Thursday, September 29, 2016

Off-Script in a Scripted World

So this is the prototypical example of everything wrong with my life and my world:

I walk into the post office, set down a package, and say "priority mail, please; nothing's fragile, liquid, perishable, caloric, or depressing," and the clerk glares back at me with unbridled seething hatred.

I didn't expect peals of uncontrollable laughter or comped return-receipt. But, Jesus. Those who decline to follow scripts - who try to relieve boredom by injecting surprise and humor - are inevitably punished for our efforts. No wonder everything's so boring, unsurprising, and humorless!


My ideal epitaph: "The World was Margaret Dumont"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Nightmares Only Scary at the Time

Every 20 years or so, I have some extraordinarily terrifying nightmare that's completely inexplicable in retrospect. I try and try but can't remember why I was so terrified.

At age six, I dreamed of a small pile of sand growing rapidly into a larger pile of sand, of its own accord. I woke up with a start, ran to my parents, screaming that the "Sooks" were coming. They asked me, naturally, what "The Sooks" were, but I couldn't articulate it. Yet I knew, with extraordinarily clear conviction, that they were a genuine peril. To this day I remain slightly on guard for the Sooks. I'm pretty sure I'll know them when I see them. In fact, in my mind, I'm only 90% recounting a cute childhood mystery. A part of me feels I'm doing crucial work by disseminating this warning.

When I was 26, I dreamed I had died, and gone to the holding place, where I watched the tally of the newly deceased rapidly roll by. I caught, almost by accident, my own name as it flashed by amid all the others. Nothing special. No asterisks. Just the name, done and gone. I woke up inconsolable, in hysterics. Which was very strange. I'm just not someone who cares about stuff like that. My will stipulates cremation without a service. I was a little famous for a minute, but didn't like it. I don't fear death, nor being forgotten. As with the Sooks, I've frequently tried to revisit the dream, but can't retrigger the response (this somehow makes it even more horrifying).

Last night I dreamt I was in the house in which I'd grown up, and discovered a secret door hidden in plain sight. This has been a fixture in many of my dreams - hotel rooms with overlooked massive extra wings, rooftop crawl spaces that keep expanding, wonderful restaurants just outside peripheral vision in otherwise familiar suburban housing developments. But in this case, I felt like my dream world had collided with my waking world. Screaming with terror in the dream, I tried to explain that I'd often dreamt stuff like this, and now it was REALLY HAPPENING. Then I woke up so discombobulated that I considered calling an ambulance.


A nightmare antidote (from this posting): "If you're plagued by nightmares full of scary monsters, the trick is to love the monsters (this was surely the original intent behind giving children teddy bears)."

Hmm, come to think of it, that's also the new Hillary Trick!

Then there's also the Metta Sutta ("Words of Love"), a Buddhist prayer for courage and safety making use of my flipping technique:

With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all beings:
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Beatific New Smile

I've been reading mountains of punditry on last night's debate, but nobody's made the slightest effort to account for Clinton's other-worldly presence. She wasn't angry, nor strident, nor did she recede into passivity. Feminine, positive, warm, happy-seeming, and yet assertive. Something, obviously, was up!

It was easy to spot the hack. She'd been coached to look at him with love...above/beyond what he was actually saying. She was projecting some long-lost beloved friend or relative known to say troubling things but who was nonetheless loved by her. The beatific smile was genuine, not strained. No stridency or superiority or harshness. Well, maybe a little superiority, but much better than usual.

Usually, Clinton dons a mask, but this time she opened up - at least while listening, though she lost it a bit while speaking, which is harder. It was, at long last, the correct approach.

It's also a deep spiritual exercise. Seeing your enemy as a loved one is a profound, advanced move. If you can widen that perspective beyond combat situations, results can be surprising. If she can preserve it while speaking, it'd be transformative. Unfortunately, it takes years. But still, that was a hell of a new trick for this 70 year old to pick up. Impressive!

Looking more broadly, we oughtn't underestimate the use of this rather deep spiritual practice in front of tens of millions of viewers. We may recall this later as an important inflection point (just because it wasn't consciously noticed doesn't mean it wasn't felt). 


It's akin to this.

