Threshold not met.

I had a dream some time ago that I was preparing breakfast for myself before heading off to work.

I was in a bit of a rush about things, and managed to spill cereal from several boxes all over the counter and floor. As I started cleaning the mess, I noticed that some of my fingers had fallen off. I was intensely annoyed at this, as I was already running late. Now, in addition to cleaning up cereal, I had to go and look for my fingers.

I looked all around the counter and floor where I had been pouring the cereal, and could not locate my missing digits. I then looked over at the boxes, and realized that my fingers must have fallen into them.

I was running significantly behind schedule at this point, and did not want to waste time digging around in all the boxes to find my missing fingers. So, instead I grabbed sharpie, and wrote a note on one of the boxes, indicating that there might be fingers in one or more of them, not to worry and I would deal with it when I got home.

I feel like this might have been my brain testing the limits of my laziness. Or my willingness to pause my current course of action to deal with issues that arise before they become bigger issues. Either way brain, you need to up your game. I don’t have time for obstinate fingers that refuse to stay where they belong.

NichiBuddha

Nietzsche gets unfairly labeled as being kind of depressing to read. For all that he discusses nihilism, I’m not sure he actually was a nihilist. He acknowledges that meaning is subjective- something created by individuals based on what feels significant to the individual. That is perhaps at the root of nihilism – the tearing away of established moral structure. But then he goes beyond that too, by understanding that the individual is just the product of conditioning, both biological and social.

Some of what he wrote is actually quite uplifting, read with the proper mindset. What he proposes is like . . . clearing away the cruft of our own perspective. If there is truth beneath it all, so be it. If there was only ever cruft to begin with, so be it. But let us be brave enough to at least try to see.

It sounds a lot like Buddhism, if only in terms of descriptive statements rather than prescriptive ones. It’s just that he was German so it sounds bleaker and more severe.

Min/Max

No, it’s not that difficult to serve a burger and fries. You don’t have to go to college for it, so it can’t require that much skill. People that can’t even put a burger or taco together without screwing it up are basically not even trying – certainly they shouldn’t get paid any more money.

Although, I guess I can see how screwing up like, one burger out of the 200 or so you made that day is a little more understandable. Or accidentally forgetting that six of the twenty burritos you just put together were supposed to be meat-free, not bean-free. And of those six, half were supposed to have no cheese. Now you have to remake everything while a crabby vegan stands outraged at the inconvenience of having to wait, and your manager proceeds to crawl up your ass about keeping orders straight during lunch rush.

Actually, now that I think about it, most fast food menus are just the same five or six ingredients endlessly recombined to give the illusion of variety. Constantly churning out the proper sequence under severe time pressure actually does sound a little bit difficult to do. Or at least easy to screw up.

Ok, so maybe it is not exactly easy work. And maybe it is a tiny bit soul-crushingly repetitive. But it’s not like it’s dangerous or anything. It’s not like you have to deal with angry, crazy, entitled people all day. It’s not like you have to do anything risky, like apprehend thieves or hold back a herd of humans desperately stampeding toward savings.

Right. So, there does appear to be an element of danger which emerges at the confluence of boiling oil, slippery floors and the pressure to move as quickly as possible. And, yes, mistakes are inevitable – for any job over a long enough time period – but really, so what? I think the main point is that none if this is very important work – as in not terribly crucial to anyone. Nobody’s life hangs in the balance. Nobody will go to war or anything if a mistake is made. No economies will crash. A burger flipper doesn’t have to deal with the stress of having a job that’s . . . you know, meaningful. As such, the wage should reflect that.

But sometimes people decide that the work you are doing is actually important.

Someone trying to squeeze the maximum profit out of the industry thinks it is very important that you do your job as efficiently as possible. You manager thinks it is very important that their specific restaurant is the cleanest, friendliest and most presentable. Their McFranchise should be the best possible representation of McFranchise culture. And they want to have the best numbers on whatever scorecard determines promotions or bonuses. It’s all important to them, and they will apply whatever pressure is necessary to let you know that it is important.

