Friday, January 20, 2017

Orwellian

I was paying at the cash register of my favorite Italian deli this afternoon. Trump was snarling his inaugural address on the TV, while customers stared in horror. The clerk cheerfully announced my total:
"$19.84, sir."

"You're not kidding," I retorted, handing over my money.
No one noticed. No one grinned. Again.

The Inauguration's Empty Bleachers



Empty bleachers for the inauguration. Strident protests before the administration's even done anything. Media and elites strongly, outspokenly against the administration's mere existence. Part of me is heartened by these things! In the cartoon view, the good guys are showing strength.

But this isn't a cartoon. If there's anyone in America besides me that actually wants Donald Trump to find and act from his better nature - to at least attempt to be a good president for everyone, and not use the office solely as a platform to unrestrainedly act out his mental health issues - then you have to wonder what good this does.

Donald Trump may or may not have a better nature, and may or may not be capable of rising to act from such a basis. But one thing's for damn sure: America's most transactional man is not going to rise above provocation. He won't discover his better nature in a headwind. Decency is a heavy enough lift for him, and we're imposing heavy handicaps, besides. We're goading him. We're provoking him. We want to see the very worst Trump.

This happened to Obama, too. They threw everything imaginable at him from the get-go. Yet he never reciprocated. Per the cliche, he went high when they went low, working from the Christ/Gandhi/MLK playbook. Trump won't do that. Can't do that.

So unless we have a yearning to see the very worst Donald Trump (and I'm convinced many of his opponents do; much as the NRA truly wanted Obama to act to take their guns away and are absolutely incensed that he never did), there's something wrong with this picture.

I understand this line of thinking will strike some as appeasement. I'm suggesting we kowtow to our new president so he doesn't get his dander up and act mean to us. I'm a weak sniveler. But I can't counter that, because it's feeling (i.e. fear and hatred) masquerading as thinking. What I see here is that the left loves to deem people beyond-the-pale (the right does, too, but the left has made an art of it), and that this is a seriously unhealthy thing. And this miserable, brutally ignorant conman narcissistic asshole is the ultimate test of that. In fact, it's a more advanced test than we're remotely ready for. If ever we had a villain calling out to be treated with total desensitized disrespect, this is the guy.

If he's indeed beyond the pale - inhuman and therefore deserving of utter annihilation in every respect, from every angle, to the end of time, even at the cost of our nation's success in the coming years - then we're doing it right! But the Left has been worrying (justifiably) that human evolution is heading the wrong way - away from a future utopia where absolutely everyone is treated with tolerance, love, and respect. Meanwhile, they've been goading, inciting, and provoking as hard as it can to spark that very same turn. The problem's never the thing; it's always the reciprocation. The cascading ripples, not the stone. As I've been asking here for years:
Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

The Christ/Gandhi/MLK thing wasn't about being patsies. That line of opposition (and it is opposition!) comes from strength. That's why it's not appeasement. That's why it doesn't enable evil, as more militant partisans inevitably claim. Most Trump opposers would claim to grasp and admire the Christ/Gandhi/MLK approach, while simultaneously regarding anything less than scorched earth hatred as shameless appeasement. I don't know how to help them resolve their contradiction.

Try this, though: a Democracy means that all types get a chance to run things. Even the idiots. Democracy isn't about your guy winning. That's the opposite of democracy. Democracy means we put up with idiots running the country from time to time. That's the gig!!

I keep linking to this page about the Intolerance Paradox. Every paradox has its perfect test case. And I fear that we are, alas, flunking with Trump.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Maybe Cool it With the Sushi

Technical advisor Pierre (who's very well informed but not usually alarmist) has been strenuously urging against sushi for years. But a new report has him extra agitated: "Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America". He says this applies to any raw or undercooked salmon, unless it's been frozen to the FDA specifications, and the same holds (even more) for tuna and a host of others.

Question: Don't reputable sushi distributors freeze?

They are supposed to, but I don't know how enforceable that is. Salmonella contamination is obvious within a day, so it's easy to track back, but worms take months to produce severe symptoms. I suppose some sushi restaurants age their stock on their own premises, like steak houses do, but holes-in-the-wall, probably not.


