Friday, December 29, 2023

Remedial Help With My Thinking

If you were cursed by some gnarled shaman (maybe you unknowingly stole his parking space) with creativity and counterintuitive insight, here’s what you can expect:

People will constantly explain to you, in stern, often condescending tones, elementary principles - the conventional thoughts you appear to have dementedly missed. You know, basic human stuff.

You can’t imagine the number of times I’ve had banal second grade precepts patiently explained to me. I suppose I should appreciate the effort. One, after all, is never so tall as when one stoops to help a child. And I am blessed with giants.

They try to helpfully revert me to the mean. To re-bread the cutlet. To get me straightened out and flying right, in proper conformity with “normal” people.

Occasionally, shrewdness is detected on my end, which briefly forestalls the tutoring. Maybe there’s actually something in there! But this buys me no credit whatsoever. No slack. I‘ve simply struck confirmation bias on a topic of interest. The clock is ticking, and, when I subsequently conflict with some less examined assumption, my spotty inconsistency is revealed. They’ll take out the crayons and construction paper and set about acquainting me with first principles re: life on Earth.

I’m actually describing the best-case scenario. For most people, I’m a babbler of nonsense. Mr. Random. Leave him be!

I don’t note any of this with a knowing mirthful wink. I always figured this sort of thing was noted with a knowing mirthful wink. No, it's noted with the facial tics and odd cringes common among the maladjusted - an affect that certainly doesn’t help with the aforementioned credit deficit.

Of course, I do not talk to people in real life anything like how I write in this Slog. I wouldn’t dare broach these subjects. No, I constrain myself to accessible, common interests. In fact, that’s how the whole food thing developed. “Everyone eats,” I figured early on.

But my creativity and expansive perspective inevitably insinuate themselves, skewing my take, my expression, my sense of humor, my affect. I don’t speak the normal, scripted lines, and I don’t emulate a soothingly familiar clone line personality - That Guy you’ve met a thousand times.

I saw the problem early on, and imagined I could squeak through, finding slack as “a real character”. But that route has dried up over the decades. This film no longer casts character actors. It’s all dramatic leads. No one’s here to enrich the story. There is no story; just protagonists striving anxiously for more flattering light.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

We Are Enjoying Peak Humanity Right Now

So, last time, I left you, on Christmas Eve, hanging on the proposition of the impending decline of Western Civilization. Merry nothin'!

What's the positive take on such a gloomy message? Let me state the obvious - so flagrantly obvious that almost no one can see it. So obvious that I forget I need to keep restating it. Here goes:

We are currently - right now; right this second! - riding the crest of the best experience humanity has ever had, and likely ever will have. We perch, impossibly, on the tippy top of the curve of declining results. We enjoy plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and personal motorized coaches, and antibiotics, and all is comparatively safe and quiet. You live the magical life of fairy tale royalty compared to your great grandparents, who, themselves, were vastly privileged compared to their forebears.

What's more, we are not yet experiencing the severe repercussions of our aristocratic perch. It feels tempestuous out there, sure, but come back to your senses, in here. Are you safe? Are you eating? Reasonably healthy? Any chunks fallen off lately? Is your life a crisis so dire that you continually run to the bathroom to vomit from hot hopeless desperation? Is anyone hunting you down to kill you and your loved ones? Do your kids risk death from infected paper cuts and scrapes? Is your feudal landlord demanding his monthly night of pleasure with your wife? No? Just "another day in paradise," you report, wryly, from ACTUAL PARADISE, which you deem a mixed bag at best because it doesn't present every facet of perfect perfection you’ve ever contemplated?

Right at this moment, we have all the power and freedom and comfort and security and peace and entertainment and self-determination and options, with none of the yawing maladies actually ruining anything. If we had a time machine and could choose anytime to live, we could not have done better. We took the cherry off the sundae. We grabbed the gold ring. We KILLED IT.

No one has punched me in years. I walk around with a plastic thingee in my heart keeping me impossibly alive and a device in my pocket offering all knowledge, entertainment, and communication, on demand. Drivers will literally pull over to allow a special medical truck to rush me to hospital as the top civic priority, like I was Julius Freaking Caesar. Actuality is tremendous, which explains why we're compulsively drawn to dramatically dire thinking, simply to ballast the extreme excess of perfectly appropriate happiness!

So just suck up the awesomeness…if you can do so amid 300 million people insisting everything sucks! They are entitled, blinkered, over-privileged aristocrats all, especially the ones most stridently claiming victimhood. But don't let them harsh your buzz. Rather, soothe them like the adorable, innocent babies they are...or at least engage your intention to do so. Simply frame them thus. You'll feel better, and they'll feel better-seen. They're just a bit burpy, that’s all.

"But wait;" you might ask, "aren't you really saying it's all downhill from here?"

That's awfully dramatic. Potential loss of snidely unappreciated privilege has always been the aristocrat’s anxiety. I hate hate hate my position, but will squeal like a cut pig if they try to take it away.

Look, if you can’t muster gratitude for the Right Now of it all, bucking enormous odds to live during this brief window of Peak Humanity, and can only focus on its (forecasted potential) loss - richly ironic despair given that, just five minutes ago, you imagined you were already languishing in Hell - then you don’t deserve Peak Humanity.

What's more, you'd have ditzily and needlessly pushed the eject button, framing yourself out of Heaven (What IS) and into Hell (a not-here/not-now mental story you've made yourself believe), just as I foolishly did one Christmas Eve many years ago. An entitled demand for Perfect Forever Perfection makes you the aristocrat; the leading edge; the very cause of the downfall, both internally and externally. So why not opt out of such foolishness? C'mon, it's Christmas!!!

I've described Actuality. I realize your peer groups sharply disagree, and you yourself feel vexed by a plethora of petty mattress peas while striving for seamlessly serene repose. But we all are the very luckiest of our entire funnel of ancestors, back to the first proto-mammal venturing out of the ocean barely imagining lasagna or fleece-lined sweatpants!

And with that, I wish you, very heartfully, a very Merry Christmas!

Bucking the Decline of Twitter and Surviving the End of Western Civilization

A friend asked how I'm finding the experience on Twitter as it notoriously declines. I told him that I stay in the fishbowl of my self-curated "Must-Read" list (curated to merge "centrists, moderate Dems, and anti-Trump Reps + smart nonpartisans"), so for me it's as good as ever.

It helps, too, that I once spent an hour blocking 200 ad accounts, and now need to block 15 or so new accounts per day to disappear all ads (which is why Musk's toying with removing the "block" function). So I almost never view raw Twitter, and am completely removed from the stuff that upsets so many people.

Here's our conversation about this, lightly edited to simulate coherence at 5a.m.:

Me: Like Chowhound, it’s what you make of it. People are too passive with social media.

Imagine if Chowhound had a block feature. And the ability to curate user and topic lists

Friend: The problem is that it requires effort. With great rewards come great effort!

Me: People don’t do things.

Friend: Yeah. They also don’t plan even when they want to do something. I force every student to plan in the lab before they start experiments. It's not easy.

Me: The problem is that we're all Aristocrats. A peasant in 1598 would understand all our behavioral ills quite keenly. They knew what aristocrats were like. We lost that understanding as we became ones.

Friend: Yup. No need to do stuff for survival

Me: Pampered, self-important, and self sufficient. Everyone special

Friend: The complacent, passive ones tended to die young. So there was survivor bias

Me: But that’s the outer extreme. Even those with easier lives needed to really work to keep up. There were plenty of layers between paupers and aristocrats. Bourgeois, et al.

Friend: Yup

Me: We’re now one or two clicks away from Universal Basic Income, when people will be paid not to work. Be very, very glad you’ll be dead.

Friend: Heh

Me: Not joking in the slightest. It will be the end of us. The endgame of mega-addled aristocracy, where all bad things go asymptotic.

It will be like the decadence of late Rome, but with all the fevered frizzy insanity cranked up to "11". As I once wrote:
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.

I wrote last year about deciding when to pick up and split. Like many/most/all Jews, I've got a strong visceral drive to avoid the complacency of German Jews circa 1933. Having divined the end game (it doesn't require frickin' Nostradamus), I'm already gone.

