Monday, May 22, 2017


Here's what John Thorne, my favorite food writer - and the favorite food writer of many food writers - had to say about my new app, Eat Everywhere:
"An impressively designed and wickedly ingenious app. Endlessly useful, surprisingly entertaining, and highly addictive....the distillation of a lifetime of adventurous eating."
Here's my announcement of the app
Here's the app's Facebook page
...and here, once again, is the app's official web page (containing direct links to the App Store and Google Play Store pages), which you might want to pass around your friends and circles if you think they might like to have my chow knowledge instantly available on their phone for highly effective use in any restaurant of any nationality anywhere, or simply edutaining armchair reading):

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Soft Urges: The Gentle Siren's Song

I go to Philly Beer Week each year with beer geek friends. It means four or so days of drinking all day - 15 or so glassfuls in a typical one. Since they're well-spaced, we never get drunk. But neither are we ever fully sober. It's grueling, to be honest, but great to sample so many terrific brews we wouldn't otherwise try.

Each year, after I get back home, in a moment of repose after a day of recuperation, a familiar voice in my head will pipe up to ask "Hey, why not have a beer?". It's no big deal. And, no, I never do have that beer. Fine! The voice is ok with that. And, a few minutes later, I'll have a great idea: why not open up a beer? I can again refuse. The compulsion is weak, though persistent. And so it goes for a couple of days. Gentle frequent urges, easily overridden. I recognize the route to alcoholism: capitulation to soft urges. So I don't.

Over the years I've come to understand most of the workings of my mind. This Slog is largely a registry of that. But one dark monster has persisted: once in a while there's a task I just don't want to do, and the longer I don't do it, the more of a sinkhole I fall into. It can get very bad. I can lose days/weeks/months. It looks like depression, but it's really more of a paralysis.

The puzzling thing is that the task is never very fearsome. When I eventually get to it, it's no big deal at all. So why the aversion?

In fact, there's one such pending task right now. Again, it's no big deal. But the very gentlest of headwinds is enough so that, at any given point, I'll choose a different activity. For example, ten minutes ago, I took a deep breath and resolved to get over the hump - to do the thing I don't particularly want to do. And a familiar voice in my head piped up to ask "Hey, why not write a Slog piece about this?" It was a soft urge, easily overridden. Yet here I am, having given in to the gentle siren song.

Procrastination is complicated.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Driver Ed

Strong people live in a weak world.
Beautiful people live in an ugly world.
Brilliant people live in a stupid world.
Generous people live in a selfish world.
Be careful what you wish for.

My driver education teacher back in high school always said that the greatest danger is when you're either the fastest or the slowest car on the highway.

Break Glass In Case of Ego

Monday, May 15, 2017


I've been hinting, for some time, about an ambitious project I've been working on. Well, here it is. It's an app (for Android and iOS) called Eat Everywhere, which guides you in navigating virtually every cuisine. And it's on sale now.

Eat Everywhere offers on-the-fly help in restaurants nearby or abroad. Based on many years of experience guiding people through eating adventures, it's chock-full of strategies and pro tips for scoring slam-dunk dishes. Everybody loves lasagna, samosa, and pad Thai, duh. But chebureki, pambazos, and mishti doi - and thousands more - are equally lovable. This unlocks everything!

It includes pronunciations for all terms (can you believe no one's ever offered that before?), and painstakingly selected web sites with deep info on each cuisine (can you believe no one's ever offered that before, either?). There are dish suggestions for vegetarians, and for kids and other fussy eaters. "Litmus test" dishes (to quickly gauge restaurant quality). "Ice-Breaker" dishes (not always available, but you'll impress the hell out of your waiter by asking!). And more. Plus, it's witty. Once you dive in, you'll be lost for hours.

I myself constantly refer to this app. It contains not just everything I know, it's everything I wish I could remember, and the chow-how of a team of expert eaters. We spent two years building this 200,000 word magnum opus together.

This has been a dream of mine for decades. Like Chowhound, it's something I desperately wanted as an eater. The Internet needed, and your smart phone needs Eat Everywhere. You won't imagine how you lived without it. Click the logo, above, for more info.

If you'll buy it, I promise you way more than your five dollars' worth. And if you'll also star-rate it in App Store/Google Play, and share our web page with your friends and social network, this might get a little popular, which could help increase appreciation for immigrants and foreigners (we all do what we can)!

Eat Everywhere makes a great gift. It's one of the only food resources that's useful for both experts and newbies. Whichever you are, you surely have someone at the other extreme in your life who could use this! Shoot, who wouldn't want this tucked away on their phone - a lifeline for whenever you find yourself eating outside your comfort zone, or seeking a change of pace, or traveling?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Decent Don

Don't miss this.

The Presidency Looking Forward

The next demagogic populist president with authoritarian instincts won't arrive with an impeachable portfolio of traitorous Russian collusion and mobbed-up money laundering.

Never forget how hard it is to expunge even a brazen cartoon villain. The filter needs to be front-loaded. Always register, and always vote.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Donald Trump and Theory of Mind

Way back in 2015, I tried to analyze the mental process, such as it is, of Donald Trump in a posting titled "Trump in the Skinner Box,". It read, in part:
As for what Trump really thinks, he's a narcissist in an enormous Skinner box. That's all you need to understand about him.
A Skinner Box is a laboratory device that systematically rewards one particular behavior. When the subject learns that a certain action triggers, say, an electrode buried in the orgasm part of its brain, that action will be repeated, over and over again, ad infinitum. It will become the defining action of the subject's life. It's the action that makes the good thing happen.

The reward must be well-suited to the subject. If the subject is a chicken, which is basically a biological device for pecking endless grain, you set up your Skinner box to feed the chicken. And the chicken will never stop responding in the way you've trained it to. It never "gets wise". Blessed with the result it most seeks, there's no reason to ask deeper questions. The chicken thinks it's just killin' it.
Does he believe what he says? You and I have a need to check back and compare our mouth's output against our belief structures. That's our Skinner Box (we feel rewarded when there's unity between what we think and what we say). But that's not Trump's need. He'd look at such a need and be as baffled as we are at his. What? "Check back"? "Beliefs???" That's all completely beside the point. A non-factor.

So, no, he doesn't sit in his limo after each appearance, rubbing his hands gleefully, saying "those clueless assholes ate that right up!". There's no fiendish master plan. He's just at a latter stage of figuring out what he needs to do to get the really good heroin injected in his bloodstream.
Today I saw, on Twitter, a more intellectual way of expressing this, in terms of "Theory of Mind". It's a quick read, and worth checking out.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Schiff/Yates 2020!

I'm just land-grabbing the first online mention here...

Really, I'm stunned that no one else has said it. I'm nearly giddy at the thought of two smart, competent, forthright, thoughtful, non-extremists running the country. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Brexit and Trump: Same Plan, Same Shady People

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked is a new article from The Guardian showing how Trump and Brexit were both products of the same plan hatched by the same characters. It delves deeply into the shenanigans, temporarily setting aside Russian influence, and it's way deeper than anything the anemic American press has managed to produce, though the overview is well-known to everyone who's paid attention.

This is old-school reporting, full of names and facts, but, while it's great that the reporter laid it all out (for other reporters to draw from), don't feel compelled to familiarize with all the data points. Just quickly skim, and know that the bottom third of the article puts it all together.

The really scary thing is that it's not over. Trump and Brexit were just the beginning. Don't imagine the French election has returned us to normalcy.

A few highlights:
"The company that helped Trump achieve power in the first place has now been awarded contracts in the Pentagon and the US state department. Its former vice-president Steve Bannon now sits in the White House. It is also reported to be in discussions for “military and homeland security work”.

In the US, the government is bound by strict laws about what data it can collect on individuals. But, for private companies anything goes. Is it unreasonable to see in this the possible beginnings of an authoritarian surveillance state?"

