Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Photos: Prelude to Actual Activity

This is Ellie, who used to race under the name Cosmo Opal. She's my parent's Grayhound, a rescue through MGAP - the Maritime Grayhound Adoption Program - whose been living with them for precisely as long as I've been moved back home. "Owning" a greyhound has actually taught me a fair amount about doing your research - they're nothing like the rambunctious, exercise-heavy beasts you learn about. This one would rather sleep, and really won't stay active for more than about a half hour.

Over the course of my new employment I've gone from eating a shamefully large amount to fast food to cooking my own meals - mostly using a small set of culinary techniques you might call my favourite brushes. Naturally I need something that reheats well once you've gotten it to the office, and the list of foods I know of that have "plays well with microwave radiation" as a feature are pretty slim. Lots of pastas in sauces.

This one on the left here is fusilli in veloute (chicken veloute if you want to get precise). The fusilli was cooked in the water from boiling the beet sections, and a small amount of that water was added to the sauce, which is where this marvellous colour comes from.
Ellie and Schmoolie. Schmoolie's the bully out of the two of them.

As you may or may not have noticed, it's been over a month since my last activity. Don't worry! I'm coming back soon, and this time I have a whole stack of things to work through - the Rob Ford saga, a new Apostolic Exhortation, funny tales from the road, and possibly some more video game stuff. Hopefully there will be a breakthrough now - I'm out of mental ink, and it seems to be on backorder!

Friday, October 25, 2013

His Holiness, A Saint, and Being Frank

Closing time, last call!
Let us imagine the year is 2008. I'm off to college, fresh out of high school, and someone in my class sparks the concept of religion. Round and round go the vagaries of discussing such a thing in the modern public sphere. Someone who knew more than most about such things spins the topic more seriously than most and shoves it in my direction.

"Hey Zac, what would be a more important quality in a priest? Celibacy or Poverty?"

I have to admit I didn't know what he was talking about. I knew then that some particular religions and denominations required celibate men for the priesthood - everyone knew that. What I didn't know was that some particular religions and denominations require vows of poverty, as well, which isn't to say that all priests must be horribly poor, but simply, as I understand it, that they are not inappropriately rich.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Fortnight of Photospam: Idle Hands are the Devil's Castinets, or Something.

Violet Likes Feet. IDK.
Ellie couldn't believe I wasn't out here to kick her off the couch.

After I turned my back for a moment, instant Zonko.

Road Trip!

Federal Inmates On Strike: Wait-What Friday

Issues taken Seriously!
Federal Inmates in a number of penitentiaries, having started with the Atlantic Institution in my very own NB, are striking from their work-related duties to protest low pay. Inmates, who do the jobs you might imagine, are paid, on average, $3 a day. Until, that is, about a week ago, when they took a 30% pay cut as part of the Federal deficit reduction plan.

It is to laugh!

Okay, for the uninitiated, labour strikes are a huge part of Canadian culture. The publicly schooled hear from a very early age how fantastically wonderful it was that unions did what they did and the existence of a Federally-Mandated Minimum Wage is a pretty good argument in their favour.

But in economics a labour strike only works if there isn't enough of a labour pool to counterbalance the impact to the employer of his workforce suddenly evaporating in a puff of self-determination. In the free world, this condition exists because the law demands it. In a prison, these conditions only exist if those lucky enough to work can convince those whom they were preventing, by their existence, from getting work detail to join them in their strike.

There's an argument among some that the money is primarily used for surviving the initial jobless period that comes with a release from prison - without the money, the only path would be back to jail, through the courts, and back to prison. Bullpucky. Most of that money is getting used for commissary.

Do I think prisoners could make more money? Only if it's economically viable. I'm sorry, but you're under criminal detention for a reason.

And I know it's not economically viable, because they just took a pay cut to help reduce the deficit.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Single-Issue Advocacy I: Sexism

I've said here before that advocating a single issue at a time is a waste of time, but I need to recant that. Obviously, you can only ever actually advocate one issue at a time - that is, one issue per conversation. The actual waste of time is in being a single-issue advocate - focusing on one issue, ever, and leaving it to other people to take care of the rest. And so, without further adieu, I want to have a conversation with everyone about sexism.

Statistically, I fall into one of the most sexist demographics in the west: Single White Males in their Twenties. I run into this demo quite a bit by virtue of being a gamer and a self-admitted net junkie, and the prevalent form of sexism in this demo isn't the "Get in the Kitchen and Make Me a Sandwhich" variety, though that mentality is prevalent and is sexist. The primary problem is just a denial, in general, of the reality of sexism as a facet of their culture.

Now, this year, sexism seems to be the "it issue". The natural reaction of the SWM/20 demo? Form a movement called "Male Rights Activism".

Speaking as a SWM/20 whose known no other life, even at my most disadvantaged, I've still had more "rights" (by which, of course, they mean opportunities and privileges) than many who don't fall into that category. Not so, say the MRAs. Women (and other minorities, but mostly women) who are preaching feminism are doing so to become the dominant gender.

Granted this problem is exacerbated by the occasional woman who genuinely qualifies as a Feminazi, but for the most part, women are basically out there saying "Hey, stop treating me like my inherent differences make me less than you." It's a general reaction against the objectification, subjugation, and otherwise "cheating" of women from their dignity, by men. It's getting grumpy about sexism run rampant in games like GTA V just as much as it is being annoyed by "chainmail bikini" armour for female characters in RPGs.

Both of which, for the record, annoyed me, sexism or no sexism. Who wants to see people being treated like they are in GTA games? What the hell kind of protection is armour offering you if it only covers your genitals?

The fact the remains that women, in popular media, are still portrayed just badly. Impractical shoes for women who are working in the field, untoward attention paid to "how awesome it is" that given-female-character outranks given-male-character, and so on. The fact remains that women make less on the dollar than men serving in comparable fields. The fact remains that western society still has vestiges of sexism.

And that's not okay.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

That Sinking Feeling: Stacey Rambold

A Montana teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student in his class was released from prison today. Stacey Rambold, 54, was sentenced by Judge G. Todd Baugh to 15 years in prison - all of which but one month was suspended. His student, who I decline to name for reasons of decency, later went on to kill herself.

This case disgusts me for any of a number of reasons. First of all, the idea that a teacher of all people can't grasp the concept of consent is appalling. Secondly, the Judge in question augmented his ruling with the logic that the victim was "older than her chronological age" - we know we have a problem when even the Judges are skating the edges of victim-blaming. Third... the sentence is patently ludicrous. Rape, statutory or otherwise, is a felony. People get longer than this for having a joint in their back pocket on the way home after work.

I don't have much of a stake in the American Justice System, but those of you who do (who, statistically, are a majority of my readers - Hi, America) may want to consider what exactly is going on here.

As for me... I'm just sitting here trying not to hold any of this against anyone.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Morality Trap, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust God

Sir Nigel don't care!
When I was in the ludicrously informal process of RCIA at my local parish, and indeed, long long before, I used to frequent a particular website, a forum for Catholics, which I won't directly link to because I am about to be not very nice to it, and I don't want to direct an angry mob of three or four people, or expose myself to some sort of weird liability problems. Not that I don't doubt they'd notice, or that they'd care, but thems the breaks.

