Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Of Guys Named Seth

The screw if the Serenity were like
ex-Paladins who became Chaotic Good.
When I'm in the manic mode and focused on being productive/organized/generally Lawful Good, I think of myself in terms of a Knight or Paladin (the paladin, by the way, were to Charlemagne as the Knights of the Round Table were to King Arthur Pendragon). It's more entertaining than being a skinny white kid and, thinking back on it, being heavily into fantasy gaming and high fantasy fiction, and idolizing the Knights, of course, probably did more to underpin my personal ideas of justice and morality than any actual lesson real or imagined.

When I made (briefly) colour party in my old Army Cadet corps, I was probably a little happier than I needed to be, thanks to that fanciful association, but now I'm digressing when I really have no time to - I ought to pack.

Recently there's been a big damn stink about Seth MacFarlane (the creative, or at least marketing, genius behind the surprisingly popular Family Guy and American Dad television series), the jokes he made while he was hosting the Oscars, and the people making the stink. I'm going to try really hard not to make any of my arguments in favour of either side since they've been made to death on facebook already and I don't have that kind of time - I really ought to pack.

There's a statistic coming out of my friends who keep tabs on US statistics that apparently, one in 20 men is a rapist. Not a potential rapist (That's impossible to quantify), but has actually conducted actions that could be tried as rape in the United States.

That's a scary statistic if ever I heard one, and that's good that it scares people. It should scare people.

Men shouldn't be the ones using it. Period. It smacks of confidence games, of the guy who's going to bleed you for protection money, to keep you from getting robbed. Citing rape and your opposition to it as a way to get closer to women is a little like me citing, I dunno, a hatred of whites as a way to get closer to blacks. You don't hate men any more than I hate whites, but you do it because it works and hey, as long as you at least are getting laid...

Except you probably aren't (nor should you be). No, you're probably that guy friend everyone can trust, that perfect friend. Sort of underpins the whole raison d'etre of the system.

Now, that's a Rogue thing to do. The Paladin thing to do would be to go after the one in twenty men. Because if you've ever been to a bar you've seen it in action. If you've ever been to a house party, you've seen it in action. And boy howdy, if a five-eight, roughly-as-heavy-as-a-good-textbook guy like me can straighten someone out, your self-hating ass should do just fine.

Now, I really oughta pack, but in sum, the real point is this - the solution isn't teaching women to fear men. The solution is teaching men it's better to be Knights. I'll get into that later.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Logical Consistency (Marriage and the State)

Prom night. Feels like an age ago.
Something many people seem to forget is that the Catholic viewpoint is that state marriages don't count - at least the way state marriages are conducted here in canuckistan, where the language is as theologically clean as humanly possible. I've been to enough weddings involving justices of the peace to know that there's an identifiable difference between these and just about any other, Christian-conducted ceremony. As it happens, I personally don't have a problem with state marriages - it's a pretty good way to do interfaith weddings when you stop to think about it, or to marry people with no actual religious views.

If you already consider something invalid, do you really get to put energy into deciding how that invalid thing should be administered? I mean, you've pretty much already declared it to be make-believe.

That's exactly what Catholic Answers, one of the largest catholicism-related websites on the English-speaking internet (mostly due to having captured the domain name) is doing. Recently, they sent around a mass email to all their members (by the way, you can't unsubscribe from their mailing lists or delete old forum accounts) doing precisely that. Entitled "Stop Same-Sex Marriage!", the email goes opens with a bombshell.
This Is OurLast Chance to StopSame-Sex Marriage

Formatting and emphasis is theirs, of course. Not two lines further down is a hyperlink for "mak[ing] a gift... that will help you defend marriage!"

I recognize that the Church teaches a very narrow view of the parameters of marriage for straight couples, never mind unorthodox ones. I also recognize that the general population over at CAF works mostly in conservative or ultra-conservative circles and that rather liberal views about secularization such as my own are alien and, to be fair, completely heterodox.

The fundamental problem seems to be that CAF and its operators can't understand the difference between Church and State, or else don't seem to understand why the separation is important or why it exists. I'll go on to demolishing the email itself in short order, but I've got to address that point first, otherwise there's no point in going forward, because my arguments aren't grounded in theology and a basic understanding of civics is necessary.

