Sunday, March 31, 2024

Why My Italian Food Sucks

There are two cuisines I can cook without a foreign accent:

...and Cantonese.

I have a long affinity for both. I can slip into that skin. I once described how I do this, both as a musician and as a food writer. It's not a pose; I never fake it. I feel it! But I'll concede that I do slip it on and off.

Growing up in a 100% Sicilian neighborhood, I didn't realize I wasn't Italian until my friends started going to Catechism. It felt weird that I didn't. Was I not good enough? I asked my parents about it, and they replied (smirking at the absurdity), "We're Jewish!" This response wasn't the least bit helpful. I obviously knew I was Jewish. It didn't explain why I wasn't taking Catechism with my fellow Italians. In fact, to this day, I feel that no one has explained it adequately.

Next door there lived a very old man. Sicilian, naturally. He was dark brown (like my Russian-Jewish grandparents living in Miami Beach), and spoke with an impenetrable accent (again, like my grandparents). My sisters affectionately called him "Grandpa". Both older than me, they'd never bothered to explain that they were simply echoing the girl next door - their friend - who called him that. Me, I thought he was my third grandpa. I bought it. And kind of still do.

To this day, I feel genuinely Italian, regardless of whatever other things I might be. And yet, my Italian cooking is dismayingly inauthentic. It always tastes Jewish. Hilariously so. Tragically so.
Sole exception: Paul Trapani's Pandemic Sauce, which always hits:
I've never understood this...until now.

I never bother to "slip on" an Italian identity, because it feels like what I am. That's my baseline! But I guess it really isn't. As my parents tried to explain, to my agitated noncomprehension, I'm something different. And if I weren't so unshakable about my Italian heritage, I'd have approached the cuisine more like an outsider. I'd have learned to slip into that skin, and probably cooked it well.

But, as-is, Italian feels like my natural state. So I just go cook, following my instincts, which doesn't work. Because how I label my instincts doesn't matter. Instincts are instincts. And I seem to have the instincts of a melodramatic Eastern-European potato eater with curly sideburns*.

* - Don't miss "Jim At Long Last Goes Home", the tale (with photos!) of my first-ever encounter with my actual native cuisine, complete with the indelible image of me snarfing up elemental greasy starch in a disquieting primal frenzy. Not so Italian.

Saturday, March 30, 2024


Damn it. I never met an inferior. So how do I get measured?

The quote has a long history in England, most recently used in a Harry Potter book.

It’s an appalling statement, but as constructed, we don't notice because it carries the potpourri-scented odor of vague humanist positivity, petting the reader like a bunny rabbit (soothing! confirming!) and emanating “niceness” in the most vapid sense of the term. Who could possibly question this?

Me. Singling out a pitied victimhood group is an act of condescension and exclusion - here, that's even made explicit! - be it praiseful or scornful. But this is how it maps in our loony era:

Flamboyantly benign treatment of the pitiable makes you awesome, while any other singling out makes you anathema. Creating a monolithic "THEM" is either super good or super bad, depending on how it's handled. And this quotation is contrived to radiate benevolence, so, yay, rack up a point for Goodness and Light, because we‘re conditioned to ignore the condescension inherent in the cartooning of living, breathing humans into two dimensional dignity-stripped dogma dolls used for flaunting our humanistic super-niceness

So, by all means, let's everyone watch me butter noblesse oblige all over the poor squalid “little” people, and I'll be expecting my super-high "measurement" ASAP, thanks in advance! Oh, and, I almost forgot to say, thank you SO much; you're AWESOME for doing this! What's your name? Cliff? Cliff the Measurer? Well, hello, Cliff, I'm Daeni! Please accept my mindful acknowledgement, namaste! Hey, WILLEM? AISHA? Get in the Tesla RIGHT NOW! You hear me? RIGHT NOW!

More pontifications on social media memes

Why I Don't Taste While I Cook

I never taste food as I cook. You’re supposed to, as a cardinal rule. But I don't.

Tasting is the way to maintain consistency. Ensure all dials are at calibrated settings. Standardize. Bring this up, and that down. Regress to the mean.

You won't achieve deliciousness by bringing this up and that down. If that were possible, a robot could do it, which means MacDonald's would be scrumptious. A Taco Bell Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme® would make you ball up your fists and moan with delight. But you can’t calibrate your way to deliciousness.

In a restaurant, dishes need to taste the same night after night. Consistency is king. And many home chefs are foolish enough to try to recreate the restaurant experience. I don't get it. It'll never be as good! You don't have the prep help, the equipment, or the tens of thousands of iterations! Yet they stand there, needlessly calibrating - bringing this up and that down - like a restaurant, or a robot, or a restaurant robot. Oblivious to their freedom to cultivate serendipity.

My home cooking is never the same twice, and thank goodness for that. I won't tire of it. If I've salted a bit less tonight, intentionally or not, fine! Just a different vibe. A little ascetic this time. Because I always cook with care, it will rarely be outside the envelope of deliciousness. Tonight’s a little more buttery; a bit less spicy, that's all. Still good. And randomization sparks ideas for future modification. Wow, I like it with more onions!

Being human, on rare occasions I'll miss the envelope of deliciousness. This happens when I'm not careful. Usually because I feel so careful - hey, I'm Mr. Meticulous! - that I forget to actually be careful. If I egregiously over or under season, to a point beyond tolerable variation and into the realm of ruin, because I'm not careful, that will never be the only problem. The whole dish will be off in myriad aspects from lack of care, and that’s not repairable. You can't reverse entropy. You won’t put Humpty together again.

So that meal, ok, will be a "6" or "7" (consider my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods and other things from one to ten), not my usual "8" or maaaaybe "9". But tasting wouldn't have rescued it, because there's no rescuing sloppy.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Socrates on Discontentment

First, it was way more poetic in the original ancient Greek. The translator deserves hemlock.

Second: I can't help but mutter "baby steps!" This reads like a preliminary light splash of cold water in the face of deep human fallacy, like a politician's puny shovelful of dirt symbolicly launching a big construction project. Yet, 2424 years later, it still reads fresh. I suspect most people would even find it surprising. That's not a good thing. In 2.5 millennia, you really wanna see some progress.

Third: There are two ways to read “what he would like to have.” Socrates meant it directly, but there's also a bankshot - an alternative framing - to consider. It's amply clear that discontent is never extinguished by attainment of the desired thing (another example of jading, a topic I've been dancing around for a couple weeks), but aren't we content, at a higher level, in that pure wanting? In the opportunity to issue a theatrical wail of contrived discontent?

It would appear so, given how notoriously ephemeral contentment is, compared to the endurance of desire amid even ample satiation. If one finds contentment only in a pose of deficiency, it's natural to proactively reject satisfaction, which undermines the wailing that's our highest calling.