Loss, Humor and Shakti

I've never been a huge fan of Patton Oswalt (though he shares my undying love for the beloved Trump Leaks Twitter feed), but this short appearance on Conan O'Brien, hilariously describing the repercussions of his wife's recent death for him and his six-year-old daughter, was absolutely beautiful. And it perfectly confirmed my fierce opposition to the notion that there are life circumstances so serious that we're obliged to abandon our sense of humor.

The instinct to turn serious when it hurts is the very crux of how we go wrong. Humor at such moments is not dissociative. It's just humanity's way of restoring some goddamn perspective. It's never "too soon!"




There's a depth to this that's more than just his witty reparte. It's earned - which gives it shakti. That's why it's so deeply moving and inspiring. BTW, if you like this, check out Tig Notaro's legendary "Hello, I Have Cancer."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rare Musical Treat

I don't like pop. But Ariana Grande gave an astonishing, inspiring performance the other night on The Tonight Show. There was even a bit of this going on.



Being Bob

Back in the day, I was friends with a brilliant guitarist, who I'll call Bob.

Bob had devised his own harmonic landscape (for non-musicians: the chords he played were unlike anyone else's), and it was a joy to hear him play. He was freshly unique. We all assumed he was "going places".

However I found playing with Bob a frustrating experience. First of all, he used lots of reverb, making him sound like the Voice of God in some cosmic cathedral while I was forced to toot my trombone in the dry sonics of the actual room. And Bob's unique approach to harmony forced everyone else to navigate an obstacle course. As soon as I'd scaled some impossibly dense and puzzling sonic boulder, a fresh impediment was laid in my path. It was exhausting, and I could never comfortably express a musical thought, because there was always some twist.

I'd run his gauntlet, ala Super Mario, doing my best to survive and make do. Fun for kicks, but not something I wanted to make a habit of.

I couldn't be annoyed at him, because I understood that Bob wasn't trying to be a bully. He was just playing the music in his head, which is what we all aim to do. Often, I didn't feel like navigating Bob World. And Bob didn't work much because many others felt likewise. But I was Solieri enough to understand that every musical collaboration means navigating someone else's world, and the distinctiveness of Bob World was a feature, not a bug. Real artists create new worlds.

It took me a while to connect my thoughts, but I've come to realize that while my musical sensibility is much more conciliatory, I am in other ways an annoying Bob.

Most people (I know from eavesdropping!) speak in highly scripted bursts, much as most musicians play the same tired riffs and licks. I'm not saying there's no surprise or provocation, but those things come in tinges, not clobbers. People say the usual things the usual way, adding dabs of personality via adornment: a nuance here, a slightly skewed upshot there.

I get bored with that. And, following the golden rule, I long ago resolved not to be boring. So I rejected the dull same-old and became a conversational Bob.

Of course, no one wants to run a gauntlet. From the standpoint of a Bob, everyone seems sluggish, rigid and stuck. They seem like squares, unable to escape convention. But that's not entirely true. Bobs never understand how specific they are. Having transcended the boring same-old, they assume they're working at a higher level, but they fail to see how they've seized an unfair advantage. You operate in You World. Not their world, and not some greater and more expansive Every World, but the world of your own creation. So if others seem sluggishly unable to keep up, that's not surprising! It's not that you're superior; it's that you've got the reverb, and you're planting the obstacles!

I'd like to say Bob wasn't trying to be one-sided in his music, nor do I in my conversation, but there's an inconvenient truth. Bob and I share an aversion to comfort. Comfort is the essence of dull uniformity; it's the thing all creativity seeks to overturn (the Gods of Creativity inevitably do double duty as the Gods of Chaos, despite their sincere protests that they're just trying to make things better)

So although I complained, above, that I could never comfortably express a musical thought with Bob because he was forever adding twists, I myself live to add twists. I enjoy other people's twists - so long as there's some give and take (rarely possible with Bobs, who game the system to stake out a higher ground in order to "be themselves") - but others don't really appreciate twists. They prefer comfort. Creativity abrades.

It's not that they're sheep and I'm clever, it's that they simply don't want to run someone else's gauntlet; navigate my twists. To them, a conversation with me feels like an overbearing imposition of Jim World. (At least this helps me remember this).

