Monday, February 29, 2016

Part Time Paid Internship

Do you know anyone young, bright, energetic, responsible, who wants to learn about world (aka "ethnic") cuisines, food writing, publishing, and marketing, and who might be interested in a part time paid internship on a ground-breaking, ambitious project? Preferably lives in NY Tristate area.

If so, send 'em my way, please. They can drop me a brief email to jimleff.ny@gmail.com

Friday, February 26, 2016

Obama's Massive Deficits

I can't understand the gloom and doom message the Republican party (aside from Kasich) has been serving up. One grumpy old dude (Limbaugh) and one unstable drama queen (Beck) seem to have hypnotized half the nation into seeing everything upside-down.

Andrew Tobias responded to Mitch McConnell’s statement that “By any standard, Barack Obama has been a disaster for out country” thus:
The economic ship has been righted, the deficit slashed by two-thirds,[Once again shrinking relative to the economy as a whole] the ground wars ended, the gas price halved, the American Ebola death toll — that so dominated the weeks leading up to the mid-terms when we should have been talking about Republican refusal to raise the minimum wage, pass comprehensive immigration reform, and revitalize our crumbling infrastructure — zero . . . and, oh, yeah, LGBT got equal rights [Well, except for employment, housing, credit and such, which the Republicans block] and 320 million Americans can no longer be denied health insurance because of a preexisting condition and relations have been opened with Cuba, China has agreed to work to combat climate change, and the Iranians are dismantling their most advanced centrifuges and disposing of 98% of their enriched uranium.
But Tobias is an official of the DNC. Perhaps he's just spinning it. Lord knows we certainly have problems (Bernie's not just riffing; income inequality's a problem, though if billionaires have power to rig elections, it's impossible to explain recent election results, or anything that's happened this year....Jeb Bush's $135 million, cough cough cough).

The Republican candidates have all been ranting about the huge deficits accrued under Obama. If that rings at all true for you, it's strictly from repetition ala Goebbels. So let me torpedo directly through the very heart of the bullshit. Have a look at this simple graph (stolen from this site), and feel the soothing, refreshing breeze of reality-based information:



Christie's Endorsement of Trump

So Chris Christie just endorsed Trump, and my mind's racing.

I passed very quickly over the notion that Christie - a belligerent hack, yes, but also a moderate - would back the birther-in-chief on principle.

It's certainly not unusual to see a politician go against his own instincts to ingratiate himself with a billionaire. This could guarantee Trump's financial support in future campaigns. But what future campaigns? New Jersey hates him, and he just failed miserably in his presidential run. Christie's got nowhere to go, politically.

There'd be no reason for a bombastic northeastern white male to choose another bombastic northeastern white male as his running mate. That'd be great for Christie, offering him another shot in 2024. But there's nothing in it for Trump.

So it's got to be a cabinet position. Christie, again, has nowhere else to go. He could, however, retreat to the private sector, so it would need to be a prominent cabinet position from which he could eventually rekindle his political career.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Demons

A daemon, in computer-speak, is an ongoing background process (I'll use the more familiar spelling from here on out). When your iPhone offers to connect you to the local Wi-Fi, that's because a demon is constantly watching for networks to come within range. When your computer pops up a reminder of an appointment from your calendar app, it's because a demon was waiting and waiting to do so.

Demons are simple. Most work something like this:
Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet? Is it happening yet?
You can surely relate, because we all run demons. Here's an example:
Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa! Call Vanessa!
If you didn't have a process going somewhere in the back of your mind, how would you possibly ever remember to call Vanessa? If there weren't some mental repetition - perhaps only at a background, unconscious level - then you'd only remember to call her if and when you happened to randomly think of her. That wouldn't work at all! At some point in our evolutionary process, we were given the nifty feature of demons as part of some upgrade.

Scientists, who have extraordinarily poor insight into consciousness, generally, don't understand any of this. That's why it baffles them that we often manage to wake up just before the alarm clock rings...even when we've set it for a different time than usual. It's a demon, that's all! Demons don't work perfectly, of course, because we're not chip-based. But they're pretty damned good.

Emotional intensity determines how deeply a given demon gets planted. Add a couple exclamation points to the "Call Vanessa!" demon, above, and you'll be a lot more likely to get the message. But if your foreground thought process is occupied by a particularly gripping emotional state, even urgent demons might be ignored. The mind is constantly tilting one way or another - attending either to demons or to the matter at hand, depending on the respective urgency level. Just as you'd ignore more trivial to-do list items when working on a high-priority task, and ignore even your most urgent items if a hive of bees were chasing you, we constantly choose our responsiveness to demons. And the process making that choice is, itself, a demon (really, we're nothing but demons, all the way down, but it'd take more than a blog posting to make that case), constantly asking "Do I need to pay attention now? Do I need to pay attention now?" ad infinitum.

Depressed people don't blow deadlines and otherwise fail to take care of business because they lack energy (they have tons of energy...it's just not outwardly directed). Rather, they have a dysfunctional relationship with their demons. They both ignore them and feel burdened by them. Their obsessive mental reveries, in which they're tightly gripped, feel like an endless urgent current task, so the demons never take precedence (though their weight is felt....and the feeling of burden gets fed straight back into the reverie).

