Monday, January 31, 2011

Being Stoic

Recently this book arrived at my house from the library.  A Guide to the Good Life is a book that talks about the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.  I read an article about Stoicism a little while ago and found it really intriguing and the book is even more so; I think I might have found a philosophy to call home.  A quote:

We normally characterize an optimist as someone who sees his glass as being half full rather than half empty.  For a Stoic, though, this degree of optimism would only be a starting point.  After expressing his appreciation that his glass is half full rather than being completely empty, he will go on to express his delight in even having a glass.  It could, after all, have been broken or stolen.  And if he is atop his Stoic game, he might go on to comment about what an astonishing thing glass vessels are:  they are cheap and fairly durable, impart no taste to what we put in them, and -miracle of miracles!- allow us to see what they contain.  This might sound a bit silly, but to someone who has not lost his capacity for joy, the world is a wonderful place. To such a person, glasses are amazing; to everyone else, a glass is just a glass, and it is half empty to boot.

I love these guys!  Stoicism to most people today would mean a lack of emotion and the suppression of both joy and anger, love and hate.  Stoicism the philosophy is very different though as it is dedicated to the pursuit of positive emotions and the avoidance of negative emotions.  The basic goal is tranquility, being entirely happy with the way the world is and unworried about how it might be.  A Stoic, in theory, does not worry about how things might have gone or how things are but only about how things might be.  The past is done, there is no benefit to feeling bad about the way things were.  We cannot affect the present, so it is the same as the past, but the future is something we can affect so we concern ourselves with how we can make the future the best it can be.  In the same way a Stoic tries not to be concerned about the parts of life they cannot control.

I cannot control whether or not the economy will go badly, so I will not worry about it.

I can control whether or not I have a job to some extent, so I should concern myself with doing a good job and making sure my employer knows the value I bring.

I have control over myself so I make sure I bring a positive attitude and confidence to my job every day.

The Stoics also dedicate themselves to regularly reminding themselves of how much worse things could be.  They believe in sometimes wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather to better appreciate how good our proper clothes are, eating very simple food so that we can be happier about usual fare and dressing poorly so that we might be more joyful about wearing the clothes we normally can.  They even go so far as to regularly imagine how things could go wrong:  Imagine I was crippled in an accident, imagine my partner died, imagine my children ran away, imagine my greatest rival mocking me.  The idea is that if you remind yourself how much worse the world could be you will be very pleased in seeing how much better than that it is.

After reading about their ideas I was amazed at how much of Stoicism I already practice.  Some of the origins of their ideas are a bit too religion-esque for me, but that is unsurprising since they were thinking and practicing back in ancient Greek and Roman times.  I already practice their negative visualization, I strive to worry about that over which I have control and not concern myself with that which is beyond my control and I have tried for years to retain a childlike sense of joy at anything and everything.  Certainly much of what the Stoics believe is reflected in pop psychology and any other source of good advice - looking on the bright side and avoiding situations that might make you angry or sad isn't exactly unique to them.  That said, their philosophy as a whole feels very right to me and their ideal 'the sage' is the sort of person I want to be.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The world goes dark

Yesterday the internet in Egypt went away.  The government has been dealing with fairly extreme protests over the last short while, including rallies of multiple tens of thousands of people clashing with police wielding rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.  There have been 1000+ arrests and the place is becoming a real mess, but the government really stepped it up when they decided to completely remove the internet from Egypt.

It is hard for me to imagine being there on a bridge, getting blasted by military and police as they try to disperse a crowd disgusted with corruption, dictatorship and poverty.  What I wonder is how do the crimes compare, that of removing the access to information that people rely on and that of physical repression like in the picture above, which was taken very recently in Egypt.  I also wonder what the government is thinking with this move.  Clearly this will make it more difficult to organize mass riots like the ones that have been going on and prevent news from leaking out of the country as efficiently but it will also enrage and terrify the populace, goading them to further action.  Unilaterally removing things people have become entirely reliant on is a great way to encourage revolt and remove sympathy from those outside the country - it seems like it will make organizing riots more difficult but make the number of people wanting to riot drastically increase.  The economic chaos that will be a consequence is also extreme as the reliance on connectivity extends to nearly every facet of life now, including basic consumer interactions.

