Chicken Gulai

Chicken GulaiHere’s an easy, delicious recipe from an Indonesian friend of mine. I’ve always been intimidated by recipes involving lemongrass, but I really liked this dish so I asked if I could help her make it. It was worth it. Sweet, spicy, delicious comfort food at its best. (You’ll probably need access to a good Asian market for some of the ingredients.)

Ingredients

4 large chicken legs (with skin or without)
3 stalks of lemongrass
150 mL Túóng Ót Toi Viet-Nam chili garlic sauce
5 cloves garlic
1 small onion
1 tsp ginger
3 bay leave
4 lime leaves
200 mL coconut milk
4-6 Tbsp sugar

1. Fine-chop garlic, onions, and ginger, then mix together and crush with a mortal and pestle.
2. In a large frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil.
3. Add the garlic-onion-ginger mix, garlic chili sauce, and coconut milk. Stir.
4. Add the lime leaves, bay leaves, and lemongrass.
5. Add the chicken.
6. Cover and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes or so (until chick is cooked through, and all the Sam ‘n’ Ella are dead).

Serve on jasmine rice and top with chopped shallots.

Note the original recipe called for aniseed and galangal, but I didn’t use either. Still tasted quite good to me.

Newtown: Guns Don’t Kill People

Statue of Minute Man John Parker in Lexington, Massachusetts

Statue of Minute Man John Parker in Lexington, Massachusetts

People do.

I started this post about a monthtwo months ago, when emotions were fresh and bitter. But I didn’t want to commit to what I wanted to write. My own words made me angry, and I don’t like being angry. Two months on, emotions are still fresh and just as bitter.

Guns don’t kill people. People do.

The people who colonized the United States of America saw themselves as people under siege. Many had been persecuted for their religious beliefs in their country of origin. They were living in a harsh land surrounded by hostile savages. And while they were subjects of a (somewhat) democratic country, they had no parliamentary representation. All these perceptions helped to create a siege mentality, which, even after a successful revolution against the “oppressors”, has persisted.

Today, it permeates popular entertainment and right-wing political discourse: our country was not given to us, it was hard-won, and we must defend it. Our enemies lie in wait all around, looking for signs of weakness, looking for a chance to take from us what’s rightfully ours. They’re jealous of our freedom and will destroy us if they get the opportunity.

When you’re under siege, it’s important to not appear weak, lest your enemies decide to test your defenses. Like many animals, who, when cornered, will puff themselves up to appear larger, more formidable an opponent to the predator, if you’re an embattled regime, having more, bigger and better guns will make you appear more intimidating to your foes. This strategy seemed to make sense during the period after the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until the early days of the Cold War. Eventually, it became clear that it was a strategy of diminishing returns.

Still, from a position of weakness, guns might appear to be an equalizer, and they can be. But if more guns is your solution to the problem of mass murder by guns, then you don’t have a solution.

True, guns didn’t cause the violence. But they were the enabler. And the amplifier. Let’s not kid ourselves; the angel-making capacity of the .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle is far greater than the knife, the baseball bat, the bare hand, or whatever other weapon the average “bad guy” has at his disposal.

But I’m glad we have guns. Because when the mob is reaching for its torches and pitchforks, coming for my children because they want to blame autism or mental illness or whatever it is that makes us different from them, for the deaths of their little angels, I’ll protect my angels. You people will always have more sympathy for the pretty ones, the popular ones, than the sad, lonely losers. So be it. I’ll be waiting for you. With a couple pitbulls too. Maim your ugly, neurotypical NIMBY faces when you show up at my castle.

America is a wounded animal, frantically biting its own wounds.

Jennifer Pahlka Is Reading Bloodfreak

In an article in yesterday’s SFGate, Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, says, “You can’t complain (about the government) unless you step up to the plate.

Jennifer Pahlka (Photo by Russell Watkins/DFID)

Jennifer Pahlka (Photo by Russell Watkins/DFID)

Thank you, Jen. You put so succinctly and eloquently, what I’ve been saying right here for a while now. And unlike me, she’s not talking out of her ass. The non-profit CfA is the real deal, doing the dirty work, not trash-talking.