Psychologists consider stress a relic from our fight-or-flight days, getting us inappropriately hopped up over jammed copiers or parking tickets with the same faculties we once used to respond to attacking lions and such. But stress is a much more complex, and perpetually relevant, faculty. Stress tells the mind what to pay attention to. Stress helps us implant our demons, and also makes us pay attention to them. Or it helps us switch off our responsiveness to demons so we can concentrate entirely on running away from those bees.

But there's another connection between stress and demons. A demon never completely dies, it just fades from the limelight of conscious awareness. You can't remember items you urgently reminded yourself to shop for many years ago, but all such demons (including the high-priority stress-inducing ones) remain in subliminal play. You can't notice them individually, but their cumulative buzz is certainly palpable - though so familiar it's hard to notice.

Make an experiment of paying attention in quiet moments. The dull static of millions of discarded demons is your mind's background "radiation". And, alas, it all prods at us. The connection between a tidy computational process and the myth of cruel, pitchfork-yielding little devils (and the stress they can inflict) becomes clear.


The only proper course is to let it all go. You can't stop demons, you can only let go of your reactivity to them. Simply relaxing is insufficient; non-reactivity must be pursued more systematically, via daily practice. Meditation is the time-tested route, and this, fwiw, is the best, most stripped-down and simple meditation practice I've found.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"A Trump Nomination Means a Trump Presidency"

I thought this article, "UNLESS THE DEMOCRATS RUN SANDERS, A TRUMP NOMINATION MEANS A TRUMP PRESIDENCY," in all its all-caps hype, would be just more Bern-feeling sky pie. But there are some good points. Hillary would be a feast for Trump, while Bernie would mean famine. It's worth a read.

The writer even misses one big point. If Clinton beats Sanders in the primary, Trump will pick up more of his votes than if it went the other way. A lot of Sanders' support - like Trump's - is from people sick of the same-old. It's not all class warriors.

If you don't believe it - if you think Democratic disapproval of Trump is too high at this point to allow crossovers, you need to bear in mind that Republican disapproval for Trump (with his multiple divorces, godlessness, and plainly-stated previous support for gun control and abortion) was at this exact same level when he launched his run as his Democratic disapproval is now. He somehow won some (certainly not all) of them over, and he has unprecedented clearance to pivot hugely leftward without losing his current support ("I could shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters").

He's doing it already! He's come out flatly in favor of pro-Planned Parenthood (pre-deflecting the assertion he's a sexist pig) and against the Iraq War. He's already maneuvering leftward of Clinton, and doing so, of all places, in South Carolina. And still winning big there.

You know all those Democrat and MSNBC pundits who couldn't believe Trump truly meant some of the stuff he's been saying? They'll be given loads and loads of reason to believe they were right. He didn't. And many will never support him, just as many Republicans won't, due to all the right wing lines he's crossed. But a bunch will. And we won't hear much about it until it's too late, because few Trump supporters on the left will ever publicly admit it, even to pollsters.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Get Ready to Say Goodbye to the 19th Century

Did you know there are currently only two people alive who were (provably) born in the 19th century?

Trump's Immense Latitude to Shift

Republican candidates usually can't shift too far toward the center/sanity in the general election, for fear of alienating their supporters on the right. Donald Trump (who famously said he could "shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters") has no such constraint. That's something no one seems to have realized yet.

I sent the following to a Democratic muckety-muck I know (much higher up the food chain than this fellow):
Trump’s a greater threat in the general than is realized. Polling last summer showed similar unfavorability rating among Republican voters to what we’re currently seeing among Democrats. When he shifts for the generals, it will be a sharp turn. As he says, his base will follow him come what may, which gives him unusual headroom to play to the center left after the convention. He'll present a formidable challenge.
His reply:
I think you’re exactly right about Trump.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Boredom

Nothing's more boring than boredom.

Boredom isn't just a lack of interest; it's a vacuum actively sucking all interestingness from the landscape. Put me in a poorly-lit empty room with curious, alert people, and great things might arise. Put me in an expansive, comfortable room filled with fascinating objects and games along with bored people, and the experience will be dreadful.

Boredom stems from certainty. Bored people are certain nothing interesting might arise. Having scanned their surroundings like chess masters, mentally anticipating all outcomes, they've found them all 100% dreary, and shut down all receptivity to surprise, creating a vicious circle.

The perspective not only precedes the circumstance, it actually causes circumstance. Bored outlooks ensure boring experiences (it's one of the countless ways in which we ballast our happiness). So nothing great can happen around bored people. Their foregone conclusions block anything delightful from registering - and, certainly, from emerging. As imperiously dissatisfied consumers, it would never occur to bored people to be the element actively dispelling dreariness. They're too occupied with passively thwarting anyone else from doing so.

See also this. Plus this follow-up.


