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.