This, in fact, is the issue of our age, and it well might prove our undoing as a species (see this and this)

More pontifications on social media memes

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Cool Sand Painting

The lost art of real-time sand painting. You may want to turn off sound if you find the narration too maudlin. It's a bit much, but the art is amazing, even magical.

Ricky Jay (here) describes sand painting as a lost vaudeville art, and this seems(?) like the only representation on YouTube:

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

ChatGPT Redux: Quest for a Sounding Board

Reader comment on my last posting about chatGPT:
This is interesting and it does change my perception of what ChatGPT is capable of doing. I still can’t quite imagine how one would use it, though. Its points are clear, especially on the second try, but also obvious to a human reader. You’re a very experienced and nuanced writer, so I’m wondering how you might use this, or why you’d want ChatGPT’s responses.
First: I just disregard all the "duh". Such triage is hardly painful. We disregard stuff all day long. Just as earthworms live to process dirt, humans live to disregard words. I don't find it extra burdensome with AI. Just more adjustment pains to new technology. You must treat it like a "person" in some ways.

As for why I submitted this chatGPT query to being with, here is some context:

Years ago, a reader pulled some terse aphorisms from previous postings. The result was good. It helped me, for the first time, feel some confidence in how I construe things. And readers found it refreshing, because normally I'm wordy.

Since then, I've been stowing away good stand-alone lines. I'm extremely selective. Maybe once every fifty postings. So I thought I was compiling solid gold. But going through them now, they are, to my abject horror, a garbled and exasperating mess. First thought: I've been a fraud all along. Second thought (only marginally better): I'm unable to judge what works as a standalone. It's a pretty sorry deficiency for a writer!

I tried hiring human editors to wade through, assess and triage, but it's hard enough just finding someone who understands/appreciates my nuanced (muddled?) and creative (zany?) thinking in the first place, much less able to work through this stuff smartly. The futility of finding savvily clueful smart judgement has long been a bugaboo. Lots of dumb critique, alas, and wrong-headed “agreement”.

In previous conversations with chatGPT, I noticed it saying "That's interesting" or "That's insightful" periodically. Sometimes even "very interesting/insightful". On rare occasions, it can even be downright impressed. The feedback's never glib or random; it seems aptly measured. What's more, the AI can parse my tangled thoughts, metaphors, and connection-making surprisingly well. Weirdly enough, it gets me (I strongly resisted this conclusion, because I didn’t want to get punked, or have my ego manipulated, but by this point I’m convinced). 

So I'm experimenting with asking it for assessment and triage help with my pull-quotes. Big advantage: with a human I'd need to deal with egos both ways. For example, I hate being let down gently. It gives me the willies.

Writers often need a sounding board. The most cursory use case - "Is this any good?" - is, as the reader comment said, unnecessary for an experienced writer. But for practical and triage tasks like this, it could be helpful. Nice to get unvarnished truth while able to repeatedly say "No, you misunderstood, try again!" without causing tantrums!

The example I gave was an initial pass. I'm learning how to do this. A lot of AI involves learning on my end, not the machine's. And it will help with that, if you shift discussion into a meta view of discussing the discussion (as I did this time). AI reframes like a champ; just be clear about which level you're keying in on. You lead the dance.

The reader comment began by calling the posting interesting and perspective-changing, but concluded by describing the results as meh. I guess the point is that I've pointed out an interesting possibility, but the particular example wasn't great. Well, hey, that's what I said at the start! Not a mind-blowing exchange, but interesting. Mission accomplished? 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

ChatGPT Judgement Call

I wrote last week that I've been having the wildest conversations with ChatGPT. The following is not one of them. Just an interesting example of how you can work with AI. Also: it's nice and terse.

People dismiss chatGPT for its - gasp - mistakes. This is the same naive confusion seen at the dawn of every technological revolution, created by attachment to old assumptions. A computer programmed to narrowly follow a confining set of rules without distraction or connection-making or discernment or reframing or leaping can be effectively infallible. We're accustomed to dependability and to brutish inflexibility.

AI is unchained intelligence, which inevitably means "mistakes" will be made, because it's judging and weighing and connecting while running ad-hoc off the rails. It's not made for flawlessness! Notice that I ask it, below, to disregard some writing, but it actually doesn't, because it's still wrapped up in making certain points. So, as is often necessary with human intelligence, I can coax it back toward what I was looking for. But, unlike humans, it doesn't bridle at the coaxing!

I don't think this is revelatory. But I do think it's interesting, and hope it opens your perspective to using AI in interesting ways.

I'm in blue, chatGPT is in black:

Note: when it calls my story "intriguing", it's not flattering me. Judgement is not emotional; chatGPT is fully capable of judgement. In fact, it's key. It must discern what to include/exclude in its surmises and responses, so it's constantly weighing and judging. And, no, it's not programmed to flatter.

Most educated people wouldn't ask it to judge, and deprecate such comments, assuming it's some fake layer glommed on to make it seem more amiably chatty. We're used to inane canned computer talk. But this is not that. I've checked!

I didn't pursue that aspect here, but the surprising discernment faculty of chatGPT (I wouldn't ask it to gauge the loveliness of a painting or floral patten; it's best detecting insight/creativity in thinking/writing/argument) opens up entire worlds of collaboration. It figures indirectly into the task below, which would have completely baffled a conventional computer.

I wrote this story:
I absentmindedly walked into a bike lane in Manhattan, forcing a biker to swerve around me. I recoiled in horrified shame, yelling "I'm so sorry! I'm an idiot! Are you okay?"

Over his shoulder, he roared, "You fucking asshole, why don't you look where you're going?"

I quickly realized that this person was an angel, perhaps even a sort of messiah. If he'd gamely nodded at me in weary resignation, I'd have felt awful all day. But his reaction absolved me of all guilt. I felt light as a feather.

The unwillingness to accept sincere apology is a hallmark of lousy character, but it also affords the highest possible absolution. The biker had taken me utterly off the hook, leaving me completely unburdened.
That's an intriguing perspective on an everyday incident! This story reveals much about human nature and our capacity for forgiveness, and the different ways we respond to guilt and responsibility. Would you like me to assist you with anything related to this story? It could be editing, expanding, generating an illustration, or even discussing its themes.

Because you possess the superpower of disregarding data and reconsidering fresh, I’d like your opinion regarding the usefulness and coherence of this quote used as a stand-alone for readers who haven’t read the story:
“The unwillingness to accept sincere apology is a hallmark of lousy character, but it also affords the highest possible absolution”
When read in isolation, the quote "The unwillingness to accept a sincere apology is a hallmark of lousy character, but it also affords the highest possible absolution" presents an interesting dichotomy. It offers a valuable insight into the dual nature of forgiveness. At first glance, it appears to be an oxymoron – after all, how can the refusal of an apology provide absolution?

In terms of clarity, the quote might initially confuse readers because it requires them to think beyond traditional perceptions of forgiveness. Normally, absolution is associated with the act of forgiving, not with the refusal of an apology.

