Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Leftovers: Oniony Ravioli

Fridge contents

6 Trader Joe's Beef Bolognese Ravioli
Half an onion
Straggly few fancy salad greens
Ecuadorian hot sauce
"What's with all the Ecuadorian hot sauce?" you might understandably wonder. There's an Ecuadoran rotissierie joint near me I hit once per week, and always ask for extra sauce. So there are always some small containers in my fridge. Ecuadoran hot sauce is creamy, like Peruvian ají, but more vegetal. It combines well, and I'm always looking for excuses to use it up.
I wanted to do this but had no tomatos.

So I roughly chopped the onion, and sautéd with lots of black pepper. Near the end, I added the greens atop, letting them wilt. Meanwhile I briefly re-boiled the ravioli to reheat them, drained the pot, splashed the hot sauce in the pot, then added the ravioli/onion/greens, stirring violently for a few seconds.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Vaccine Holdouts

Society is rapidly cleaving into two groups: the vaccinated, who are largely safe from Covid infection and almost completely safe from dangerous Covid symptoms (i.e. they can still, rarely, catch it, but symptoms resemble any very minor respiratory infection), and the unvaccinated, who remain in danger.

My first impulse re: vaccine refusers is to wearily shrug. Like with seatbelts, I do the smarter thing, so I get to enjoy the safety. They could easily be safe, too, so this just represents Darwin at work, expunging the demented and the obtuse from the gene pool.

But there's a different way to frame it. If someone in my life joined a cult and was convinced to move to Guyana and drink poisoned lemonade to die en masse with the Dear Leader, I wouldn't be thinking about Darwin and gene pools. I'd be thinking "tragedy". Brain washing really happens. And ignorance. And stupid obstinacy. Actions have consequences, just as we teach our kids, but the penalty ought not be death. This isn't a cartoon. The 500 ton weight falling on the foolish coyote shouldn't be a real world "LOL".

The big problem with Covid (which nobody mentions because it's inconvenient) is also Covid's great blessing: it's not Smallpox. It infects only a few percent, and kills only a few percent of them. So the people who've been socializing in maskless crowds and refusing vaccine very likely won't die, making the feedback mechanism loose and floppy, and organisms don't learn efficiently from loose, floppy feedback. French kissing strangers probably won't kill you, and such spotty feedback spurs only spotty learning at best. Covid perches diabolically on the razor's edge: too tame to easily compel full compliance, yet too perilous to ignore. That's the big problem with Covid.

Of course, it's horrendously poor risk-assessment to tempt fate even within this grey area. But we don't need to winnow poor risk assessors from the gene pool. Even if they tend to wear red hats, holler dumb political slogans, and support deranged con men.

Here's the best pitch I've managed to brew up for folks on the fence re: vaccines (nothing works with staunch anti-vax loudmouths):
"Look, I'm not going to flood you with facts and information, and I won't call you names or try to make you feel dumb, but I'd really hate to lose you, and Covid's bad, and the vaccines work great. I got the shot, and it was a beautiful experience and now I feel safe. I'd be much happier if you were safe, too. We need good people here. We can't afford people like you dying needlessly. Please reconsider."
That works - a little - if someone's on the fence. Treat them not like skeptics, who just need to hear some sense, but like potential suicides. Treat them like people standing on a skyscraper window ledge. This approach - this framing - resonates.

I'm safe either way. I don't need herd immunity, I've got personal immunity. And I've arranged vaccination appointments for a number of local immigrants with lousy English skills. And I've used my well-polished line of persuasion on all the holdouts I know. But I refuse to shrug and invoke Darwin.

From my long-awaited safe harbor of personal safety, here's how I frame it: ignorance, brain washing, and obstinacy can, alas, be fatal, and these are essentially cult victims. So I, myself, am reminded to be less rigid, less proud of my contrarian tendencies, and more wary of my own poor judgement.

Most of all, like an acrophobic near a cliff, I detect and fear my propensity to fall. I recognize that a person can immerse so deeply into a story he tells himself that he misses the reality right before his eyes. Even as a reframing specialist, I don't always immediately shake off every story that's outlived reality.

Just as a lagniappe, I believe a lot of the vaccine holdouts are extra scared. Scared just in general, and particularly frightened of Covid. That may seem senseless, but have you ever hit the accelerator when you were lost (if you even remember "getting lost", before the age of GPS)? It's the same impulse. The assertion of control - any control, including counterproductive - feels, for many people, like their only backstop from the yawing abyss. This is why very old, very sick, very confused people often argue tenaciously with their doctors. They are proving to themselves that they retain autonomy. It feels like a higher priority than not dying.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

More Cherry Blossoms

Same trees, new day, fresh angles (i.e. tap-dancing while waiting for the other trees to wake up):

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cherry Blossoms

I can’t be in Tokyo, or Washington DC, or even Prospect Park this week. But White Plains has some pretty good cherry blossom (”sakura”) action!

