Friday, December 31, 2010

How am I supposed to know English if it was invented before I was born?

I watched the incredibly tedious movie "Inception" this evening, and was surprised to see it rank near the top of IMDB's top movies, with a huge number of votes. Trying to find what all the fuss was about, I came across this comment in the message board, written by a fan of the movie in response to someone criticizing the younger generation for liking the movie so much, and not being aware of previous works produced before their time:
Um, how can young people be 'aware of much of anything' before their time, as you say, if it all happened BEFORE we were born? I'm pretty sure even you weren't aware of things before YOUR time, only the things around your time, that are kind of old now to we 'young people.'
I admit, I never even heard of Edith Piaf until this film, but then again, she's French. Her music is French. I don't speak French, nor am I of a French racial background. So just cut us some slack, alright?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa Claus, circa 2010: read the contract before approaching

An article in yesterday's Toronto Star draws attention to one of the complexities of the modern-day Santa Claus:
Even Santa Claus himself didn’t have time to talk with the Star. There was a 30-minute wait to see the jolly man in red. Although, to be fair, his helper did explain that — even if he had a moment to spare — speaking to the media isn’t in his contract.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he required liability insurance to perform his job, too!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

With autumn comes cooler weather, and Sting...

I'm not sure why, but the arrival of cooler weather seems to make me want to listen to my Sting albums. And that's fortunate, because I don't think he's made an album I don't like.

Last year's "If On A Winter's Night..." is one of the most perfectly-named albums I've ever listened to. I am saving this one for the proper cold weather, but I bought it last year and found it to be the most aptly-titled album I own. It was marketed as a Christmas album but is anything but. It's a frigid winter album -- a low-key record that has an ambience to match the cold, windy, and desolate winter outside your window.

I wrote a review on Amazon when I first bought it, so I'll leave it at that.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Non-gluey leek and potato soup

I made leek & potato soup today, following a recipe from Anne Sheasby’s “The New Book of Soups”, and it was very good. This book is becoming a favourite!

Afterwards, I went to look for other recipes to see how they compared. I was surprised to see a number of recipes telling you to use a blender or food processor to puree the soup once the ingredients have been sweated and softened. Sheasby’s book explicitly says that, if you do use a blender or food processor in this manner, the soup will take on a gluey texture.

It’s no surprise, then, that I also found discussion threads online where people were asking why their leek and potato soup had gone gluey. The answer, apparently, is to do with the starch molecules in the potatoes being liquified and possibly overworked.

So, what does Sheasby’s book suggest for pureeing the soup? It suggests pushing it through a sieve or using a food mill. I started with a sieve and ended up getting the food mill out, with the most coarse cutting disc – I could quickly tell it was going to be too much of an ordeal to push so much flesh through a sieve. I’m surprised it even suggested the sieve at all and wonder if it was a matter of “well, a food mill is required but if what if you haven’t got one?”.

The food mill was a lot of work, though, so I can see why the blender is tempting. Still, the result was good so it was worth it in the end.

This is what food mills look like. You can use them for quite a few things. I’ve used it for apple sauce, and you can also use it for things like very creamy mashed potatoes:



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Royksopp's "Forsaken Cowboy"

What a great track from Royksopp's new "Senior" album! I have been very impressed with the entire album.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pumpkin soup

Now that all but one of my pumpkins have been harvested, I turned two of them into pumpkin soup:

It's not the most eloquent presentation, but you get the point :)

The recipe was a good one, and I got it from Anne Sheasby's "The New Book of Soups", which is probably the best soup book I own. I originally borrowed this book from the library but there were so many recipes I wanted to make note of that I thought I should buy it.

I doubled the recipe given in the book and ended up with a stock pot full of soup, which left me with about 6-7 servings for the freezer!

So that leaves 3 pumpkins left.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quality crime investigation by Toronto Star investigative reporters: "The Bandido Massacre" and "Bad Seeds"

Regardless of what you think about the Toronto Star (and I think quite a lot of bad things about it), you can't ignore the fact that they're one of the few Canadian newspapers doing some consistently decent investigative journalism.

Over the past year or so, I've read two investigative books written by Toronto Star crime reporters that I thought were very good.

The first and better of the two is "The Bandido Massacre: A True Story of Bikers, Brotherhood and Betrayal" by Peter Edwards. It is a substantial and thorough account of the formation and downfall of a pitiful, amateurish offshoot of the worldwide Bandidos motorcycle gang, including a lot of necessary background information that would have been omitted by a lesser author.

The second is "Bad Seeds: The True Story of Toronto's Galloway Boys Street Gang" by Betsy Powell. It is a decent account of the circumstances surrounding the formation of Toronto's first urban street gangs in Scarborough's Malvern/Galloway neighbourhoods, the principals involved, and the details and outcome of the investigation and trial surrounding the raids that brought them down in 2004-2005. It offers an interesting look at how the presence of a handful of people in a community can make life perilous for the vast majority.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Pumpkin identity parade

Here's the latest pumpkin lineup. There are two more nearly ready to be picked and another still quite green but starting to turn orange.

These are pie pumpkins. The round ones weigh about 1.5kg each and the taller one is 1.8kg.

As you can see, the leaves are also falling.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Letters To Juliet: worst movie of the decade, but probably an accurate portrayal of single urban womanhood

The decade is still young, but I'm pretty confident I've just seen its worst movie.

And it's called "Letters To Juliet".

Is there anything this movie didn't trivialize?

Here's the summary, as I saw it: girl from New York accompanies entrepreneurial boyfriend to an unnecessarily airbrushed and colourized fairytale version of Italy as he shops around to prepare to open his new restaurant; girl does not find food or her boyfriend's restaurant interesting but discovers affinity for Post-It notes stuck on brick wall; girl finds very old Post-It note behind loose brick in wall; girl replies to Post-It note on which old woman had aspired to reconnect with old man; girl meets airbrushed Matt Damon lookalike with pokey English accent who happens to be grandson of old lady; Matt (the viewer, not Damon) falls asleep; girl returns to New York with boyfriend after Matt Damon loses the courage to ask her to stay with him; girl dumps boyfriend because he is too focused on opening his restaurant and not on Post-It notes; girl goes back to Italy for wedding of old man and old woman, providing a capstone to their 2-week relationship, and decides to stay with Matt Damon lookalike because he's got no apparent job and nothing better to do with his life than look at her adoringly in perpetuity.

