Sunday, September 9, 2018

The foundation of truth...

We’re all trying to figure out a gob of gunk, as the world throws at us what it thinks we should think. But, how do we determine which voices to listen too? What is that foundation we rest upon where we declare, “This is my authority as to where I determine what I see as true?”

Being a philosophy/theology major (because I wanted to go through life having people ask me what I would do to make money), I learned of two camps of two authoritarian foundations: the rationalist and the empiricists. 

Rationalists start with the idea that within in ourselves, there are the tools necessary to discover truth. Simply stated, as a rationalist one would say, “It makes sense to me, so so-and-so is true.” Again, very simply stated. In our core, we hold many things as true, just because they make sense…to us at least. Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was a rationalist. He began his philosophy with the idea of radical doubt. He asked,”What is one truth, where one can’t possibly get me to doubt it as true.” He considered all his perceptions, and asked, “What if a crazy demon is playing a trick on me?” Clearly, such philosophical questions have been played around within movies: The Matrix in particular. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Apple Smoked Pork Roast

If you were to go the rest of your life only able to eat meat from one animal, which would you pick? Although it would be incredibly difficult to give up steak (prime rib in particular), I would have to pick pork. Pork is the most versatile of all the meats. It has both red meat and white meat capabilities. As in, you can smoke sweet, or you can go mesquite. But wait, there’s more. Sausage, bacon, ham.... Some would say you could make these out of other meats. I’d say, “Wrong. Turkey bacon is not bacon.”

And then... Pulled pork, loin, spare ribs. Mmmm. I shouldn’t be writing this while I’m hungry. Oh well. So many options, so many things you can do with pork that you can’t do with other meats. If I could only eat one, I’d eventually get bored from any other options… 

Speaking of great things you can do with pork, the other day I was up to my old grilling tricks. I’d gotten a pork butt roast from the grocery store. And, I remembered that pork and apples go together like boys and rowdiness, so naturally, I soaked up some of my applewood chunks and grilled me a savory, juicy, amazing smoked pork roast. Want some? Just follow these easy steps.

First prepare you grill. Spread burning coals out over one side of the grill, the side opposite your vent, if you have a fixed vent. Next gather pre-soaked applewood chunks. I let them soak overnight, depending on the size of your chunks, you’ll want to soak them anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. Lay the applewood over the coals right before you’re ready to place your roast on the grill. 

To spice a pork butt roast is simple enough. I used salt, pepper, and cinnamon and rubbed them all over the roast. Next, I cut small holes throughout the meat, and stuffed garlic cloves and basil leaves into them. I did about 5 holes. Use as much as you wish. The roast I bought happen to have a nice netting holding it together, which made the next step easy. I stuffed apple slices underneath the netting, covering the top of the roast. If you don’t have a netting, you could use toothpicks, or perhaps placing them in holes might work. 
Once you’ve done all that, you are ready to throw the pork on the grates, opposite the coals. As you take in the heavenly applewood aroma, position the lid on the grill with the vent sitting over the roast. Leave covered for at least one hour. Feel free to add quicker cooking foods after that time. The meat will take longer than one hour, but you want to keep the smoke in and not allow the fire to get too hot. 

Using an instant read thermometer, I wanted to check for an internal temperature of 145 degrees (because that’s what the National Pork Board recommends), but I left it in a smidge too long for that temp. It hit 165. I’ve read some places that say you should cook all meats to 165, but posh. 145 is likely the absolute lowest you’d want to go with pork. Anyway, mine was 165, and it was still excellent. So, take that information and do with it as you wish. Larger chunks of meat can handle higher temp better than, say, a chop. 

Once the roast hits the temperature you want, pull it out and let it rest for 10 minute. Once rested, slice it up against the grain, take out the garlic chunks (if you’re not tough enough to handle them), and enjoy.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"The Suvivor" knife--The junk from the 80's was better.