I hate filters and post-processing, i.e. the daft supposition that reality’s insufficient. The whole IG aesthetic stems from a profound misconstrual. Reality can’t be surpassed (it’s all a matter of framing!).

Anyhoo, cherry blossoms (including a photo bombing by one cheeky little tulip):

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hemingway's Alcoholism and Depression

I've been watching Ken Burn's series about Ernest Hemingway on PBS, and this quote from Ernie stuck out:
When you work hard all day with your head and you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?
"Change your ideas". "Make them run on a different plane". He's talking, of course, about perceptual framing; about shifts of perspective. It's not some mysterious woo-joo. We all viscerally realize, at some bleary, blurry, unconscious level, that shifting/reframing is the underlying truth of the human experience. Some people (most often accomplished people) get a little closer to this recognition than others, and Hemingway came damned close.

What he missed, alas, is that we don't need alcohol, or any other external thing, to reframe. We're the framers. We internally frame the world, despite our demented and persistent efforts to coax the world into framing us. That ass-backwardness leads to amnesia. We forget that we possess the ability to reframe at will, and so we get stuck. And frozen perspective accounts for nearly all human darkness, most notably depression. Depression is the clinical term for "frozen perspective".

If your perspective grows stuck and you're desperately evading depression (as Hemingway eternally was), and you've tried lots of hearty world action (as Hemingway certainly did), but you can't keep muscling the world into actively changing your perspective for you - misconstruing yourself as the passive receiver of perspective - until eventually you ruminate/marinate yourself into a state where you're good and entranced/frozen/stuck, then, as I wrote here,
We may grow quite desperate for liberation - for an escape from the monotonous world we've framed via a monotonous perspective. To rouse ourselves from depression, or to attempt, in our desperation, to stay ahead of the stuckedness, we clutch at straws. Things like booze, drugs, gambling, casual sex, and the other addictions serve as blunt instruments for forcing cheap momentary wisps of relief; of freedom. It's a last resort for those who've lost all interest in re-tuning their own perspective, and find themselves burdened and bored by a burdened, bored existence in an apparently burdensome, boring world.

A violent kick to the head is hardly an apt substitute for real liberation. It's not subtle, nor entirely pleasant, and you must contend with repercussions, rebounds, and a build-up of tolerance. But at least you’re temporarily jarred out of the monotony of a frozen perspective. If this is your sole avenue of relief, it will come to feel like salvation.

In the long run, dependence on kicks to the head just heightens the monotony; the freezing. You're imprisoned more and more tightly as you distract yourself from your innate facility for swapping in a different perspective. Reliance on a head kick reinforces the wrong-headed assumption that perspective is dictated by conditions "out there", rather than by your own choices "in here". So your entire life comes to center on some chosen kick (which becomes, itself, a monotonous freeze). You cling to this means of momentarily shaking things up to glean pitifully faint sniffs of the full freedom you’ve chosen to spurn.
It didn't work out so well for Hemingway, whose dependence on kicks to the head just heightened the monotony; the freezing. With all that said, let's do one more pass through his surprisingly self-aware quote:
When you work hard all day with your head and you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?
Just reframe, Papa. It’s your move. You have free latitude to write your story from any angle. You, of all people, should have known that. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

LEFFtovers: Breakfast Hash

Please please touch to expand.

I sautéed onions, then added cut-up chunks of leftover gyro meat and cut-up French fry chunks, and served over an egg white omelet.

Small touches count (understatement of the century):
  • I did not salt the onions because the gyro is salty. And I under-salted the egg.
  • Those tomatoes were small, so I could have served them whole. But when I envisioned myself eating them, I realized I'd be happier if they were quartered. Cooks can go very far by pampering their predilections.
  • I had a vision in my head of really crunchy/chewy gyro meat, almost like Issan jerky. I also wanted to fully crisp up those fat steak fries, which were mushy from overnighting in the fridge. So I timed it appropriately (the more I make everything like toast - i.e. subjected to micro-concern via vast attentive patience - the more delicious my food turns out).

Friday, April 9, 2021

LEFFtovers: Scallop Thing

Particularly intricate LEFFtover treatment.

