One percent of the 1%

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From Evernote:

One percent of the 1%

The recent focus on Kim Jong Il’s lifestyle brought gasps of astonishment -he sent his sushi chef on a private jet to Japan to shop for rice cakes while his country was starving. Fact is, among the wealthy, there are the über wealthy, and among the über wealthy are the super duper wealthy whose daily budget would feed maybe a thousand families. While we do not begrudge anyone success -as this is the cornerstone of America, even the most callous person has to admit there is some injustice in North Korean society. It does not come from a lack of guns -the noncoms always outnumber the officers, and the fact that people can bribe border guards to escape means that some independent thinking occurs. The fact is that a religion, a cult of personality, sustains the vast inequality of North Korean society. Religions demand faith over logic. Directing the resources of a nation to the sustenance of a few humans at the top defies logic. It is a religious-type faith and fear of retribution, fear of apostasy and heresy, and fear of change that causes this gangrene to linger. What are the idols that drive injustice here at home? It is the belief that success comes from being favored by God and that lack of success comes from sin. It is the belief in absolutes that define religion. This idea afflicts our politics as much as the cult of personality afflicts North Korea.

The subordination of logic to dogma and its use in organizing societies is a old tradition. It gets people across desserts, oceans, and helps individuals process grief and the unfathomable concept of infinity. It is a human trait as ingrained as circling three times before bedding in a dog. Yet this kind of thinking is also used to demonize the poor, write off the sick, and rationalize the unemployed. It is extended into contempt for anything for the public good that comes from taxes -clean water, safe roads, national rail, public health, education and safety. It sanctifies success defined as wealth and therefore denigrates anything that might take away from that wealth.

In our still free society, one’s success is the result of not only hard work, but favorable circumstances, good health, and the support of people who were midwives to the success -the family and community that nurtured the individual and the society that provided the fertile ground for success. It’s the good plumbing that provided fresh water for excellent development. It’s the public safety provided community police and fire departments. It is the critical mass of excellent citizens that allow for success and justice. I think that is the message of the OWS protesters, that the people who get tasty morsels flown in for them not get protections at the cost of the people making it possible.

I wish for the new year the restoration of reason and clear thinking guided not by desire for retribution or a return to a past that never really was. I want an America where everyone has available all the opportunities while being good citizens and supporting the community, state, and country that allowed that to happen.

Jangjorim- Comfort Food that makes me think of my mom

With the winter upon us, I seek comfort food and nothing says comfort like jangjorim which my mom used to make by boiling beef and seasoning late into the night. I found that Maangchi’s recipe was almost as good and took under two hours. Link (http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/jangjorim).

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12 Used Things to Get For Your Favorite Surgeon

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a gift suggestion list I put together last year. Surprisingly, every item remains fresh –even the iPad and Macbook Air. Because of the terrible economy, I thought that “gently used” and “pre-owned” items deserved their time in the sun. Add to the list last year’s model which technically isn’t used, but still a great bargain. Here it goes.

1. Gently used Porsche –these were in fact easier to get in 2009 after the crash, but the lots are full especially in tony but transient locales like the Hamptons, Aspen, and Lake Taho. My particular favorites are the 911 turbos from the 80’s and 90’s. They have go cart like handling and are plenty fast without costing more than a new Hyundai.

2. Sony NEX-5, last year’s model. The lenses for the new one fit. The cameras have been updated, but there is no need to buy the latest and greatest here. Why even bother getting a SLR quality camera when your smartphone takes nice snaps? I agree, there is no reason to buy a point and shoot camera when the iPhone and others take excellent snapshots, but to take great macro shots in the OR or beautiful portraits and landscapes, a great camera and lens still wins. Ansel Adams could not have produced his masterworks with an iPhone.

3. iPad2 in a few months –they are plenty fast and because I have never used Siri, I don’t miss it yet. The iPad2 does everything that the original iPad does about 20-30% faster. The device is definitely thinner. Facetime is GREAT and brings the promise of videophone to life. The Android manufacturers don’t realize that not only are they competing with the to-be-announced Retina display, Siri equipped iPad 3 in April, they will be competing with the millions of iPad2’s that will be sold on eBay when current owners upgrade. The wonderful thing about Apple is that Apple updates the operating system unlike 95% of Android manufacturers, and that devices going back more than a year are supported in these upgrades, which means many years of usefulness for iPad2 and last year’s iPad.