One of the nuttiest things going is the way in which this is viewed by my giant southern neighbour.  The US currently has a bill going through the system that would give the government power to turn off the internet throughout the country completely, and to do so without any judicial oversight.  Much like the Patriot Act it is being sold as a way to combat cyber crime or cyber terrorism that is in fact just a way to exert more control over the regular populace.  I can hardly imagine what would happen if the government turned off the internet right now as I don't have a yellow pages, a dictionary, or many other basic things like that in my house.  My communication would be destroyed, my calendar wiped, and the world would be entirely reshaped.  I can clearly see why a government would want to control the internet as it makes suppression and control of information by those in charge nearly impossible.  What boggles me is that the people living in the USA, so vocally opposed to government power and so passionately dedicated to doing whatever they want, sit back and allow those in charge to take away their basic freedoms.  Fear is a powerful motivator it would seem.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Safe Schools

Elli's school is locked up tight.  I don't just mean during the night, when no one has any good reason to go there, but in fact all the time.  There is an obsession with protecting the school from raging lunatics that manages to be completely annoying to everyone who legitimately wants to use the school and simply doesn't accomplish what it is in theory supposed to do.  Imagine some lunatic wants to shoot up the place; lets go over what happens.  Lunatic walks up to the front door of the school and finds out it is locked.  Then lunatic goes home, utterly defeated by the locked doors.

Well, I suppose it could go another way.  Lunatic walks up to the front door of the school and finds out it is locked.  The door is a metal frame surrounding a giant plate of glass from floor to ceiling so the lunatic smashes the glass with a fist, a weapon, or anything else to hand and walks in and does whatever they want anyway.  Or lunatic walks to the other locked door, hits the buzzer, and walks in anyway.  Or they walk to the back door of the school, which is never locked, and walks in anyway.  Or they walk to the recycling room door, which is never locked, and walks in anyway.  So what exactly is locking the doors of the school doing?  The answer, quite simply, is that it annoys the hell out of parents and other people who want to get into the school for normal reasons and aren't willing to smash glass and don't want to walk around the school.  Other than that trivial annoyance to me and those like me it accomplishes nothing.

Another amusing safety mechanism is the prevention of children from leaving or arriving to the school unaccompanied.  In a book I read yesterday, What I Eat, it talked with people living in Brazil who sent their three children aged 10, 8 and 6 to school in a boat powered by an outboard motor that they drove themselves.  Here children aged 12 are forbidden from leaving the school to go home for lunch, even if they live in the apartment building adjacent to the school.  A parent would have to come to the school to pick them up, thus 'increasing safety'.  I think the greatest loss here is the sense of adventure, self reliance and confidence that children lack the opportunity to acquire.  Certainly it is an unnecessary burden on parents time and convenience but moreso I think we lose out on teaching children to take care of themselves and be responsible.  I know that it shaped me dramatically when I left home and had to begin to take care of myself and I think we do ourselves a tremendous disservice by denying children opportunities to learn a bit about responsibility and take care of themselves in small ways.  We know from the past that children of 6 are perfectly able to get home from school and even prepare food for themselves without parents being involved at all - they do not need the stifling level of protection we enforce in schools these days.

We also teach children the wrong things about the world when we enforce safety regulations like this.  We teach them that they cannot trust the people around them and that strangers are deadly.  We don't use those words directly of course, but the message is clear:  You cannot be trusted alone by yourself, someone will randomly come along and kidnap or kill you.  The fact is that they won't.  Just like we don't live in underground shelters to prevent accidental meteor deaths we don't need to surround our schools with webs of safety regulations to prevent stranger kidnappings.

I would make a scene at the school and try to convince them of their folly but I doubt they have anything to say in the matter.  Just like my barefoot experiment that the school crushed, it is brought down on them from above by ruling authorities desperate to avoid lawsuits.  Their logic seems to go,  "Better to make everybody unhappy than suffer the chance of one person being miserable", but I just don't buy it.

