Saturday, March 24, 2018

Grand Unification Theory of All Jim-Related Enigmas

There's a very strange thing that happens sometimes. I'll walk into a Hispanic grocery in the boonies, greeting workers in Spanish. They'll furrow their brows and grow confused and agitated. This guy simply can't be speaking Spanish. It's impossible. Expectation is such a strong force that they're unable to understand me, though I speak the language reasonably well. The fact that I'm actually speaking Spanish doesn't overcome the unassailable assumption that I can't. What's more, it's emotionally fraught for them. Faces freeze in shocked horror and confusion. Friendly and well-intentioned though I am, my visit is not a happy experience for them. Nobody enjoys an edge case. There's a level of surprise that really rattles people.

Another example. I once visited a Punjabi restaurant and asked if they could make a "palakwala". This is a very odd dish to request. Not only is it completely unknown to non-Indians, but even Punjabis aren't all familiar with it. It's like our butterscotch pudding - an item you rarely see anymore, and which only older people even know about. So I asked for this, and the counterman didn't blink. He reached with his tongs, grabbed a samosa, and asked me "Samosa?", stressing the syllables to penetrate my limited gringo comprehension.

In his mind, I simply had to have been asking for a samosa. Americans always go for samosas. Sure, my mouth had performed a series of actions that, in some sci-fi universe, might have been a surprisingly good pronunciation of an extremely obscure Punjabi specialty. But you don't need to be a statistical analyst to apply Occam's Razor and give the clueless American the samosa he's obviously struggling to pronounce. Even though "palakwala" doesn't sound anything like "samosa".

When strong expectations clash with very surprising outcomes, people tend to 1. coast along on the momentum of their initial expectations in spite of all counter evidence, and 2. react uneasily and weirdly to the experience. If this happens around you a lot, it might feel an awful lot like a "Curse".

In my previous posting, I continued trying to understand my long-running experience of provoking very odd and unpleasant reactions from strangers. My failure to project superiority parses, subconsciously, as I seem like someone you'd want to disregard. But the important observation was buried in a footer:
The heart of the problem wasn't that I'm dismissible. It was the clash between that visceral dismissive reaction and the discordant fact that I'm actually interesting. A person three notches below "shlub" is not ordinarily the least bit interesting - or accomplished, talented, insightful, hip or funny. Or any other noteworthy thing. That's edge case stuff right there, and it's also unconsciously registered, and the unconscious discordance might understandably provoke irritation, anxiety, and general unease.
It's "gringo-who-can't-possibly-be-chattering-comfortably-in-Spanish." It's my palakwala samosa. That's it. Same dynamic!

When the visceral impression you provoke is extraordinarily at odds with who you actually are, every word or action jars disturbingly against expectations. Even if you don't say a word, and mind your own business, signals conflict. Extreme edge cases elicit surreal/comic results.

Surprising behavior breaks things (and the more surprising, the greater the breakage, so be careful about aiming for infinity). I actually wrote a posting five years ago about the problem with surprise, but I didn't tie it all together until today.

I had more Curse theories to write up, but I suppose I can stop now.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Note on Levels of Arrogance/Gravitas

I just noticed a strange compression effect in the levels of arrogance/gravitas listed in my previous posting.

Every level up to Level 5 thinks they're really at the level above:
Claus von Bülow and Seb Gorka think they're Stuffy Professors.

Stuffy Professors think they're Briskly Professional.

The Briskly Professional think they're Good Guys.

Good Guys think they're Get ‘Er Done.
On the other side, every level above 5 thinks they're one level down:
Senile/Crazy think they're Me (I attract crazy people, who assume we're kindred spirits)

I feel like The Dude.

The Dude feels like a Slacker.

Slackers secretly fear they're Shlubs.

....and Shlubs definitely think they're Get ‘Er Done.
Get ‘Er Done just get ‘er done.

Here's a reminder of the levels:

The Curse, Part 11: Gravitas

Previous installment
First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order 

It's been a while since the last installment, so let me recap.

Something snapped inside me at a phenomenally stressful and hopeless moment, but the fallout, strangely, was entirely external. The world went a bit crazy. Everywhere I went, strangers would grow weirdly enraged with me. I learned to speak like Mr. Rogers, restraining my natural sarcastic no avail. I couldn't shrink myself small enough to avoid being an irritant.