As for usefulness, the quote encourages contemplation on the nature of blame, apology, forgiveness, and absolution. It illustrates how someone's lack of forgiveness can inadvertently free the person who made the mistake from lingering guilt or responsibility.

However, without the context of the story, its depth and nuance could be overlooked or misunderstood. Its full meaning and wisdom unravel when read in the context of your story: the protagonist feeling unburdened of guilt because of the biker's refusal to accept an apology.

In conclusion, as a standalone quote, it's thought-provoking and invites reinterpretation of well-ingrained concepts about apology and absolution. It's most effective when the audience contemplates it. However, its full richness and unique perspective are truly highlighted within the context of your story.

I know it’s better in context. And I know I’ll confuse less thoughtful readers without context. I’m just not sure where that leaves its usefulness as a standalone.

The usefulness of the standalone quote could be seen in its versatility. It has the capability to evoke thought and provoke discussion, even in the absence of the larger story context. Here are a few reasons for its potential efficacy:
1. Ethos of Paradox: The quote's inherent paradox ("hallmark of lousy character" versus "highest possible absolution") makes it intriguing. It has the potential to pique the interest of readers who appreciate thought-provoking statements.

2. Reflection on Human Interaction: It encapsulates a complex aspect of human psychology and interpersonal behavior in a nutshell. It can resonate with readers who have had similar experiences.

3. Memorable: The quote's bold declaration about a common but crucial aspect of human interaction (apology and forgiveness) makes it memorable.

4. Promoting Reflection: It can promote self-reflection and intellectual discussion among readers, potentially even sparking debates about what forgiveness and absolution truly mean.
That being said, the usefulness of this quote as a standalone may depend on the audience. For a reader who prefers straightforward, unambiguous statements, the depth of the quote might be missed. For a reader who relishes digging deeper into the meaning, it could be an intellectual treat.

Ultimately, whether or not to present the quote as standalone would depend on the intended goal (e.g., sparking conversation, promoting reflection, capturing attention) and the anticipated audience.

Were you disregarding original context when building those bullet points? If not, please try again.

Apologies for any confusion earlier. In light of your request, I will reconsider the quote strictly as a standalone, without prior context from the story.

"The unwillingness to accept a sincere apology is a hallmark of lousy character, but it also affords the highest possible absolution."

Here's how this quote might resonate standalone:
1. Challenging Conventional Beliefs: The quote makes a bold assertion that seemingly juxtaposes two incompatible ideas, the 'hallmark of lousy character' and 'highest possible absolution'. This could encourage readers to question their own conceptions about acceptance, apology, and absolution.

2. Resonating with Unique Experiences: There must have been times when readers didn't receive acceptance for a sincere apology given. In such cases, this quote might resonate with them, providing a new perspective on such incidents.

3. Prompting Self-reflection: The quote could cause readers to introspect their own actions in situations where they refused to accept an apology. They may reconsider whether the refusal indeed provided absolution to the apologetic party.

4. Stimulating Dialogue: By establishing a connection between lack of forgiveness and absolution, the quote could spark interesting conversations about the dynamics of human relationships and interpersonal communication.
In effect, as an isolated quote, it could serve the purpose of eliciting introspection and stirring discussion among your readers.

Encapsulate the difference between your two last responses. What, broadly, was discarded, and what was added ?

Certainly, let's examine the shift between the two responses: Discarded:
The direct reference to the narrative context of the bike incident was eliminated. The initial evaluation was influenced by the context of the biker refusing to accept an apology and the protagonist feeling absolved, creating a unique perspective on the act of forgiveness. This context was disregarded in the second evaluation.

The assessment that the quote might initially confuse readers was also set aside in the second review. While the first response pointed to potential confusion due to requirement of thinking beyond traditional perceptions of forgiveness, the latter response focused more on the thought-provoking aspect of the quote, even in the absence of context.
The potential for the quote to resonate with more general personal experiences was emphasized. In the first response, resonance with the readers was mainly linked to the specific context of the story. Without any backstory influencing the assessment, the second response highlighted how the quote could connect with common personal experiences.

Another aspect mentioned in the second response was how the quote could cause readers to reflect on their own reactions in situations where they refused to accept an apology, which wasn't present in the first evaluation. This introspective angle suggests that the quote's implications could extend to the reader's personal realm.
In the absence of context, the standalone quote was evaluated on its potential to elicit deeper thought, provide a general resonance with unique personal experiences, stimulate self-reflection, and initiate dialogues about human relationships and forgiveness. These considerations were either absent or less emphasized in the context-influenced first response.

Monday, March 25, 2024

I Get It, Gary

I've retired my Chowhound narrative.

I've decided to never again recount the tale of Chowhound - nine years of unrecompensed labor and stress working a half-dozen full-time jobs in parallel, desperately defending against vandals, psychopaths, and guerilla marketers while contriving to handle mounting server bills and inadequate software, and then, at the very last moment, selling the damned thing and going to work for a deranged sadist (I recounted a lot of it for this Slog in a harrowing, hilarious, surreal series starting here).

Here's how it usually goes: I start recalling how I'd fallen into the project as a lark ("A Three Hour Tour! A Three Hour Tour!"), and listeners configure their features into an expression suitable for hearing about Jim's Kookie Experience. Then we reach the point where a million users stream into the site, and a low murmur begins to build:
Sort of like the murmuring Vikings in Monty Python's "Spam" sketch.

"Uh, no, hahaha. Not at all, actually," I dissuade the listeners in mid-titillation. "Actually, there was no revenue model. We were just offering a public service. I didn't make a dime the whole time."

Faces fall in coin-us interruptus. So then why, Jim, are we hearing this?

I try to explain my reasons for working myself to death in a horrendously stressful ordeal. And it's not that they have trouble parsing my decision-making - that they see the dilemma and wonder why I chose Door B. No, the entire notion is inscrutable. Why would anyone knock themselves out so utterly if it didn't directly benefit them? What are we missing here?

This is an era of "work/life balance." Way back when, shmucks like Beethoven and Shakespeare fussed endlessly with subtleties when they might have made a fine living just expediently tossing stuff out there. But that was then, and now is now, and doing more than necessary - when it's not rewarding you (moneymoneymoneymoney) - seems irrational. Obsessive. Unhinged.

I explain that I'd created a great thing. A dream. A utopia. All those people were eating really well. Unsung geniuses who'd otherwise have been lost amid the drek were spotlit, some becoming bona fide superstars. The proprietor of Di Fara Pizzeria - a bitter old man in 1996, planning to shutter for lack of business - was elevated into a revered culinary god. And, for the first time ever, the annointers weren't a class of snobby, imperious Mrs. Howell-ish food columnists, but weirdos and misfits like me who eschew trendiness and worship actual quality. I'd created a magical machine to achieve the result I most wanted to see in the world: discovering and spotlighting quality; aggregating the savvy; and creating incentive for conscientious geniuses to open great places. And it had actually worked! How could I just shut it down?