I generally only enjoy the company of people under 12 and over 90. People in between tend to be bored - and therefore boring. Their certainty is a buzzkill - the sole force in the universe opposing creativity (by blandly absorbing it). It's like kryptonite.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Inside Skinny on Obama's Condemnation of Trump

A very well-connected politician friend responds to my guess that Obama's strange statement against Donald Trump was actually a gambit to shore up support for Trump against Ted Cruz:
I half agree with your speculation. I do think Obama called out Trump intentionally and wisely - and that Obama knows he helps Trump by doing so. But I don’t think blocking Ted Cruz per se is the goal, simply building up a man (Trump) who (by any conventional standard) is unelectable is sufficient motivation. Sure is a wild election.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Obama's Psych-Out

My jaw just dropped, and hard. Yesterday, President Obama harshly criticized Donald Trump - by name! - and said he shouldn't be president. It seems like a bush-league error; quite obviously this will play into Trump's hands. Republicans - especially in South Carolina, the upcoming primary state - despise Obama.

It wasn't until I heard a major Ted Cruz supporter rail about this on TV that I realized what was truly happening. It's a blocking maneuver against Ted Cruz (who 1. would be far worse for the country, and 2. would present a greater challenge to a Democratic nominee).


Don't throw me in that briar patch!

Hillary Clinton and the Fallacy of "Deserving"

I've strained for years to articulate what offends me about Hillary Clinton, as have many others. Amid Maureen Dowd's frequent attacks, there's an occasional bit of insight, but she mostly just seems strident (justifying Clinton's Nixonian friends/foes outlook). My friend Dave once asked me an interesting question: what is it about Hillary you dislike that isn't true of other politicians? Aren't they all creepily inauthentic egotists? Aren't those the very qualities which drive people to assume they ought to lead human beings in the first place?

Well, not all politicians are that way; exceptions easily spring to mind, e.g. Obama, Bloomberg, Warren, Kasich, Huntsman, and even Sanders. But the question is still valid: what is wrong with Hillary that's not wrong with most other politicians?

I've finally got it. There's a word I strongly dislike and view with great suspicion. It's a word people once used frequently despite all evidence and logic, and which has fallen, thankfully, out of favor. That word is "deserve", and it's Clinton's favorite word.

I'm lucky enough to have extraordinary people in my life. My friend Pierre knows the answer to everything. My massage therapist friend Dom can instantly find and fix many physical maladies. My plumber friend John may be the best brewer on earth. My mechanic Tony can bring people back from comas, my super honest and effective tire repairman turned out to be a real estate mogul, and my yoga teacher has some insights her teacher - and her teacher's illustrious teacher - can't match.

You'd think Pierre would be celebrated and sought out for his knowledge, and Dom and Tony would be internationally-known healers. You'd think the whole world would be drinking John's beer, and driving for miles to the mogul's tire repair shack. You'd think my yoga teacher would have long waiting lists of eager students.

But none of them are recognized, let alone celebrated, beyond a handful of admirers, for their extraordinary talents. Cream doesn't rise. What rises is relentless self-promotion and predatory competitive drive. Extraordinariness counts for very little in this world. It was my frustration with this that spurred me to open Chowhound, offering a spotlight for the few who care to shine upon the few worth caring about (I assumed my purpose would be obvious, but people concluded it was a place for gluttons to obsess over yumyums).

None of these friends thinks much about what they "deserve", or speaks about it being "my time". Such sentiments are nonsense; they're snippets of empty drama. The world simply doesn't work that way. We hardly "deserve" our swift few decades of life, let alone any particular outcome. The rewards of living life with commitment - pushing oneself to do cool things that help and/or delight people - are entirely intangible...and entirely sufficient.

Clinton hasn't brought anyone back from a coma, she certainly doesn't have the earnest humility to spend her afternoons fixing tires, and she's not the best in the world at anything, but, yes, she's contributed (with a mixed record of success), and taken more than her share of lumps. And she is undeniably very bright and competent.

But she seems entirely consumed by the conviction that she deserves. It's "her time". Hillary Clinton believes that she has, in some cosmic ledger, earned elevation simply by virtue of being her.

Let's forget the particulars for a moment. The very concept of deserving is embarrassingly outmoded. Look around; people just don't do that anymore! I never hear people using that word. We live in a post-dessert world, and that explains, among other things, why Clinton is repelling young people in droves. They don't trade in this obsolete, delusional currency. They can smell it, and they find it gross.

And, anyway, here's the thing: if I'm wrong and the notion of deserving a certain outcome has genuine substance, then Clinton would need to get on a very long line, along with hordes of pure-hearted starving kids, mega-talented never-beens, persecuted reformers, and unwitting outcasts of every stripe. People whose hard knocks haven't been eased by hundred million dollar bank accounts nor legions of fawning supporters. People who merely trudge along despite great accomplishment, contribution, and sacrifice.


....and who have the good sense not to gnash their teeth about it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Get Going Without It

I just got off the phone with a 90 year old friend who was trying to make me understand how young I am. "Life starts at 50, you know," he said.

I replied that I waited my whole life for life to start, but it's never really happened...so at a certain point I decided to just get going without it.

The Death Penalty For One's Opposition

I recently wrote about the appalling outpouring of joy and celebration over Justice Scalia's death:
I find it fascinating that Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Scalia were the best of pals, yet I'm hearing plenty of random yahoos gloating over his death.

The real venom of this partisan divide is fueled by loudmouths who lack real personal ties to folks with differing views and styles. It's easy to desensitize from afar. That helps make people seem something other than real, breathing people.

That's why it's easy to recognize that Trump doesn't have personal connections with Mexican immigrants, for example. If he did, they'd be real, breathing people for him.