I get it. And I'm mortified, recalling my exasperation, to realize I'm a Bob. But at least I have some Jims, who, while weary and exasperated, recognize I'm just playing the music in my head, and who appreciate it even if they don't want to make a habit of running my gauntlet.


Feel free to pass this on to any Bobs in your life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Evolution of a Perspective

Most human dissatisfaction is the result of asking yourself: What's missing? What don't I have? Who or what is not here? How does my current circumstance fail to measure up to expectations? What about the current moment is imperfect? We are princesses constantly scanning for mattress peas.

None of it has anything to do with what's actually happening (what's happening is what's happening!). It's about indulging a conception of yourself as living in a movie, and viewing your outcomes from the vantage point of the audience, measuring how far circumstances stray from the script as you envisioned it.

It is, quite literally, insane; a narcissistic fantasy world, none of it real. But this is how people with idle time (an unusual human condition found only among the rich, and you - yes, you! - are very very rich) make ourselves needlessly miserable.

I've broken this particular habit; I simply stopped indulging it. The evolution can be traced via the following postings, especially the third one, which was quite a "eureka" (it's helpful to understand that this Slog isn't where I share my knowledge, it's where I get my knowledge, during the process of writing. It's like an oracle):

The Monks and the Coffee
An Adult View on Preference
The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues
Labeling and Post-Processing
Lasagna and Depression

Once you've found ease in the repose of what's actually happening (opting out of the business of what's not happening), the next step is to find that same ease amid unexpected change. I greatly admire my GPS, which accommodates surprise with infinite equanimity, always calmly "recalculating" as I ignore its instructions. The following are postings about that part:

The Real Secret
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
The Key to Happiness is Rolling With It
Resilience Means Giving Serendipity a Chance (see also the links at the bottom of this one)
Resilience Postscript
"So That Happened"
Pharaoh's Tombs, Movie Theaters, and Consciousnes
...and, most recently of all, The Problem With the Serenity Prayer

It's a lot of reading, and I readily acknowledge that I'm expressing the same point from multiple angles, but the repetition is intentional and useful, because while the points are simple, they're extremely counterintuitive, and if you'll actually put yourself into this in a practical way, rather than ponder it intellectually, you may find your bumpy life more of a ride and less of a torture test.

Getting to the root of it all, in the end, it's about letting go. Because our tight grip never helped in the first place. Consider The Toddler and the Steering Wheel....and Jnani Train


FWIW, some of these postings appear to be listed out of order because I've replayed a few of them, which screwed up the posting dates.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What Can I Do to Defeat Trump?

A friend ponders:
"I find myself wondering what I can do as an individual to help try to defeat Trump."
Easy one. Encourage registration and voting. Drive elderlies to polls.

Even in a "safely" blue state like NY/NJ, it's critical that he lose by wide margin 1. to send a message to world that USA hasn't gone crazy, and 2. to remove Trump's ability to say he lost via fraud and cheating.

Lots of of people don't vote because they assume their state is "safe". So consider on a quiet, one-to-one basis (social media is just noise), I'd suggest working to convince apathetic friends, neighbors, and relatives to 1. register and then 2. Vote. Remind them of how British non-voters felt the day after Brexit, after assuming the electorate would do the sane thing, so their vote wouldn't be needed.

I wouldn't even mention Trump. If you persuade a few dozen people to vote and a couple happen to be quiet Trump supporters, fine. Aim single-mindedly to get people registered and into voting booths, period, and leave it there. If you make your message explicitly pro-Clinton or anti-Trump, your voice will be lost amid the political noise (i.e. stating the obvious). In other words, you'll lose the one-pointedness of your message that this time, we all really need to vote.


As a centrist, I like mixed governance, and a certain amount of gridlock, and I wouldn't want Clinton to completely stack the Supreme Court (I'd prefer to see it more or less balanced). But the Republicans are so crazy this cycle, and have been so emptily obstructionist for so long, that I'd like to see Democratic majority in the Senate, as well as a Democratic president, at least for one term.

