Thursday, February 25, 2021

LEFFtovers: Pork Rib Hash





The key to hash is counterintuitive: don't futz much with the components. You'd imagine lots of chopping, scraping, combining, tossing, and flipping. But that just results in a granular mash, not a hash. For hash, do very little. In fact, touch it as little as you can. Also: always work from leftovers. This is meta-cooking, not cooking.

Here's what I did:

Roughly chop onion, drop in olive oil/salt/pepper and leave it alone until brown on bottom.

Once brown, flip and lightly mix in leftover latino deli pork rib meat that's been roughly torn off the bone with fingers (hands beat knives for hash). Reduce heat to low medium. Some rice and a couple of black beans were clinging to the ribs, and were happily thrown in.

Remove skins from leftover baked small Murasaki sweet potatoes (from Trader Joe's), smash flat with a palm in a plate, then transfer with spatula to smother onion/rib mixture.

I know it sounds really layery (and looks like that at first), but have faith.

Cook for a couple minutes, then flip 1/4 of the pan at a time, mostly to keep the bottom stuff from burning. As you do so, ingredients will unavoidably combine.

Once flipped, cook another minute or two (cusp burning is not only ok but optimal), transfer to plate (more unavoidable combining), simply piling it on. Don't get arty. Trust the process.

Serve with hot sauce alongside or squirted atop.

Note: no stirring happened at all. Just one flip of onions and one flip of all ingredients and that's it. So how did it hash up? If it seems like magic, just consider what would have happened if you were trying NOT TO.

Yup! Hash!

Another note: maybe 1 TBS oil, period. The meat's greasy enough. Sure, if I added a half stick of butter it'd have had that cheap straight-to-the-amygdala brain zonk quality (the gourmand's roofie), but I don't pull cheap tricks, I work for my deliciousness. Plus I try to eat healthy at home.

Room for improvement: in close-up photo, you can see that the meat hasn't browned into frizzy crunch. My timing still needs work. Maybe I should have added meat when I first started the onions (or even earlier, cooked low and slow for a while on dry nonstick). And maybe roughed up the meat a bit more with my fingers. More fat would get me there more easily, but, like I said, I work for my deliciousness.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Colleagues

I’m always perplexed when people ask me for an opinion about other trombonists or food critics. If I loved what was already out there, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. Who enters a field that seems great as-is? It strikes me as absolutely insane.

I would not have made movies in 1972. 1972 was the time to WATCH movies.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Stuck Car is Still a Car

Written for a friend gripped by serious depression...


When a car gets stuck in the snow...
Does the car need to discover itself?
Does the car need to re-build itself?
Does the car need to re-learn how to drive?

No. The car is always itself. It is never not a car.
The car needs to patiently apply its power for some time,
and not expect to drive normally right away.

But the car is impatient.
It is upset and confused, because it is not behaving like a car!
So it decides it is no longer a car.
The car decides it is no longer anything at all.
So the car stops trying.

In time, the snow melts,
and the car drives away normally.
That is the inevitable outcome.
But why wait?

A stuck car is still a car,
with its potential intact!
It needs to make effort,
and not expect to drive normally right away.
A stuck car is still a car.


Further reading:
Depression Resuscitation Kit
A Unique Perspective on Depression
The Main Cause of Major Depression
All "depression" postings in reverse chron order

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

COVID Urgings

I don't have medical or scientific knowledge. I sometimes state conclusions here with vehement confidence when I believe myself to possess special knowledge or insight. This is not one of those times.

I'm just sharing my perspective on the current COVID situation, and my practical plan of action.



News today:

1. The extra-contagious UK variant is becoming widespread

2. The very dangerous South African variant has been spotted in the NYC Tristate area.

3. There have been ominous hints all along that even mild COVID cases may present delayed health problems after recovery. There's new research on this reported today, specifically regarding children, but I wouldn't be surprised (and I doubt any scientist would preclude) the possibility that this still-new pathogen (which we don't fully understand, and for which we have no >1 year data) might act akin to polio, with problems suddenly surfacing months or years later. I've heard murmurings from knowledgable people that the South African variant might be more worrisome on that front.