But if you're youngish, or know someone youngish, here's some shrewd advice for pulling that trigger: when anything like Universal Basic Income becomes a reality, go to the Third World, where people will remain people for a while. Not for atmosphere, but for safety.

If you've been reading here for some time, you know I'm the opposite of an alarmist (I'm the only fervent anti-Trumper I know who rated him a "5.5" in 2019 - he's dropped some, of course, since then - and it certainly wasn't that I liked any damned thing about him). So you can take this prediction to the bank (hopefully to withdraw all your money and get the hell out of Dodge at the suggested moment).

"Universal Basic Income" is very much like Mars Colonization. It's a superficially fun and noble-sounding endeavor that could only be envisioned by people with no clue whatsoever about real live human beings. It's yet another in a long line of preposterous, ruinous Egghead Utopias (as coined in the most-read Slog posting, "How I Outgrew Libertarianism").

The positive flip-side of all this is very very very positive indeed: "We Are Enjoying Peak Humanity Right Now"

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Ordinariness Follow-Up

Followup to yesterday's posting on Ordinariness...
Friend: One comment about your latest slog. I think we hate to hear our own voices because they sound physically different resonating inside our heads than they do to someone else across the room, or as recorded on a device.

Me: True, of course, but my point is that no voice would satisfy.

Friend: But I don’t wanna sound like a nasally white guy

Me: Whatever you wanna sound like is unachievable by a mere human. We can pick apart indivdual aspects, but any presented voice would be picked to death. No perfection is nearly perfect enough to make us say “that’s me!”


Here's why we hate to hear our voices played back to us, or to unexpectedly glimpse ourselves in reflection:

It's not some complicated dysmorphia. It's not that we expected some other specific thing. It's that narcissists cannot tolerate the prospect that they're just some fucking person. That "I'm just one of them."

This worst of all possible scenarios fills us with horror and revulsion, explaining the horror and revulsion.

Same when we're confronting evidence of our failure, faults, and inadequacies. It's not the shortfall, itself, that galls. It's the recognition not of a blemished record, but of ourselves as someone even susceptible to blemish. We recoil from mountainous evidence, though doing so dooms us to mediocrity (or worse).

Why do humans so famously hate change, even though we perpetually despise our current status quo? Change might reveal our current position as something other than "end-all and be-all". And we'd much rather feel complete than strive for completion - which would require change!

We scarcely hesitate, however, to externally project that skew, indignantly demanding that the world (which is exactly to our specifications) shape up.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Sub-Rosa

Believe it or not, I only post my most accessible thoughts here, muddled though they might play.

But for the second time, I will indulge myself by posting something completely unrelatable because it uniquely answers a very thorny and existential question plaguing and persecuting a certain rare type of person. The last time I posted one of these, I explained myself thus:
As I grow up, I feel more and more compelled to toss certain esoteric thoughts out there among the 180 quadrillion web pages in case they’re helpful someday - even if they’re of scant current interest.

In a lifetime of finding myself ahead of curves (that's a complaint, not a boast), I’ve noticed that once crowds catch up, my voice is rarely necessary - or even heard - amid the torrent. But in certain realms, where I'm extra ahead, there are chunks which might remain missing. So I’ll risk confusing and exasperating regular readers by occasionally posting such chunks for the possible (if unlikely) use of other people in another time. Which is to say: you may well want to skip this (if only because it’s long!).

We have never been a profound society. For all capitalism's innumerable advantages and benefits, such a system fosters briskly superficial interface with one's world. In pursuit of more and more, we're perennially busy.

Until recently there was, at least, vague cognizance of unplumbed depths. They're out there! And once I finally win whichever game I've decided to occupy myself with playing, I might explore them! Maybe I'll buy a book on mindfulness meditation!

Even in medieval India - one of history's most spiritual societies - crowds were hardly flooding into ashrams and temples to live contemplative lives. Rather, people would ply careers, and then, in late middle age, perhaps "go sannyasin". It would not have seemed particularly strange to learn that the tobacco vendor from your corner kiosk had closed shop, peeled off all his clothes, and gone to go live naked in the woods.

My point is that, even back then, that side of things was approached only once one finally found the time. But right here and right now, a tipping point has been reached where most people aren't even vaguely aware of deeper territory. It's not something to delay paying attention to, or even to ignore. It's simply not there.

Which is not to say, of course, that we're content with the here-and-now. In fact, we're increasingly discontent, persecuted by myriad trifling shortfalls. Like all aristocrats ever, we're deranged princesses hysterically scanning for smaller and smaller mattress peas. And it's reached a heightened point where we no longer entertain the notion that the problem might be with our own perspective; a skew of inner expectation rather than of worldly outcome.

Our desire for gratification, having been stoked into an entitlement, produces an unquenchable thirst for perfect outcomes. Lost in righteous indignation at remaining bits of suboptimality - failure of the universe to fully and perfectly accommodate every single wish - we are, like hungry golden retrievers, fixated on our feed bowls. Eye on the prize, we are brusquely disinterested in pondering how we came to seal ourselves into this ridiculous Skinner Box in the first place. Shut up with your speculative hooey, and explain why I'm not winning!

The Game has clarified into a sharp-pointed undertaking: climb the upper reaches of the curve of declining results toward the most perfect wealth and comfort (what I term "liberal materialism"), with the same valiant moral fervor previous generations applied to the battle for basic freedoms and entitlements. A fool's mission. Lemmings off a cliff, alas.

To review: our relationship with deeper and more profound issues has gone from "I may concern myself with all that once I've raised my family" to "I may concern myself with all that once my career is a raging success and I'm living in a huge house with a paid-down mortgage" to....airless, soundless vacuum. Blank nothingness. A neutral snow-blindedness where all that exists are one's thermometers monitoring the numerous parameters which must be optimal to feel even remotely alive for one goddamn moment.

Centi-millionaire, international celebrity, and sex-symbol Mick Jagger seeks satisfaction.

The alternative routes - more profound considerations and less self-destructive modalities - are entirely off-screen, except insofar as they've been reduced to comic book panels. A bearded sage mumbles confusing platitudes. Hot room yoga for a firmer butt. Namaste, asshole.

But in this arid late-stage landscape of howling self-victimization, piqued entitlement, hysterical stress, and ceaseless busyness in the most comfortable, safe, indulgent, and leisured society the world's seen since the demise of Eden, where nothing deeper exists even as a speculative possibility, how do people respond when they face a bona fide advanced yogi?

What's the reaction to someone coming from the other side of things - the off-screen side - with some wisdom, a palpably tectonic vibe, and acting from motives which (not being hard-wired to relentless self-serving) seem unfathomable? How do people receive the warm intensity of bhakti; the crackling electricity of truth, just on the mere human interaction level?

Easy one. Sex. It feels to them like sex. 100% sex. That's now the only Other Thing; the sole remaining sub rosa realm*. If it's not about The Game, then it's about that.
* - Outside mental illness, anyway. The paranoid, unspurprisingly, will find you threatening; control freaks will feel you're angling to control them; depressives will find you depressing, and the anxious will grow anxious. Etc., etc..
So how does it actually play out? Well, if there's no mental illness on their end (and there often is), and if you check enough fuckability boxes, then it seems, to them, like a titillating invocation of sex. If not, that sexual invocation seems creepy and repellent (and patently not a function of anything going on on their end). Even if - especially if! - it has nothing to do with sex for you.

Friday, December 8, 2023


Memo to whoever bought a million dollars worth of SIGA this morning (maybe just an odd coincidence), I'd urge you to sell whenever it bumps up. It's done so twice, and I held on both times, and, per the old expression, got slaughtered like a pig. Twice.

This will never be a Pfizer. Never an established company with brisk and enduring business. It's an incredibly narrow play, and it will continue to happen - insofar as anything happens - in fits and starts, i.e. "events". And it looks like the First World is way more complacent about the danger of weaponized smallpox than expected (a mere handful of countries stockpiles the drug, TPOXX, despite its socko properties), and while there's every reason to think monkey and other animal poxes are cured by TPOXX, this starcrossed company can't ever seem to get anything done, e.g. testing on monkeypox effectiveness (delays of which are evidently driving the CDC as crazy as they're driving me).

I do suspect there will be at least one more hurrah....though perhaps not all the way up to $26 again. But, man, will this ever test your patience....