The "Curse" was in play even if I didn't say a word. At the gym, no one ever used adjacent treadmills (body odor wasn't a problem nor was I drooling or muttering to myself (both were checked). This is how Casper the Friendly Ghost™ must have felt!

I've spent years processing this, choosing to consider it a juicy enigma rather than a horrific nightmare. Eventually I worked up some theories, which I began recounting in the previous installment. There can be no one single answer. Extreme edge-case scenarios are the product of multiple factors. And one of them surely involves gravitas....or the lack of it.


As I wrote in my most popular Quora answer (reprinted on the Slog here):
[People are] impressed by the apparent intelligence of people who project confidence, or by their qualifications. They're impressed by educated people who use fancy words and have lots of information stored in their heads. They're super impressed by arrogance.
Gravitas really does impress people...which is why so many of us strike that pose. It's an effective shortcut for insecure wannabes. I like to point out that most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. This explains the origins of gravitas. There's a vast difference between concentrating on Doing versus concentrating on Seeming.

The problem is that Doing is transparent. Even if you do stuff extremely well, unless you puff up it's extremely hard to be taken the least bit seriously. As with certain species of beetles, certain haughty displays ensure domination and mating...and it's not super deep.

Profound people, it's assumed, seem profound. Smart people seem smart. A vibe is expected, and we're subconsciously predisposed to dismiss those who lack it. And while gravitas can obviously be faked, some part of us sniffs gradations of it and forms snap judgements accordingly. You express, nonverbally, "I am superior to you." The rest of the world replies "Okay."  Done deal. 

Genuinely impressive people are rarely arrogant. With no need to pose, they seem, paradoxically, unimpressive. We humans have quite a strange feedback loop going on, where insecure posers are rewarded and the securely accomplished are ignored.

I've written a number of times about problems caused by my lack of gravitas (this posting illustrates this whole phenomenon). I'm not falsely modest. I know what I'm good at, but I don't see how good work makes me anything special. And so I've been reading negative on the gravitasameter. Five contributing factors:
Dad: I watched my know-it-all father struggle mightily to preserve his tattered facade of Total Expertise. No one was fooled. Not wanting to fall into this trap, I went the other way, embracing my shortcomings and never forgetting that, per the footer here, "the best among us are shitty little rivers."

Burnt: I was so burnt out from my experience building, running, and selling Chowhound, and then working for a year under a sadistic whackjob, that I'd left it all on the field, as they say. Bedragglement is poor soil for cultivating gravitas.

Food Maniac: I'd maintained a public image during the Chowhound years as a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs food-obsessed maniac. It worked, but I didn't like it, so when I took myself out of the image-building business, I sort of went all the way. Maybe I went overboard.

Anti-Heirarchy: The founding principle of Chowhound was to discourage food lovers from slavishly following experts like me. And I meant it! This propelled me on a certain trajectory.

Om, Baby: Having ardently practiced meditation and yoga since early childhood, beneath my food maniac facade I was, quietly, a surprisingly serious devotee, steeped in silence and not at all fixated by worldly results. Again, I knew what I was good at, but preening - of any sort - wasn't my thing.

Since arrogance works, it stands to reason that less gravitas impresses less. So what happens in extreme cases? Let's look at the descending levels of arrogance/gravitas:

1. Claus von Bülow
Titanically arrogant. If gravitas were a cologne, he'd have been drenched in it. At this level, you jump species, becoming more reptilian than mammalian. If you don't remember Claus, Seb Gorka will do. 
2. Stuffy Professor
This is the sweet spot, where gravitas seems like a natural outgrowth of your expertise. Cause/effect get confused, as people assume you're naturally radiating mastery, rather than striking a pose which preceded any actual accomplishment. Score!
3. Briskly Professional
Too busy doing their thing to indulge in much pomposity, but they definitely "don't suffer fools gladly" (a self-congratulatory phrase much beloved by the arrogant). Includes most doctors, lawyers, politicians, business owners, and teachers under age 40.
4. Good Guy
The over-achiever whose efforts to convey ordinariness reveal an underlying sense of superiority. "My humility is just another facet of my awesomeness!" These are the people who preface boasts with "I am humbled by..."
5. Get ‘Er Done
Just trying to keep all plates spinning. Little bandwidth for contemplating one's place in the hierarchy of it all.
6. Shlub
Perennially disoriented, like a particularly stiff wind landed him in his present circumstance. Uncomfortable in his skin, he lives too reactively to even begin to cultivate gravitas or strike any other sort of pose.
7. Slacker
Has let go of caring what people think. Low ambition and low productivity are a virtue. Still, doesn't this require a deeper core of smug self-satisfaction?
8. The Dude
You know, from The Big Lebowski. Wandering around in a bathrobe, oblivious to all pretension. No gravitas at all (yet defiantly proud of it - a sort of anti-gravitas gravitas) but no real-world leverage, either.
9. Me
Utter lack of superiority...and not particularly proud of it. Absorbed in endless - and perhaps slightly unsettling - bemusement.
10. Senile/Crazy
Too captivated by whatever's drawn you into a stupor to even consider external phenomena.

