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Archive for May, 2008

The Combined Dream of Man

The milestones of the potential of mankind can be seen in the achievements that put us beyond our feeble and humble origins.  That the dreams and desires of our imaginations can be achieved by the sweat and toil of our hands.  What our aspirations wrought will stand in the hallways of history, marking our progress as a species with events around which we all pivot.

 

One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

 

Words that echo to the tune of our ingenuity.  Our limitless potential.  Our desire to be great, to be epic, to be timeless.  Events transpire in the world, some great for a time, some great for all eternity; but when a truly momentous occasion arises before us – born in the sand of our ability to create.  Those days, those events, become beyond us.

 

And in so doing, elevate us – if only for a time – to be as gods.

 

That is a machination of man.  Every piece of it was designed, created, built, and assembled by the hands of men and women like ourselves.  It was a device to answer the questions that only our dreams could create.  Our eyes look upward at a bed of tiny dots, and we have an innate impetus to simply reach out – be that with our minds, our eyes, or in the rare occasion; our hands.  And when we do, when we throw off the shackles of that which binds us earthward, when we look to the mighty heavens and wish to count ourselves as one; we become transcendent.  We become a part of time, instead of hurtling through it.

 

We named her Phoenix.  We gave her purpose, gave her life.  We gave her eyes to see, hands to touch, and language to communicate.  With great care and purpose we bore her from the womb of our imagination and sent her skyward to touch the face of a god.  And when she arrived at her new home, upon the planet that we named so many years ago, she told us what she saw.

 

 

On May 25th, 2008, at a distance too great to be conceived of by man, our daughter phone home to tell us that she was okay.  She had arrived.  And the view?  Spectacular.

 

We gave her a mission and a purpose; to stand upon a place that was once deemed beyond our reach and do what was once thought impossible.  With the care and grace we gave her, she will stay and tell us of her discoveries.

 

That is our hand upon the surface of another planet.  Our desire to know the unknowable pushing us further.  One day, we will return for our daughter, when she is tired and her mission complete.  A hand, much like the one that loaded her onto her ship to the outer reaches, will pick her up and with great care, put her in her final resting place – so that all may gaze upon her and see the wonder that man can create.  There she will retire, looking upon the faces of people with the same gaze of awe that the faces of those same people generations ago had when they sent her away.

 

But it is one image that will stand out for this face in the crowd.  One image that has been burned indelibly in the crevasses of his mind.  One image that will stand before all others as a testament to what mankind can do.  One taken by a reconnaissance orbiter that we had sent to observe our next great accomplishment.  And instead of looking down upon a dream, actually witnessed our desire to achieve it.

 

 

Our latest attempt chronicled by a former.

 

We dare to dream, and we desire to do.

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Presidential Nominees

Above all else, I think you should have the right to make the absolute worst decisions for yourself imaginable.  I will stand before an audience of my peers and demand with the loudest voice I can muster that you be allowed to do the unthinkable – drive a car without a seat belt, eat what and where you want, even do something so egregious as to choose the manner of your demise – and the reason I would do this is because of one simple axiom;  You can only measure the freedom in a society not by what it allows, but by what it doesn’t.

 

This year is an election year, and once again, we have to choose someone to have a job in this swanky pad in D.C.  I believe in personal freedom above all else, and in the past, that has led me to mostly vote Libertarian.  Some, myself included (usually out of jest), believe that this is akin to throwing away your vote.  Which isn’t entirely true – it’s good for a candidate and his cause to see if he’s rallying people behind him.  Even if I don’t get what I want this year, by continually showing my support and rallying others behind it, I may get it next year.  Or the year after.  Such is Democracy.

 

The nominee for the Libertarian ticket is Bob Barr congressman and one of the leaders of Bill Clinton’s impeachment fiasco.  When I look for a candidate for President, I look for just two things; how he/she handles hits they’ve taken, and how have they acted in a previous government position.  The second has more weight than the former.

 

Given this, I’m not going to vote for the guy.  He calls himself a Libertarian, fair enough.  But we can’t let someone define who they are in name alone; in other words, actions speak louder than words.

 

Defense of Marriage Act

I can only think of a few things (subsidies, education) that put a burr in my ass more than the government telling me who I can and cannot live with.  The idea that the government has to take a stance at all makes so much little sense it’s bordering on the absurd.  The government’s stance on marriage should be simple: A binding, contractual agreement between one or more parties in which the signers can now jointly interact with the government and the law.  That’s it.  No mention of man, no mention of woman.