Update: Monkeypox now surging in Congo, too.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Investment Updates

When Covid hit, cruise ship stocks fell to pennies on the dollar. It was assumed by otherwise smart people that no one would ever get on a cruise ship again. Figuring this was hogwash, I bought a bunch of shares of the leading cruise company, Royal Caribbean, at $37/share. It's now up to $119, within easy reach of its pre-COVID high of $133.

I bear firmly in mind that I'm not out-smarting anyone. The moment one imagines oneself smarter than the geniuses will be recalled as the initiation point of one's inexorable ruin. I don't imagine for a second that I'm the only one who saw this play. I'm just one of the very few who played it.

Why? Because I'm not a professional money guy under insane pressure to show huge results each and every quarter. Nor am I a spastic day trader chasing home run returns this week. My superpower, for the nth time, is patience. When I bought in Spring, 2020, I had no idea when the snapback would occur, which meant parking my money for uncertain lengths of time, incurring opportunity costs. Very few people will do this. Only shitty small-timers. SSTs!

Unpressured, non-greedy, and not maniacally enthralled with my own savvy, I could mulishly let the investment simmer for a few years. And I did, scoring a 221% profit. That's less impressive given the 3.5 years of waiting, but it's more than good enough for a SST like me.

I'd let some of that investment ride, but I know nothing about cruise ships. It may reach $133 or even $1330, but I would not be plying my patience advantage, and raw ignorant hope is no investment strategy. So I'll sell here.

In other investment news...

Monkeypox is on the ups again in Asia (here and here). The disease is survivable, but it's an ugly affair that can leave you scarred. SIGA has made frustratingly little advancement in positioning its indisputably safe and effective smallpox drug for treatment, though doctors in the know have full faith in it. Here is the CDC nearly breaking decorum to wink, nod, and strain to convince practitioners to use SIGA's drug for monkeypox despite its sorrowful lack of approvals.

I recently predicted that Apple would obviously go to $200. Almost there! But if you bought this year, I'd urge holding for the long term gain (i.e. lower tax bill)....even if it means waiting for the cycle to repeat itself. Apple never fails to take random silly dives, but it also never fails to recover and shoot beyond before the next random silly dive.

Tectonic Triviality

"Nobody ever made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."

Edmund Burke 1729-1797

once wrote that “There are no trivial tasks. Your every action - every word, every gesture - shapes the future. You are the god-like prime mover of all that comes after. You are the Ancestor. You create posterity's ripples.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Bread Agony and Ecstacy

Aw, geez. Mere days after I complained about my favorite rolls being baked so sloppily that raw flour sometimes spills out, I got a bag of them like this. So gross. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

The Old Country

Every American within a couple generations of their imigrant ancestor has experienced this, regardless of ethnicity: Conversation turns to the family's homeland, and grandma rolls her eyes and dismissively waves her hand, tartly exclaiming, with vast exasperation, "the old country!"

This is a conversation stopper, not starter, which makes it tantalizingly unsatisfactory for the rest of us. But, to her, no further explanation is necessary. Either you know or you don't know, and she knows, and one person knowing is quite enough. Enjoy the land of opportunity, and...better you shouldn't know.

Whether you're Belgian or Australian; Jewish or Egyptian, if your family's been in America less than a century, you'll have witnessed this scene. And, weirdly, the phrasing is always the same. There are so many ways to express it, but all Americans of a certain age use this precise term: "The Old Country!" Also the hand wave and eye roll. It's more American than eagle pie.

So then you go live in Europe for a year, and something peculiar happens. It gradually dawns on you what grandma meant.

That last paragraph was the natural place to end this slippery posting, but you'll surely want examples. What, exactly do I mean?

Alas, I'm as tongue-tied as your grandma. Either you know or you don't. All I can do is to roll my eyes and wave my hand (though with an affectionate grin which never arose on any American grandparent's face, because, unlike them, I have mere months invested in this experience) and exclaim "The Old Country!"

Ok, ok, how about this: if you don't get lunch at the exact same time as everyone else, you'll either starve or be forced to resort to Burger King. No slices or falafel or egg/bacon/cheese on a roll; that stuff's all garbage here. You sit down at the appointed hour and take an expansive hour to attentively dine, exchanging templated pleasantries with your career waiter, or else eat like a rat.

But that's just one thing. And grandma didn't build you a list because she knew that any handful of things would have made you focus on those specific things...when she was really referring to the entire weighty bundle of things.

I'll always retain my affectionate grin, though, because I knew what I was getting into. The liberties, looseness, and lightness of America, of which I was keenly cognizant, stopped seeming persuasively worth it. At this juncture in American life, The Old Country, despite its institutionally heavy, creaky thrombosis, feels more salubrious.

One exception: you don't hear African-American grandparents performing this rite, though more likely due to the wider generational distance than the barbaric conditions of their "immigration". I do know one recent African immigrant, however, who refuses to eat traditional African food with her fingers. Her eyes roll and her hand waves. The old country!

To me, she couldn't be more Jewish if she were bobbing her torso over an altar and droning in Hebrew.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

London Aspirational Chow

So I've spent the last some odd months in a Portuguese fishing village with spectacular food. But it's all 100% grandma. No trained chefs. No flair, no touch, no training, no meticulousness. Just unrefined soul. That would be fine with you? Well, try eating that for the better part of a year without respite and see if you don't crave something more meticulous.

Here's an example of the problem. I'd never previously spotted what American restaurants term "Portuguese rolls" until I came across this pão d'avó from an obscure bakery on the grimmer side of town.
I've been slicing/toasting them to make panini, egg sandwiches, etc, and they're SO spongey and SO crispy - and, being naturally fermented, incorporate SO much English muffin tang - that I crave them like dope. But about every tenth roll I cut, a tiny trace of raw flour comes spilling out. This is not cool. Trained bakers would boggle at this amateurish error. But how can you not forgive it when the result's this stellar?

I grabbed a discount plane ticket to London, where I deliriously sopped up all the non-peasant chow I could find. Less soul, more composure. Starch in the collars and nothing to forgive.

I hit Kish restaurant for Iranian. Everyone knows tahdig, the crusty Persian rice, but this is its classy cousin, called tahchin: crusty rice cake filled with shredded chicken, yogurt, egg and saffron (so much real saffron!), pistachios, and barberries.

Then to Pique-Nique for a very proper French pheasant pithivier:

Do I know how to antidote or what?

Thanks to chowhound superstar Limster for the guidance!

A City on Mars

A new book, "A City on Mars” is getting a lot of attention, describing the less-considered downside of colonizing other planets.

I debunked living on Mars last year with my posting "Mars Sucks". And while it's hard to tell for sure from reviews, it doesn't seem like the authors have keyed in on the fundamental human comfort issues I noted.

But, regardless, it's good that humanity is starting to view this from a more realistic viewpoint than the cartoonish Buck Rogers SPACE EXPLORATION take. That's fine for highly trained astronauts for a limited amount of time, but you can't possibly support such a colony unless conditions on Earth are so unbearable that we're willing to grimly torture ourselves to survive as a species.

How do we fail to register the obvious here? It's a framing issue. We are so used to visualizing Mars as "cool" that we don't see how that's completely a head fake. We don't live in a cartoon - in an overarching dramatic arc. We live in our bodies, in an immediate place. Under certain circumstances, we can, via obsessive self-hypnosis, persist in peeering up at ourselves on an internal movie screen, basking in the "meaning" and the "glory" of our trajectory - i.e. inhabit the head fake. But that's for comfortable wealthy people (everyone in America is wealthy), and there would not be a nano-second of comfort on Mars or the Moon, ever. EVER! And there's nothing like egregious discomfort to bring one's framing back down to...well, back down to the relevant planetary body!

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Declining to Perform the Agonies of a Changed Mind

Whenever someone convinces me of something, they invariably keep pushing - keep arguing their point - long after I've declared agreement. It's the darndest thing. And I just figured out what's going on.

We're supposed to change our minds ponderously. Painfully. Slowly. With weight and sighs and emotions. A change of mind is such a rare event in human society that we expect it to involve heft and solemnity. We watch for a process akin to mourning, where a person struggles to let go of an old assumption and be reborn into some unimaginable new identity.