"Palantir is a company that is trusted to handle vast datasets on UK and US citizens for GCHQ and the NSA, as well as many other countries.

Now though, they are both owned by ideologically aligned billionaires: Robert Mercer and Peter Thiel. The Trump campaign has said that Thiel helped it with data. A campaign that was led by Steve Bannon, who was then at Cambridge Analytica."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

New Pepperidge Farm Cookies

Pepperidge Farm's new "Farmhouse" cookies are a tribute to how strong a brand Tate's has become. It's a total knock-off (at a lower price point).

I can't understand why Tate's very best flavor by far - butterscotch - remains so unfindable. Pepperidge Farm doesn't offer the flavor (apparently too clumsy to have noticed the opportunity).

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rant v1.1

I cleaned up my previous posting ("Passionate Rant Against Nationalism") some; polishing the writing and clarifying a few poorly-stated points. If it was of interest to you, you may want to reread.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Passionate Rant Against Nationalism

I hate nationalism. I feel that anyone paying attention to twentieth century history must conclude that, as I once wrote,
Nationalism is always a noble-seeming mask for xenophobia. Show me someone who loves "Us", and I'll show you someone who hates "Them".
It's time to recognize that nationalism is a noble-seeming veneer we stick over our shamefully lingering tribal instincts. Nationalism is the driving force of most large-scale human violence. It is among the most dangerous of the deep, primal strings we must resist plucking. Yet there's something about it that makes people feel supremely righteous. We desperately need to stamp that out.

The bad behavior often ascribed to religious zealotry, for example, always stems from patently obvious tribalism/nationalism. Any sort of group affiliation can trigger the impulse. The banner doesn't matter; any will do. So we need to stop looking at the surface of things, and recognize the deeper tribal pattern. If you watch for it, it soon becomes almost corny.

I've been devoting myself to trying to deprogram nationalists. I'll recount two recent discussions with otherwise reasonable people from places where nationalism flares (both of which seemed to have actually had some effect):

A Turkish Waitress from Izmir:

Her: We are more cultured than the rest of our country. More educated, more modern. We can't relate to the others. It's time to separate!

Me: When I go to Texas, or Mississippi, or North Dakota, it's like another universe. I can't relate to the values, beliefs, or lifestyles of the people there, and lord knows they can't relate to mine as a New Yorker. But it wouldn't occur to me that we should be different countries!

I can't relate to my sisters, either, but we (more or less) agree to exist within the arbitrary, random framework of Family. Siblings don't need to share values or interests. One simply accepts the granfaloon (every human grouping is a granfalloon!) and goes about one's life in a world where someone who looks like you and lives next door might be unrelatable, whereas someone halfway across the world, who speaks a language you can't understand, might be a kindred spirit. There are cascading scales of identification, and it's all quite fluid. We can weave our own affiliations.

Those of us who fully embrace this all-leveling, world-shrinking digital age understand this, innately*. Why not identify with a nation of the spirit; with people who share our values? That's the new, positive, evolved way to go. The trope of making a big deal over geographic border-drawing - over what you call the groupings - and buying into the "loving my people" bullshit, which always entails disdaining the Other (I like the Other! I'm xenophilic!) is an old, musty, stupid pattern. So, so corny. And dangerous!

* - I was in Bogota recently, and the folks typing on laptops in cafes there were absolutely sophisticated and "modern"; indistinguishable in most important ways from my cohorts doing likewise in Brooklyn. I could have long conversations with any of them; we enjoy enormous shared knowledge and outlook. Their parents, however, are half their size and wear, like, blankets. The world is filling with first-generation immigrants to modernity, and we share an evolved sense of kinship. Travel a bit and you'll see...the Internet has changed everything (don't get me wrong, though....these people were all culturally Colombian for sure, just as I'm culturally a New Yorker....but my point is that that's just one affiliation!).

A Catalan musician:

Him: I'm not a totally crazed nationalist, like some people I know. Though I have to admit, deep down, I do feel a strong drive of that. I can't explain it rationally, but something about it just feels right to me.

Me: Let me tell you about a deep drive. You see that woman over there? (I gesture across the bar to an attractive female). I'd like to walk over there, throw her to the floor, rip all her clothes off, and fuck her senseless. This is not a drive, however, that I choose to indulge. Responsible people learn to disregard their drives, even if they might "feel right" at some dark, primal level.

For the ultimate parable of the ridiculousness of nationalistic fine-slicing (which never ends well; in-groups always shrink, and out-groups always grow), consider the Valencians. See the italicized footnote here. I love Valencia, by the way. I deem them completely out of their skulls from a position of utmost love and respect.

Transformed Attitude Toward Travel

Wow: $596 from NYC to Vietnam, roundtrip, including all fees and taxes, courtesy of the addictive and life-changing The Flight Deal web site (previously described here).

I've used the site to fly to/from Austin for $80, Savanna for $96, Barcelona for $325, and Bogota for about $250 (minus another $100, due to a special deal, long story). And I've very nearly pulled the trigger on a bunch more.

Between, Airbnb (or Hotel Tonight for nice lodgings at sharp discount) and Uber, my attitude toward travel has changed entirely. I treat it all like an informal drive to Boston or DC, i.e. minimal planning and fuss. Just go and sort of...hang out. Chowhound a bit, try the beer, sit in at some jazz clubs and try to make contacts. Otherwise, it's about feeling perfectly normal while I'm somewhere completely different (as a touring musician, I've had a bit of a head start on this mindset).

A friend recently proposed hitting Paris for culinary exploration. That (airfare aside) would cost serious dough. I'd need to plan carefully...and disappointing results would feel crushing and wasteful. The stress  doesn't appeal to me. It's just not how I travel anymore. I'm not looking for home run experiences. 

In an era when I can spend a week in Bogota for under $500, total, I'm content to find a park bench to read a book, and to scarf some randomly-found street arepas, while feeling blissfully happy about the momentary flavor of my life. It involves making a big thing into more of a small thing, but enjoying the hell out of that small thing.

I can work just as I do at home - have laptop will travel - but, when I step away from my tasks, I'm somewhere breathtaking. I don't gear up for it. I don't bone up on the history, or try to really "do" the city. I essentially "go to ground". No sights, no guide books. Rather: I just blend in, feeling normal and at-home, except I'm not in Kansas anymore.

I didn't invent this, by the way. This is a Thing...and it's called "digital nomadism".

$600 is too expensive for whimmy travel, so I won't be hitting Vietnam. But still....tempting!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Finding Empathy for Trump's Enduring Support

From today's Daily 202 email from Washington Post:
Trump’s approval rating is at record lows, but he maintains credibility with his base. Our new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that his overall approval rating is 42 percent, but his rating among those who voted for him is 94 percent. Only two percent of his voters now regret doing so.
Here's my go-to move to empathize with Trump supporters. I think back to the point where it looked certain that the 2016 election would be Bush v Clinton, and I remember how demoralized I was at the prospect of such very weak tea - representative of the entitled "because it's his/her turn!" strain in American politics which seems so hidebound and ill-suited to the new century. I recall wishing that someone (Bloomberg? Huntsman?) would shake things up.

Perhaps you wished, too. Many of us did. And, low and behold, we got the "surprising" rise of Bernie and Donald. I wasn't a fan of either, but there's no denying they disrupted the process. They were not weak tea. And they were neither Bush nor Clinton.

These days I find myself wailing about the importance of norms. But I've flip-flopped. I felt less affection for norms when Bush vs Clinton inevitability was making me physically ill. Lots of people felt the same, but many of them didn't flipflop. They wanted disruption, they got disruption, and they're delighting in the disruption, even though polling indicates that many of them disagree with Trump's tweets, tone, and policies (not that he's the least bit consistent with the latter; he's just a wrecking ball, and that's why they love him).