I’ve had a peripheral awareness of CfA’s work for some time, but I’ve only just started looking more closely at them and I’m really seeing how they’re delivering the goods on rethinking and “rebooting” government. A lot of people in North America have bought in to the idea of “government = bad,” and yet so many of them really have no clue (or conveniently choose to forget) what government is, what it does, and why it came about. Sometimes, it takes a disaster to remind some of them how important a role they play in keeping our society functioning, despite all the tales of failure, corruption, and incompetence. But some still don’t get it. Fortunately, there are those who do…

A couple months ago, Pahlka posted a story on LinkedIn titled Paying for Streetlights, One at a Time. This parable tells of the town of Colorado Springs, CO, who was suffering from a burning case of pensionitis and decided to vote against a property tax increase, supposedly earmarked for emergency services. What followed was some rather extreme belt-tightening, including turning off a third of the street lights. People were given the option to donate between $100 and $240 a year to adopt a streetlight and have it turned back on. The cost to adopt one streetlight was more than the proposed annual tax increase, but many were apparently quite glad to pay this. Are people stupid? Of course, that’s nothing new. But this is the state of affairs; trust in government has eroded to a point where people gladly swallow a “cure” considerably worse than the disease, just as long they perceive it as being “less government”.

… we see both the value of local government and the waste and inefficiencies that drive the public away from it. We see that government must get better at what it does, but it also needs to sell its value proposition to citizens. Think about that streetlight – not only does it cost the citizen orders of magnitude more this way, it’s hugely inefficient and costly for the city to administer as well, turning lights off and on depending on whether each individual light is paid for. The better option for everyone would be to just keep the lights on, but the perceived value of government is so low that it drives outcomes that are bad for everyone involved.

Part of what Code for America does is to sell that value, by creating interfaces to government that are simple, beautiful and easy to use. In New Orleans, for example, Code for America Fellows created BlightStatus.com, which allows citizens to type in any address in the city and see whether the property has been reported as blighted, if it’s been inspected, if there’s been a hearing and when, and if the property is scheduled for demolition. The city had been struggling for years to integrate a dozen disparate data sets in a wide variety of formats in order to have a comprehensive view of these properties, even for the city’s own use, but the residents of neighborhoods affected by this blight were increasingly frustrated by the lack of apparent action. When one of the Code for America Fellows showed the application to residents at a community group meeting, he was thanked for his work with hugs.

CfA is working with multiple levels of government across the US to create modern, user-friendly access points (web sites, mobile apps) so people can get the government services they need, one project at a time. And now that these tools are getting into people hands, they’re running out of excuses for not participating in the political process. The future is looking kinda scary, but exciting, too.

Anyway, I don’t want to risk discrediting their work with my crackpot endorsement. Please go see Code for America and judge for yourself.

Participatory Democracy: There’s an App for that

Lately, I’ve been watching MIT Tech TV. In case you’re not acquainted, it’s sort of like TED, but without the tie-dye and patchouli. (If you don’t know TED, then I probably can’t help you.)

Anyway, last month, I watched Peer-to-Peer Politics: Moving Beyond Left and Right. In it, Steven Johnson, author of Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software and, more recently, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked World, shared his thoughts on how bottom-up systems (which he’s spent a bit of time studying, and I use “studying” loosely, because he’s a science writer, not a scientist) from ant colonies to massively collaborative web applications, are informing the future of participatory democracy.

As I was trying out my Amazon associate links, I pulled up the cover of the Future Perfect and was struck by its similarity to another book I haven’t seen in years. D’I see what you did there, Johnson:

But back to the talk. In a recent post of mine, I was bemoaning the over-abundance of bellyaching that goes on after every political scandal and the general lack of participation of John Q Public in the political process except for a quadrennial coin toss. But Mr. Johnson pointed out that, while we may not yet be at a point to vote directly on defence spending or healthcare, many of us most certainly can vote on which potholes to fix, which crack-houses get busted, etc. because, many municipalities across North America support some form of 311 service. Indeed, he recounted one particular anecdote in which NYC residents were using the service to report a strange maple syrup odor in their neighborhood. Amid growing concern for a potential terrorist attack by Canadians — given the ongoing softwood lumber dispute and continued incursions into US territory to plunder and pillage, we’re clearly a shifty lot — they eventually correlated the data (reporting dates, location of callers) to trace the intoxicating aroma to its source (hint: it wasn’t a militant Canuck sleeper cell).

 

But ANyway, not two days after watching that, my very own dear city of Surrey, BC announced the launch of its own online service for reporting non-emergency neighborhood issues, like that crumpled-up McDonald’s coffee cup embedded in the drainage grate at the northeast corner of 104th Ave and 152nd Street. The actual service is outsourced to SeeClickFix and includes both the website and native apps for iOS, Android, and even Blackberry devices. Check out the totally sick caps I took of the iOS experience:

seeclickfix-1
seeclickfix-2
seeclickfix-3

You can file new issues (including photos), up-vote existing issues, add comments, it’s gamified (wouldn’t you want to become a Civic Crusader??)

