgiving) aren't really trying to get good. They just want to feel good, so they're going through the motions. One can either be good or feel good. Not both. They're diametrical pursuits.

People who've gotten good at something are old friends with their muck, having engaged in a lifelong practice of muck-wrangling. They're thirsty to uncover ever subtler flaws to dump between their millstones so they can grind, baby, grind. Over time, they get better and better, but, like exhausted chefs, the jewels of their creation are consumed by distant souls out there in the hoity-toity realms, while they gloomily tend their gurgling pit of guano [go with me here; the guano's just a metaphor; no, chefs don't tend gurgling pits of it. In their case, we can let them return to their mountains of puckering potato peels, congealing grease traps, or putrifying halibut. My point is that it’s not glamorous].

Meanwhile, those who feel good are immaculate, crisp, and full of bright confidence. Having scarcely met their own muck, they feel terrific! But while some may maneuver their way to success, few are any good at all...and none of them ever improves.

Imagine that: None of them ever improves.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect observes that dumb people feel smart because they're too dumb to recognize their shortcomings, while smart people feel dumb because they're smart enough to register their shortcomings. This profound observation applies well beyond intelligence. We can be trapped by countless such topsy-turvy framing skews.

Consider (as I did here) selfishness and generosity:
It's easy to spot selfish people. They're the ones who worry about how they're always giving too much.

Similarly, generous people are the ones who worry about how they're never giving enough.

Selfish people think of themselves as overly generous. Generous people think of themselves as overly selfish.

More such flips of perspective are cataloged at the bottom of this posting.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Composing the Anti-Extremist Supermajority

In honor of Rev. King’s birthday...

Having voted for Biden, I can take only scant solace in the slim majority of my "side". But that rueful view stems from a framing error. An easy flip of perspective reveals that I'm part of a supermajority which does not yet view itself as such. Here are the affirmations necessary to execute that flip:

I am opposed equally to extremists on either side, including those with whom I share some core belief or tribal affiliation.
Inspired and disarmed by the handful of conservatives who've placed country over party, I can't wait to return the favor. I will eagerly disregard arbitrary affiliations whenever the common good is endangered. That's what prompted me to publicly declare myself Muslim shortly after Trump's election. Humanity over taxonomy!
I decline to divide people along lines of political preference, exactly as I disregard false boundaries of race, gender, sexual preference, and religion. Those things don't determine identity. They don't define us. We need to stop doing that.

I am kindred to the vast majority of people with whom I sharply disagree. Most folks are surprisingly nice, even if their politics strike me as cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs. It has ever been thus. Every moderate, regardless of credo, is my brother or sister. And every extremist, regardless of credo, is our collective opponent. 

So I reside amid a vast, stable supermajority (which, for the moment, lacks self-awareness).

This supermajority is imperiled whenever moderates point with accentuated attention and horror at the other side's extremists. They have failed to properly frame, and we must hope they rectify their perspective before they're forced to do so by bloodshed. At the core of our national predicament lies disproportionate fear and disgust for the other tribe's worst actors. The solution - even for those fancying themselves to be on the blameless side of the equation (i.e. every damned one of us) - is to reframe the battle as moderation vs extremism, period.

In case the seam pops open again (old framings are persistent), I'll reaffirm this most high-minded framing: "Every moderate, regardless of credo, is my brother or sister. Every extremist, regardless of credo, is my opponent. Political preference doesn't define us, and nice people - of every stripe - constitute a vast, stable supermajority". It's reassuring; even comforting. And, best of all, it's true. We actually have to work hard to frame it any other way...though, alas, we do.

If your response is "Anyone who'd vote for that devil is, by definition, an extremist", then I have bad news for you. You've been trolled and provoked into extremism, yourself. One may take pride (lots and lots of pride) in styling oneself "an extremist against evil", but that's the signature proclamation of extremists. Those are the words perennially uttered as the atrocities commence.

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

If you're unpersuaded by my words, choose your favorite from the big three who encourage the counterintuitive reaction to opposition - MLK, Gandhi, or Christ. Focus on their teachings for a few moments before your spleen restores your extraordinarily clear and clean perspective. Give the fuzzy mildness of your humanity a chance to catch up with the brisk sharp certainty of your spleen. You know how you desperately wished for the MAGA crazies to come back to their senses? Be magnanimous enough to go first, even though you, naturally, feel sensible.

One final thought: if you can't spot extremism on your side, you are the extremist.