And you had better believe that burger is important to the customer. Depending on the day the customer has had, prior to stepping up to that counter, it might be the most important thing in the world to them. They might have been shopping all day with their insufferable kids, or trying to get food as quickly as possible in the fifteen minutes they have been given for a lunch break. Or they just haven’t had a triple slopstack in a while, and it’s been a rough day, so fuck it, why not.

Prepare for the righteous, indignant fury that shall descend upon you if you ruin that for them, because HONESTLY IT’S JUST A GODDAMN BURGER, HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

So there are a lot of people who depend on that burger flipper, and so a lot of people are applying pressure to make sure the job is done right. Often while still insisting that you are doing nothing worthwhile with your life.

This is the case in a lot of minimum wage areas (which are not just burger flipping jobs, fyi).

These aren’t practice jobs for kids. Perhaps once upon a time they were, but it is clear that these days you are meant to treat it like a proper, for really-real grown-up job. At a practice job, you wouldn’t be pressured to come in when you are sick. You wouldn’t be on-call. You wouldn’t be fired for being unable to come in at a moment’s notice because you need to study for a test. It would be understood by the employers that these were not “real jobs”, merely training for a real job you will hold at some later date.

But that’s not the way it is. You are not expected to be a student first and an employee second – you are expected to be dedicated to the job. You are expected to work as though you anticipate sharing in the wealth you generate, with the understanding that you are greedy to actually demand more money. You are expected to be grateful to have the job and experience anxiety at the prospect of losing it.

If a wealthy industry prioritizes pushing employees to generate more wealth, they assign a level of importance to the task. If they expect an employee to take on the dedication and stress level appropriate to that importance, then they can certainly pay a wage appropriate to that dedication.

In reality though, the people opposed to a minimum wage increase (or to having one at all) do not look at it like that. From their perspective, they shouldn’t have to pay you very much because you are easily replaceable part in a machine. It is less impactful if you wear out, because there are a lot of spares.

From their perspective, you are an abundant natural resource. As such, you should be as cheap as the market permits.

From their perspective, the point is not how difficult, how dangerous or how significant is your work.

The point is simply this: Fuck you.

Fuck you, you tedious little plebs, and all the insipid things you need, desire or deserve.

People are not paid based strictly on their mastery of some skill or the utility of goods they produce. Neither are they compensated in proportion to the expense and effort involved in acquiring a skill or the level of risk or wear involved in a task. These things are only ever rewarded indirectly. We pay for skill measured against the scarcity of similarly skilled people. We pay people based on the value they provide measured against the avalability of others who might readily provide that same value. Or the willingness of others to take on the same risk.

That seems obvious. I honestly feel a bit silly stating it.

And with an ever increasing pool of people that are competing for these jobs, those hiring for them feel ever more comfortable pushing standards higher and wages lower. It doesn’t matter that you can’t afford basic necessities. So long as the overall machine doesn’t break, it doesn’t really matter if you do.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/22/pregnant-woman-robbery/26173521/
http://wdtn.com/2015/05/05/dollar-general-employee-suspended-for-failing-to-stop-robbery/
http://www.dol.gov/minwage/mythbuster.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wage_slavery
http://www.marketplace.org/topics/wealth-poverty/more-people-need-second-jobs-fewer-can-find-them
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/in-retail-life-on-the-job-often-leads-to-a-dead-end/
https://www.nytexaminer.com/2012/02/new-york-times-critiques-free-market-capitailsm/
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/homeless-by-choice-how-to-live-for-free-in-america/254118/2/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/27/fast-food-jobs-real_n_6028404.html
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-27/minimum-wage-increase-in-u-s-will-probably-promote-spending.html
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/06/20/503112/studies-increasing-the-minimum-wage-during-times-of-high-unemployment-doesnt-hurt-job-growth/
http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/odnirast.html
http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/30/news/economy/fast-food-educated-older/
http://www.reddit.com/comments/j55wn
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=3993076
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/02/3422111/wage-theft-poll-mcdonalds/

Likes or GTFO

I don’t know how to make appropriate use of social media.