In the USA, which is where this email is primarily targeted just by tone and subject, there exists a right to the free exercise of religion. That is true in Canada too and my point stands for both countries. In a country where all religions are to be freely exercised, there cannot be a state faith. There just can't. Strictly speaking, Canada has a state faith - a function of our head of state being the head of the Anglican faith - but that faith does not inform state procedures, laws, regulations, codes, or (except loosely) ceremonies.  It's a cute little window dressing. There's a very good reason for that. As soon as the state acknowledges primacy of one religion over the others, and lets that inform their legal system, freedom of religion slowly begins to erode for other religions. Remember: what is morally just is not always legally just and what is legally forbidden can often be a moral act.

Now, out of the general and into the specifics...

First and foremost, if you basically lead by asking me for money, I'm more inclined to be an antagonist. You could be the Canadian Alzheimer's Society or something and I'd still be inclined to laugh in your face and dispute your statistics... at least until I forgot what I was doing and remembered that you're working on my single most-feared disease. It's rude, it looks greedy, and it's just plain gauche.
"Despite the fact [California Proposition 8] was a constitutional amendment, they got key judges—using tortured legal reasoning—to strike it down as unconstitutional."

This species exhibits
homosexual behaviour
 This is an apples-and-oranges fallacy. Prop 8 was a constitutional amendment to the constitution of the State of California, which was overthrown in US courts (not California Courts) and is undergoing appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States because it's unconstitutional under the federal Constitution, which has primacy in the US. "State's Rights" is really more perfunctory than anything else to my understanding of American law.

"It would be just like in 1973, when Roe v. Wade swept away all state laws protecting unborn children from abortion."

It really wouldn't. I can accept abortion as a moral ill sweeping aside tens of millions of lives as something being easy to oppose but I... just don't see that here. Millions of gay couples suddenly being able to be married gay couples is only going to bolster certain industries, like my own, by providing a new market to tap. It's not like gay couples will break up if they're told they can't get married. That's not really how it works here.

Given the mostly-conservative composition of the court, I can't really see an open field being declared. I just see more of the same "state's rights" declarations.
We’re on Our Own . . . So It’s All Up to Us!
Except for just about every other conservative faith group operating in the USA at the moment.

[Our Amicus brief] focuses on the disastrous effects that imposing same-sex marriage would have on religious liberty in America. Here’s what would happen. . . .
A Nightmare Future
As the brief to the Supreme Court bluntly puts it, anyone who upholds true marriage will be treated like a bigot, regardless of his faith:

“To be a devout Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Muslim, or Orthodox Jew will become the moral equivalent of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Furthermore, our brief points out:
“The Court would correspondingly consign traditional religious beliefs regarding marriage and the family to the same circle of constitutional hell as racism and sexism.

“Thus, simply by accepting the principles that their religious groups have publicly supported for thousands of years, tens of millions of religious believers in the United States would be branded as the legal equivalent of racists, a result that will subject believers to such burdens and acrimony that many will be forced to hide their faith.”
Those burdens will be felt in all parts of society.  
 I realize Amicus curiae briefs are rhetorical by their very nature but... really? The moral equivalent of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan? You feel that that is your strongest possible argument?

The argument you took out of your brief as your best fundraiser has no merit. None, whatsoever. I'm not saying that it won't happen - I'm merely saying that it's probably the weakest argument you could make. What if the KKK had made that argument when intermarriage was legalized? "You can't make [moral issue] legal - It'll make us look like idiots!"

The fear-mongering actually gets worse from here. The following section, entitled "How You, Your Children, and Your Granchildren Will Be Punished", basically threatens that gay marriage will be the downfall of Christendom. I'm to get into specifics in a second but... I thought the gates of Hell could never prevail against the Church?
Employers will fire people—or not hire them in the first place—if they speak out in favor of true marriage. (Some are already doing this.)
Fish species, like A Heckelii, don't derive pleasure from
sex. Like true Catholics, they do not exhibit homosexual
 Of course, this would be illegal under employment nondiscrimination laws protecting the exercise of religion, where such laws exist. And you can't have it both ways - if I had a nickel for every time I personally was turned down for a job because I was going to the wrong church according to the management, I could probably buy a single french-fry from MacDonalds.
Lawsuits will be brought against small business owners to compel them to provide services to homosexuals as married couples. (That’s already happening, too.)
 From what little research I could manage to pull reliable results regarding this is mostly happening in states where gay marriage is legal - it's basically forcing small business owners to acknowledge state functions rather than live in an imagined Theocracy.
Public schools will indoctrinate children against the beliefs of their parents—and against the Catholic Faith itself—in a way that dwarfs what’s happening in the school system today.
This is only true if you consider the entire Catholic Faith to be consumed in this sentence "Homosexuality is wrong." I suppose the Apostles Creed doesn't count for much these days.