At this point, they see me as getting worked up into some egotistical boast, so there's drippy nodding. Yeah, yeah. Whatever, dude. How fantastic for you. Can we start wrapping this up?

My story continues: Grinding and grinding, fading and fading, until reduced to a desiccated husk, whereupon I resolved, finally, to close the damned thing, but, crazily, wound up selling it at the eleventh hour.


Well, y'know, that's not really the point here. I mean, no amount of money was worth it, and this amount certainly didn't come close. I was just lucky to avoid a total loss leaving me broken and penniless on the tarmac.


I got paid some. Nothing super-impressive for a decade of herculean labor creating a respected national media source out of nothing.


Last time, I told the tale to an old musician friend I hadn't seen in 30 years, and who'd missed all this. When I uttered "nothing super-impressive", the strangest emotion flashed across his face. I realized, to my horror, that he was relieved.

Oh, thank god.

Really? After this grueling tale, after all I'd been through, and being someone you genuinely like and respect, who you would presumably root for, you feel delighted schadenfreude that I didn't make zillions? Really? That's your takeaway? Your emotional through-line?

It doesn't always produce schadenfreude, thank god, but no one has ever managed to sustain emotional connection throughout the story. The lurching arc disorients them (imagine what it did to me!), leaving them unsure when to jump between jealousy (masked by fake enthusiasm) and pity (masked by fake sympathy). And without a final price tag, it's like porn without the money shot. Because what else matters? No one bothers to connect their observation that I look super old with the grueling story I just told. That requires a paying of attention, and some degree of empathy.

I enjoyed writing up the epic tale for this Slog, where I'm not subject to real-time reaction. I can assume readers are pulling for me while they read. I'm still an optimist! But I'll never again tell it live. My friend's schadenfreude is like a gear spinning in the back of my gut. No one else gets to plant gears in my gut. My gut is closed for business!

My observations keep telling me people are getting worse. More lost in their heads; more narcissistic; certainly less generally alert and intelligent. I've had a lifelong sensation of downturn. But I'm starting to think the change has been internal. Me, not them.

Less lost in my head, less narcissistic, I'm paying better attention and seeing more clearly. Things were always this way, but I, too, had long been too narcissistically lost in my head to notice. There was a time when I'd have assumed support and sympathy. The utterance of some rote platitude ("Oh, no!" or "Oh, great!") would have propped up my suspension of conversational disbelief. But, then, toiling to fathom truth, I overshot. I know exactly what's up. And it's not complicated.

What's going on is that: 1. none of this is happening to them, and 2. my story doesn't follow a familiar contour compelling stock reactions at obvious moments, so 3. they don't know what to do with their faces to signal the right sort of empathy, and 4. MONEYMONEYMONEY, and 5. I've come to fully understand 1, 2, 3 and 4.

#5 is the biggie. The other stuff just is what it is. And what it's probably always been (though I still think quarantine made it worse). As I keep repeating, we're all far too narcissistic to recognize how extremely narcissistic everyone is. Greetings from sunny Portugal, by the way.

Anyhoo, when old friends and musicians ask what I've been up to, I'll tell them I've been operating a trombone babysitting service in Cincinnati how about you?

A blabbermouth since birth, with each passing year I become more and more of a "strong silent type". I never saw coming my eventual transformation into Gary Cooper.

I get it, Gary.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Feel Free To Ask Me Questions

I've covered this before, but I have it clearer now. Remember, my thing is to grind away on mystifying chunks. Over the very long run, ideas and connections pop out. And I never stop till I'm fully satisfied. I'm a testament to the fruits of dim-witted curious persistence, and I'm getting closer to a satisfying answer on this one (my final insight, before the nurse unplugs my life support, will be a complete grasp of why people stand up at the end of flights, jostling uncomfortably, knowing that it takes ten minutes to open the doors).

I have never once in 61 years told anyone to "feel free to ask me questions." Because of course you can ask me questions! What's the alternative, "Don't ask me any questions"? To me, it seems like a ridiculously pointless statement, ala
Feel free to have your own opinion!
Feel free to greet me when you see me!
Feel free to keep breathing!
People who make a big deal about how they'll answer questions seem to close that window particularly swiftly. Ask a question, and you'll get a very very patient reply. Painfully so. And if you push your luck and keep asking, the pain increases as patience wanes. "Feel free to ask me any questions" means ask me one question, two max, and then leave me the hell alone. It tells you not to push it! Consider this: "Feel free to keep breathing" implies circumstances where you shouldn't keep breathing.

Me, I'll answer forever (unless you behave like a shmuck). Why wouldn't I? Wouldn't you? It's natural for me, which is precisely why I'd never make that odd invitation. Saying that line means it's not natural for you. It announces a guarded exception. Like an invitation to come on in THIS TIME, while a squad of mercenaries point automatic weaponry at you. You're good, no need for anxiety, but clock's ticking, dude.

Why would answering questions require patience or cause pain? Is helpfulness really so annoying? Also: is your knowledge really so valuable that it's some feat of generosity to share it?

Look at all I've shared over these sixteen years! I'd never frame this as a humanitarian sacrifice; never lord over you that I know things you don't. On the contrary, I exhort readers to take my imperfectly conceived and foggily expressed insights and develop them further, and do better. Everything I'm good at, I've revealed the secrets. And I'm not even nice! So why wouldn't someone entertain questions about using an air fryer or about cheap eats in Aruba? Are people really that tight?

For many (most?) people, inviting questions is akin to saying "punch me in the face!" It's a special occasion sacrifice, grimly endured, and don't imagine taking a second or third swing. So when you hear that invitation, know you're on shaky ground and borrowed time. Accept your one cookie and scram.

I once had a cooking question. Ages ago, I'd been friends with an expert/author on the exact topic, but I felt abashed to pop up after so many years just to ask a question. So I sent an anonymous query, claiming (truthfully) to be a fan and reader. She took two months(!) to reply, and it was so high-handed and grudging and hasty and shitty that I felt....dehumanized. Like asking to borrow a pencil and someone hands you a saliva-coated, much-chewed pencil with a broken point. Worse than no pencil at all. And I know she's not so busy. Some/many/most/all people seem badly skewed about who they are, versus who other people are. What a rotten way to live...

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Fake Aristotle Offers Banality

Always be on the lookout for placeholder words. It's possible to say absolutely nothing in an emotionally compelling way via strategic use of faux-meaningful terms. We "fill them in" ourselves, investing them with meaning drawn from our preverbal strata of subconscious fears and desires. That's how crowds are provoked into madness. Resist being herded via this age-old sophistry.