Raw materials in fridge:

Less than a full serving of Guatemalan take-out seafood soup
Small amount of leftover soba noodles
Small amount of basmati rice
Sautéed asparagus
Tiny takeout container of Ecuadoran hot sauce
Four raw scallops

Heat seafood soup. When bubbling, stir in soba noodles AND rice. Kill heat.

Sautee scallops with garlic in olive oil, cook 2-3 mins per side.

Upon flipping scallops, add asparagus to pan to reheat. Quarter the scallops after cooking.

Add noodle/rice mixture to a bowl. Top with asparagus. Top with scallops. Top with garlic. Dab each scallop segment with hot sauce. Walla.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Latino Support for Trump

So the big story right now is how Trump picked up way more Latino support in 2020 than you'd ever have imagined possible. Pundits are straining to understand.

I saw it coming. It's a matter of socio-economic peer groups. July, 2016, I wrote about a local Mexican immigrant I know who felt perfectly comfortable with Trump and his supporters, and explained why I thought that was:
I know a grimy pizzeria, in a scrubby blue collar nabe, serving cheap pizza but also, very quietly, a short list of quite good Mexican items on the down-low. I never see other customers opting for sopes or quesadillas. It's all dry wall guys and FEDEX drivers scarfing cheap slices for lunch. Oversized working class white dudes whose car bumpers all seem to have "volunteer fireman" stickers. And, naturally, Trump stickers.

While I awaited my sopes, I watched the scene. Arriving customers warmly greeted the Mexican owner (a big, garrulous guy who, himself, wouldn't look out of place on a fire truck). Ordering was no-nonsense, but wives and children were tersely asked after in both directions, by name. I heard Donald Trump mentioned a couple times, but the Mexican dude didn't tense a muscle. He wasn't just shucking and jiving; he really relates to these guys. I bet he'd vote Trump, too, if it weren't for the virulent racism. Maybe he manages to overlook that part, just as they do.

The burly customers finish their pizza and wave goodbye with warm eyes, like with family. I, from another world, nibbling my sopes de al pastor, received more distant/polite treatment from the staff. I was "sir". The owner was with those other guys. And they were with him. And as Trump brashly blasted on CNN, none of the Mexican workers behind the counter ground their teeth. They're bought in. They like America. And they sympathize and identify with these guys. And here's the thing: I think they absolutely understand all about hijo de puta politicians who talk a lot of shit. They've seen that before, and would never blame the followers for being conned. Same as it ever was.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Plain-Sight Secret About Investing

99% of investors have no idea what the bet is that they're making. It's shocking.
"Elon Musk seems super smart, and he's had so much success in the past, and his future plans sound exciting. Tesla seems like an awfully good bet!"
No. Don't do that. The purchase of Tesla stock is not a bet on the company, like betting on a horse in a race. It's one level more sophisticated and abstract: you are betting on the underestimation of Tesla by other investors. That's the bet; the only bet. You're never betting on a company, you're betting against other investors' sentiment about that company. And those people are all aware of Musk's history, too. That's not privileged information.
Have you ever noticed that many people imagine that when they say the same old shit we've all heard a zillion times it has a special ring? "Now it's me saying it!" In everyday life, this daffy mental miscalculation is annoying. In the stock market, it pays for the 1%'s Lear jets.
This is, oddly, terrifically difficult for nearly everyone to grok. Small time "retail" investors misunderstand because they're naive (naïveté is the single greatest impediment to clarity). Day traders, who grok this in theory, lose touch with it amid the bustle of their manic and complicated trading (complexity is the second greatest impediment to clarity). And professional financiers, who understand this better than any of us, are distracted by their smug self-confidence (ego is the third greatest impediment to clarity).

Most of all, it's a framing problem. If you're an addicted gambler (as most investors are, at all three levels), you do not possess a lithe perspective (see this for how addiction is a framing problem). You are rigid and stuck. You are compelled to see things like a horse track, and can't find the calm latitude to reframe to a more sophisticated, subtle, abstract perspective. Your attention remains riveted to "GO TEAM,” in all-caps. 

We all have an opinion as to whether Amazon still has room to grow, or if Tesla can maintain profits with big automakers getting into electric. Opinions are like assholes; we all have one. And yours may even be correct. But that's not enough. Because your bet is not on Amazon or Tesla, but against titans infinitely smarter and better informed than you. They effectively set the price, and that price already reflects their (smart) consensus opinion. And there's not a single thought in your head that's ahead of them. So you will not only not win against them; they will, over time, eat your lunch.

So don't read annual reports. Don't try to be a smarty. All info is already baked in to the price by people way smarter than you (if you assume no one's smarter than you, then I have good news: your impending poverty will divest you of that delusion). Again: You're not betting on a company, you're betting against the market's estimation of that company. It's not a proposition of predicting business success.