Don't panic over murmurings and hunches. But do recognize, as we all face COVID fatigue and general sloppiness, that we need to ratchet up vigilance, and do it now. This is not the time for complacency.

I've doubled up my mask (details here, and note that this may or may might not be a good idea with genuine medical-grade masks). There's good consensus that this is helpful, especially against the new, more contagious variants. For all we know, they've already spread everywhere and we haven't yet seen the effect. Remember that our data lags our reality by a week or three.

I'm also suspending all home repair projects, even if the workers wear masks. And I'm reverting to March 2020 reluctance to freely shop, etc. I'll still do takeout, but with more substantial, less emblematic nods toward distancing, etc. And I'll dart in and out. Time of exposure is a factor.

Furthermore, I've never understood the notion of a vengeful God, but one thing's for sure: that motherfucker is nothing if not ironic. I have a vaccine appointment in mid April, and I'm giving him zero opportunities to mess with me before then.

The Slog's technical advisor (who hasn't vetted the above) tells me that we can consider ourselves reasonably safe two weeks after the first shot. That's the safety point to shoot for. Until then, be careful out there.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

More on the Memory Trick

A few postings ago, I offered a tip for adding extra slots to your short term memory. Someone sent me an email asking why I'd described this as a matter of perceptual framing.

The trick, once again, was to memorize only what you can comfortably memorize, and no more. Beyond that limit, just casually look, glance, peer at more data, and you'll find that it will persist; retained via the visual channel, completely outside your limited memorization process.

Once you've memorized all you can memorize the usual way, as you look/glance/peer at additional data you are imperiling the previously stored data. If you don't proceed per my directions - if you view the additional material with even a faint effort to memorize - you'll knock loose the contents of your memory. Instead of implanting in your visual buffer, it will barge destructively into your fully-loaded memory buffer.

So the trick only works if you frame in a very specific way. "I'm glancing at data, but don't care at all if I remember it or not. No memorizing going on here! Just looking, please, ma'am, thanks!" You're a disinterested looky-loo, absolutely not memorizing...though that actually is the objective. Think of it as a benign self-deception.

If you slip out of that framing and make the slightest effort to memorize the additional material, the jenga tower will likely collapse, leaving you with shards of broken memories.

Reframing allows you to enter data into a fresh additional channel, like finding extra space on a different hard drive.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Expectation, Surprise, Love, Delight

Marques Brownlee

I'm completely uninterested in social media "influencers", YouTube channel hosts, that whole scene. It's not my world. And yet, there's one social media influencer with a YouTube channel who's so unworldly good at it that I can't stop watching. Not for the first time, I concede that there's nothing I dislike that can't be redeemed by transcendent quality.

Marques Brownlee (who has tens of millions of followers and frequently interviews guests like Obama and Musk) is a kid from Newark doing video tech reviews. He's bright and witty, but not sensationally so. He has good opinions on tech, but so do many people. I've watched and watched, trying to parse the trick; probing for the hidden wellspring of super-intelligence or super-creativity.

But it's not there. No vein of talent deep enough to explain the hold of his output. He's just an articulate, bright, informed kid born to be unimaginably great at something I ordinarily don't care about. If he'd arrived 30 years earlier, he'd be an assistant copper wire salesman. But he's perfection for the moment.

At first, I watched his stuff with a jaundiced, critical eye, bracing for the inevitable micro-atrocities: irritating slack that should have been edited, eye-rolling self-aggrandizement, flagrant love-of-the-sound-of-his-own voice, etc. But my sensitive geiger counter never blips. It's never blipped once. Not one slack moment, not one conspicuous self-indulgence, not one embarrassingly ill-considered choice.

Here's the secret: He does something I was taught to do as a journalist by a long-forgotten generation: serve his readership/viewership and do justice to his subjects.

As a food writer, I never felt that I worked in the restaurant industry. I was on the other side of that equation, on the side of its customers - my readers. Every action taken, every ravioli scarfed, every word written, was absolutely 100% for them. I nominally worked for editors, but when they got in the way of my giving readers what they fully deserved, I'd either defy them or go work elsewhere. I wasn't fucking around; not pretending to serve readers while stoking my own greater good. No pose. It was heartfelt.