It is obviously useful for sharing quick updates about yourself to people with whom you do not have regular contact. As someone who loathes speaking on the phone, I do appreciate this feature. I have seen people use it to make idle conversation, seek advice and rally support in times of need. There is something comforting about the idea that you can scan through the people you know and see who is doing well and who might need help of some kind. Perhaps that is just the system admin in me though – I recognize that this type of interaction does not really foster deeper relationships.

It is also a marketing tool that eavesdrops on your every conversation in an effort to neatly categorize you into groups which are likely to buy certain products – effectively reducing you to a product as well. I appreciate this feature less.

Potentially, it could function as an open forum. A virtual Agora – a great churning pool of perspectives into which ideas are cast, to be tested against the logic and insights of others.

In practical application, it largely functions as a place to have every opinion validated. There appears to be some sort of injunction against challenging an idea once it has been presented, lest you be regarded as a bully. Why?

Are we really so insecure that we can’t hear dissenting voices without interpreting it as an attack? Are we such children that any correction must be viewed as abuse or censorship? It is distressing that even a question about the origin of someone’s opinion or the suggestion of alternative explanations must be met with the petulant whine of “You’re just trying to look smarter than me”, or dismissively waved away with the assertion “You just like to argue.”

In fairness, it is difficult to hear something that contradicts a foundational belief. Especially if it is a foundational belief that I just publicly declared in a semi-belligerent sassy tone. When I feel that foundation being undermined, re-evaluating my beliefs is not my first priority, keeping my identity from crumbling is. To this end, my defense mechanisms leap to action, shielding my wounded ego from further injury.

This is a problem that comes about whenever you communicate at all, and is exacerbated by the removal of different aspects of communication that we perhaps take for granted. Face to face, you have so much more than words to convey meaning and intent. You have tone of voice, posture, fidgeting, eye contact. Probably even subtler cues that we do not consciously process, such as scent or complexion. On the phone, you still have tone of voice, but you miss visual cues. Bare text gives nothing away that isn’t stated explicitly. It is a blank slate practically begging someone to imprint emphasis and inflection. If you are far enough removed from person speaking, you can construct an entire personality around a comment. You get to construct the “voice” speaking to you.

And that voice matters. I submit an example:

will_smith_00_web redneck_ws_quote

First picture – that is solid, inspirational advice. I hear it in a smooth baritone that exudes calm self-assurance. He is famous for his work. Successful. The way the image is put together lends a sense of focus as well. Black and white picture with clean text. No unnecessary colors or serifs distracting you from your goals. This is clearly someone with his shit together, and is probably a reliable source of advice.

Second picture – I hear it in a more nasal voice. I think I started truncating the endings of the words as I read it. The text looks like it might have actually been carved into the image with a knife. I just feel like his shit is somewhat less together. I anticipate less success in his future. I’m looking at his setup, the way he presents himself and all the Alabama in that photo, and I’m thinking I shouldn’t listen to his advice1.

The point is that the perceived voice changes assumptions made about the speaker, such as intent, motivation and authority. I can change the understood meaning behind the words based on the sort of person that I imagine the speaker to be. If I can hear an opposing view in the voice of someone who I perceive as ignorant, bitter or just trying to be arbitrarily “mean”, they can be dismissed. If I tell myself that an argument has not been presented in good faith, I may feel less obligation to consider its validity.

I have been mulling this over because I often run afoul of people’s sensibilities with respect to the rules of polemic engagement. I ask questions which seem to get interpreted as judgmental, disrespectful or mean. This is not to imply that I have never been guilty of acts of intentional twattery, I just try not to make it my opening gambit. Most of the time, I intend nothing like that. Most of the time, I am genuinely bewildered or curious. Occasionally I believe I have spotted a discrepancy in logic and would like to understand either my mistake or yours. Sometimes I will call immediate bullshit, but typically I go out of my way to challenge a statement respectfully.

