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 percentagecalculator.net). 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 foodnerd.com 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 Chowhound.com, 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. So...it'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.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Explaining the Fine Points of AI Apocalypse

It's been bugging me that I failed to completely fill in my thoughts in my posting The AI That Eradicates Life Will Be Like a Fervid Red Sox Fan.
[Fandom is] not about a team. It's not even about baseball. It's just a pose that solidified. This is how we do: Strike a pose, select an intensity level, and allow it to bake in. All for shits-and-giggles. A computer could easily do the same. "Always favor Red Sox to non-Red-Sox." Done! Parameter set!

But if an AI capriciously and arbitrarily decides, just like a human sports fan, that Yankees fans suck, it is not at all difficult to imagine nuclear bombs going off moments later.
I heard the potential objection (I'm cursed with always hearing the potential objection) - "Wait, how does that actually happen?" - but thought I might let readers work through it themselves. But this not being 1884, asking folks to read long, wordy, thoughtful, focused writing AND declining to pre-chew every last morsel is a deal-breaker.

So I've added (just below that part, in italics) an explanation as to how an AI could escalate to blazing nukes, for your soothing enjoyment. Have a look, if you're interested.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Fantastic Podcast

It's incredibly strange that this seems like an under-radar tip, but the five hosts of late night TV have been doing a podcast called Strike Force Five and it’s absolutely incredible. They launched it to raise money to pay their staffs during the writer strike, but it turned into a whole thing.

They only meant to do five episodes, but...well, I'll let you discover it. It starts off great and gets even better. These guys are way funnier and smarter without the mainstream pressures of TV. I don't understand why it hasn't gotten more attention.

Sunday, October 1, 2023


There are two foundational questions I've wrestled with since childhood:

1. Do we all play on the same playing field?

All things being equal - and adjusting for luck, genetics, upbringing, and all the rest - do we all experience roughly the same degree of headwind?

Answer: No. Everyone has a totally different experience. You know that Indian saying about not judging a man until you've walked a mile in his mocassins? It's way deeper than we ever imagined. More on this another time.

2. Has all the simple stuff already been observed and catalogued?

Humanity has done such a diligent job of acquiring dense knowledge about ourselves and our world that surely all remaining knowledge gaps are about topics like the angular momentum of positrons in a super-conducting stasis. Stuff so specific and nerdy that you and I have nothing fresh to contribute, which means we have nothing to do but sit back, slurp milkshakes, and play with our phones all day. Which would certainly explain a lot!

But the answer, again, is "no". This Slog is a collection of simple observations and conclusions (if they've seemed complicated, it's only because I need to work so hard to coax readers to challenge faulty assumptions). Many have been fresh and previously unnoticed. So there's plenty of low fruit out there for everyday people to take stock of. Including this blockbuster:


Perhaps you have at some point briefly wondered why we launder bath towels which touch only well-scrubbed body parts. The question gets little thought, because 1. we know that bath towels get smelly if we don't wash them, and 2. only slobs don't regularly wash their towels, so the very question is disgusting.

I'm living in a place with ample space for line-drying clothes. And, to keep my bathroom mold-free, and generally keep everything bright sunshiny fresh, like a Karen Carpenter song, I've taken to hanging my bath towel and bath mat on a line immediately after every shower. Results have surprised, per this chat with Slog technical advisor Pierre:
Bath Towel Perpetual Immaculate Virginity


Because a dollar goes a long long way here in one of the poorer cities of Portugal, I can afford a cleaning lady. Two of them! A team! I pay 45€/week for a four-hour cleaning, and the place is immaculate. I feel like an aristocrat. They even wash the windows!

One day the cleaning ladies came immediately after I’d taken a shower. My bath mat and towel were still wet, so they, logically enough, hung them up on the drying line. Which sounds like the most normal thing in the world, but it slammed me like an epiphany.

Half the joy of cleaning ladies is they show you, by example and placement, how grown-ups are supposed to do things. And as a feckless jazz trombonist, I need this coaching. So now, I get out of the shower, and I go hang up the mat and the towel. Every time.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know when to wash the towel. Because it never smells. Ever!

I realize a smell test is flawed, because by the time it smells, it’s festering with bacteria. But given that I’ve been pushing limits, even if it were semi-festered, I’d have already passed the threshold, yet my towel remains snowy pure.

Theory: towels get grotty during extended moisturization. Drastically reduce the moisture window, and you dramatically expand the between-wash habitat zone.

First, is that right?

Second, when do I wash the fucking things? Never??? I feel like I’m doing something viscerally disgusting, but these are thick towels that require a lot of soap and space and energy to wash.
Pierre's reply:
It's only in contact with a freshly washed body, so all it picks up is dead skin, which dries and falls off like dandruff. If that reaches a steady state, you'll never reach the washing stage.
"Theory: towels get grotty during extended moisturization. Drastically reduce the moisture window, and you dramatically expand the between-wash habitat zone. First, is that right?"
"Second, when do I wash the fucking things? Never???"
The state of fluffiness should tell you. If it stops being fluffy (my guess is that it does in a matter of weeks) wash it.

It's still fluffy. I'm ashamed (due to long-engrained stigma issues) to admit that I'm going on a month, but it's actually getting fluffier. Like fine wine, it's improving with age. And it smells great. And I feel bewildered, slovenly, and delighted all at the same time.

YOU NEVER NEED TO WASH BATH TOWELS (but you do need to diligently hang them on a line to dry after every single shower).

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