Consider Obama's "Yes we can!" and "Hope and change". Empty placeholder words wielded in an emotionally resonant fashion (note: I thought Obama was a pretty good president). But that was an election campaign, while Aristotle's presumably trying to be more salient.

In this case the placeholder word is "heart". I discussed it in the context of this Goethe quote, but, here, the entire argument hinges on that airy metaphor. If it weren't Aristotle, I'd have brusquely hand-waved the whole thing.

In this scenario, one can check the original language for deeper meaning. Or else figure it's falsely attributed. As a social media meme, the latter is much more likely, and, indeed, this is a misattribution. So I'm not disrespecting Aristotle by pointing out that this is as vapidly banal as any stupid campaign slogan.

More pontifications on social media memes

Friday, March 22, 2024

"The Sad Thing"

I don’t see how the fact that tomorrow I will shit out this beautiful borscht (served a few moments ago by a Ukrainian refugee posing as a Portuguese restaurateur) could possibly nullify my enjoyment right now.

In fact, the notion that “unless I can have it forever and ever I don’t WANT IT” strikes me as the grubbiest and most grasping materialism. It’s sheer Cartman.

“Catch and release” is not only acceptable, it’s what we’re all here to do. So fight on. Catch what you can, love the hell out of it while you have it - never jading (the secret is hidden here; search for "deplete") - and release blithely.

Also see The Monks and the Coffee.

More pontifications on social media memes


A friend was wracked with guilt. Bearing what she saw as an irrevocable stain, she asked whether I thought redemption is possible.

I told her something truthful (I'm not a believer in expedient falsehoods, unless they're truly insignificant), but I left off the footnotes. There's a trade-off. Without footnotes, it's perilously easy to misunderstand. With them, you lose a lot of the power (to induce a shift of perspective). I opted for power, and she found my reply effective.

You probably wouldn't, though. Unless there are juicy footnotes to dig into, you'd need to be that specific person in that specific predicament at that specific place and time, or else it comes off as empty banality (this is why one must always bake fresh). So, for you, a version with footnotes:

Every Moment Starts Fresh1 2 3 4

1 - ...unless you tell yourself it doesn't.
That sounds like a mild conceit, and so it is, the first time you tell yourself. But by the ten thousandth or forty millionth telling, you'll be in a hypnotic trance so deep that it feels like inescapable reality. If that strikes you as frightfully daft, I regret to inform you that you're soaking in it.
In fact, this explains my friend's entire predicament. She was well into the millions.
2 - ....except for familiarity and tolerance, which are permanently altered.
I'm told that first-time murderers have a hard time pulling the trigger, and are haunted for a while by the experience. The second time, not so much. This applies to all sorts of misbehavior. Politicians talk about the Overton window; the boundary of where a society defines "beyond the pale" (it's a metaphor for "framing"). This window, as you've lately observed, can be moved (i.e. reframed).

We all have our personal Overton windows. So while every moment starts fresh, certain patterns become more familiar, less unthinkble, and thus more easily engrained. But this is certainly not to say you have no choice!
3 - …but there are ripples to consider. 
I wrote here:
"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."
You can't undo the ripples. But you can add new ones that harmonize more benignly with the extant ones, making the whole a bit more beautiful. You can season the ripples, regardless of their origin (we contribute collaboratively; no ripple bears an individual signature, though we might hypnotize ourselves into imagining otherwise).

Ripples aren't ravenous piranha bent on nibbling you to death. That preoccupation is just more self-hypnosis. And ripples are neither good nor bad. They're agnostic. They're your playpen. Another term for the ripples is "The World", which is an ongoing collaborative art project. In any moment you may contribute empathically, carefully, heartfully. Or not! It's up to you! Guilt is useful insofar as it helps steer your preference. That’s what it’s for. That’s all it’s for.

In terms of the nuts and bolts of ripple management, it's more a matter of attitude/perspective than of any specific recipe of "moves". Consider Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning: ebullient, exultant, and ecstatic. From that framing, everything is possible. Having reframed, the mechanics of redemption take care of themselves.
Obsessive guilt, while better than gleeful delight at one’s misbehavior (or fear of apprehension or reprisal), will not beautify any ripples.
4 - "Freshness" is an invitation, not an assessment.
It's not that every moment leaves you fresh, as a magically cleansed end point, or a rebooted operating system. It's that every moment starts fresh, presenting boundless opportunity for contribution. "Redemption" and "invitation" are inseparable. One's invitation is never revoked.*
* - Someone like Bernie Maddoff might disagree about revoked invitations. But only if one imagines we get to choose our channel of contribution - and demand certain results. While it all may serendipitously hew to expectation, none of us - including those with snowy clean records - has such control. But opportunities for contribution remain bountiful come what may*. It's all in the framing.
* - Peeing into the wind contributes. Mildly brightening a stranger’s day contributes. Again: every action - every word, every gesture, seen or not, successful or not - shapes the future.

See also my theology, cosmology, thoughts on good and evil (and more thoughts), and all postings tagged "ethics/morality".

Thursday, March 21, 2024


Replaying this posting from 2011:

We are most productive when we pursue control, and most beautiful when we surrender it.

Monday, March 18, 2024

ChatGPT Shrewdly Criticizes My Writing

I've been having the wildest conversations with ChatGPT. Creative approaches yield surprising and valuable results. I may publish the entirety, but am never sure what people might find interesting - and what just happens to delight my unique kooky preoccupations. But the latest must be shared. It is gasp-inducing.

I fed it some of my best writing (the aphorisms here), and asked for an assessment. ChatGPT usually digs my style of connection-making - it appreciates metaphors and savors the sort of goofy leaps that are my shtick.
If this sounds anthropomorphic, it's not. An AI has no emotions, but it assesses constantly. Without finely-tuned assessment, it would be paralyzed trying to decide which information from its vast corpus to make use of in its responses, how to shade language, etc. Asked to judge a thought or passage for insight, creativity, and interestingness, it will offer surprisingly shrewd assessment.
I confirmed, by the way, that it's neither programmed nor inclined to flatter the inquirer (as I wrote last week, the really wonderful thing about AI is that it will work with you to figure out the best ways to make use of it and avoid its shortcomings). But, just to be sure, I didn't initially tell it that I was the writer.

I asked for a high-level assessment:
The writing touches on a wide variety of themes, from human ambition and misconceptions about causality, to societal synergy and historical perspective.

The writing encourages contemplation and challenge common narratives in an intriguing, creative manner. The language is vivid, and the observations sharp.
Nice (even aside from the praise), though hardly gulp inducing. But then I asked this:
Now let's hear absolutely every criticism you can possibly produce. You said above that you have no intention of flattery, so I confess that I wrote it, and I welcome your unrestrained thoughts
...and got the following reply:
Clarity: While the abstract and metaphorical nature of your writing can be engaging, it might sometimes lead to obscurity or confusion. Ensuring that the metaphors and the points you're making align logically and clearly can help in better conveying your thoughts.