From there, the email pretty much devolves back into asking for money, and I'd be happy to send it along to anyone else who wants to see it.

Fundamentally, the argument is the same as the argument I used on this post at A Woman's Place to explain why, if you're going to have a draft, you have to draft anyone.

IF the state is going to be conducting marriages, they have to marry everyone.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Could that be Private (or Lieutenant) Auditor?

These days, I tend to look less like this...
So, I make no secret about a time when I used to be a Royal Canadian Army Cadet (rank of Master Bombadier - we were an artillery corps), and I make less of a secret about the way in which I semi-frequently consider joining the actual military as a Cadet Instructor Cadre member.

The thing that holds me back is actually that I never "aged out" as a cadet, but rather quit. Ostensibly, I did it to free up time - I usually say for schoolwork but anyone who knows my history and has seen my transcript would realize pretty quickly that I did it for the girl.

Because that quitting was preceded with shuffling from service branch to service branch trying to find something that was more freshly appealing, and because I've never managed to hold a job or go without an outburst of some kind for as long as our tours of duty last up here, I've hesitated.

If it was the CIC I joined, I'd only need to do a few weeks of training, and then I'd be moving on into a life of even less military activity than a reservist. And that has appeal. The cadet movement is a valuable social program and I wish I'd had greater participation in it as a kid, now that I've got no real social hangups and could have used the discipline and, let's be fair, prestige that comes with having served as an army cadet for the better part of a decade (cadets are allowed to be between the ages of 12 and 18).

And more like this scrub.
Just as often, I think about joining the actual military. The branch of service varies from time to time - I'm disqualified as a military pilot, but a life as ground crew in the Air Force interest me, as does the occasional stint in the Navy, which anyone who has seen me near water, read or written psychiatric reports, or had to spend a weekend with me will all pretty much agree is a terrible idea.

Having said all that, I used to set aside my ridiculousness to go to Summer Training Centres like Argonaut ACSTC. There was usually money involved when it came to that, though.

In the end, it's a wash, and I should really be packing instead of thinking.

If anyone's wondering what brought this on -  this article by Cam over at A Woman's Place seems relevant, if only tangentially. That's just how my brain works.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Household Reset Button

My desk looks less like this these days...
I don't get a day of rest.

Now, given that I'm, you know, me, I almost always have my lazy days. Taking an arbitrary day off every week doesn't work for me, though. I mean, granted, I get cranky without days off, just like I get cranky without breakfast or without the occasional sip of nicely-aged bourbon, or without a regular and steady supply of the chemicals my brain has decided are a helpful enough combination to be considered medication.

Having said all that, the day I need to be lazy is rarely the same day each week and declaring a single day as the Day of Rest - even by divine edict - would rarely keep the rest-itch scratched and would only serve to have me set back.

Sunday's actually a pretty important day for me in terms of getting things clean and organized - while I'm guaranteed to work, the work is light, and the shifts are short (ironically enough, due to Day of Rest legislation), so I make it home with enough energy to clean, organize, and in my case this particular week, pack.

I'm moving on Wednesday, and true to my usual form, I have just about nothing done. What's worse, I have to show the house tomorrow, and at the moment, with me having been gone for a week and lazy for the week that followed, it looks like a hurricane blew on through here.

Add another week of missed Mass, I suppose. Lord help me, most days.

Having said all that, I'm actually jazzed about the move and the opportunity it represents as far as buttoning down my house represents. The place I'm moving into has a lot less space for my things - I'm basically taking an apartment with storage and a kitchen and trying to fit it all into an area the size of my livingroom and bedroom.