Remember, though: you're never alone with a parasite...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Car Stereo Layla

Very often these days when I hear live music, applause is tepid, even when the crowd loved the band. Many don't clap at all. Poorly-paid musicians are in it for acclaim and approval, yet audiences can't be bothered to slap their palms and curl their mouth corners. Things have sunk that low.

At first I chalked it up to people feeling too cool to clap ("I catch every gig; let the giddy neophytes express their vulgar pleasure"). Insider's don't clap, and we're in an age where everyone needs to feel like an insider. But that's not entirely it. At performance's end, if you study the audience, they're all making their sullen, slack-jawed video game-playing faces. No beaming admiration, no recognition that it's their turn to activate in any way. They've been consuming, feeling as much responsibility to "give back" as they would toward their TV sets or earbuds. This is the slack-jawed endgame of extreme consumerism. Welcome to the Wall-E scenario.

I first observed this years ago, when a great many people assumed they were doing me a personal favor by surfing Chowhound, which I provided at Herculean effort as a public service. They'd often speak to me like their servant, brusquely instructing me on how I needed to change everything to fit their bill. If I didn't accommodate snappily, they'd become - often publicly - scornful. I learned in time that this was not the high-handed condescension it appeared to be. I wasn't an actual person - not any more than, say, one of the bosses in Grand Theft Auto. I was a guy manning a spigot, and each individual user's decision to suck from that spigot struck them as the most important thing - no, the only thing - in my universe.

Fast forward a few years. A large team and I have worked ridiculously hard for two solid years on something very ambitious, very necessary, and very heartfelt. It's nearly done, and I've given a few dozen people a preview peak. Among those who've partaken, very, very few have responded in any way. Thankfully, though, I've turned a corner. Ten or twenty years ago, I'd have been in freakout mode, assuming everyone hated it. Now, more firmly grounded in our era, I realize they love it. They're sucking from the spigot, and that's what counts. Who among us would acknowledge Eric Clapton when "Layla" finished playing on our car stereo? Everything is now car stereo Layla.


Three notes:

1. I'm smarter this time. This time, everyone has to cough up five bucks.

2. This whole situation is drastically against my religion.

3. As for people who I invited who never cracked it open, I am completely okay with that. You see, my favorite food writer, John Thorne, is a hero to me. I didn't often have time to read him back in the Chowhound days, and I somehow haven't caught up since. Whenever I pass the stack of his newsletters, I feel a warm glow of joy and admiration. But that's not sufficient; Thorne deserves my readership, not just my affection. So if I'm not eagerly reading every word of Thorne, I must completely forgive anyone who fails to follow my work. I can't expect anyone to admire me more faithfully than I admire John Thorne (more on him).


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Brace for President Pence

So if you've been reading the Twitter feeds I recommended here a few days ago and here on October, then you know that today's fast-unfolding news re: Trump and Russia has been a long time coming, and you even have an idea of what's coming next.

Trump's downfall will be a joint venture between the Intelligence Community (who Trump was foolish enough to war with) and right wing anti-Trumpers who are equal parts 1. patriotically outraged by everything Trump is, does and stands for, and 2. excited indeed about the prospect of President Pence.

Trump's through, it appears. This is a tip of the iceberg, and this is mostly just salacious except for the critical part about Trump's attorney's Prague trip last summer to meet with the campaign's Russian handlers.

For an advance look at the next shoe to drop (contradicting the BuzzFeed leak, it's been reported that Trump's engagements in Russian go back way more than five years, and involve alleged laundering massive cash for the Russian mob, which explains, among other things, how a frickin' casino can go broke), scroll down to Jan 9 at 10:33 AM on this Twitter feed of a very respected intelligence dude, and read forward.

Clickbait Score

For twenty years I've been forwarding science articles to my friend Pierre, who knows everything, and he's written back each and every time to tell me how they're doubtful, overblown, or complete bullshit.