Monday, January 24, 2011


A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Heinlein is a very interesting person and writes fascinating books.  He also has lots of patently silly ideas, and this is one of them.  Specialization is responsible for lifting humanity out of the small tribe hunter/gatherer stage to the modern age nearly by itself, and is one of the things that mostly strikingly separates us from all the other species that surround us.  Though insects certainly do specialize, they do so into a fairly limited number of roles, often something like 5.  Humans, by contrast, specialize into literally thousands or tens of thousands of roles in our modern society.  I cannot diagnose a disease, repair a car, run an MRI machine, operate a welding machine or write C++ code, just to name a tiny fraction of the essential skills that people in our society possess.  Certainly I could be trained to eventually do any of those things but the vast array of skills found within our society cannot be mastered by one, nor even a hundred individuals.
The greatest contribution of specialization, to my mind, is the increased capacity for development and innovation.  While I could be trained to do simple engine repairs it would take a much of a lifetime for me to have enough experience to be able to give real, informed opinions on designing a better engine.  If I need to master a dozen skills I simply cannot understand each well enough to make much contribution towards improving them, while someone who spends their whole life doing one thing can easily see the places that need improving.  Not only that, but they have the capacity to understand how even very small effects will change complex systems.  This understanding is mostly not obtained by real knowledge of how everything works at a physics level but rather just a manifestation of experience over many repeated trials.  The best forward in hockey doesn't know exactly what he does to make the puck move a particular way but he knows the precise way he must move his body in order to maximize his chance of scoring - even if he couldn't possibly describe that process usefully to someone else.
Of course much of our specialization comes in seemingly useless things like scoring in hockey.  Half a century ago there were great players who dominated professional sports, just like there is today, but those great players would be mediocre if placed directly into a modern game.  They usually had to work other jobs to pay their way and did not have the practice time, training and equipment to maximize their specialty.  As our society grows richer and richer we can support more and more specialists who produce virtually nothing of value beyond being even better at their specialty than people were in the past.  I don't see any way in which hockey players generally being better actually helps anything - the old games were perfectly entertaining even though the players simply weren't as good.  However, it is inevitable that as we become capable of supporting such specialists we *will* support such specialists as anyone who does hyper specialize quickly outstrips the generalists in skill and innovation.
The number of roles that people can specialist into and still be supported and useful is growing year by year, much faster than the population of the planet is increasing.  It is to be expected that we will become even more divorced from nearly everything that everyone else does over time simply because there are so many different things to do.  I wonder how long it will be until the number of roles and skills required becomes even greater than what the population and communication of our society can support.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Go for it

I hate cheese.  This has been a longstanding thing with me, ever since I was two.  I talked about it before at some point, though I cannot find the post.  Basically when I was young I had a terrible experience with getting very sick after eating a lot of cheese and have found it repugnant ever since.  However, I was not aware of why I disliked it for years and only very recently found out that my dislike of cheese is not something I was born with but rather something I acquired.  Given that it is an acquired thing I have decided that I can divest myself of it and learn to tolerate cheese when necessary.  Whether I will love it is another thing entirely but I want to train myself such that I can eat things with cheese in them without complaint when necessary, just like I do for eggplant or cauliflower now.  Wendy has been regularly hassling me about doing a cheese project where I eat new cheese on a regular basis, starting with the most bland and working my way up as my tolerance increases.  I think now is the time to start this new project and see if I can shape myself to be the person I want to be.

To begin I think I will start eating a small bit of cheese 3 times a day, once with each meal.  I figure I will let Wendy choose what I start with and slowly try more things as puking (or not) allows.  I suspect it will be easier than I had thought in the past because I am slowly adapting to the idea that my dislike is a mutable thing, something that can be dealt with, instead of an absolute.  I had some cheese by accident at New Year's and liked the dish it was in very well and my response was much less vitriolic than it would have been in the past so I think my brain is slowly coming to terms with the fact that my hatred for spoiled milk is irrational, unnecessary and ultimately subject to change.

Thus it begins - my project to do something I dislike to train myself to do more things I dislike in the future for the dual purposes of enlightenment and making other people's lives easier when they cook.  Also, perhaps for the purposes of entertaining those who read my blog.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A measure of evil

Take a little stroll down to your local grocery store to buy bread and milk and you will find almost without exception that you are required to go to both the back left and back right corners of the store to acquire them.  It is standard retail practice to set up the store in such a way that customers have to walk as far as possible to get their basic necessities to maximize their chances of making impulse buys and grocery stores are no exception.  I was wondering a little while ago just how much evil these places are capable of.  Specifically I was trying to sort out if they deliberately took cashiers off duty when the lines got fairly low to make sure customers always had to wait.  A significant chunk of the store's profit comes from people buying items at the checkout counters like chocolate bars and magazines because those items have such huge margins, but does the store deliberately inconvenience customers in an attempt to sell more of those?  I know that they will never call extra cashiers until the lines are completely blocking the aisles and people simply can't move about the store reasonably at all, so I know they are not trying to avoid congestion.  I know they immediately remove cashiers as soon as the lines stop being a congested mess and never leave cashiers working long enough to get the lines down to 1-2 people.  Do they deliberately set it up such that customers must wait in line just to sell more magazines?  I don't know, but it since their system seems like the optimal one if their only desire is to sell addons I suspect this is exactly what they do.  Unfortunately I don't think they consider how many sales they lose when customers get disgusted with the congestion and wait times and go elsewhere for their purchases, which hurts them as well as the people standing in line.

