Wednesday, January 28, 2015

quinoa chorizo

One of my favorite breakfasts has been chorizo and eggs, although I've always had issues with the chorizo part.  Not only is it shamelessly not vegetarian, but I'm never entirely sure what sort of pork it actually is.  Assuming that it's even pork.

Mostly, or even entirely, I just like the way it's spiced.  It goes really well with scrambled eggs.  And home fries.  In Chicago, I couldn't find anywhere that did chorizo worth a damn, but instead discovered Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo.  It was pretty good.. but honestly, not quite as good.  Except for the not worrying about what sort of meat it was.

Now, here in Montclair, with the Fogel's, not only is pork treif, but even soy is frowned on.  I hate when people frown on my cooking.  Besides, Trader Joe's is way too far to walk to, along some sort of parkway so that I can't even bike to it.

However, they did introduce me to quinoa.  Healthier than soy, decidedly not meat, and it's kosher.  The only downside is that it's kind of pricey, and there seems to be this issue with it only being grown in an impoverished country, where the people who live there used to be able to afford to eat it themselves.  That does suck, but I hope the rest of us figure out how to grow it elsewhere, someday soon.  I don't understand why we can't do that.

Anyhow, it occurred to me the other day, spiced the right way, it might actually make for good mock chorizo.  It even has the right consistency for it.  So, I sauteed up some onions and garlic, adding smoked paprika, ancho chili powder, besan, cumin, sumac, coriander, black pepper, marjoram, and a splash of sri racha.  and salt, of course.  It's supposed to be a bit salty.

It's supposed to be a strong flavor that would be a bit much on it's own, but goes really well with eggs.  Cooked until a nice reddish brown, it worked incredibly well.  Even better than real chorizo, in my almost vegetarian opinion.

So, I just reheated some of that, alongside an omelette, when I woke up this morning.  Garnished with a cup of coffee.  Yeah, I seem to be feeling quite a bit better, these days.  Not good enough to do home fries too, but that's a bit much for me to sit and eat by myself.

All this, in spite of the fact that I went to refill my Omnitrope prescription yesterday, only to be denied coverage.  I'm being transitioned to Medicare in February, so Horizon NJ Health decided to yank the rug out from under me, immediately.

Hopefully, Medicare will kick in and actually cover me, in a few days.. without making me go through a whole new obstacle course, first.  Have I mentioned that I hate the way insurance works in this country?  It's insane.

Friday, January 23, 2015

sunshine kills

From Syria to the Confederate South, from Scandinavia to Vermont.  From the current events that make the news, to the narratives that make their histories.  It's difficult not to notice.  Everyone loves warm sunny weather.
You can tell, by how it makes them go crazy and kill each other.

Summer weather makes people more hostile.  Hotter climates seem to suffer plagues of violence that go on for centuries.  In the US, northern states have more universities, while southern states have more prisons.  Temperatures are rising globally, but wealthier nations are seeing declines in crime rates - we have more air conditioning than ever before, even amongst our impoverished.

Pervasive even in our language is the concept that temperature and emotions are related, yet it's rarely discussed.  It sounds unserious.  A novel idea, that surely can't have all that much merit.  It doesn't feel as though it could possibly be that simple, despite an overwhelming body of data.

While it's probably not quite that simple, I do suspect it to be more straight-forward than theories about people being desperate for water, or attempting to migrate over each other.  Rationalizing some instances, while being irrelevant to many others.  Such explanations broadly fail to account for what appears to be a pretty much worldwide trend.  Cold weather also leads to scarce resources, inclinations to migrate, and certainly discomfort, but people seem far less likely to kill each other over it.

I've always favored icy winters and northern woodland, myself.  Maybe I'm biased by this.  Or maybe, being the chronically self-conscious sort that I am, this is precisely why I'm biased. In my own life, from Louisiana to Minneapolis, I've noticed how different climates make me feel.  Could also be related to the way my negative emotions tend to be channeled inward.  When I get angry, I'm far more likely to hurt myself than anyone else, so it could even be an acute measure of self-preservation that makes me so opposed to moving somewhere that would have that effect on me.

Someone who isn't quite so likely to get bogged down dwelling on their own feelings or beating themselves up, might be more likely to move south.  Me, I'd rather move to Canada or Sweden.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

hashtag activism

Always the same, people complaining that we don't do things like they did in the old days.  Yeah, it doesn't feel the same, it doesn't have the old fashioned visceral punch to it, but what's really important, here?  What's activism and demonstration about?  What was the point?

It was about raising awareness.  Social change is first and foremost about making the public aware of an issue.  In turn, it's about making legislators aware of an issue.  It's about putting pressure on those legislators to actually do something.  It's about getting people to vote, for those who will do something.