So we expect to see the signs of titanic inner struggle. Without that evidence, how would we know there was an actual change?
Answer: because I just told you! I told you I was convinced! You chose not to believe me because I failed to undergo the expected agonies. My face didn't contort, my eyes didn't dim and refocus, there was no gasping or groaning. I just accepted the change! I reframe and get on with it. And this seeming witchcraft is freely available to you, as well. The kabuki rituals which signal reframing are empty drama!
If you simply change your mind, your veracity will be doubted. You appear to be lying; merely pretending to have accepted a change. Or patronizing. Anything but simply changing your perspective. Because reframing is presumed to be rare and difficult - though it's literally the easiest thing a human being can do.

In one of my most-ignored postings (which is saying something!), I noted that it's phenomenally easy to teach a young child to arbitrarily adore red lights, arguing that there are gargantuan implications for our latent reframing faculty.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is a term devised by narcissists to offer an excuse for failure to recognize the meaningful existence of other human beings.
Sorry I failed to give a crap about you, ma'am. It's that I lack situational awareness! Yet another exceptional "me" thing, hahaha. Thanks for understanding!

Non-narcissists (the four or five of them who still exist) don't deploy some special ability to pay attention to their fellow human beings and avoid getting in their way. Such consideration is foundational. Instinctual. It's as ingrained as any human faculty...unless you're a complete narcissist, in which case it needs a name because it's not the default setting. It's something to "work on". You know, like kleptomaniacs need to work on not swiping the candy (given their lack of "transactional diligence").
"I get it! Human beings deserve not to be impeded by me, so I should make an effort to recognize their existence and adjust my movements to take them into account! I need SITUATIONAL AWARENESS! Hey, is there a seminar I can take? As a tremendously caring person, this seems like something I ought to develop. Another skill to master, another triumph to proclaim!!"

Here are all postings labeled "definition".
The definition of "Soul" kind of echoes this one.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Re-linked Mis-Linking

I fixed the (previously) messed up links in the posting below.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Voltaire on Certainty

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” — Voltaire

Another perspective on my hobbyhorse about how one can either feel smart or be smart (a choice with all sorts of rippling consequences).

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Recent Info on Diverticulosis

Bad news: If you're middle aged, there's a significant chance you have diverticulosis (30% of U.S. adults between 50 and 59). If you're over 65, you have a 65% chance. And, scarily, there is increasing incidence among individuals younger than 40 years of age. And you won't know without a colonoscopy (or other scan).

Good news: Diverticulosis is not harmful in and of itself.

Bad news: Diverticulosis puts you in peril of diverticulitis (I can't keep the terms straight, either), which is ghastly, and may be easy to mistake - at least at first! - for more pedestrian lower gastro symptoms. It's no joke: in Europe, diverticulitis accounts for about 13,000 deaths annually.

Good news: Your odds are good. Even if you have diverticulosis, you probably won't get diverticulitis. Incidence is 4 - 15%.

Bad news: Traditional medical advice is to completely stop eating nuts and seeds. No more granola, poppy-seed bagels, berries, tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc. In the fast breezy read you're doing now, that sounds bearable. But when a doctor actually tells you this, it's shocking. Tomato sauce covers a lot. And being told to never eat another strawberry feels like walking through a portal into a new reality.

Good news: Latest research shows dietary restrictions don't affect your likelihood of diverticulosis turning into diverticulitis. Gastroenterologist Dr. Lawrence S. Friedman, a Harvard Medical School professor says (here), citing recent research:
"Yes, nuts and seeds — foods once thought to trigger diverticulitis — are actually full of fiber and are tied to many aspects of good health," Dr. Friedman says. "You can eat a handful of nuts and seeds every day and your gut will thank you for it."
I showed the article and study to Slog technical advisor Pierre, who, for 30 years running, has perpetrated the longest shaggy dog joke in history by never once failing to declare any scientific/medical link, headline, or study I've sent him to be "NONSENSE!" He has broken his perfect run, stunning me by quietly accepting this one. "New evidence trumps old wisdom,” he shrugged. “That's science."

Here's the money quote from the study: "The evidence does not show a higher risk of diverticulitis in people who eat a lot of those foods, compared with people who don’t". Pierre notes that it says nothing about getting diverticula, it is only concern with the incidence of the disease. It does not address the possibility that seeds may or may not cause diverticula, only that the diet does not affect the probability of their getting inflammed"

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Never Apologize for a Survival Mechanism.

Never apologize for a survival mechanism. Never!

Survival is survival. It's a vastly higher priority than social cachet.

If someone catches you doing some silly thing you need to do to survive, and judges you, fuck 'em. Remember always that living well is the best revenge.

Essential Exclusions (i.e. What, exactly, counts as a "survival mechanism"?):
1. This does not pertain to obsessive-compulsives who "need" to count every streetlamp or hold their breath driving over bridges. Those things feel like survival mechanisms, but they're not.

2. This does not pertain to methods for hiding from your reality. Tons of vodka or impersonal sex or selfishness may feel like survival mechanisms, but they're not.

3. This does not pertain to self-indulgent neurotic baloney (there's a fine line, I'll admit). If you need to loudly sing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" whenever anyone mentions Ferdie, your dead parakeet who you still grieve, eleven years later, with all your heart, that may feel like a survival mechanism, but it's not. On the contrary, you're willfully marinating in flamboyant emotionalism. You're sympathy farming.
Avoidance, flamboyant neurosis, self-indulgence, and sympathy farming are not survival mechanisms any more than discomfort is poverty.

If the exclusions just erased all your shtick, congratulations. You're able to survive unaided. For you, I'll say this: while most people you catch doing odd things are, indeed, most often self-indulgent, neurotic, and/or avoidant, some aren't. A few have developed helpful coping tools after trying long and hard but failing to cope more naturalistically. Always consider this possibility!

We do not all lead the same lives on the same playing field according to the same rules of engagement. Breakage is not always due to weakness. Some people, despite great strength and blithe perspective, get hit much harder. Never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his mocassins.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Oscar Wilde on Narcissism

Also Sprach Narcissthustra!

Surf around a little, and you'll find that the Internet is evenly divided on this quote. Half think Wilde is showing GREAT WISDOM - he just nailed it! - while the other half think "Geez, that Oscar guy seems a tad snobbish!" Both are colossal examples of oblivious point-missing.

Our cognizance of narcissism is skewed by our immense unacknowledged narcissism. A fish shows scant insight of the notion of "water", nor a bird of "flight". We're so completely, seamlessly narcissistic that we neither see it clearly nor recognize its universal prevalence. This all-encompassing skew is as invisible as the air we breathe.

With enduring effort and self-inquiry and asceticism one might knock oneself back to mere 99.9% narcissism, and catch a glint of it here and there. Some are unlucky enough to be born at that level, and, for them, the world will seem inexplicably "off".

At 99.5%, there’s a glimmer of clarity, bringing exasperation re: all those fucking narcissists.

And only after long travails of self-purification and karma cleansing and Hopi smudging and drum beating and Ayahuasca guzzling and whatever, might you reach a saintly 99.1% narcissism level where the realization lands that you, yourself, are just as bad. And you’d previously failed to register the truth (regarding both others and yourself) because you’re too locked inside your impervious self-centered bubble to even notice. Behold the arrival of a holy man! A human with a fragment of a clue about the abundantly obvious! A mere 99.1% narcissist!
We’re all far too narcissistic to recognize how extremely narcissistic everyone is.
Narcissism has blown up grotesquely since COVID, sorely aggravating a decades-long accelerating growth curve spurred by the fact that everyone's now an aristocrat (including the First World's "poor").

It's reached a point where virtually no one can see the obvious satirical intent behind Wilde's quote. The very few people with the proper take seem to be ancient whiskered geezers whose sensibilities were developed before the darkness fell.

Come to think of it, the first reaction (“great wisdom/nailed it”) shows this makes a dandy narcissist trap. It reminds me of the people who watched All in the Family back in the day and declared that Archie really "told it like it is". Oops!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Nth Spiel About Apple Stock

Apple's stock is at $168. And I'd imagine there's hardly an investor in the world who'd deny they'll eventually reach $200 and beyond. If/when it does, that's a 20% profit from current price. So why aren't people buying?