Grocery stores obviously aren't the only places that are guilty of shenanigans.  Back in the summer when I was in the local health food / herbal medicine store I listened to a conversation between a staff member and a customer about buying herbal supplements for the health problems the customer had.  The customer related how his doctor had been unable to solve his problem to his satisfaction and asked what supplements the store would recommend.  The staffer answered "Some people find this works" while pointing to a particular bottle, but when the customer asked about other solutions the staffer gave precisely the same answer about everything that came up.  The customer got more and more agitated, seeking answers and information instead of platitudes, but came up empty handed.  I wanted to jump in and say "Those random herbs are all equally good for your problem - they will all help exactly as much as you would expect from a placebo." but decided that the customer was probably headed to that conclusion on his own.  It makes me crazy to see these stores set up sections with racks and racks of 'cures' organized by the problems they are supposed to assist with.  If the damn things worked you would have confidence intervals and descriptions and information for the customer; instead they only offer the plausible deniability of not being dangerous.  My favourite quote on the subject is one from Tim Minchin "You know what they call alternative medicine that works?  MEDICINE!"

I am certainly not innocent in the realm of fleecing customers.  A 5 year stint in retail selling mattresses is not the place to hone your sense of justice but it is a great learning experience if you want to understand exactly how and when people lie, obfuscate and misdirect.  The only thing I really want to know is whether the people involved in selling all these fictions and directing customers to their will really know exactly what they are doing or simply manage to be evil and dastardly by accident.

Monday, January 17, 2011

God Hates America

Check this out:

This site is amazing.  When reading the Bible I got the questionable priviledge of reading about how God becomes angry with his people and massacres 24,000 of them with a pestilence.  I have firsthand knowledge of the ways in which God targets specific people for punishment and hands out Smitings willy nilly with little regard for smiting those who actually broke the rules.  The website above is dedicated to a bunch of people who actually buy into that stuff.  Obviously the vast majority of religious folk don't buy into the random massacres and arbitrary violence that permeate the Old Testament and believe in a much gentler, more reasonable and more distant sort of deity, but these folks are really into the 'Big strong man in the sky who gets angry and blows stuff up!' version.  They are known as WBC, Westboro Baptist Church.

The crazy doesn't stop with their stated beliefs which are completely bonkers by any virtually anybody's measure.  These people seem to like flying around the country attending funerals so that they can wave placards and chant slogans talking about how the dead deserved their deaths and that those deaths were righteous and deserved punishments from God.  WBC contends that homosexuality, abortion, sodomy, adultery, divorce, and all kinds of other things are prohibited and that because the children of the USA are not being educated in God's will that God is deliberately *tricking* American leaders into wars and then causing them to take hideous casualties as a form of punishment.  They further claim that the swine flu was a direct action by God to kill and punish the world for its sins.  As usual though they froth with anger at the 'crimes' committed that happen to offend them personally they ignore the ones that are equally prohibited by the Bible but don't bother them on a personal level.

In some small way I have to admire these folks.  They read the Old Testament, claim they believe it, and actually go and act as if it is true.  They really believe that God sends plagues to decimate populations that defy him, that God spends his time tricking individual mortal leaders into making bad decisions and massacres soldiers in order to send messages.  This is straight up what is said in the Old Testament - that is God as he was/is written.  Of course in all the other ways they are the scum of the earth.  Showing up at funerals for people who are killed randomly to chant that the person deserved it is unbelievably despicable.  Free speech is something that is important just as much here in Canada as in the USA but there very much need to be limits; it is critical that we have the opportunity to say and think what we want and equally critical that we don't have the idea that that extends to saying those things any time, any place.  Apparently the USA government is trying to ban protests at funerals specifically because of these maniacs which does mean that their goal of getting publicity and being noticed despite their fringe status is working.

The Bible literalists really do exist.  It is a good thing to keep in mind when debating the merits or lack thereof of laid-back religion; when you say that a book is the Word of God you have to accept that sometimes people will actually believe you and act accordingly.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Doctor Doctor

The question on my mind today was what exactly makes a good doctor?  I happen to think I have a wonderful doctor and I was thinking about exactly what it is I like about her and what sorts of things a doctor could do that would make me unhappy.  The biggest factor to me is her willingness to not do anything, which is funny because I suspect many or most people would find bad rather than good.  I am confident that modern medicine can do wondrous things but that a significant chunk of what goes on is very expensive placebos or even procedures that do more harm than good.  Certainly some of that is on the shoulders of the patients who demand treatment even for things where treatment is not particularly advised but clearly some physicians are much more willing to just treat overzealously than others.  I like that when my doctor finds something about myself or Elli she outlines what the proposed treatment will do but also what it will not do and what the chances are that it will do nothing.  Knowing that if she really recommends something that it is certainly going to help more than harm is critical to me so I can pursue my usual strategy of getting only the medical help I absolutely must have and no more.