So, yeah, we don't live in an age where people go outside and play in the streets as much as they used to.  Those who do take to the streets find themselves being less newsworthy than they expected, because that's not what people are even paying attention to as much, anymore.  That's not to say people shouldn't do it, but it's hardly the only activism worth doing.

In this information era, information travels differently. A whole lot of it is online, and honestly, has a much greater reach than ever before.  I'm sorry it doesn't feel the same, but stop acting all self-righteous about your old fashioned activism, just because it doesn't feel the same.  It isn't the same.  It's better.

Those people who can't be bothered to do any more than hit the "like" button?  They were the sort of people who never even noticed anything was happening, back in the old days.  It's all relative.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reform Buddhism

The one thing I am going to spend some money on is one of those miniature computer phone thingamajigs everyone has (wow, Chrome recognizes thingamajig as a real word.)  Then I'm going to head into the city.  No good reason, I just feel like it.

I'm thinking Chinatown, maybe checking out that new Mahayana temple that's there.  It sounds pretty impressive.  I wish there were some elaborate way to convert to Buddhism, like the way one might convert to Judaism.  I mean, sure, I can just call myself a Buddhist, but that just sounds like bullshit.  I know, it shouldn't matter how it sounds.  I know, I probably have some sort of silly psychological reason for wanting to be able to wear the label, that way.  I just do.

I don't believe in a lot of it, the way it's commonly understood, though.  Karma, rebirth, enlightenment even?  Not really.  I mean, I don't know, it just doesn't fit with anything I've seen any real evidence of.  It makes a hell of more sense to me, to dissect and rearrange the terms into something logical, something that might have been what was originally intended - or might just be a total reconstruction of primitive nonsense.  I'm honestly not sure.

Buddhism entails so many brilliant ideas, at the very least.  Even if I have my doubts about some of it - and that's just it, even the doubting is encouraged.  Buddhism doesn't have to be about having faith in anything, and that's a big draw for me.

Community is important, though.  It's a major component of every religion.  I've even heard Jews refer to G-d as being another word for community, and I thought that was an interesting way of putting it.  A little acrobatic, but still.  Whatever works for you.

In Buddhism, it's called Sangha, and between my social anxiety and being on the wrong side of the planet, I haven't had much luck with that.  The thing is, I haven't exactly connected with the Jewish community, either.

turning point

Social security just sent me a letter, telling me that they've been underpaying me for a few years.  Yeah, tell me about it, right?  Except, no, literally.  Due to some weird complication related to my parents and their retirement status.  I don't even entirely understand it, but they've reimbursed me to the order of a few thousand dollars.

More money than I've ever seen in my life.  I feel like there must be something I can do with it, something that will get me back on my feet, out of this hole I've fallen into.  I'm not about to spend it on anything else, and no, you can't borrow it, but I'm not sure what I can use it for.  Relatively speaking, it's still a pittance.  

What can I do?  Put a down payment on a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere?  Hopefully, I'll think of something - before they decide I now have too much money, and take it all away.

I know, it must seem like I'm terribly lucky not to have any expenses.  That I can have this money, and not even know how to spend it.  What an absurd way of looking at it, though.  I've been so deep in poverty all my life, that I own nothing, I owe nothing.  I just need a stable place to live.  Desperately.

It seems like there should be a market for micro-homes or shoebox condos.  Some way to buy some tiny little piece of property, so the poor wouldn't have to give everything they have in monthly payments to wealthy landowners.  That just doesn't feel very 21st century, you know?

I've also been taking my starter dose of Omnitrope for a month now, and for a while, was feeling pretty depressed that nothing seemed to be happening.  I know it's supposed to take a while, and I know the dosage is very low, but still..

More recently though, my mood has been improving, I feel a little more focused, waking up has been easier, I've been running regularly, and my stamina seems to be better.  Each day I run, I feel like I'm able to go a little further than the last, whereas before, it felt like I never made any progress at all.  This is how exercise is supposed to work, I've heard.

Now and then, Marty asks me what I'm doing about getting myself out of their house, and I haven't known what to say.  Nothing.  I try not to collapse right then and there in a sobbing heap.  I don't want to admit that I actually do have a plan of sorts, because it wouldn't go over very well.

My plan has been to wait.  I actually have been doing quite a lot, trying to deal with doctors, insurance, social security, and everything - but, mostly I just hang out, reading news, and thumbing things up on facebook.  None of this is going earn me a living, or get me a place to live.  In that respect, I'm just waiting for opportunity to present itself.  That is exactly how I've always gotten anywhere.

