Monday, January 22, 2018

Be the Change (Huncaina Tacos)

The sign read "Mexican/Peruvian Fusion", and I got a good vibe, so in I strolled to Fusion HK Bar and Grill (688 10th Ave between 48 and 49, Manhattan).

The place was empty, the chef was on break, but the bartender offered to cook for me. The menu wasn't anywhere near as fascinating as I'd hoped (when is it ever?). Just a bunch of hoary Peruvian and Mexican classics, at crazy Manhattan prices.

Inspiration struck, and I asked for chorizo tacos....with huancaina sauce. In case you don't know about huancaina, the Peruvian cheese sauce, my smartphone app, Eat Everywhere, explains it thus:

Papa a la HuancaĆ­na / Potato with Cheese Sauce [PAH-pah a la wan-kah-EE-nah]

So simple, and so unique. There's nothing like it in the world: slices of boiled potato, served cold and topped with bright yellow cheese sauce. The yellow is from the tasty, incendiary ~amarillo~ peppers that are a signature of Incan cuisine.
Understand: it is stark raving bonkers to ask for tacos with huancaina sauce. It's like ordering yogurt bolognese, or Cheerios with Thai curry, or samosas parmigiana. But I had been disappointed, and it bothered me a little, so inspiration struck and I came up with the kookiest, cleverest way to merge the two cuisines I could think of. Ny own damned Peruvian/Mexican fusion!

The bartender/temporary cook didn't have the cojones to actually apply the huancaina, so it was served alongside in an aloof little cup. You could almost smell the disapproval.

But I lathered it on, along with the fake Mexican chili sauce, and the tacos were fucking incredible:

(that's a shot of chilled pisco to the left)

"Cornered Rat" Report #7a

Oh, Google.

Three hours later, the phrase "cornered rat" finds 307,000 Google search results, compared to 78,00 this morning.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

"Cornered Rat" Report #7

Monday, January 22, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 78,900 google search results, the same as last week.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Goat Korma, Great Karma

Geez louise. Behold the life-changing (i.e. "re-framing"!) goat korma from the Sunday buffet at Nawab Pakistani Indian Cuisine, 2 Hudson St, Yonkers, NY; 914-909-9700 (Here's the menu), the best Northern Indian restaurant I've ever found - including the once-great Jackson Diner, my first big published find:

(Click photos to expand for extra porniness):

Visualization Fallacy Redux

For the two or three of you who actually slogged through that last posting, congratulations and my sympathies. To push patience still further, here are some cleanup items, followed by an extra bonus confusion multiplier!

I'm a big fan of buried ledes. In fact, at one point I considered renaming this Slog "Jim's Buried Ledes". Most of the ideas in "The Visualization Fallacy" were non-original, albeit freshly expressed. But two original thoughts were strewn at the bottom: The part about why time seems to speed up as we age (which I'd tackled once before, here, though I hadn't tied it into a larger picture), and a fresh (to my knowledge) speculation about traversing parallel universes via internal shifts of our perceptual framing.

I'd previously touched on perceptual framing here, and I'll be writing much more about it in future. It's something I've been aware of since childhood, and assumed everyone else knew about. It was decades before I realized, to my surprise, that most people mistakenly assume the world shifts their framing for them. They think perceptual shifts aren't directly available to - and perpetrated by - them. The most telling example of this misunderstanding is the construct "You're making me _____ (angry/sad/happy/etc.)". Obviously, that change is initiated by you. You might be responding to a person or situation, but the external world has no lever of control over your internal framing (in fact, recognition of this is, itself, a reframing). You can be inspired to make shifts, but it's certainly not common to say "You're inspiring me to make myself angry!"

The grossest area of the grossest town transforms into paradise upon a first kiss there with someone deeply loved. And the most gorgeous place will become a bleak hellscape if you're dumped there. Neither kisser nor dumper enact this transformation (though we naturally project it back to them). But we've clearly shifted, and the world has shifted with us. It's all different.