See this followup posting.

Level 5 ("Get ‘Er Done") is the lowest socially-acceptable gravitas level. Below that, we start delving into the detritus of society. Not on the merits, per se; just in terms of gut instinct. Shlubs make us roll our eyes. Slackers revolt us. The Dude in real life would be an object of scorn and ridicule. Beyond that, our visceral reaction to a mere glance is "Yeah, I definitely don't have time for this nonsense." I'm below this threshold. And the next level below me is so stigmatized that any bluntly descriptive terms - e.g. "senile" or "crazy"! - sound rude and offensive. I am, in terms of status signalling, one notch below a bathrobe-wearing eccentric, and just barely scraping above senility. This explains a sizable chunk, no?

The thing is, if I were to wear, like, a saffron-colored monk's outfit, my Level 9 affect would at least have context (accurate, to boot). It would also, however, create a new slew of grinding incongruities, e.g. my sardonic sense of humor, high energy and enthusiasm, and craft beer obsession. What kind of weird-ass monk is that?? To make it work, I'd need to cultivate a smiley, conspicuously gentle and soft-spoken persona. Yet more posing. Ugh!

One final note. This is getting complicated, but the heart of the problem wasn't that I'm dismissible. It was the clash between that visceral dismissive reaction and the discordant fact that I'm actually interesting. A person three notches below "shlub" is not ordinarily the least bit interesting - or accomplished, talented, insightful, hip or funny. Or any other noteworthy thing. That's edge case stuff right there, and it's also unconsciously registered, and the unconscious discordance might understandably provoke irritation, anxiety, and general unease. 

As an illustration of the weird-out effect of confused expectations, behold Mr. Six Flags:

Thanks to Paul Trapani, who also collaborated on "Eating by the Numbers", for his input on the Arrogance Levels.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Inputting Hard Copy Edits

The final editing pass for my app, "Eat Everywhere" involved marking up 1500 pages (front and back) of text with red pen. Behold my ordeal:

This stage was, alas, necessary. The material would have read fine without it, but many people have complimented the polished feel of the app's writing, and this is how that happened. Eat Everywhere informs you quickly on the fly (i.e. in restaurants), but you can also kick back and read it like a gigunda book, funny and entertaining (much credit, also, to our copy editor Laura Siciliano Rosen, proprietor of "Eat Your World", who also helped write the food content).

While I love writing, I hate inputting edits from hard copy. Knowing this huge task was looming, I bought an Apple Pencil for my iPad and tested every PDF mark-up app, hoping I could save some pain (and some trees) by avoiding print-outs. But these apps are all clunky, so final editing had to be done on paper, then manually input, after all. If you've ever done this, you know that, among other pains, it's hell on the eyes to keep switching between hard copy and screen. And fussy to keep the hard copy well-positioned. And just crazy-making, generally.

Here's my ingenious solution, which I'm very proud of:

1. Mark up hard copy in red pen (I use Paper Mate Flair Felt Tips, though they've gone downhill in recent years)

2. Put each page under this lamp (or one like it), choosing the coolest white quality. It lets you shoot a photo without casting a shadow on the page.

3. Shoot each page using the Scanner Pro app (set to "color document" so it correctly captures the red pen strokes) for iPhone, or any similar one for Android. You can shoot with the native camera app, but if you want this to "just work", scanner apps are better (I'll explain why in comments upon request).