I may, therefore, donate to DNC (or to individual Democratic campaigns, e.g. the candidate trying to bring down the loathsome Darryl Issa), but not to the Clinton campaign - solely because I don't think more pro-Hillary ads will help. The smartest thing Clinton can do is let Trump be Trump . There's been no indication - in two previous national campaigns where she's squandered wide leads against seemingly unelectable opponents - that a strategy of increasing the visibility of this extraordinarily recognizable figure is the least bit useful.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Einstein's Self-Image

I have no doubt that, in the most private corner of his psyche, Albert Einstein deemed himself a hopeless loser due to his funny-looking hair and disorganized desk.


If you fully grok what I'm saying, and object that none of us are Einsteins, I'd urge you to bear in mind this quote: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

That quotation elegantly addresses my posting about the limitations of individual human nature in my "Manager's Dilemma" posting).

More great Einstein quotes


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Using iPhone as a Bedside Clock

I charge my phone in a stand next to my bed, so I've tried a number of apps that turn the screen into a bedside clock. Unfortunately, they're all way too bright, and if you crank the brightness way down, the time's hard to see.

But I found a $3 app called Disappearing Bedside Clock, and it's perfect. The screen remains dark, but if you wave your hand anywhere near it, and/or tap the surface it's sitting on, the time appears, for a configurable number of seconds before fading back to black. I didn't even know iPhones had these sensors!

You can't set an alarm, strangely, but the developer says iOs handles alarms better than 3rd party apps are allowed to, so he suggests letting Siri (i.e. the native "Clock" app) handle wake-ups. One problem with that is that you're stuck with a 9 minute snooze interval (read this fascinating exploration of that odd interval). Apple won't let you configure it.

My favorite 3rd party alarm clock app is Wake. The problem (to loop back to the top) is that it's either too bright or unreadable. But the wake-up sounds are awesome (here's a discussion of native wake up sound options on iPhone)

Deplorability: Segments of Trump Support

The worst part of this election season is learning that 44% of the country believes Trump is a good idea. It's astonishing to realize that we're a nation of people who'd support someone like that (though, admittedly, Sarah Palin was pretty obvious foreshadowing).

And don't imagine there'll be redemption, even if he's elected, and even if he's as bad as we fear (perhaps unreasonably). The crowds who supported the rise of figures like Hitler, Franco, and the rest, often remained in support even after these people showed their true colors and started persecuting huge swathes of the populace. The mobs weren't duped. They saw what the others saw, but they liked how it looked. There are people who like authoritarianism. It is, again, astonishing.

But before you sink into horror, notice that even the most prominent recent expression of frustration from non-Trump America - Hillary Clinton's much-condemned statement that half of Trump's supporters are deplorable - recognizes that half of them are not. Plenty are in it for the reality TV spectacle. Not without reason, they imagine that a sociopathic lunatic will be more entertaining than a Hillary Rodham Clinton. As we approach the Wall-E vision of the future, our faces constantly peering at screens, why would we not vote on the basis of entertainment value?



So that means we're 22% deplorable, max. Are you shocked? How many yahoos do we come across in the course of a day spouting conspiracy theories or other ignorance? We chuckle and move on. But we always knew they were there. And, really, even most of them are more ignorant than truly deplorable.

The real awful segment of Trump's support - the thugs who cold-cock protestors, want to send all their Muslim neighbors "back home", and who think Mexicans really are rapists (I'd love, by the way, to see statistics comparing sex crime frequency among Hispanic immigrants versus real estate developers) is probably more like 10% of the country. And 10% is edge case territory. 10% of us can be anything. It's fine.

We're not a nation of Yahoos. And the deplorables aren't taking over. 10% of us are scum, 22% are yahoos, and 44% are tired of the status quo....while the rest of us are duly horrified.

So let's definitely stand up to Donald Trump (please register to vote even if you're in a safely blue state; we need to reject him so thoroughly that a message is sent to the world and the Republican party swears "never again"). But bear in mind that this is still the country we thought it was. It's just that this time, the yahoo/scumbag/fed-up contingents have come together for a shot at running things for a while (odd coalitions like this are the very basis of how our country works).