Image result for survival knife compass

“That’s not a knife…” Pulls out a knife as long as my forearm. “Now that’s a knife.” An iconic line, from one of my favorite movies when I was younger. You know the movie?

Crocodile Dundee. Along with the crocodile-tooth banded hat and gator-skin vest, his knife was the one of those things every 80’s kid wanted. (I also wanted an Indiana Jones whip, but that is neither here nor there.) Another great iconic knife was the Rambo knife. Sharp blade on one side, jagged edge on the other. The guy could use it, and it alone, and survive for years out in the wild. Setting booby traps, hunting up some food, and sticking it to his enemies.

Thus, (letting my mind wander back to the 80’s like everyone else seems to be doing right now) one of the decades biggest fads was The Survivor knife. Here's the original ad. 12 inches--yes a full foot--of manliness. Razor sharp blade (so they said) on one side, and a jagged saw side on the other with some sort of notch near the handle. I never knew what that notch was for. I remember someone telling me it had something to do with fishing.

But wait… there was more. As if an entire foot of rough toughness wasn’t enough. At the end of the handle, the was a liquid precision compass, letting you know where you are and where you’re going. In addition, it came with the companion survival kit cleverly hidden within the handle of the knife.

What was in the kit? Why, everything you needed to survive. An emergency fishing kit. (Fishing string and some hooks.) A sewing repair kit. (When sewing stuff is inside a knife, then it becomes manly.) A survival cable saw. And Waterproof matches. Plus, they’d throw in a sheath with a sharpening stone.

Sharpening stones… I remember sitting on our front porch running a knife blade over sharpening stones for hours. There was something calming, relaxing about it. Why don't we do that anymore?

Anyway… Eventually I got one, turns out they were mostly a cheap gimmick, at least the ones mass advertised. The compass fell out of its socket. The saw broke shortly after cutting one tree. I lost the fishing line. I’m sure I burned up the matches doing some dumb thing I did as a kid. And, to top it off, one day when I was throwing it--of course I was throwing it, cuz that's what Rambo and Crocodile Dundee did--the handle, which was nothing but cheap plastic, shattered.

But, for a spell, I felt like Crocodile Dundee or Rambo. I guess.

That brings me to today… I mean why wouldn’t it. Now, I don’t want to get all, “Kids these days got it too easy… Their too weak…” (Of course, I shouldn't compare others to myself, because I was always gifted concerning manliness.) But, where has that rowdy interest in knives gone? I mean, I’m not exactly passing on the tradition with my boys as much as I could. Yet, at a macro level, there does not seem to be quite an interest.

Perhaps, no one dares market such tools to boys anymore. I guess if they're just going to pawn off cheap junk knives, perhaps it is a good thing. The cheap stuff from our day is way much better than cheap stuff now.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Free range children?

Figuring out the parenting game is wrought with all kinds of strife. How much do we hold tightly, how much do we loosen the reigns? As of late, I’ve heard the new-fangled term for old-style parentin’. Free Range children. I like the concept… Particularly in theory. The idea of simply letting our kids roam freer. 

A while ago, I was watching a conference from several free-range kid scholars. You can watch it here. They were even people with big fancy degrees. And, they were speaking of the need for kids to figure out gobs of experiences for themselves. In fact, the crux of a lot of what they were saying, is that when kids grow up with authority figures always solving their problems, they expect it throughout the rest of their lives. 

The individuals featured in this conference shared a few examples of their own trials. They all live in New York City. One man spoke of how he let his children run ahead of him toward the street. He trusted his kids to stop. The greatest issues he had to deal with was other people chiding him for letting his kids get so far ahead of him. He’d explain that he knew his kids would stop. But, their response was, “But what if they didn’t.” I relate with this… Not that I get chided when my children run ahead of me to the street, just that I get nervous… I too think, what if they don’t stop. What if they get too far ahead that they are beyond my control? 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mozart's Don Giovanni and Byron's Don Juan: A cultural shift