The only thing it didn't trivialize is contemporary single urban womanhood, as reduction would be tricky.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ripening self-seeded tomatoes

The self-seeded tomatoes that grew from the fallen tomatoes from last year are just starting to ripen.

I planted quite a few varieties last year and many of them failed due to disease (it was a cool and damp summer last year), so it's interesting to see what is sprouting up. It's all a mystery until they ripen.

The yellow ones are a yellow variety and not under-ripe, although I might have been fooled into picking the elongated ones (at top-left) too early. I think they are meant to be red!

First pumpkin of the year

Well, here is my first ripened pumpkin of the year. It is a pie pumpkin, about 1.5kg. Two more are about to ripen, at which point I'll have enough to make something of them.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cedar growth progress in 4 months

I wasn't sure how well my cedars had been growing until I came across a picture I'd taken earlier in the year when they were first planted. I didn't notice that they had actually grown quite substantially, as you can see in the "before" and "after" photos below.

The main reason I am posting these is that I couldn't find any such "progress" information when I was planning to plant this hedge, and there wasn't much out there to correlate planting technique with results.

And, first of all, I should say that when I first planted these cedars I was worried that they wouldn't make it. The spring heated up very quickly and we had some midsummer-like days within weeks of my planting. The trees looked visibly stressed and were flagging. I watered them deeply every 2-3 days during that period (I watered them 5 or 6 times in total since planting). Luckily, it was followed by a few weeks of cooler weather with regular rain. I have not watered them since.

Of course, there is still a winter to get through and still some uncertainty there.

But, here was what I did:
  1. Dug a trench 4 feet wide and 1 foot deep, about 25 feet long. The existing ground was a mix of sand and limestone that was originally a base for an above-ground pool that I removed a number of years ago (it came with the house). So, I dug down to the soil underneath and also loosened that soil up with a garden fork.
  2. Re-filled the trench with about 50% original "soil" and 50% new soil. The original soil was, as above, a mixture of sand and limestone chips. The new soil was a mixture of black garden soil, peat moss, and relatively small amounts of manure compost. My reasoning was that it would be very difficult to get rid of the sand/lime elsewhere in the garden, and that the black soil was very dense so could do with some loosening up via the sand/lime.
  3. Added bone meal to the soil. Supposed to be good for root growth. I scattered it on the surface from a container that claimed to cover the area I needed and mixed it in with a garden fork.
  4. Raked the surface flat. Not much to say about this.
  5. Planted the cedars. I dug holes big enough for the potted cedars, with their centres about 2 feet apart. I tapped the soil away from the outer roots on each rootball before planting to loosen them up a bit (not sure if this is good or bad, to be honest), planted the trees, and filled the holes back in.
  6. Starter fertilizer. I used a large watering can (9L) to apply water-soluble starter fertilizer. I used one full watering can per 2 trees.
  7. Applied cedar mulch to the surface. I covered the soil surface with cedar mulch and distributed it evenly.
So, that's about it. We have had rain now and again (approx. twice every 3 weeks) and I haven't watered them other than what I mentioned above.

Today, I fertilized them with evergreen fertilizer for the first time since planting. "Advice" says I should have done it two months ago, but I don't like fertilizing things that aren't healthy because it can send them over the edge.

They seem to be doing well.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ontario chili peppers: the evil of the season

It's that time of year again. Georgetown is too white and vanilla to have much variety in this regard, so these are from further afield:

I've also now got a backlog of Mennonite summer sausage. It looks like overkill, but it's actually quite rational. The small piece at the front is the last of the old sausage. The medium-sized sausage in the middle is the aged sausage that is a few months old. The sausage at the back is the new sausage -- it's dated at the end of July -- and needs a month for the flavour to mature and for the sausage to firm up a bit.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Ban Ki-Moon

I was surprised to see that I'd received an official sounding e-mail to my Hotmail account from Ban Ki-Moon this morning. For some reason, my e-mail client filtered it as junk.

It even has an attachment! I wonder what it says.

Seriously, though: would anyone plausibly stupid enough to open this even know who Ban Ki-Moon is? I don't think they know their Western audiences very well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Garden update : August 2010

Well, it's the time of year when the garden is in full bloom. Since I normally post a garden update every year, why should this year be any different?

First, the bean and tomato jungle:

What happened here was that I planted beans in some of my garden beds and a bunch of tomatoes self-seeded from last year's terrible tomato season (when a lot of tomatoes fell to the ground prematurely) and the tomato plants grew in between the bean plants. It'll be a challenge to pick, but they seem to complement each other nicely:

Next is corn. This was an experiment, since I've never planted it before. Some stalks are doing better than others and I'm not sure if any of them will produce large corn cobs. I didn't use any fertilizer, but it was good weather for corn -- hot and humid all summer -- if not for people:

And here we have a cucumber growing in a tree. Of course, cucumbers don't grow on trees. But the cucumber vine climbed the tree and it definitely looks that way!

Although the red tomatoes indicate to the contrary, the health of the plants doesn't. My tomatoes did poorly this year. It looks like an infection of some kind, but some of the smaller plants were eaten through by insects. I don't really have any excuses because I don't think it was a bad year for tomatoes:

The hardest work of the year was planting this hedge row of cedars, which are doing very well as far as I can tell:

Oregano interspersed with weeds:

The patio, which I also finished off this year -- surrounded with cedars, planted annuals, and mulched around the edges:

One of three or four pumpkins I've spotted in the undergrowth so far:

Pumpkins 2 and 3:

Raspberry (a new plant this year):

And a zucchini or squash -- not sure yet. I've only found one so far, but most of my squash plants were eaten by something when they were very young. Only one survived. Since I had planted both squash and pumpkin and they look very similar, I wasn't sure whether the squash or pumpkin had survived. It turned out to be the pumpkins.