Somehow my doctor is generally available.  I know this is a huge boon because I recall a time before I had a family doctor when I got a really nasty chest cold that led to terrible wheezing and clogged up lungs.  I knew I needed treatment so I went and sat in a walk in clinic for 2.5 hours in utter misery until I could get in to see a doctor.  Having someone who deliberately leaves openings in their schedule to fit in last minute semi emergencies is a sign (to my eyes, anyhow) of a doctor who really wants to be sure patients can get in quickly when that is needed.  Obviously there is a gap between something that is serious enough for an appointment in two weeks and a emergency room visit and I have that available to me most of the time.  As I understand it most family doctors around Toronto just don't have anything like that and if you want to get in quickly you are generally out of luck or you head to the hospital.  Clearly people who aren't sick in the emergency sense need to be seen soon and shouldn't be clogging up emergency services so this availability seems superb for not taxing the rest of the system.

The last thing I very much appreciate is the precise level of familiarity my doctor has with us.  She is friendly and gentle but doesn't try to bother with idle chitchat or other small talk - straight to the point, get it done and get to the next patient.  I suspect many people really do want a personal relationship with their physician and want somebody chatty and eager to get to know them but I really do not; my ideal is someone who deals with the problems I have quickly, answers questions when I have them and then boots me out the door.  A lot of the time in my life I really find small talk uninteresting and unnecessary, particularly in professional relationships, and the fact that my doctor happens to match me in this way is fantastic.  Most likely of these 3 things everybody appreciates the second one as availability is hard to say no to.  I do wonder how many people really want the opposite of what I want in terms of level of medication and 'chattiness' for lack of a better term.  Those are really less about good and bad and more about style.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A link

Wendy pointed out to me that although I linked to my new blog on the sidebar I didn't link to it in a post.  For those using RSS feeds to read my blog, here is the new one:

That blog will be dedicated to gaming posts and will be targetted at serious gamers interested in theory rather than the general audience.  Enjoy!  Or ignore it, either way.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gaea, Earth, and such

I was meandering about the internet a bit today and read a little of what people say about the environment and how things are going.  While there are some people out there who approach the topic in pragmatic fashion the debate is usually far more clouded with rhetoric than I like.  I tend to agree with the platforms of the left wingers, the environmentalists who want harsher environmental laws and more sustainable practices but I regularly end up being frustrated by their ideologies.

The Earth is not a creature.  It does not have feelings, it cannot be injured and treating it like a person is counterproductive.  The idea that there is some kind of Gaea out there that is composed of all things just gets in the way of the practical debate that must take place.  I end up really frustrated when environmental debate is framed in such a way because I see absolutely no reason to bring irrational views of the nature of our world up to justify strong environmental action, the economics and politics of it is plenty convincing without that.  The Earth does not have a 'natural' state.  It has been constantly changing for its entire existence so far and will continue to change.  Note that humans are very well suited to the current state of the Earth and are pretty obviously evolved to survive on the Earth as it was a few hundred or thousand years ago so cataclysmic change is going to be bad for us but it won't be bad for some greater entity that comprises all things on our planet; that entity does not exist.

Personification of the planet is not the only place where environmentalists, professional or not, irritate me.  There seems to be a real perception out there that somehow the world was a much better place before humans went and invented all kinds of things.  Back in the day everyone was a subsistence farmer and lived in a pastoral, immaculate Garden of Eden.  Except, of course, if you were a woman, or happened to piss off the big man in charge, or had the temerity to get sick, or be born with a disease.  Regardless of which way you screwed up in being born you stood a really excellent chance of being dead at a very early age, never seeing anything more than 10 kilometers from where you were born and/or being owned body and mind by another person.  The world out there is harsh and deadly, which you can see any time you note that a cat living outdoors on its own is old at 3 and an indoor cat can expect to live past 15.  There are wonderful things about wild places but to idolize them and condemn all that is modern civilization is an exercise in self delusion.  If the ancient ways were so great you might actually see people running off in droves to go farm in the wilderness with wood and stone tools, and we all know how often that happens.