Judging by the reaction of many progressives to this news, there's some Trumpishness in many of us.
It's received a lot of pushback on Facebook - as well as a comment posted here to the Slog. I'll summarize the reaction from those who I naively hoped would see reason and feel shame: 1. Mexicans are innocent, but Scalia is guilty, 2. Scalia's actions hurt people, therefore, uh, Hitler/Nazi/Godwin, and 3. "Don't speak ill of the dead" is a stupid concept.

In other words: point thoroughly missed. So I posted to FB the following more in-depth treatment of a moral issue I'm shocked isn't easily grasped:


If any of you feel that certain people deserve death (real, literal death) because you find their views or actions objectionable, then you should own up to that. Publicly advocate for their assassination, perhaps even pull the trigger yourself. Live the ugliness of your views. Know what you are.

But if you feel objectionable views or actions oughtn't carry a death sentence (i.e. you are a rational, socialized human being rather than a nascent monster), then, by all means, state your disagreement in whatever exaggerated or crude language you'd like, whether they're living or dead. Nothing wrong with that! Lord knows Scalia lavished in the exchange of blunt scorn! But if death's not a proper penalty in your mind, then the death itself wouldn't be celebrated.

It's a question you may want to rethink, rather than bluntly charging ahead via a visceral, tribal sentiment of righteousness, because it's really quite a serious step. Know that others of your tribe have refused to take this step. Obama, who was generous with his praise, refused to. Liberal legal lights such as Lessig and Ginsberg - more fully aware of the weight of Scalia's actions than any of us - have expressed respect and sorrow. And here's what Jim-Obergefells, plaintiff in the big same-sex marriage case that Scalia railed against, had to say:

Delighting in a death means you believe they *deserved* to die. And if they deserve death in hindsight, they deserved it in foresight, as well. So I'd suggest preparing a list of seeming miscreants whose immediate, presumptive extermination you advocate. But know that you or someone you love will more than likely wind up on such a list one day. Because if a critical mass of people cross this line, society's over and we're fucked.

Which side of history would you prefer to say you were on? The side that wished death for their idealogical opposition, or the side that pulled back?


Related reading: my posting about the dancing in the streets over Bin Laden's execution.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Daily 202

I've never been a Washington Post reader, but I just stumbled into their feature titled "The Daily 202". It's a very balanced, very concise daily run-down of politics (naturally leaning toward campaign news these days). Even if you're not a politics junky - especially if you're not - this is a fast, lean, non-hypey way to keep up with essentials, as they do a fine job ordering more significant news higher up.

It's a mostly savvy, insider-ish rundown, however today's column bizarrely brings forward the report that Scalia died of a heart attack - a report which the Washington Post itself debunked 14 hours earlier.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

You're Glad He's Dead?

I find it fascinating that Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Scalia were the best of pals, yet I'm hearing plenty of random yahoos gloating over his death.

The real venom of this partisan divide is fueled by loudmouths who lack real personal ties to folks with differing views and styles. It's easy to desensitize from afar. That helps make people seem something other than real, breathing people.

That's why it's easy to recognize that Trump doesn't have personal connections with Mexican immigrants, for example. If he did, they'd be real, breathing people for him.

Judging by the reaction of many progressives to this news, there's some Trumpishness in many of us.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are You Caught Up on Gravity Waves?

You likely read the NY Times article about the gravity wave detection announcement (did you also watch the great video on that page?).

Here's an alternative report, elegantly written.

If you want to go a little deeper, see the video and comic explainers at PHD.

For the lighter side, see XKCD's amusing take.

But, most interesting of all is the question: what does this all mean going forward - for science, for humanity, for our future? The media has done a poor job at explaining this, but here are four layman-friendly paragraphs, seldom-linked though it's written by the people who actually did this science, explaining where this discovery may take us. It's less than a 10 minute read, and it's pretty amazing and brings it all into context. Don't miss it!

"So That Happened"

I'm replaying this posting from last year:


Last month I wrote:
If you can resist being pulled into the drama of a friend's sad tale of woe (or, even more difficult, your own sad tales of woe), and clearly examine the particulars, 95% of the time it amounts to nothing more than: "I thought X would happen, but Y happened".
I once found myself forced to listen to a few excruciating pages from the memoir of a woman who'd lived as a small child at her family's large estate, which was eventually swapped for a much smaller house. Her wonderful, saintly father eventually died. And, as a result, she did not live the life she expected to live. She painted her tragedy as if it were an opera. It was the worst pain any person had ever suffered.

I was flabbergasted. First, who ever gets the life they expect? What sort of pampered upbringing creates the impression that your expectations carry any weight at all? And what sort of narcissist throws a literary tantrum about things not being just so, expecting readers (few of whom grew up in estates or had saintly fathers, and most of whom have been forced to understand that life's a ride rather than a drive) to sympathize with her anguished indignation?

Most humans can't relate to entitlement; it's as alien-seeming as psychopathy. After all, the expectation of perpetual augmentation is sharply contradicted by even a casual look at the world in which we live. This doesn't mean total misery is inevitable. On the contrary; if you see the world clearly, and have never fallen prey to the virus of entitlement, you come to recognize that none of life's surprise or turmoil is negative unless we label it that way.