So why would anyone bet against billionaire geniuses and their office towers stocked full of MIT educated analysts? Wouldn't that be crazy?

Yes. Yes it would. Which is why people should invest in index mutual funds, which rise (and, alas, sink) with the market, often bringing even better success than the outcomes for individual twitchy billionaire geniuses (because the latter are limited by ego and an addict’s perspective).

The only exception is if you have some sort of an edge. Which 99.9999% of the time you won't.

Patience is a potent edge. The billionaire geniuses need to be constantly hitting home runs. They can't patiently wait stuff out. They're twitchy. That's why my strategy of buying Apple in its downturns has worked. I can park my money for a year, and those guys can't. Neither can day traders, who are equally twitchy. So, often, it's only sad little me buying on downturns and selling on peaks, while everyone else spazzes out, flocks irrationally, and goes foolishly the wrong way. They’re pursuing bazooka home runs this quarter while I’m content with 25% gains next year. I gobble up discarded crumbs.

Specialized knowledge can also be an edge. A friend runs a genetics lab, and told me TXG's technology would one day be ubiquitous. He could hardly wait to have it, himself. I bought at $54, and it's now $188. Of course, it might just as easily have crashed. Maybe the CEO is a dork. An edge is not a superpower, it's just a way to marginally de-shmuck oneself. Billionaire geniuses also know people running genetics labs. Mostly, I got lucky. But a little luckier than if I'd flown blind, trusting my own puny acumen.

Years ago, I wrote breathlessly about SIGA, a company with an entirely effective (and no side-effects) smallpox cure. It’s a bio-terror countermeasure (it works on weaponized versions), and it also works on cowpox and monkey pox, which are both still out there. I'm still hanging on to half my shares, and at $7 I've made out decently with my $2 investment, though it's sat listlessly for so many years that it's no jackpot. This year I expect at least one big foreign government sale, and/or a sale to US gov with a different formulation, which should hopefully pop the stock back to $12-15. At that point, I'll sell (there's time pressure: their patent on the drug actually runs out in a few years - insert bug-eyed/astonished emoji - and soon I'll be so old that I'd only enjoy a jackpot by gold-plating my walker), and it will amount to good profit despite the ridiculous time lag. In this case, my patience was my edge, then my stubbornness was my edge, then my religious faith was my edge, and, at this point, my stupidity is my edge. All these things are unavailable to billionaire geniuses. I stay in my lane.

It’s hard to understand this maxim, and harder still to live by it. And it’s almost impossible to find an edge for yourself, and harder still to maximize that edge without being clouded by ego or by addictive glee over successes. 

I seem to be at that latter stage. I’ve been beating the market (I bought in low to CRIS, PRKR, BCRX, and the aforementioned TXG and SIGA, in addition to cultivating Apple’s periodic lulls). But it’s more than likely a blip, like flipping “heads” a few times more than likely. So I’m keeping my outlay prudently low. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Craziness Codicil

I left something important out of my previous posting, "The Craziness of Encountering Crazy People Who Don't Exist" (alt titles: "Opting Out of Fetishizing Malicious Stupidity", "Anti-Stigmatization", or "The One With the Five N-Words").

By the time I'm done pre-mumbling, mumbling, and post-mumbling, I sometimes discover, too late, that I've forgotten to drive home my actual point. "Too late" because the posting's been so worked, and is so embarrassingly lengthy, that there's little hope of cramming in any new chunk.

So while I often deliberately bury ledes (one of my snickering delights), I appear to have plunged to a new low of ditzy incompetence so extreme that (in keeping with the theme) it has no name. I hereby coin the term "Lost Lede", and offer it to you below. It's nothing not already implicit in the post, but I never quite got around to firmly summing it up and putting it in wider perspective.

When you sanitize and euphemize your language and your thinking about a thing, you deliberately detach yourself from truthful conception of the thing. You shun and reject truth. And that's not good, because if/when that thing and that truth is encountered, it will stun you. Having methodically bleached some truth nugget previously lodged in your consciousness, you're left in a bind when reality pops up...which it does with some frequency.

This is, in fact, why we think. It's so that reality doesn't knock our teeth out or leave us yammering like idiots. Thinking is our pre-production prep for reality. It's useful work, even if it's not all sparkly nice and a smooth fit with cultural trends. Ideally, we think to understand, not to conform. You need to really watch out for the latter.