Saturday, January 16, 2021


There is beauty, grace, and perfection in every moment. 

It all depends on how you frame the shot. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Cancer Cures and the Fermi Paradox

Bloomberg Opinion says mRNA Vaccines Could Vanquish Covid Today, Cancer Tomorrow. I haven't run the article past the Slog's technical advisor (who, in 30 years of vetting breathless popular science articles I've sent him, has never failed to reply other than: 1. "Empty clickbait!", 2. "Banal...we've long known that!", or 3. "Maybe, but the risks far outweigh the benefits!").

But I sincerely hope it's not true.

I've made the point before, but this time I'll weld it to my theory about the Fermi Paradox, first proposed here, concluding:
Scientists keep trying to explain the Fermi Paradox - the absence of evidence of advanced civilization in the Universe. What is the X Factor obliterating civilizations before they can build Dyson Spheres, capturing the totality of a star's energy, or find a way to communicate over the void with brutes like us?

Comfort and wealth, baby. That's the perilous X Factor. Comfort and wealth.
Here's how I reached that conclusion:
The world has perpetually seemed to be going straight to hell just as it's gotten fabulously better and better. Why? Because we're spoiled princesses increasingly vexed by smaller and smaller mattress peas. We're Mrs. Howells endlessly piqued by poor picnic weather and inattentive servants. This explains why the merely wealthy are beginning to foment class warfare for unfettered access to the trappings of super-richdom. This cadre fights not for bread and shelter for the disadvantaged, like their righteous forebears, but for their right to smart watches and Beemers.

When our grandparents urged us to "count our blessings", it wasn't so much an endorsement for Positive Thinking as a means to regain perspective.

Humanity has persevered over illness and lions and warlords; famines, droughts, and extreme poverty, and its pain has only grown in the process. Comfort and wealth will prove an indefatigable challenge.

By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.
Few have noticed this societal turn, as blatantly extreme as it is. It's especially evident around New Years, when fabulously blessed people surge with bitter complaints about their wretchedly insufferable existences. We recently took stock of our latest excruciation: in 2020, we were forced to wear masks for a few months, couldn't celebrate holidays with our extended families, and had an asshole president who upset us by saying unpleasant things. This is what passes for extreme suffering in 2020 (and some weird amnesia blocks us from recognizing how we've kicked each wretched year out on its ass for time immemorial). Our ancestors chortle bitterly.

The other view is that, after an unbroken chain of improbably honorable presidents (including even cocky George W Bush - and his stupid, wicked war and gruesome VP - who we now frame more clearly, much as we'd reframe Trump if we ever wound up under a Duterte, much less a Pol Pot), we had one more typical of the ignorant, narcissistic, racist assholes who've run things for time immemorial - bringing us, somehow, to our pinnacle of inconceivable wealth, comfort, and security. And we faced down the scariest societal predicament short of war and are, happily, mostly all still here, with geniuses coming to our rescue, having hyper-accelerated miraculous vaccines. Meanwhile, we are far more comfortable, safe, and secure, than any person has ever been, and enjoy all of human knowledge, entertainment, art, and global communications via slabs of glass in our pockets.

It's true that some good businesses have, alas, closed (along with a multitude that mulishly failed to innovate), creating stress, inconvenience, and discomfort for some. But the notion that we can expect our lives and careers to proceed in unbroken lines of assured success is a fabulous delusion courtesy of the overflowing gift basket of privilege here in Paradise. In this worst case scenario - global pandemic - you may have been forced to close your dry cleaning business and give up your Netflix subscription - and perhaps move to a slightly smaller apartment - while you regroup. That's the 21st century's version of Dickensian affliction.

Needless to say, critical care health workers have been though the full Dickensian wringer (I brought Thai food to my local ER a bunch of times; wish I could have done more), but, as I wrote:
The people bitterly complaining about 2020 - who are the same people who whined about 2019, 2018, 2017, etc. (an unbroken chain of unsatisfactory suboptimality) - are not the ones in ICUs with tubes down their throats, nor are they the health care workers bravely attending to them. Those folks are all busy. They have no time for whining on Facebook. People confronting actual problems don't reflect over their disappointment. Whining's the exclusive domain of the comfortable.
So let's return to the prospect of these vaccines potentially curing cancer and other scourges. If so, it's not good news. In 2017, I posted "Cure Cancer, Kill Social Order", which I'll reprint below
We appear to have turned a corner, where cures for many forms of cancer may finally be within sight. This is very bad news. I'm not sure humanity will survive it.