4. Tiny Laptops –When released, tiny, pocketable laptops like the Sony Vaio P series were very pricy toys but now they are available used for a significant price reduction. I recommend getting a late generation model with the SSD hard drive. These fin in the coat pocket and will allow most physicians get onto their hospital information systems –something cumbersome to do on a tablet. The Windows 7 devices will also let you run iTunes letting it be a very nice media player. The only downside is the short battery life which can be augmented with an extra battery or one of those combo USB/laptop batteries –I use the Eveready branded ones as they allow you to simultaneously charge a smartphone, a laptop, and itself.

5. Old school iPods –the iPod 5th generation, also known as the video iPod, is readily available used on eBay cheap and come in 30 and 60gB sizes –usually more than enough for most music libraries. The only trouble with them is that the batteries are often run down –that’s usually not a problem as it costs about 20 dollars and fifteen minutes to swap one out. The older iPods work well with most automobile maker’s iPod docks which for some unfathomable reason are several years behind at the time of release. The original Bose Sound Docks and the Apple branded iPod speakers (very hard to find) are wonderful loudspeakers and work great with these older iPods. The older iPods are durable and won’t break the bank if you leave it behind in the OR, unlike an iPad or an iPod Touch. I recently acquired an iPod Mini from my dad who never really used it, and I not only changed the battery on it, but I swapped out the 4gB compact flash hard drive for a 32gB solid state hard drive –instructions are widely available on line.

6. High end automatic espresso machines. My recently acquired Saeco Incanto Sirius espresso machine will grind and brew perfect espresso and lattes. When purchased new, they are well over a thousand dollars, but you can find them used for a couple of hundred. The great thing about these is that there are resellers of these machines on line, and finding spare parts and repairing them yourself is pretty straight forward. Once you try coffee from these machines, you will never go back to Starbucks, or even remotely enjoy the swill from a Keurig.

7. Used Kindle 2 –Kindle 2’s, the black and white ones with the keyboard are trickling on to the market as the newest array of Kindles come onto market. If you can find one for under $50, you should snap it up because the secret about the Kindle 2 is this: the always on 3G connection and the “experimental” web browser. You never have to pay a subscription fee, and for reading text and email from the web, expecially if you set up a web news reader account well, you will be surfing away anywhere in over a hundred countries without paying wireless fees. Plus, you can read your books. In the sun. I was initially against ereaders, but being able to download and read hardcover books for 10 bucks or less, and carry several hundred around at a time trumps any antediluvian “I love how an old book smells” sentiment. That old book smell, by the way, is likely a potentially deadly mold.

8. Used Aquariums –The one thing about people moving around a lot is that aquariums don’t move well. People once excited by Nemo suddenly find the cost and time involved in taking care of fish to be a burden. The key is avoiding salt water set ups and focusing on self sustaining easily breeding fish like guppies that don’t need to be harvested from the tropics. The maintenance is minimal in fact if you go for a natural museum presentation with algae and freswater plants as well. The water from these tanks should never be thrown out –they are incredibly fertile natural plant food for the garden and potted plants. Best found on Craigslist and local barter sites, the sweet spot is 10 gallons and up.

9. Used Big Televisions –while flat screen televisions are cheap, the 60 inchers are considered the high end and still command a premium price. The increasingly obsolete DLP (digital light projection) televisions can be found used for sale and have excellent pictures particularly in the darkened home theater setting where being flat isn’t critical. The important thing is making sure the connectors are up to date –HDMI is a must. The other bonus is that these televisions are incredibly light –they’re mostly air.

10. High end stereo equipment from the 80’s and 90’s. Those ten thousand dollar stereos from twenty years ago are now considered junk because of iPods and iPod speakers have largely obsoleted CD players and standalone stereos. That said, the sound coming out of high end used speakers and a quality amplifier like the NAD amps which will accept the audio out from an iPod via RCA jacks is both loud, amazing, and cheap. Most kids don’t have the experience of listening to Pink Floyd at full volume through six foot tall speakers.

11. Used Golf Clubs –There is really no need to pay top dollar for the latest clubs, but most amateurs start and play with clubs that hurt their scores from overwhelming age or cheapness. There are certain clubs that will improve play which were amazing when they came out and still play better than the entry level kits from Walmart or Costco. Vintage Ping Irons –the Ping Eye2’s, are forgiving, durable, and very easy to find in your size. Perimeter weighted Maruma’s and Honma’s –basically hand carved Japanese irons that were several thousand dollars when new, can be found for a few hundred or less on eBay. Best person to ask –any long term golfer –ask them what were their dream clubs in the 1990’s. Most of these irons can be regrooved with tools from the internet –while illegal for tournament play, for the average golfer, these rejuvenate older clubs for use. All they need are new grips.