I bet people wonder why I get more ticked off by the romantic foolishness that plagues the environmental movement moreso than the greed and materialism than characterizes the other side of the debate.  I expect it is because I feel like the 'corporate' side, for lack of a better term, is already the opposition, doing things I do not understand or appreciate.  Just like most people I tend to see my greatest frustration and anger with those close to me, those who I have a connection with. (Just think about how married people feel after they decide to break up if you don't see what I mean!)  Rational or not, there it is.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nutritious Mush

When I was young my parents taught me how to cook.  By and large they were successful though I claim no great skill.  One lesson they tried to impart failed utterly to make an impact; they tried to teach me about presentation.  Regularly they would suggest adding specific vegetables to add colour or talk about how food could be made to look more interesting or appealing.  The trouble with this is that I am generally perfectly happy to consume my food as a grey mush as long as the overall taste and nutrition remain the same.  I would be quite content if someone was serving me dinner and they put a steak, potato and vegetable dinner into a blender and served it to me in a bowl as the look and texture of my food very rarely has any interest for me.  As long as I can eat it fast and get back to whatever I was doing and be confident in the nutritional value I am content.

I think I am a bit weird in this.  Certainly children are very wary of things that have different textures than what they are used to and respond to presentation, though usually with "Ewwww, I won't eat that!" to anything new.  Adults mostly seem to have a preference for nice looking food too which has to be part of the reason gruel is at the bottom of the barrel of foods.  Maybe a part of that is the ritual aspect of eating and people would find food that looks strange or unappealing as breaking their ideas of how dinner is supposed to be.  There might even be a bit of the brain, something buried deep, that worries about food that looks strange as an evolved defence against poisoning oneself on strange fare.  There is certainly something to be said too for the ability to look at a dish and know what is in it; although people can be easily fooled into eating nearly anything there is something comforting in that illusory certainty of content.

There is one distinct outlier in this sea of "Just serve it to me in mush form in a bowl and make it snappy".  For some reason when I make Beef Chaser (based off my father's recipe for Chicken Chaser, with my own modifications) the way in which it is made and the texture of the food becomes critical.  This dish is rice, beef, whole tomatoes, big chunk mushrooms, onions, garlic and spices.  The key component is the whole tomatoes.  More than anything this meal is all about having a whole tomato that is outrageously hot and popping it in my mouth without any cutting.  I roll it around in my mouth trying to avoid burning myself and when it eventually reaches a critical level of non-burningness I crunch it to bits and savour all the seeds and hot, spicy juices that squirt out.  Somehow the entire essence of meat, garlic, onions and tomato is contained in that single moment and the sensation is wonderful.  It simply would not be the same dish were it to be mushed up into a paste and yet I can think of no other meal that even approaches this kind of textural importance.

I do wonder why this is.  Perhaps there were some critical moments of my life going on when I ate this dish or maybe that sort of experience is actually really unique to this particular style of cooking and particular food.  I don't know the answer to those questions, but I do know that although normally I have no problem eating my dinner fresh from the blender or in a tupperware container I will fight anyone who tries to cut up my whole tomatoes in Beef Chaser.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An anecdote

Just to be fair, I figured I should tell an embarrassing story about someone else's kid too.

Today we went to the Science Centre and were looking around the Mythical Creatures exhibit.  It was a pretty unusual sort of thing to see in a Science Centre at first glance but it turned out to be an examination of the legends of monsters in various cultures and the origins of those legends, as well as looking at the actual creatures that might have inspired those legends like the giant squid that turned out to be real after much legend and not a little skepticism.  We were looking at a model of a pegasus with another group that consisted of Random Lady and Random Little Girl (approx age 4).  Conversation follows:

Random Lady:  Look at that flying horse.  Wouldn't it be neat to fly on a horse instead of ride in a car?

Me:  Yeah, you sure could get places fast on one of those.

Random Little Girl:  Yes, and then Mommy wouldn't have to yell naughty words at the other people on the road who are going too slow!

*total silence* (Me trying desperately to not bust out loud laughing and cause the entire room to stare.)

Random Lady:  Ummm, I guess I am busted?

Me:  That is pretty funny.