And more like this... (But I know where everything is!)
It's a step down, I suppose, but there's ample storage for the things I'm not going to need right away, and it poses a great opportunity to get rid of some of the things I don't need anymore, or I should really get around to returning to whoever owns them (I'm pretty sure that that white platter I can see from here above the kitchen cabinets needs to go back to the parish hall and if that's the case I've been lazily not returning it for nearly a year now).

So I'm taking this opportunity to downsize - cleaning out my storage room and getting rid of the things I'll never need but don't want to throw out in case I do (twenty year old low-fidelity desktop computer speakers? Gone. Two-edition outdated food safety code of practice? Gone.), decrease the space these things take up by finding proper packaging for them, and taking inventory so that I don't make the same mistakes again - I'm starting to get famous for buying things I already own.

If nothing else, I'll scratch my OCD, create-systems-for-everything itch for weeks to come.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Maintainance Rituals: My Life as a Techpriest Engineseer

I'm a gamer, and I think that's perfectly clear at this point. The nerdy kind - I enjoy all sorts of roleplaying games. I like to make believe.
REAL handpriests use skullcandy
headphones for one thing
and Turtle Beaches for another thing.
One of the tabletop games I like to play is Warhammer 40,000, a space-fantasy (nothing science about it) game with an exceptionally gritty feel. The human factions all universally have forgotten how to construct and operate most of their technology in practical terms, and the art of constructing and maintaining everything from firearms to tanks and computer archives has fallen to the Techpriests and their Engineseers, a secretive bunch of pseudo-mystics who treat machinery as divine relics and have developed complex rites for everything from starting up an engine to rebuilding a machine.

I bring this all up because I mentioned earlier today the concept of a maintenance ritual, which is something I've been thinking about for a while now. We all get set in our ways and do things by rote, but nobody actually sits down and thinks about why that rote is that rote.

Except Ziggy. Ziggy doesn't need
to eat bugs. In fact, she shouldn't.
I do. I was thinking about it today while I was wondering why I do bug care at work first. It's become a part of my job - originally work that I created for myself one lazy Sunday afternoon - which only I seem to be able to do, or willing to do. Thing is, reptiles need to eat. They eat bugs, and for the most part, you get those bugs from the same place you got the reptile - we get them from our breeders, and you get them from us. It's a time-honoured tradition for doing business.

Thing is, bugs are alive. They need to be cared for - after all, nothing lives in captivity without the care of the captor. We need live bugs, because most reptiles demand it. And someone has to care for those bugs. It's not hard. Time consuming, certainly, but not hard.

The thing is, it takes about a half an hour to get all of the bug care work done, as long as I'm not interrupted. And I noticed recently that my schedule allows a half-hour overlap between my shift and the shift I relieve... which means that I can do the work in that half hour without interrupting the traffic flow.

But  there's another aspect to this Work Ritual idea, and that's the Ritual part. Rituals are what they are, because of the way we do them. It's something standardized to the point that it can be learned, and performed by rote over and over again without any real need to consult a written directive - obviously, some Rituals have become complex enough over time that references are still necessary, but in general, they're all memorable.

The idea of a work ritual, then, would be to standardize it. After all, we learn fairly early on in life to wash ourselves so well that we can do it half-asleep and barely-aware.

I'm still trying to figure out just how to do it beyond to-do lists. A next level, if you will.

Maybe I'm just going crazy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bipolarity, Beliefs, and Necessary Ecumenism

Dear Internet,

Oh god, you just know any article is going to be terrible when it starts with "Dear Internet", don't you? I mean, this is not to offend anyone at all, but any of us who have spent any amount of time here whatsoever, never mind decadal veterans such as myself, knows just how bad the Internet Crazy can be. With our computer screens for masks, we can feel free to dredge up whatever amount of crazy we like - my hilariously bad experiences on Catholic Answers Forums probably attest to my own tendency to go a little uncorked online.

That's mostly why I started using my real name for things - if I present myself on the internet, I have no choice but to act in a semi-professional manner and generally try to be a gentleman. That bitchy auditor fellow will just have to wait until he can be anonymous again before he gets the chance to play games.