Of course, my disruption-mindedness didn't compel me to embrace every sort of disruption. But this is a route for returning to the point before many of us branched. Mentally returning there again and again helps me maintain empathy for reasonable Trump supporters (if not the rabid rally attendees in MAGA hats), though certainly not with Trump himself.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the phenomenon of Trump's enduring support, I return to my crestfallen reaction to Bush vs Clinton inevitability. Then I refocus my vision, recognizing that many people felt strongly enough to act from that perspective.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Obsession or Creativity

I was in a restaurant eating lunch when I happened to re-check (for the 50th time) the website for my upcoming project (which launches publicly next week). I noticed a minor error. And while I didn't sputter or stress over it, I did feel a very strong impulse to abandon my meal, run home, and fix it.

Of course, I did no such thing. But a daemon, had been created, and would not easily relent. I was gripped by a powerful urge.

Again, this was only a very small issue. So my behavior might seem "obsessive". But labeling it that way would show a poor understanding of the creative process. It's taken me over five decades to understand that this sort of thing isn't neurosis. It's a feature, not a bug!

"Obsession" is the unhealthful and unhelpful application of deep attention to random, trivial, or even self-destructive tasks. It's the neurotic misappropriation of a perfectly admirable faculty. When, by contrast, a mother checks in on her baby just one last time before going to bed, we wouldn't call her obsessive. We'd recognize her to be elevating to her best self; showering her loving care and attention. Though the baby would be fine without the extra check, few of us would sneeringly deem the mother "obsessive". She's being a good parent!

Creativity is being a good parent, too!

OCD happens when creative people deny themselves a creative outlet (or have never stumbled upon an apt one). Their impulse to deeply care and commit becomes overwhelming, so they latch on to any (or every) random stupid thing. It's a perversion of the creative process, but it's a far worse perversion to use the language of dysfunction to describe someone engaged in genuine creative activity.

Your neighbor who stays up all night counting his rice grains is certainly "obsessive", but a Beethoven, wearing a diaper to ensure unbroken concentration while composing his symphonies, would be a very different case. An artist isn't a more functional obsessive; obsessives are malfunctioning artists. The behavior itself is only as detrimental as its application! (examples)

OCD is not the only mental health scourge that arises when creative impulses are misapplied to pedestrian or negative ends. Consider depression.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Leftovers Soup

Sauté in nonstick fry pan:

Thin-sliced half onion in olive oil, salt, and pepper, with a bay leaf

Add 1/2 leftover baked yam, roughly mashed

Add one leftover broiled chicken thigh, diced

....and continue until mixture starts to brown.

In soup pot, boil:

1/2 cup chicken stock

Leftover chili

Handful of chopped kale

Generous handful of Trader Joe's "Melodious Blend"

Serve boiled mixture in a bowl, topped with sautéed mixture.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Is there an afterlife?

My latest Quora posting: Is there an afterlife?

My two most popular Quora postings: In a fine dining restaurant, what is a polite way to tell the sommelier the price range for the wine you're considering? and How do people judge whether others are intelligent or not?

Ironically, my answer to the second question explains why I rarely get more than a scattering of up-votes. I only post when I have something surprising to offer, whereas the posts that get wildly popular tend to stroke people's preexisting biases and assumptions. Few of us are looking for surprising insights with the power to change our perspective. If people relished having their minds changed, the human condition would be very different.

I love surprise, myself. I love having my perspective shifted and my mind changed, so I've developed my capacity to surprise others. But I find myself endlessly relearning that most people are not wired to enjoy that sort of thing.

As a jazz musician, I understand that if I string together cliches, audiences will have a more soothing experience, because their unconscious predictions of how phrases will resolve turn out correct. It feels, to them, like a "win". Some musicians respond to this pressure by defiantly dashing all expectations (see Thelonious Monk), but I try to be a good storyteller, sensitively balancing familiarity and surprise. If only more people noticed...

More on consistency and predictability here.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mama Grimaldi: Part 3

Coverage continues of my friend Andrea's trip home to his mother's kitchen in Rome (part 1, part 2, a slideshow of Andrea himself at work in the pizza oven in his garage, and photo spreads from two previous visits (this and this)

This time we're seeing some serious soul food. You don't see these things in restaurants.

Two notes:

1. Andrea would like to note that it's spelled "Mamma" in Italian.

2. Clicking to expand photos (every one of them) is obligatory.

Neapolitan Broccoli/Sausage

Macaroni Frittata

"O Père e 'o Musso" (Neapolitan dish of boiled pork cuts)

Orecchiette with Broccoli

Tortano Napoletano (a rustic Easter bread)


As I've been saying for months now, the Twitter feeds I follow are consistently ahead of the news (read over my shoulder via this public list...or, if pressed for time, scan my Twitter "likes", which I'm offering as a trail of breadcrumbs). Recent mainstream reports like this are no surprise to those of us who've been following things closely.

Mainstream news, of course, has a higher burden of proof than someone yakking on Twitter, and properly so. But while most yakkers are useless, those with deep ties to American intelligence, like John Schindler, are another thing entirely. He and the others in my list are drawing connections and pointing out patterns, applying great intelligence and experience. And they've been wrong about very little.

It's abundantly clear that we're in a full-scale intelligence war with Russia, and have been for some time, and Trump and an eye-popping proportion of his team are in the thick of it. And it wasn't just about the election. So where is the conclusive proof? Where are the prosecutions? The problem is that the key evidence is top-secret.

Our intelligence community (and the agencies of our allies) have known about this for quite some time, but what they know is classified. That's why mainstream press has lagged (reporters are working their asses off to independently confirm, via publicly available methods, solid stories they've known about for months). Prosecution's even harder. Even downright treasonous behavior can be difficult to prosecute because classified evidence can't be introduced at trial without burning sources and methods. Some truly despicable characters in our country's history have walked free because of this problem.

So that's why you're not hearing conclusive proof, and that's why people aren't being arrested, despite solid assurances from intelligence agencies (Obama, fwiw, knew all about it, but was apparently confident Clinton would win without his sticking his neck out). The world's counter-intelligence community is on the verge of a collective stroke, knowing what they know while the bad guys remain in place.

It's my nature to spurn conspiracy theories. And, post-McCarthy, anti-Russian paranoia and witch-hunting pushes strong buttons. But I'm forced to accept that the Russians have been engaged in impressive, wide-ranging actions with shocking results. I'm even coming around to the intelligence community's view on Snowden (public antagonism to the NSA - and intelligence community, generally - created by Snowden's actions have has had the opposite effect of increasing government transparency, plus they've clouded the ability of our intelligence people to warn us about situations like the current one; it's superb cover, really).

If, like me, you're unaccustomed to parsing the convolutions of disinformation deviousness, it's time to get up to speed. Russian intelligence agents have certain obscure, but highly-developed, tactics for screwing with people - and groups of people. Read this explainer, which helps cut through some of the (deliberately and painstakingly sown) confusion.

And if you can make the effort to read through this important Twitter thread, strewn with acronyms and potboiler-ish suspicion and counter-suspicion, you'll take away a deeper understanding of how confusion can be sown on a grand scale...and weaponized. The goal isn't just one thing (though Putin would love to lose those sanctions). Plain, random confusion is a potent tool for weakening a society - and associations with allies. Russian disinformation campaigns always play both sides, just to sow chaos and doubt. In other words, the Russian agents aren't just the people spouting pro-Russia agendas. Our president, for example, just apparently gave Putin a black eye by creating some potholes in an airstrip in Syria, even offering a "Take that!" to the Russian leader afterwards, but only a simpleton would conclude that he's switched sides. Look for more "Take that!" (he's not a puppet; you're the puppet!).

I've created a new blog "label", Trump/Russia, which links to my previous postings on the topic.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Unnecessary Wondrousness

I get very sad when I come upon older buildings displaying unnecessary detail work - the smaller and finer the better. Such frivolity is unthinkable nowadays, having been vanquished by the momentum of capitalism, which demands adherence to two doctrines: 1. maximize revenue, and 2. minimize expense.