In my seventh week of twelve-meal days researching my first book, waking up every day putridly unhungry before going out and doing it all over again, I forced myself to eat like a reader. My expression was bleary, bloated, and glum, but my pen outpoured rapture. I was their surrogate, their servant. And I never smugly boasted about it; I just shut up and did it...while my colleagues were mostly insecure egomaniacs, in it to curry favor with food celebs, take bribes, pump their brands, and revel in their positions as elite lordly tastemakers. It was all about them. Most sucked as food writers, which I saw as the inevitable result of distorted priorities and unseemly neediness. They couldn't put their heads down and work their asses off to do justice to their subject and be fully of service to their readership. This perspective was inaccessible to them.

Marques Brownlee, in every utterance, every shot set-up, every editorial cut, serves viewers, not him. He does this thoughtfully, skillfully, and with unlimited commitment. He never once forgets who he's working for, so nothing ever trips a skeptical viewer's geiger counter. It's all butter. That's why I'm a fan of a guy working in a realm of no interest to me. Anyone who loves me this sincerely, I can't help loving back.

The Blazer Pub

A cool 1920s roadhouse in Purdys, NY called The Blazer Pub is purported to make the best burgers in Westchester County (I actually slightly prefer the ones at Squires of Briarcliff). They also serve a cream of tomato soup that's life-changing. And I don't like tomato soup.

In fact, I suspect I like Blazer's tomato soup even more because it improbably defies my aversion.

Eugene Goodman

One reason I'm such a staunch Eugene Goodman fan (I actually wrote my congressman to ask about the hold-up on his Congressional gold medal) was because when I first saw him, live, on the news on January 6, he was irritating me. "Why does he keep backing up??" I exasperatedly wondered. Then it came to light that he was baiting the mob to bypass the area where Congressmen were secretly hunkered. Goodman was backing up because he was extremely competent, tactical, brave, and cool under pressure. And now I count myself as an especially fervent Goodmanite.

The Piano Tuner

Most of my musician friends were scary. I didn't hang out much with the shiny, composed front men. My crowd was the pot-smoking unshaven sidemen; the hardworking, unheralded wise-asses at the back of the stage who made the shiny front man sound good.

One of the most barbaric and disheveled of the lot was a drummer who bore a striking resemblance to Charles Manson - wild eyes and all - and who daylighted as a piano tuner. I had him come to my parents' house to work on their piano, and when my mom returned from the store and walked in the house, glimpsing this malevolent fiend taking apart the family piano, she froze, dropped her grocery bags, and nearly fainted.

She eventually came to discover that he's actually a super nice good guy, funny and whip-smart (he's now a highly successful lawyer, naturally) and became best friends with him.

Conclusion

Why am I a devoted fan of a disgracefully mainstream "video influencer", a term I can barely type without gagging?

Why do I like Blazer Pub's tomato soup extra because I hate tomato soup?

Why do I cheer Eugene Goodman with extra vehemence after assuming he was incompetent?

Why did my mom become extra good friends with the Tasmanian Devil who made her shatter her apple sauce jars?

Surprise. We love surprise (in small doses). That's why we love comedy. Jokes are effective agents of micro-surprise. They trip us delightfully into viewing the world a bit differently. Same for drama, stories, music, travel, or expectation-defying tomato soup. We shift a little, and humans need to keep shifting perspective to be happy and healthy.

If you grind down into a frozen perspective (aka depression), your perspective will be largely impermeable to surprise. A set of stand-up comedy or a bowl of supernal tomato soup won't cut through the torpor.

Once depression resolves and we've rediscovered the freedom to shift/flip perspective, relapse can be avoided by seeking out and relishing surprise in all its forms. That seeking is nothing less than a holy quest. Chowhounding, I guess, is a quasi-religious proposition.


It's hard to escape the throes of major depression because a frozen perspective inherently rejects the variety that spices life. There is no difference between "impermeability to surprise" and "frozen perspective". The frozenness - initially an indulgent caprice; a melodramatic ratcheting on to some bleak mental fluff just for kicks - seizes more and more of your fluidity of attention until you're eventually trapped in an unremitting bleakness as inescapable as a black hole.