Well, that's it for another year!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Natural gas-guzzling Canadians


The Toronto Star has a story today about "outrageous" gas bills brought on by one gas company's maladjusted "equal billing plan" (EBP) that tries to spread payments for gas out across the year, rather than concentrating them during the months when gas is most used (in winter, for heating).

The thing that surprised me, though, was not the EBP glitch -- I don't really care about that -- but the size of these peoples' gas bills!

One man received a bill for $847.18 after paying monthly installments of $80 since last September, meaning the total consumption was worth over $1600. One woman received a bill for over $1200 after also presumably making installment payments along the way. The article's author looks to have used over $1400 worth of gas.

Me? I live in a detached house with a lot of windows that does not appear to be particularly modern in its insulation. My monthly installments multiplied by 12 comes to an amount under $600 and I will be getting a credit when the EBP resets in August.

Are these people creating tropical conditions in their houses during the winter? I assume some do -- I have had someone say to me before that "we set the thermostat high in the winter because he (husband) likes to wear t-shirts inside".

Are they indifferent as to how much it costs to the extent that they don't look at their bill each month? That should be the real story!

But, of course, with the Star everyone is a victim.

Shale gas, clean coal, etc: why can't we provide a better future for our energy findings?

Tyler Hamilton had a column in the Toronto Star recently about the role of shale gas in Canada's energy cupcake.

I am becoming a bit tired of thinking about these things because, whatever world developments occur in relation to energy, it always seems like we are on the wrong path. Or, if there is a positive development, it is used to take us down another wrong path.

Other than a visible increase in young men being forced into a car-less lifestyle by insurance rates (and this is particularly humourous in the suburbs, where teenage urban bling posthumously remains into the early 20's and clashes hideously with the notion of being atop a bicycle instead of in the seat of a shiny new car with polished rims -- I don't think "Pimp My Bicycle" is going to be a hit show), I just don't see many people steadying themselves and believing in the necessity of a different energy future.

The discussion shouldn't be whether or not we'll be driving hybrid, electric, or fuel cell cars in future, but why we need to drive cars so much at all. One thing that is apparent to anyone who is observant is that, despite an apparent recession, traffic has increased more than ever.

I wouldn’t have any problem with some of the latest proposals — including an increased use of coal — if only we showed any willingness to try and reorganize society and cut consumption and if these newer “findings” were being used to bridge the gap and pad the error margin that will arise between where we are today and where we will need to be in future.
But they’re not — the premise for being excited about having found new energy, and about extracting this stuff seems to be to allow things to keep running as they are for a bit longer into the future.

I am not so concerned about global warming or greenhouse gases. I am concerned that, at some point, a large number of people who are used to a certain way of doing things will not be able to function in the world we have created while others go about their life as they always have; and that the former will not perceive themselves to be treated fairly, because they can't afford the energy necessary to participate in what they see as the Canadian way.

It's not just about driving from A to B: most functions of Canadian life are energy-dependent.

We are on our way out of -- but are still within -- a world recession. Nobody knows what will happen to energy prices when we "recover". Even if we don't recover quickly, developing countries with large populations will absorb the savings as they set a new energy baseline for their people. And if it is a relatively jobless recovery -- if not all of the jobs return, or if they do return but are not as well-paying -- then it will be even worse because prices will go up with no means for many to pay for them.

The perception of fairness is the most important one because it's the foundation of the social contract and what keeps things stable. But, then again, the situation is worse in the US and very little of note has occurred. It's hard to predict what will happen.

I'd normally say: so what? I'd normally say that you're not entitled to anything and that a better life is within your reach if you improve yourself and don't stand still. But it is getting to the point where many people have difficulty getting around their own town because of the distances between things and the cost of transportation. Time is sometimes money, but money is also time -- you have more useful hours in your day if you can afford a faster mode of transportation.

I have a difficult time with this because I am really tired of the lies and over-the-top rubbish put forth by environmentally-minded people. They simply make things up a lot of the time. If you look at Rob Paterson's blog, for example (I mention his blog because it is one with which I have experience, and one that I think is serious and not hysterical or activist), there is no interest in discovering the truth there, but instead in refactoring the same old political slant under a newer, trendy headline in order to make money off the problem. The idea that thinking, intelligent people would believe this stuff if there wasn't money to be made or social cachet to be gained is unfathomable to me.

At the same time, the “free market will save us all” approach has problems, too.

I have confidence in the mechanisms of the free market to do what is needed with available resources, but not necessarily in its ability to provide those things in a timely manner. It takes a longer time to reorganize society -- something that involves cultural and psychological change -- than it does to realize a new baseline oil price because of rapidly-changing world circumstances that are sometimes out of our control.

Given a choice between the two, I have to side with the free market because at least these people are creative, progressive, and have an ability to get things done. A lot of the former are just age-old failed communists and anarchists on a new hobby horse who want to see things smashed and broken.

Just writing this post, I have now exhausted whatever affinity I was able to muster for the topic. There are too many words, they're all coming from people who already believe in the problem, and nobody else is reading them.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You try to reason with some people...

The Toronto Star had an article today about a dog that had erroneously received communion from an Anglican priest. The dog-loving but irrational readership rejected my remedy:

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ketil Bjornstad's "The Sea"

In the same way that George Winston captures the essence of the forest in his piano album, Ketil Bjornstand captures the chaotic grace of the ocean in his albums "The Sea", of which a small sample is included below:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

George Winston's "Forest"

I've had the CD of George Winston's "Forest" for a long time and listen to it quite often. There aren't many CDs that I've had for as long and still listen to regularly.

It is a mixture of original and borrowed solo piano pieces that, to me, perfectly capture the solitude of the forest. This is not another simplistic new-agey album where you wonder if it was put together in a weekend of scattered sit-downs at the piano to see what comes out.

George Winston is one of those solo piano players who is grouped into the "new age" category but also has some serious piano skill. He doesn't even fit into the category -- I think of him simply as a pianist.