This issue is far more timeless than some stupid argument about political correctness or whatever. Thought bleaching leads to debilitating results in all instances of political re-education/brainwashing. It can work for a while, in a limited, blinkered way, but it inevitably leaves you estranged from reality. My examples are relatively light ones, leaving us lightly estranged. But I'm a big fan of reality, of truth (it's not a popular stand, but I'm such a contrarian). The very last thing I want is to deliberately estrange myself from it.

It's particularly corrosive for those whom this whole artifice has been contrived to protect. It shames and erases their reality. However positive your intentions, that's a hack that should never be pursued.

The Craziness of Encountering Crazy People Who Don't Exist

I had lunch a while back with a mentally ill guy. And I was completely taken aback when he started spouting craziness.

We've really boxed ourselves in with our language meshugas here in Euphemism World. Who'd expect a "mentally ill" person, facing certain "challenges", to spew outright craziness? One doesn't expect craziness from the mentally ill. One expects neatly compartmentalized, non-stigmatizable mental illness. Because that's what we call it.
Hi there, I'm Canadian, brunette, Pisces, mildly athletic, and mentally ill! So tell me a little about yourself!
You don't expect craziness because there's no such thing. Crazy people don't exist. So when a crazy person sat before me at lunch, it seemed unexpectedly....ugly. Much as the word "crazy" is ugly. "Crazy" truthfully describes the ugly prattle coming out of his mouth. And if you can't say so, or even think it, you'll feel shocked when something very much fitting that non-existent and totally not-okay word materializes before your lying eyes. The disjoint, in fact, makes the encounter much more jarring. It's, well, crazy...and that's just, well, crazy!

As a society we may nobly strive to sweep stigma under the cognitive/linguistic rug, but then one day you'll encounter some bona fide crazy shit, and find it as hard as I did to maintain composure while insouciantly swirling Sauvignon blanc and daintily tooth-scraping artichoke scuzz. It all grinds to a halt. We're lost without the availability of the word we're never supposed to utter upon encountering the thing we're never supposed to acknowledge. Reality startles the dreamer.

This is a horridly poor outcome for crazy (ouch) people. Because if the reality of how they behave is so awful as to be excluded from polite conversation, where, exactly, does that leave them? What's it like when the very thing you are can't be spoken without euphemism? One gets a taste of that predicament from eggshell-walking, painfully meticulous prog-speech (I'm sick of the term "PC", which the piqued canned hams of Fox News have ruined for me):
"So! Jim, I understand, is of the, um, Hebraic persuasion. By which, I mean to say, he's a Jew-American, oh dear, so sorry, my denture must have slipped, a Jewish-American, and those wonderful, uh, beings are so splendidly intellectual and sarcastic! I hasten to note that every individual Jew - sorry, er, Jewish-American - is of COURSE unique, so I'm not attempting to generalize here, but...."
Even this relatively mild form of word mincing leaves me wanting to book de-circumcision surgery and rhinoplasty, and to eat nothing but pork chops dunked in mayonnaise for the rest of my life. I'm driven to self-denial, if not self-obliteration, by vaguely insulting faux-tolerant (STOP ‘TOLERATING’ ME ALREADY!!!) gesturing. As I wrote here, "As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?"

It must be far worse for those whose actuality has been de-worded. What does it feel like when those enduring your crazy ravings are left struggling to recompose their tidy worldview that all's swell and you are absolutely not as crazy as you just clearly demonstrated yourself to be? Isn't that the most exclusionary possible exclusion? And isn't it also a false feedback loop? If I'm acting crazy, please, for heaven's sake, tell me! Bluntly! Don't just stare straight through me, mentally self-denying your assessment of the unthinkable thing you've totally decided I am.

If it's so imperative to create a minty fresh landscape in our collective imagination, stocked exclusively with above-average bright and untarnished souls, some of whom might face certain "challenges" (euphemizing their uncomfortable truth off the table) then what becomes of such people? Aren't they essentially purged along with their unmentionable trait? Aren't we making them, themselves, unthinkable?

It's perfectly ok to point out tallness. But shortness? YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH RIGHT NOW. Sympathetic people deem such characterization taboo; so irredeemably awful that we must expunge the very concept. But, sweet Jesus, where does that leave short people? Personally, I don't think size is any big deal (me, I'm tall, so I hit my head a lot, and wouldn't mind shaving off half a foot and being 5'6"). It reminds me of Basil Fawlty, proprietor of a fictional provincial British hotel, desperately trying to NOT TO MENTION THE WAR to his German guests. Is shortness really so horrid that we can't mention it? What does this reveal about our actual feelings about short people? Doth we protest too much?