There are countless perceptual shifts that can reframe our attention - and thus our world and ourselves. Look very carefully at your cuticle. Then remember we're floating in endless space on an insignificant dust moat. Then return to your cuticle. Do it a few times, like a toddler playing with a light switch, to verify your control. Now try another. Sit quietly and observe that everything's perfect in this moment. But notice your brain scanning to find something to complain about (physical discomfort, hunger, temperature, memories or worries, a mental alarm set to go off soon...or simply the immense buzzing burden of the millions of previously set mental alarms that never quite faded to zero). Then refocus on how it's all perfect....and watch your mind once again spread out its tentacles, a princess perpetually scanning for mattress peas. Toggle between the two fast. 

This mundane-seeming faculty is actually a superpower, and one that can be practiced and developed (I'm working on a book about this), however rusty your shifter may have grown from disuse. It's worth the trouble. Framing is everything. Heaven is a frame, as is Hell. Did you really imagine they were places one goes after death? That's nuts! Do you think a hell could be devised that's worse than most people's day-to-day lives (entirely a function of their framing)? Or a heaven more salubrious than modern-day America actually is (if only we'd stop scanning for increasingly insignificant mattress peas)? Spiritual enlightenment, too, is a reframing.

An infinity of alternative yous, existing in an infinity of alternative worlds, can be visited/inhabited by simply reframing in any moment. It's not magic; we've had this ability the whole time. It's like a smartphone feature you didn't realize you had!

If I wrote yesterday's posting correctly, it should have offered a small, tasty cookie to those who struggled through. It should have inspired a reframing toward expansiveness. It explained how we project a world, and then live within that projection. So we're world builders. Gods! The step backward that's necessary to see this is, itself, a mighty perceptual reframing. But there's another step to be taken.

But before I ask you to stoically plow through the extra bonus confusion, enjoy an intermission via this spectacular adrenalin-pumping short film, which has absolutely nothing to do with any of this...but which, coincidentally, will coax you to reframe. We love movies because they're the slickest reframing aid short of a screaming boot camp sergeant three inches from your face:

The "making of" video which comes afterward is just as good, by the way....

The ancient Indians, bless 'em, coughed up a terribly advanced idea a few millennia ago. The Sanskrit word "akasha" is a humble-seeming word with the most cosmic of meanings: "it's all space."

Not in the I-just-smoked-pot-and-think-I-can-levitate sense of space, but they meant it in a legit 21st century physics sense. We now know that an atom is 99.9999999999996% empty space. So everything is almost entirely space. The Earth is space. Even, say, granite is way, way more space-filled than we'd imagine, say, a tissue to be. It's all extraordinarily spacious and light.

However spacious you might imagine it all to be, you're still vastly understating the spaciousness. In a neutron star, matter has imploded on itself to become inconceivably dense. A handful of neutron star material has the mass of Mt. Everest. And even that stuff is permeated with space (the atoms have been broken and compressed, but the component quarks are, you won't be surprised to learn, mostly space). I once asked some astronomers (and astronomy buffs) how much denser matter could get, beyond neutron star density (here's that discussion, if this is of interest to you). They didn't like the question; digressing while I annoyingly tried to wrangle them back on track. Finally I got the answer I was looking for:
"There is only space".

So....remember how I wrote this:
"You've only interacted with a tiny fraction of the molecules in your house, yet you've convinced yourself you have a perceptual and conceptual grip on the chaotic mass of matter you associate with 'home.'"
Now patch in the fact that it's all space. That unfamiliar materiality is actually space. It's nothing! Ferns are space. The marauding tigers are space. The aliens are space. And we are space. Is it now easier to imagine that we can create, project, and inhabit parallel worlds (such as World World, which is so strange that even computers can't make sense of it)? And, just as importantly, has your sensation of expansiveness just grown? Have you reframed? Is this now a slightly different world?

Read the links (both here as well as in the posting this refers to)! I don't include them pro-forma!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Visualization Fallacy

A seldom-observed cognitive problem: 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.