1. Trees/Forest
Sales of this or that may be sluggish this quarter. Chinese uncertainty. Supply chain constraints. Exchange rates. Whine-whine-whine "THE ANTENNAS!!!!!" or whatever. All the petty trivial burps and coughs that temporarily, incrementally tilt the weather vane make people who stare at their Bloomberg terminals all day gulp another 30 antacid pills and scream SELL into their phones, but mean absolutely nothing in the long run for a company this big, successful, and profitable. Apple's not going to die the death of three cuts.

2. Conformity
Humans have false confidence in the wisdom of the crowd. If the price is low, someone must KNOW something. If the market isn't buying, it's SCARY, and we don't like to be SCARED.

Me, I know for certain that the best food is not covered in the local newspaper food section or blogger survey of The Best Food. I know how shallow and irrational conventional wisdom often is. Consider all the shallow irrationality listed right here!

I'm not nonconformist on this because I feel shrewder than the smart guys (like I said up top, the smart guys would all concede that Apple's destined for $200!) It's that I enjoy a towering advantage over them: patience. I don't know when I'll get my 20%, but it suffices to know I'll most likely get it. Pressured professionals and twitchy day traders don't/can't think that way. I wield my superpower!

3. Buy High/Sell Low
Bargain-priced goods seem less attractive. This means lulls persist irrationally. If the stock were to meteorically soar - making it a horrible buy with far less than 20% potential return - people would buy hysterically, with both fists. Shit's crazy!

4. Greed
I.e. "I want more than 20% profit (or I want it faster)".

Ok, groovy. Me, I’m just a little guy. 20% in a year or two sounds great. As for speed, I don’t want to pay short term gains tax, anyway. And if $200 does arrive too soon, so I miss it, and even if it subsequently drops again, all these same tenets will apply then, too. Apple's not a startup awaiting some singular revenue event, e.g. drug approval.

5. Doubt.
I.e. "What if it DOESN'T go to $200?"

Ok, say this prediction, which very few people would poo-poo, is wrong. This turns out to be the moment where Apple begins its inevitable decline, and it never reaches $200, staying more or less where it is for a while before slowly drifting downward. Or maybe even starts slowly drifting downward now. (I doubt it. Personally, I thinkVision Pro will be a smash once they eventually perfect price, headset weight, and supply chain issues...but of course that's just speculation.) Those unlikely prospects fail to terrify me with their ludicrously assymetrical risk. But what about a death spiral?

Apple sits on a cash hoard of $166 billion. They can buy literally any gigantically successful company in the world - or two or three or four big, prosperous ones, or innumerable large-ish successful ones - and begin working some angle that's more profitable than the current one gracing them with hundreds of billions of dollars annually....and still have cash leftover to take a year off to retool.

So: Apple presents a terrific opportunity for 20%+ profit for those with patience. There's an unlikely chance you'll fail to gain (or will gain less), but you also won't lose much. And unforeseen disaster's always possible, but in this case it would most likely mean macro conditions had degraded to a point were money's imperiled in most any vehicle.

IMO, it would be irrational not to buy here. It may go lower before it goes higher, but it's a mistake to equate "buy low/sell high" (which is possible) with "buy bottom/sell top" (which isn't possible). 20% sounds good to me!

Note: Yeah, $168 -> $200 is 19% (god, I love But Apple dipped to $166 yesterday, which does translate to 20%.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Cocky, Feckless Clowns All the Way Down.

You might enjoy this short Facebook conversation I had with Barry Strugatz (a friend who first tipped me to DiFara Pizza, who was aliased as "Larry" in this foundational document of the whole Chowhound movement) about the Chowhound reanimation:

Barry: How dare you condescendingly tell redesigners, reacquirers, relaunchers, deep diggers and recipe designers about food and food lovers! These people are experts for crying out loud!

Jim: So true!

My friend Bill Monk summed it up best. When Red Ventures decided to close it up even though it was still popular and profitable (it wasn't making a BILLION DOLLARS, and they were culling properties making less than a BILLION DOLLARS, because they no longer traffic in millions), I submitted a few requests and suggestions, and they answered me condescendingly. Exactly like every product manager since the day I sold.

Bill said it was remarkable that I was still hearing “Yeah thanks but we got this” even as they were literally shutting the thing down. That's it precisely.

As I related in my series about the initial sale of Chowhound to CNET: when I told my new boss that neither Andrew, David, Margaret, nor Sandy (fictional users he'd had created - at vast expense - to better understand our audience) sound anything like me, any of my chowhoundish friends, or any of the site regulars I knew, he grinned broadly and said "That's great!".

Idunno, man. It's like I'm this guy who took a shit once and got real lucky, and these geniuses were gonna apply fabulous smarts and take the brand and RUN with it. And they all had nothing. Like, zero. I hadn't expected much, but I was still shocked to discover that it was nothing but cocky, feckless clowns all the way down.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Chowhound's Back (aka "Hound of the Dead")

Chowhound is experiencing another rebirth/makeover (this time, much more of a zombie reanimation) under its fourth owner since I sold it in 2004.

I heard about this development via the Tweet below, which gets enough facts I know wrong that I don't fully trust it for facts I don't know - e.g. this whole new development. And I know nothing. Just heard about it this afternoon.

In a just world I’d have been given a courtesy call ahead of this move, but capitalism shows no respect to founders. I fully understood that when I sold the thing, so there's no sense in griping.

Despite the tweet, it doesn't look like they're offering any of the old forum messages (I'm not sure how they even could, without bringing on tons of moderators and finding some way to archive older info), which was pretty much all Chowhound was.

Rather, they're pumping the IP of the failed CHOW graft-on under a Chowhound banner, beefed up by their own team of "writers, editors, and recipe developers committed to editorial excellence" - said excellence exemplified by deep dives such as "Is It Safe To Rinse Meat Before You Cook It?" and "What Is Pink Lemonade, Exactly?" My theory is this stuff was originally rejected by The Onion as overly blatant satire. One of our old moderators - more jaded even than I - compares this to Fruit of the Loom buying Gucci.

I'll draw your attention to the About page, which actually provoked a brief blood pressure rise to my otherwise corpse-like and leathery cardiovascular system:

Hey, I've got JUST THE WORD to serve as a synonym for "food aficionados"! How about "chowhounds"? It's nowhere near as good as food nerds, obviously, but I assume refused to sell. And you did buy the name. Didja forget to use it? Like buying the rights to "Land Rover" and then inviting people to come check out our "Shmancy Upscale Jeeps"?

One last thing. Behold the new tagline:
"The Site for Food...". Elegant! The brainiac managers who've tossed the brand around for 20 years had expunged the tagline “For Those Who Live to Eat” as a first order of business. Can't have any personality or tonal momentum. I'm guessing this latest honed, perfected iteration is a search engine optimization ploy. Let Google and Bing know that this is: yup, a site for food.

What kind of site is this, food nerds? That's right! The site for food! Now, tell me more, please, about this "pink lemonade" witchcraft!

If you haven't read my hilarious and harrowing multi-part epic tale of the sale of, you're not really slogging. It starts here.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Recording Recommendation: "Play"

Bryan Murray is a terrific sax player and composer. For the past few years, he's gone to ground, developing a number of projects mostly involving his patented "Balto!"; a tenor sax rigged up in such a way that it's impossible to play coherently.
Though capable of great coherence, Bryan is a fan of self-compelled incoherence. It recalls the way Picasso started painting with childlike innocence. Except it's not at all innocent.
Bryan has an irrepressible sense of humor, and while he's never gone all the way into flat-out comedy music (humor is always in service of aesthetic expression), there's usually some hilarity involved. His last group was Bryan and the Haggards, a group of NYC downtown avant musicians posing as... Oh, wait, I wrote about them here once, in a posting about "Bands I Like":
It's a little complicated. NYC avant garde jazz guys formed a group to pay tribute to the music of Merle Haggard. But there's a shtick....they pretend they really are Merle's band (sans Merle), but took some bad acid before the gig. And this makes them sound a little like NYC avant garde jazz guys.'s basically jazz guys doing an impression of country guys making fun of jazz guys. Woozy-making, hilarious, and well-played. I liked their first record.
Since then, Bryan's been working to incorporate a profusion of unrelated strands into a cohesive whole, while overcoming a tough paradox. Being super-gifted, pretty much everything he does is worth listening to, which makes it hard to really develop stuff, especially since he values edge and spontaneity, which can dry up from over-working. What's the end point? When, exactly, do you deem it fit to release (especially if everything's "good")?
I have the opposite problem. My first drafts are utter moronic slop, which I painstakingly revise and endlessly rework, praying that when I release it into the wild, there will be no remaining trace of vomit, and readers will be fooled into imagining that I'm articulate and clear-headed.
He just released a recording where it all comes together, and he's done the thing that comes hardest for people for whom things come easily: he really really worked it. I'm afraid to ask how much; I suspect even he couldn't say. And to say that nothing's dried-up would be a vast understatement. It's supernally moist.

