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!