 

Bob Barr was one of the legislators who took the lead on that ridiculous piece of garbage that said that marriages involving a man and woman are federally recognized and must be recognized in all 50 states, but same-sex marriages are up to the states.  He then apologized for it at the 2008 Libertarian convention.  Fine, but why did you start it in the first place?  Why did you make a law that dealt with it at all?

 

Banning the practice of Wicca in the military

On May 13, 1999, Bob Barr issued a press release:

BARR: CAUSES OF YOUTH VIOLENCE FOUND IN ADULT CULTURE.” 3

He lists as one of the causes of youth violence the practice by the U.S. military to permit Wiccan personnel to observe their religious faith. Wicca is a benign, earth-centered religion, which is somewhat similar to Native American Spirituality. A second source of youth violence that he cites is the increasing acceptance by university students of humanism, a secular, non-theistic philosophy with a strong ethical component. (ReligiousTolerance.org)

 

Forget that this is completely against the 1st Amendment.  Forget that Wicca is a recognized religion with hundreds of thousands of followers.  Forget that he’s accusing Wiccans and Atheists for the downfall of youths today.  I’m bothered by that, but not to the extent that I’m bothered by this: He’s letting his personal opinion supersede another’s simply because he can.  He thinks that Wicca is silly, and to be honest, I agree with him – of course, I don’t pick and choose between religions, but hey, he can’t be perfect – but I wouldn’t dare tell another person that they can’t freely believe in that because I think it’s silly.  The idea that he would use his position to give preferential treatment to someone else because they believe in his particular flavor of invisible friend just pisses me off.

 

That’s not a mistaken vote on an Executive order.  That’s a personal view of superiority regarding the private actions of another person.  He had the ability to wrongly persecute someone based on how they feel regarding life, and he took it.  He exercised the historic arrogance of those in his position and did what they always do – suppress those who don’t agree with him.  That’s not a one-time thing, something that can be flittered away with an apology on CNN.  That’s a major problem that he has, and one reason why he not only doesn’t get my vote, but something far, far, deeper.  He loses respect from me as a human being.

 

To everyone who wishes to deny another the right to do something personal and private; be it marry, practice a religion, raise a child – to everyone standing at pulpit and screaming at the top of their lungs how this should be stopped, I want to ask you something.  Something that I want you to think long and hard about.  Has a single one of those people, those people you are railing against, people who you look down upon, people who you want to be treated differently than you – has a single member of that group done the same to you?  Have they showed up at your doorstep telling you, ‘you can’t marry that woman’, ‘it’s an abomination that you want to raise children’, ‘you can’t worship that god’?

 

I find it very interesting that those who are persecuted don’t persecute others.

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Wedding Music

Picking out music for a wedding is hard.  Really hard, actually.  It’s going to have to fill about 2-3 hours of time, and can’t just be a collection of my favorite songs – consisting mostly of Bob Dylan, Ben Folds, U2, The Beatles, and a few other random bands.  But now all of the songs have to be about love and stuff.  Personally, I’d rather have a song about a rollercoaster (Helter Skelter), revenge on your classmates (One Angry Dwarf, and 200 Solemn Faces), or …. okay, I have no idea (Any Dylan song).

 

But when you hear ‘wedding music’ invariable everyone thinks of the opening act to Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, or ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op. 61’.  Yes, they’re classics – yes, they have special meaning – and yes, they are tradition.  Seriously though, screw tradition.

 

  • “Bad Case of Love” – B.B. King
  • “Forever Young” – Bob Dylan
  • “Darts of Pleasure” – Franz Ferdinand
  • “Gonna Make You Love Me” – Ryan Adams
  • “Desire” – U2
  • “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)” – The White Stripes

 

But there are 3 songs I am sincerely looking forward to playing.  First is my ‘entrance theme’, second is Emily’s ‘Here Comes the Bride’ song (obviously not “Here comes the Bride”).  But the one song that I secretly am looking forward to hitting ‘play’ on…the one that I crouch in the shadows and whisper to myself….

 

“Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords.