In the beginning, the website was actually pretty useful - I have a problem with depth-first searches for things, so when I started looking at denominations, I went "Okay, let's learn everything Catholicism has to offer". And the website's extensive forum system was perfect for that. I could ask any question, from the most fundamental to the most inauspicious, and get answers, usually at least half-way thought out, which were at worst tangentially relevant. It was a useful tool, and it's where I found about half of the reading list in my Blogger account - ultimately, the community there is what convinced me to become Catholic.

However, as fora go, this particular one was hard-right Traditionalist with a capital T. That's fine. Traditions are good, and the logical reduction of strong faith in a doctrine is a traditional enforcement of the same. However, that sort of environment is not good for a person in my circumstance. I'm a centrist by European standards, but over here in North America I lean left, at least in terms of social policy. You take a guy with unpopular opinions like that and put him in an environment where his default mental state is "student, here to learn", and it leads to some unhealthy places.

I've been on Fora pretty much my entire adult and subadult life. The vagaries of conversing anonymously on the internet are nothing new to me, but... when you're in an anonymous state, you can espouse any belief without threat of exposure or concern for actually believing it, and that was the trap I was falling into on this forum. AS it always happens for me, the account became a character, posting things, on occasion, to just conform with the Trad masses, to avoid the inevitable string of "corrections".

A big part of this website was discussion on whether or not action X or precept Y was moral. A baited question if ever there was one, but Catholics by nature are moral absolutists in doctrine, so it was easy to get mired in the idea that, for example, yes, Harry Potter is all bad all the time. That was where I spent most of my time, when I wasn't sticking my neck out in the chain-letter-like group prayer threads, which were genuinely the most enjoyable and most genuine part about that website.

Moral discussion is bad territory for me. I wouldn't say I am a relativist, for even I have a few doctrinal no-spots that no amount of justification can leverage. I am, however, for lack of a better word, Liberal. I have learned this silly aspect of relationships called Trusting Other People, a subset of which is Parents Trust Their Children, and by extension, I trust the hypothetical children I am yet to father to be able to distinguish between reality (A Brief History of Time) and fiction (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). I'm not the sort, however, who believes magic is inherently bad in anything - I've done my share of fantasy roleplaying, thrown my share of imaginary fireballs, and I know enough to know you've got your arcane magic (Ouija Board looks an awful lot like 1st-Level Wiz/Sor spell "Augur") and your Divine Magic (Transmute Wine to Blood). A bit of a satirical way to look at it perhaps, but one group can't make claims of the supernatural while damning another group for doing so.

It was that sort of nit-picky morality that made me mad, and between external pressure, and pounding my forehead on the desk with the eighteenth discussion of how magic in the work of Tolkein and Lewis was okay, but Terry Brooks should go do terrible things to his digestive anatomy, that I realized the whole website was a place of extreme cognitive dissonance and that I needed to take one massive step backward.

Which I did, thankfully, and for a time, I lapsed as a Catholic, if full truth could be told. Not being in a place where I had to defend my liberal theology put me in a place where I didn't feel a need to. So I started putting aside the things I "didn't believe". No more confession... but that horridly awkward feeling of "I shouldn't be here right now" in Mass eventually meant no more mass. No more mass because not needing nightly prayers, became not needing any prayer at all.

And I lived that way for about a year. I'd be lying, actually, if I said it was a bad year - a few roadblocks aside, the last year's been pretty good to me. Then, it started coming back - that missing-something feeling. So I started praying again. Started reading more of the bible and less of the fora. My copy of the Catechism is so aggressively dog-eared it makes me want to puke, but I'm out of book-darts and those little postit flags are just so... tacky.

I still don't like confession... but I can't say I don't believe in it. It's therapeutic, for one thing. Can be for anyone. So this week, I might go back. When I do, it won't be with a laundry list of the things I might have done wrong. It will be with the things that genuinely were.

I trust God enough to inspire me to talk about whatever I need to talk about.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Breathing Fresh Air

And you all thought I was done with blogging about the Catholic thing.

I like Pope Francis. I probably shouldn't be surprised, because he's chosen his papal name from my second-favourite saint, he's learned, and he has consistantly, right from the get-go, been about as humble as you can when you're the leader of a billion people and nominal inheritor of one of the richest organizations on the planet.

Yeah, yeah, I know, most of the wealth of the Church is balanced in liabilities, but the opulence remains, which is the key idea here in my mind. The world views the church as having incredible wealth because it has what is essentially the largest collection of objects d'art in the western world. And so far from what I have seen, His Holiness forgoes all but what is mandatory. The day of or after his election he walked to the hotel where the cardinals had been staying during the selection process and personally collected his bags before taking them to the papal residence.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Keeping Track of Money (and a New Section!)

Hello Internet!

I have been in the business of constructing excel spreadsheets longer than I have been in business. As soon as I realized it could handle complex math and even a few simple logic commands I knew I was onto something useful. I never had the patience to learn a formal coding language auto-didactically, but in my own generally-hackish way, I learned to build a few things that just never should exist in spreadsheet form - including, once, a full database. This was before I had learned about Microsoft's database system, Access.

After learning how to do excel formally, I still like to play with it from time to time, even though there's no professional need to. It helps me remember some of the more esoteric commands (such as the various d-series commands like "DSUM"), keeps my logic circuit running, and is genuinely a fun pastime when I have nothing terribly exciting to play on the digital frontier, no new books, and Kat's not around.

Lately I've been looking at my massive, well-curated collection of arcane, ugly, and certainly only functional-to-me spreadsheets and wondering what I can do with them. Mostly-empty spreadsheets cost little to no memory, so they haven't been in the way, but when I see a few hundred files in a directory I wonder if I can't put them to use. I come from the age when an 8 GB harddrive was massive, so I have a few old holdovers when it comes to space conservation.

So, what I've decided to do, is every weekend or so I am going to take one of these old files, turn it into something that anyone can use, and upload it here for download.

This week, I'm offering Monthly Spending Tracker v.1.0. The workbook offers a series of sheets (one for each month in a calendar year), with a column for a budget, a column for the output, and tables to track your income (on the left) and spending (on the right). The package includes my documentation for the file, which outlines more-or-less how it works. I tried to make the system as user-friendly as possible but if you're digging into the code, you're going to run into problems. I'm so used to working without ranges that I only define large ranges such as tables. Most cell references are going to be absolute or relative references to specific cells - best practice for public use documents would be to name literally every reference as a range so that the end user can look at the code and fix their mistakes.

Still, it should do the job.

I will be, in the coming days, adding a new page for all of these downloads.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Return to Living Simply and Launching Project Spartan

Plating leaves something to be desired
So, as it turns out, I haven't actually posted about what I just did. For what looks like the next couple of months, I'm going to be living with my parents in the 3-bedroom condo while I get my financial house in order for The Big Move.