4. The pages will be combined into a PDF. Send to DropBox (or other cloud service, or email to yourself).

5. Open the PDF on your computer, blowing up the window until it fills half the screen. Then arrange it next to the document window you're inputting to.

No eye strain! No fussy copy stands! No squinting! Plus, you can scroll both windows as you work. I'd be dead right now if not for this workflow. If you ever work with hard copy next to a computer, this is something you need to be doing!

It looks like this:

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #15

Monday, March 19, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 91,700 google search results, just a bit more than last week's 91,000.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Picatext: If You Can Read It, You Can Copy It

There are many situations where Mac users can't copy a given bit of text to their clipboard. You can't select text in the Mac App Store, in images, in Google Books, in certain apps. For example, just try to select and copy the text in the image below:

Enter PicaText. Fire it up, select some portion of your Mac's screen, and it does on-the-fly OCR to extract the text of the area you've selected. Here you go:

Results are very good, though not always perfect (Picatext missed the space between "but" and "you"). Suddenly every bit of text readable on a Mac becomes completely available to cut/paste. It's magic - a brilliant creative solution to a problem no one ever expected to solve. And it's only $3.99, and nobody knows about it. Can we fix that? Pass the word!

Friday, March 16, 2018


Critics usually aren't masters of the thing they're criticizing. Great violinists and film directors tend to play violin and direct films, rather than write about it. So you can imagine the contempt many creative people feel for critics, who can seem like the most annoying sort of hangers-on.

I'm in a unique position, having worked creatively in several fields in addition to my critical work. Even before I was a critic, my perspective was unusual. If a critic would write about some technical thing I'd done ("interesting use of tritone substitution in an otherwise modal passage!"), or try to figure out which players had influenced me, I'd need to repress the urge to slap them. Even if they were right! Because that's all just stagecraft. It has nothing to do with my aim, which is to engage and move listeners. If you're poking at me and measuring me - analyzing how I do what I do - you're not paying attention to what I'm actually up there to do. Were you moved? Did you feel anything; were you taken anywhere? Was any spell cast?

Whenever a listener tells me they "don't understand jazz", that means they've heard crappy jazz. Jazz isn't supposed to be about jazz. It's a medium for expression, and if expression doesn't express, that's the performer's fault. I prefer not to play for jazz experts. Absorbed by stagecraft, they're the worst listeners.

For my entire career as a restaurant critic, I couldn't cook a damned thing (I've since learned). And I caught grief for it. But I always considered my naiveté a super power. When a puppeteer attends a puppet show, he keeps his eyes on the strings, not on the puppets. Who do you want to read for puppet show recommendations: someone for whom the puppets were alive and magical, or someone bent on explaining how the mouth gestures were derivative and sloppily calibrated?

Of course, you don't want a critic to be a complete shnook; a tabula rasa. Critics need enough experience to recognize when something's special and when it's a bust. But while a chef might gauge the evenness of the slicing, I gauge the likeliness you'll say "Mmmm!" (most chefs have forgotten that "Mmmm!" is even a thing).

To chefs, this makes me look ingenuous. I seem to be reading all sorts of capriciousness into the food. A very long time ago I wrote this about Sal and Carmine's Pizza:
Sauce and crust are merely adequate (though they proof their dough the old fashioned way, in wooden drawers), but they are carefully, exactingly designed and crafted to superbly support the cheese. Crust doesn’t distract, but provides the canvas for this artistic study in cheese. Sauce binds and activates entirely behind the scenes, providing a subliminal buoying catalyst for the slice as a whole. When eating at Sal and Carmine’s, one must remember to eat (conceptually) from the CHEESE DOWN, not from the crust up!
They'd taped the review up on the wall, and I asked Sal (or was it Carmine?) what he thought of it, without telling him I'd written it. His immortal reply was one of the unforgettable highlights of my career: "I don't know what the fuck the guy's talkin' about!"

To chefs, who spend their time occupied with slicing the damned tomatoes and shepherding the right dishes to the right table at the right time, my dreamy conceptualization can seem like utter ditzy indulgence.