12. Projectors –8mm Projector and slide projectors –if you have old cans of 8mm movies or boxes of slides, you can have them digitized for a fee, but its much more fun to watch them through original equipment. The missing link is usually the projection equipment which was often fragile with now hard to replace parts. Fact is, these can be found functioning and make for incredible family activities around Thanksgiving or the holidays. Imagine screening wedding footage from the 60’s or 70’s or vacation slides from your parents childhood. The 8mm film and 35mm slide are the least accessible of the popular consumer medial technologies of their times, and being able to show these films and slides with the clickety clack of the projectors, the shuffle of the carousels, with live narration of the subjects (while they are still around) is worthy of filming with your smartphone.

Merry Christmas to all.

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Social Animal Network

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We’re inherently social. It is imprinted in our nature to bond, communicated, and organize as packs. This trait, the instinct to gather, seek out each other’s company, to seek approval, to argue, I would argue, is as much a distinguishing species characteristic as spots on a Dalmatian, and is one of the reasons for the explosive growth of Facebook. We, each of us, need to be part of a tribe, and when the tribes were destroyed by the onset of modernity, they awaited a mechanism to be reunited. Think about it –up to the 2000’s, people had to rely on the usual methods of connecting with their old tribe –telephone, email, actual contact which relied on deliberately remembering to keep in touch which none of us were really good at. The casual intimacy of living in a village with a commons, of having a favorite popular coffee shop, a dorm common room, when you move on the people you said hello to moved on as well. Now they follow you forever in Facebook.

It may or may not be a good thing, because if you have a village, even a virtual one, there will be a village idiot or two (I may be the village idiot). I have become reintroduced to my best friend from kindergarten and there are eerily similar things that we are passionate for –coffee, scatological extraversion, and Apple worship, that brings daily a smile. The shy quiet girl who sat in the back corner of high school English class turns out to be a world class smarty pants –a nicely maturing red wine with a kick in the middle and a lingering finish. I’ve even made new dear friends among friends of friends. They occupy my particular village, some I speak to every day, some every once in a while. It’s the tribe I’ve accumulated over the decades.

It also has implications beyond the sharing of holiday pictures and links to funny cat videos. It returns us to a kind of social organization that was only possible when people physically lived in villages and neighborhoods. The outside world is invited in by the denizens of these villages, but the human tendency is to be insular within the family, the tribe, the village. It may not seem like a big deal to us living in a constitutional republic, but when Facebook is available to those living in places less free, their time amongst their friends must be as important as air and water. Facebook has created a virtual planet for us to inhabit, a brave new world.

Facebook Timeline: It’s Alive!

If I put enough data into the timeline, my likes and friends, my tastes, my thoughts, my hopes, my fears, my dreams, my purchases, my gifts, my dislikes, my preferences, my comments, my chats, my photos, my locations, and everything else, you can then one day create an on line avatar that would pass the Turing test as me, and I would then be able to live free from having to update Facebook.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy was my favorite dish at a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side during the ‘90’s and has stayed with me since that time as a short hand description for living. As a dish, it was tarted up with wasabi and overpriced Tokyo style curry poured onto rice, but as a metaphor, is aptly descriptive of my life as a constant outsider. What curry and wasabi agony that was offered by the dish was paired well with the moderately ecstatic Asian sweet potato humming nicely with some carrots, interposed by the mediating beef, its fat and broth filling out the dish. It was a particularly nasty looking green which gave it the look of Star Trek food, the kind that would give Scotty and McCoy fits when offered by alien dignitaries.

One of the habits that I have is that if I like a particular dish at a restaurant, I get stuck on it and will only order that same dish over and over again. The corollary to this rule is that after about two years, I stop going. Two years is about when I get tired of it. As I had mentioned in prior posts, the half life of human desire is about six months. In two years, whatever passion I had for the dish drops by four half lives or over 90%. Without a meaningful change in the dish, the natural refractoriness of my dopamine receptors kicks in –refractoriness refers to a nerves inability to give off the same intensity of signals if used again and again. The dish, once ambrosia becomes sawdust.