Because of that, and because I was living on my own for an extended period beforehand, I've had to downsize on gear (as a matter of fact, the 55 Gallon, which I was going to put into storage, is now for sale, which people should get in touch with me about). I've already taken a heavy sweep through my clothing looking for duplicates, rags, and those garments you can't discard but also never wear. I eventually want to get my clothing down to the point where it'll all fit in my closet - about five or six outfits, plus work clothes.

It's not just clothing and fishtanks either. Putting all of my stuff into boxes, moving it across town, and then putting it in a room roughly the size of my last bathroom has made it rather obvious just how much I actually own, and how much of it I actually need. I probably don't need the several footlockers full of CAT cable, the endless (but organized) stack of half-filled notebooks, or the tiny mountain of reusable grocery bags that I never remember to use (mostly because they are usually filed badly).

So, I'm taking a few minutes each morning to get back to basics on a lot of this stuff, figure out what I'm doing wrong, what I'm doing right, what I need less of, and what I need more of. I figure it'll help my bottom line in the long run, and having less things should certainly make The Big Move easier.

On a seperate-but-related note, I'm announcing the start of a writing side project. Now that I have the general sequence of the main storyline figured out, the vast majority of what I worked on for a side-plot has been relegated to the ash-heaps. To get some use out of it, I'm beginning a project called Project Spartan, wherein I post short stories about the locality in my storyline known only as "The Commune". The scheduling will be on a not-to-interfere-basis with NaNoWriMo, which should be the kick I need to finally get the first draft of the (new) first book hammered out.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Child Sex Trafficking Allegations Ignored by Police in US & Canada

Ragebunny disapproves, because I have
no self-frowns.
I just want to take a moment in advance of the body of this article to thank everyone for their patience. I'm all settled in (more or less) at the new house and getting ready for the Great Big Move. Thanks to everyone who wished me well on the project.

Recently, as in, a few weeks ago, a story surfaced alleging heavy prostitution on shipping vessels in Thunder Bay, Ontario that service ports in Michigan. The story largely came and went - the police departments in the communities involved essentially went 'well, we've never seen a prostitute on a boat, so it must not be happening'.

Then, yesterday, the CBC ran the article again - this time with an actual victim of the relevant sex trade to corroborate the story. The woman, named Bridget Perrier, recounted a 20-year history of being involved in this trade, mostly against her will, and beginning from the age of 12.

I do want to point out that persons below the age of consent can't be sex workers. Anyone engaged in that particular activity at that particular age are victims of statutory rape. So, by extension of the police not investigating the prostitution allegations, they're also not investigating the statutory rape allegation.

I know a fair amount of mothers (and possibly even some fathers) read this, so what I have to ask you, is whether or not you would be understanding of the police not wanting to investigate your child's allegations that someone had raped them.

The actual details of the trade, as set out, are stunningly dark, so I encourage you to actually read the full article.

One of those involved, a seargent in the police of the American town involved, is skeptical of the claims because "I can look over the hill and see the ships out in the bay, they're not parked at the docks like they used to be." I can't even figure out where to start with such a mind-numbling dumb assertion; is it more relevant that the prostitution is likely occurring aboard the ships, or that prostitution and people-smuggling aren't the same trade?

Sometimes, all I can do is shake my head at the vast incompetence of law enforcement. It seems like the older I get, the more frequently it happens. Don't even get me started on the time I was told I must have robbed myself.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Exerpt: Branches of Arcana

Eli Sharona of the Grey Angels. Character property of the
The following is an exerpt from a companion work to my master saga - as such, that saga may occasionally be spoiled. The original objective was to collate concise notes on the "physics" of my world, particularly in cases where characters of radically different archetypes interact - my work has a tendency to range from hard sci fi all the way through to High Fantasy. The work, entitled Saffron Primer: Introduction to Arcane Theory, began its life as a list of all my notes about how "magic" works in my world. It wound up morphing into this current form, as a light textbook produced by the Saffron Academy, one of the world authorities on the matter; essentially a collection of vaguely-related, entirely fictitious essays. Accompanying it is a commissioned piece of one of my characters - the most famous necromancer of our age. The work was produced by Carter Doody, whose website appears to be down at the moment.

And now, without further adieu, selected trimmings from the chapter Branches of the Arcane Sciences.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Painted Nails, Espionage, and Confusion

Fear the Bunny!
I'm digesting a large number of separate news stories right now, and I'd been planning on talking about them individually, but at the moment, they've become entirely too interconnected in my mind because they share a single thread - rabbits.

No no, lagomorphs aren't taking over the world, running people into jails, tapping your phone, and giving Swiss track athletes fabulous manicures. I simply find them the easiest-to-remember species analogue to remind people that homosexual/bisexual behaviour is perfectly natural. At last count, I recall some 1500 species exhibit it. So if you don't like rabbits for some reason, there are thousands more.

I'm talking, of course, about the generalized issue of LGBT Rights. I'll dive more specifically into the interplay as we get going, but each of the stories I'll discuss this morning have something to do with it.

Chelsea Manning is going to jail for seven times longer than Donnie Snook would have if his crimes were committed in the United States.
Let's start with the obvious starting point - the recent sentencing of (former) Private First Class in the US Army, Chelsea E. Manning, who came out publicly as transfemale shortly after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for divulging sensitive material to WikiLeaks, a wildly politically-unpopular service for anonymously collecting things like diplomatic cables, internal-use-only SWAT analysis, and so forth, as a service to news agencies.

Personally, I consider the identity of Chelsea Manning significantly less relevant to the discussion at hand than the particulars of the case. She leaked military documents - including video footage pertaining to the shooting death of reporters on the ground in Iraq - that ranged from "significantly uncomfortable" to "potentially actionable" for people who disagreed with that conflict. Some would argue that some of the things her documentation revealed were criminal in nature. Some might even argue that what she did was a service by revealing that information. Others, naturally, including the courts that sentenced her, recognized that what she did was, by nature, a criminal offence in the United States of America and that she, rightly, should be penalized for it.

I take a middle road - I'm glad she did what she did, but as the saying goes, an act of sacrifice usually requires some sacrifice. What I don't agree with isn't the guilty verdict, it's the 35 years in prison. At the age of 25 that'll make her 60 when she leaves. While I agree that what Manning leaked was sensitive, embarrassing, and uncomfortable, it wasn't operationally compromising. The Iraq war would not have ended differently if she did not leak the information, and the Iraqi Republican Guard were not better equipped to fight with their 1970s-era equipment against a 21st century force by the knowledge that America has a bad habit of ignoring collateral damage when the collateral waves a different flag. She will be spending more time in prison than she has presently been alive.

That, in itself, is absurd. Statistic Brain, citing the U.S. Department of Justice, lists the penalty for Sexual Assault where the victim is a minor at 25 years. Murder, at 25 years. Sexual Assault of the first degree at two years for the first offence. Nine months in the second degree. "Contact with intimate parts of a minor under the age of 13" is five years. Chelsea Manning is going to jail for seven times longer than Donnie Snook would have if his crimes were committed in the United States.

The problem isn't that Chelsea Manning was sentenced for violating counter-espionage laws. It's that the US's sentencing priorities are 83 kinds of messed up.