Here are some pieces from the album:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You're not that special -- just ask the Internet

One of the things currently going on in Western society that I struggle to get my head around is the whole self-esteem movement.

Our exposure to the Internet shows us that, whatever skills or qualities we may have, we are not that special -- there are thousands if not millions of people out there who can do just as well if not better.

But, around the same time that the Internet came along, a parallel movement started telling us that we are unique, special, and asks us to feel proud of the smallest accomplishment. Our smallest struggles are meant to be crosses we bear, and recognition is expected for having personalized your phone with a mass-produced colour or ringtone.

I am OK with contradictions and some level of hypocrisy but would rather not be asked to enthusiastically embrace either one.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Hypocrisy is preferable to decadence

Saying this kind of thing makes some people shake with anger. You look at their lives and you see why.
The failure of human beings to meet their own ideals does not disprove or discredit those ideals. The fact that some are cowards does not make courage a myth. The fact that some are faithless does not make fidelity a joke. All moral standards create the possibility of hypocrisy. But I would rather live among those who recognize standards and fail to meet them than among those who mock all standards as lies. In the end, hypocrisy is preferable to decadence.
-- Michael Gerson in "Sex and Grace"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Christopher Heard's "Britney Spears: Little Girl Lost", and the music of Britney Spears

I've never really paid much attention to Britney Spears except when the newspapers and radio made it unavoidable.

But, I recently bought a book on her "story" because, when I saw it, it seemed like something that was worth being aware of -- the book was "Britney Spears: Little Girl Lost" by Toronto author Christopher Heard. I found it to be a sympathetic account and it gave me some appreciation for how hard she has worked to achieve her dream and how the realities of being in the spotlight could cause someone to act out the way she has in the recent past, even though I wouldn't completely absolve anyone of responsibility for how they behave. Thankfully, she seems to be on her way out of that mess.

It make me interested to follow up by listening to some of her music.

Her first three albums -- "...Baby One More Time", "Oops!... I Did It Again", and "Britney" -- are standard, catchy but straightforward pop albums, with the latter hinting at a change in direction to something a bit more sophisticated.

The next album, "In The Zone", completes that change in direction to a more mature pop sound that, personally, I don't find as catchy at first listen but is more likely to be the type that lasts and grows on you after repeated listens.

But what I was most surprised by is how the subsequent album -- "Blackout" -- has grown on me over the past few days. This is a very, very good pop/dance album that I really disliked at first and almost dismissed outright. I had certainly done that when it first came out, in the middle of her public meltdown. But, I was wrong -- it's a great album. It grew on me in the same way Mariah Carey's "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" did and followed a similar path from outright dislike to "let's give it a chance" to becoming something I regularly turn on to listen to. The overly-sexual lyrics are a bit annoying, but the musicality of it is impressive and, dare I say, unique.

The album that came next, and her most recent ("Circus") is also decent and blends some of her earlier pop elements with the outright dance elements of "Blackout".

I can't help notice, though, that somewhere along the way she stopped singing. She actually does her best singing in her first album, as far as I can tell. After that, it went more and more in a direction of talking forcefully over music.

Still, I think "Blackout" is her best. I don't think you can go wrong with any of the albums, really, as they all have their strong points. And, I also recommend Christopher Heard's book.

Here are a few new favourites:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brief comments on Ron Rash's "Burning Bright"

I don't quote from much fiction on my blog because, besides not reading much fiction, there also isn't much that motivates me to do it. I only remember having quoted from Ron Rash's "One Food in Eden" here, and Richard Yates's "Revolutionary Road" here. Ron Rash has motivated me yet again, now that I am reading through his collection of short stories called "Burning Bright". My memory has been refreshed about how naturally and lyrically his stories flow.

As usual -- and thankfully -- the stories are set in the Appalachian states.

In "Dead Confederates", two men find their way toward robbing some Confederate soldiers' graves for their valuable memorabilia. In raiding the second grave, they raise the awareness of the elderly graveyeard caretaker. It turns out that the old man comes from a line of Union sympathizers and, though he initially startles them with his poorly-socialized canine standby, a cocked shotgun, and the threat of a phone call to the sheriff, when it is discovered that they were after Confederate graves, his stance moderates. For a small fee, he lets the two grave robbers go about their business, though does not take his eyes off them:

The old man steps back a few feet and perches his backside on a flat-topped stone next to where we're digging. The shotgun's settled in the crook of his arm.

"You ain't needing for that shotgun to be nosed in our direction," Wesley says. "Them things can go off by accident sometimes."

The old man keeps the gun barrel where it is.

"I don't think I've heard the truth walk your lips yet," he tells Wesley. "I'll trust you better with it pointed your way."
Though I'm not yet a fan of his latest and most acclaimed novel ("Serena"), these short stories are as good as anything he's ever written.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Skeptical about the blog chattering about Chauncey Morlan and whether or not he would turn heads at the mall

Over at Rob Paterson's blog, I recently saw a reference to an article about a man who lived roughly 100 years ago named Chauncey Morlan. Chauncey Morlan's claim to fame was that he was obese -- so obese, in fact, that he appeared as a freak in circus sideshows. A photo accompanies the story, and is shown below.

There are a lot of "me too" blog posts about this (of which Rob's is one) -- all which pretty much say the same thing: that obesity is such a crisis these days because -- look! -- 100 years ago an obese man that wouldn't turn heads in the mall today was considered a circus freak back then! You can find the "me too posts" by searching for his name combined with the phrase "at the mall" -- they all talk alike.

It stuck with me because I smelled something strange about it.

So, today I went looking.

There is a page here with a number of photos of this man. The one at bottom right is the one that accompanies all of the blog posts I have seen about this man in connection with modern obesity.

The photo looks Photoshopped to me -- the border is too clean -- but let's put that aside. From the photos, it is clear to me that they have chosen the slimmest photo of this man to accompany their stories. It is true that a man who looks like the man in this photo would probably not turn heads at the mall. We might catch a glimpse and acknowledge that he had let himself go a bit, but it wouldn't arouse much curiosity.