No seams show. It's integrated and organic and far more than the sum of its amazing parts. Bryan's also a budding abstract expressionist painter (he, too, is a fan of my hero Milton Resnick), and this is the first music I've ever heard that does the same thing a great abstract expressionist painting does.

I wrote the following review on the Bandcamp page (where you can listen and/or buy the digital album if you'd like). This is written for musicians and music geeks; sorry if some of the references are obscure:
Bryan has blown up some cheesy “jam-along” 80s thingee, slobbered it with avante honking-and-squawking, and machine-gunned it with non-contextual Grossmanesque intense harmonic shit (IHS). Plus snippets of some guy screaming and gobs of other stuff feathered in so delicately that I can't honestly remember a thing (even re-listening, it remains impossibly slippery). We've seen similar exploits from the fertile mind of Bryan Murray. The hilarity is here, the fiendish cleverness, and the mind-fuck of parodying chops via still more chops. Deliberately pointless nihilism somehow grows poignant, or groovy, in snaky, untrackable ways. Allegiances constantly shift. Cheesy backdrops turn sentient, then hip. But this time is different. "Play" is thoroughly unified. Worked to a fare-the-well. Murray's signature obsessions painstakingly organized and seamlessly interlaced, dovetailed, and air-brushed into a whole as richly immersive as a great abstract expressionist painting. When the recording ends and the spatter's cleaned up, you've experienced a single solid thing. Frame it as parody, and you'll be cajoled into taking it straight. Framed straight, you'll wonder why you're convulsing with laughter. Bryan's making fun of shit literally every second, but I dare you to hold on to that view, given that he's earnestly killing (the good kind of killing) with everything he's ripping to shreds as he rips it to shreds. This is 27 mins and 16 secs of yin and yang co-devouring. It’s funny, grooving, ridiculous, savage, satirical, touching, raw, repulsive, and catchy with no strand predominating. Trying to hear it any one way is as futile as focusing on the green in a Jackson Pollock. This isn't a recording, it's a *ride*. The uncommon polish applied to this adhoc frenzy ensures that attention is tightly grabbed and never released, even if, god help you, your player's set to repeat it all over and over and over and over. Welcome to madness. You're soaking in it. LET'S JAM AGAIN LATER!!
I'm trying to do something new with my writing. More on this next time.

Monday, October 16, 2023

ChatGPT Gives Me Sage Life Advice (Not Kidding)

I asked an AI chat bot to help with a very serious problem. I can't ask friends for advice, because they exhibit the same behavior I'm complaining about.
The query was quite carefully written, for clarity. And I'll be damned if Bing (which offers free, no-account-requirement late-version ChatGPT) didn't absolutely nail it. I'm over the moon with this result.

You might call it brutishly simple common sense. But per my recent credo, the deepest insights always boil down to brutishly simple common sense (as I recently put it, "Even the most profound epiphanies easily congeal into cheesy cliché. Gems soon turn to dust"). And remember how Tom Seaver said that "when you feel like you're a million miles away, you're actually not. You're off just the tiniest little bit"? Small adjustments, baby. Small adjustments.

Our tendency to overlook dull simplicity in pursuit of flashy, convoluted answers is a big reason we so often come up empty. We flatter ourselves by assuming we're not missing the obvious. It's yet another reason that it's an incredible boon to deem oneself a moron.

Why Creative People Have Trouble Reading

I have trouble reading. I pondered it for years, watching myself carefully, and finally came to understand why: I'm creative. Ideas come. Often in profusion. And this outward flow of ideas impedes the inward flow of words.

One can't simultaneously discharge and absorb. It's a one-way valve, and you'd be crazy to favor inflow when creative outflow is the most satisfying thing in human experience. It's understandable that we innately choose not to inhibit our creative outflow, but it makes reading awfully hard (especially with insightful writing, which stimulates even more ideas!).

Very few of us are genuinely creative, yet many people, especially past a certain age, have trouble reading. So what's their disruptive outflow, if not creativity?

Answer: rich people's problems. Fake drama. Fake notions of victimhood. Endless rumination over that awful thing your teacher once said. The zillionth rehashing of the things you tell yourself about yourself. Ruing previous shortfalls, imagining future pay-offs. That's the outflow that makes it hard for non-creative people to read.

But here's the thing: That's not some rancid cheap stand-in for creativity. It's real creativity! It's world-building!

You've built an inner universe in which you're the protagonist, cinematically following dramatic arcs of triumph and failure, transporting yourself effortlessly through time and space to the third grade classroom where the teacher said that awful thing. It feels so real that you easily lose yourself...and put down the book. What else but pure creativity could build immersive, emotionally rich internal towers of brooding discontent and haughty superiority?

In fact, the supposedly non-creative - who aren't creative because they're so occupied by self-story-telling - are actually the more creative people. What they do, day in and day out, is far more impressively creative than any given Slog posting trying to figure all this stuff out!

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Unremitting Stupidity of Israeli Reactivity

Two postings ago, in my essay about Palestinian provocation and Israeli reactivity (both ridiculously self-defeating), I noted that "the Israelis have perennially taken the provocation bait and barbarously overreacted."

If you're holding onto the notion that Israelis are more clued-in than they seem, read this FB posting of a very bright, thoughtful Israeli guy I know. It's abundantly clear they absolutely do not, after decades of this, understand the game. At all. Not even a tiny little bit.

To be clear: I do not support this attitude.

We've Seen the True Nature of the Progressive Movement

Moderate Democrats have been shocked by progressive reaction to the Hamas attack. That’s good! It’s like the shock moderate Republicans felt upon first hearing Trump’s pussy grabbing recording. Don’t chalk it up as some irrelevant edge case. No, this is your kids. This is mainstream academia. This is UCLA. This is a lot of people who constitute a movement that has surely previously tripped your spidey sense, even if only subconsciously.

Extremism is the problem. People lose their damned minds, and their humanity, out of adherence to rigid, simple-minded, tribally-amplified convictions (it’s yet another ugly consequence of frozen perspective).
Suggested listening: 30 short minutes of David Frum's rational eloquence, specifically re: massive Canadian support for Hamas, and that government's dilemma as to what to do about it.

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts about the essential barbarism lurking beneath the Left's sanctimonious dehumanization of those deemed morally deficient (a bar which lowers by the week as new definitions of righteous behavior endlessly issue from whatever authority comes up with this stuff).
"Cancel culture" is a snarky catchphrase skating the surface of the issue. I prefer not to traffic in mindless catchphrases and superficiality.
To me, the proposition has always been clear: if you reject our doctrine, you can crawl up and die.
Of course, they'd take great umbrage at the term "doctrine". Their views and mores aren't mere "doctrine", they're bedrock truth to be accepted and espoused by anyone fit to be deemed human.

That's how the indoctrinated perennially view their doctrine. Remember the "Moral Majority", back in the 1970s? That same high-handed, mouthy, prescriptive sanctimony has simply flipped to the other side of the horseshoe.
If, for example, the mob gets some asshole fired for perceived misbehavior, and the question arises as to how that person is supposed to feed his/her family without income, the response from a stalwart warrior for social justice would be this: "There are genuine problems in the world to concern ourselves with. I refuse to waste a millisecond sympathizing with MONSTERS."

They mean it. They have always meant it. Conservatives have understood this all along; that they've been invited to crawl up and die. Literally, not figuratively. The only group that doesn't see this clearly is moderate liberals, who persist in interpreting it figuratively, not literally.

Just as moderate Republicans still can't recognize that the mouthy, awful extremists on their side mean what they're saying (it's not just goofily performative hot air), moderate Democrats have remained blind to the reality of progressive extremists.