 

I mean, they are the greatest band to come out of New Zealand ever.  Yes, I know what you’re going to say next, “But Harrison, what about ’48May’ and ‘The Chills’?  The musical stylings of ‘The Feelers’, ‘Autozamm’ and ‘Cropduster’?”  I get it, yes, those bands all have probably the same amount of talent and large fan base.  And yes, we all felt the sting of when ‘Dirtyfrank’, ‘Kingfish’ and ‘Sciatic’ called it quits but then thankfully reformed to become Cropduster – but let’s be honest here.  Their rendition of energetic rock just isn’t what it used to be – the songs are flaccid and unfeeling, and don’t have the same joy for the sake of playing that they once did.  The thing that makes Flight of the Conchords stand out is their love for what they’re doing.  That, and I don’t have to spend 30 minutes on google looking up bands from New Zealand to make a very ‘meh’ joke.

 

Regardless, picking out music that’s non-traditional, themed, and stuff that I actually like is proving very difficult.  At least I have my fall back – 

 

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We name all of Hershey’s toys.  Rope, Mr. Cuddles (her stuffed dog), Bone, Tennis Ball, Frisbee, Jingle Ball; every single toy has a name.  The application of it is fantastic.  I’m at work and want to take a break.  So I turn to Hershey and say, “Where’s your rope?  Go get your rope!”  and off she goes.  Rampaging down the hallway, down the stairs to the living room or her kennel to get it, then back up to play.  It’s fantastic.

 

We got her a new toy.  It’s called a Kong chew toy:

 

 

It’s fantastic.  It’s a hollow rubber….thing…with a compartment inside for treats, peanut butter, whatever.  We picked it up at Petsmart last night, and driving home, we tossed it in the back seat where Hershey was laying down and called it her Woobie.  I’ll leave you to guess which names Emily comes up with.

 

So we get her inside, give her some chow, and set her ‘Woobie’ on the floor.  She’ rather apprehensive about it, not quite sure what the hell it is.  So she tried picking it up.  It proved difficult, because it has a weird sense of ‘give’ to it, and her mouth barely fits around the biggest chunk of it.  Repeatedly, she’s trying to pick this thing up, and carry it somewhere – figure out what to do with it.  Finally she gets her mouth around it, in the air, it slips out; and bounces like crazy all over the place.  It’s an oddly-shaped rubber thing, you drop it, and it’s going to do 80 feet in 7 random directions.  Hershey went crazy.  In 10 seconds, this became her new favorite toy.

 

But Emily and I want to test her on something.  So we set it aside and start playing with a different toy.  After a few minutes, we look down at her and ask her, “Where’s your Woobie? Go get your Woobie!”  First time, she grabs the Kong – bingo.  Second, third, fourth, fifth – every time we ask her to get it, she heads right for it and grabs it.  Switch it up and ask for a different toy, no problem.  She only heard us mention it by name maybe 3 times, and already she knows what it’s called.

 

We threw some peanut butter in it, and shoved a couple of treats inside.  The treats we use are small bones, and they just barely fit in that hole on the bottom – they have to be angled right, or they’re not going anywhere.  In maybe 10 minutes, she had those bones out.  We have no idea how she did it, but regardless, it’s impressive.

 

I’ve had dogs before, but never a Labrador.  Everyone continually goes on about how smart they are, but when you can give your dog a list of things to do, “Grab your rope, go downstairs, go see Emily” there’s something uncanny going on there.

 

I’m thinking of training her on how to use a computer.  Maybe she can do some data entry and earn some income.  We got a wedding to pay for.

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Freemasons – that evil group of men who know where the arc of the covenant and a large cadre of gold is hidden – have an interesting rule regarding membership and symbols of such.  Every group, large and small, has their own rites of initiation and membership, but there’s this particular one from the Masons that I thought was rather strange; You can only wear a Freemason’s ring if you are a Freemason.  Sure, it sounds fair.  But the really ironic thing about it is, unless you are a Freemason, that rule does not apply to you.  So a non-Mason can wear a Masonic ring, and there’s really nothing they can do about it.  But if you’re a Mason, then you have the ring…it’s just a weird little rule.

 

But it’s really not that weird.  Groups all over the world have the same premise, they think that because they chose a set of rules for themselves, that it then applies to those who do not belong.  Take this example.  A U.S. soldier used a Quran for target practice.  Not exactly the smartest thing in the world to do in that region of the world – especially when you’re a part of a peacekeeping operation, but he did it nonetheless.  The local religious fanatics got all up in arms about it – christian, muslim or jew, these whack-jobs have a cushy job; ‘we’re pissed, placate us’ – and wanted the ‘severest of punishments’ imposed upon the guy.  Now, there’s only one real fact that matters when it comes to this; was the soldier Muslim.