I am wondering if the photo has been Photoshopped to make him look slimmer. What would be the motive? Well, to add a bullet point to the fanaticism over obesity; to talk about a past circus freak as being normal today by showing photo evidence of someone who was slimmer to our eyes than what people of the day actually saw. Yes, there was a fat man named Chauncey Morlan who was a circus freak because of his weight, and would not turn heads at the mall today if he looked as pictured, but is the person shown in that photo what people of the day actually saw?

From various reports around the web, this man during his adult life was anywhere from 600 lbs. to 875 lbs. in weight, suggesting that he never lost weight throughout his life and only continued to gain in weight. This could be wrong, but I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary.

While attention would not be garnered by the man in that photo, I think that most people's attention would be caught today by a 600 lb. man and certainly would be by an 875 lb. man. Why? Because they are massive. They are truly freaks of nature -- so much so that you can't remember what they look like in your memory because the proportions are so unusual. And when you get that heavy, it is almost certainly genetic and a rarity. If I stuffed myself day to night for years on end with all of the worst foods for me, I would never weigh 600 lbs.

Would a 600 lb. person turn heads at the mall? As I said, I think they would. Here is a picture of one. What about an 875 lb. person? Well, here's one of an 895 lb. woman?

And the idea that obesity is a modern thing is silly. Here are four men -- all public figures -- who lived more than 100 years ago. I have linked to Google Image searches of them:

Alessandro del Borro (17th century)
Daniel Lambert (born 1770)
Grover Cleveland (born 1837)
William Howard Taft (born 1857)

After having public figures of this size, who would be caught surprised by the man in the photo above? Not many.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You too can have grandchildren: no children required?

This is one of the reasons I mostly think that the "anything is possible -- follow your dreams" way of thinking is corrosive. Even if you somehow get past the idea that the world has a carrying capacity for circus clowns and trapeze artists and that some people are going to have to do things they don't always want to do if that same world is to function, you still have to contend with things like this:
But it's [56-year-old] Anna DiPede-Sexton's simple dream that stops the lively conversation cold. “I don't know if this is feasible, but I want to be a grandmother. And I don't have children.”
She obviously thinks she hasn't peaked yet.

In dealing with an aging population, I don't think we can simply put baby boomers that haven't planned for retirement out in the street in a shopping cart with their belongings. Somehow, we have to take care of them. But things like the above make me wonder what else we are going to be paying for in funding this massive retirement project and where the boundaries around "non-negotiable" will be found to lie.

When the European Union considers a scheme to fund vacations with taxpayer dollars after declaring travelling to be a "human right", all kinds of other unimaginables don't seem so far-fetched anymore:
The European Union has declared travelling a human right, and is launching a scheme to subsidize vacations with taxpayers' dollars for those too poor to afford their own trips.
And wouldn't that be lovely. But I wonder at what point I would start asking myself why I am working toward improving my situation in a challenging, sometimes-stressful job when the top end of my income from this point forward is going to be taxed at nearly 50% in order to pay for other people to not only sit at home and do nothing or to birth children into unsustainable situations as we already support, but now  to go on holiday as well.

This way of thinking is out of control. Stop this planet spinning because I want to get off!

But, since space programs are under attack, my options are limited about where else I might go. The moon is now off the table, but Obama does apparently intend to mount an asteroid by 2025:
"By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space," [Obama] said. "We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Full disclosure: I am a fan of Jamie Oliver (search my blog if you don't believe me), and I am starting to really dislike Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

In the space of a few weeks, he seems to have:
  • overcome the "outsiders telling us what to do" sentiment of the southern US
  • solved the school food crisis in Huntington, West Virginia
  • proven his central premise wrong without recognizing it
Having appropriated the "reality TV" format for this series, I am naturally suspicious that we are seeing anything to do with real life whatsoever. And if this really is real then he should immediately get his overweight self over to Israel/Palestine and work on their problems as an immediate next-priority.

How has he proven his central premise wrong? Well, let's identify this central premise first -- which is that children who are not raised on healthy food are setting themselves up for a lifelong distaste for healthy food which will therefore lead to an increased likelihood of being obese and of ill health.

But he went into one of the Huntington high schools, and these are schools which are presumably fed students from the same elementary schools whose own meal plans he is also trying to change. And he offered healthy food to these high school students. And, by his own account, the vast majority of them ate it and preferred it over french fries and pizza on only the second try.

So, where is the recognition that his premise was wrong? Where is the recognition that you can quite clearly feed kids rubbish at an early age and quite rapidly change them over to healthier food when they get older -- that it is not difficult to foster an appetite for healthy food. That we do not need consultants to study how it must be done or to endlessly counterproductively convince people that it is difficult and that you need their special skills to accomplish it.

Of course, this doesn't mean that it's OK to feed unhealthy food to children, but in a rational world the above would be pretty earth-shattering to the world view of people who keep on with this idea that you "have to get them early" that is so profitable for them but so expensive for the rest of us.

It is also quite hard to ignore the fact that the vast majority of students caught on camera are not obese, nor are they lethargic. When he dresses as a podded pea, the elementary school children are energetically chasing him across a field. Very few of them seem sleepy, and very few of them seem hyperactive. The same is true of the high school students.

He has picked out a few large people and scattered them into his vignettes. He has found someone with a sad story about someone in the family who died and was obese. You could find these anywhere.

Jamie Oliver even found time to cry for the camera. In the UK version of this campaign, rather than crying there was all kinds of aggressive effin'-and-jeffin' at his detractors. What changed? The audience? The presentation format?

So, I'm not convinced. I'm not sure this is an honest account of events.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Response to Christian on OSAP food diet budgets

I haven't posted for about a week, but I've received some comments on my OSAP diet post from someone whose Christian name is Christian, and it ended up being a post in itself, so I'll duplicate it here.

Well thats the answer I was expecting. You clearly do not understand-if you did you would not say such a thing. You may very well LIVE on $7.50 a day-but it is not healthy for the body nor mind.