It works at subtler levels, as well. We think we know a few things about how parallel universes work, but for most of us, that's entirely been forged by treatment in fiction. And it's a hindrance. Modeling and conjecture have their uses, but when we unconsciously lock in to a certain conjecture, that's conceptual kludge which must be cleared out before we can really understand. It's an intellectual detour; active miscomprehension dragging us further from the truth than mere non-comprehension ever could. But we can't help ourselves. I'm not sure even the most objective-minded scientist can avoid this trap.

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti (who I consider the only 100% non-bullshit living speaker on the subject) observes that no one ever experiences ultimate reality and reports back that "it was exactly what I'd thought!" Everyone hoping for such an experience shoots for some imaginary canned fluffy-fluff (usually something they read in a book). The folly of seeking after some errant visualization lures them further and further away from the truth.

As with most cognitive failings, this evolved as a feature, not a bug. There is no such thing as a table, or a tree, or a toenail beyond the human brain. These are entirely conceptual, serving simply as very loose shortcuts. That's clear from observing the enormous trouble computers have in distinguishing between classes of objects (a tree from a bush from a telephone pole from a totem pole). This might seem like a computational deficiency, but it's not them; it's us. Our diverse universe does not really divide in this way, so we've been sloppily kludging it all along. Our taxonomies are fuzzy, arbitrary, even irrational. That's why it vexes the bejesus out of computers.

Yet our human flair for generalization serves a purpose. If we allowed ourselves to remain freshly aware of every ant, or taxi, or eyelash - as unique expressions - we'd never get anything done. Preoccupied with each and every fern, we'd miss the tiger dashing out of the underbrush. It is evolutionarily adaptive to dismiss the mundane and key in on the surprising.

In time, nearly everything becomes mundane as more and more becomes patterned. We disconnect from the Actual as it's subsumed by overarching generalization. You don't actually perceive the chair you're sitting in because its individuality has been lost to the category. It's not real, it's been reduced to a concept. Not a unique and constantly (subtly) changing arrangement of matter...merely "a chair". Similarly, you've only interacted with a tiny fraction of the molecules in your house, yet you've convinced yourself you have a perceptual and conceptual grip on the chaotic mass of matter you associate with "home". It all stands on the flimsy proposition that we know perfectly well what a "home" is. We abstract it, then we exist in the abstraction (much as we imagine ghosts to be gauzy things, then pattern our world to that visualization).

We create and inhabit World World, a universe of symbols and categories. By adulthood, we barely register anything freshly unless we are surprised. Things fitting poorly within their apparent category blink back into our awareness, becoming real and individual until we manage to reclassify them (that's a necktie, not a snake) or make it fit better into its category (adding a missing fourth leg to a table).

(Note: this is why time seems to speed up as we age. Babies live in the Real World of fresh perception, but as we age we replace Real World with World World, losing the moment-by-moment experience of full reality (an experience babies have, and that we envy) making time appear to fly.)

Living in abstract World World, we forget that labels are mere labels, and that the approximation we've swapped in for reality is a cheat - a vast simplification. World World is not the real world, just a model thereof. In the real world, there's no such thing as ferns. A fern is only distinct from the ground it grows out of and the surrounding air if we've drawn those dichotomies intellectually. Ultimately, it's all fresh and unique and interdependent. It all just Is.

So when we associate aliens with flying saucers, or ghosts with gauzy white presences, it's no different from the expedient means we use to model our entire conceptual world. In the parallel universe of World World (I think parallel universes are subjective frames of perspective; whenever we reframe our attention, we shift into another reality), the aliens really do arrive in flying saucers!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Toilet Seats and Feminism and Exactly One Beer

Every man who's had women in his life knows that it's vitally important to lower the toilet seat. If you don't, women might find themselves sitting directly on the icky pedestal portion. And that's the man's fault, because, duh, he should have lowered it.

Why would a woman wind up sitting on the icky pedestal portion? Because she forgot to check. Hey, it's an honest error! But there's nothing honest about the error of a man failing to lower the seat. That's a lack of consideration. He's an asshole!

If you're struggling to make sense of the Aziz Ansari situation (or, for that matter, the Louis CK situation), I think this is the way in.