 

1.  If he was, then he deserves to have whatever punishment is visited upon him by his Islamic cohorts.  He took the vows, drank the kool-aid, and deserves to live by the rules.

2.  If he wasn’t, then he should apologize to anyone he may have offended, and be redeployed to a location where his attitude won’t be more of a detriment than his presence.  Basically, if it hurts more than helps to have him there – put him somewhere else.

 

This incident I read about on CNN got me thinking about that Mason ring; I find it odd that groups want their rules pressed on other people despite the fact that they aren’t members of that group.

 

Another great example is this latest crop of laws trying to be snaked through state congresses.  They usually go under the guise of “Academic Freedom” laws, or some crap like that.  The language varies from place to place, and there’s some finite details concerning each, but they usually boil down to this:  You’re a student in science class.  You are given a test.  On it says;

The Earth is ______ years old.

A) 15 minutes, give or take

B) 4.54 billion

C) 6,000, as stated in the sacred texts of the Holy Bible

D) What the voices tell me

 

Now, it’s been a while since I was in a science classroom, but I know what it’s not.  It’s definitely not A, because I remember getting up this morning.  It’s not D, because I’ve started taking my medication, and it’s definitely not C…

 

(Needle scratch across a record)

 

According to ‘Academic Freedom’ bills that have been brought forth, 6,000 years ago is perfectly acceptable.  What creationists are trying to do is get their myths pushed forward into places they don’t belong.  They believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old; no shred of evidence for that belief, but fine, they want to imagine that the world is that young, let them.  They want to require their members to believe that, no complaints there, it’s their little club, they can put all the rules and restrictions on it that they want.

 

But what they can’t do is then push those rules onto others that don’t accept their viewpoints.  What they want with ‘Academic Freedom’ bills is nothing but – they want to sequester any academic dignity for the sake of appearing that they are right.  They want to feel that their nonsense has traction in the world, and that it’s on par with established fact.  The problem for them is, it isn’t.  We know the world is older than 6,000 years.  In order to show that’s not the case, we just have to find something on it that’s older than that.

 

 

Wow.  That was difficult.  (He looks hungry).

 

You cannot take your rules for your clubs and try to push them on society when they haven’t accepted the membership.  The biggest reason this isn’t fair is this – I pay tax dollars to Avon Lake schools.  My kid goes to that school.  I pay my taxes so my child has an education that is on par with others in the area, and will come out the other side on the merit of his/her hard work and grades.  This ‘Academic Freedom’ bill erodes that at the very core.  It elevates children who believe in creationism to a level above all the other children.  They don’t need to study, they don’t need to understand course material – they don’t even have to have a base knowledge about the giant rock they are standing on!  They just have to parrot out an answer and the teacher is required to give them a passing grade.

 

My taxes would be paying for that.  Money that I am not voluntarily giving would be putting my child at a disadvantage because this kid’s parents can’t understand that if I point them to the sky and say, “It’s blue” and they say, “But my book here says it’s red” it doesn’t mean they’re right.

 

Drawings of Muhammed.  Prayer in public schools.  Public officials having to swear on the Bible.  Non-muslim women being accosted in a nation of predominant muslim people for not adhering to their muslim laws.  It’s just one example after another of a group of people thinking their rules are the right ones, and wanting them pressed on others even though they’re not members.

 

But the saddest thing to me is something that happened to me a while ago.  I wanted Emily to get a shirt for me.  It simply said, “Smile, you’ve met an Atheist today!” with a really cool-looking smiley face on it.  I showed it to Emily and she laughed and said, “Sure, why not?”  I got really excited.  Then she asked me something I had never thought of;
“You’re not going to wear that in public, are you?”

 

It took me a second.  I hadn’t considered the ramifications about it, and I thought about all the stories other atheists had told me about times people asked them if they ‘how can you wear that around my child’, or ‘do you want to get hurt’ wearing things like these.  So I responded, “Yeah.  I am.  They can wear a corpse nailed to a board around their neck, I can wear a shirt.”  She listened to me, and we discussed it, and we finally decided that it would be a bad idea.  Words like ‘confrontational’ and ‘arguments’ came up.  Things that she and I couldn’t believe but knew would happen if I wore a stupid shirt like that around.  So, we decided against it.  Decided against buying a goofy-looking shirt.  And why?

 

“Harry, I don’t think a lot of people are mature enough to handle that.”

 

It’s so sad that she’s right.