The next story to talk about, of course, is the problem of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. At this point, nobody should be unaware of the specifics - Olympics in Russia, Russia basically bans being gay (the law is naturally more convoluted than that), champions of equality everywhere including myself have a good time screaming themselves into a frenzy about the IOC refusing to move the olympics.

On this issue, I have only one thing to say - Homophobia has a root in voyeurism.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Peudoeugenics, The United Kingdom, and Deja Vu

As a general rule, I have a particular problem with a little logical fallacy known as the continuum fallacy. For the uninitiated, the continuum fallacy is assuming that there are only X states to the argument with no middle ground between them - essentially, it's the great-grandpappy of the fallacy of the false dichotomy. My continuing problem with sticking my foot firmly into the continuum fallacy is made all the more amusing to an external viewer by my continual railing against the false dichotomy - a problem that becomes increasingly common the more Americanized Canadian politics becomes.

Ultimately, the problem with this system is that Continuum inevitably leads you toward slippery-slope thinking, or an all-or-nothing mentality. Both are ultimately bad ("I should eat less meat" becomes "I should go full vegan" becomes "Raw Food Veganism" - the final step prevented only by my obvious connections toward cooking), but sometimes, they can make you assume the worst.

A recent headline crossed my digital desk (one of the four of them, anyway), surrounding a case in the UK where the court had ordered the sterilization of a mentally disabled man. The specifics of the case escape me, but the gist of the case was that the man had a child with his also-mentally-disabled-significant-other. Having the child negatively impacted the man's quality of life, and someone sued so that the man could be sterilized, since it had that negative impact.

I couldn't find the actual case and I'm having a hard time finding the CBC article regarding it, so I can't get the actual court documents, but without an argument I've missed, I find the case as a whole disturbing.

I'm going to chalk that up to the continuum fallacy, sneak off, and drink tea while I work on the Secret Project.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Everything is Coming up Goldfish!

Ranchu Goldfish (C auratus) A&G Photo
I'm presently in the process of enjoying my last week with the fish that I have. Soon I plan to do a small move (not the MegaMove!) in order to better finance the MegaMove!, which means that I also plan to give my fish away. People have now pretty much entirely called their dibs, so this isn't the time or place for discussing who gets what.

What it is a good time for, though, is daydreaming. See, I have a large tank, and for a few months now, I've been wistfully planning about 80 different ways I could stock the tank. Huge communities, a few key African Cichlids, so on and so forth... but none of the ideas was really jumping out as the right one.

Then, suddenly, it hit me. A small number of ornamental goldfish.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Have Pen, Will Write - and a Myriad Other Tasks!

It's not often you get an opportunity to do this in quite this way, but what can I say - a good worker uses all of his tools.

My name is Zachary J. Adam, and I'd like to welcome you to an Auditor and a Gentleman. I'm sure quite a few of you have already been welcomed before, and for those of you who haven't, I hope you find your stay (however brief) enjoyable, at the very least. This blog is, in some sense, more of a commonplace book than a proper publication  - like so many of its fellows, it tends to collect all of the mental clutter of the writer, with no particular pattern, and in no particular order.

In that sense, it's actually a fairly useful tool. For one thing, it's proven a decent place to stick the odd animal care sheet, recipe, bit of trivia, or secret blank-verse poetry. It's also a good way for readers unfamiliar with my work to familiarize themselves with my tone. I don't have much fiction up yet - though I do have plans to do stand-alone short stories in the near future - but I've covered just about every form of essay. Politics, science, news, the arts (particularly food and literature)... it's all here. Somewhere.

Why bring this all back up now? Well, there's two reasons. We're rapidly approaching our 10,000th page view here - once I trim the statistically-significant number of hits coming from obvious spam/search bots - and that itself seems to demand taking the whole thing a bit more seriously. The second reason is that I'm looking to expand my horizons.

I'm moving soon, to a nearby city, and I don't have a gigantic web of contacts to bring with me, nor am I exactly sitting on a goldmine at the moment, so I'm leveraging every strength I have. While I look for work in Fredericton in more traditional ways, I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not at all opposed to freelancing work.

Presumably, most requests I would get would come in the form of writing or editing, as my work with would suggest, but I do want to make it clear I'm comfortable with other tasks as well.

See the contact page at the top for information on how to get in touch with me, if you'd like something written, proofed, calculated, tabulated, or otherwise analyzed.

It's Savage Saturday: Feed the Cat Edition

Courtesy DJ Ephixa and their friends on YouTube.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Imposing Order on Entropy

Teriyaki-Ginger Salmon Obento

Life is a curious creature, obeying a particular physical law that has no business applying to abstract systems like socio-economics. Given the chance, a system will tend toward Entropy, unless work is performed on or by it (consuming energy in either case).

In practical terms, this means that Life (in terms of our economic and social position, as well as our physical and mental health) has a tendency to decay, unless we work to maintain it. While that, in itself, is self evident, I'm not certain it is fully understood.

I work, on average, about 26 hours a week, which is about one good, long shift shy of 33 hours, or the technical line of "full time". This is not entirely by choice - there is a hard limit set by my employer on the number of hours a person with my position is allowed to work. I make minimum wage and pay my taxes off the top in hopes of an annual refund, so my take-home pay is something on the order of $500 every couple of weeks. The exact amount varies from week to week for reasons I am not entirely conscious of. With my living expenses (not including phone and groceries) tacked fairly firmly at $500 in my present living situation, my first pay every month is effectively eaten. Take off another $80/month for phone, and about 120-140 in groceries, and I am theoretically left with about $300 a month in walking-around money.

If I ever find it, I'll let you know.

And that's the kind of work we're talking about. Tracking your money is effort - wise effort, mind. I'm not being totally truthful, either. I know where the $300 goes - quite a bit of it gets sunk into debt repayment and the rest is set aside for that happy day when I move, which will be moving in with The Girl Worth Fighting For. Who, by the way, takes commissions, and you should get in touch with before the busy season. Her Christmas cards are particularly good, and I believe an Etsy store is in the offing.

And we're just talking about the work associated with employment. On top of my 26 hours a week which I am always greedily trying to expand, I sink about another 8 hours per week, unpaid, into financial planning, work planning, and the occasional "special project" that needs to be done but which policy prevents me from doing, such as by collating care sheets into my increasingly giant collection. Add to that another 4 hours of unpaid travel and my week is rapidly vanishing.

See, creating order - that is to say, improving one's social and economic condition, is fundamentally about time. It's about how you spend it. I'm certainly no expert on that - having just wasted a perfectly good afternoon and the perfectly good day-off that followed it watching the complete Harry Potter movie series - but what I don't apply in practice I still know on paper.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'll stop rambling on about time management, and go manage some time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Further Note on Snakes

Albino Gopher Snake, After Mite Treatments
Recently, two young boys died. They lived above a pet shop here in New Brunswick. They were killed by an African Rock Python that slipped the moorings of its cage. The large snake - easily weighing as much a grown man, never mind a young boy - mistook them for prey items and killed them.