But that isn't the answer I gave you -- it was part of an answer that included the fact that I currently live on a similar food budget myself, and a reference to the Star comments where a number of people said they feed their entire families on less than the amount given to students on OSAP for food.

So why not do some research before you continue to spread false information?

See above. It is not false information. The false information is that students need more than $7.50/day for food. They could eat nicer food if they were allowed more, but it is not necessary. You can turn a pound of ground beef, a can of red kidney beans, and a can of tomatoes into about 4 servings of chili for less than $6 -- that is $1.50 per serving for a pretty substantial meal, and if you find three more just like it then you've only spent $4.50 on your square meals for the day. For 10 cents more, you could add a slice of bread (and you could get more than the 10 cents back by using dried, rather than canned, kidney beans).

Things that are expensive and bad value for money: almost anything that comes in a box, almost all prepared foods, anything baked. These are things we're often told are "the only choice" for people on low incomes, but they are usually much cheaper to make from raw ingredients at home.

Also keep in mind an 18 yr old college student will need more calories than you on general as they are still growing and have a higher metabolic rate.

Calories are not hard to come by. Beans, grains, and sugar are all high in calories.

Everything you said here is correct. However we are talking about OSAP, which is supposed to provide students with enough funding for food and shelter. Try finding AFFORDABLE student housing in the GTA off campus that fall into the OSAP student budget.

I don't know about this so I won't comment. Except for my first year in residence (very expensive for what is offered and, in my case, much of it went to pay extra for unionized labour), I shared a multiple-bedroom place with others and paid between $277-325/mo the rest of the time I was in school.

However why do our student pay so much for a post-secondary education anyways? Many countries PAY students to attend school so they can learn and contribute to society. Quebec, is an excellent example of how offering monetary incentives and subsidiaries for students to continue their education can lead to a better developed & educated culture.

Whether or not they contribute to society depends on what they study, I think. If they study philosophy then it's probably counterproductive. Quebec is a xenophobic museum culture, not a "better developed & educated" one. It is enshrined and allowed to continue thanks to outside funding from other provinces that live in the real world. Though it doesn't hesitate to criticize them, it has Alberta's oil sands to thank in part for its ability to exist as a going concern. One of its main exports is corruption. They get so much from this country, yet they still have massive debt. Whatever education they are partaking in is not working out very well for them.

We wont even LEND students enough money in Ontario to properly support themselves in university. Why is it such a concern to increase the rate? OSAP is a loan, which is paid back....with interest. The goverment MAKES money like this.

If students agree to stop complaining about their debt levels, and if forgiveness over a threshold was removed then I would be OK with it. I doubt the government makes money off these loans -- they are not the ones making the loans, and the programs to administer them that they do run cost money to operate.

Keep in mind also the default rate on OSAP loans is about 3% across all programs. Compared to credit card default rates which are about 9%-3 times as much.

So whats so wrong with lending students more for food????

And that is, I guess, why credit card interest rates are normally northward of 15% and OSAP loan rates are not. It is also easier for OSAP recipients to adjust payments and modify debt scheduling in order to avoid default, and this is facilitated by government programs.

Obviously, OSAP should make allowances for food. But taking on debt to pay for food is generally a very bad idea, so it should be kept to an absolute minimum. Otherwise, you will be paying in 5 years' time for food that you ate in 10 minutes, 5 years ago. People need food, but there are limits to what they need.

If someone suggested that adding their groceries for the week on their credit card balance was a good idea, I'm not sure there are many who would agree. The food would be gone in a week and the credit card bill, with massive interest, would exist well beyond this time period. In this sense, I see OSAP as protecting students from themselves by limiting their food allowance.

Anyone who had a notion of value for money would agree -- it does not make sense to pay interest far into the future on a bill for food that you didn't need.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Quinoa with beef, red pepper, and mushroom

Today, I decided to try and make use of quinoa. I had heard about this wonder-seed in a book I read recently -- it was mentioned particularly for its high quality protein content because it has all of the amino acids the body requires from protein, making it unique and particularly useful for vegetarians. Apparently, if you don't eat meat then it is more challenging to get all of the essential amino acids from your non-meat protein sources.

I bought some quinoa for the first time last week and tried it straightforwardly simmered in water according to the package instructions, except with a bit of salt in the cooking water. It had a taste of its own, quite similar to millet but a bit more robust. It wasn't an overpowering taste.

Since I'm not a vegetarian, I allowed myself to recognize that it had a taste that would go ideally with beef and onion. So, today, I decided to see if that would work.

I think it turned out well.

Here's what you need:
  • 1/3 cup dry quinoa grain: I used Bob's Red Mill organic
  • 1 large sweet red bell pepper
  • 1 small-medium red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 medium-sized white mushrooms: I used 1 creimini and 1 oyster mushroom
  • 1 heaped tbsp. corn starch
  • 1 tsp. beef bouillon: I used the beef "Better Than Boullion"; the package said 1 tsp. was equal to 1 cube of regular bouillon. BTB seems to have fewer mystery ingredients than regular bouillon and tastes as good if not better.
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • water as required below
In a saucepan, add the salt to 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. water and bring it to a boil. When boiling, reduce to a simmer, add the quinoa grain, stir, and cover. Cook for 12 minutes. After this time, it should be removed from the heat and left to stand covered for 10 minutes. Try to time this to coincide with the completion of the steps that follow, but a few minutes of extra standing isn't going to hurt.

Slice the red onion and finely slice the garlic clove. Chop the red pepper and the mushrooms.

In a saute or frying pan, heat the olive oil until it starts to smoke and then add the onion and garlic and stir with a spatula to distribute evenly. After a couple of minutes, add the red pepper and mushroom, distribute with spatula and let cook for about 5 minutes, disturbing with the spatula periodically.
Add 1/3 cup water to the saute pan, stir for about 30 seconds, then cover, and reduce heat so that it can simmer for about 3 minutes. At this point, add the bouillon and black pepper and stir it in until dissolved. Return cover and simmer for another 5 minutes.
At this point, the quinoa should almost have finished its 10 minutes of standing.
Mix the corn starch with an equal amount of water in a small cup or bowl until the corn starch is dissolved in the water. Add it to the saute pan and stir. The contents should start to thicken. Cook for about 1 minute.
Add the cooked quinoa to the saute pan and combine it with the saute pan contents and cook for another minute.
That's all!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ann Coulter, in her own way, holds a mirror up to Canada

Ann Coulter has apparently finished her short Canadian tour. I'm not surprised that people complained, but I'm surprised at some of the other things about our country that it brought to the surface.