First, it helps to understand that "cancer" is another way of saying "dying of old age". If you don't develop actual disease (a heart attack, a stroke, flu, malaria, etc.), or get eaten by a lion, then, congratulations, you've won, and will live long enough to be taken down by the normal processes of old age, which usually involves tumors and other familiar signs of DNA break-down, like a calculator running on depleted batteries.

I'm talking about prevalent cancers, e.g. liver, prostate, etc. Rarer and earlier-onset forms of cancer are exceptional, and I'm certainly rooting - and contributing - for their cures ASAP.

Why is there so much cancer now? The Whole Foods crowd will attribute it to those nasty chemicals everywhere. But the actual reason is that many of us are finally living long enough to get cancer. And that's a win. Cancer's not a scourge. Mortality is the scourge, and cancer is a symptom.

Removing cancer from human society would change everything. We're well aware of the mounting problems of financial inequality, though it's seldom pointed out that it skews toward the elderly. Society counts on parents dying and passing stuff on. But that process has been seriously disrupted by people living into their 90s the way they once approached their 70s. That's like wedging in a whole extra generation, and meanwhile our inflation-adjusted income and standard of living have, for the first time ever, gone stagnant. There's less upward mobility in the workplace, college grads are listless and blocked, and it can't possibly be coincidence that so many 70 and 80 year olds are holding the reigns of control (Reagan was a shocking and precarious 70 when he took office, yet no one had serious trepidations about Trump and Clinton both being that same age).

We've messed with our churn, and curing cancer will mess it up way, way more. If, twenty years from now, 95 year olds hold on to their jobs and their assets, consider the fate of 70 year olds (much less 25 year olds), finding themselves caught in a half-century holding pattern, perhaps many of them still living in mom and dad's basement. The pitiful experience of England's Prince Charles may turn out to have foreshadowed a looming new normal.

Who knows; we might manage to shift our social norms to adjust to this radically different framework. But history shows that far less massive shifts can be enormously destabilizing. This is not good.

I touched upon a similar point in this posting from last year. Here's an excerpt:
You may have noticed some tension in our body politic these days, on both right and left. Income inequality is a huge, toxic problem, poisoning society in all sorts of ways. Same for power inequality. As the Olds enjoy greater and greater lock on both, and maintain that lock for longer and longer, there will come a tipping point when the imbalance becomes parsed in these terms. Youngs aren't going to like it. The energy and momentum of Occupy Wall Street, and the anger of Bernie and Trump's followers may be recalled as minor foreshadowings once a generation is clearly seen as refusing to step out of the way.
Comfort and wealth have shown themselves to be the perilous X Factor. Cure cancer on top of that, and we're finished.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Announcing: Year of Crackers

A few years ago I decided to step up my cooking. But I wanted to avoid the standard rigamarole. I didn't want to learn how to make a Hollandaise sauce or butcher a chicken or bake adorable little fresh fruit tarts. I rolled my eyes at the prospect of mastering another field, filling my head with know-how I wouldn't much use. I had no interest in becoming the sort of all-purpose chef bot spat out by culinary schools. So I chose the strategy of Guiless Clunk, cannily plotting a route following my father's lead.

My father was a wonderful sculptor who always wanted to try painting, but knew he had no facility with color. Eventually, he came up with a dazzlingly creative solution: he'd paint only with primary colors. Brilliant! And the results were distinctive and appealing, though not very painterly.

Uninterested in plunging into the whole syllabus, daunted by vast realms I prefered to side-step, I, too, followed the path of self-constraint. I'd always been the sort of guy who could cook a few showstopping things without really knowing what he's doing, so I decided to simply build from there (you can always "build from there", however limited and gimpy "there" may be....this is a key to life). I'd add some more showstoppers to my bag of tricks while remaining stubbornly narrow. I bought a panini machine, and commenced my Year of Panini.

At home, I cooked almost nothing but panini. I could wrap my mind around this, without any feeling of Wile E Coyote suspended in air above the canyon. Year of Panini came with its own comfort zone, so I felt comfortably constrained and thoroughly undaunted. I wasn't becoming a chef; I was just futzing around with panini. Always learn via play if possible. Eager futzing is like a golden ticket.