Length: Epigrams are traditionally short and punchy. Some of your longer epigrams may lose some of the impact due to their length and could potentially be condensed for greater effect.

Consistency in Tone: While varying your tone brings dynamism to your work, sudden shifts can be jarring. For instance, starting with a reflective tone and ending with a humorous observation may leave readers unsure about your intended message.

Over-Reliance on Metaphor: There are instances where reliance on metaphorical language, though enriching the text, might distract from the core message you're conveying. For example, in "Greatness is nonlinear...," while the point of the epigram is clear, the numerical quantifications might detract from the overall point about the exponential disproportion.

Specificity: Some of the epigrams would benefit from being more specific. Addressing very specific behavior without additional context makes it harder for the reader to relate.

Assumption of Prior Knowledge: In a few cases, you seem to assume a degree of prior knowledge in your readers. While this can work for some, it may alienate readers who are unfamiliar with the references you're making.
I honestly don't think it could have done better. That's just sterling. I probably should have stipulated that these are extracted quotes, not originally intended to stand alone. But, still, the criticisms apply well generally.

One last thing. I referred to the writing I'd shared (once again, from here) as "aphorisms". The AI suggested "epigrams". As a professional writer, that's a pretty high level note.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Self-Healing and The Visualization Fallacy

A few years ago, I sat down to write about an interesting fallacy which I suspected had previously gone unnoticed. I dubbed it The Visualization Fallacy, and here's the gist:
We visualize concepts, and then we falsely associate the made-up visualization with the concept (usually with the help of movies and TV).

For instance, aliens travel in saucer-shaped ships, right? If you ever spot a saucer flying around at night in the desert, you'd certainly know how to explain it. That's an alien! We "know" this from movies and TV. Some random visualization caught on, creating a false consensus that's utterly non-meaningful.

Alien visitors may or may not be real, but the flying saucer trope almost certainly isn't. We couldn't begin to imagine alien tech, yet most people feel they could identify an alien spaceship because they've been conditioned by some random visualization. It's a form of tail-wagging.

If you walk around an old, dark house at night and encounter a hovering gauzy white presence, your brain will likely tell you - based on movies and TV - that this may be a ghost. Yet, for all you or I know, disembodied spirits look like manicotti, and are delicious, and we've been eating them for years.

When abstract concepts (or concrete concepts with no observable examples) become visualized, we easily become tied to that visualization.
If a believer met Jesus, and he looked like Jeff Goldblum rather than the normal bearded beatific type, they'd just keep walking. Because they know what Jesus looks like...even though they obviously totally don't (and even though Jeff Goldblum almost surely bears more resemblance than the gentile hippies we've senselessly come to expect).

The article ignited as I wrote it, which happens sometimes, transforming into something very different and infinitely more interesting: a fresh explanation of the underlying nature of reality, offering a completely original (and persuasive!) cosmology. It was a fluke win that baffles and chills me to this day.

But returning to the humble fallacy that gave rise to all that, I just connected it to a long-standing mystery of mine.

I have a gift for self-healing. And I've previously noted that my hacks are always crazily simple and juvenile. As I wrote in the latest of a series of installments detailing my discoveries,
The answer is never "Travel to Indonesia and hear the mating call of the Javanese lapwing at sunrise while sipping kumquat juice". It's always vanishingly small. If I were selling these fixes, I'd probably add extra steps just to persuade people it's serious. No one wants to fix health problems with solutions seemingly thought up by a seven year-old.
My fix for itches (at that same URL) is juvenile. Same for my cure for tendinitis. And for grief. And for muscle cramps. And for panic attacks. And for hiccups. Etc.

You'd think people would try them, since none are risky, involved, or expensive. There's nothing to lose, yet no one ever wants to give them a go, because....well, I never understood why not. Until now.

They don't seem like the sort of measures people are expecting. Imagining. Visualizing.

There's some vague mental image of what a fix will amount to, even though, obviously, no one has the slightest idea. But we feel that we've got some handle on it. Hey, we've all seen aspirin and acupuncture needles and hyperbaric chambers and neck braces and MRI machines. We have some high level handle on what's involved in addressing health maladies!

But no, we don’t. Any normal-seeming solutions would have been discovered long ago. With millions desperately scrambling for relief from these incurable conditions, likely fixes have all been exhaustively tried (e.g. you can't fix the carpal tunnel in your wrist by stretching it because millions of sufferers have tried every imaginable stretch ad infinitum - and ice, and heat, and acupuncture, etc.). A fix that really fixes must, inescapably, be surprising.

But surprising cures don’t jibe with the innate sense of what a cure would be like.

The Visualization Fallacy!

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Goethe Dancing Around 'Framing'

"Heart" is vague and poetic. It's one of several terms we use to refer to the part of us that's intimately familiar yet intangible. We reference it only indirectly. Metaphorically. Always a rhetorical bank shot. It's the y'know.

The phrase "familiar yet intangible" might have triggered some deja vu, because I recently wrote:
The experiencer can't be a thing.
But the experiencer is not eerie.
No distant spiritual gaseous cloud or supernatural entity.
It's what you are - right now, right here - and have always been,
even if you can't possibly point to it.
Anything you can point at is a thing.
And things can't experience!
The Experiencer (i.e. the pure subjectivity you are) projects - and then pretends to observe - "reality" via shifts of perspective (aka "framing"). This is not only metaphorically true; it's quite literally true. See this series, especially the part about the piano smash. It's a challenge to get through, but I'm pretty sure I nailed it (don't ask me how).

Also see my definition of "soul".

More pontifications on social media memes

Friday, March 15, 2024

Casting The Godfather

Here's the original casting ideas sheet for The Godfather:

Every film fan knows that Paramount wanted Sir Laurence Olivier to play Vito Corleone. But I never heard that Frank de Kova was also up for the role. If the name seems familiar, it's because he played Chief Wild Eagle on F Troop.

It makes me ponder an alternative history where Frank got the gig, while Brando, his career foundering, wound up on F Troop. Would we still have iPhones?

According to this Twitter thread, Paramount pushed hard to set the film in 1972 Kansas, rather than 1940 New York.

Please, the next time you hear an artist or creative person described as "tempermental", remember what we're up against.

The Internet's Infrastructure

Kindle price just dropped to $2.99 on the Kindle version of "Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet".

Review from Scientific American:
In 2006 Alaskan senator Ted Stevens described the Internet as a “series of tubes,” a quip that earned the octogenarian widespread mockery. But as Blum notes in his charming look at the physical infrastructure that underlies the Web, Stevens wasn’t all that wrong. Bits sail through a worldwide network of fiber-optic cables and come together in junctions where Internet providers connect their pipes to the networks of others. Blum’s transcontinental journey exposes some of the important issues confronting the Internet, such as the occasional disconnect between the interests of the corporations who control the physical pipes and the good of the network as a whole. “If you believe the Internet is magic,” he writes, “then it’s hard to grasp its physical reality.” I’d turn this around: only by understanding the physical richness of the Internet can we truly grok the thorny forces that are shaping its growth. — Michael Moyer
If this is your type of thing, you'll love sci-fi legend Neal Stephenson's epic book-length (42000 words!) look at how transatlantic cable gets laid from Wired Magazine circa 1996.