Maslow's scissors were inevitably applied to aesthetic caprice, which disappeared along with the real butter in pastries, the real sugar in sodas, and any lingering vitality to the semi-archaic term "labor of love."

But every once in a while, I'll find myself on a less familiar city block and be transported to an era when human beings were frivolous enough and caring enough to embed easter eggs just because; an era when we occasionally tried just a bit harder than was strictly necessary.

At this point, there's scant rational basis for even an iota of non-monetizable delight. I mourn the turning away from the sacred credo of nano-aesthetics, the essential doctrine of my religion of Apprecianity.

But every once in a while there's a wink from within the miasma. Some anonymous drone takes the care to construct an unnecessarily wondrous lede sentence like the following one, and I realize all is not lost (it's small and quiet, yes, but nano-aesthetics compels the appreciation of minor wonders):
Ever since ENIAC, the first computer that could be operated by a single person, began flashing its ring counters in 1946, human beings and calculating machines have been on a steady march towards tighter integration.

God bless The Economist.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

So, So Leaky

From the recent Politico piece headlined "White House on Edge as 100-Day Judgment Nears"
“One hundred days is the marker, and we’ve got essentially two-and-a-half weeks to turn everything around,’ said one White House official. ‘This is going to be a monumental task.’ … More than 30 Trump staffers piled into a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjoining the White House, according to a half-dozen attendees who described the Tuesday meeting."
Wait. Six of the thirty leaked? 20%?!?

Apparently so. Trump admin may dispute, but journalists know who's leaking what (not that they'd ever reveal), and they take this report seriously.

Hate the Flip-Flopper, Love the Flip-Flop

A P.S. to my previous posting (about the Daily 202's coverage of Trump's flip-flopping):

Political rule of thumb for utter morons: When a politician declines to fulfill a really stupid, harmful campaign promise, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

A bigger "duh" could scarcely be imagined. Yet liberals lose their minds when Trump fails to be brutal - much like how conservatives lost their minds whenever Obama failed to be radical. We howl in pain upon hearing reasonable ideas from those we've deemed unreasonable (never forget that Obamacare was created by the conservative Heritage Foundation). We despise leaders who flip-flop to our side of an argument, because it makes them a less perfect channel for our hatred. We may even flip stances, ourselves, to maintain that channel.

Nothing rankles the citizenry more than a hated politician offering their preferred cut of thick juicy steak.

WaPo's Daily 202 (Yet Again)

Once again: if you're not receiving the Washington Post's "Daily 202" email, you're missing out.

It's a great quick summary, it's grounded (not screaming partisanship, just verified facts), and it catches lesser-known stories while offering smart, fresh perspective. It not only informs me, but it helps me digest what I already know.

Here's the beginning of today's:
THE BIG IDEA: West Wing staffers always matter, but never more so than when the president they serve lacks deep ideological convictions. It is clearer than ever that whoever has Donald Trump’s ear controls the direction of the country.

-- Reflecting the declining influence of chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and the growing power of former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, Trump broke Wednesday with several populist and nationalist positions that he espoused on the campaign trail:

1. The president pledged his full support for NATO. “It was once obsolete; it is no longer obsolete,” he said during an afternoon press conference, after meeting with the organization’s secretary general. “I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change — and now they do fight terrorism.” Fact Checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee notes that, as recently as March 22, Trump called the trans-Atlantic alliance “obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism.” He was incorrect: NATO has been involved in counterterrorism since 1980, and especially since 9/11. Nothing has changed, except his position.

2. He told the Wall Street Journal he will not label China a “currency manipulator.” As a candidate, he pledged to do so on his first day in office. Just last week, Trump called China “the world champion” of currency manipulation in an interview with the Financial Times. Yesterday, he changed his tune. “They’re not currency manipulators,” he told three Journal reporters in the Oval Office. Besides, he explained, talking about how they manipulate their currency could jeopardize his talks with Beijing about confronting the nuclear threat of North Korea.

Mama Grimaldi: Part 2

More pictures, direct from Rome, from the kitchen of Mama Grimaldi (see part 1 here). 

Mama Grimaldi's Zucchini Flower Fritters

Sautéed Chicory

Chicken Cutlet with Baked Mushrooms

Small Spicy Peppers Stuffed with Tuna

Procedure for Neapolitan "Pizza de Grano"

Continue to part 3

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Mama Grimaldi: Part 1

Shortly after my recent visit to the Catalan village where my guitarist friend Andrea Grimaldi baked an ecstatic slew of great pizzas, he and his family took off on a trip back home to Italy. He's been sending me back photos of his mother's cooking, and I consider them semi-religious relics.

In the 90s, when I often taught and played in Spain, Andrea was legendary among his generation of musicians for his great cooking, but the highlight was when Andrea returned from trips home. A chunk of Barcelona's music community eagerly awaited his arrival, along with kilograms of food prepared by his mother, the legendary Mama Grimaldi.

Mama Grimaldi became a legend for those of us lucky enough to taste Andrea's precious cargo. The black madonna of Montserrat perches atop a mountain overlooking Barcelona, offering her protection. No less significantly, Mama Grimaldi's excruciatingly scrumptious parmigianas inspired a generation (she's apparently a cooking legend even in her home village, where few grandmothers are slouches in the kitchen).

As I said, Andrea's been kind enough to send me some photos from his trip, currently in progress. I'll be publishing them here. Please expand every single one to full screen (if you don't, bad things will happen to you).

Mama Grimaldi's gnocchi with tomato, basil, and mozzarella



"One of the best ice cream places in my village." [note: one of the best!]

Note: This is the first time, to my knowledge, that Mama Grimaldi has consented to be publicly revealed...exclusively for Slog readers. These are our cannelloni.

Continue to part 2

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Water + Time = Satisfaction

Water is the ultimate solvent. I've found there is almost no dried-on, caked-on issue that can't be resolved by this simple move*:

Take a square of toilet paper (or, for larger areas, a paper towel segment), and saturate it with water. Drape it over the gunk. Let it sit for an hour. Then wipe it away.

Forget magic erasers (actually, I kind of like magic erasers...for when I need faster gratification); this never fails.

* - it's not as handy for grease or color staining problems.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Roman Pizza in Catalan Village

I've covered two previous trips to the Catalan village of Seva to visit my friend, Andrea Grimaldi, jazz guitarist and chef extraordinaire. Born and raised in Rome, Andrea has lived in Spain for many years, yet his cooking still retains the purity Mama Grimaldi instilled in him. He cooks pizzas in a wood-burning brick oven he built by hand. And they are fantastic.

I've posted photo essays after previous trips (here and here), but this time it's slide show time.

I'm unable to embed the (short) video, so you'll need to click here. Definitely blow it up to full screen. It's really something to see.

See photos Andrea just sent from Rome (where he's been spending the week eating his mother's cooking) starting here.

Why God [see disclaimer] Lets Bad Things Happen

I'm replaying this older article ...

Disclaimer: First, God's not a bearded dude on a cloud. That's ridiculous. Second, people who use the term "God" a lot (particularly with the prestige uppercasing) are the very worst sort of name-droppers. Third, human beings have a knack for grinding down all loveliest words under the crushing weight of their stubborn ignorance. Even "poetry" has had most of the poetry sucked out of it, so good luck finding any juiciness at all in the term "god", which repels listeners into their blinkered, neurotic policy positions on The Subject, where they stop listening.

So I'm going to use the "G" word only once, in the first paragraph, only because it lets me frame the issue in familiar terms, and I won't bring it up again. As you'll see, this isn't really about god (or, even, God); it's about, as ever, us.

Here's why a loving, munificent god lets kids get cancer, and all the rest of the horrors: It's because we want it that way.