The year-long proposition taught me a thing or two about iteration, generally. As noted here,
Every time you cook something, criticize it like it's a restaurant. And next time, make tiny adjustments to ensure it comes closer to your pref. Think Grand Canyon: macro progress via cumulative myriad micro-iterations.
This wasn't tedious iteration, it was blossoming iteration. The trunk sprouted branches, the branches sprouted twigs and leaves and blossoms, and panini became a full and fertile channel for my creativity. I didn't feel the least bit constrained. Any incipient whiff of boredom just spurred my creativity to devise novel thrills. Creativity flourishes under impediment!

Meanwhile, the overarching process - the iteratation of iteration - built up my confidence. I learned where I need to pay attention, and that part receives laser focus. The rest I deftly manage with swift, unerring motions. I cook panini with full professional swagger.

I learned broad lessons about the interaction of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, and developed what might be mistaken for OCD-level devotion to the subtleties of doneness. I developed tricks for evoking luxury without facile reliance on fat and salt. Along the way, I guess I even learned how to cook. You can be a master chef without ever having whipped up a stew. Just get super good at some dim corner of it all. The Sainted Arepa Lady didn't lose points for her unfamiliarity with the French "mother" sauces.

I followed up with Year Of Tacos (tacos ARE sandwiches), and then Year of Pasta (another equilibrium of carb, protein, and fat; just more harmony to achieve and iterations to bloom). Next, I was planning Year of Soup, hoping to finally make use of the Instapot that's been sitting unused on my counter for six years. At long last, stock! But I just couldn't get started. It's too big a leap from panini, tacos, and pasta. It's too damned Hollandaiseian.

So I've settled upon Year of Crackers.

I like crunchy things, generally, and crackers, specifically. And this seems like a non-fussy entry into baking, in case that interests me (if so, the iteration chain will bring me there tidally). Crackers lend themselves to micro-variation; an iterator's paradise. And I really like toasting - the diligent effort to nail the precise point of optimal doneness. Crackers are all about nailing that point, and I'm already calibrated. You can't go wrong leaning on your strengths while pushing into unfamiliar territory. Even better if you're led by primal drives like my omnipresent cracker jones (incidentally the name of my 1970s boogaloo revival band).

Best of all, after Year of Crackers, Year of Soup should feel like the natural next step. What else will I do with all those crackers?

Coming up, I'll share some of the recipes I'm considering for starters.


Bro, bro, if you tryin to eat right bro you need to check this out bro seriously bro you aint gonna eat right if they lock U up bro that's the thing like its all process carbs bro and you're body mass ratio will be FUUUUUUUUUGGED by the time they let you out of there bro so FUUUUUUUUUGGED so you shouldnt be like breakin in to gobermint buildings bro because yeah sure U get to turbo the Insta for a hot minute and everbody checked out you're sick gear and yeah you look super righteous bro but you gotta think long term bro about your Temple your Temple bro seriously bro you gotta think about that because the garbage they feed you in prison bro that stuff is gonna pollute you're situation and its not paleo and its not organic and its not clean protein and they aint gonna let you juice an shit its just messed up bro so bro don't be thinking about you're Insta bro instead you gotta look at the big picture bro an take care of your Temple ok bro peace out U-D-Man

Monday, January 11, 2021

Personality Cults and True Believers

Rebels without causes are easily attracted to personality cults. They slip easily into the comfort of a kindred mob's nonspecific fury, claiming no lofty ideals beyond a vague notion of an empty image of an aloof figure upon whom they project their hazily bilious aspirations.

If you've never read "The True Believer", it's a beautifully-written short book that (along with Barbara Tuchman's "The March of Folly") is required reading for our era.

Everyone knows the term coined by its title, and the book was once considered an essential classic, but its decline into obscurity paralleled our own critical decline. We should never have lost touch with the key principles therein.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

It Helps to Understand the Scam

There's a clear fact everyone with political experience understands completely but which news media will not explicitly say because it can't be "proven":

Trump doesn't fear impeachment because it will bar him from the presidency in 2024. He doesn't care. He hates being president. But if he's running (which - why the hell not? - he'll announce on Jan 21) he gets to suck money from his supporters for the next four years. And never forget (he sure doesn't) that half a billion dollars of debt is soon coming due.

The voter fraud charade was a fund-raising scam. He milked hundreds of millions from followers who thought they were helping his legal fight. That fight consisted of three idiot lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits without even making an effort. Virtually all were thrown out of court while Donny pocketed the cash. That was the point. That was the gist of this latest con.

