A Tale of Two Turkeys

By most accounts, the Republican National Convention has so far been a bit of a gong show. The party’s elder statesmen have given it a pass, as have most of the next generation, except for those who wanted to make some noise and try to block the advance of the Trump juggernaut. The big story, of course, was the speech. Her speech.

Melania Knauss-Trump.jpg
[Image by Marc Nozell from Merrimack, New Hampshire, USA – 20160208-DSC08093, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46940102%5D

So, what’s the deal here? I see three possibilities:

The speechwriter was paid by GOP insiders to try to embarrass Trump. From the passages lifted verbatim from — of all people — a speech by the Democratic First Lady only 8 years earlier (an irony true Republicans would find too delicious) to the rick-rolling. But ultimately, it’s a move that will have little or no effect on his faithful followers. If anything, many will likely see it as further proof (and rightly so) that their candidate is being victimized by the establishment.

OR

It’s all part of the Trump-Clinton conspiracy to make Hillary look like the only sane candidate. Oversold, maybe? The choir gets it. The decided probably too. But the folks in the pews never will (which is why, if this was true, creating this bizarre straw man was such a grave miscalculation; they seriously underestimated how much this personae and his rhetoric would resonate with the lower middle-class white American).

OR

It’s a most cynical ploy of a man who believes he is unstoppable. He can say and do whatever he wants — even steal the words of his opponents and use them to support his own cause — with impunity.

For a slightly more serious analysis of the rise of Trump and the fall of the GOP, see this excellent piece by Nick Hanauer.


As for the other Turkey, what’s the deal there? Are they one step away from North Korea-style choreographed street performances? Taking some notes here, not deep thinking, but…

I don’t speak Turkish, but listening to the rhetoric being spewed by Erdogan the past few years, it would seem that the Turkish word for “Kurd” is being translated into US English as “terrorist”. And since the recent failed coup, we’re hearing “democracy” and “democratic” being tossed around quite a bit, which I think is being translated from the Turkish for “socially regressive, autocratic, authoritarian regime.”

It’s telling that, so far, they’ve dismissed and/or arrested more people in the education sector (education ministry and teachers) than military personnel. This is a regime that comes down hard on peaceful protesters during peace time, but has no qualms about encouraging its supporters to come out on the streets in numbers and throw themselves in front of tanks. Wow, such courage! Sorry, I don’t buy it. Judging by what I’ve seen in the media, the military showed quite a bit of restraint. I’m sure they realized there was no chance of success if they couldn’t garner popular support, but with a hostile civilian force being egged on by their leader, they really didn’t stand a chance of success…

 

Heroes

Police are heroes. Soldiers are heroes. If a soldier — who has done his duty serving his country — kills police, does his hero status get revoked?

I’m not here to make friends. There are already enough people who care more about getting likes or up-votes or high-fives than anything else. This is MY team!!! I’m FOR MY TEAM!!! Fuck them. I’m insensitive. Maybe even misanthropic. But hopefully, a person who knows how to read is also capable of reflection. Capable of thought beyond labelling those with a different view “crazy” or “enemy”.

“I know your family’s grieving — FUCK ‘EM!!!!”

A few weeks ago, a man died base jumping from the top of a popular local mountain. Nobody called him a hero. And why would they? Maybe you can admire his courage, risking his life doing something inherently dangerous. But he wasn’t acting to save someone’s life or serving a greater cause. He was an adrenaline junkie.

And the unfortunate truth, more often than people would like to admit, is that many of those serving in the police (and military, as was the case of the base-jumper) are also adrenaline junkies. Indeed, the job requires a certain amount of courage to be effective. (Whether that characteristic is overemphasized can and should be debated, but maybe another time.)

I’d like to see people stop calling every cop a hero. No. They don’t automatically deserve that. While many of them are (or better said, many have acted heroically), it’s by virtue of their actions toward the population they serve, not simply because they’re wearing badges and carrying guns. Running into a dangerous situation doesn’t make you a hero. Even dying in the line of duty doesn’t make you a hero. I’m tired of this word “hero” being attributed collectively to a group of people to preempt criticism of and/or apologize for the terrible acts, both past and future, of some among their ranks. And I want to emphasize “some”, and it’s for the same reason that we should not be painting any group with these broad brushes of “heroes” or “villains”. Collectively attributing heroism or villainy to any group is both unfair and inaccurate, and especially unhelpful in trying to understand the complex issues of violence perpetrated by law enforcement officers, gun violence, and race relations in the United States.