Human beings seek out stories to identify with. Narratives. Plot lines. Thrills-and-chills tales of trial, redemption, loss, tragedy, and jubilation. If that full range of outcomes isn't represented in our lives, we fabricate them in our imagination and in our art. We project, and then we identify with our projections. How often do you see people creating needless drama? How many millions are right this moment tightly wound up in "first world problems"? How many make themselves maxi-stressed over the outcome of a ballgame, or the weather report, or the stock market? Why do humans pay to ride rollercoasters?

It's because we like it, and crave it. In pursuit of rich experience (both "good" and "bad"), we make stories out of our stories out of our stories, and we absolutely want it all: comedy, drama, rom-com, horror, porno, and tragedy. All human entertainments - the worlds we, ourselves, construct with our god-like creativity - contain monsters and perils. Why would we create monsters and perils if we desperately want to avoid monstrousness? Again, we do want we can enjoy pretending to fear them! We want monsters and stress and drama and loss and violence, along with laughs and love and bliss. We have an innately abusive relationship with the universe, and, as with every abusive relationship, we subconsciously choose this dynamic 'cuz the making-up part is so, so good.

This world is exactly what you asked for: a huge, collaborative story ripe with exciting joy and sorrow, and it perpetually churns, for our entertainment. If it were all cookies and pixie-dust, we'd be bored out of our skulls, and build even more chilling video games, movies and rollercoasters.

Consider America. After millennia spent desperately seeking cheat codes for this world, figuring the whole while that things would be so much better if only we could purge the illness and lions and warlords and extreme poverty and hunger, we've done it! This richest of rich-world countries has expunged the vast majority of our nemeses! Yet look around you. Most of us spend most of our time building needless drama, stress, and sorrow for ourselves. We are far more depressed than any human beings anywhere, ever. We build internal towers of brooding discontent, and spend vast tracts of time lost in tumultuous TV shows and video games and sad songs and memories of pain and worries of loss, desperately seeking out whatever snatches of drama we can find to identify with. Having finally slayed the monsters, we are bored, discontent, and hellbent on creating new monstrous worlds to inhabit as deeply and as continuously as possible. Virtual reality technology is right around the corner, and one senses that the public can hardly wait. Do you imagine we'll use it to build lovely realms without violence, pain, or menace? Of course not. We like those things! We plainly crave them! Even in our "real" offline lives, we creatively find dire stress and drama amid our ridiculously safe and comfortable American existence!

We inhabit a bright, beautiful planet full of promise and peril, lovingly tailored to our precise specifications. We need the sad and horrible parts. If we don't get enough of them - if we've implemented cheats to override them - we pay to get our fix, and/or brood, worry, and stress our way there. We need all the movies.

We make only one single mistake in all this. We're so adept at immersion and identification with storylines that we easily lose ourselves. Our problem as a species is that we immerse so deeply in the drama (especially the parts that seem deadly serious - the grisliest, saddest, most turbulent storylines) that we forget we're the ones who signed up for this. The solution is to try to wear it all much more lightly, and to remember that the rollercoasters are merely rides (we waited on line!), not oppressors.

And that's on us, not "Him".

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Change is as Good as a Rest

When I finished my obligatory year of indentured servitude with the company that had acquired Chowhound (long, surreal, hilarious story starts here), after having spent eight years slogging to manage the overgrown web community that had taken over my life, and which itself was launched in a state of exhaustion after an impossibly ambitious book project, I figured I'd need to really take things super easy for a while.

I discovered that no length of inactivity is sufficient. Lying in a hammock feels good, and I'm all for it. But we are not video game characters, so hammock-lying does not actually recharge our power levels. It doesn't work like that! Recharging's a myth! I spent a few years trying to recharge, and it never happened. It was only when I returned to doing stuff (e.g. writing this Slog, restoring my trombone technique, and various other quests and projects) that I began to finally recover.

Inactivity is not salve, nor is hard work detrimental. Anyone who makes a habit of trying hard - who commits - can testify that therein lies the greatest human satisfaction. How the hell did we ever suppose that trying less was a route to anything good?

I really know what I'm talking about here, having ample experience both with demoralized exhaustion and with prolonged efforts to "rest". Here's the short version (which I'm told is a cliché, though no one ever told me):
"A change is as good as a rest."
I've been smarter this time. Having recently finished the two year build of an ambitious new project that was every bit as taxing as Chowhound (and which launches shortly), I've been working with an Ecuadorian construction crew in the South Bronx. I paint ceilings with a 15 foot roller, and I’m told that I'm really fast. My friends think I've gone bonkers, but, even on cold days (there’s no heat at the job sites) it’s the perfect antidote to sending 150 emails/day, haggling with techies, and sweating over promotional copy. And $75 pays for like three dinners!

Two weeks on a nice beach wouldn’t change a damn thing. Recharging's a myth! But, exhausted though a day of this labor leaves me, it's just what I need. I look forward to the jobs. A change is as good as a rest!

Plus, I get to reply to snobs who ask what I've been doing by saying "Oh, I've been doing some painting," then blithely explain as they shrink with Dumontian horror. They figure I've degenerated into sordidness, while I figure they, despite their superiority, likely wolf down handfuls of daily Prozac.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Another Perspective on Truth Rejection

The Times today published the hundred quarillionth think piece on why it's so hard to get people to drop provenly wrong assumptions (e.g. a large majority of Republicans still believe Trump's evidence-free wiretapping claims).

There's been much talk lately about confirmation bias, and other explanations for why otherwise reasonable people hold onto patently unreasonable notions. The problem is that the people who write these think pieces - who consider things like confirmation bias - are isolated from the people they're writing about. They are intellectuals who've enjoyed fancy educations, and they socialize strictly within that narrow tribe.

Having experience with a much wider range of people, the answer is very evident to me. We need to understand confirmation bias by considering the alternative. Yes, people absolutely do retreat into the comfort and security of their ideological "igloo", seeking out only opinions which soothe their preconceptions. But that's only half of the issue - and not the important half. Think of it this way:

If someone who's neither well-educated nor disciplined in their thinking suddenly strips away their "igloo" beliefs, opinions, and stances, where is that person left? The answer is nowhere. If you're not conditioned to think nimbly - to bridge and hop between various stances - you are left in a blank, larval position. It's a brain fart that never ends.

Thing is, people aren't real deep. If you peel back their most superficial layer - where they say and think the sorts of things they usually say and think, largely parroting their favorite TV pundit - you'll discover there's distressingly little remaining, aside from primal drives and fears. Most people are "faking it till they make it." There's no "there" there, just a cobbled-together set of entirely imitative thoughts and behaviors barely sufficient to create a seamless impression of intellectual autonomy.

We look upon the senile with deep pity, observing that they've tragically lost themselves! No, they haven't. They're still right there! They've just had that puny and rather useless veneer removed; they've lost their bluffing tools. When their superficial wrapper of presentation is lost - the bundle of canned, unexamined stock opinions and reactions - little remains.

One can be trained to maintain discipline in the gap between the striking down of one assumption and the building up of a replacement. It's a small trick, but one few of us develop. As a philosophy major, I was trained to feel comfortable amid this gap, but most of my friends never learned this agility. Strip away their core beliefs and assumptions - deprive them of the canned policy statements they trigger when topics arise - and they'll find themselves infantilized. And, really, who wants that?

To urge wariness of cognitive bias is to assume that people have a choice in their beliefs. People who talk about cognitive bias often do have such a choice (though they, too, will admit that they themselves frequently fall victim). But most of the population does not have a choice. It's not "this" or "that" idea; it's an "on" or "off".

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Trump's Potemkin Village

From The Atlantic's profile of Kellyanne Conway:

"She's figured out that she doesn’t need to win the argument. All she has to do is craft a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative, so that those who don’t want to look past the facade of Trump’s Potemkin village don’t have to."

If you don't know about Potemkin villages, it's actually a fantastic story.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chowhound Thread on Union Square Cafe

My Chowhound thread discussing what made Union Square Cafe unique in its time, and explaining why many people report the new place isn't the same.

Ravioli Thingee

This was a solid "9". Prep time: under ten minutes. As with all my cooking, this was improvised, and isn't something one could affix a name to.