If they do, there's no way they'll hold the middle for long. I'd bet literally anything that President Trump would get no more than four years (consider the buyer's remorse of all those capricious “send-a-message" Brexit voters)! His hardcore fans will stay with him, but the coalition will break up faster than an ice cube in a hot yoga class.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Problem With the Serenity Prayer

The problem with the Serenity Prayer....
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
....is that it doesn't offer any help with "knowing the difference". And that's the most important part. So here's a way to recast the whole thing:

Every problem is either 1. a problem in the world, or 2. a problem with your perspective.

Hint: it's nearly always the latter. Problems of perspective (e.g. this) account for 99% of perceived problems in the rich world. We mentally manufacture problems to fill the vacuum of actual ones (we do this to ballast our happiness).

How to distinguish? Easy. If the problem is truly in the world (e.g. bullets suddenly start firing, or your stomach growls from emptiness, or a child starts wailing), you don't need to ask yourself whether there's a real problem. Real problems spur action, period. Problems of perspective, however, make you think about it.


It's a lot like this diet tip: "No one in the history of the human race has ever asked themselves 'Do I want to eat some more?' while still hungry. Genuinely hungry people just eat! The fact that you're asking means that you have, in fact, eaten enough!"

The Magic Trick of Writing, and the Inhibition of Creativity

Me, minus my copious stupidity, equals my writing.

It's a magic trick I'm surprised more stupid people haven't discovered. Writing is an opportunity to fool everyone by presenting ourselves as seemingly intelligent, insightful, and articulate. All that's required is a willingness to face your stupidity, vapidity, and incoherence with clear eyes, and a resolution to not quit working until all that is expunged.

If you don't write in a perpetual state of fraught anxiety at the prospect of exposing your idiotic true self via unthorough self-editing, then you're not really a writer.

What's more, I'm also a bit aphasic - I have trouble thinking of words. It's hard to talk to people, because I get stuck, and must choose between stammering/stalling or else swapping in fuzzy placeholder words which don't quite fit. It makes me sound slightly loopy - and shocking for me to have chosen a career as a writer. But when I write, I can take a half hour to summon the perfect word. It turns out, in the end, as smoothly as I wish I could speak, and that's immensely satisfying. I sail on that momentum, trying to optimize each word. The first step is a willingness to recognize that most of what I say or write is complete slop, and the second is a resolution to not quit working until all that is expunged.

I've written a lot about how our worst faculties can be our best launchpads. Creativity thrives under impediment, so we're less creative in the realms where we feel assured. The really good stuff stems from struggle.


Unfortunately, most people run as fast as they can away from their points of struggle and deficit. Those things are the ground zero of their deepest dread. This is why we live in a world so seemingly devoid of creativity. People cling for comfort and safety to their strongest faculties, where little creativity is required. And so creativity goes dormant.

We're all creative, but it only arises in the comparatively few of us willing to take ownership of (and make hay with) our least competent selves.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Promiscuity

At a certain point in my musical career, after a weekend spent running between a salsa gig in the South Bronx, a brass quintet gig in Midtown, and rehearsals for some weirdo avante-garde puppet thing Downtown, I was feeling satisfied at how differently I'd played in all these places (as I did in the dozens of wildly diverse scenes of which I was a recognized part). I acted differently, too. And talked differently. A typical freelance New York City musician, I was the ultimate chameleon (but I didn't think about this very often; I was too busy doing it).

When my weekend was over, I hightailed it over to the Skylark Lounge out by JFK airport, a black bar where men wore hats with feathers, to sit in, just for kicks, with one of my all-time favorite jazz drummers (and friends) Walter "Baby Sweets" Perkins, who performed there with his trio. Around 2 a.m., while we took a break (and he practiced paradiddles on his practice pad in the back room), Walter asked me what I'd been up to. I recounted my weekend wryly, ala Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Walter listened, then looked up slyly. He asked me if this was just another stop on my ride. My eyes widened and I gasped in horror. "Walter, this is home!" I exclaimed.

And I meant it. However, I had to privately acknowledge that the South Bronx salsa gig was also home. As was the chamber music gig, and the avante garde thingamajib. There were many stops on my ride, none of them not "home". "I'm like a whore," I remember thinking to myself more than once in dark moods, "who really believes it."