At any rate, this isn't even the article I wanted to write. I wanted to talk about "Maintainence Rites" and share a few nerdy jokes at my hit-count's expense, but this is the article fatewanted me to write. I say Fate because I'm not yet fully awake and that's when my brain gets to go in directions dictated by chance or God or whatever other function you ascribe entropy to.

As it happens, today I got thinking about the papal succession again, which, once again, got me thinking about my own faith. I haven't actually been to Mass since last year's Easter celebrations. I went to a Baptist Christmas Eve service which was perfectly lovely, and that seemed to scratch the God-Itch for a few more weeks before it started to bug me again whenever I remembered that January 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation.

Now, most years I ignore both Holy Days and Holidays. Unfortunately I live far too secular a life, with far too stringent controls on what I can except as a reality, to be bothered. I'm still imbued with a sense of anti-commercial, teen-hipster cynicism so far as many of our holidays go - the ones that get pointed out like Valentines Day and Saint Patrick's Day as well as genuinely holy seasons like Easter and Christmas which are not, in retail, what they are in Church. As a result, I mark the passage of time by personal milestones that actually marked changes in my life state - the start of school, the end of it, the semester transitions, and my birthday.

That system sort of broke down this year with no school to speak of.

It's unfortunate, to say the least - I'm now adrift in a world where I have to sort of force merry-making. This year I decided as a new-year's resolution to observe more holidays, send more mail, write more cards, and generally be less of a pseudo-intellectual, cynical crank.

At any rate it ties itself pretty much directly to the idea of faith - the need to pray coming back to mind inspite of quiet voices in my head, reasonably-correct, pointing out that no positive or negative result seems to have come out of my praying except for certain easily-explained psychological changes immediately afterward. "Oh, the Serenity Prayer works because it got you thinking about why you were mad." "Oh, don't bother praying for that - a monetary donation would be more practical."

It's precisely this cynicism that dragged me out of my "witchcraft" days and into agnostic atheism for the latter half of high school and the earlier half of college.

When it all boils down though, the compulsion is still there. That humanity is arguably pre-wired to require a belief in a benevolent force bigger than itself, that doesn't change the reality of the compulsion for those who experience it.

It also doesn't change the feeling of guilt. Good ol' Catholic Guilt. I had a great-grandmother who was a master of the art of Guilt, who I fondly remember as using her powers only for good and evil. Her funeral mass was one of the last I ever attended. That doesn't change the fact that I feel a little guilty every Sunday. Can't help it. Somehow, in the last two years, I trained my brain that it was wrong to do that, even if I don't care. Even if I will myself to believe in God's Mercy regardless of denomination, activity, or availability (work really does make both the Sunday Mass and the Saturday Vigil Mass impractical), I still feel that little, other-voice inside me saying "Hey, you used to really enjoy this. You used to really get inspired by it. It used to help."

It doesn't help anymore. Somehow I got imbued with the Responsibility for Consequences of Actions bug. If there's a problem, I have to solve it. Sometimes, once solved, I might breathe a quick one-liner of thanks up to Heaven, but for the most part, I just move on to the next problem.

I'm also the worst Witness in the world - someone asks me my faith and I usually shrug and explain that it matters less what I believe and matters more what is true.

Which is true.

"The words of Buddha must be rejected if they can be shown to be false." - The Dalai Lama

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pet Shop Update

This aughta tide us all over until I can do some real writing. Still kicking me for not taking more photos on my trip to Fredericton, though.

This is the newer version of the Fluval Spec 5 Gallon. It's actually not a bad set, which suits me just fine - I'd like to see more of these if people are going to bother buying nano tanks.

 This is a White's Tree Frog. It's rather hardy as frogs go and a little more tolerant than some others to being dry... obviously not completely dry, but the tolerance is helpful since the weather is pretty damn cold, which also makes it pretty damn dry.

What's more, their cute, fairly quiet, and rather enjoy their crickets. Other than that, they're pretty docile, and make fantastic additions to vivarium-style installations. I like them.

I'm starting to like frogs in general - I was considering doing a frog tank to house some high-humidity plants I wanted to grow - carnivores, specifically.

In the end, I decided I had nowhere to put it, and just stored away my notes for the project. Better luck next time, perhaps.