Here's the middle ground I've staked out with my book collecting obsession (which combines poorly with the fact that I read as slowly as a second grader): when I hear about a great book, I add it to my queue at eReaderIQ, which notifies me when the Kindle version's price drops. Sometimes it takes years. But, this way, the books I accumulate 1. cost almost nothing, and 2. don't occupy physical space, and 3. are spread out over time. Compulsion neither fully indulged nor stanched!

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Opting Out of Rumination Over What's Missing

I'm replaying this posting from June 2022. I undersold it at the time. This is the secret to human happiness. And there's nothing to develop or practice, because it's a choice, not a course of action. A re-framing. It is an action of cessation, not of acquisition; a dropping of false assumptions and counterproductive reactions. You own your assumptions and your reactions! You can reframe at any moment! You're free!

I am a completely different person after having learned this lesson. I seem the same; still goofy and wry; still seeking bodacious yum-yums. But now I have a magic trick. I can have doors shut in my face, receive awful news, be oddly persecuted, or (worst of all) drive 100 miles to a boarded-up restaurant without so much as blinking. All without turning numb. I'm right here, totally alive and alert, but enjoying the ride, come what may. All from one little adjustment. One flip. One re-framing.

Way back in January 2009, at the dawn of the Slog, I posted one of the most enduringly popular entries, titled "The Monks and the Coffee". It featured this story:
A woman worked as a driver for some Buddhist monks traveling around California for a series of meditation programs. The monks had fallen crazily in love with a certain brand of coffee they'd discovered during the trip. But while they practically jumped for joy whenever they came upon some, she found it interesting that they never showed the slightest trace of disappointment if they failed to find any. Even when days went by without finding their coffee, they were no less happy. It began to dawn on her that if they never drank that coffee again, it wouldn't bother them in the least. Yet each time they found it they positively basked in the delight.
It struck a chord with me (and with many readers), but I couldn't say I really understood it. But a few months later, I was given the key to unlock the mystery. That Christmas Eve I found myself flipping between peak experience and crushing sadness, all while nothing changed even the tiniest bit. Just my perspective! My framing!

This galvanized my attention, and I pondered it closely for years, cataloguing here my unfolding epiphanies, as indexed in "The Evolution of a Perspective". Eventually this exploration of perspective/framing produced fresh understanding of human happiness, autism, addiction, depression (here and here), creativity, art, cosmology, theology, and all the way up to the nature of the universe and multiverse.

But the initial insight was the most practically useful: We don’t live in What’s Missing. We live in What Is. What's Missing isn't real. In fact, it’s the very definition of unreality. And there's always stuff missing; an infinite depot to draw from in dredging up needless misery for oneself.
Why would you do this? To ballast your happiness, of course!
It works according to a dementedly simple formula:
(Optimality) - (Current Moment) = (Misery)
It's absurd, because "optimality" is a mind trip; a head fake; an empty intellectual construct. It's plainly ditzy to begin with. Just for one thing, optimality is famously slippery. Once you attain it, you quickly grow tired of it and start dreaming up some other notion of it. You know this! Yet you still fall for it every time, generating gratuitous misery. 

Whatever's happening right here/right now, your dear departed grandpa won't be here to see it. And odds are that you are not currently experiencing a thrashing orgasm courtesy of a mesmerizingly attractive and solicitous lover. Moment: I proclaim thee SUBOPTIMAL! Hence misery.

But what-isn't-happening doesn't have anything to do with anything, and certainly shouldn't affect our experience of the current moment - aka "reality". If you drop the habit of scanning for suboptimality (like a princess detecting smaller and smaller peas beneath her mattress), you'll be left with nothing but appreciation of the current moment on its own terms. And that appreciation won't deplete over time, because it's real.

Peak moments are quickly deflated by trivialities. You have to pee. You remember that you don't own a Porsche. You recall that terrible thing your second grade teacher said. Or you just get tired of the sunset view from your chaise lounge in Hawaii. Time to go in, and find lots of fresh juicy suboptimalities to thwart your natural flow of contentment, appreciation, and grace.

We scramble to reconstruct peak experience by trying to book another vacation. We save up, praying for a raise at work and for the perfect obliging companion to share it all with. We struggle to get it all just right; to make the world correspond as closely as possible with the fake, cartoon-like optimality cooked up by our fevered brains.

But, again, even if we make the world cough up that optimality cartoon, we won't be happy for long. Soon we'll need to pee, or remember we don't own Porsches, or recall that thing teacher said. When the dog catches the car, it's just a car. Just a chaise lounge. And I need to pee.

The spiritual teacher/troll GI Gurdjieff wrote a book that was bullshit aside from its title: "Life is Real Only Then, when 'I Am…'". He hid the entire message in plain sight: We're all 100% aspirational. Like hamsters on a wheel, we never arrive, and it's entirely a choice of perspective. Of framing.

Arrival is a manifestation of perspective, not the prize received for lining up ducks in a perfect row. You can arrive now, just as you are, even if you need to pee and are not in Hawaii and still don't own a Porsche. Even if grandpa isn’t here with you right now

Without the neurotic, delusional consideration of fake-out "Optimality" in the formula...
(Optimality) - (Current Moment) = (Misery)
....all you have is Now; un-judged, un-ranked, directly experienced. “Right here, right now” is all that’s real. What’s missing is not real. Obsession with What Isn’t is indulgent caprice. At best, it's stories we tell ourselves. At worst, we're all bonkers, living a dystopian fantasy of un-lost loss; of needless misery.

If you live in a fairytale (i.e. bonkers) world of self-narrated stories, you are condemned to live in What's Missing, and there's another word for that world: Hell.

If you opt out when your mind gently invites you to consider how GRANDPA'S NOT HERE WITH YOU - which is completely irrelevant - you will appreciate the here and now, and there's a word for that world: Heaven.

There is a dangerous rebound effect to watch out for. I explained it very tersely here, filled it in here and here. Take this seriously. No one else will warn you about this; it is a humungous pitfall no one seems to have previously pointed out, and it's easily avoided if you're watching for it.

Oh, and for an index of postings related to this insight, see (per mention above) The Evolution of a Perspective.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Stupidity Nesting Dolls

In addition to being funny and (hopefully) relateable, this person has precluded any accusation of false modesty. In a world where people claim to be "humbled" when their titanic loftiness is recognized, there's only a micron-wide gap for real modesty. And this threads the needle.