What kind of freaky funhouse ride do we force upon the anti-stigmatized? Is this a nice thing to do to, for example, crazy people? If no one can be crazy - because it's too awful to say so - then how can crazy people even go on living?

In fact, how can any of us go on living in minty-fresh Euphemism World without it taking a toll on our mental health? And if it did, how would you even know? Craziness is easily spotted, but "mental health challenges" sound like something you'd need to wait in line for a very long time at a community wellness center to assess, before primly adding the term to your bright, colorful punchcard of turn-ons, turn-offs, and charming personal peccadillos.

I'm not poorly informed. My intellectual grasp of mental illness is rather sophisticated, thanks. But language is not a purely intellectual function (if it were, writers could predetermine reader reaction like code compels computers). Language is equally an emotional channel, and every one of us has a visceral understanding of "Crazy", whether we use the word or repress it, and that deep understanding is not - by very design! - triggered by the term "mental illness".

Prohibiting vivid words only heightens their power. For example, "nigger", which had largely dissolved into corny anachronism by the early 1980s, now has been given the immense power to flip much of the nation into frothed madness via one single utterance. Why would we willingly stoke such words with such heightened power? Me, I'd rather type it over and over - nigger nigger nigger - until it decays into a meaningless musical sound with less juice, not more. See how puny and nothing it is. Let's opt out of fetishizing malicious stupidity. Nigger corn chips gall bladder prune juice hairspray! Unceremoniously grind out the stupid cigarette butt beneath your heel. It's barely worth snuffing; certainly not to be mistaken for the infernal blaze of Hell; and, for god's sake, let's not keep, like, honoring it.

Also: I've suffered from depression, OCD, and PTSD, all in long remission after lengthy regimens of yoga and exercise, followed by years of rigorous meditation (unclenching the myriad micro-contractions with which we purposefully bind ourselves). I've also had schizophrenic, paranoid, addicted, alcoholic, psychopathic, narcissistic, megalomaniac, and suicided loved ones. So its not that I lack sympathy, bokay? I'm all for sympathy, but I do not find our current modes of performative pseudo-sympathy the least bit sympathetic. I've acted crazy, you've probably acted crazy, and it's fine, we can call it what it is...if only to ensure that we don't keep stigmatizing via heavy-handed anti-stigmatization (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?).

Woops, I forgot to actually get to the point...but corrected that here.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Today I Turned Old

I'm 58. This, it seems, is the age where you actually start to get old.

For 25 or 30 years, I've asked myself whether some new propensity or degradation or screw-up was the result of "old age". But as I've often written, a speculative mind offers no bell of truth. Truth doesn't come from the stories you tell yourself; from your frothy worries or emotions. Amid the idle breezes of the mind there will appear no transcendently good one to latch onto. It's not like that. The wandering, speculative, story-attaching mind is pure indulgence, and coughs up gems only serendipitously. If you've been worrying about your friend and the phone rings and your mind screams "That's her and she's dead!!!", that's not intuition. That's just your neurosis.

Real intuition doesn't feel cinematic. It's nothing like a flight of fancy, and it doesn't surface out of dramatic, visceral emotion. Real intuition is indistinguishable from knowing. It's just like any other knowing. You actually need to take time and effort to reverse engineer it all and recognize that the conviction appeared from nowhere; that a bit of knowledge has no real basis for feeling known.

When we learn in biology class about instinct in animals, we imagine we're above that sort of thing. We can persist in thinking so because we have little time to reverse engineer all our seemingly solid convictions. What sort of obstinate dweeb (besides me) actually invests time in trying to sort out which knowledge comes from knowing, and which knowledge just sort of materialized into place?
It's like brushes with angels. I wrote about them once, starting off with the observation that "Angels are real but they're not what you think."

Angels are so ordinary, banal, and unsparkly that people rarely notice they've received help impossible to reasonably account for. An upturned bug doesn't recognize some kid named Herbie just did it a solid and turned it right side up. The bug just obliviously wriggles away. A door appeared to have opened, and the bug lacks cognitive horsepower to draw the very subtle distinction between doors simply opening before you and doors improbably opened for you. Many human beings, especially these days, are similarly unable to draw this distinction. It all just happens. 
Intuition - real intuition, with truth value - isn't some touchy/feely/spooky Something Else, covered in magic pixie dust. It's rock-solid, and baked squarely into our lives. When I drive my car past some random eatery and my heart rate suddenly jumps and I slam on the brakes, it doesn't feel like Jesus whispered to me from the cloud tops. Frankly, my first instinct is usually to roll my eyes, because I'm trying to get somewhere, am usually late, and, even worse, I've most often already eaten. Yet every cell in my body is exuberantly hollering "We're Here!!!!!!!" and it's awfully tough to simply drive away. I feel compelled to go in and eat, blandly aware that it'll unfailingly be great. And it's not a heavenly compulsion. It can be a bit of a drag. It took long experience and normalization to appreciate the kooky weirdness of the whole scenario, but it sure doesn't feel "magical". It's indistinguishable from any other arrival point.