But as of this week, such blindness no longer stands. We have crossed a line.
We celebrate Hamas' assertive action of liberation, and approve of its barbarity because we refuse to spend a millisecond sympathizing with MONSTERS. The Israelis, who've usurped the autonomy of a victimized group, can crawl up and die. Being inhuman, they do not merit existence.
It's literal. I always said it was literal. And conservatives knew it was literal (that’s why they hate you). Do you now see that it's literal?
If you missed it, here's my take on motivation for the Hamas attack)
At last, it's explicit. Those outcast by the mercurial cleansing instincts of a righteously indignant mob are fit for slaughter (goodness, that sounded melodramatic, but tell me how I'm wrong in the wake of widespread celebration of infant decapitation?). Literal slaughter is cool. "Crawl up and die" is not metaphoric. Never has been. It's classic dehumanization - by one of the most flamboyantly humanistic movements, ever.

Moderately liberal Slog readers have questioned my Centrist both-sides-ism over the years. After all, MAGA conservatives, and their enablers, are racist thugs trying to plunge the country into autocracy. What equivalent sins have liberals committed?

Now you have it. Don't close your eyes. To remain willfully blind at this juncture is to choose the path of moderate Republicans, who hand-wave atrocity as mere noise, viewing reprehensible credos as harmlessly figurative, not dangerously literal.

When people tell you who they are, believe them.

In terms of this specific instance, I'll observe that what we're seeing is not, largely, anti-Semitic in intent (though it certainly is in consequence, including consequences we've not yet begun to witness). Rather, this is all the logical culmination of higher-level doctrine - stupid arguments, simplistic assumptions, and bits of pseudo-intellectual trendiness, all stirred with a heady dose of sanctimonious vanity. For those who buy into the doctrine, the "take" is inevitable.

Making it 100% about anti-Semitism represents more of the same wrong-headedness. Don't be deferential to Jews because we're historically victimized. Rather, try to think clearly and respect complexity and summon some degree of human mercy even for those you reflexively deem MONSTERS (also: try to suppress that compulsive reflex, which is the same one behind racism, sexism, and all the other intolerances you profess to be super extra staunchly opposed to).

Greetings from sunny Portugal, by the way, where I wish you good luck being caged up with dueling hordes of overheated shameless anti-democratic imbeciles (in this case, America, not Israel).

Here, fwiw, is how to gently open a doorway for potential escape without going overboard. I wrote it just a year ago, but things have deteriorated further and faster than I'd expected. You don't need to be Nostradamus to see where it's headed.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Game is Provocation

Let me note what's obvious about the Hamas attack. As with every intifada since the 1970s, when I first began watching, the game is a simple one: Provoke the Israelis into brutal over-response. Record and broadcast that brutal over-response. Draw condemnation and hatred of Israel for its brutality. Rinse and repeat.

The tactic of provocation has existed for millenia, yet it remains devilishly hard to parse. It seems to play to a certain blind spot in human psychology. It requires some grasp of subtlety in a black-and-white, shirts-vs-skins world.

Even between intifadas, in the relatively peaceful interludes, provocation was the game. Send your children to the border and have them throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll slaughter the kids and you can wail about it while pointing righteously at the monstrous zionist pigs who did this, playing to the cameras of the world press, with the effect of 2 billion world Muslims feeling personally attacked, and the rest of humanity condemning and isolating the aforementioned monstrous pigs.

The Israelis - who, while incredibly stupidly reactive, are not incapable of some tiny trickle of learning - gradually figured out not to shoot the kids. A small victory for sanity. But they are still easily wound up by sharper provocation. They are strong drunks.

The full-blown intifadas gave away the game, perpetually targeting the young, the secular, the doves, the liberals - the Israelis most inclined to side with the Palestinian cause. Seldom were bombed yeshivas or synagogues, where crusty orthodox hawks simmer in bona fide racist hatred. No, these righteous attacks were carried out in shopping malls, cafes, night clubs, and raves populated by sensitive, liberal, dreadlocked lovers of Arabs and other Oppressed Peoples. It's almost like Palestinians were trying to stoke an apocalpyse so their co-religionists would step in and finally annhilate these fucking people. To bring horrendous suffering and death to their own people in the cause not of justice but of mindless bloodthirsty hatred.

The campaign to goad universal Israeli hatred has been effective. Over the years, there have been many Palestinian-defending, justice-oriented Jewish doves in Israel, some of whom penned some of the most impassioned condemnations of Israeli policy. Much fewer of them now. The nation was methodically and broadly goaded.

And now, with Israel on the verge of normalization with Saudi Arabia (terrible for Palestinians, and even worse for Hamas' Iranian sponsors), the trap has sprung. And the reactive Israelis, being irrational hotheads like the provocateur Palestinians, are, as ever, taking the bait. We'll see and hear terrible things, even, eventually, from our press (Al Jazeera's already way on it).

The retaliation will be particularly camera-ready because Hamas has intertwined its personnel and weaponry amid civilian populations, with a particular fondness for hospitals, nursery schools, etc. Human shielding raised to an art form.

All this is easily apparent. Every pundit on the topic, without exception, would say I've rehashed (rightly or wrongly) tediously obvious observations. But I don't hear this clearly stated. It's hinted at, it's alluded to, it's the stuff that, nudge-nudge, we're all quietly, perhaps subsonsciously, aware of. Yet very few say it, and fewer still build it into their calculus. Lord knows the Israelis rarely seem to.

None of this nullifies Palestinian claims to human rights and justice. Not at all! That's a completely separate issue. I've just harshly condemned the tactics of their leadership, who have, over the years, consistently chosen to offer up its own people for slaughter for PR purposes. A too-clever bank-shot strategy that Israelis fall for every damned time.

Palestinians would claim, of course, that they have no choice but to resort to such tactics, due to the asymmetry of power. And that's nearly true, except for the fact that the Palestinians have rejected or undermined every attempt at conciliation (starting with the UN's proposed Partition Plan in 1947 that would have created a Palestinian state, spurring a war that killed 6,000 Jews), just as the Israelis have perennially taken the provocation bait and barbarously overreacted. Seen properly, this is the very sickest possible human relationship. It makes "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" look like a warmly loving marriage.

I recommend this Twitter thread, where an insider thoughtfully describes the self-constraints placed on retaliation for attacks of this sort. I replied this way:
The even more relevant point is that Hamas is well aware of these imperatives, and structures its human shielding and provocation to engineer the most barbaric-seeming imagery they can use to build solidarity in the Moslem world.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Everything That Happens Teaches You Precisely What You Need to Learn in This Moment

I've had the distinct impression since childhood that the universe is trying to teach me things. In fact, that's what This All is. Especially the friction; the "bad" stuff.

It's not that I was putting some positive light on it - Mr. Optimist constructively framing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It's not a "spin" I chose to impart. I truly, viscerally, had this impression. And my conviction rested on two elements:

First, I intuited intention. Not "dude-on-a-cloud whispering in my ear 'cuz I'm so special." Something much more tectonic...yet unmistakably intelligent.

Second: the timing wasn't random. Everything that ever happened seemed to teach me precisely what I needed to learn in that moment. Not supernatural orchestration; more like being caught in an inexplicable machine, challenged to reverse-engineer its nature and operating principles - and, more mysteriously, my own nature and operating principles. Gradually, both objectives merged.

The lessons learned were never complicated. Just basic, remedial stuff. The sort of stuff that easily boils down to banality. I've previously noted that even the most profound epiphanies easily congeal into cheesy cliché. Gems soon turn to dust.

So: it's all teaching us; and the lessons, which arrive as ecstatic epiphany, turn out to be ludicrously banal. That's my 18-word summation of life on Earth.

I've learned more than my share of lessons, because I've experienced more than my share of friction, which created more than my share of confusion, compelling more than my share of pondering. So every once in a while, a light bulb goes off and I grok what the universe has been trying to teach me. Grabbing these brass rings never feels triumphant, because it's always something obvious which only an idiot would fail to grasp. Never anything fancy. Just basic stuff. I'm an ape delighted by the revelation that a stick helps knock bananas from high branches. Big whoop.

However, I'm also (fairly recently) aware that the lessons I've learned are uncommon. Am I simply a very slightly less blinkered ape? Few humans seem to learn lessons. Like, ever. It's so strange! I don't denigrate them. I want to understand. It's been yet another puzzle to be pondered.