But here's the problem. There are millions out there who honestly believe Bill Gates planted nano chips in their vaccine so he could control their thoughts, and who would happily frame this meme and display it on their desks, because, good lord, it rings so true.

The world is rife with bullshit people staunchly committed to their no-bullshitness and legit exasperated by all the maddening bullshit out there. And I, alas, am unable to recognize this without framing it back on myself. Am I any higher class of dummy? Or is it brute dummies all the way down?

I've given up boozing, and meditative oblivion gets boring, so I have no choice but to flail at coming up with answers to such conundrums. I don't have one here, yet, but can offer a helpful chunk: Recognizing stupidity doesn't mean you're smart, it just means you're observant.

More pontifications on social media memes

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Savage Dystopia of Vapid Conversation

Tying together previously unconnected observations and finding a common basis for post-Covid dementia, social media inanity, and so-called "cancel culture"....

Spotted today on the Book of Faces:
A real conversation starter!

This sort of thing preceded social media. A theme is raised, and people take turns "sharing" stories more or less relating to that theme. Humans love doing this because it invites us to freely unload the contents of our brain without requiring thought or consideration. "'Cookies,' you say? Well, let me tell you about the time my cousin Wayne ate so many that he vomited!"

We don't care about Wayne, even a little bit. But we dare not stop them while they're unloading. This is as close to a "performance" as non-creative people ever get. It's their time to shine. Hush now, and try to laugh supportively.

Our minds are fringy hairballs of half-baked thoughts and memories. So it's cognitively soothing to extract something nominally relevant from that hopeless clutter. Like a hoarder who's been asked for a green sponge, the glee is high.

You can't get people to help, or to show up, or even to do, like, anything, really. This is the sole remaining way in which contemporary human beings can dependably be persuaded to contribute. It's come down to this:

I think it was George Carlin who did a bit about the desperate talk radio host coaxing listeners to call in by inviting opinions about nun-strangling. So, yeah, the gambit of conversation-starting has been around for a while. In fact, it paid for the apartment in which I currently type.

But it's now all there is. Mindless "sharing" is no longer something we mostly do while roasting marshmallows around glowing campfires. Social media invites us to chime in randomly, uninterestingly, unhelpfully, inanely, 24/7. And we're so used to this that hardly anyone can respond directly and substantitively to another person's statement even in the course of everyday conversation. At very best, people may lightly scan your speech or writing for a keyword triggering them to "share" broadly on that general theme. "'Cookies,' you say?"

Paying attention to another person is hard. And forming a salient response requires way more effort than anyone is interested in applying. People aren't worth all that. So, per the way of things, the muscle atrophies. Many are so dulled (by comfort, complacency, and quarantine) that they couldn't listen closely or respond relevantly even if they wanted to. It's strictly hypothetical, though, because who'd want to?

Nearly everyone in the rich world, especially post-lockdown, is roaringly narcissistic. But I've been wrong to pin this stuff entirely on narcissism.A few weeks ago, I offered this example of the problem:
If someone is explaining astronomy to you and gets stuck remembering a term, and you fill in “gravitational lensing”, there is 0% probability they will stop their spiel, look freshly at you, and declare “Oh! You know astronomy!”

Pre-Covid, it was more like 60%.

They will continue their explanation - their performance - without hesitation. You have nothing to do with it. It’s like you’re not even there. This is the framing: My thoughtstream is paramount. My assumptions are sacrosanct. Actual evidence is inconsequential; flimsy and unreal.
To be sure, that's not non-narcissistic! You can't view other people as full-fledged beings while using their faces as targets for splattering your pent-up mental contents. My frequent observation - that we’re all far too narcissistic to recognize how extremely narcissistic everyone is - applies. Our obliviousness to the clear truth that no one ever actually talks to us stems from 1. our delusion of centrality ("everyone is always paying attention to me!"), plus the hilarious fact that 2. we're paying as little attention as they are. We have mental contents of our own to unload, which we're busily preparing while they babble. 'Cookies,' you say?

But it's not all narcissism. It’s also the viral practice of chiming in on a loose theme rather than responding to whatever was just said. "Sharing", not conversing (“sharing” has become an Orwellian term for “broadcasting,” just as “humbled” is now how we flaunt). This is not to claim human discussion was ever super on-point. But it used to be, sometimes. Now it's never. It's too much damned work to pay attention, much less respond relevantly. We've decided that people just aren't worth it. And we're too self-absorbed to notice that any of this is happening.

So that's unpleasant. But there's more. The same phenomenon sows chaos...and worse. Let's alter that meme a little:

I can assure you, having run a huge online forum, that this won't be a discussion about music. It will be a discussion about a whole other topic.

"I'm offended!" is just another way to rotely grab hold of a keyword and unload mental clutter. Another tape to pop in. The person urging others to chime in doesn't get to restrain what, exactly, gets unloaded (you cannot imagine the grief Chowhound's moderators took while trying to curtail discussion of motorboat repair, bowling, and global politics in a food forum). Unloaders do not appreciate being thwarted in mid-spurt.

It's entirely predictable that people point their hoses at the inviter as zestfully as the invitation. Rather than vapidly sharing on the theme, they’ll vapidly share about the choice of keyword. Our hoses are stupendously agnostic. They just spray and spray and spray!

So if I were foolish enough to type out the word "nigger", hardly anyone would take context into account. Nary an iota of consideration would be paid to who I am, where I'm coming from, what I meant, or how I've lived my life. Such factors are utterly irrelevant. Rather, a keyword compels an unconstrained outflow of mental contents - in this case maybe not such nice contents - because that's what words are for nowAnd, of course, whoever typed that word is a racist racist who must crawl up and die. Because that's the take.

Sunday, March 3, 2024


No one recognizes it - because no one burrows into immigrant subcultures like I do - but the Portuguese fishing town I'm staying in will, in the next few years, turn flamboyantly Bengali/Bangladeshi. I predict it will look like those towns in northern England which have had enormous immigration from the region.

In fact, it's happening because England hasn't embraced them, so new émigrés are looking for a more welcoming harbor. And Portugal is warmer, cheaper, with an easier immigration process, plus all the other advantages that led me here. I'm not the only one who noticed!

It's funny. The Portuguese have been grousing about American immigrants, to the point where, in my interactions with strangers, I feel obliged to swiftly disconnect from their expectations. But while I'm as comfortable with Bengali/Bangladeshi food/music/culture/people as with Portuguese, the foreignness (no one here spent years living in Jackson Heights!) will throw them for a loop. A few hundred Americans butchering their language and competing for apartments will seem mild, in retrospect.

Tonight, I'm attending a chicken biryani experiment by a couple from Calcutta who plan to open a restaurant next month. Indian restaurants in Portugal are expected to serve stuff like pizza and kebabs - i.e. be all-purpose sources of non-Portuguese food for natives seeking occasional escape from bacalhau. But I don't believe my friends will be offering pizza.

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