All my life, I've felt like things seem to have a way of working out eventually, but I have no idea how to be proactive about it.  I just hang in there, until I get a chance.  Understandably, this is patently unacceptable to many people.. but crazy as it may be, things seem to be coming together for me.  Hopefully.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bad Ideas

“To me the real fight is not Islam versus the West,” Democratic Party strategist Paul Begala said during the panel discussion. “It’s within Islam. Between the terrorists and the tolerant. Between al-Qaeda and Malala [Yousafzai].”

“And here’s the thing about making that distinction — and there should be a distinction, because obviously the vast majority of Muslims would never do anything like this,” Maher replied. “But they share bad ideas.”

Bad ideas are common to many religions. Bad ideas are common to much of the human race, not even just religion. We need to be flexible enough to evolve and improve on those ideas. It's strict adherence to those bad ideas that's the bigger problem. Take me, for example - yes, I am trying to evolve on this, myself.

Whether or not Islam's ideas are especially bad is beside the point, because the vast majority of people, of any religion, are simply not going to abandon it altogether. Telling them that their entire religion is worse than everyone else's is just dangerously counterproductive.  Even if it really is.

The problem with terms like fundamentalism and extremism is that they imply a fringe minority, because that's our ethnocentric experience. In many places though, that sort of strict adherence to backwards tradition is not a fringe thing, it is the norm.

That's what needs to change, and that's the sort of change that might not only be possible, but seems to already be happening, to some degree. Some people will say that jihad really means this, or really means that, but no, it means what you want it to mean. It can mean inner struggle, if that's how you prefer to think of it.

I think the more effective strategy for "the West" to take would be to support and encourage efforts of Muslims themselves, of that very nature.  Before the march of technological advancement brings this to an unprecedentedly brutal head.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

the loner's dilemma

Nan and Marty occasionally invite me to things.  I always feel like I should say yes.  Sometimes it's more difficult than others.  How social will it be, how many hours, how entertaining.  Exactly how excruciatingly bored and anxious are we talking about here?

Will I enjoy it?  Well, no, of course not.  That feels like an insulting thing to say, but why should it be?  I'm the one who can't enjoy the things other people do.  I'm the one who suffers through the revelry others appreciate.  It's not like I'm looking down my nose at this stuff, I've just never been able to enjoy any of it.  Why do I feel like I should feel guilty about that, on top of being screwed out of the enjoyment others take for granted?

The question remains though, of what to do about it.  I should keep trying, because it's good for me, right?  I never know, this time, maybe I will find something enjoyable about it, right?  Most of all, I have no other options.  I can sit home by myself, but that's what I do all day every day.  It seems, if for no other reason, I should accept these invitations just for the change of scenery.

I am so lonely, no matter what I do.. but sure, let's make it even more painful and awkward, maybe that will help.  I mean, seriously, there is a slim chance that it is better than doing nothing about it, at all.

I guess.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

fractal neurotic

There is still a hell of a lot we don't know about how the brain works, but we have been able to figure out quite a bit. Enough to have a pretty substantial degree of certainty that no matter what parameters we use, thoughts, memory, feelings, reason, awareness, it all originates entirely from the nervous system.

It is not some magical phenomenon that ever comes from anywhere else, as far as we've ever seen, or been able to deduce. It is extremely probable and reasonable, to surmise that intelligence is a product of the brain. Not necessarily a human brain, but any sort of brain-like thing, in which information can similarly be relayed. Without any such circuitry, how would any sort of thought or awareness happen?

We can look at any sort of complex process, from fractals to colonies of bacteria, and think, who knows? Maybe intelligence is an undetectable side-effect of that, too - the problem is that there's no known reason that would be true. It would serve no evolutionary purpose, and we can discern no manner in which it could work, nor even the slightest shred of evidence that it does.

It's pure fanciful conjecture based on nothing but imagination, and quite frankly, ignorance, on a variety of subjects. That makes it extremely unlikely to have any real merit.

*   *   *

Why am I debating someone who proposes that fractals might have intelligence? That we don't know what intelligence is. That we don't know what consciousness is. Here's the thing, though. In all we've discovered, all throughout human history, not once has the answer turned out to be magic.

*   *   *

Everything about our world can be accounted for by material reality. Every emotion, every thought, everything we imagine. All the product of synapses, hormones, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics.

All very much a part of the material world. It's just a matter of looking closely enough.

The brain produces neural impulses, but it's also equipped to read them. Without the nervous system, they're just tiny indistinct bursts of electricity. They don't exist as thoughts or feelings, until the brain interprets them as such, which has more to do with which pathways are being stimulated.

As Gautama realized two and a half millennia ago, consciousness is not a real thing. It's an illusion. Anatta.

*   *   *

This is not say that it isn't awe inspiring. This doesn't make it boring, it just means that once you understand it better, you stand to learn what real magic is. If you can look up into the sky, and say that science is boring, I have news for you. You're the one who's fucking boring.