Such occurrences are rare. For one thing, snakes that large are illegal in New Brunswick, and for good reason - it would take a team of handlers (I'd be most comfortable with a second, and I imagine my second would enjoy a second, so I'd say three people) to transport the animal safely. As a general rule, anything as wide as a snake is food, and anything the same weight is at risk of being killed if the snake feels threatened. Having extra people would prevent that.

Snakes that size are properly illegal - their housing, handling, and feeding is a logistical nightmare that only a zoo of reasonable size and handlers of reasonable experience should attempt it. I certainly wouldn't want to be the most experienced handler on the team and I definitely wouldn't want to be a business with such a thing putting my employees and customers at risk.

Reinventing the Wheel: Chivalry for the 21st Century

Water Lilies rise above the mire untainted. Cherrybrook Zoo.
The 20th Century changed the rules. I have been told by some that chivalry is dead - what follows is usually a tirade of pure chauvinism, dressed up in the code-word-nomenclature of "Male Rights Activism".

When I was in college, what I've taking to as the Great Coming Out of the Atheists was in full swing. The population of openly atheist individuals in the west reached a tipping point. Suddenly being safely edgy was as easy as saying you don't believe in a God. These next few years, the trend issue is going to be Feminism - true to form, people, safely anonymous on the internet, are running to either extreme. Reasonable voices in the middle are drowned out by stupidity.

Ignoring even that, however - the inherent stupidity of the idea of single-demographic activism - the statement "chivalry is dead" is false on the face. It's not dead - it's just sitting in the mire.

Honour is like silver. Neglected or abused, it becomes tarnished. Goes black. The light is lost, but, like silver, tender care can bring back out the polish. And just like tarnish, dishonour can destroy objects, but it can never destroy All Silver.

To say Chivalry was misused in the past is a half-truth. There are moral absolutes, certainly, and Chivalry had them at its roots. The problem was that moral absolutes are subjected to the whims and interpretation of the people who are applying them. People pick their favourites, ignore the others, and apply them through a lens of their own wisdom, ignorance, and prejudices. The root moral becomes twisted and unrecognized in the final code of conduct.

At Chivalry, the root (apart from butchering your enemies) was a concept of fairness. If we get outside the segments of the code dealing with combat (a dirty, nasty business where no rules should need apply), we run into the rules of conduct.

And if we boil that down to get the essentials, we get, of course, the Golden Rule.

Gold never tarnishes.

Friday, August 2, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Regret and Optimism Edition

Sometimes, what you need to get the ball rolling when you're stagnating is a good old-fashioned linkup. They're not rocket science - in fact, there comparable to those informal copy-paste surveys that used to be popular on places like Livejournal, Deviantart, and Facebook. But, having said that, sometimes it's just what you need to get thinking. Thanks, then, to the host of and the intuitively-obvious creator of 7 Quick Takes Friday for the kick in the pants.

Teriyaki-ginger Salmon, Roasted Taters
The conventional wisdom is that eating food releases endorphin-like compounds. That's the excuse people use for the emotional high from eating foods, and in a few cases (such as chocolate), the science seems to support it.

I posit, based on anecdotal-but-rigidly-observed evidence, that this is not always true. Food has an effect on emotion, certainly, but I deny that it is always busy. I've often stated that McDonalds beef products taste like synthetic depression (for all my love of their chicken products, I've never once managed to eat a Big Mac, Double Cheese Burger, or any other such thing in a decade without feeling sad afterward), and the same is true for most "bad" foods.

That could be because I place a premium on the quality of food I eat - for my broad range of enjoyable foods, I'm still remarkably fussy - or a mental stigma regarding fast food in general. But even so, you'd think I could convince my craving centres of the idea that I feel better eating healthy food long enough for my wallet to recover.

And long enough to get through the digestive "bends" that comes with a junk-to-real transition. Anybody my age who tried to drop the freshman 15 knows exactly what I'm talking about.

This is the regret and optimism edition, so I want to talk about that - specifically, about a decision I made girl worth fighting for, I started to become disillusioned with cadet life. Now, the better part of a decade later, with all that time to fog up my memory, I've been spending more and more time analyzing why I left, and why I wish I hadn't.
Super Trooper!
some time ago that I regret. In fact, two, but I think they can be separate takes. Around the same time I met the

You see, Cadets was a weird experience for me. I was always a kid with friends, don't get me wrong, but it was the first time in my life outside of home where as many people my own age treated me quite as politely. I learned a lot of things people my own age who never attended don't even know how to do - polishing my shoes for one grossly impractical but surprisingly fun example. What's more, I was good at it. Good at almost everything I touched. I qualified for most things on the first shot - every marksmanship qualification I was applicable for, every "star" exam (essentially grades), orienteering, first aid, fitness (bronze still qualifies, damnit!). I was awarded in my first year with an award for dedication to the Corps. I attended every meeting, every weekend exercise, every drill & ceremonial event, every mind-numbingly-dull Uniform Prep. I went to marksmanship camp for Basic and took my ACL with impressive results.

It was actually the summer of ACL that messed everything up for me. 6 weeks was the longest I'd ever been away from home that time, even if you count the weekend visits.  I was going through a wierd phase in my life where my medication wasn't quite enough to keep everything else in check. I just didn't have the maturity to compensate, so that year was rough.

What was more, I was starting to fall out with the other cadets my age at my home corps. Those that had run out the clock all the way up to Silver Star Candidate with me were mostly the people whose parents were forcing them to go. They had no interest in, well, anything. What was worse, the exemplar cadets, the ones that were helping me along in figuring out most of the "what do" of the RCAC, were aging out - too old to continue in the program, or else becoming formal reservists at 16. With that came the general-purpose ridicule of being the "super cadet". He who takes protocol too seriously, and genuinely wished to attend D&C for his ACLI camp year.

D&C is Drill and Ceremonial, naturally, though there was a nickname for it the gung-ho Adventure Cadets used for it that always amused me - Dusting and Cleaning. It had a remarkable ring of truth to it, as all good slurs do.

This was right around the time I started wanting more of my free time for myself, too. For someone who had only one real occupied night a week, I seemed to think I had a shortage of free time (which I tried to spend every ounce of on the aforementioned Girl Worth Fighting For). In short order, Cadets became a non-thing in my life.

Why regret, though? Well, frankly, it's because of the merits I see myself as lacking. I have no real desire to be a soldier, per-se, but certain aspects of what makes a soldier a soldier are appealing ideals - self-discipline, strong work ethic (rather than one that comes in waves), "keeping it together"... they're all things I feel like I could have gotten a better grip on if I'd just stuck with it.

Oh well. Late now.
Optimism - this move I'm making presented a lovely chance for a fresh start. It's funny what kind of baggage you keep with you - locked up in your closets and stuffed under the bed. You don't think about it until you're looking for it, and often, when you're packing your life away and find it, you look at this old thing or that and go "Haw, why am I carrying this stupid thing around?"

Then, you huck it in the trash, if you're wise.
Heterodox Grad Ceremony is Heterodox
I did tease you two with the idea of having two things I regret, and here's another, which I got thinking about recently for two reasons. One, a number of the blogs on my reading list were answering a recent "How We Met" linkup, talking about meeting their respective significant others, and two, a recent influx of new staff predictably lead to an increase in the number of times which I personally was asked that question.