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Bacon Week, Day 5

Friday:  How to Make Your Own Bacon

 

Yes, you can.  You can start with a slab of meat, and produce your own bacon.  It’s a relatively simple process; cure, then smoke.  It just takes a while.  The best example of this I’ve found is off of my hero Alton Brown’s show Good Eats (where I grabbed this recipe), in which he constructs a home-made cold smoker, and walks you through the entire process.  I highly suggest getting your hands on that episode, since a visual step-by-step walk through can’t beat a set of instructions.  Either way, here we go:

 

1 cup sugar 
1 cup salt 
8 ounces molasses 
1/2 gallon (2 quarts) water 
1/2 gallon (2 quarts) apple cider 
2 tablespoons course ground black pepper 
1 (5 pound) piece raw pork belly from the loin-end
 

In a large non-reactive pot, bring half the water, 1 cup of sugar, salt, and 8 ounces molasses to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a large container with the remaining water, and the apple cider. Place in the refrigerator and cool to 40 degrees F.Press the black pepper into the pork belly. Once the brine has cooled place the peppered pork belly into the mixture until completely submerged. Refrigerate for three days.

After three days have passed, remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Lay on a rack over a sheet pan and place in front of a fan for 1 hour to form a pellicle. Lay the pork in the protein box of a cold smoker and smoke for 4 to 6 hours. Chill the meat in the freezer for 1 hour to stiffen for easy slicing into strips of bacon. Slice what you need and keep the remainder in a freezer safe bag in the refrigerator or freezer.

 

To construct a cold smoker, I’ve found plans online that use 2 cardboard boxes, a hot plate, some wood chips, and some tubing from a hardware store.  It looks pretty simple, as long as you keep it in a location where if the cardboard boxes catch on fire, they won’t burn to anything else.

 

Here is a good example of a really simple one.  As you can see, the materials cost about 10 bucks, and use a grill that you should already have.  And since the grill provides the second chamber, you could probably fit an entire slab in there if you’re careful.  Of course, if you want to go further and smoke some more bacon (why not a whole year’s worth?) you can build a bigger one.  Just make sure that you aren’t letting any heat reach the meat, or else you’ll be hot-smoking it, and therefore, not bacon.

 

This concludes Bacon Week, I’ll continue with my usual ramblings later.

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Bacon Week, Day 4

Thursday: The Vinaigrette

 

This:

 

 

Is a bowl of yardwork unless you have a dressing to throw in there.  A mysterious combination of oil, vinegar, and flavor – somehow suspended into a liquid, ready to be used on a salad or as a poor-man’s marinade.  There are definitely thousands of vinaigrettes out there, endless combinations waiting to be explored.  Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll be ready to make your own, and thusly, avoid any and all of these:

 

A vinaigrette is nothing more than oil and vinegar combined into an emulsion with some kind of seasoning added.  The tricky part is that oil and vinegar don’t like to play nicely with each other, and if left alone, will settle into something that kinda looks like a lava lamp.  The trick to sustain the emulsion by putting something in there that both the oil and vinegar like, and will stick to.  Mustard is usually the most common thing, and is used in this recipe.  The important thing to note is to have everything at room temperature before you start.  Cold oil is not a very viscous oil, and won’t separate into the many tiny particles we need for this to work.  So to get this going, you’ll need:

 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup cider vinegar 
2 tablespoons bacon drippings 
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 
1 tablespoon prepared mustard 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 

 

First, pour the oil into a non-reactive bowl, and add the mustard.  Start whisking to create an emulsion.  Add the vinegar slowly, but not painfully slowly – you want to incorporate the vinegar into the oil/mustard.  Add the remaining ingredients and keep whisking until it’s combined.  Store it for about a week.  If you want to serve, give it a good shake before hand so the oil and vinegar get broken up and combine.  This emulsion is temporary, and won’t hold for more than a few hours.

 

If you’re going to put on a salad, add the cooked bacon (crumbled) on top with some crushed walnuts and bread crumbs.  I like a little crunch in my salad.

 

If you want to marinate something with this; chicken, for example, pour it into a zip-topped bag and marinade for a few hours.  I always marinade my meat in zip-bags because it’s easy to store, easy to pitch, keeps flavor in and funk out, and you can easily toss the meat around in the marinade.

 

Obviously you can throw anything into that for flavoring, but the reserved bacon drippings is fantastic.  It adds a subtle smokiness to whatever you put on.

 

Today was a quick but important one.  Tomorrow brings the final day of Bacon Week, and I could only close it with one thing:

 

Friday:  Making Your Own Bacon.

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