A tiny dose of surprise and turmoil is welcome - so much so that we gladly pay a cover charge for the experience. It's haltingly processed, and released via an oscillating diaphragm in rhythmic pulsations, like a garden hose just barely accommodating a sudden flow. But when a stream of surprise and turmoil exceeds our thresholds, many of us reflexively clench against it, so it gets stuck. "This is not happening!" we hoarsely cry out to the universe, lacing our systems with elective stress*, as the universe blithely continues its business.
* - Stress is something we choose to do to ourselves in response to life situations we choose to consider non-optimal.
Kudos to David Mamet, whose film "State and Main" contrived a different response (wait for Alec Baldwin's first line upon exiting the wrecked car):


Oh, crap, the video link's dead and there's no other to replace it (if anyone out there can find one, please leave a link in the comments). Alec Baldwin's character epically, horribly, crashes amd flips his car. He extricates himself from the upside-down vehicle, notices that a pedestrian has witnessed the whole thing, and remarks to him, with casual flippancy, "So that happened!"

The phrase has caught on in pop culture, proving, once again, that a language tends to be wiser than its speakers.

This is a good opportunity to re-mention my all-time favorite book title - a title so great that one needn't even read the book (a good thing, as it's out of print....though there's an e-book version): "What's Wrong with Right Now ... Unless You Think About It?"


My GPS is sanest of all. "Recalculating!" she exclaims, with cheerful equanimity, even when her most insistent demands have been ignored.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Coddling the Spark

Cultivating a habit is like starting a campfire without matches. It's not the time to visualize big blazing fires. Your job is to focus on generating a precious spark. Then to coax that tiny spark into something just a bit greater. At a certain point, it has a life of its own. You don't create the fire; you only cultivate the spark, which, in turn, makes the fire.

Or maybe the wind blows it out and you must start again. No problem; with attention focused on sparks, fire's inevitable. But if you wind up in an "oh, shit!" mindframe - where the failure of your imagined image of bounding flames to materialize gets equated with every other way the universe has ever let you down - results will be mixed at best.


After taking many months off from the gym due to injury, I was badly out of my workout habit a few years ago. One day, via a herculean act of will, I got myself to the gym, where I parked my car, turned off the engine, sighed deeply, checked my email, briefly stared out into space, registered my anxious lack of focus, and then drove home. But here's the perceptual jujitso that makes me proudly ant-like : I deemed it a success. A spark had generated, getting me to the parking lot!*

The next day, I went inside, and worked out like a wuss. The day after, I also worked out indifferently. But the following day, I started buckling down, and was soon striding into the gym with confident purpose and working out like a Tasmanian devil. I'd coddled the spark to flame and inevitable fire.


* - I knew, of course, that if I were to back up the camera for a cinematic long view during my resigned drive home, I'd have felt preposterous and pathetic. I likely wouldn't have returned to the gym for weeks. But I've learned - and it's by far the best lesson I've ever learned - to pay no attention whatever to the cinematic view of myself. It's never true and it's never helpful. It's just story-telling, and I don't believe in it anymore.

The great secret of ants - the key to their industriousness and resilience - is that they never, ever pull back the camera for that long view ("Jesus, Larry, we're really gonna have to rebuild this damned hill again?!?").

To cultivate a habit, you need to be way more ant-like and way less imaginative.

The Wheel of Lunch

Thanks to Harriet Halpern for hipping me to The Wheel of Lunch

Don't forget to fill in your zip code!


It'd be even better if it were binding….i.e. you’d commit to your order being placed (e.g. via Seamless), come what may.

Bloomberg's Prospects and David Brook's Tardy Embrace of Obama

I'm a fan of Mike Bloomberg and certainly hope he runs.

I like to read stuff I disagree with so that I can practice finding my rational way around the minefield of my own hot buttons and shoulder chips. So I gave this nasty, inaccurate, unfair, and inappropriate slam/slur on Bloomberg’s potential candidacy my best shot. I'd need 30 pages to rebuff most of the invective and off-kilter nonsense, but I do concede that a couple of the root issues may have merit. Bloomberg would likely do little about income inequality or bank regulation. That said, neither would President Sanders. There's only so much a president can do.

Though, hmmm, perhaps that's wrong. Consider this:

Obama could never push for marijuana legalization (or relaxed drug penalties, generally). The "black guy" simply can't get away with that. That's also how Hillary congealed into her neo-con-ish hawkishness after starting out as an anti-Vietnam activist. The liberal lady must talk tough. To hold on to independent voters, one can't personify ones most obvious cliches. One must lean the other way.

For example, look how long Obama delayed in nudging so much as a finger toward gun control - in spite of sustained hysteria from gun people certain he'd take away their guns. Years and years of attendance at mass shooting funerals - Sandy Hook really wrecked him, as it did us all - yet he didn't go near the issue. Not once! Yes, he's finally boiled over, but it took an awful lot, and even now, his proposals are as mild as can be. They're literally the least he could do.