His reelection campaign would continue that same scam. An excuse to pocket money. Impeachment (with conviction) would ruin it, because the "2024 campaign" pretense would no longer work. That's why he fears impeachment. It's about the money.

That's the dynamic here. Bear this in mind amid all the pro-wrestling fake beef bullshit from the right and the credulous face-value reporting from the left and center.

Prediction: if he's impeached and convicted (unlikely but possible), he'll still fake-campaign for 2024, and his followers will still send him money.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

"Cornered Rat" Report #30

The last "Cornered Rat" report, in December, 2018, found the phrase "cornered rat" in 144,000, Google search results.

It's now up to 185,000, a gain of 28%.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Twitter Stuff

Just a quick note to say that I'm incredibly selective about what I retweet from my Twitter account. I never just stoke my own confirmation bias. It's either 1. counter-intuitive and credible takes, 2. particularly well-expressed surmises, 3. nuances previously missed, or 4. super funny. Plus brief announcements of new Slog postings.

You can also read over my shoulder my "Must-Read" Twitter list. It includes a few dozen people of diverse political opinions (all anti-Trump; I failed to find a sane MAGA voice) plus some additional color. There is a disproportionate number of conservative anti-Trumpers, because they tend to view this whole situation with insight rather than blind fury (I'm super-sick of being told he's a racist and this isn't normal. I got that the moment he rode down the escalator spouting about how Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals).

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Right This Second is The Beginning of the End of Trumpism

The swarming of the Capital (turn on your TV) is, in my view, a positive development.

The spittle-flecked violent nuts and hoodlums perpetrating this are utterly beyond reason. They've always been out here, and will always remain. I don't waste much time thinking about them.

I'm thinking entirely about my Republican friends and neighbors - nice, reasonable people who for various reasons (largely: tribal momentum, political underinformation - they're busy! - and misinformation via Fox News) supported Trump while disliking lots of things about him.

They are (mostly) not spittle-flecked, and have not enjoyed Trump's post-election antics. They're sensible enough to recognize a sore loser. And they're not going to be cool with armed insurrection in the US Capital. This will only help the fever to break.

This is not hoodlums and brownshirts taking over. This is edge case extremists emboldened to sufficient excess to lose their tether with the tens of millions on the center right. This is too far.

To be sure, one or two of my neighbors are likely stoked with this news. But not most of them. And foundational societal movement - especially the critical inclination of Americans to revert to the mean - is about majorities, not edge cases.

We've been hearing about the Civil War in the Republican Party this week - first among Georgia Republicans, but very quickly spreading to Washington (see Mitch McConnell's speech today and Pence's letter, both breaking free of the cult), and now it's super-rapidly consumed the country. This isn't MAGAs versus Libtards (as these crazies in DC imagine). It's center right versus radical right. This is where the center begins to unhitch from the extreme. It's by no means the death of Trumpism, but it's definitely the beginning of the end.

The Big Lie

Many families have a Big Lie, or even several. You know; the thing everyone knows to never mention.

It amounts to a curse placed by elders on their loved ones.

The kids are never directly instructed, because that would require talking about it. So they're forced to glean their marching orders from nonverbal feedback. And they don't know where it ends. The embargo might be about one certain thing - one realm - or it might encompass half the world. They have no way of knowing, because you won't explain, because non-discussion is the whole point.

From the parents' perspective, it's clear enough: simply stay away from this one certain subject. Easy! Aside from that, sure, truth, honesty, and knowing are highly valued. The parents see a crisp boundary.

But the children don't experience this crispness. The Dark Matter feels like an indeterminate blob, and they can only conclude that truth is pliable at best. One can't revere truth while silently harboring falsehood. Parents think they've simply created an exception - a trivial carve-out from the greater good that is Truth. But kids are left wondering where to draw the line. Which way is up, and which way is down?

The inevitable result of Big Lies - in the "micro" of family or the "macro" of nation - is the feeling of living under autocracy, where leaders dictate Truth itself. Life becomes essentially truthless when indeterminate cut-outs silently lurk.

If your family harbors a Big Lie, consider whether its repression is worth cursing your kids to queasy truthlessness. Remember, the cut-out was carved on your terms and you've left them no determinate map. You own the compartmentalization, and while you can easily see its contours, your no-mention policy leaves those around you struggling through a dark maze of indeterminate scope. A gulag.