    - 1/2 cup leftover stir-fried Swiss chard (originally prepared with lots of garlic and ginger and a splash of soy sauce, and stems cooked two minutes longer than leaves)
    - 5 Trader Joe's "Beef Bolognese Ravioli"

Boil and drain ravioli.

Reheat chard in covered nonstick sauce pan over low heat (no oil, no moisture; I wanted it dry).

Splash good olive oil and either some balsamico or else this magic ingredient (made from balsamic must) into a large bowl, and add ravioli.

Cut roughly* into quarters, add chard, and stir.

* - A word about "rough" cutting. I posted a recipe to Chowhound once that called for cutting chicken roughly with a butter knife directly in the pan, and a disbelieving poster questioned this. The answer, here and there, is that precision (in cutting and in any other artistic move) is an important skill to acquire, but should never be the sole approach in your arsenal. Precisely-cut chicken in that case, and precisely-cut ravioli in this case, would not be right for the intentions of the dish. Precision, in other words, is not always preferable.

I'm reminded of the many times I've seen stuffy classical violinists play a jazz piece with the same precision they'd apply to Mozart. It sounds terrible. It's not what the situation calls for, so it's bad musicianship, even though they're applying the skills drilled into them by their teachers. Good artists don't reflexively apply the same skill set in every instance, just because they can. If you don't maintain some pliancy (in life and in art), you'll be condemned to stuffy, narrow, priggishness.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Currently Good Pizza

I sent a friend a list of current pizza I like in (loosely) the Tristate area. In roughly north-to-south order, meandering between styles, and ignoring Staten Island, Long Island, and New Jersey. This was not written for public consumption, but the beauty of producing a sleepy little Slog is that I can hopefully share it on the down-low.

Pizza House
89 Howe Street
New Haven
Very good Greek-style pizza (warning: I haven't been there in a couple years). Slices lunch-only. FYI the best Greek pizza I know is Bill’s Pizza in Portland, Maine.

Trackside Brick Oven Pizza
118 Dudley Ave
Wallingford, CT
GREAT brick oven pizza in an old railroad car down in a gully, invisible from the main road, baked by Ecuadorian dudes who worked at Pepe's/Sally's during the glory days. I wrote about this over ten years ago, and haven't been back (just too far away for me). No idea if it's still good, but it was amazing then. Here's my report, with photos (scroll down past the gym comedy stuff)

600 Mamaroneck Ave
White Plains, NY
The last great southern Italian American restaurant in the Tristate area, in a grimy tavern frozen in amber from like 1956. Chef-owner is OLD....hurry to try. His rigatoni with broccoli rabe and sausage (must ask for hot, not sweet), his garlic bread, and his garlic bread with cheese are so great that you could almost miss the fact that his thin-crusted bar pizzas (I prefer meatball) are sensational. Don't come for dinner...his assistant usually cooks. Lunches only. Sit at the bar. Enjoy Fox News.

Johnny's Pizza
30 West Lincoln Ave
Mt. Vernon, NY
Whole pies only. Assholes. Great pizza.

Razza Pizza Artigianale
275 Grove St
Jersey City, NJ
Pretentious expensive place. Full menu, but only get two things: pizza (any pizza) and bread and butter (expensive and killer great). I haven't been there in a year, so no promises, but they had a Mexican dude manning the oven who cared so deeply that the place could burn down and he'd still be carefully monitoring the pies. He was clearly riding some unfathomable wave of divinity. IF he's still there, you'll have the best brick oven pizza I know in this country. Note that the PATH train's Grove St station is right nearby.

Best Pizza
33 Havemeyer Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Really inspired. Whole pies MUCH better than slices. Several times I've finished eating here and my entire party rose to their feet and applauded the kitchen. And they didn't seem surprised. Great as pizza is, the meatball parmigiano hero (made from SCRATCH) is even better, and unmissable.

Paulie Gee's
60 Greenpoint Avenue
Greenpoint, Brooklyn
You probably know about them. Dude was an amateur pizza maker, won competitions, etc, finally opened this place. Crowded. Specializes in obscure salumeria toppings.

Joe's Pizza
7 Carmine Street (near Bleecker and 6th Avenue)
Been there forever, and somehow still great. This is the last remaining great 1979 suburban shopping mall style slice pizza.

Sal's Pizza
316 Mamaroneck Ave
Mamaroneck, NY
Woops, I lied. This is also really good 1979 suburban shopping mall style slice pizza.

Sal and Carmines'
2671 Broadway (@101/102 St)
Slice pizza. Not as great as years ago, but still a very interesting slice (from the "extra salty" school).

Saturday, March 11, 2017


I would give up my car to watch Obama frankly live blog the Trump presidency.

I might even give up my home. Sleep on friends' sofas for the duration.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Explaining My Aversion to Shiny Fun Manhattan Places

I've been straining to articulate my ambivalence about spotting new venues (nightclubs, etc) in Manhattan that push my "looks fun!" buttons despite my aversion to actually taking part. I have an innate sense that they're not for me.

I could explain that I'm too old for the crowd, or too grumpy/shlumpy, or that I lack the requisite spirit of carefree superiority that comes from being raised by rich Manhattanite parents. All these things are true, but it doesn't quite sum up the dynamic.

Finally, after years of trying to explain my own perspective to myself, I've got it. Watching people go in and out of such places feels exactly like watching kids trick-or-treating.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Follow My Twitter *Likes*

I've mentioned several times that Twitter is telling the story of Trump's downfall a month ahead of mainstream media. Mainstream press can't run with conjecture, while Twitter floats more primordial data points. Of course, conjecture is inherently less trustworthy ... unless you follow the right conjecturers - i.e. those with proven insight, connections and track record, as I do.

You may not have time/interest to deeply dive into a half dozen very active Twitter feeds every day as I do, but, as a service, I will start "favoriting" essential tweets as a leaving of breadcrumbs. Feel free to follow along here. Note that before today, my faves were usually marked for their cleverness, not their informational usefulness (still, I'd recommend delving a few months into the backlog).

You can also read this Twitter list of mine presenting the cumulative feeds of all my every day reads (mostly anti-Trumpers on the right and center, who have much better insight, discipline, and non-partisan motivations than the strident lefties who've been just wildly freaking out, usually counterproductively). Just remember one thing: Louise Mensch is breathless, overly dramatic, scarily manic, and appears to be way too wrapped up in frothy meth-head-ish conspiracy connections. She will ring every bell in your brain's "whack-job" detection center. But she's been right an awful lot, and many (though not all) of the staid, respected people I read respect her. If you want to see the full crazy, that'd be this guy. I don't know what to make of him.

How big a conspiracy is it? Well, I hold two truths to be self-evident: 1. the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform on Ukraine in exchange for Russia's DNC hacking, and 2. the Trump admin is full-to-bursting with people with questionable connections to Russia. I'd stress that connections to Russia are not necessarily a bad thing, and the left must avoid frothy McCarthyite hysteria (because that, in itself, is a patented Russian move). I have no problem with senators (e.g. Sessions) and presidents meeting Russian ambassadors and such. But when they lie about it, that's a great big problem.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Cornered Rat: The End Game Begins

The Obama wiretapping accusations are Trump's desperate attempt to pre-delegitimize the damning evidence soon to emerge from the various Trump/Russia intelligence investigations, which may be wrapping up. This is very important. It's the first serious step in the endgame of a cornered rat who'll do literally anything to save himself.

We are entering the stage of greatest danger. The real peril was never Supreme Court appointments, executive orders, nor kleptocracy. The danger is in the end game as it all crashes down; in the thrashing machinations of a monumentally powerful and single-minded billionaire engaged in an existential fight for survival of the only thing he holds dear.