So here's what I'm thinking. Bloomberg is the furthest thing from the crony capitalist portrayed in that article. He didn't turn his nose up at "Occupy Wall Street" because he's a plutocrat; he found the flailing, unfocused class anger distasteful. And while he certainly wouldn't foment the wild, fantastical revolution Bernie gets his followers riled up about, he's solidly positioned to institute well-reasoned bank regulation, and to work on income inequality in subtler, more pragmatic and realistic ways than the storm-the-gates approach. This may, in fact, be an issue that only a connected billionaire (with a social conscience) could realistically and effectively take on.


Two more political things to read:

I agree 100% with conservative pundit David Brooks' salute to the mensch-ness of Obama, and applaud his frankness. However, I also agree with Salon that it's far too little, far too late.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Effusion's Startlingly Brief Half-Life

Over the course of my life, I've met a number of people who quickly turned effusive, telling me how fantastic I am, how smart and funny I am, how very very very glad they are to know me. (I hasten to note that I've also met a gazillion times more people who found me as impressive as a slug, as funny as a canker sore, and who, in light of my congenital lack of gravitas, were unable to take me the least bit seriously in any way.) But, strangely, not one of these admiring people - not a single one - remains in my life. The people who've stuck around mostly think I'm just okay. A mixed bag, but overall worth keeping around.

So what happened to all those instant-on best friends? Like so many deep enigmas, it can be summed up via an appallingly banal cliche: Easy come, easy go.

It unnerves me to be cursed with knowledge of how easily people can slip from "you're my hero" to "you're an asshole". There's a scene in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories" where a woman is speaking on the telephone as Woody's character (a filmmaker) walks by. She interrupts her call to gush to him about how she's his biggest fan, and asks him to say hello to her son, who's on the other line. He politely declines, whereupon her face contracts into a mask of rage. "Cancer!" she screams. "I hope you get cancer and die! I never liked you!"

When I first saw the film at age 18, I assumed this was surreality. But, no, it's terrifyingly true. With a certain type of person, "beloved hero" and "despised asshole" are precisely one notch apart.


My problem is that, after years of this, whenever anyone new starts flattering me, I react in a way that seems very strange: I recoil, as if punched in the gut, and start to lose interest in further conversation. It's terribly unfair of me, but if whenever you walk outside people wearing purple t-shirts punch you in the face, you won't be able to control yourself from flinching at anyone coming toward you in a purple t-shirt.

How to Spot a Hack Marketer

The marketing person is often the natural antagonist of the creative person. They're always pushing to make the product blander, more accessible, more widely and broadly commercial. They nag you to water it down, smooth the edges, and, ideally, imitate other products with proven track records.

This is because most marketing people completely suck. Their job is to market things. If they can't market a product as-is, that's on them, not you or your product.

Nearly anything can be successfully marketed. Even plain old rocks once made someone millions. It's the marketer's job to take what you've created - whatever it is! - and find clever ways to make it enticing to the largest possible market. People who are good at this (such people do exist!) don't need you to retrofit your product to their tired, rote formulas - the strategies they learned in school. Such expectation is the ultimate dog wagging, like a cab driver pressuring you to see a different film because he's unsure how to get to your theater.

Marketers who try to make the product fit the marketing, rather than vice-versa, are wretched hacks who should be immediately fired. Such a thing would never occur to anyone with the least skill in their profession. Talented marketers don't angle for products that "sell themselves" any more than taxi drivers relish the idea of autonomous cars.

Alas, there are vanishingly few talented marketers. That's why so many products are so blanded out. If more marketers knew how to market, greatness would prosper and treasure would much more frequently ignite into popular sensation. Creative people would work unfettered, and whimsy and diversity would rule the day. It would be the world many of us appreciative, chowhoundish types would love to see.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Postcards From My Childhood Part 11: Heating the Entire Atlantic Ocean

Previous installment
First installment

"The child is the father of the man", they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget.

I was reading a kid's book about survival where the author described how, bobbing in his life vest in the north Atlantic, he'd managed to lose his waterproof body heater. It had, he wryly noted, gone on to try to heat the entire Atlantic Ocean.

"Try to heat the entire Atlantic Ocean." That image really connected for me. So I pushed forward this reminder to myself: don't ever try to heat the entire Atlantic Ocean.

This isn't the same as the mundane warning "don't take too much on." I like taking too much on! That's where all the fun (and productivity) is! I was warning myself, rather, not to aim for infinity. Alas, I disregarded this advice in running Chowhound, where I completely disregarded any breaking point, injuring myself in some ways that can't be healed. I think I'd seen it coming as a child.


There is one, and only one, way in which humans can heat the entire Atlantic Ocean without draining themselves - the only infinite outpouring requiring no replenishment: love. That's the sole inexhaustible resource, even though it's the most stingily apportioned. The entire Atlantic Ocean can be filled with love without depleting batteries - the single case where infinity represents a warm invitation rather than a fraught danger.

Letting Go and Getting Better....but Feeling Worse

Every once in a great while, narcissists can have a moment of clarity, realizing it's actually not entirely about them. They may let go a little. And letting go is always a profound experience. It's what we've been placed in this maze to learn to do.

But following the initial exultation, such people will normally become depressed - perhaps for years. Sullen disenchantment follows the letting go, as one's inner dramatic narrative spins this as a negative. "The world is not all about me" is a realization that can be stated with bitter glumness or with utter lightness. And it's inevitable that the former comes first.*

You've seen some truth, and taken a step toward it. You feel better! But none of this fits the story you've been telling yourself. From the perspective of that story, you're losing.