The timeworn brute-force escape tactics - drugs (prescription or otherwise), alcohol, sex, travel, deadlines, overwork, etc. - are desperate means for wrenching perspective out of its frozen lock. Unsurprisingly, those things become addictive as they come to be seen as lifelines; the sole means of redemption from Hell.

But we don't need things, means, or tactics. We are always free to reframe - to shift attention and flip perspective - in any moment in any direction. It's not even necessary to choose wisely. We don't need the perfect perspective, or even a particularly "postive" one. Any shift will do. We just need to keep our shifter lithe. The frozeness is the problem; the framing, not the content. We are always free to self-redeem ("the kingdom of god is within you", yadda yadda).


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Thought of the Day



Watch as if no one’s dancing.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Day the Gaslighting Ended

A few years ago I participated, under alias, in an online forum that attracted an elite/smart crowd. I posted a lot of (what I thought was) good stuff, but most of it went unnoticed, un-favorited, and un-shared. When I did attract attention, it was mostly in the form of snark or outright contempt.

The forum used a question/answer format. One day someone asked "How Do I Build an Online Community?" They wanted to create a forum to pool the knowledge of smart enthusiasts about some narrow topic. For Slog readers who don't know, I founded and ran one of the first popular web forums. I'm an OG for this.

So I wrote up a manual, reducing vast troves of hard-won knowledge into a single highly-distilled page. I even took the time to make it an entertaining read. It was a perfect how-to guide for precisely what this person wanted to do from a top expert with years of experience - who's also a professional writer, able to articulate clearly. It would be hard to imagine a better response.

But it was ignored, aside from a few gratuitous blazes of snark. Other replies - bored nerds tap-dancing their way through facile assumptions - were marked "favorite". Mine, apparently, sucked.

Oh well! :)

My first reaction was that what I'd offered probably wasn’t so great, because I've conditioned myself to a certain ambivalence.
I'm annoyed by the bastardization of "ambivalence", a uniquely useful word referring to the state of holding paradoxical views simultaneously. That's way too intricate for most people, so the word's been diluted into the ninety gajillionth synonym for ennui (as Eskimos have words for snow, we have words for boredom).
It's possible to know you've spoken truth while comfortably accepting a consensus that you've spoken crap. It's possible to know you've played a beautiful jazz solo while comfortably accepting a consensus that you've played crap. It's possible to know you've offered kindness while comfortably accepting a consensus that you've flung crap. You can know you're right while accepting that you're wrong. All this is possible.

And while there can be comfort in this acceptance, there's a deeper unease. It doesn't stem, as you might imagine, from the paradox, but from the acceptance itself. There’s always the possibility that your blithe forbearance stems from, ugh, smugness. "They're all too stupid to recognize my awesomeness" is a very dangerous perspective.

The Dunning Kruger Effect observes that dumb people often feel smart because they're too dumb to recognize their stupidity. You can maintain a demented confidence that you're absolutely killing it with quality, even if the world clearly disagrees. Innumerable dorks out there feel like unrecognized geniuses while plying their dorky ridiculousness.

We all know people who value their vapid certainties like shimmering golden Krugerrands. If you're too dumb, demented, or deluded to recognize your dumbness, dementia, or delusion, it's easy to develop impenetrable self-confidence. "The idiots don't get me."

My easy ambivalence, I recognized very early on, was uncomfortably close to deluded dorkdom. I'd grown up around people with delusions of competence, and I resolved, as a child, to never take that route. 

Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, idle sensations of smug superiority were treated as the expression of dangerous hereditary tendencies, and I systematically Clockwork-Oranged them until there was nothing left but cinders.
Here's the part I’d missed: my framework of self-skepticism had actually placed me on the other side of the Dunning-Kruger coin. The benign flip side is that smart people feel inadequate because they're smart enough to recognize their inadequacies. Those who'd repulsed me with their smug self-certainty never questioned themselves for a moment, much less hatched a lifelong extermination mission. I’d been safe from the trap all along, but Dunning and Kruger were still in high school while I worked through these issues, so I only understood (and feared) the stupid side of the equation.
And so I settled into a clammy, uncomfortable ambivalence. I might feel confident about something, but if the world refuted my self-assessment, I’d accept completely. I'd watched many people get stupider and stupider while feeling unshakably smart, and that absolutely would not be my fate.