Right now, we have them on for a pittance. It'd be worth coming in to check them out - very good frog for beginners, or so I'm told.
 This, this is my new baby. She's a Red Iguana - Iguana Iguana - which is fantastic. They get quite big, remain quite docile with appropriate handling, and are strict vegetarian. This little girl's favourite foods right now seem to be bok choy and mango - both of which she gets only as treats.

Iguanas get big, really big. Big enough that they functionally need a whole room (or at least a large storage closet) for their enclosure at adult size. Not too much of a price to pay, however. They're long lived companions.

And very, very cool.

Take this thing away from me before I buy it. Seriously. I'm held back only by not having the space for it, and that may well change soon, so save me from myself. I'm begging you.
 This beautiful P. Scalare has a fin span of about 6" and is absolutely gorgeous. I'm thinking of bringing him home to fill the gap left by my A. Heckelii, which unfortunately died of ammonia burns to the gills.

Tragic, maybe... but this little cutie is, well, a cutie.
 We also just got a bunch of new discus, of which this orange specimen is perhaps my favourite. I have no interest in running a discus tank - space and funding have pretty much precluded that. Having said that... they are very gorgeous fish.

Cinnamon Conure!

Meyer's Parrot... Michael Meyers, as a matter of fact.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Further Musings on the Abdication

Pope Benedict the XVI is essentially the only pope my generation ever knew. We had John Paul II, of course, but he died when I was still what I would (now) consider little, so, in as far as someone on my level could ever really know any major authority figure, Pope Benedict is the only pope I've ever known.

The abdication - all but unheard of - is dredging up an entire section of my life I had conveniently tucked somewhere between the Liturgy of the Hours One-Volume and the copy of the Catechism I was given on the day of my conversion.

A conversion which has largely stalled.

I don't live in a world very conducive to keeping the faith, and I keep it that way, frankly, on purpose. My best experiences are almost always learning something new, doing something I've never done before, or, failing transcendence, proving people wrong. To that end I do my best to culture an open mind as much as is humanly possible. That means I'm not willing to set aside friends or occupations to make keeping the faith easier. I just won't do it.

Now, Benedict XVI is impressive, to me. In an age where the papacy is synonymous with dusty old men, past their brain's expiry dates, in most cases, dying on a throne of inordinate power that almost everyone thinks they could wield better than the current holder... he gave it up. A lifetime of being doted on, of being a world leader with reach second only to that of a nuclear power, and he said "It's just not worth it anymore."

I almost have to wonder if he wasn't tempted to stay. Surely, his mind still works. I know he was sick, but...

It's interesting to think about.

I've learned he's going to be residing at Mater Ecclesiae in Rome as a monastic, which will require major modifications to the structure, since M.E. is a convent. I should hope he brings some brothers along with him - the life of the hermit is a good way to go mad - but I also wonder if there wasn't an existing order he might have been more suited to.

But what do I know? I'm a lapsed catholic. Have been for nearly a year. Sometimes I'm sad about that. Other times, I prefer not to think about it.

Who knows?

Friday, February 15, 2013

When space attacks: Over 950 Injured in Russian Asteroid Strike

 The CBC is currently reporting an air burst "detonation" of a falling meteor over the Ural Mountains this morning. This event, the same type as the Tunguska Explosion, yielded a blast of several kilotons yield, 30 to 50 kilometers off the ground.

Basically, a small nuclear weapon, less the fallout. Chelyabinsk locals were injured primarily by glass falling from shattered windows. It's unclear at this time, according to Russian health officials, whether anyone was injured by pieces of actual space debris.

I found this article while I was scanning headlines sitting beside a dear friend of mine, who unhelpfully declared that the world must be coming to an end. While I've neer been one to lean heavily on biblical prophesy, I can almost assure you the world isn't yet ending - the only reason for the world to end lies in the Supernatural rather than the Natural and there's been no sign of that coming to pass.

Space rocks get stuck into our atmosphere all the time - frequently strikes go unnoticed and unreported. I've been saying for years now that we're overdue for such an event in a populated area, and it looks like one just happened.

At this rate, we can reasonably expect the next many hundreds of years for now.