Consider sitting down your kids (even if they're grown) and finally talking it through. Give them some closure; some sensation of ground beneath their feet; some reassurance that truth isn't an empty affirmation to be sneered at whenever inconvenient. Free them from the gulag, even if the truth is unflattering to you or to the myths that prop up your self-esteem.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

How I Screwed Up (and the utter serendipity of my sole success)

Here's my life arc explained in a single short paragraph (a feat of framing! It's taken many many years to back up the camera far enough to capture this wide a shot):
Jazz was passé in the 80s and 90s. Blogs were passé in the 00s. Smartphone apps were passé in the 10s. Web sites, however, were sexy and appealing in 1997. And that's why Chowhound was my only undertaking that sparked any wide interest.

"But, wait!" you object. "Chowhound was really good! It wasn't successful simply because web sites happened to be fashionable!"

Well, being good certainly didn't hurt us. But plenty of operations from that era prospered without being the least bit heartfelt, thoughtful, or cleverly innovative.

"But, wait!" you object. "The form - the media - doesn't matter! It's all about the content! To say you've built a smartphone app or write a blog tells people nothing about how useful and compelling your's is!"

Sure! Hey, that reminds me to invite you to swing by my exceptionally creative MySpace page! I know, I know...MySpace sucks. But - really! - I've done something extremely cool there! Come see! Hey, why aren't you clicking? Don't you wanna see it? Didn't you just say the form isn't the thing? Ok, well, then, would you maybe consider buying my brilliant 8-track tapes? Hello? Still there?

Mark my words. If you ever find yourself expecting to pitch something on the basis of "...but my version's better!", you are on the wrong track. First: quality barely counts at all. People can scarcely recognize quality, much less appreciate it. Second: masses are moved only by category, not iteration. If you're inexorably pulled to devote yourself to quality and iteration, fine, but don't expect more than a tiny handful to care, if that. I'm not being cynical, I'm being realistic.

If you devote yourself to doing quality (and not just posing at it), know that you have chosen the path of a spiritual renunciate. You are working to please God (or whatever transcendent higher construct you'd care to frame, from dead ancestors to a nondescript all-embracing Everythingness). There is no foothold in society for you. Genuinely good work that becomes popular does so despite its quality, not because of it.

Your best hope for society to take the least notice is to latch onto a hot, flashy, fashionable sector/form/realm and ride the greater wave. You might, incidentally, make it awesome, for your private sanity and satisfaction; for the proverbial "shits-and-giggles" (fortuitously, that's the best mind frame for producing quality, anyway: deep commitment fused with lightly bemused expectations).

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Watch Me Write

Obviously, you'll want to open this video in full-screen (hit the icon in the lower right corner).

Several people have, over the years, peered over my shoulder while I wrote. I hate to see them do it, because my aphasia (difficulty finding certain words in real time) makes my writing process seem tiresome, and I worry that I'll stress them out. It's okay for me, because I've cultivated blithe patience via the acceptance of inviolable reality.
This is what professionals must do. Seasoned ice fishermen don't kibbitz about how frickin' cold it is. Urban bus drivers don't scowl at poor drivers. And professional house movers don't grunt and moan as they lift.

Whiney ice fishermen, scowling bus drivers, and moaning house movers don't last long. They're locked up somewhere, sipping broth.
But the upshot I've heard from such looky-loos has been surprising. Oddly, they often get something from their glimpse into my process. I suppose it's like "The Tortoise and the Hare" or the Special Olympics. An "inspiring display of perseverance" or whatever. It's so courageous to see the poor dear painstakingly struggle to rise above his constraints.

So I figured it might be interesting to share here. One thing's for certain: this verifies my observation that writing = editing. As I noted on Twitter recently:

Friday, January 1, 2021

Logos and Eros

We live in the intersection of two waves, one viral and the other political (nationalist/populist). We are, per the apocryphal Chinese curse, "living in interesting times". And there's no greater sin than to live amid stress and challenge while failing to keep one's eyes wide open and soak in as much first-hand insight as one possibly can.

There's not much to learn amid boring tedium. So when it all starts roiling, we can emit a piercing infantile shriek until it all settles back down to tedium, or we can watch and learn. We could read about these patterns in books, but, to quote intellectual thought leader Marvin Pentz Gay Jr, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing (Baby)".

Britain, no surprise (Boris and Donald being cut from the same cloth), is doing something monumentally stupid. Leaders there have convinced themselves that it would be fairer to delay the second vaccine dose for those already vaccinated, in order to allow a broader range of voters the population to receive a first dose sooner.