Seriously, everyone should get on this. Because it’s still new here, the city appears to be pretty responsive. We’ll have to see if they can scale out as volume increases. Whatever city you live in, find out from their website if they have a similar service. If not, go to SeeClickFix or a similar service provider (try googling “neighborhood issue reporting”) and enter your city’s name so they can hit them up and pitch the service to them.

In the Language of People

John comes to your home one day and tells you he wants to share it with you. You already share your home with other people, family and friends, but you have some room to spare. You don’t mind too much — or maybe you do. Either way, as long as everyone respects one another, it should work out all right.

But shortly after John moves in, you regret ever having opened the door to him.

In addition to eating everyone’s food, using everyone’s toothpaste (leaving the cap off, of course), and using up all the hot water in hour-long showers each morning, John’s telling everyone that he’s devised a fair system to ensure everyone gets an “equitable share” based on their contribution around the house. Nobody really understands what this means, especially coming from John, who would appear to be the least likely to benefit from any such scheme. Nevertheless, he insists that this is the rational way to do things and that this would be how things would run going forward. John is 6 foot 5 inches, 280 pounds of muscle, shaved head, and tattoo. He’s made a compelling case, so everyone agrees to adhere to his system.

In John’s system, he is responsible for managing access to the food and the utilities. So, if you need bread, you need to buy it from John. True, you made the bread yourselves before John arrived, but the problem is, it was not being exploited efficiently, which means there was some waste occurring and there was no way to benefit from it (other than receiving satisfaction from a full belly, which apparently means waste). Now, with proper management in place, everyone has fair access to the bread, and value can be created.

Unfortunately, not everyone can afford the 1 JohnDollar/slice price. John says this is not the fault of the system. It simply means that those people without sufficient JohnDollars need to be provided with opportunities to earn JohnDollars. Now, John has some JohnDollars, which he’s offering in exchange for performing various administration and security duties, because it’s important to keep track of inventory and finances and to ensure nobody tries to steal the bread that’s not rightfully theirs. (Also, note that John is selling your delicious bread to his rich friends for the equivalent of 2 JohnDollars/slice, so really, you’re getting a good deal here.)

So, John is generous, but he can’t hire everyone into administration and security services. He can’t afford that, because although he could make as many JohnDollars as he wants (using your construction paper and scissors), that doesn’t create value, it doesn’t contribute to growth. So, in the interest of creating value and providing growth opportunities for everyone, he’s offered to lend people JohnDollars to start their own businesses. (Of course, interest payments on those loans need to be made in a timely manner.)

Incidentally, John has also laid claim to the house and the land on which it was built. Apparently, he’s now good friends with the neighbors (after some run-ins in the past) and they’ve acknowledged him as the owner of the house, so it’s pretty much settled. Anyway, it’s all clearly laid out in the paperwork he’s drafted and had notarized, perfectly legal as per John’s system. As John is now the homeowner, he’s entitled to charge rent to those inhabiting it: 25 JohnDollars per person per month. Your business is basically catering to John. It earns you 30 JohnDollars per month. You have 5 JohnDollars left to pay the interest on your loan (4 JohnDollars) and buy food…

If you were in this situation in the real world, you might think you’d be able to appeal to some civil authority. Or perhaps you’d all get together and physically remove John from the house. Unfortunately, it is the real world. The authorities cannot help you. Physically throwing out someone like John, well, easier said than done… Millions of people are living in this situation today. If you are living it, your situation is called “poverty”.

From Quantum Physics to Tree Hugging

More great programming on BBC World. Today, it was the debate Why Poverty? Participating, a number of personalities, most recognizable being Tony Blair. He always looks like such an idiot wherever he shows up. Like a bizarre cross between Peter Sellers and Chris Barrie. Still, I have to applaud him. I believe he believes in his mission and I also believe he genuinely wants to do good and despite embarrassing himself, he’s still trying to learn, like me, slowly, slowly. Maybe someday he will have some valuable insights to share. Not yet, though. (Governance? Milquetoast, please!)

But most important for me seeing this program, I was introduced to an incredible personality: one Vandana Shiva. Unfortunately, my mental state right now is such that I can barely string two words together, and I don’t feel like I can do justice to her as a person or her message. I would rather leave it to her to speak for herself. The debate isn’t available online at this time, but I’ve included a link to a previous HARDTalk interview with her.

Normally, I’m not one to gush, but it’s so rare to see someone with such a combination of energy and intelligence. How does one speak with such authority without carrying a big stick? (She’s not quiet by any stretch, though.)

I’ve signed the petition and I’m starting my seed bank.