Kids sure do say the darndest things, and not just mine.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Wendy and I just acquired the fifth season of Futurama.  While some might imagine that a cartoon series about a crazy delivery company in the year 3000 might be suitable for children, those some would be very wrong.  This newest season comes after a long hiatus where Futurama was off the air and the writers seem to have decided that since the show came back from the dead they have a licence to say just about anything... and they sure do.  The show was always awesome and always a bit zany but this newest set of shows kicks it up a notch; in particular they seem determined to make brutal fun of industry leaders, evangelism and homophobia.  To give an example of the zaniness, imagine this:

Amy (a human) and Bender (a robot) decide for ridiculous reasons that they are in love.  The show has a running theme about robosexuality, the taboo practice of robots being romantically involved with humans.  A prudish old man alerts the robot evangelicals who come and kidnap Bender and attempt to remove his morally questionable robosexual tendencies.  This involves having the robot robosexuals 'attack' dummies made up to look like buxom human women in an orgy of destruction.  Well, destruction is the stated intent, but instead the robots end up making out with their dummies while the robot clergyman looks on, urging them to greater and greater feats of 'destruction' while getting sweaty and twitchy.  Then the robot clergyman urges them to swap partners and continue their 'attack' with greater vigor.  The savage mockery of the sexual repression of church authorities makes me smile to no end.  These images are truly hilarious to watch but aren't exactly the makings of suitable saturday morning cartoons for little ones.

Obviously since this is me it must be assumed that some of my enjoyment of these episodes comes from the glorious roasting of homophobes and evangelical Christianity.  That certainly isn't all of it though as I really do have a love for the characters and the constant pokes at the ridiculous edges of our culture today leave no target unscathed.  I want Fry to eventually find a way to convince Leela to be with him and I also want him to actually give her a good reason for doing so!  Sadly there is a real limit to how much a sitcom can tell a really wrenching love story so I expect at the end things will wrap up with a punch line instead of a riveting moment between two characters.  I might be wrong though, as what is the saddest moment on TV came from a Futurama episode (Fry's Dog), and if you have not seen that episode then you should; it is incredible how much punch a cartoon based on alien invasion, cultural commentary and crass language can have when it wants to.

I wonder if the producers really did set out to break new boundaries when they started this new set of shows.  There does seem to be a trend that shows get more and more outrageous the longer they run until they eventually jump the shark and collapse and I do hope this one manages to continue its run of insanity a long, long time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Future

InTheHat was over yesterday and as usual he kept the conversation interesting.  I love to debate about nearly any topic of course but the future as it relates to gradually increasing oil costs and the economic consequences, well, that is just a delicious topic.  I wonder how many people in the world would see that as I do and would be incredibly interested rather than utterly bored by such a discussion...

Obviously we can't keep increasing our oil usage at current rates.  While we aren't going to run out of oil to burn for centuries or millennia we will certainly run out of *cheap* oil, and that point is approaching rather quickly if we have not already reached it.  So what will the consequences of expensive oil be?  I think objects, manufactured goods, will be less affected than many other things.  The components of our calculators, fridges, computers, plastic toys and other items are often made from oil products but the actual cost of those products relative to the final selling price is miniscule, often running as low as 5% in lower price categories.  The much more challenging part of the equation is how much costs of transportation will go up and how that will affect our entire economic system.  How much of the cost of a microwave is actually based on the cost of moving it from place to place?

We currently shuffle goods all across the world to save money on salaries for those people turning those goods into other things.  It is normal for raw goods to be shipped across an ocean, manufactured into something else and then shipped back across that same ocean to be sold in the same country the ingredients originally came from.  This completely insane waste of resources is only made possible by incredibly cheap energy and vast differences in living standards between different countries.  Those differences in living standards don't show any particular sign of vanishing soon but the incredibly cheap energy is going to gradually slip away as time goes by.  Certainly that will create some good as manufacturing will be more logically placed near the market for the goods in question, reducing usage of fossil fuels and the attendant environmental problems, but it will require a lot of change and change isn't free.

I really do wonder how elastic the demand for oil really is.  People are quite clearly addicted to their cheap goods and low cost transportation but are they willing to give that up easily when confronted by a big price increase?  I find the US situation particularly fascinating given the way the people there get so massively worked up over high gasoline prices, particularly when their prices are among the lowest in the world.  Are they going to suddenly start spewing out train tracks and recycling centres or will they just pay more for oil and try to keep things the same as they have always been?  Those sorts of questions are the type economists wish they could answer but mostly have to be resolved the hard way I think.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I posted on Saturday about some exploits of Elli's over the holiday break.  I got an interesting response that I think warrants its own post, namely:

You need to be careful not to invade Elli's privacy on such a public forum and I think this comes close. Bev

This reminds me of a lot of internal wrestling I did with myself over the year and a bit I have been blogging when the subject of my personal life came up.  I would feel comfortable putting nearly anything about myself up on the web as part of my blog but I need to keep the desires of my family in mind when deciding what is ok to publish and what is not.  For example, I would be comfortable discussing my sex life on the blog but I know that doing so would not sit well with Wendy and a good chunk of my audience would find it strange, unacceptable or inappropriate so I have kept that sort of thing out of the blog for the most part.  It is regularly a struggle for me to figure out where the line should be drawn as I know that if I keep everything personal out of the blog I get very little out of it but if I put too much out there other people don't like it.  I can usually guess which parts of the blog might offend an adult and try to work around that but that benchmark doesn't work at all with Elli - she doesn't understand the information I am giving away nor its potential ramifications.