Same for control freaks, alcoholics, and all other skewed perspectives. As you recover - discarding behaviors, perspectives, tendencies, and assumptions - you still need to let go of The Story to complete the recovery. It's the easiest piece, but we forget that we ourselves are the story tellers; that we are completely free to change the story at any moment.


* - This is what I was talking about when I wrote this (in a posting titled "Two Points of Spiritual Progress"):

#1
(spoken in a bitter, self-pitying voice)
All my hopes and dreams were just a bunch of empty drama! There's nothing to look forward to! This, right now, is as good as it's ever going to be!
#2
(spoken in a voice of bemused relief)
All my hopes and dreams were just a bunch of empty drama! There's nothing to look forward to! This, right now, is as good as it's ever going to be!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hatred

Darkness Week continues here on the Slog. Yesterday, we tackled Evil. Today: Hatred.

You most likely don't hate the people you say you do. It's just a matter of superlative inflation. Here's a test: if a hated person were to move to some distant island, and never be heard from again (i.e. completely and permanently disappeared from your life) would you wish that person complete unhappiness?

I really doubt it.

I've experienced true hatred only a couple of times - only on the receiving end, and only from total strangers. To be sure, there are people with a low opinion of me (I'm not referring to "haters", who are the staunchest of fans, though sadly unable to express their love healthily). But low opinions have nothing to do with real hatred.

I'm not sure you can be truly hated for who you actually are. It's normally more a matter of what you are. Twice now, in Palestinian restaurants, I've inadvertently locked eyes with someone who, I understood instantly, was not looking back at a human being. Someone who would never pay an iota of attention to my good wishes, my non-Zionism, my love for Palestinian cuisine, music, and literature. Who'd wish me unceasing unhappiness on that island, and who, if we were the last two people on Earth, would still see me as nothing but blight to the day he died, utterly irrespective of anything I might say or do.*

That's hatred (if it seems unlikely that all that could be conveyed in a glance, congratulations; you've never been subjected to it). Hatred is a potent toxin - as gut-punchingly demoralizing as a first kiss is elevating - and I pity those who have it in their lives, whether incoming or outgoing. Mere dislike is a rich people's problem; unpleasantness, nothing more.

Evil, once again, stems from the combination of desensitization and raised stakes. It is inevitable, because both factors seem biologically baked in. But hatred - the product of desensitization and rigidity - is optional. We've often chosen to make a virtue of rigidity, celebrating our staunch partisans, unyielding heroes, and any unquenchable drive to right "wrongs". We may want to reconsider that.

* - I hasten to note that I've gotten along great with literally every other Palestinian I've met. I even dated one once. And I've certainly met Jews who display corresponding hatred (who, for example, still joyfully celebrate the assassination of an Israeli leader who tried to make peace).




Saturday, February 6, 2016

Evil

A friend, who's just been close to some horrific behavior, said "I'm really struggling to understand the evil side of human nature."

It's simpler and closer than you'd think. It's about desensitization. Ever laughed at a pratfall in a movie? Or while Groucho and his brothers disrupted one of Margaret Dumont's parties? Ever get so mad at someone that you visualized minor violence? Ever said "I’m gonna kill him"? It's not so huge a jump to actuating such thoughts. The potential's latent, or we wouldn’t do any of the above (i.e. no human would ever strike us as the least bit cartoonish). The seeds are sown!

We choose not to indulge those impulses moment by moment, but there are situations that would push the best of us to unthinkable action. You may have noticed that people discard their values when stakes raise.

When it comes to rising stakes, everyone has their price. And desensitization (we’re all at least somewhat desensitized) isn’t easily reversed. That’s the magic combo: stakes and desensitization. Evil isn’t something titanic, it’s the mundane escalation of drives we easily recognize in ourselves.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Find Pierre an Apartment

Many of you may know my friend Pierre - biochemist, homebrewer, web designer, photographer, and knower-of-all-things. Pierre's suddenly being asked to move out of his long-time rental, and needs reasonable housing come springtime. He's in NYC, but willing to relocate if necessary. His current apartment has been rent-controlled for years at $1000. That nice run of luck just ran out.

Pierre's a great, super-helpful guy - he was Chowhound's technical advisor, and has helped on most of my other endeavors. He translates novels from Swedish into Esperanto. And he's an awesome ally (like I said, he knows EVERYTHING....so having Pierre as a guy you can text questions to is akin to a genie wish). Would you consider running this query (or reposting it) through your own social networks? Pierre's super reliable; would be a dream tenant for any landlord (or roommate share).

I'm posting below, for the first time ever on the Internet, my famous Cat Dander Story, which illustrates the miraculous power of Pierre (feel free to include it in your repost, if you do agree to spread word of this to your network).


The Cat Dander Story

It was 1992, and I'd just moved into a new apartment. Tons of boxes sat in a pile, and I, alas, couldn't breathe. Though this was a pet-free building, it turned out that the previous tenants had multiple cats, and I'm very allergic. Like asthmatic-allergic. Like "can't breathe" allergic." I bought a HEPA vacuum cleaner, but it didn't help. I mopped (with a dust mask on). Nothing. I couldn't live in my own apartment for more than 15 minutes - at least not while breathing.