My promiscuity extended to other parts of my life, as well. The fortieth or so time a Peruvian or Cantonese waiter praised my evident deep love and feeling for their cuisine, I glowed in the acceptance, while some part of me felt intense shame, knowing I'd soon (often in a matter of minutes) be expressing native-like deep love for any of dozens of other cuisines. I felt like I was forever kissing a wife goodbye as I went off to one of my dozens of other secret families. No disingenuousness, though. The kiss was fervent, heartfelt, and offered without the slightest self-consciousness of my larger-picture situation.

I couldn't reconcile the two drives: my dissatisfaction with anything less than a feeling of deep connection to whatever I was involved with, in contrast with my immense fickleness. At one point, I was known as a "regular" in over 100 restaurants. "Oh, Jim comes here all the time; we're his favorite place!" They had no idea! Yet, paradoxically, they were all quite right. I saw the paradox, but couldn't explain it.

Same with many other aspects of my life. To this day, no one knows all of it. I'm not sure even I do. I'm so sincerely dedicated to the current thing - as if it were the only thing! - that the rest falls away. Never once have I rubbed my hands together smugly at the thought of my many waiting lovers (this is all metaphorical, as I've always been strangely monogamous with girlfriends).

It's all play - by which I don't mean dabbling, I mean the sort of absorbed play children engage in. I don't pull back the camera for long views to self-consciously assess. Long views are never beneficial. That's what grown-ups do. What ever is happening now is what's real, period.

The promiscuity is seen on a subtler level, too. I can adopt any number of voices and act from any number of perspectives, and feel absolutely sincere in all of them. Each time, I feel sure I've found the innermost one; my actual "home". I believe myself so deeply each time that I've periodically worried whether I'm a psychopath.

And perhaps I am, some weird sort of do-gooder, highly empathic psychopath. To me, though, I feel that I've been in an endless search for what I'd hoped the world would be; the small outcroppings of quality and clever creativity, the fleeting bursts of joy among the grimness, the Easter eggs of creation. They're too diffuse in any one realm, so I keep moving. Like a scramjet engine scooping up oxygen molecules through its huge intakes, relying on sheer speed to harvest sufficient quantities of sparse fuel, I've spread out to many cul-de-sacs in the maze, gleefully absorbing power-ups just as my exuberance begins to wane. I'm like an animal who needs vast habitat to support itself. It's a pain, frankly.

Yet I'm not radically different from people who take a narrower approach; who settle in and become experts in Sichuan food, or who only play 1930's swing jazz, or who go every day to the same restaurant, bar, or cafe. People who've only worked one job in their one specialty, and who have one dream, one big idea, one religion, one philosophy, one credo.

I could easily have gone that way. When I first discovered Jackson Heights, ate my first Colombian plato montaƱero, and fell in love - my ardor soon mushrooming into a resolution to experience and master the many, many other cuisines represented under the el of Roosevelt Avenue - I could just as easily have stuck with Colombian. I could, to this day, be listening only to cumbia music, reading only Colombian literature, and hosting a proud web portal for "All Things Colombian". I could be less of a mercenary, a whore. I could have stopped right there and then.

But I didn't. I'd love to say I kept going because I wanted to grow and learn and experience, but I could have done all those things within the borders of Colombian culture. I might say it was an overarching desire to experience the whole world, but you can't eat the whole world, that's just a narrative. You can only eat what's in front of you right this minute. We are small beings, living moment-by-moment, like raindrops descending a window. Any grand narrative we assign ourselves is strictly a graft-on (hence my disdain for long-views and camera pull-backs). Life doesn't work that way. We're not grand.

It was only the tiniest thing that diverted me from that path: I was too oblivious to recognize a limitation. It had never occurred to me, keeping my head down, that loving, believing in, and identifying with A meant not loving, believing in, and identifying with B. And so I became benignly and unselfconsciously promiscuous. And it wasn't until years later, when I occasionally caught myself in the mirror fervently kissing one lover goodbye en route to another, that I noticed I'd stumbled beyond boundaries.

It's no harder to go broad than to go deep. But it's also possible to go broad and deep. I think it's a matter of sincerity, fervency, and obliviousness.


As I wrote here:

Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Scott Adams' Interesting Counterintuitive Thoughts on Trump

Lots of verbiage here, none of it particularly insightful, sorry. TL;DR ("too long; didn't read") version: read this and, even if you don't agree with all of it, ask yourself whether perhaps legitimate anti-Trump dissent might have escalated into a genuine hysteria among people like me and, possibly, you.