And politicians, enough about “despicable acts” when police are killed, as if the act of killing was more despicable because the victims were police. Because IT’S NOT.

At some point, I might put down a few words on why I think universal, mandatory military service would a good idea. Now, I also wonder if a universal, mandatory stint in law enforcement would also be a good idea. But among other things, I think it would help to break down the barrier between law enforcement and the public they serve, to chisel away at this unfortunate belief that police are — and must be — somehow better (more “heroic”) than the common people. It’s time for everyone to see things from new perspectives, not hide behind the safety of long-held, narrow viewpoints.

Lasagna

The recent demise of mylasagnarecipe.com has prompted me to come out of hibernation and post my transcript of their recipe here. Caveat emptor: it is not an entirely faithful rendering. And I’ve never followed this recipe exactly as written. I’ve subbed mushed firm tofu for ricotta and Yves’ tofu ground beef for the meat, and really, it was almost as good (as long as you eat it hot, coldish tofu lasagne tastes like — tofu).

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1/2 cup of chopped onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 (28 ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 (8 ounce) cans of tomato sauce
  • 2 (6 ounce) cans of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh Basil leaves chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning [Ed. note: I don’t use this. I usually put some combination of dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary.]
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 23 ounces (680mL) of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound (450mL) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 12 lasagna noodles

Directions

    1. Start with the following in a pot:
      • 1 pound (450 g) of sweet Italian sausage
      • 1 pound (450 g) of ground beef
      • 1/2 cup (120 mL) of chopped onions
      • 2 cloves of garlic chopped

The flavor of the Italian sausage varies from brand to brand. You may need to try a different brand the first couple of times you cook this dish. Find the flavor you like the best.

  • Brown the ground beef, Italian sausage, onions and garlic in a pot until they start to cook. It takes about 6 to 9 minutes to brown the meat. I like to use a Dutch oven to cook this portion of the recipe. I use a medium low temperature to brown the meat. It is optional to remove the grease from the meat once it is finished browning, your choice.
  • Add the following:
    • 1 (28 ounce) (784 g) can of crushed tomatoes
    • 2 (8 ounce) (230 g) cans of tomato sauce
    • 2 (6 ounce) (168 g) cans of tomato paste
    • 1/2 (120 mL) cup of water
  • Gently stir this into the cooking meat.
  • Add the following:
    • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white sugar
    • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fennel seed
    • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) fresh Basil leaves chopped
    • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh Italian parsley chopped
    • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
    • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Italian Seasoning
    • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) ground pepper
  • Gently stir these seasoning into the sauce.
  • Cover the pot and let the meat sauce simmer. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour and 30 minutes. This is the ideal simmer time but not mandatory. If you don’t have time it will still be great after one hour of simmering.
  • I will sometimes make this sauce and refrigerate it after it finishes simmering. I will use the meat sauce the next day to put the rest of this recipe together. For some reason Italian meat sauce taste even better the next day. But that’s up to you.
  • Soak 12 lasagna noodles. The lasagna noodles need to be soaked in hot tap water for 15 minutes.
  • While the noodles are soaking you can make the cheese filling. Put the following in a mixing bowl:
    • 23 ounces (644 g) of ricotta cheese.
    • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) fresh grated nutmeg
  • Add the following:
    • 1 egg
    • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh Italian parsley chopped
  • Mix these ingredients together with a spoon.
  • Now we start building the lasagna layers. Use a 9×13 inch baking pan. Spread 2 Cups (480 mL) of meat sauce on the bottom of the pan.
  • Remove your lasagna noodles out of the water bath. Shake water off wet noodles.
  • Lay 6 noodles across the layer of sauce.
  • Spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture over the layer of noodles.
  • Spread 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese over the ricotta layer.
  • Sprinkle half of the Parmesan cheese over the mozzarella layer
  • Spread 2 cups (480 mL) of meat sauce over the cheese layer
  • Lay down the next layer of noodles
  • Spread the remaining ricotta mixture over noodles
  • Spread the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses saving some cheese for the top of the lasagna
  • Put the last layer of meat sauce on the cheeses
  • Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
  • Cover with foil. Bake in preheated oven at 350 F (177 C) for 25 minutes
  • Remove foil and bake uncovered for another 25 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool for approximately 15 minutes.