Today, my ship came in. We may actually all be growing ourselves toothy stuff, per A Drug Meant for Alzheimer’s Treatment Regrows Human Teeth

Pierre says (and I feel like the Earth reversed its rotational spin):
"Yes! One of the few truly monumental advances in health care since vaccination! If it pans out, of course, but it does look good."
I can't help but wonder what else might be grown. What if this stuff makes me grow, like, toenails in my liver?

Official News feed of Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea

The Twitter account of the North Korean DPRK News Service (so dead-on and dry that many people wondered for a while whether it was legit) is hitting it out of the park today:

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Quiet Truth About Working in the Arts

Here's a truth which was whispered to me occasionally as I strived towards my writing and music careers: it's not true that it's hard to make a living in the arts.

Yes, there are tons of people angling to get through that door, but if you weed out the poseurs, the assholes, and the self-destructives, the remainder is a comically small group.

The (non-trivial) problem is to avoid that weeding-out, yourself. For one thing, you've got to be good - not just sort of "good enough" (people who settle for "good enough" count as poseurs).

It's a serious problem that a certain number of poseurs, assholes, and self-destructives make it through in spite of themselves, giving false hope all around. Plenty of wannabes survey the scene and conclude that's part of the gig.


Among the remainder - the comically small group - any sense of competition is an illusion.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Leaking Back to Russia...Or the Appearance Thereof

I've been plumbing the Twitter feeds of people (like Mr. Dog Tags Hot Tub, here) who are tapped into America's intelligence Community ("IC") to try to glean some perspective on the Trump/Russia thing. And one oft-repeated thought is: it's got to be tough for intelligence officers to be briefing Trump (and/or his team) about their delicate, hard-won information sources and methods, when Trump's so phenomenally undisciplined and he (and especially his cohorts) has such uncertain ties with Russia.

These briefings are some of the scariest, most worrisome things these guys have ever had to do. I haven't heard anyone suggest the following, but I like to try to look ahead to the "next step" of things:

If Putin's goal is to build up Trump as an American strongman vulnerable to his manipulations, he won't touch any of these sources or block any of these methods, even if Trump (or, more likely, Flynn or Manafort) send him a full accounting (which, for the record, I think is unlikely).

But if Putin's goal is to sow maximal chaos in America's Democratic process and institutional confidence, his move would be to burn as many sources and methods as he's able to identify - even if nothing's leaked to him! - to ensure maximal division and uncertainty within American government. If a secret American mole or two (perhaps one previously identified but left in place for just such an eventuality) gets slaughtered, that'd certainly, as Larry the Cable Guy (who I assume voted Trump) would say, "get 'er done."

I suspect Putin would rather burn us down than further build an erratic Frankenstein who's influenceable for lord know how much longer. So, maybe not now, but in due time, I'd imagine he'll try to make CIA think Team Trump leaked - no doubt planting evidence with Democrats. This strikes me as the KGB way.

New Hero: Carlos Kleiber

The rabbit hole du jour I've been plunging down to avoid doing work: Carlos Kleiber, a conductor I'd never heard of until two days ago when pianist/thereminist/velamintist Rob Schwimmer posted this video, entitled "Carlos Kleiber in Agony", to his Facebook feed:



It's slow-burn comedy gold, but, as Rob noted, it's especially impressive to musicians for the fact that this mofo never, ever misses a beat (watch his unperturbed baton hand's sweeping, lovely motions while his other hand cringes). I had to learn more, and, woah, was there ever a lot to discover. Here's a map of my subsequent surfing:

Wikipedia: Carlos Kleiber Good starting point.

Carlos Kleiber, A Reclusive Genius An article accompanying an ambitious radio profile.

Carlos Kleiber Audio Documentary That radio profile streaming online, complete with tons of musical excerpts.

Carlos Kleiber - Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon Free to stream if you have Amazon Prime.

1990 article from The Guardian Lots more background here.

Tristan Und Isolde from the above collection As mentioned in that Guardian article.

Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber

A Study In Contrasts – Carlos Kleiber I just love that he left "Kleibergrams" on the stands of individual musicians.

2004 Obituary in The Telegraph The first part of the eighth paragraph is extremely affecting.

The thoughts of inveterate contrarian Norman LeBrecht

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