If you've been Slogging long, you know that I try hard to understand mindsets that seem alien to me. I believe people are way too quick to dismiss dissenting viewpoints, and we apply way too little empathy to other points of view (a lot of such postings are tagged "Right Whispering")

My recent posting about "Illegals" tried to explain some of the intemperance on the Right regarding immigrants and immigration policy. I don't share that view, but it's wrong to assume it's always racist. In fact, left-wing extremism on the issue may have given rise to a reciprocal extremism on the right.

Here's an interesting posting by Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who's been reduced to a pariah by his attempts to measuredly suggest that perhaps Donald Trump isn't the antichrist. It's not a message of support, and there are none of the standard talking points. It doesn't claim Trump's a good guy, or that we ought to vote for him (I'd rather eat Applebee's). Adams focuses tightly on the proposition that the anti-Trump hysteria voiced by people like me may be as frothy and overblown as other historical popular hysterias have been (even smart people can get caught in hysterias!). And he tries to patiently diagram how it happened.

I've made my anti-Trump sentiment well known here, and while I don't agree with all of Adams thinking, and I think he ignores genuinely troubling indications (confirmation bias/herd mentality aside), I must uncomfortably concede that some of what he's saying makes sense. There is obviously some confirmation bias going on here. I've hit a point where I question my increasingly titanic level of antipathy. Have I caught an idea virus?

If I were to tell you your mailman was a serial killer, you'd view him in an entirely new light; reading things into his words and actions which you wouldn't do otherwise. Expectation is everything, and it can warp truth, whipping itself into a psychological vicious circle. It's possible Trump is more of a haplessly out-of-touch shmuck using outdated means of expression, rather than a white supremacist would-be autocrat. It might be at least somewhat a case of Leff's Fourth Law (with the caveat that the truly malicious have been seizing upon the incompetent for all of human history....David Dukes may love him, but scary whack jobs love Hillary, too).

Like me, you may not like Trump. You may not approve of his views nor his expression. You (hopefully) don't want him for president. But read this open-mindedly, resisting the urge to lash back at The Other. It won't help you like Trump, but it helps with the thing I've been desperately wrestling with: not concluding that a large chunk of the country is either monstrous or else the moronic patsies of a monster.

That sort of thing is not healthy thinking (though I am fully aware that from time to time bona fide monsters do get thrust into power by their patsies). I'd like to pull back from that brink, especially in light of the fact that I'm friends with plenty of Trump supporters who are perfectly nice people.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Brittle Frailty of Egotism

My father had what I thought of as a broken, crippled ego. He couldn't bear to be disagreed with, or to be proven wrong, or for any flaw or error to be referenced in any way (bear in mind that 1. this sort of thing was way more common among fathers back then, and 2. he had good qualities, too).

Out of kindness, I treaded gently around his many errors, flaws, and cockeyed conclusions, careful not to mirror the non-titanic, non-heroic, normally imperfect human being he quite obviously was. I knew he was too weak to emotionally handle it, and that his rage stemmed from frustrated smallness, rather than fearsome largeness, so I didn't fear him; I pitied him.

In his view, of course, the dynamic was completely different. I was showing "respect"...though, of course, no amount of "respect" could ever have been sufficient.

If my father were blind or confined to a wheel chair, I would have felt less burdened by his weakness. He would have seemed less fragile and limited; more whole. His need to enforce an image of flawlessness was his greatest flaw.

(See this explanation of how we're never so small as when we strive to seem big, and this brief observation of how we often understand ourselves completely backwards.)

Ever since, I've worn my flaws on my sleeve. Nothing would perturb me more than for those around me to feel afraid to acknowledge my imperfections; to assume I couldn't handle truth. I don't want to burden people in that way, so I relieve them by keeping my idiocy abundantly obvious - front and center. 

In so doing - by taking ownership of my flaws - I ensure that my own falsely heroic self-narrative remains utterly bulletproof. I figured at first that I'd broken the cycle, but, no; I'm like the child of abusers who's figured out how to not get caught at it.