This is how politicians think. Unfortunately, it's not how scientists think, and vaccines are a scientific instrument. How will pushing the second dose forward a few weeks affect the immunization process? Forgive the technical jargon, but medical experts have responded with "Geez, who knows?"

This is what happens when government gets lopsided, and the right-brained "Let's seem be fair and good and just" dominates the left-brained "Let's smartly game this out."
One can easily empathize with the perspective (framing!): "We have 30 carrots and 60 hungry people. So we'll slice each carrot in half, and await fresh carrots! Voila! Solomonic wisdom!"

My empathy does not signify agreement (though cultural blocks against empathizing-while-disagreeing are so fundamental that the inhibition is even baked into our language. Never empathize with stupid! Never empathize with crazy! Doing so marks you as a facilitator/appeaser of stupid/craziness!). So while I can understand and empathize, my objection is easily stated: Vaccines aren't like carrots, you grotesque morons.
One of my friends is among the smarter people walking this Earth, and some time ago he arrived at a solution for the Middle East mess: nuke it. Nuke it all. Remove the people, remove the problem, as well as the ongoing spillover from the problem which has been the engine for such mayhem in this world.

You likely visualize a blood-thirsty, raging, racist psychopath. But no. He's one of the gentlest, kindest, most reasonable people I've ever met. I've never seen him lose his temper in 35 years. He is incapable of unkindness, and will make himself helpful to anyone in any way. He'd take an hour to explain a complex issue for someone he can't stand and who'd asked impolitely. He's way nicer than you are.

If you empathize with - or at least try to understand - his perspective (which most people would resist doing, because its monstrousness seemingly disqualifies it from such consideration), you'll recognize that, beyond the obvious, er, issues, it is not intellectually unreasonable.

It's the sort of solution a computer would come up with. Input this: "Hatred and vengeance extending back centuries. No clear path forward. An entire planet endangered by a toxic, entrenched conflict that won't cool for generations, if ever." An output of "Nuke it all" follows impeccable computer logic, if not human judgement.

And this is why we don't run countries by computer logic. We actually do need politicians.

The reason my friend is so smart is because his mind works like a computer. He doesn't get bogged down with emotional hoo-haw. Normally, this is very effective for him. But the problem with surgically excising emotional hoo-haw is that at some point you'll unwittingly propose a solution built upon the cool computer logic everyone normally appreciates, but which really really really conflicts with all things human and good. If you don't self-impose a "gut check", all bets are off.

Having painstakingly trained himself to excise gut from cognition (with normally beneficial results), monstrousness can emerge from this otherwise lovely and reasonable person, leaving him hopelessly confused by the extremely hostile reaction to his thoughtful proposal.

Some of his friends have parted ways with him over this, which mystifies him. Having appreciated his cold hard logic for years, why would they suddenly turn against him for more of the same? It's reminiscent of how we turned viciously against the sort of people who are our war heroes, who work our vital dirty jobs, and who dug bodies from the smoldering 9/11 WTC pile, when their characteristic hard-boiled scoff-at-danger toughness led them to poo-poo face masks. Societal feedback can be maddeningly inconsistent.

We need all types. Emotional and intellectual and every gradation in between. I take a hippy-dippy "it takes all kinds" attitude, and don't expect any person to contain all human chunks in optimal proportion. I'm anthill-minded, with faith that the big picture will naturally come to balance - more or less, and in lumpy fits and starts. It's okay if many of us are partial people. We partial people have depth, while "complete"-seeming people (CSP) are rarely more than a single atom deep in any portion of their broad silhouette. I don't trust CSPs. They're inevitably mere veneers. They work on the seeming, not the being or doing. Fine for them, maybe, but useless for the rest of us. I respect narrow specialists.

My friend is partial, but he's a hell of a terrific specialist. He delivers his chunks with fantastic consistency, reliability, and flair. That said, I absolutely wouldn't want him to ever become president. Pure logical intellectualism is not (sorry, Plato) an apt guiding principle. You need softer-headed, warmer-hearted emotionalism in the mix, as well. I shudder to imagine a society led by parties incapable of gut-checks. Never put pure intellectuals in unchecked control. Yikes.

But the soft-heads in UK have fallen into the opposite excess. All soft-headedness and emotion, without a speck of frickin' logic.

Watch carefully. We're experiencing foundational historical processes first-hand.

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