This Slog is a compendium of lessons recently learned. I'd be happy if I’d restated widely acknowledged truisms, revealing me as the slow learner I know I am. But no. What I’ve presented here has turned out to be so strange and counterintuitive and seemingly "opaque" that people run away screaming. Which is weird.

I've finally pinned down the disjoint. As usual, the grand epiphany is bluntly obvious, despite the struggle endured to reap it:

Almost no one frames this worldly adventure as lessons being taught. Instead, they frame it as persecutory. Aggravation! Headwind! Frustration! An obstructive universe keeps getting in their way as they try to do what they'd set out to do.

I once wrote a poem, "The Reed". If you click back to its original post, you'll enjoy a cool accompanying photo, but I'll repost the poem below:
The reed,

unendingly assaulted by violent wind,

never suffers.

It never occurred to the reed

that the wind was a separate, external thing.

Insofar as the reed thinks at all,

it thinks it's dancing.

I confess that I haven't been 100% reed-like. I've felt persecuted and obstructed aplenty. Yet, in my immense curiosity, I've always kept one foot firmly planted in the recognition that it's always - without exception! - lessons being taught. And it took me the longest time to realize that this is a highly unusual framing.

It makes a huge difference, because you can't learn lessons until you recognize that you're being taught, not harassed. You need to be receptive! You have to taste for it! The answer is indeed blowing in the wind, but the first step is to welcome it, rather than bitch about the damned wind. "Bitching about the damned wind" and "receptivity" are two vastly different mindsets/framings. It's almost like two different species.

Some people around me, who I referenced in the postscript of last week's posting, have bitched loudly about the damned wind for many decades. I've bitched some, too (quietly to myself, though, rather than spitefully wailing to a seemingly uncaring world). But while I haven't kept up any other element of my life with much solid consistency, I've never once lost touch with the certainty that I'm being taught. Not even when it's been brutish. This one recognition has endured. The lesson of lesson-learning seems to have fully penetrated, leaving me extraordinarily receptive.

I worry that this posting was too casually digestible.

Read allegorically, it's just the old "Learn your lessons!" "Take your lumps!" stoic shtick. Once you've make that association, you might suppose you've already got this and turn your attention elsewhere.

If you can find the humility to receive this insight without imagining you'd pre-owned it, it could be your miracle box. But first you must concede that you hadn't fully, viscerally, experienced the universe as an epiphany provocateur. This is, I swear to you, a fresh perspective/framing.

How can I be so certain? It's taken me 60 years to discover that I'm the only one in this movie who frames it this way. This explains the loneliness, alienation, and disorientation. I've heard a few people mumble vaguely similar platitudes. But it's not real. Not visceral. No actual foot is planted in the recognition. Trust me, I've watched closely. If someone were framing this way, I'd have noticed. One instinctively seeks one's kindred.

Please consider trying it on for size. Just a bit of earnest sustained effort will be rewarded with cascading epiphanies once you recognize that this, indeed, is what the world really is. And perhaps you can embrace that recognition while remaining more reed-like than I've been. More delighted by it all. Less alienated and dissociated and embarrassed by the realization. In with both feet!

I am an ape who picked up a stupid stick to do the obvious thing with the banana. Scant triumph. You can take it further, embody it more whole-heartedly, and explain it more relatably, helping our fellow apes transcend our grubby primatology. Or at least enjoy this learning experience more comfortably than I have.

Beware of this pitfall, though.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Richard Feynman on the Sublime Transcendence of Love

How interesting to see a strident atheist glorify an indefinable term referring to an immaterial concept in the most superlative and transcendent manner.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Curiosity and Wisdom vs Arrogance and Ignorance

Great ignorance often builds on a scaffold of arrogance.

Arrogance suppresses curiosity. Curiosity means admitting you don't know - the very last thing arrogance wants. Ignorance accumulates from this suppression. Truth can't get in!

Arrogance and ignorance are two sides of the same coin. Same for curiosity and wisdom.

As I've previously noted, you can feel smart or you can be smart. Never both. Feeling smart feels smart! Actually being smart, by contrast, feels ignorant. It's understandable that nearly everyone chooses the former!

This is why wisdom is so rare, and ignorance so rampant. You may have noticed that curiosity is rapidly disappearing, while arrogance increases. It's all the same process.

Astute readers may conclude I'm restating the Dunning–Kruger effect. But no. I'm explaining the Dunning–Kruger effect. Its underpinnings.

I am a living laboratory experiment for this. Several humans have genetic material nearly identical to my own. They all feel extremely smart. Their curiosity is stillborn, which has condemned them to deep ignorance. Yet they never waver in their haughty and bewildering superiority. I, by contrast, am immensely curious...and immensely wavery. I've always felt - and continue to feel - profoundly inferior and ignorant. I represent the 180° flip.

I'd have no perspective on this whatsoever if I hadn't followed my compulsion to start this Slog 15 years ago. As I read the backlog, it reads fresh for me, like reading someone else. And I'm forced, against my nature, to concede that there's undeniable wisdom here. This came as a shock. I honestly had no idea.

My Faustian bargain - yielding completely to my prodigious curiosity at the expense of never feeling worthy - was worth it to me. Because I wanted to Know way, way, way, way, way more than I want to feel like a Knower.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Carefully Honed Twitter List

With so much news lately, my “Must-Read” Twitter list (which I’ve spent years carefully honing) has held up quite well. It offers a range of smart, non-extreme, not-the-usual-crap voices, and covers headlines pretty thoroughly.

You can follow along here.

The Nuance of Charity

In 2004, shortly after I sold Chowhound to CNET, I went looking for a couple charities to donate to. Preferably low-to-the-ground operations that could really use the support. I found an austere Indian organization in Pennsylvania that helps feed the poor in some specific Indian village. Far too small to be listed on Charity Navigator, so I needed to do my own research.

I managed to chat with the lady in charge - a sari-clad feisty grandmother - and asked for her assurance that my contribution would be used efficiently. It wouldn't be stolen or mishandled. 100% of it would be converted into meaningful, real aid.

The woman (who worked on this unpaid) took a moment to consider. Wheels turned as she took a few deep breaths. She felt compelled to tell me the truth, and she understood the good intentions of my question. But she couldn't quite figure out how to explain it to this American in a way that would be meaningful to him. Finally, she sighed and just let it rip, damn the consequences.
"Every level of this operation, from top to bottom, is somewhat inefficient. I can't say we make every decision optimally, or omnisciently supervise every step of every person working for (and with) us. Some of your money will surely be wasted. From sheer incompetence, the food delivered might be spoiled and inedible. Or stolen en route. And what the villagers, themselves, do with the supplies, god himself could not tell you. But I can assure you that, in the end, you will help assure that some hungry people will eat."
In the end, some hungry people will eat.

Her words bristled with deep truth, and it was transformative. I completely understood the effort she'd applied, to make me - so detached from the reality of the world, and so eager to seek some pipe dream of "efficiency" - understand that a two-dimensional mental fantasy of punctilious human beings running a perfect machine to address horrific calamity is sheer fantasy. Only in the movies! With enormous effort, in the end, some hungry people will eat. That's as good as it gets!

Whenever I look back on this insight, it's with the wry recognition that any Third World barber or taxi driver intimately understands many things about the world that brainy First World types - especially think-tankers and policy wonks - are far too blinkered to grasp. Above all, Libertarians - with their smug, pat, artificial, high-level notions about the world, and their abject lack of worldy experience - really don't get it.

Whenever you hear a conservative blowhard deride the wastefulness of social programs, remember Indian grandma. In the end, some hungry people eat. Or, if we cease the process, not. To those fed, the difference is sharp.

As a centrist, though, I see the dangers of going too extreme the other way, as well. As I wrote here,
I wouldn't want to return to 1973. We went too far. You could feel society slogging and smell the rot (and pay a tax rate north of 90%). 1973 could have made a Tea Party partisan out of any but the most fervid of current liberals.
Yes, this sort of thing comes with rot, and trying to expunge it is a futile game of whack-a-mole. So don't aim to feed every last person (it would plunge the world into bottomless corruption). But don't cease feeding some. Always feed some.

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