In a city of one million persons, about a thousand were injured, and what's more telling, there appear to have not yet been any fatalities.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tale of Blockages

The original caption here was "contrary to my whining,
I really do love my job". Simone Ritter Photograph
Surprisingly, some people believe me to be an artist. I don't consider what I do to be an art - mostly because my experiences with the word lead me to believe that if I finally give up and admit any of my pursuits to be artistic, they'll become for me what cooking is - a place to go and frustratedly masturbate about my own creativity while ignoring the fact that I've never contributed in any important way to a field.

I write this, fittingly enough, in the loft studio of one of my province's most prestigious art schools.

Tying anything to arts, for me, is a curse. I called cooking an art, and now I can only cook to any satisfactory degree while I'm manic enough to give it energy equivalent to my ordinary undivided attention. Naming something an art makes it a time-sink, where the smallest flaws are ruination, and the best strides forward are "not noteworthy at all".

After all, once I've created it, it's not really creative anymore, is it? No idea's original once it's put down, and nothing hasn't already been put down at once. Every now and then, something truly creative comes along. A few years ago, Chef Homaro Cantu of MOTO in Chicago, Illinois created a method of creating "sushi" whereby the ingredients typical of makizushi (zushi rice, toppings, seasonings, and nori) are blended to a forcemeat-like consistency  and rolled in rice paper, printed with images of full platters of traditional zushi, chilled to set, and then cut as makizushi traditionally is. Lots of people - purists, really, myself included - gave him flack for it.

See, this style of modern creativity in cooking has fallen under the catagory of what a lot of people call "molecular gastronomy". I have fun with it now - doing weird things like my now infamous Liquid Nitrogen Sorbets. Mostly, though, I steer toward the classics. For all my love of all things Science and Tech, my tastes in the arts - all the arts - is usually surprisingly conservative.

It doesn't make it any better that my two chosen art-forms at the moment seem to be writing and videography - not that I consider anything I do in either regard to be the least bit artistic. How do I innovate in filming when I film with a smart phone?

How do you innovate in writing at all, except through bleeding-edge poetic experimentation that nobody would understand?

Ultimately, this post didn't go where it was supposed to at all. This was supposed to be an apology, for low activity rates and sub-standard posts. I was going to go on and on about other commitments. But right now, I'm sitting in the loft studio of one of New Brunswick's best art schools, drinking locally-roasted coffee in my peanut butter mocha, which was topped with a home-made marshmallow, daydreaming about the menu for the dinner I'm going to later tonight, and thinking about just how much of my soul I'd really have to sell to get back into the art that fuels me.

There was a time, I remember, when my knives were an extension of my arm, when my heart was a machine for pumping fire through my veins, and when I actually had a medium I was capable of comprehending. That was a long time ago, but there's a saying about horses that seems relevant.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Pope's Retiring

I wasn't to say something about this yesterday, but when I tried to, all I could think to say was that this hasn't happened since the early 15th century. That's still about all I can say.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

5 AM Musings on Diet and Exercise

This isn't the article I wanted to write, or indeed the kind I typically write. I'm a bit of a loose cannon that way, and it's a part of the reason I used to maintain many blogs rather than a single one. But I digress before I've even begun - hardly a record for me.

I'm what you could call an ectomorph. Losing weight has never been as much of a problem for me as gaining it. I am pretty much constantly below the "healthy" BMI range and have been ever since I can remember - food simply doesn't stick to my ribs, even the ones that should. It's not because I eat right either; when I am eating "well" I eat like a Frenchman (heavy cream, butter, breaded everything and what we can't bread we stuff with cheese anyway), and when I'm eating poorly (which is more common) I'm stuffing my face with pizza, crisp-fried vegetables, bacon, deli meats, and other junk. I've pretty much nailed down my main craving groups into three categories - fats, salts, and sugars.

I say this not to brag but to complain. With no way to maintain a healthy weight, I'm pretty much stuck  falling into the same patterns of binge-eating over and over again in between bursts of give-a-damn. There's usually no physical consequence of such binges, except in extremes (I put away three energy drinks packed with aspertame and taurine yesterday morning and spent the rest of the day polishing off a family-size veggie stix, half a pack of montreal-style smoked meat (in sandwiches of course) and, in a futile attempt to stave off the retribution I had coming to me, a whole pot of Dan Cong), which means there's usually no motivation to break out of my ways.