Given that we are susceptible to such influence, you can tweak the presentation of ideas to elicit a more favorable reaction by using a “pre-configured” voice. You consider the tone you wish to convey. Find a person most people would associate with that tone. Overlay their image with text to force your audience to queue up the voice that you feel most appropriately communicates your attitude. Or (to draw inspiration from others) generate a typographical device that performs a similar function.

So what I need to do is frame contentious observations with the image of someone who does not elicit defensiveness. Someone sort of egoless and eminently well-meaning.

datamark

Perfect.

You claim membership in a religion which instructs you to model your own behavior after that of a man who preached love, charity, humility and compassionate understanding of human frailties. However, you have expressed views both political and personal that seem to run contrary to your stated guiding principles. Would you explain this contradiction?

You have pinned your identity on membership in a particular subculture as a protest of the rules and restrictions present in mainstream society. However, in doing so you reject anything that does not conform to that subculture. Does this not make you just as insular and judgmental as the society from which you sought to distance yourself?

You claim that a public contradiction of your publicly expressed views constitutes censorship – an infringement upon your freedom of speech. However, challenging an opinion is not synonymous with suppressing that opinion, and so cannot rightly be called censorship. In fact, the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ was established largely to ensure that dissenting opinions and criticism could be freely expressed. In light of this, does it not seem that an attempt to exempt yourself from criticism is simply an attempt to censor your critics?

1I do not intend to disparage the intellectual capabilities of your average redneck engineer. It’s more the foresight and planning that is lacking. I have seen a number of ad hoc wonders come out of rural workshops. I have also seen electrocutions, explosions, burns and finger loss come out of same.
http://www.collegehumor.com/post/6872071/8-new-and-necessary-punctuation-marks”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagitica
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politeness_theory
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agora
http://www.softpanorama.org/Social/Toxic_managers/Communication/negative_politeness.shtml

People who misunderstand evolution seem to think it works like Pokemon

People who think they have a hard counter to evolution by throwing down “If humans evolved from apes, then why are there still apes?”

They are under the impression that evolution transforms one species into another.

Like, apes leveled up and turned into humans.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gameplay_of_Pok%C3%A9mon#Pok.C3.A9mon_evolution
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/search/topics.php?topic_id=13

Reductio ad militum

I made a little something for the people that like to play the “troops” card. You know, the ones who pop up in conversations unrelated to the military to basically bitch about the fact that the conversation is not about the military.

These discussions typically involve praising someone for courage or expressing sympathy for a hardship. Or maybe even suggesting that we ought to readjust the system so people can afford to buy food and heat and other luxuries. Just trivial non-military bullshit, you know?

Until some patriot, some . . . true American, stepped in, people didn’t even know they were supposed to be talking about the troops. Thankfully, there always seems to be someone on hand to remind us that it is impossible to have experienced hardship, let alone faced that hardship with anything like bravery, unless you have watched your friends die around you in battle. Thank you, thank you for reminding us all that the best way to deal with problems is by refusing to acknowledge them because they are not literally the worst problem that anyone has faced, ever. I understand now that nothing has meaning until it can be framed in the context of the unrelenting horror of war. To have even one conversation that does not acknowledge that is the exact same thing as attacking the troops directly. It is utterly disrespectful of their sacrifice.

I apologize for using the word sacrifice. I . . . I have no idea what it means. Did I use it right?

Only those that died in battle deserve a living wage.

Only those that died in battle deserve a living wage.

What rankles me the most about the people that pull this shit is that they really think they are supporting the troops. They’re not doing anything to support the troops. They’re not advocating for the troops to have better conditions, they just want you to shut up about yours.

They are doing the exact same thing to the troops as the people who send them to war in the first place – using them to support their agenda. They only ever bring it up to counter a discussion about something they already find distasteful.

Like, they don’t want to hear about someone coming out as gay or having gender reassignment being brave, but they certainly don’t bust out the pictures of bloody soldiers when every goddamn parent starts talking about how brave their kid was at the dentist.

What if it’s made in China?