Naturally, I call Pierre, who knows everything. Pierre thought for a moment, then said:
"I seem to recall a molecule...."
This, believe it or not, is not an unusual way for Pierre to begin a sentence.
"....that should probably neutralize the protein in the dander that's causing the problem. It should be present in laundry detergent enzyme. You need to go to the store, and look for little bottles of enzyme additive. And mop the floors with it."
I went to a number of supermarkets, finally finding little yellow bottles from Switzerland claiming to be enzymatic laundry additive. I bought five of them. I added them to water. I mopped. And my apartment was fine. Crisp, spring day fine. Breathe deep and don't even cough fine. Problem solved. Like it was nothing.

There was a toll-free number on the enzyme bottle for consumer comments. I called and told the operator my story. She listened patiently, then asked:
"Sir, do I understand correctly that you've used our product to mop your apartment?"
"Yes, that's right," I replied.
"Sir, that is not a recommended use of our product."

If you'd like to borrow Pierre for yourself, all you need to do is find him an apartment! Feel free to email me at jimleff.ny@gmail.com

The Taboo of Judging of Crazy People Crazy

A few months ago, I spent some time with a young friend who'd had a psychiatric break, forcing her to leave college. I accidentally offended her by suggesting that this was a bad thing. She insisted that what she'd experienced was not craziness, it was other-ness. Other ways of seeing, being, acting. Neither better nor worse. I was judging, and judging's always bad.

Understand that I'm a yogi, very accustomed to altered states and alternative interpretations of everyday phenomena. And I was once a jazz musician, well-versed in other sorts of altered states. So I'm as receptive to this argument as anyone you'll ever meet. But, of course, I could see it was bunk. You're on psych medicines with serious side effects. You're no longer in school. You're unhappy. If what happened wasn't something we can clearly describe as negative, then why take all possible steps to reverse it?

To my horror, I realized it was not the madness talking. She was clearly parroting what her health professionals had told her. This is the new attitude: nothing's wrong, nothing's bad. It's just "other". Spineless, ditzy mega-relativism has apparently taken hold of psychiatry. We seem to be telling crazy people that it's just fine. You go, girl!

But if it's just fine, why are we treating them? Why are they put on these drugs? Why are they unhappy? I'd pronounce the whole thing crazy, if "crazy" weren't a trigger word I've been told we must never, ever utter.

My tragic friend Deven, who was smarter than any doctor, delighted, as crazy people do, in hoodwinking his shrinks. This was incredibly self-destructive (hey, he was crazy!) but the judge, who I'd begged to find him better help, couldn't do anything. And his estranged wife, who spent heroic hours reading up on psychiatry, couldn't do anything. Because Deven needed to be respected, and his devious, untruthful self-accounting in therapy taken at face value. Because crazy people aren't, like, crazy. They deserve respect and tolerance and self-determination. Everyone deserves those things, right? Tra-la-la, love-love-love!

So he ran his shrink ragged, never letting her in, while loved ones watched helplessly. He spiraled down and down. And one of the brightest people I know wound up beheaded in a homeless shelter.


Parents don't seem to want to be parents any more. No one wants to personify the cliche of the screamy, spanky, tyrants who so vexed us as children. Today, it's all enlightened parenting. You collegially reason with your kids, expecting them to make right choices, just like you would expect from any reasonable, rational adult. If not, you patiently and cordially review their workflow, highlighting points of non-optimality. It can hardly be coincidence that so many kids appear to be narcissistic monsters, gleefully running circles around their parents, as Deven ran circles around his shrinks.

It sucks for nice people to have to exert authority. I had to do this for Chowhound, and didn't enjoy one moment of it. It sucks to draw hard lines, to tell people they can't act in certain ways. Renouncing this unpleasant responsibility feels incredibly relaxing and enjoyable, so selfish, spineless people (as parents, as managers, and as authorities of every stripe) have been dodging their obligation to place hard limits upon those in their charge. The problem's societal. Everyone's seeking to avoid friction for themselves - and vainly, smugly assuming this to be enlightened behavior. We make a virtue of our lack of resolve. 

Sometimes, for a greater good, lines must be drawn (see Chowhound's head moderator describe the anguish she felt every time she was forced to limit a user's free expression), though I, for the record, am as anti-authoritarian as they come (ask any of my teachers, many of whom were scarred for life). Well, the pendulum's swung too far the other way even for my taste. This is the first generation in human history so smug, selfish, and lazy to assume it's found a better way. 

And so Deven, who was nuts, was treated with respect for his rational volition, and that volition spurred the "lifestyle choice" of residency in a homeless shelter in Harlem. Hey, he's an adult, and he made his choices. All lifestyles are equally valid, so who are we to judge?

I, who still have my balls, shall judge. When Deven first started doing terrible things shockingly at odds with his own core values, he should have been coercively helped. I understand that the asylum model of the past was a failed model. As a non-conformist, myself, I keenly understand that if we "lock up the crazies", we will inevitably trap those with legitimately different values as well as those with organic discombobulation (it's a fine line!). But empowering crazy people is not the solution. Erasing the word "crazy" from our vocabularies is not the solution. Pretending to respect the volition of people who are in no position to exercise rational volition is not the solution.

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