(Paradox alert): The best way for a thunderous Wizard of Oz to avoid revealing the helpless little dude behind the curtain is by swapping places with him.

Woops, I just noticed that I already explained much of this, from a different angle, here

Friday, September 2, 2016

Illegals

Joy Reid, a generally insightful TV pundit, had one of Donald Trump's Hispanic advisors, Steve Cortes on her show. Cortes is critical of Trump’s tone and substance on immigration, but continues to stick with him. He and Reid got into a kerfuffle when he used the term “illegals”:
Reid: Hold on a second. Let me stop you right there. You are Hispanic, Steve. Are you comfortable with that term, “Illegal”? That is a pejorative to a lot of people. Why do you use that term?

Cortes: Joy, words matter.

Reid: Yeah, they do!

Cortes: …and if you do something that’s against the law, that’s illegal. If you go into a store and you shoplift, you’re not an undocumented holder of a good, you’re a thief. If you come into the US against the immigration laws of the US, you’re not undocumented, you’re illegal!

Reid: First of all, do you consider a child who was brought into this country….you would label that person essentially the equivalent of a “shoplifter” or a “thief”?

Cortes: No. Because they had no choice...

Reid: That’s what you said!

Cortes: No, I did not. I didn’t say that at all!

Reid: So you wouldn’t call a child eligible for DACA an “illlegal”?

Cortes: I would not, because they don’t have a choice! A shoplifter has a choice, an illegal alien has a choice, a child does not have a choice!

Reid: That’s fascinating that you, a person of color, would use that term.
When he repeated the word a few minutes later, she insisted that he stop using such a hateful, offensive term on her program.

A few things:

1. I’ve been befriending - and working alongside - undocumented Hispanic and Latinos (in the music business, the food business, and as neighbors in Miami, Brooklyn and Queens) for the better part of 35 years. And every one of them has referred to themselves - in terms of immigration status (in Spanish and in English) - as “Illegals”. So, really: case closed. But I'll continue...

2. Kids indeed are different (as Cortes tried to agree, while Reid derailed). That distinction requires both tolerance and vigilance, because it creates a loophole, and, as in any cat/mouse situation, loopholes inevitably get exploited. But, in 2016 America, I can't go further, because while my use of the shocking term “illegals” puts at risk some of my social relationships, I dare not refer to this loophole in anything but the vaguest possible language without risking pariah status. Mentioning this thing that no one denies happens is absolutely beyond the pale ("the pale" keeps drawing closer and closer!).

3. Kids aside (and the guy was doing his best to put kids aside), the tortured logic that an intelligent person must put herself through to reach this position makes my brain hurt. I love immigrants. I want more of them. I want total amnesty, I want green cards handed out like Tic Tacs, and I know with certainty that the best thing about America in 2016 was also the best thing about American in 1916 (when my grandparents arrived, back when borders were more porous): our immigrants. Complain to me about immigrants, generally, or Hispanics/Latinos, specifically, and I’ll get even louder than Joy Reid. But people here illegally aren’t “undocumented”. They’re here illegally. Let's embrace these hard-working illegals - who believe in the American dream way more than most of us - and give them amnesty and a path to citizenship! ¡Venga!

4. The “people of color” line was the coup de grace for me. Melanin doesn’t correlate with any specific line of behavior or thought - as people who use the term "people of color" would be the first to adamently insist. You can't have it both ways! By expecting people who look a certain way to think a certain way, you are validating the racist idiots!

On most political issues, I’m a moderate/centrist. But when it comes to immigration, I am one-sided: pro-immigrant in every respect and exuberantly xenophilic. If my views and expression nonetheless put me beneath-the-pale in the view of the American Left, it means the American Left has gone Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, straight into Crazytown on this issue. And I believe that’s had very bad repercussions, as extremism always does. At least some of the current extremism on the right is surely reciprocal. That's how it works: extremism begets extremism (god bless the Taoists). Hey, that's why I'm a moderate!

Racism and nativism and xenophobia are real, to be sure. And, yes, much Trump support stems from rot that's always been here. But not every Trump supporter's rotten. Not even close to a majority! So when otherwise perfectly nice and non-hateful conservative people strike us as oddly intemperate in their view of immigration, we need to consider this question I constantly ask on this Slog:

Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

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