I get it. A chef is perpetually occupied with the nuts and bolts of producing food, only unconsciously imbuing it with personal touch via innumerable micro-decisions (ideally aligned via the magical combination of experience and love). But my domain is the opposite end of that process, where diligently packed pyrotechnics erupt into splendor. It's my job to dream about it! But what artist wouldn't want to inspire dreaming?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Three Seemingly Insurmountable Problems with Autonomous Cars

I love to drive, but am nonetheless looking forward to autonomous cars, which are due sooner than we expect. For one thing, I'll enjoy an unprecedentedly active old age. As I wrote a few months ago:
What if you could go to sleep in your camper or RV, and wake up 500 miles away? Achieving that without the least preparation or staging would ... feel one notch away from teleportation!

And once highways are 100% autonomous, speed limits could safely increase, so maybe you'd wake up 800 miles away! Just for one thing, it would be a chowhound's utopia: you might read about a great breakfast joint in Jacksonville, FL, and be there the next morning for pancakes...just like magic!

It's a pretty irresistible prospect. Especially if I'm 80 years old (it'd likely take that long to happen anyway), and otherwise not getting around very much.
But there are problems. Not just challenging problems, but seemingly insurmountable ones, and these are just the three I've thought of. All are most problematic in urban areas, but those are the locales where autonomous cars are expected to be most concentrated.

1. Pedestrian Tyranny

The prime commandment of any self-driving algorithm must be: don't hit humans. This tops all other priorities.

As is, an uneasy truce exists between motorist and pedestrian right of way, and it has little to do with signage (if we locked up all the jay-walkers, there'd be no one left free). The only reason pedestrians ever let cars pass through an intersection is the prospect of getting hit. A driver could be drunk, inattentive, or psychopathic, so it's not worth the risk.

But if cars are constrained from running you over, you can step off the curb nearly any time, and all traffic will politely allow your passage. They will even opt to rear-end each other in order to accommodate you. In fact, all you need to do is wave your arm or umbrella into the roadway. Screech.....bam....walk.

The only alternatives I can think of (1. make jay walking a felony and position police at every intersection, or 2. make every citizen wear or implant an identifying chip and position sensors at every intersection)- seem impractical to say the least.

2. Destination Overload

The great thing about autonomous cars is they remove the issue of parking. Your vehicle drops you at the door, then heads off to the outskirts to park cheaply and await your summons. It may be even easier than this. In the future foreseen by both GM and Uber, car ownership will be effectively over by the middle of the upcoming decade. With no humans needing to get paid, autonomous taxis will be irresistibly cheap, so we'll be using them for everything. In either case, people will no longer approach their destination on foot, having parked in one of the plethora of surrounding options or emerged from various mass transit. Most of us will be driven to the door every time.

So what happens in front of, say, a post office when ingress is no longer a mixture of mass transit, foot traffic, and a slim percentage of drop-offs? What would 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue look like at 7:15pm when nearly every theatergoer arrives by car directly to the door? What does midtown Manhattan look like before a concert or basketball game at Madison Square Garden? We have not yet imagined how bad traffic jams can be. This will choke all traffic movement for many blocks away.

3. Hailing Woes

It's hard to get a cab as-is, especially when crowds disperse or weather turns rainy. This is mostly due to limitations on number of taxis, but what happens when a swarm of autonomous cars is available to inexpensively take everyone anywhere? When you push the "hail" button on your iPhone 15, and many people immediately around you do the same, how will the result not be like the chaotic car service pick-up lane at airports, only many times worse?

Between hailing woes and destination overload, how will any proposed nightclubs or movie theaters ever get permission from local community boards, when they'll absolutely choke their neighborhoods? One solution to all this potential mayhem would be to very sharply limit or tax all vehicles in urban areas, but that would make hailing much more difficult than it is now, plus we'd be back where we started, with expensive taxis (perhaps more expensive in light of limits/taxes) and the usual half-assed mass transit...but without the option of driving in and parking. The average citizen would come out worse.

Most cars on city streets are trying to park. This ensures a fanned-out driving pattern. It's polluting and inefficient, but it works. Without this inefficiency, the vast majority of traffic will converge on the top few dozen most popular locales. On the other hand, I suppose that with pedestrian tyranny, no car will ever move anywhere, anyway.