What if I take a photograph of a flag and set that on fire? Is that offensive? Or what if I draw a picture of a flag, and then burn that?

What if I draw a picture of the flag on fire?

What if I took a photograph of a flag on my phone, then deleted it, but using an app that deletes things with a fire animation?

What if I burn these socks? Or this lawn chair? Or this thong.

What if I burn this pizza, but didn’t mean to and just had my oven up too high?

What if the motor overheats in this super patriotic vibrator and it catches fire? Did I hate America by loving America?

Seitan

Winter weather has kept me indoors1, which has resulted in extended bouts of puttering around in the kitchen. However, as I am not looking to turn John and myself into formless fat-masses which drift about like so much adipose lava, I have been trying to cut back on the baked goods and candy in favor of actual nutritious food.

Besides, I have a solid fudge formula down, can reliably produce both cake and fudge-like brownies and I make an oatmeal cookie that more than one person has claimed actually subverts free will. Time to move on to new challenges.

One thing that has been frustrating my attempts at mastery is seitan – a meat substitute made from wheat gluten and water. So basically, dough. Extremely tough, stretchy, chewy dough that is upwards of 75% protein. When you knead the dough enough, the gluten stands develop to approximate the texture of meat.

So, my first attept: basic 1:1 mix of vital wheat gluten and water. No seasoning. I mixed with a spood until all the liquid was absorbed, then took it out of the bowl and kneaded by hand on the counter. It very quickly turned into a tough, elastic ball of dough that was difficult to reashape, as it always wanted to snap back to its original form. So I cut it up into smaller pieces, and let them simmer in water for about an hour. Results below.


  

I ended up with several nuggets that could pass a visual inspection for meat-ishness. Texture was like a very chewy chicken nugget. Taste was almost entirely absent, even after stir-frying in some teriyaki.

Second attempt: same mixture, but with a bit more water and also added a teaspoon of quick-rise yeast in. Largely because I was making this no-knead bread, and I wondered what would happen if you tried the same thing with just wheat gluten. It was my hope that letting the yeast work on it might help develop the gluten strands without requiring so much kneading.

It start out largely the same as the regular flour, expanding up out of the bowl, full of bubbles from the yeast gasses. But after punching it down a couple of times, I noticed it wasn’t rising any more, it was contracting. So much so that it squeezed out a lot of the water, leaving a doughy brown ball in a little pool. Neat.

I simmered this batch too – in some water and soy sauce this time. (Actually ended up boiling it, which is a no-no, as it can cause the seitan to get too spongy.) Then put in in the refrigerator and forgot about it for a week or so. Which is fine, because apparently seitan ages pretty well.

For this batch, I tried just frying it in peanut oil for a couple of minutes. The result was crispy on the outside and chewy/juicy on the inside. Very meat-like, at least in flavor. In texture, it was chewier than before, but still lacking the strands that give it the appearance of actual meat. Had they been larger, and not flavored entirely with soy sauce, I think it would have approximated hamburger. At the size I made them, they turned out more like crispy jerky bites as they cooled.


Tried adding some spices to the mix. Also, soy sauce is part of the dough now.

1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp curry
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp water

The dough (first pic was only using 2 tbsp water – had to add more to get it to stay together):


 seitan_02_7_web
Working from advice found here and here, I made a couple of changes. First, as I was kneading, I kept flattening one end, then pulling and stretching that end over the rest of the dough. Then, instead of boiling, I stretched it into a thin log, rolled it in foil and baked it at 325F for about 30 min.

During the baking, one of the seitan logs managed to crazy snake it’s way out one end of the foil. Other than that, the process successfully yielded two leathery churros.


seitan_02_8_web seitan_02_9_web seitan_02_11_web

Pulling them apart, I see lots of stringy fibers thar make for passable pork. Or chicken, if you ignore the color. Flavor-wise, it was still a little off, but adding a packet of taco seasoning made some tasty burritos that no living thing had to die for. Except all the plants.




1Much in the same way that spring, summer and autumn weather does.