The speech at the University of Western Ontario, for example -- a speech that looks to have been a very open and unguarded session, where any question was permissible. It apparently costs $10,000 to have her speak. The cost itself has been raised as an issue. But, is that expensive? Al Gore charges $250,000, you can't ask him any questions not screened in advance, and he is ostensibly doing it in order to help save the planet.

The most interesting part to me is that, if you watch the often-quoted "take a camel" segment from the Western speech, it is much longer in its unedited version and did not simply lead from "what mode of transportation should I use?" to "take a camel!". Although the student was obviously trying to provoke a response (and did not even seem to be asking her own question -- she seemed to be reading it from a cell phone, which I assume was because the one who wanted to ask the question didn't look "racial enough"), Coulter tried to reply with some background to the past comment she was being asked about. The students -- university students, remember -- would have none of it. They didn't want to hear an answer. They wanted to be audience members of "The View" and turn every single sentence into a referendum on the truth, voted on by the volume and voracity of the heckling. These are Canadian university students? Really? I had a different image in my head of what a student was meant to be.

This is the edited version that first came out:

Here is the full clip:

But where did the "flying carpet" comment originally come from? It has obviously been selected from her repertoire because it sounds so offensive. It resurrects a stereotype (that is, if you believe that some Arabs did once fly around on magic carpets and that it was erroneously applied to the entire population) that almost everyone seems to have heard of. But it originally came as a flippant response to a tendentious question asked of her some years ago in response to a broader point she made: in response to some Muslims imams threatening to boycott a particular airliner, she suggested that airline security in general would be much easier to accomplish if Muslims as a whole decided to boycott air travel. She didn't say Muslims should not fly. She said that it might be a great marketing bullet to say that your airline had been the victim of more complaints by Muslim flyers than had some other airline -- implying that they had been doing far more in the interest of airline safety than other airliners. In that earlier interview, she was asked about what form of travel Muslims should take instead of an airplane and she responded that they should take "flying carpets". The question was obviously designed to provoke a reactionary response, and was not even related to her point -- she did not say that Muslims should not be allowed to fly, but was instead arguing in favour of security profiling based on an identifiable group.

So, who is the stupid one here? Ann Coulter? Or the interviewer who pushed for a response from her to a question that was a deliberate misinterpretation of what she'd said in her earlier interview? Or the university students who took that deliberate misinterpretation and pushed for a further response (to which she got her "take a camel!") that just amplified the error of the original interviewer even more?

Remember that, when doing research, university students are meant to go to primary sources and investigate the truth of things from that point of reference. Deliberate misinterpretation of a source is not very academic, but having spent a number of years at a Canadian university it does not surprise me that Canadian university students would behave like this.

Ann Coulter's style is one of rhetoric. Rhetoric is an art form designed to make people think when their eyes would otherwise glaze during a detailed discussion that would in all likelihood end up going nowhere. It is not meant to be objective, but to be a counterpoint to other rhetoric. In the middle is where you do your own work by thinking about what has been said. I suspect most Democrats would have no problem with registered Democrat James Howard Kunstler's rhetoric, which can often be just as offensive with his talk of human "land whales" and the "NASCAR moron culture" of the southern US states. He often speaks on college campuses. I doubt he would be threatened or banned, except by anti-Semites (he is Jewish) and extremist Muslims. These groups seem to have problems with all sorts.

Ann Coulter is obviously divisive (if you look at any of her books on Amazon, most of them have a three-star rating, nearly evenly split between 5-star and 1-star ratings, with not much in the middle as you see for most products with a 3-star-or-better review). But she is nowhere near as simplistic or anti-intellectual as many of the Canadian media outlets would have you believe. Anyone who has read some of her more serious writing or listened to her talk when given room to do so could see that she's not dumb, an idiot, or a redneck. She is, though, perhaps a bit too quick to dismiss loose ends. You won't get someone who sees all sides of an issue, but you will get someone who has ideas about how to act. Few would actually act on what she says -- she's not in a role where anyone would -- but I found that listening to some of what she said cut through about 10 years of calcification of some of the pathways of my brain facilitated by Canadian media. Her style, generally, is to take an argument that has been made by someone else and apply it to another circumstance to demonstrate how questionable its logic is. That is not a useless contribution. It is thought-provoking and forces you to defend -- and maybe you won't be able to. That's when you might get angry, I suppose.

I think it reflects badly on these outlets that shut her down because it is essentially them and those who think like them who have turned her into the person they want her to be -- they ignore the gist of what she says and pore through her words for something quote-worthy that they think scores their point. This is not a healthy thing for serious news outlets to be doing.

I wonder if any of her loudest critics have ever read her books. I really doubt it. She is not extreme. She is one-sided and sometimes flippant, and sometimes what she says doesn't hit the mark and fails miserably, but she is often intelligent. Nobody can get it right all the time.

The best appearance she made while in Canada was on the Michael Coren Show. If you are really interested in hearing her speak and being given time to do it, you can see it here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The OSAP diet: how to live on $7.50 a day without sounding like a helpless poverty activist

The Toronto Star complains that OSAP students are only given $7.50 a day from which they must find a day's worth of food.

Of course, the student they selected as the model first complains about having to give up her $4.50 London Fog tea from Starbucks and then complains that she can't afford to buy a submarine sandwich from a sandwich shop.

"The only sandwich Rachel Crane can afford is homemade," the newspaper opines. They also use another student quote to describe a larger allowance as a precondition for "healthy eating". Rachel Crane then complains again: "how many cucumber sandwiches can I eat before I wither away."