The Meek One and I have been an item for a long time now - longer than any other state of my life existed in a single unbroken stretch with the obvious exception of "living with my parents". There is, however, one thing about this arrangement I frequently regret, and it dovetails nicely into the question of "how did you two meet".

See, we met in High School, and as anyone can tell you, I was delightfully awkward throughout that whole experience, to the point where more people remember me from high school than I remember (something I take with a mixture of pride and embarrassment). So awkward, in fact, that I never actually asked Kat out until well into our relationship - I had a friend do it.

Even though it makes both of us laugh, to the best of my knowledge, I still regret it. Go figure.

I never have enough juice for these 7 takes things. I eat lots of fish, so it's not a brain problem.  The main problem comes from hyperactive concerns for privacy - I'm never sure what I can and cannot talk about online. I'm also never really sure what my audience is interested in.

I've taken enough marketing to know that all media is essentially pandering to the audience (if you want that audience to grow anyway), but I simply cannot be arsed. Sometimes, I want to talk about spaceships, math, physics, chemistry, fish, food, wine, books, movies, politics, religion, philosophy, or some hellish mixture of the above. Sometimes, I don't want to talk about any of it. And sometimes, just sometimes, I want to talk about stuff I'm not allowed to.

I just looked over at my ledge (I have a five-inch-deep shelf that runs around the periphery of my entire apartment, no doubt a result of the shape of the foundation, since it's on all the exterior walls), which becomes a combination clutter-shelf and quick-access-organizer in the areas around my desk, couch, and bed, and found a most amusing stack of items, which are all from this week: three issues of Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, including the current one; ESV bible, Ender's Game (Author's Definitive Edition), Catechism of the Catholic Church, a charger full of Panasonic Ni-MH AAs, my recipe box, and balanced precariously atop, a glasses case stuffed with Worthers Originals.

Been a busy week I guess.

Also, the notepad I keep just "above" my mouse on my desk has a most amusing note "Robo Butcher, Ten Deep, Ten Buckets". Taken out of the context, it amuses the absolute hell out of me.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Ivory Effect, Emulating Theocracy, And Confirmation Bias

It should come as no surprise by now to anyone that I actually operate multiple accounts on the popular game/forum NationStates, which is actually a common practice. As a general rule, I operate those accounts in dichotomous pairs: a catholic theocracy versus a thoroughly agnostic society, for an example. There was also a monarchy versus a communist bloc, and those two pairs were about it as far as political experimentation went  - there was a stand-alone corporatocracy that became scary because I demonstrated that I can set all moral understanding aside when putting down economic arguments, so I "retired it".

I've played some alt-history, some alt-species, and all around the spectrum of technology levels, but as far as political experiments went, it was limited to the four countries. As far as political discussion in out-of-character contexts went, there were actually only two I used - the first pair mentioned.

San Benedict e San Francesco was the Catholic Theocracy, which actually turned into something of a liberitarian's wet dream as my gut reduced government involvement. By contrast, Ivory Record was a Sci-Fi nation, built entirely on two concepts - meritocratic demarchy, and Ipsa scientia poestas est. As a result, the pair formed natural counterparts without my direction, and when they interacted through Ivory's past-tech analogues, their behaviour was usually cordial.

More often than not, however, I entertained the idea of using them both to make similar arguments in the out-of-character sections of the forum. SBSF's signature gave an identity as a "proto-seminarian", a term that I never explained, but was mostly intended to demonstrate a strong enthusiasm for theology - something I backed up by keeping the Catechism and the ESV sitting on the desk, ready for quick reference in arguments. Ivory, on the other hand, was both my "main persona", in that it contained the link to this page and less vague references to my identity, but also because it was the one I used the most.

Strictly speaking, I never intended the pair to operate in the same threads, or even for both to operate OOC at all (generally, I favoured Ivory for that role, since it made the most sense). However, in a few threads where both participated, I noticed a peculiar effect.

Ivory and SBSF usually hold similar, if not identical, positions, particularly if the issue is about a moral standard of some sort that's not related to sexuality. However, a peculiar effect began to emerge. Both SBSF and Ivory had audiences - regular occurrences of being "quoted for truth" or the ever-famous non-constructive forum technique of quoting a post with the text "^this" beneath it, so that the carat points to the original post, by way of showing agreement. However, these audience were almost entirely mutually exclusive, even in contexts where they both agreed completely.

I couldn't understand the need for it. Ivory's user's Christianity is an open secret - it's not referred to on the profile or in the signature but it is mentioned several times in many places - usually to counter the "well, what would an atheist know about theology/morality/Jeebus" argument, but also to come to the defence of Hapless Highschool Student A who used theology to make unpopular points, and accordingly is getting pounded on for being Christian, usually by Ivory's flagship audience. Because of that, I couldn't quite chalk up the opinion split to a simple pro-/anti- Christianity/Spirituality phenomenon, and because the positions were usually the same, I couldn't find the reason for the difference.

Then it occurred to me - the objections out-of-character entirely had to do with the in-character statistics! Conservatives were attracted to SBSF because its in-game mechanics made it inherently conservative (even if it was a remarkably liberal theocracy), whereas Ivory showed up as Liberal (though, by Euro standards, it was pretty well mired in the centre). So conservatives agreed with SBSF on principle, liberals agreed with Ivory on principle, and neither must have read the other's arguments, or at least, were ignoring them.

It's strange to be that confirmation bias is so strong you can ignore the other side agreeing with you. In fact, I brought this up to an amigo the other day - there is a moment, when someone you vehemently disagree with on other issues suddenly agrees with you, that you question if you were even right.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Goin' Walkabout (Fundy Trail Parkway)

View of Big Salmon River from the Interpretation Centre
Today, I took some time out from my busy schedule of not doing a damn thing, in order to go hiking with the family at the Fundy Trail Parkway.

To be a little more specifically, we hiked from the parkway's Interpretation Centre up to Hearst Lodge - Yes, named for William, who purportedly owned the place. The trail, which is rated by the parks service as "Challenging", is a trek of about 3 km either direction, and the outbound trek is upriver. I spent a fair amount of time on all fours negotiating unfriendly rises and drops, and on the return trip I did so with about 15 pounds or so of kit on my back (the first time I did it with just my canteen).

Big Salmon River
I thought I wasn't all that fit in middle school, but I was definitely in better shape then than I am now.

More or less, the path follows Big Salmon River - there's one section that is optional which actually crosses the river bed - and winds its way up through the hills toward the Lodge. Along the way, there'll be smatterings of guard rails and plastic-coated steel cables, all intended to help with some of the steeper grades.