 

Lasagna Layer Quick Reference

      10) mozarella/parmesan
------------------------------------
      9) meat sauce
------------------------------------
      8) mozarella/parmesan
------------------------------------
      7) ricotta
------------------------------------
      6) noodles
------------------------------------
      5) meat sauce
------------------------------------
      4) mozarella/parmesan
------------------------------------
      3) ricotta
------------------------------------
      2) noodles
------------------------------------
      1) meat sauce

Pitbull Ate My Blog Posts

I know, it’s been over 3 months.

Wow. What the hell have I been doing?!? Nothing actually keeping me from posting a word or two here. But I think it’s normal for any conscientious human to feel the need to make excuses in this situation. Here are a few.

Excuse 1: I became a co-founder in a start-up business at the beginning of the year. It’s been ramping up recently due to interest from what could be our first customer, who could be bringing in another interested party. This organization is so big they are known to the average human in just about every country of the world. It’s a lot of work and it’s exciting, but it’s not making money. I’m used to doing relatively little work, and collecting a decent revenue from it. Now, I’m stretching myself in all sorts of new and uncomfortable ways, and there’s no guarantee of a financial return at the end of the day.

Excuse 2: I’ve halfheartedly been trying to work on some tunes for a musical theater project. It’s a collaboration with a friend of a friend. His focus is the words; mine, the music. My piano skills are severely wanting, but I feel like they’ve steadily improved since I started this. I would really like to see this through, but excuse #1 has been crowding it out of my head space.

Excuse 3: pitbulls

Excuse 4: I’ve been trying to cope with the stress of being on a highly dysfunctional strata council (what people elsewhere might call a condo owner’s association or a cluster-frack a go-go). I find it disturbing how much people can become emotionally invested in these things. Differences of opinion become personal slights to the parties involved. I hope I get out of it before it happens to me too.

Excuse 5: I’m sort of pursuing a love interest with clear impediments to long-term success: she’s married, she’s young, she practices a religion. The worst thing is, I know I could push just a bit harder, but having been on the other side of this before when I was married, I feel those stupid pangs of conscience. Still, I can’t help but look at a recent photo of the two of us together (wonder what her hubby would think if he saw that?) and feel like it would be so nice if we had that all the time. For now, we’re IMing a lot and finding opportunities to spend time together while in the company of others, which is for the best.

Excuses out of the way, let’s move on to more interesting things.

A recent study promoted on the APS website proves what I knew all along; extremists are stupid. You can read the complete study write-up here, but the gist of it is, people were asked their opinions on a variety of hot-button political issues (taxes, healthcare, climate change, the Iranian nuclear program). When asked to explain those issues, those with the most extreme opinions tended to be the ones with the poorest understanding of them. After they were shown just how ignorant they were, they were given the opportunity to revise their viewpoints. Generally, they tended to become much more moderate in their stance.

So, should I temper my opinion of pitbulls (and their owners)? Hell no, **** ’em all (and I don’t mean “fuck”). Same goes for system administrators who expect vendors to give them technical support, but refuse to follow vendor recommendations. Those ones who are so much smarter than everyone else, yet somehow aren’t able to solve their problems on their own. Here’s a clue for you guys: your technical skills are irrelevant. The legacy systems that only you know how to maintain, well, if you’re hit by a bus, you’ll be cursed posthumously for not grooming a successor, but eventually, things will sort themselves out, life will go on, and you will be forgotten. Start cultivating your soft skills now. You’ll be so much more valuable in the end, and people might actually tolerate being around you.

For some more positive vibes, here’s Bonobo in an exclusive session at KCRW from earlier this year, with Szjerdene on vocals and session musicians pulled straight out of the bleachers of Sheffield.

I’ll try to have something interesting to say soon.

Duck Test Failure, Part 2

ducks photo: Ducks at Queens Park 20130321-2027HBD-01_zps0b9154fd.jpg

In response to a recent post of mine about a friend’s suicide, a commenter referred to suicide as “an extreme position to take”.

On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc sat down in the lotus position in a busy intersection of Saigon. A 5-gallon can of gasoline was poured over his head by a fellow monk. He then lit a match and set himself on fire. He did not move as his flesh burned and his living body turned into a charred corpse. In the days that followed, there were several other similar acts of self-immolation by Buddhist monks.

These suicides were acts of protest against the South Vietnamese government’s mistreatment of Buddhists. These were indeed extreme acts, intended to draw attention to the plight of Vietnam’s Buddhists and put pressure on the regime (and its US allies) to carry out the reforms it had promised.