Let's get the first lie out of the way. A whole cucumber costs about $2 and a loaf of bread the same. By my estimation, there are around 20 slices of bread in a loaf of supermarket bread, 60 calories in a slice of  bread, and enough cucumber slices in a cucumber to fill 10 sandwiches. So, there's your answer: for half your budget, you could eat 10 cucumber sandwiches a day, in total containing at least 1200 calories. And you'd only have spent half your budget. And it'd cost less for all of that than it would for a single London Fog tea from Starbucks.

But why settle for cucumber sandwiches? Late last week, I bought a 10 lb. bag of red potatoes for $3 from my local supermarket. Not only is there substantial nutrition in a potato, but 10 lbs. of the things go a long way -- and a large red potato has over 200 calories. Bags of carrots and onions have similar economy. Garlic is cheap, as is salt and pepper. Vegetable stew, anyone? The remainder of my bag that shopping trip was filled with fruits and vegetables and came to just over $10.

On the weekend, I soaked just over a cup of dried chickpeas overnight and then cooked them to a state of doneness. This is sufficient for part of my lunchtime salad for an entire week. There are approximately 10 cups in a bag of dried chickpeas, and that bag cost under $4. Yes, that's under 40 cents per week.

A heavy bag of rice can be bought for well under $10 and would last for weeks if not months. An onion or two (50 cents in bulk), some curry powder (20 cents for a couple of teaspoons), a can of tomatoes ($1), a chicken breast ($2), and a few sprigs of cilantro from the pot growing on your windowsill (free -- and don't laugh -- I have been growing one all winter) and you could feasibly have 3-4 portions of a relatively exotic chicken curry made up for half of your daily food allowance.

What about rice pudding? Rice, a bit of sugar, a splash of vanilla, and maybe some nutmeg.

I buy a relatively luxurious bag of toasted porridge oats that contains a range of grains and seeds for around $6 -- regular porridge is much cheaper -- and this would probably last for two weeks. So, what's that? 40 cents per breakfast?

If you make your own, you can even afford broader luxuries -- a generous cup of organic, fair trade coffee costs perhaps $1 a cup if you make it yourself. Regular coffee is far, far cheaper.

And at no point have I contravened the idea of "healthy eating". And none of this involves the "Costco membership" that one student says he may have to avail himself of. Last time I checked, Costco was not cheap. You get large quantities but at non-sale prices, and much of the food is rubbish. If you buy fresh food in the quantities they offer, it will not keep. If you buy fresh meat, you are giving yourself a luxury because frozen is cheaper. What's the point?

What you can't afford are trendy drinks, to eat out, and to buy junk food. But, so what?

Is any of this too much to ask of an ostensibly intelligent student? It's not, but I expect the News Of The World to uncover the truth of it before the Toronto Star does.

$7.50 a day is $52.50 a week or over $200/month. As someone who has a full-time salary, doesn't always pay attention to economy, buys organic milk and eggs, Haagen Dazs ice cream and occasional luxuries like fresh salmon and tropical fruits in the winter, my food budget is about $75 a week.

And all of what I've said above also applies to those of you who say that people in poverty can't afford a healthy diet.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Strawberry, banana, and date bread

I somewhat invented this today by combining a couple of recipes. There is a picture at the bottom of the post.

The first recipe was a modified banana bread recipe that came from who-knows-where and that I've tweaked over the years, and the second one was the "Strawberry Bread" recipe from Lovina Eichner's "The Amish Cook's Baking Book".

The banana bread recipe I started with about 5 years ago used butter as the fat, called for white flour and a cup of sugar, and had nuts in it. It used yogurt as an acid which allowed for the use of baking soda alone.

The Amish recipe also called for nuts. I left the nuts out, as I always have with banana bread, because there's just so much calorie overload in pretty much any baking (flour, sugar, oil -- all are very high-calorie) that I don't think nuts carry their weight in breads like these.

In the banana bread, I had normally reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup, substituted 1/3 cup canola oil for the butter, and added a couple of handfuls of raisins to compensate for the reduced white sugar. I had also split the flour 50/50 between white and whole wheat.

I didn't like the idea of strawberries combined with raisins. But, dates seemed like they might go well.

I tried to take the best of each (inclusive of mixing methods) and add my own opinion.

Anyway, this is what I ended up with:
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/5 cup canola oil (i.e. roughly between 1/3 and 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 medium-sized overripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-7 dried dates
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder (I am using Bob's Red Mill -- all are not created equal)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F.

When the strawberries are in a semi-frozen state, chop them (they are easier to chop when partially frozen) into small chunks. Chop the dates, too. Set aside.

In (large) bowl #1: sift together flours, salt, baking powder, and baking soda

In (small) bowl #2, whisk the eggs until they're foamy on the surface

In (medium) bowl #3, chop and then mash the bananas with a fork. Add the eggs from bowl #2, and the oil, sugar, almond extract, and vanilla extract. Whisk together until well-blended.

Fold the contents of bowl #3 into the dry ingredients in bowl #1 with a spatula. Don't overmix -- just fold until the dry ingredients have been moistened.

Fold the chopped dates and strawberries into the batter. Again, don't overdo it -- just until they are roughly evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan (I normally use the residue from the canola oil measuring cup that by now is sitting in the bottom of the cup).

Put the batter into the loaf pan and bake until a toothpick pushed into the centre of the thickest point comes out clean. For me, this was 65 minutes.

Once done, put the loaf pan on a cooling rack and let it cool for about 5 minutes. This will make it easier to remove from the pan. Then, remove the loaf from the pan and cool on the cooling rack.

At this point, I normally drape aluminum foil over the loaf (reflective side down) with the thought that maybe it keeps some of the moisture in and cools more slowly, adding a bit of beneficial residual cooking. It's not a waste of foil because I use the same foil to wrap the loaf for freezing or the fridge.

Anyway, here is what it looked like (and it tasted very good -- especially if you like things that aren't too sweet). The strawberries and dates are strong flavours that go together well and fire at different speeds (as do the vanilla and almond extracts).