That being said, it's definitely not a beginner trek, and if its your first time in the woods, or you're a recovering chair-o-holic, you might want to consider a different hike. We plugged it in about an hour, but we're a group whose average land speed is closer to four or five clicks, and we also had my grandfather with us, who, much as we all hate to admit it, isn't in the shape he was when he was a hunting guide in the British Columbia mountains.
Tia and Papa at the Riverside, Eighth Bend
 If you're not comfortable with the idea of getting dirty, I wouldn't take the route either, since you're going to have to haul yourself up at least twice, and slide down on your backside more frequently, in order to reach the top. Map My Walk, which is a fantastic GPS app, couldn't get a proper fix along the trail, so I'm not sure, in either direction, what the overall change in altitude is, but it's fair to say the effective change is three times that amount, by the time you account for all the ups and downs along the way.
Swimming in the River!

Reaching the top, however, is rewarding in and of itself. The Lodge is situated very close to a natural pool in the river, which is suitable for swimming, despite what the various advisory notices say. The lodge itself is also a visitor utility, with bathrooms and fresh water. Those who book ahead (we didn't) can also have their meals at the lodge, which can be helpful after an hour's hike.

"Jacuzzi" current formation in Hearst Pool
 I'm told that it is easier and faster to return by the road - the park staff can even drive you to the top of the only hill in the path if you request it.

We didn't, however. Intrepid things that we are, we returned the way we came, and that time, I took the lead. The trail can be deceptive at times - it's not marked other than by its own presence - but we made it through without any actual complications, though a few ascents were difficult when compared to the descents they had been before. Over all, a very fitting  exercise.

The rest, of course, is just picspam.
Water Clarity!

Hearst Lodge. Not shown is the Ham Radio mast.

Mom, Tia, and Papa attempting a ford. Dad in red.

Suspension Bridge, at the outset, which is rated for only 10 people.

A strange little clearing near the interpretation centre

Long Beach, where we stopped for Lunch.

Lobster Traps in Saint Martins.

At low tide, ships are grounded.

Sign in Inuktitut, for no reasonable reason.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Truly a Strange Dream

Sometimes work is faith.
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that I've been re-evaluating my spirituality in light of my recent revival of San Benedict e San Francesco over on NationStates. If you're spending your free time crafting a nation that's essentially a Roman Catholic theocracy, you're going to be examining the heck out of your catechism (or other source of choice) trying to figure out what laws you reasonably can and cannot have.

In particular I've been applying my own theology to the concept of a Just War doctrine and working it back from there, after realizing that a 6000 person army with no naval or air support isn't going to do much more than prevent the occasional riot.

Maybe that's why the concept of faith as a personal question has been on my mind again, and maybe that's why I had a strange dream last night.

There are basically only three books on my shelf of any relevance - a bible (two, actually - NSV and Jerusalem); a copy of the Catechism, First Image Books Edition (April 1995); and the Christian Prayer (a one-volume LotH set). I think I have a few missals floating around but I'm sure they're all out-dated.

Somehow, I dreamed that all three of those books were combined into one volume, which I was keeping in a black case not unlike that used for my DayTimer (which I also rarely use), that had a front pocket for a rosary and some other things (I think I had a text of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, which was once a favourite). What was truly bizarre about it was that it wasn't the Rosary I currently "use" (a very nice, though plastic, K of C rosary) which recently broke - it was the old olive-wood rosary I had before it, which is now well-loved by a friend of mine.

What was also truly bizarre about it was that, of all the formulaic prayers in my lexicon, the rosary is probably my least favourite. Nothing feels more forced and less organic - and this is coming from a guy who liked the DM Chaplet.

What is most bizarre however: I spent the better part of fifteen minutes this morning being genuinely annoyed at not being able to find this thing, in spite of remembering clearly where I had set it down in the dream, until I came to and realized I never owned such a thing.

I could build one, though. Having said that, my last attempt at a hand-bound bible fell apart when the printing of a textblock became too expensive.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pre-Work Picspam

Teriyaki Spam - Because canned ham needs more salt...
Lunch today is spam. No, really. I pan-fried some spam with teriyaki-chili glaze, threw together a batch of sushi rice, and stuffed the gap with some raisins and riesens.

It's apparently pun diet day. In actuality, it's just No-Fridge week.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Crisis Without a Reason Day

Another week of this is starting to look tempting.
I haven't gotten my driver's license, so I ride the bus quite a lot. Less often, now that the summer weather is here and I am no longer hopelessly addicted to resin-figure wargaming, but still quite a bit. Socially, I'm a rather withdrawn person, so I usually ride with my headphones on, streaming me music from whatever device I feel (I actually have quite a few options for entertaining myself on the bus).

The last week or so, though, I've been going without (usually on two wheels), and this morning I had the pleasure to shuttle around on the bus for a few hours, trying to keep food stocked in my house without a working fridge. And while I wasn't trying to be a creep, it's fun the kind of conversations you overhear.

One of my fellow travellers this morning was a building manager for one of the many "highrise" apartments in my neighbourhood, complaining about how many units she has open. That doesn't surprise me in the least, because I've rented from the company she works for before. Their rents are high (too high for a single person), in a neighbourhood where the average person is underemployed, if they're employed at all, and, to cap it all off, their maintenance guys suck - where the buildings were erected in the 70s and 80s on the cheap, you'd really think you'd need a good maintenance crew.

It's not an isolated phenomenon. Apartments across the city are laying vacant, with landlords - usually just working stiffs caring for the property of a few very wealthy families in the city - at wits end trying to rent the space at the rents their owners demand. In the case of a few landlords, renting out their own basements or converted upper-floors, they're usually lucky if they can just cover their costs. In point of fact, we're at a decadal high in the vacancy figure - we're the worst in Canada among 35 major city centres.

That in itself isn't really a problem. Too much housing is inefficient, sure, but if the properties are paid for in full, your only losses are opportunity cost and upkeep. Where it's a problem, however, is that another figure is also elevated.

More than 900 people are on the waiting list for income-assisted housing. This is a governmental and non-profit initiative to help find people who aren't making enough money working to live independently keep a roof over their head. Sometimes the wait is as long as 15 years.

Now, call me naive, as I probably am, and call me hopelessly liberal (which I think is unfair), but why isn't the government throwing money at this problem, aggressively? What's to stop the government from subsidizing the rent on the 10.4% of apartments sitting vacant in the city to house these 900 individuals? There's enough room there, certainly.

Income assistance falls under the purview of the province. Something the province is doing must be perceived as more important than helping to keep the working class afloat. Is it medicare? Nope, can't be that, that's been getting cuts...

How about a little less emphasis on "business innovation" and a little more problem-solving? Hell, your business innovation strategy was supposed to make us the best-in-country for Research and Development spending.

We're dead last.

Edit: The redoubtable Andrew Pollock (a local urban development expert) informs me that I am only partly correct. The federal government has a cost-sharing agreement for the assisted housing program with the provincial government, so we can add my earlier rant about the foolishness of our military spending in light of the general poverty into this one with some specifics. Locals can find more information on the issue from the Saint John Human Development Council, and people should also check out @fischbob on twitter for more of Andrew.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Let's Take A Step Backward

We're standing on a teacup, because there's no
river ice in July.
Sometimes, when you step back to look at the big picture, you don't understand what you see. I'm looking for people to help explain it all to me, since  I now stand dumbfounded.