I am conflicted in a lot of ways.  For example, parents chat with each other all the time about the crazy things their children do and they often have these talks in public.  It isn't seen as inappropriate to talk about the antics of a four year old where others might overhear but whether or not typing and talking are equivalent in this case is not entirely clear.  The things I say aren't going to impact Elli's career since her name isn't actually on the blog at all and anyone who doesn't already know me personally is going to have a hell of a time linking Elli at age 20+ with the blog posts made by me 15 years prior, if they even exist at that point.  They aren't going to impact her socially since none of her friends can read or understand them, and in the future we again have the problem of actually identifying her via very old blog posts buried in the nearly infinite haystack that is the internet.  So the problem as I see it revolves not around any practical considerations but only whether or not Elli herself will some day come to resent the posts and the things I have said.

My suspicion is that Elli is going to be embarrassed by these posts (potentially) in the same way I am embarrassed by the naked photos of me cavorting as a child.  That is to say, I was very slightly embarrassed when I was a teenager and now view them as entirely entertaining - I would have no issues with them being published anywhere.  It might not be fair to impose my standards of exposure (in the overall sense, not just the nudity sense!) to her but I have no idea what her standards will be when she grows up so I have just been posting things on the assumption that if I think it is fine and Wendy has no objection it probably isn't a problem.  I would actually be completely fascinated to see blog posts by my parents talking about the things I did as a child because I don't have complete memories of that time; it would be incredibly neat to have a window into the world of the person I was back then.  That isn't going to happen, not least because blogging wasn't exactly a thing back in the early 80s, but also because I don't think my penchant for putting my experiences out there is shared by my parents.

These questions aren't ones that have easy or simple answers.  There is much consideration and weighing but it is so filled with unknowns and uncertainties that conclusive answers are a pipe dream.  So far I think I have made posts that I would be completely unbothered or even greatly entertained by if I were in Elli's place so I figure I haven't gone too far afield.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

They don't believe me

Over the holidays a number of people told me that Elli did not act at all like the person I portrayed in my blog posts.  They saw her as an angel, a perfect little girl who is enthusiastic and cute while my posts often portray her in a negative light.  That is true of course because writing about a child who is mostly compliant and basically happy isn't all that interesting; it is the stories of freakouts, midnight wakings, tantrums and difficult discipline choices that make engaging and entertaining reading.  Over Christmas Elli was generally very well behaved at our gatherings and parties but we had some epic meltdowns when it was time for the party to end.  The trouble is that Elli, like most children I think, acts well in slightly unfamiliar situations where lots of people are happy and eager to play with her.  She enjoys attention and playing games with adults and since she is the only child around in both my family and Wendy's family she gets loads of individual attention and plenty of presents at Christmastime.  Thus she gets a reputation for being the perfect child.

When it comes time to go to bed after the party her tune changes.  She alternates between falling asleep on people's shoulders and insisting that she is not tired.  She shouts to the world:

"You don't love me any more!"

"Mommy you have to come to the bathroom with me right now!"

"I didn't get a video today you have to let me watch my video!"

Then she tries tricks like stripping off her pajamas and running around the house naked to find her nightgown, which is soaked with pee from an accident not 15 minutes before.  She stalks into our bedroom and says in her best grownup, authoritarian voice, "You have to come to my room for 1 more minute Right Now!"  Between slamming doors and throwing objects I am surprised she hasn't yet caused physical damage to anything over this holiday season.

Then of course the next day we have another party and we get more compliments on how we have such a well behaved child.  I know that Wendy and I get really stressed out by the end of the holidays as 9 days of company and many big gatherings wears us down.  We end up desperately wanting to just go home and sit in solitude for a day, drinking in the silence.  (Well, maybe silence + the hum of the computers.)  I wonder if Elli feels the same way and just can't articulate it at all.  That understanding of what you want and why you want it does not come early or easily to many people and four is not generally known as the age of extensive self knowledge.  It would be wonderful to be able to spread the festivities over a larger period, perhaps 1 party a month instead of all at once.  Anyone up for a Christmas season that takes place over the months of November through February?