What intrigues me is this: what was the state of my internal landscape one pico-second before the brakes pumped? Here's the answer: I knew, then, too. But it was still unconscious ("Unconsciousness" is still a little-understood term, even at this late date; this short post offers some visceral feeling for what it refers to). At some shadowy level, I felt it all coming, because the foot doesn't pump brakes without some sort of instruction. I had to orchestrate that result. The knowing (which had no way of being known, which means it was pure intuition) was lurking in my peripheral vision, and at some point it bloomed into the main stage of my consciousness. Eureka.

Let's pursue that "moment-before" aspect a bit more, because it's juicy. Consider this: whenever you've been sick, there's been a period where you suspected maybe you were sick (but often turned out not to be), but then, finally, there arrived a moment of knowing; of conscious declaration. Logic dictates that, if you were sick, there had to be a single moment when you realized it (obvious exception: weird "silent" diseases like hypertension operating beyond awareness). So...what made you know it? And how did you know what you knew?

Was it scientific - some precise scanning of vital signs suddenly exceeded a threshold and set off an alarm? Unlikely. We don't declare we're sick because the seventh sneeze strains credulity ("Six? Maybe! Seven? Ok, that's it!"). Rather, speculation - story-telling about how, geez, you might be coming down with something - is replaced by a deeper, vague, unconscious feeling, which finally blooms into a conscious knowing with no solid basis for knowing, aka intuition. The evidence hasn't radically changed. You'd noticed your dripping nose well before. But ongoing suspicion was briskly replaced, with a thunderous clap (though nothing had materially changed), by a firm sense of certainty. Suddenly, you simply knew, with the knowing knowing of knowing....though, if you'd thought about it (which is something bugs and humans alike rarely do), you'd have realized that there was no trigger, no threshold, no solid basis. Were you not equally sick a minute earlier?

Getting back to where this digression-within-a-digression-within-an-introduction started, at age 58, I know - with a feeling not of speculation but of actual knowledge - that I'm getting old. Which means I was probably old at 57-1/2, as well, and knew it subconsciously, but it continued to manifest as idle speculation and ditzy neurosis. Today marked the arrival from nowhere - like a firmware update - of hard knowledge. Thunderclap!

And now, finally, the posting.

My favorite aunt had a favorite story. Her mother's mother was a piece of work; a hard-assed, uncompromising, raging bucket of unreasonable impossibleness. My aunt's besieged, haggard mom had pleaded with her, as a child, "If I ever become anything like my mother when I'm old, please let me know!". When the day finally arrived and my aunt let her mother know, her feisty, pugnacious response was "She was right!!!"

That's old age.

Today I sat down to try to write a Slog posting which essentially restated a previous one. Not building upon it, or coming at it from a different angle. Just flat out restating the point.

When I started this Slog, 12 years ago, I resolved to never do such a thing. A writer friend had warned me that after a few months I would run out of things to say. So I figured I'd floor the accelerator, and when the dust settled and the tank went dry, I'd suspend operations. It didn't turn out that way, and while I can't say I never repeated myself (again, excluding postings that deliberately built upon, reframed, or polished previous thoughts), it didn't happen often. I was 46 when I started this. Young!

When I'd notice repetition, I'd think "Hey, I must be getting old, hahahaha!", and would add wry footers linking, self-deprecatingly, back to the previous statement. This is surely how Simpson's creator (and Chowhound user) Matt Groening feels. At a certain point after long iteration, your field starts to really fill up and collisions become inevitable (South Park did a whole episode, titled "Simpsons Already Did It", about the struggles of entering that crowded field).

But this morning, I was prepared to sit down and pound out something I well knew I'd previously written. And I didn't give a damn, because I just wanted to, gob nabbit. And that's when I realized I'm old. I'm exhibiting the same slightly unhinged, embarrassingly headstrong, yeah-I've-dropped-my-standards-a-solid-notch-and-fuck-you-if-you-don't-like-it mindframe that's capable of conjuring up "She was right!!!"

It's not speculation, neurotic fear, or some story I'm telling myself. This is the moment when sneezy bleary nose-drippiness congealed into knowing. I'm old. Hokay.