I live in a country where we've maxed out the credit card. I think. It's hard to tell - I'm a mostly-trained accountant, a skilled financial mathematics expert, and an amateur economist, and, as one person put it "damn good at tearing through vague language" - but the government's official page on the budget and the nation's financial statement is opaque for all intents and purposes. I can't figure out how much money we are spending on what things, and it's not for lack of trying, or lack of understanding. The information is being kept deliberately obscure.

But, let's take a look at what we do know. We do know that Employment Insurance, for which all Canadian workers pay, and which is intended to protect us against layoffs, is being reduced. We know that our soldiers are coming home, but not until next year - I guess the treasure needed to keep them in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan is less than one might guess. I know I hear more often about cuts to programs than new initiatives - no more Midwife's Council in New Brunswick, huge reductions in research facilities. Tax cuts inevitably favour business - cuts to taxes on manufacturing equipment, that sort of thing.

Now, my basic understanding of recessionary economics is that recessions stem from a sudden understanding of the scarcity of money - suddenly nobody wants to spend it, especially spending speculative money that exists only in the form of debt to banks or credit institutions. It seems to me the last thing the government wants to do is stop spending money, putting their heel on the throat of the Canadian underclasses while allowing a few commercial outfits to spend more freely. Improving the economic situation would be signalled by a return to the free flow of goods.

If the government cannot safeguard the people, what is the point of having one? What is the point of having manufacturing if the workers are too poor to buy the goods? What is the point, in fact, of any of it?

A government may function because the people give it a legitimacy - either explicitly, through their support, or implicitly, by compliance. We, as Canadians, need to adjust our perceptions of what we consider legitimate. We, who work to make the rich rich, and the state great, must demand our fair share.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lunch of the Week: Teriyaki Tilapia Obento

My new lunch-box
 My new lunchbox arrived today!

Well, technically, I think it arrived yesterday, but either way, it's here now, and after an arduous walk up and down hill in today's "feels like 36" weather, I finally have my lovely, faux-laquered bento box.

To celebrate, I've packed a lunch for today consisting of the following:

  • Zushi Rice, consisting of medium-grained calrose rice that was simmered in straight water before being seasoned with rice wine vinegar and just a tiny amount of sugar (to take the edge off the vinegar);
  • Red Bell Pepper Rings, taken from "ancient"-strain peppers that have more of a pepper shape than a bell shape;
  • Green Beans, simmered in water that was seasoned with Tamari (a traditional, light soy sauce) and crushed ginger;
  • Teriyaki-Glazed Tilapia, also with ginger, and;
  • Topped off with a cheddar-cheese CalorieMate and a Gouda Babybel.
When you put that all together, it looks something like this.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Lunch in a Box: One White Kid's Fascination with Obento

A poorly, but early attempt: Talapia Obento
Throughout my time in public school (and, now returning after some years of absence), I've had a general-purpose fascination with Japanese language and culture - and of course, as with most of my cultural studies, I've always paid particular attention to food culture.

Probably because some differences are so stark, I found Japanese food of particular interest. Stark differences in culture, in an area of life that is a constant for all people, speaks volumes of the natural history and cultural pscyhe of a people - and none of the traditional foods of Japan were ever quite so fun to learn about or practical to understand as Bento.

Obento is the Japanese answer to box lunch, rising, if memory serves me correctly, during the Shogunate era. Part ration, part brown-bag lunch, the techniques and paraphernalia associated with the preparation of Bento is, in my view, the ultimate form of packed lunch for work or school. Calorically- and nutritionally- dense foods, small parcels, and a wide array of flavourful goodies in that same small, reusable package means that lunches are now smaller, cheaper, but more satisfying than anything you could cull from fast food.

Of course, learning to pack a bento involved me re-learning what I know about rice preparation. Like many younger chefs, the only rice dish I could prepare, reliably, was risotto - unless I used a rice cooker. What I eventually came up with was a method for cooking short-grained rices by the simmering method, carefully seasoning the cooking liquid with powdered dashi kombu and a small amount of traditional tamari soy-sauce... without discolouring the rice, of course. The result is a soft, sticky, chop-stick-enabled rice.

Rice doesn't keep well, prepared in this way. A risotto would reheat magnificently, but a daily diet of risotto would, of course, quickly make it faster for me to roll to work than walk. So, I learned what any self-respecting cook should probably know - the correct preparation of zushi rice.

Treating the rice with the small amount of seasoned vinegar makes it travel and reheat well - much better than the early attempts with simmered or fried rice. True, too, it better complements my favoured foodstuff - fish. As it presently stands, I can get away with using fish in my lunches, simple because I have access to a fridge.

The trick, of course, is ensuring the variety. There were two rules I learned a long time ago (and, like all rules, promptly began ignoring): Goho and Goshiki: the five methods and the five colours. In the simplest form, this refers to the idea that five different cooking methods and five different colours of food should be available. This makes the dish more pleasing and, arguably, more nutritionally balanced.

I have a proper bento box on the way from Japan as we speak, actually. Perhaps, as a stand-in for substantive thought, I might post any packed lunches I come up with.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Only Sadists Keep Snakes, or So Sayeth the Internet

In the course of my work with Pets Unlimited, I spend a fair amount of time doing research, both on and off the clock, in order to learn more about the animals I care for, and in order to address some pretty specific problems. Because a large number of my sources ultimately wind up being blogs operated by breeders, I usually wind up learning a fair amount about what non-keepers think about the keepers of various things. The most hated of all, of course, are snake-keepers.
Now, I myself don't keep snakes, recreationally, anyway. I might, if I can ever get the Girl Worth Fighting For over her unfounded fear of the things. As pets go, snakes are high affection for low maintainance (though, as with any pet, you get what you pay for). Why the hate on for snake keepers?

It has to do a lot with their food. Snakes are obligate carnivores, and for the majority of pet species, the meat of choice is rodent. Snakes, of course, are notorious for needing to be fed live food, which is a half-truism I'll address in the moment. Because you're feeding live things to other live things, the whole practice is seen as being cruel and unusual.

Now, let's set aside for the moment that live food sometimes wins, to the injury or death of the snake in question, and focus on some alternatives. You could, in theory, feed a snake nothing but frozen-thawed. First you'd have to train the snake to accept it, and then you'd have to come up with a way to compensate for the lack of nutrition in the frozen foods available.

Not to mention, a frozen rat is still a rat.

Now, I've said it before but it bears repeating: if it were up to each of us to hunt, kill, prepare, and then eat our own meat, most of us would be lacto-ovo vegetarians. I've known people who turn up their nose at fishing (being a fish keeper, I find my nearly-strictly seafood summer diet amusing, to say the least). If you have a pet, and your pet is not a bird or an obligate herbavore, somewhere, someone killed an animal to feed it. That goes for all dogs, cats, reptiles, and yes, even fish. The fact that your food comes in nice, brightly-coloured packages absolves you of nothing.

For the record, when feeding live, once you're no longer dealing with infant animals, it becomes necessary to pre-kill the prey item immediately before feeding. I would say that that level of responsibility - the need to personally take the life of one creature to sustain the life of another, is the ultimate level of discipline in the pet hobby.