But these suicides were not due to mental health issues. I do not believe that most suicides are acts of protest or attempts to get attention, but I think that belief is not uncommon, and highlights a fundamental problem with our attitude toward mental health issues.

We are often dismissive of mental health concerns because most of us really don’t have a perspective on it, which was largely the point of my post. When you look at, say, a paraplegic, even if you’re not one, you can sort of speculate on the challenges they face on a day to day basis. On the other hand, when you look at someone with a mental illness, you cannot speculate (unless you’ve had one yourself maybe) because you cannot see inside their mind. You assume that, if they appear on the outside to be similarly-abled to you, then they should have the same problems as you. So if someone confides in you that they have suicidal feelings, and you have never had similar feelings yourself, except maybe as a passing thought, then you’ll judge it as such (“Aw c’mon, life isn’t that bad! There’s always a way!”), because that’s how you would have dismissed those thoughts from your own mind. Unfortunately, our brains are not all wired the same way. For many, they cannot simply “get over it”.

I believe there are usually neurobiological causes for persistent suicidal feelings. Whether it’s BDNF dysregulation (http://www.wjpch.com/UploadFile/113197.pdf) or something else, it’s not something you can simply shrug off with positive thinking or exercise or stupid platitudes, and dismissing people with suicidal feelings (or any mental health issue for that matter) as weak-willed or attention-seeking is like dismissing people with physical disabilities as not trying hard enough.

asshat photo: asshat asshat.jpg

Oh, cheer up, Ducky! It can’t be that bad!

220px-Mallard2
On the train in to the city this morning, I received a call from a friend. He was calling to share a piece of bad news. A mutual friend of ours had died. The train went underground as I began to ask for the what and the how details. The last thing I heard on the other end before I lost the signal was that our friend had committed suicide.

News of the death of a friend is never an easy thing to hear. Death by suicide is even more difficult; what is it that brings a person to a state where they feel the only solution to the problem is to remove themselves from the equation?

I call this man a friend, but I can’t say that I knew him well or for a long time. Most of the time, when I meet someone new, I have no real, immediate sense of whether we’ll form a connection over the long term. Rarely would I say I “hit it off” with someone, but he was one of those people. He was warm, easy-going, and unpretentious, but also well-spoken, thoughtful, and with an amazing breadth of life experience. He was married to the same person for 30 years, seemed to be reasonably secure financially, and to most people around him, appeared to be enjoying the life he’d been given. But fairly recently, he had suffered a nervous breakdown and a possible depression, from which he seemed to have recovered.

But what do we really know of the minds of others? We don’t even know our own minds.

I think most of us see someone who seems generally similar to ourselves (upbringing, socio-economic standing, life opportunities, etc.), we figure they must be like us, generally speaking (walks like a duck, talks like a duck, …). We find it difficult to fathom that something could be so wrong in their inner life that they would nurture serious thoughts of ending their own existence. So if they don’t say anything about it, we might have no reason to suspect anything is wrong. But what happens when someone does express that they’re having those thoughts? I suspect for many of us, it’s so contrary to our natural sense of self-preservation, we don’t really know how to react. “Oh c’mon, cheer up! It can’t be that bad.” “It will pass. You’ll get over it.” or “How could you feel that way? You have so much to live for!”

We might mean well, saying these things, but I wonder: is it really the best we can do? Consider this: would it be acceptable to respond that way to someone without legs talking about the challenges they face trying to navigate a world designed for people with legs? Probably not. Me, I’d be saying to myself, “damn, he has no legs. I guess I should put up with his complaining, at least for a little while.”

I don’t particularly care much for professional sports, but I have a huge amount of admiration for Clara Hughes. During her career as a professional athlete, she competed in both Summer and Winter Olympics and is the only Olympian to have won multiple medals in each. This is not a stunning achievement. It is a unique achievement. No other man or woman in history has done this.
220px-Clara_Hughes_2007
But she has also dealt with mental illness. Some might say she’s “conquered” it. Some might even romanticize it, claiming it’s what enabled her to accomplish so much. The reality of mental illness is not so simple, nor in any way romantic.

Regardless how some may want to downplay or romanticize the role mental illness has played in her life, I’m genuinely glad she is out there talking about it and helping people understand.

And I’m saddened to have lost a friend. My life feels a bit paler today.

“1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives.” – Canadian Institute of Health Research

“2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment and rejection.” – Canadian Medical Association

“Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness.” – Canadian Medical Association