I could spend hours analyzing why I eat junk, but I've found over the years that looking for the reasons behind my doing something rarely address the problem and usually just enable me by providing an excuse of some sort - I honestly believe knowing about my bipolar disorder probably set me back a good three or four years when it came to learning how to manage my mood.

Of course, one day my metabolism will crash, I'll balloon up to about 250 pounds, trigger an episode of male pattern baldness (almost assured with my genetics), and generally ruin my physical appearance into my 30s and 40s with still half a life to live. While it sounds a little vain to worry about it, I can hardly rely on my brains to be a mealticket (hardly a commodity around here), so it's either prepare myself for the nightlife or accept the onset of Gregishness early by just getting it over with and buying the rascal scooter now.

I joke, of course. Usually poorly.

Pretty much every doctor ever has recommended dramatically increasing my protein consumption in combination with and increase in physical activity. This actually worked once, when I was in my early teens. I attended the Argonaut Army Cadet Summer Training Centre (on a 3-week Marksmanship Course and 6-week Army Cadet Leader course, respectively) for two summers in a row. Being forced to adopt a 3-squares pattern of eating and having no other choice but to get physically active helped me put on a good 20-30 pounds each summer, which kept me looking less-skinny during the start of each respective school year. Of course, by Christmas, those were usually gone.

Staying physically active is probably more of a problem for my current diet than protein consumption (being a cook taught me to think of meat as more than a justification for my drink), because there's simply no good way to motivate a nerd to get physically active. I've tried everything, from thinking of exercise as an analogue to levelling up in real-life, to developing achievement-like "high score" systems. I've even owned a gym membership with an annual contract to try and cash-guilt myself into it, but after two or three trips to the gym I simply social-hacked my way out of it.

There's probably no solution whatsoever to that problem. The best reason I ever come up with to do anything usually has three letters, big pretty doe eyes and a face I have a hard time saying no to... but that's a hard sell from time to time when she's two hours away in the auto. Having said that, it worked for keeping the house clean.

I'm not a big guy, either. The only people on staff I'm taller than are all women (and most of them are still taller than me). My dad's a freaking mountain, but I got the height genes from the Saulnier midgets, with no offence meant to actual little people. The combination of short and skinny doesn't work nearly as well for all but the most diehard of nerd girls - except perhaps those in the Fashion Design department at your local arts college, but even then the interest is usually more in the challenge of making it look good than it actually looking good.

I've learned that, for me, the best exercises by far are the ones that I can trick myself into doing. I'm always in my best shape when I have a job that demands it. Cooking, which by all rights is an excuse to be fat (we even have a saying demanding it!) probably had me drop all the weight that discovering donairs in high-school let me put on. Even then, I wasn't carrying the weight where I really need it... just around my gut.

I've found that that particular habit of my genes usually makes me look more like the child in a united way commercial than fat.

Now, I could do something like point out that the crap I eat makes you lazy, which in turn enables more junk eating, but that's an excuse - admittedly one to which the answer is a nice salad of microgreens and edamame with a home-made hoisin-based vinaigrette which forms the bed for a fan of sesame-crusted, pan-seared ahi tuna (no, I'm not sorry). Eating well usually leads to my drinking heavily, since it eliminates the morning-after consequences, but that's a matter for another conversation.

Motivation for me is cyclic - it works for things like Youtube and Blogging because I can work in short bursts even when motivation is low. For something like diet and exercise, or cleaning the house, or any other permanent change in living patterns, though, that just doesn't cut the mustard. Even with ample medication, sunlight, Vitamin B12, D, and E supplementation, and endorphins from diet-and-exercise, the first "couch day" I have pretty much destroys any habit I might have formed. Useful for quitting smoking. Not so good for starting salad.

You know what though? I like the right salad. Unfortunately, they're always either terrible for me (Caesar salad) or my wallet (You think beet shoots, corn shoots, watercress, the ingredients for my vinaigrette  edamame beans, and ahi tuna come cheap?). We're digressing again.

Now, in my experience, a combination of high-score modelling and visualization are usually as good as it gets. Time to start somewhere, right?