One more thing: if you want to get rich, invest in alcoholic beverage companies starting around 2021. As soon as autonomous cars hit a tipping point, the suburbs will see a level of public intoxication not experienced since medieval England. If, around the same time, we figure out a way to eat caloric foods without gaining weight, things might get interesting.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Perfection Requirement

Enjoy another hulking mound of buried ledes and disparate half-baked thoughts, all weirdo stuff no one else has seen fit to point out.

Having learned, early in my writing career, to draw readers into highly polished, easily-digested narratives, I continue to go the opposite way, assembling insightful hairballs requiring multiple re-readings and sustained reflection. It's not self-indulgence, as I work hard to ensure every lock is provided a corresponding key. But, dammit, the present-day conviction that everything worth knowing ought to be effortlessly swallowed is just wrong. The contemplative approach may be a poor fit for this iPhone age, but stubborn fools persist.

I hated slogging through difficult, dense writers like Kant and Hegel in college, which inspired me to develop a crisp, immersive, entertaining writing style, painstakingly primped to coax readers into sleekly gliding though, like butter. But we've all been butter-gliding for way too long. Much of the human condition remains unexamined, thanks to our mulish disinclination to closely observe, analyze, and integrate.

I've always assumed there were smart, insightful people working that end of things, so I contented myself, for years, to kvell over stroopwafels. But as I've gotten older, I've observed, with horror, that the ball's largely been dropped. So I keep slogging for the handful here who haven't yet been repulsed. Perhaps one day the tide will turn and this sort of writing will become interesting again. As-is, I'm embarrassed by it, but I do feel compelled to persevere.

It's happened literally thousands of times. I say something unscripted that contains some cleverness, and someone - who'd previously assumed from my lack of gravitas and pretension that I'm some goofy asshole - cocks an eyebrow.

Wait a minute. What on earth was that? That was either the craziest thing I've ever heard, or else I've misjudged this guy!

They look more closely, trying to decide: crackpot or sage? But they see before them nothing but goofy asshole, with no detectable deeper nuggets of magnificence. I bemusedly watch their mental gears turn (any process observed thousands of times affords what might be mistaken for superpowers of intuition), and the result is inevitable: "Ok, yup. Crackpot!" Attention dissipates, and there's literally nothing I could say or do to stir them from their permanently settled disinterest. I could levitate and spit gold coins from my ears, but, please, they've had quite enough of this guy's goofy nonsense.

Yet sometimes not. Sometimes someone projects the existence of some nugget. It must be projected, because there truly aren't any, because I am merely (and proudly) a shitty river. Per the footer 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.
But this time, for whatever reason, someone has begun to pay closer attention.

Understand that this is a very rare occurence. At this point, we've lost the 90% who weren't listening in the first place, the 75% of them who listened while lulled by their own inertia of boredom, low expectations, and the sing-song surface of what's being said - and are distracted by eagerness to find offense, to narcissistically connect everything to their own drama, and to catch you unwittingly falling into some deprecated meme. If you can emerge from this asteroid belt of random chatter, dull inattention, and poison, a bit of consideration might occasionally be paid even though you decline to push the buttons that normally command attention.

That last part is a big thing. People who demand attention - and learn to push buttons to get it - are seldom worth any actual attention. Demanding and deserving are very different gigs. I once wrote this about intelligence:
The most impressive intellects are not always fast or flashy. Not, in other words, impressive-seeming. And it takes ample intelligence to be impressed by actual impressiveness rather than by mere impressive-seemingness. Most truly intelligent people I've met aren't very impressive-seeming, because if you've got the goods, you tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it.
The seeming/being disjoint applies beyond intelligence into every realm of the human experience. We register merit via the most superficial and fake-able of indications. Consider: we all have a super-nice person in our circle. This is the person who gives lots of shoulder rubs, and always has a kind word and bubbling positivity. They have 3000 Facebook friends, and if you ever really need them, they're nowhere to be found, because their thing is seeming nice, not being nice.

Genuinely kind people have no reason to manipulate people into deeming them kind. Where's the kindness in that?!? They don't offer shoulder rubs, and they don't effusively coo at you, but they'll go out of their way to help if you're in trouble, without expectation.

Again: if you've got the goods, you tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it. But our phenomenally superficial society rarely looks beneath the Seeming. This presents an enormous problem for secure people who don't anxiously tend to their facade. Insecurity and fakery are rewarded, while security and authenticity are overlooked.

