The Menu

So here’s what I’m making.

Three Soviet salads. The word salad to us means something completely different than what it does to the rest of the world. It’s a 7-10 layer construction where every layer is cooked separately, then the whole thing is painstakingly assembled and left to mature overnight.

Instead of the traditional gefilte fish, I’m making an Israeli recipe of fish marinated in Israeli spices and encrusted in Israeli tahini and then grilled.

Pickled cabbage, tomatoes, and carrots (crucial for good digestion).

Potatoes stewed with Asian mushrooms.

A small charcuterie plate just to have something meat-based on the table because the salads are fish and vegetarian.

Kasha (buckwheat porridge, I guess) for Klara. She requested it, so there’s no need to feel bad for her.

I don’t make desserts, so N purchased five million different kinds. Cake, eclairs, and 4 different kinds of khalva. Everybody at the Global Foods store on Sunday was a Russian speaker. And the store was packed. Everybody was buying up for New Year’s. The great part is that you don’t have to cook for a whole week after New Year’s because there’s so much leftovers.

I Finished Surveillance Capitalism!

It’s a great, great book but it should be 300 pages shorter, for sure. To say that Zuboff’s writing is repetitive is like saying that Trump isn’t always extremely tactful. I kept thinking my Kindle was on the fritz because it felt like I was reading the same page over and over and over again.

This is the reason why most readers of this great book don’t get to the end. And it’s such a shame because not only is this absolutely, hands-down the best non-fiction book of the decade but the last three pages are absolutely stunning, unexpected, and wonderful.

In these last pages, Zuboff tells us that surveillance capitalism is not really capitalism at all. Surveillance capitalism uses the rhetorical devices of the massively successful neoliberalism in order to… destroy capitalism. It masks as neoliberalism but it isn’t. Zuboff demonstrates how the very foundation of what Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek understood as capitalism is destroyed by the surveillance mode of existence.

This is a fascinating argument that I need to keep thinking about. It looks like Zuboff us saying that the surveillance anti-capitalism (which would be a better name for it) is enamored of the idea of planned economy and that the chaos of what we know as a free market (or a free anything) is its enemy. Which is why China is at the forefront of this surveillance system.

As I said, this is all condensed in 3 pages at the end, although the whole book leads you to this conclusion without stating it so bluntly until the very end.

New Year Resolution #2

I have come up with a New Year’s resolution. In 2020, I want to watch more movies. I will watch one movie a month in a theater and one movie a month not in a theater. Altogether, this will be more movies I have seen in the last 15 years.

I’m tired of always having to say, “No, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen anything.”

I need to find a list of film classics or something. Like that movie Casablanca. I’ve seen it mentioned a tribizillion times but I have no idea what it’s about. I mean, I have a vague idea. It’s about an affair or something.

One Hollywood movie I really love and have watched at least ten times is Hotel Rwanda. It’s very well-made. The director is talented, the actors are great. If I could find more films like that, I’d be happy.

Or Single White Female. It was like a Law & Order episode, really nice.

The kind of movie I hate is Traffic (remember back in 2000? Horrible), Pan’s Labyrinth, and American Beauty. I hate pretentious stuff with “a deeper meaning.” Just tell a good story, film it in an unobnoxious way, and spare us your imbecilic philosophizing.

Book Notes: Néstor Díaz de Villegas’ De donde son los gusanos

I haven’t returned to Ukraine since emigrating 21 years ago. Emigrés who go back for a visit are such a joke because they exist in a constant state of informing the former compatriots of the superior ways of their new country. As if they had anything to do with creating those superior ways.

De donde son los gusanos is a book by a Cuban author who returned to Cuba after 37 years in the US. Díaz de Villegas is not a regular immigrant but an actual political exiliado who had spent time in a concentration camp in Cuba for political dissidence. And he’s a talented writer. But even he is doing the stereotypical “ah, just look at the barbarians” thing. And it’s not that there isn’t a lot of obnoxiousness in Cuba. There is. But his sense of extreme superiority isn’t justified because what is it that he did to become superior? Emigrated? Big freaking deal.

I slipped on the stairs and cracked my tailbone, so I’m moody. Plus, I ordered a tarte tatin to make myself feel better, and it tastes like garlic. But the book isn’t bad. It’s just annoying at times in a typical emigré sort of way.

Christmas Gifts

For Christmas, I got makeup, makeup brushes, makeup remover, and a gift certificate to Sephora.

I’m spending Christmas at the house of a great makeup enthusiast.

I also got a purple notebook. People always think I don’t need any more notebooks because I already have a lot. Apparently, the concept of collecting isn’t easily associated with me. Or with notebooks. But finally I got a notebook.

I will now watch makeup tutorials on YouTube and write down notes in my notebook.

Book Notes: Santiago Roncagliolo’s La cuarta espada

I read a novel by Roncagliolo a couple of years ago but I have only a vague memory of what it was about. This usually means that I wasn’t impressed.

La cuarta espada, though, isn’t a novel. It’s a book-length investigative piece on the Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist organization in Peru, and its leader, a university professor Abimael Guzmán. And this book I loved.

The Shining Path was mostly defeated in the 1990s, so there’s enough distance to discuss it in an objective, non-hysterical way. I found out from the book a lot of interesting details about Guzmán that I didn’t know. Roncagliolo is a journalist by profession, and Latin American journalists of his generation (he’s my age) tend to be kick-ass great. The book is really well-written, and the author simply tells you what happened without trying to convince you of anything or promote an agenda.

Peru has definitely changed since the tragic times when the Shining Path was most active. There are still many problems, obviously, but the country is a better place than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

This is a great book by a talented author. It’s part of a trilogy of investigative reporting books on Latin America, and I now definitely want to read the other two books in the trilogy.

Nudniks and Surveillance Capitalism

This is fascinating:

Sellers’ growing usage of Big Data and predictive analytics allows them to identify specific consumers as potential nudniks and avoid selling to or disarm them before they can draw attention to sellers’ misconduct. The Article therefore captures an understudied problem with Big Data tools: sellers can use these tools to shield themselves from market accountability.

Of course, this is temporary. The next stage is to modify nudniks and make them more compliant by rewiring their brains. Which is extremely easy to do.