I am ecstatic when reveling in the new. I like the new car smell on the latest gadgets as they come out of their box, and figuring out the essence of a new surgical procedure has that same allure. New people, new surroundings, new foods –this is what gets me going. Of course, life wouldn’t be what it is without the agonies, and I engage these with the conviction that no matter how overwhelming the circumstances, brain chemistry dictates that the intensity of feelings on the agony side of things will wane too. All bleeding stops eventually, we say in the OR. So it is that life change takes about two years to settle into a steady state. A new job, a new relationship, fresh grief – any life change takes about 2 years to reach a digestible state. It took Tiger Woods two years to win again after all.

Which makes you think about marriages and how they survive romantic love. The old coffee machine that we got on our wedding day lived with us for the past 17 years. It was a Krups combination drip brew and cappuccino maker. My wife, Jennifer, says it was a metaphor for our marriage. At the start, we kept a variety of beans to grind fresh for every pot, occasionally making espresso and cappuccino, but eventually, we settled on cans of Melita Classic, which we found to be a superior ready to brew grind. At about year 7, I broke the pot, but Jen found a replacement. Two years ago, the heating element broke, but Jen managed to find a source for spare parts and she performed the necessary surgery on it to repair it. It was this year she realized that our coffee was not as good as it used to be after she tried the coffee that came out of our friends very expensive European coffee maker, and it was it some sadness we are saying goodbye to the old machine –the new one arrived from Amazon. It’s letting go of the past, accepting change, and anticipating the new that is both agonizing yet full of hope. Marriages, by definition, are rife with moments of agony and ecstasy, but when faced together with your partner, they become surmountable.

If I am to escape the fate of the old coffee maker, I have to actively engage, fearlessly renew, and aggressively freshen. Sophomore slumps are the result of passivity and laziness of the mind. Looking back on seventeen years of marriage, I can see that at some point, I was a drip coffee maker, once shiny and new, but now I am a fully automatic, self cleaning espresso machine, slightly used, but perfectly serviceable. Ciao.

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Hunger Games -Apocalypse by Reality Show

The YA category has always been a repository of anxiety and zeitgeist. Now that the age of wizards is officially over, popular literature and Scholastic Publishing need a new hero and that comes in the form of Katniss, the heroine of the Hunger Games trilogy. This past several years, we have been visited by the end of the world in various forms -robots, zombies, flu, tidal waves, asteroids, and the old standby, nuclear annihilation. The last has been updated and promoted by candidate Newt Gingrich in the form of a high altitude EMP blast -a monstrous static discharge that will fry anything silicon, but I digress. The Hunger Games posits a dystopian future where the US is no more, and ruled by a west coast totalitarian state subjugating 12 districts of North America, enslaving the population and stripping their labor and resources. To remind them of their subjugation, the 12 districts are expected to submit annually a boy and a girl as tribute for the Hunger Games -a gladiatorial survival game to the death, televised in reality show style to the entire nation.

This current generation of youth does not know a time when 1984 was both a year and a warning, and I’m glad that totalitarianism is being reintroduced through literature and not the end of a gun. The brilliant thing about Hunger Games is the marriage of fascism and mass media, and in the the world of the Hunger Games, this exists in a vacuum of the internet. When televisions have only one channel and only the nomenclatura have access to telephones, when minor infractions are punished by death, and everyone is kept pliant through hunger, control is easier and really harks back to a time before the internet and reality TV which had its final days during the Reagan administration. It was a time when everyone watched network television and the population hadn’t balkanized into special interest groups. In fact, the Balkans had yet to balkanize.

The warning then is twofold -the hazards of resource depletion and collapse, and the loss of freedoms. We are being challenged at this time with the loss of habeus corpus for American citizens and the erosion of freedom represented by various efforts of telecommunication and entertainment providers to throttle non-commercial internet traffic. These things are happening and bring us a bit closer to the world of the Hunger Games.

I highly recommend the series -it’s mesmerizingly addictive, and my 9 year old, my wife, and I are all obsessively reading it this holiday season.

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Spaceship! Coming Alien Apocalypse

Link  -link to video. On this Gizmodo post, there is video of a spaceship like object becoming visible as a solar flare burns past the planet Mercury. The web is in a flurry of speculation over this. Is it a cloaked Klingon ship revealed by the flare?

This is how most alien apocalypse movies start. It’s 2012 eve and you have to choose your favorite end of the world -apocalypse by:

1. Sentient Robots
2. Sexy Fembots
3. Apes
4. Zombies
5. Flu
6. Jesus v. anti-Jesus
7. Asteroid
8. Aliens
9. Vampires
10. People who obsess and fantasize about vampires.

I’m hoping Cylons -a ship full of 6′s and 8′s.