So let's say (quoting from one of the links above) you're not a pompous, boastful, stuck-up "Do You Know Who I Am?!?" prick, leading with your accomplishments, playing the part, and prepared to pee at least as hard and as far as any alphas in your midst. And you are therefore seen as a goofy asshole. But you've just said something clever, and the rare person has not only caught it, but stirred from their reverie long enough to ask themselves whether you're a crackpot or if you're really on to something. And they're tending toward the latter.

What then? This has to be the happy ending, right? Victory?

No, this is where it gets really weird and counterintuitive. We do things at this juncture that we don't consciously realize we do.

We begin to scan for flaws. We wait, with baited breath, to hear something dumb, or wrong. Like good scientists, we scan for contrary evidence. How are we supposed to admire perfection if we haven't thoroughly scanned for flaws?

So a timer starts, and the longer we fail to find flaws, the more excited we become. We've finally found That Perfect Person! And the more excited we get about it, the more attention we pay. Our admiration is inextricably entwined with our flaw-scanning. This is because our heros have always been those we've deemed flawless. (Why are there no heroes anymore? Because we've all grown way more sophisticated in our flaw detection!)

On the other end of that equation, it feels like a high-energy laser blasting at you, measuring and modeling your every cell and pore, hellbent on detecting every iota of fraudulent inadequacy. The attention level of someone who suspects they've found a hero is thirty kajillion times greater than everyday attention. Attention multiplies via emotions like hope and awe. Finding themselves shocked on unfamiliar ground, people give it all they've got. Flaw-scanning and admiration, admiration and flaw-scanning, the two create a vicious circle.

Have you ever met a stunningly beautiful person? Not just someone made up to look attractive, but blessed with an appearance that draws you into a far deeper place than you normally go? You can't stop looking at them. If this person were to laugh an uncomposed laugh, revealing some unconscious ferile, unrefined quality, the spell would shatter. One tiny scar, one piquant fart, and, suddenly, nope. Just another damn person. You'd immediately and intractably lose appreciation for the asymptotic beauty you'd previously registered. The person would descend to a status beneath mere prettiness.

This is why we feel such sharp scorn for our exes, after the momentous come-down from the impossibly lofty elevation of infatuation.

So when I encounter the one in a thousand who's able to hear, process, understand, and appreciate some bit of cleverness, and their attention turns fully in my direction, the clock begins ticking. Like a NASCAR racer, the seemingly admiring crowd relishes the prospect of a juicy crash. With the first disappointing thing I say (and I say many dumb things, because it's never been my intent to construct an image of omniscience), the spell will be broken, attention dispersed, and the primordial question reappears: "sage or crackpot?" Heads nod. "Yup, I thought so. Crackpot!"

Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes a few hours. When expectations rise, and there's a failure to be perfectly wise, perfectly insightful, perfectly equanimous (or even if one manages those things, but in an unexpected, unrecognized way), the value of everything previously said and done plunges to near zero. Remarkableness is not appreciated in the absence of perfection. Dabs of mild talent and cleverness, no problem. But once a higher level registers, the clock starts ticking.

A couple quick examples:

Steve Jobs was such a fucking asshole, amiright? I mean, obviously, all of us can be pretty rude, impatient, stubborn, and arrogant. That's just human nature! But Jobs was supposed to be, like, great, and if you've heard the stories about the dozen or so times he behaved poorly, you know the real truth! And JD Salinger, who stopped seeking publicity and engaging with random strangers - who led the same private life as anyone else - was obviously a crazy, bitter old shut-in!

Three addenda:

1. This explains this.

2. Beware of anyone projecting an image. Remember: those who've got the goods tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it. There is a reason, for example, that so many spiritual gurus, aiming to build a following, have been cinematically bearded and smiley...and secretly scandalous. The cranky random dude who sells you your cigarettes might be the real deal.

3. Stage magicians wear perfectly pressed tuxedos. Each gesture is suave, and every result is polished to amaze. And it's all fake. Real-life magicians are everyday slobs with problems and issues, doing their utmost to help and delight, not to impress. Real magic - which is subtle and not physics-defying, and rife with creativity - is messy, never shiny.

"Cornered Rat" Report #14

Monday, March 12, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 91,000 google search results, continuing a recent pattern of dropping, this time from last week's 93,900.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

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