I once dated a woman's studies major who insisted that I pay for everything (the boy pays, duh). She'd lecture me on feminist theory while ordering countless glasses of wine at my expense, and, my lord, could that woman eat! One day I helped her move out of her apartment, and we went for a drink afterward. She told me she would buy me exactly one beer, a gesture she clearly considered extremely generous. As I sipped my exactly one beer, I pointed out that we earned about the same income. She didn't even blink. "I'm trying to save money," she informed me.

Funny, she had such trouble understanding why I never returned her phone calls after that.

The Deepest Authenticity

Today I chopped up a couple leftover broiled chicken thighs, and stir-fried them in a wok with garlic and a few handfuls of chopped kale. A bit later I added some leftover roast potato chunks and some chopped mini San Marzano tomatoes from TJ's (being well-seasoned, my iron wok can handle some tomato). Finally, a sprinkling of Penzey's Aleppo pepper flakes, my default source of chili heat.

I served it all over a bed of hummus, and it was delicious. Obviously, this didn't taste like anything one would label as "Chinese", even though I'd prepared this much as a Chinese grandmother might handle these same ingredients. The wok added its magic without leaving palpably "ethnic" traces...but no grandma aims to be "ethnic"!

Because this is how a Chinese grandma would do it, it was incontestably Chinese. If you assume Chinese food needs to have white pepper, scallions, rice wine, and soy sauce...and never ingredients like roast potatoes, chopped kale, hummus, or leftover chicken, that's on you, gringo! This was not "fusion", this was pure Chinese food, prepared with a Chinese mindset on Chinese equipment. I'd nailed it just as squarely as if I'd prepared proper beef chow fun (here's my rendition of that, fwiw).

The food you think of when you think of as Chinese food is a set of popular moves, not a universe of possible moves. I was shocked when I first learned that Ovaltine is a very insider-ish Chinese thing to order in Hong Kong-style cafes, but it's only shocking if you imagined there were boundaries. There are no boundaries. This is the biggest mistake people make in ethnology: cultures don't exist in cages, with neat nameplates. They're as open-ended as your own culture! Study the perspective, not the materiality. To really get it, you must learn to reframe your focus.

Earlier this week, I quickly reheated some chopped roast turkey on a hot Mexican comal, along with a few dabs of stuffing, wilted some baby spinach over it, and stuffed it all into righteous nixtamal tortillas properly warmed on that same comal. With no lime, salsa or coriander, and no crema or queso, the result might have seemed far from Mexican food.

But Mexicans don't know they're eating Mexican food! They're taking whatever they've got...with tortillas (sometimes pre-stuffing those tortillas into "tacos" - a medium, not a dish). Ingredients are mere variables. They don't need to be carnitas or al pastor; nearly anything can feel like dinner. This is what a Mexican grandma might have done with these ingredients, so the result was extremely Mexican, though no foodie would have considered it as such.

There is a deeper level of authenticity that transcends academic notions of authenticity. I aspire to that level.

Whether or not my guests recognize the pedigree, results carry a certain spin that parses as deliciousness.

More Support for Pinker's Theory of Declining Violence

I've noted a couple times that there used to be a term for people – weirdos like hippies and the Amish – who oppose war on principle: "Pacifists".

We no longer need a name for this, because it's become the default. Instead, we name the other side (which seems like a bunch of weirdos): "Hawks".

Here's a similar one. When I was younger, you used to hear - sometimes as a joke, and sometimes straight - that it's wrong to hit people who wear glasses. I haven't even heard that referenced in over 30 years. Why? Because it's not okay to hit people, period, anymore. So the glasses thing makes no sense.

I realize that attitudes and memes shift, passing in and out of favor. It's not usually very meaningful. But some shifts bear examination, because they truly do reflect huge, fundamental changes.

More postings on Stephen Pinker's theory of declining violence.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #6

Monday, January 15, 2018. The phrase "cornered rat" finds 78,900 google search results, up just a tiny bit from last week's 78,800.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

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