The Town that Pensioned Itself to Death

I’d been planning to tell a joke about a Canadian lesbian who walked into a Muslim barber shop, but it turned out to be true, and not all that funny. It was, however, interesting to me, in that it rather neatly exemplified a point made in a recent thinky-think by Slavoj Zizec titled Liberalism and its Discontents:

[…] But as every observer of the deadlocks of political correctness knows, the separation of legal justice from moral goodness – which should be relativised and historicized – ends up in a claustrophobic, oppressive moralism brimming with resentment. Without any “organic” social substance grounding the standards of what George Orwell approvingly referred to as “common decency,” the minimalist program of laws intended to do little more than prevent individuals from encroaching upon each other (annoying or “harassing” each other) turns into an explosion of legal and moral rules, an endless process of legalization and moralization, presented as “the fight against all forms of discrimination.” If there are no shared mores in place to influence the law, just the bare fact of subjects “harassing” other subjects, then who – in the absence of such mores – will decide what counts as “harassment”?

Slavoj Zizek (photo by Mariusz Kubik)

So, this is what happens when you decide to tolerate people with different religions, different cultures, different haircuts, different seckshul orientations, instead of sending them all back where they came from, goddammit. You have to put up with their different frigging religions, cultures, haircuts, and whatnot. And then, on top of that, you have to deal with the consequences of tolerating them, because they don’t tolerate each other.

Jon Stewart had a funnier, more positive take on this issue — this “American experiment” — the other night. Unfortunately, the clip of it isn’t available in Canada, so I can’t see it and I’m trusting it is the show I watched that night and not the one I watched the other other tonight:

Goddamn bunch of ingrates, I say. Taking out jobs.

Anyway, so I changed my mind and decided not to talk about that, and I got to thinking about how every time Israel does something — anything, our Prime Minister insists on being the first in line to defend them. Mr. Harper, is it really necessary? Really?? I mean, he even upstages the US pro-Israel lobby. What gives? Certainly not because his hick-ass cares about Israel, or the Jewish vote, or about anything for that matter. Here is an interesting theory that plays nicely to my anti-religious zealot bent; he’s trying to hasten the End of Days! Yeeehaw!!!!

Albrecht Dürer’s Four Horsemen

Stephen Harper at the World Economic Forum 2010 in Davos (Remy Steinegger)

But I don’t feel like talking about that either. Instead, I turn my attention to the Deep South. No, not that Deep South, silly Yankee…

San Bernardino, California Files for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy

A recent Reuters story provides a cautionary tale of a city going under due to mismanagement of municipal worker pensions. (And it’s not the first.)

It’s no secret that I hate the working class. They are stupid, although they are generally much better at getting laid than me, so I’m jealous of that. A particular subgroup of the working class I find especially heinous: the unionized worker. I’ll always remember my first “real” job (after my summer in the army reserve and the even briefer stint telemarketing) as a security guard and my first taste of union mentality. I remember the idiot with the tumor on his forehead, smoking incessantly, bellyaching about the anglais, as many morons in Quebec like to do. (Et je t’invite à crisser ton camp si t’aimes pas mes propos. Connasse.) I remember how my grievance was tossed because, though I had seniority on the site, tumorface had company seniority, and therefore entitled to the best shift. And after that site contract ended, I stopped getting called for other jobs. So, yes, I have an axe to grind. And I have an English name, so I should toss in a claim of discrimination too. But as usual, I digress.

Back to unions. A further subclass, yet more despicable, is the public servant. As someone who’s worked in positions with no benefits for most of my life, I find their sense of entitlement galling. But to be fair, I don’t believe public servants go into the job with purely selfish intentions. I mean, they’re not like investment bankers. But are there not similarities? Are we not seeing some of them now getting rich with the money of others, retiring young, and abusing everyone and everything along the way?

It would appear that some sense of entitlement is clearly a part of the culture. A belief that, for their great sacrifice, society owes them a debt of gratitude extending well beyond the period of their service. While city boys see themselves as conquerors, the naturally dominant class, and entitled to take what they want through force, public servants see themselves as heroes and we have a moral obligation to give them whatever they see as their due.

Both groups have built powerful systems of self-justification that are not easy to challenge from within. Even in the face of both local and worldwide economic difficulties, these people dig their heels in and steadfastly refuse to change their modi operandi. It would be unfair (even for me) to blame individuals. But that doesn’t exonerate them. It doesn’t exonerate us either.

When we live in “democratic” societies and turn the reins over to a select few because we don’t want to be bothered with the minutiae of the operations of government, these are things that will happen. Policy and governance need to become an ongoing conversation. If you aren’t engaged, those who are will call the tune. And you’re going to whine about it after the fact? Demand a 1000-page, multi-million-dollar inquiry? Threaten to vote them out next election? Or maybe even voting is too much to ask because you don’t believe in the system anyway, so you just bellyache on the comments pages of online news sites, right? Get a fucking grip.

Use it, or lose it.