Don't imagine it will go easily. Yes, Trump is willfully ignorant, unself-aware, narcissistic, and likely suffering from early-stage dementia. But when it comes to convoluted maneuvering, he's sharp as a tack. Sharper than most of us. Have you seen this map of his tangled business enterprises? I fancy myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I am shocked and awed at the ability (even with plenty of fancy, expensive help) to generate and manage anywhere near this level of strategic complexity. I couldn't keep it in my head. He can. Mock the enemy all you'd like, but it's foolish not to acknowledge and respect his skills.

Trump will lose in the end*, but it remains to be seen what shape we're left in. This is a very, very dangerous remorseless cornered rat.

* - And, no, Pence will absolutely not be "worse"; liberals who say so are as blinkered as conservatives who currently refuse to put country over party

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Weird (and Quite Unnecessary) Graft-On of the Whole Russia Thing

If you've followed the Twitter feeds I recommended a few weeks ago, you know that the Trump/Russia connection goes a lot deeper than election collusion. You ain't seen nothing yet. The natural and proper antipathy reasonable people like you and I feel toward conspiracy explanations is, rightly, delaying dissemination of the whole story. But let's skip that, and step back for a second to consider the larger picture. Imagine yourself in summer 2016, being told that Trump would win, and (after you'd been revived) that the major beef against him would be Russian collusion!

Wait. What??

It's this whole crazy, out-of-nowhere movie, like your evil, conniving boss being kidnapped by Vikings, or your horrid ex-girlfriend being accidentally shot into orbit, or Anthony Weiner's penis turning out to have the magical power to cure cancer.

Russia is completely ... unnecessary. The problem with Donald Trump ought not be that he's a Russian agent of influence (though he appears to be just that, and it is a big, big problem). A clown of Trump's ilk should collapse under the weight of his transparent authoritarian craziness and empty-headed ridiculousness. I grimace at this spaceship, this pink unicorn, this insane non sequitur that we find ourselves in re: the Russia thing, because the next authoritarian demagogue won't come with a Russia story to hang him by.

And even so, we'll be slow to hang. What if that same summer-2016-you was told that, even with this absurd development, it'd still take considerable time and effort for even this stuff to shake him loose? The big lesson here is the surprising persistence of certain infestations.

Much of his base will stick with him to the bitter end. Never forget that plenty of people like autocrats. Franco ravaged Spain; kept the populace in the dark ages for much of the 20th century, impoverished and terrorized, yet his base never deserted him. In fact, I played a gig in his home province on his birthday in the early 1990's, and saw peasants walking around in their formal Sunday finest. I will never forget that sight (never count on redemption).

Monday, February 20, 2017

TV Tips

The comic book show for people (like me) who hate comic book shows. Created by Noah Hawley, the genius behind "Fargo" (the movie revamp show for people who hate movie revamp shows). The premiere episode was an intense, surreal, outlandishly ambitious feat. Episode two calmed down some, but was still pretty amazing. Amid the plenty of Peak TV, I rarely look forward to new episodes with bated breath, but the next episode of Legion can't get here quickly enough. The great Alan Sepinwall's episode reviews.

The Young Pope
Not what you'd think from the trailers. Not what you'd think from the reviews. This is a surreal, surprising, whack job of a series that miraculously never seems indulgent or eye-rolling. Gorgeously shot, too. AV Club recaps are particularly good for this one, and Vulture, too.

The Expanse
Best hard science fiction since Battlestar Galactica, now into its second season. Great transportive world-building. Plot's a bit complicated, so I recommend following along on AVclub (though they didn't recap the first two epis of season 2).

Meticulously crafted comedy, starring the dude who plays Richard Splett on Veep. It's an original vision; not just another cookie-cutter comedy, and it gives me at least one or two laugh-howls per episode. I'm not saying this is great (yet), but I'm sticking with it.

Midnight Diner
On Netflix. Simple, gentle anthology series featuring the denizens of a late-night diner in Tokyo where the chef/owner ("The Master") will cook anything you ask for (and a certain amount of each show is devoted to the dish). Netflix has season 4, and it's very hard to find English-subtitled disks for previous seasons (and, when you do, they're subpar Chinese-produced translations), or English-subtitled versions of the film (featuring the same actor, Kaoru Kobayashi, as The Master). The original manga series (on which the live action stuff is based) is called "Shinya Shokudō". It's great, and available with English translation if you poke around for it.

I'm glad to see "Atlanta", which I found smshingly good (subtle, funny, brilliant, true), getting the credit it deserves. Wait, I never mentioned it here before? Sorry about that. Definitely catch up on Season One, which recently ended. Your only choices (for now) are Apple iTunes or the FXNow app.

Previous TV tips (including some gigunda round-ups, if you'll scroll down).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tide is Turning

Smart people believe the tide is turning - earlier than expected. Remember those ongoing investigations into Russian campaign exploits and the Trump administration's Russian connections? We haven't heard anything about them, because that's the way of serious intelligence investigations. But an extended briefing of Congress' Intelligence Committee by the FBI on Friday reportedly left lawmakers startled and silent.

Simultaneously, our vice-president, occupying a position not "worth a bucket of piss" in normal times, finds himself as the only administration official who can't be fired. Pence is starting to show open defiance, clearly confident that, to paraphrase Ruby and the Romantics, his day will come. Check his Twitter feed from today and yesterday for full-throated anti-Trumpian support of Nato and Europe (plus a rather pointed linkage between "Holocaust" and "Jews") and bellicose anti-Putinism, with the coup de coup de grace of this hilariously weak-tea lip service to POTUS:

Somewhere in the distance, a fat lady sings.

And after I've spent weeks following the Twitter feeds of journalists and former intelligence officers who've clearly been onto something re: Russia, the stuff they've been saying all along has finally become the mainstream narrative (for the most cutting edge mainstream update on Trumputin, see this jaw-dropping Reuter's piece.

Most telling, perhaps, is Fox News' incipient pivot. First Fox News anchor Shepard Smith went tremblingly batshit re: Trump on Thursday:

....and now the most persuasive account of Congress' get-religion moment in the aftermath of Comey's Congressional briefing Friday (see link in first paragraph, above) was also a Fox News product. When Fox News pivots, look out (obviously, Hannity will stay faithful even through the final days in the Führerbunker).

Russia completely aside, the administration is leaking like a sieve, the rats are starting to chew each other, and this is clearly unsustainable. But let's not put Russia aside!

It seems to have been conceded that Flynn lied to FBI investigators, and that's a felony. The FBI can get mileage from an informed party facing such overhang. Multiple layers of unraveling are taking place, and The Guardian's Louise Mensch has explained why there's reason to think Comey is truly on it - well-informed about even the deepest connections and allegations. So, again, the tide may be turning, and it may happen faster than we'd imagined.

Meanwhile, liberal pundits continue to fully reciprocate the administration's stupidity level. After a month of praying for Republican lawmakers to put nation over politics and to take action against a clear threat to our peace and democracy, they're beginning to smell the endgame, and they don't like it one bit.

While Trump (a man who praises torture, deems nukes tactical, wants to abolish NATO and give Putin free reign to stomp on Eastern Europe, and who is not only controlled by one of the world's most diabolical figures, but has appointed Putin-connected people to many cabinet positions - all the important ones - including a linchpin figure on his national security apparatus) might be a deranged authoritarian monster wannabe, the thinking goes all over liberal media, Pence (being strongly anti-abortion and likely to stock the Supreme Court with people who'd approve policy they'd mostly disagree with) is worse.

Lord, take me now.

Nation over politics, huh?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Tale of Delta Flight 15 on 9/11

Read the beautiful tale of how the residents of a small town in wonderful Newfoundland hosted 10,500 stranded airline passengers after the 9/11 flight ban. It's even true! Please continue only after you've read it (and you really do want to read it).

NYC was pretty great on 9/12, too (every 9/11 has its 9/12). It's in times like these that humans shake off their hypnosis momentarily and remember themselves. Life comes to life. I live for broken moments - personal and societal (as I child I loved playing with calculators whose batteries were almost depleted), and don't understand why most of us fear them so. Breakages, bottoming-outs and reboots are blissful; we all know this deep down.