Remember when it was the hippest time to be 48? Hahahahaha. Yeah, I remember that. Now I look like hell, Jon Stewart looks like hell, Steven Colbert looks like hell, and even Barack Obama looks like hell. And Jonathan Winters and Ed McMahon, in retrospect, seemed like perfectly cool dudes to hang out with.

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Little Better

My dad lost a few decades to depression. Somehow, via a herculean feat of will, he managed to relocate and reinvent himself in the desert southwest; I'm still unsure how he managed it at his advanced age and in his lethargic condition. And he felt better once he was there. A little better.

One day while I was visiting, I returned from shopping to find him in a chair staring glassily in the late afternoon gloom. As I engaged him in conversation, he perked up a bit and declared how relieved he was to have kicked depression!

I figured this was stark raving bonkers. But I've come to realize an essential truth people don't much notice or discuss: when something's super bad, and gets better - even a lot better - it can still be pretty bad. Even though you feel fully restored.

I've had severe foot pain for a solid year. I haven't really been able to walk, aside from a giddy brief respite in the fall. After bergs of ice and wads of money spent on special invalid shoes, custom orthotics, greasy anti-inflammatory ointments, and no fewer than four MRIs, I finally feel no pain whatsoever. This absence of pain feels like pure pleasure. My feet feel like happy frolicking puppies. They're like a field of daisies. They live in a feminine hygiene commercial.

But there's something I understand - intellectually if not experientially - from my father's example. I may actually still be in fairly bad pain. I honestly have no idea. There is really no way to know.

It's not that I'm cuckoo-pants bananas. It's that human perceptions are infinitely pliant. Lightness doesn't register as lightness without a baseline of darkness to judge against. There are no absolutes. Among other things, this accounts for how very gradual degradations - the proverbial frog boils - are so tough to notice. We can be lulled into losing touch with our baselines. My baseline right now is agony, which leaves me easily pleased!

If you walk around in a miasma of bitter negativity and depression, and a single ray of light errantly penetrates, you'll feel unequivocally certain that all problems have been solved, that all burdens dropped, and that the heavens have left you minty fresh (this posting provides a visceral impression of such transformation). Three drops of rain in a parched desert feel like Niagra. Slightly cracking open a window in a stifling car wooshes in a seemingly lush torrent of life-giving oxygen. We simply cannot gauge. It's quite impossible.

And it's not just external perceptions. Internal framings are relative as well. When we lose our baseline, our mooring, perspectives can seem stark raving bonkers. This is how, for example, a nation of wealthy, supremely coddled and comfortable aristocrats can manage to feel universally deprived and aggrieved.

I have a long-standing fantasy of buying a Tesla. I'm not normally tempted by luxury consumer goods, but I do like cars and gadgets - especially gadgets that continuously update themselves over time in delightful ways. And while I can't afford a Tesla, I do hang out in Tesla forums, where I pretend to be in the market and ask lots of eager questions.

A while ago, I mentioned there, in-passing, that, of course, all Tesla owners are rich. And you would not have believed the hue and cry among forum participants, all owners of >$60,000 vehicles. They wished to inform me, often with considerable pique, that they are certainly not wealthy. Truly wealthy people, I suppose, own jets. And to jet-owners, truly wealthy people own football teams.

Further readings on Depression:
A Unique Perspective on Depression
The Main Cause of Major Depression
Depression Resuscitation Kit
A Surprisingly Uplifting Examination of Suicide
The Evolution of a Perspective
Framing as Hilarious or as Catastrophe
All writings on depression in reverse chronological order

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Prevent Sore Arm from Vaccination

After my first vaccination shot, a friend urged me to move and flex my arm. But that left me in an intellectual bind. What does "move your arm" mean? Do I watch the news, sipping tea with one arm while doing arcane David Byrne tribal movements with the other one? I did some haphazard arm waves and my arm was sore as hell for 2-3 days.

This time, I took it seriously. I went the full Byrne, right in the waiting room post-shot (half the room watched CNN, the other half watched me, but fuck 'em). I continued en route to my car. And I gave myself some booster arm movement before and after supper. Nothing obsessive, maybe 5-7 mins in total. Next day, my arm hardly hurts at all.

Do every sort of move you can think of. Pete Townsend wind-ups, extensions, bend at elbow while pushing back of head forward with your hand. Thermometer-reset-style shakes. Pet the full body of an imaginary very very large dog. Do all these moves with your hand/wrist/arm rotated left, then right, then centered. Do them fairly vigorously. The moves that hurt a little (in the shot area), do more.

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