But then I wrote that manual for building online communities which was received with snide disregard and smirking derision. And, for the first time, I was 100% sure it was true, and right, and great. Not 99%, not 99.9999%. This time, I was 100% confident that I was right and “They” were wrong.

It all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and I saw clearly that many (though certainly not all) my offerings which had been ignored or outright rejected had actually been worthy. And in that moment I had no choice but to shake off the gaslighting.

I’d been right a lot, it turned out, though a lifetime of self-administered aversion therapy left me incapable of feeling superior about it. And that's entirely appropriate. Doing great work doesn't make you great. My mechanic, who can rebuild a transmission - one of the most complex and difficult tasks a human can undertake, and which I couldn't learn to accomplish if I lived 10,000 years - is, after all, just a mechanic. And I emulate him.

I've made just one adjustment: I acknowledge that I can maybe be right even if I'm the only one who thinks so. Self-assurance, it turns out, is not always an empty conceit. I don’t smugly lean into it, though. I still challenge my certainties with everything I've got, and embrace my embarrassing blunders with a sense of relief I find difficult to explain.

That’s how I manage to keep writing this Slog year after year, with zero sharing or linking, dropping my best output into a silent abyss. My younger self would have noticed the vacant response and figured his Dunning Kruger had flared up. Sure, he felt like he was presenting sensational insight, but, hey, the world appears to dissent. So it must be drivel, self-deluded banality, and hyped-up garbage. He’d have knocked it off and found something more useful to do (and that subsequent effort, too, would have been rejected like a slug coin in a gum machine).


The question of why I've been rejected so consistently is a whole other issue. My conclusion is that the world perennially awaits David Copperfield; i.e. impressive-seeming figures, while I've been working so fervidly at getting good at the things I'm good at that I haven't developed any seeming-ness at all. Executing my rope trick draws scant applause as I disappear entirely into the sky.

Without an aura of magnificence, vibrant self-satisfaction, and gravitas, how would merit be recognized, much less lauded? It strikes me as a ridiculous question, but we never examine the laughably flimsy basis for our admiration. It seems obvious to most of us that talented people would seem sparkly/confident and radiate vibes of shiny elevation (even though that stuff's easily faked - we all know vacant nincompoop poseurs).

This same issue of externalization underpins autism, which I suspect to be a benign adaptive improvement, despite the profound maladjustments it generates in a society preoccupied with seeming rather than being. I sure hope things eventually flip their way - to actuality.

For example, this got 820 views with 3 upvotes for a novel and correct explanation in 385 words of an age-old mystery, complete with advice for how to hack the process for your benefit. At least nobody told me to STFU!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Memory Trick #1

Telephone numbers are 7 digits long because psychologists determined that this is the longest string that can be quickly/easily memorized. Try it:

3428921

Close your eyes. Got it?

You can probably sense that you couldn't juggle too many more bits of data; at least not without investing some effort. But you can use framing to give yourself a memory expansion. I'll show you a trick.

Below is another seven digit number, with some more numbers to the right. Ignore those numbers! Do not memorize them! Invest all your memorization capacity into the seven numbers on the left. Don't be distracted by the rest. Pretend they're not there.

Then, once you've memorized the seven, casually look at the other numbers for a couple of seconds. Don't memorize them. Don't make the slightest effort to process them, or to think about them. Just stare stupidly at them for a couple of seconds. Lay your eyes on them, nothing more. Ok, here goes:

2556298 - 4427

Close your eyes and recall the seven. Then see the remainder. Don't remember them, just see them.

Congrats! You've added four new (fast/easy) memory slots, a 57% upgrade. This is available to you always, in any context.

Want to keep going? Add yet another four by speaking some aloud. Memorize the first seven, visualize (without memorizing) another four, then speak (without memorizing) another four, not just speaking but listening to yourself speak. No furrowed brow or disciplined concentration; just listen, period, while holding on to the previous memorization. Don't drop that package!

The key is to let go of memorization. You can only memorize seven. For more numbers, you need to do something other than memorize.

Framing unlocks everything.

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