(The phrase "I give up" - pretty much the most anti-American statement one can utter - is an unsung talisman, if invoked with absolute resolution. Try it someday.).

Try to bear in mind that many of the tens of millions of Americans geared up to "shake up the system" via Mr. Trump subconsciously yearn for this. They hanker for life to come to life, and I can't say I don't sympathize at some level, despite my abject frozen horror. As I once wrote:
The...resistance to surprise is what gave rise to the Hindu goddess Kali being known as the goddess of destruction (remember those depraved cultists in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"?). She gets a bad rap. What she actually is is the goddess of creativity. But to those who tenaciously cling to status quo, her bottomless thirst for change and the immense energy she wields in empowering the world's ceaseless churning represent all that is destructive, dangerous, and deathly. She's the very root of all our fears because, being infinitely surprising, over time she breaks absolutely everything.

Never forget Mr. Rogers' story about his mother:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Trump's Asymmetric Handshake Warfare

You probably already know about the f'd-up power move our President likes to inflict on his handshake victims, but here's an essential 80 second refresher:

Here's what I'm wondering: Will he try this against his boy Vlad when they meet in July at the G20 summit? If so, will Putin, a practitioner of judo (all about using an opponent’s aggression against him; this is all pretty much Judo 101), come prepared?

Justin Trudeau is the only victim who's come in prepped with countermeasures thus far. Read this hilarious play-by-play of their recent match (captured on video here).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Pillow Koan

I tried, last month, to explain why I never celebrate anything. But I didn't quite capture it. So I offer, instead, this koan:

I once slept on a very uncomfortable pillow,
for eight hours every night,
and celebrated everything one is supposed to celebrate.

Now, I've taken the trouble to acquire
a phenomenally comfortable pillow
and never celebrate anything in particular.


"Never meet your heroes."
Anthony Holden, etc.

"Never meet people who consider you their hero."

"Meeting chowhounds always gives me the willies!"
Bob Okumura (Chowhound co-founder)

I've always found it oddly hard to articulate why I've never participated in Chowhound social events (and, for that matter, why I keep a low food world profile even though I haven't worked as a critic in a long while). But I think this gets to the gist of it:

Human relationships can be strange and difficult even for the most sociable of us. We're all more or less ok interacting with neighbors, coworkers, waiters, etc. But even in such familiar relationships, people flounder when situations push them off-script. Such moments can devolve into misunderstanding, offense, and worse.

Humans don't do well off-script. As they flail to regain solidity, randomly bizarre or ugly impulses can briefly arise. Even at best, results are uncomfortable.

And there's very little familiarity, to begin with, when it comes to encounters with admired strangers. There's no script at all for that. I, personally, am not a lover of scripts, anyway. I much prefer improv, so it's no biggie for me, either way. But with script people, things can get weird. 

See a related exploration of how Surprising Behavior Breaks Things ("An exploration of Groucho Marx, computer hackers, beta testers, Banksy, and Kali the Goddess of Death").

...and, of course, the Slog mainstay "Explaining Salinger".

Monday, February 13, 2017

Apple Stock Tops its Record High

Apple closed at $133, and I've sold half my shares (I'll sell the rest at $140 or so). It's my fifth consecutive killing in the stock.

Every year or two, some analyst gets spooked, the rest glom on, and Apple's stock price plunges 30% or so. At that point, I buy (appearing crazy because the price is going down!, and even intelligent people can't grasp "buy low, sell high"). I hold on for as long as it takes, and when it rises back up, I sell. Rinse and repeat. Over and over again.

Watch! In a year or so, there'll be some new trumped-up issue - bad reception, or bending or cracking or whatever. The stock will, irrationally, plummet, remaining low even after Apple's fixed the issue. I'll buy again, hold patiently again, then ride it back up again.

The risk is that it won't recover next time - that the most successful company in the history of the world, sitting on a cash pile of $250 billion, will shrivel up and die because of some fleeting issue.

I just don't see that as a real risk. That cash horde alone - which doesn't even do anything! - dwarfs the total market value of all but seven other corporations. Apple could throw their entire mega-successful business in the garbage and buy Starbucks, Boeing, and Goldman Sachs. If customers update their iPads more slowly than expected, or a phone antenna doesn't work properly, or a new product line undersells expectations, that's just not going to cause a death spiral. I'm not saying they'll be dominant forever (if I thought so, I'd be buying, rather than selling, at $130). But the downside of buying at Apple's inevitable 30% bullish downturns strikes me as minimal.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Weirdo Cooking

I never cook anything with a name. It's all improvised.

Leftover Management Soup

2 leftover pieces of steamed baby bok choy
1 leftover roasted sweet potato
2 leftover broiled chicken thighs
Trader Joes Lentil Soup with Ancient Grains (in the refrigerated section)
4 cloves of garlic
Chicken stock

Finely slice garlic
Dice chicken breast
Chop bok choy
Sautee all three in a nonstick pan with some extra virgin olive oil until chicken picks up brown highlights and bok choy dries out

Bring 1/2 cup chicken stock to boil in a pot
Add 1 mashed sweet potato
Add 3 rounded tablespoons Lentil Soup
Bring to boil

Serve chicken mixture atop soup mixture.

...and here's Turkey, kale, tomato, and fig jam panini on jalapeño cheese ciabatta: (click for extra porn).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Anti-Trumpers: The Cautionary Tale of Venezuela

Gloating asshole week continues here on the Slog, as I transition from yesterday's posting about how marvelously groovy my music was to today's posting about how smugly right I've been about the whole Trump thing (this is what happens when I lapse my meditation practice for a while; by next week I'll be a full-on megalomaniac).

There've been a bunch of articles circulating from writers living under authoritarian regimes (usually from anti-Putin Russians) warning Americans about what to expect. But this one's special...and terse (you can read it in five minutes). From the Washington Post (which continues to really rise to this occasion - man, have I gotten my money's worth on my $99 digital subscription), check out the article entitled "In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did".

The subtitle says it all: "How to let a populist beat you, over and over again." I'll highlight some passages which may sound familiar. Most of it amounts to "Don't be trolled", and "Fight the polarization". Forgive my butcher-like excerpting:

...Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple. The problem is you.


Don’t forget who the enemy is.
Populism can survive only amid polarization. It works through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon. A scapegoat. “But facts!” you’ll say, missing the point entirely.


Show no contempt.
Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. That includes rebukes such as the one the “Hamilton” cast gave Vice President-elect Mike Pence shortly after the election. While sincere, it only antagonized Trump; it surely did not convince a single Trump supporter to change his or her mind. Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion.

The Venezuelan opposition struggled for years to get this. We wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid Chavismo was, not only to international friends but also to Chávez’s electoral base. “Really, this guy? Are you nuts? You must be nuts,” we’d say.

The subtext was clear: Look, idiots — he will destroy the country. He’s blatantly siding with the bad guys: Fidel Castro, Vladi­mir Putin, the white supremacists or the guerrillas. He’s not that smart. He’s threatening to destroy the economy. He has no respect for democracy or for the experts who work hard and know how to do business.

I heard so many variations on these comments growing up that my political awakening was set off by the tectonic realization that Chávez, however evil, was not actually stupid.


By looking down on Trump’s supporters, you’ve lost the first battle. Instead of fighting polarization, you’ve played into it.

The worst you can do is bundle moderates and extremists together and think that America is divided between racists and liberals. That’s the textbook definition of polarization. We thought our country was split between treacherous oligarchs and Chávez’s uneducated, gullible base. The only one who benefited was Chávez.


[note that this is me, Jim, bolding the bejesus out of this next part, not the Washington Post]:

The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy. And all the while you’re giving the populist and his followers enough rhetorical fuel to rightly call you a saboteur, an unpatriotic schemer, for years to come. ...

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