A while back, I got to see my first live opera at the Washington Pavilion. Don Giovanni. My favorite. Mozart’s masterpiece, often called the opera of operas. A brilliant work from start to finish. But, as with many operas, and other forms of media, the story of Don Giovanni did not originate with Mozart (or his liberist Da Ponte). His is simply a reinterpretation of an old legend: Don Juan. Some have proclaimed it was Mozart’s opera that gave the legend staying power.Max Slevogt - Der Sänger Francisco d'Andrade als Don Giovanni in Mozarts Oper - Google Art Project.jpgThroughout history and even today, artists have been reimagining some of history's greatest stories, often to prop their own worldviews. Some have done this well, keeping true to the source material, some have not. The legend of Don Juan has gone through many such reinterpretations. Even recently, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon, fit this category. (I have not seen it.) In fact, with so many reinterpretations out there, I wonder how many truly know the themes, the purpose of the original. Let’s try an experiment. If I were to say someone was a Don Juan, what image pops into your head? A suave, romantic lady’s man who knows how to charm any woman with his beautiful gestures, music and words? (You know, the kind of man I was when I was younger…) Or, do at least we think of Don Juan as a sympathetic figure, as opposed to a creeper. 

To me, it seems Don Juans are propped in our culture. Whereas Mozart’s opera and legends of old portray the man as an unsympathetic figure who only sees women as numbers to place in his book of conquests, refusing to acknowledge and repent of his deceiving, ravaging and murdering ways. 

How has the legend so shifted? Now, I’ve not dug deep into such research, but I think it likely stems from Lord Byron’s version of Don Juan. I read this some time back, mainly because my oldest son’s name is Byron. (Interestingly enough, Tea--the town where I live--used to be named Byron.) And, in my pursuit to read something from all the greats, I thought why not read Don Juan, an epic poem, or as Byron called it, an Epic satire. The poem makes it quite clear from the beginning, that Byron is out to mock traditional thought, whether it be the poets or morals of the day. 

In his epic, Byron portrays Don Juan as a tragic figure whom women throw themselves at because he is so irresistible. Since he cannot control the fact that so many women love him and because society looks down upon such activities, he gets into trouble. Now, I’m not out to say that Byron’s Don Juan is absent of valid criticism, but I think this work illustrates a general shift in thought at the time. A shift that I think is more and more prevailing in western philosophies. That our actions are simply a product of the societies we live in. Improve the culture, and you improve individual. Personal responsibility shifts to societal responsibility. 

Yes. There are people who are truly victims of circumstance. Don Giovanni’s victims were such. But, the cure then, is for the individual who cast such despair repent of such offenses. How can a society make up for such a crime, without reaching the heart of the individual? I believe a societal-responsibility-first mindset is dangerous, for it free individuals to shift focus elsewhere. In the end, aren’t societies simply a collection of individuals? And if no individuals believe they are at fault for a culture’s problems, how will anything get fixed? Ultimately, even the most of the societal-responsibility mindsets are in actuality crying out for our leaders to take personal responsibility in order to fix our problems. Either way, they still cast the fault at the feet of individuals. 

Many see Lord Byron as a voice for the common man, but I see him as just another Don Giovanni. A wealthy aristocrat, who lived wildly, had numerous affairs, and wasted money on lavish living. Byron had his share of troubles. How many were self-inflicted? How many were from circumstance? I don’t know, but to get a sense, he would have blamed most of his trouble on societal issues. (Surely, he had good reasons for some such blamings.)

And, Mozart was quite similar in nature. But, Don Giovanni carries what I believe to be deeper truths. Mozart’s Don Giovanni was given a chance to repent, but refused. Byron's Don Juan had no need to repent, because he was a victim of circumstance. Or, the victim of the standards that were placed upon him. And, within us all (I know this to be true of myself) there is a bit of Don Giovanni. We can look at our trespasses and trivialize them, deny them and/or blame others (as Don Giovanni does). There’s also a tendency to refuse to admit we messed up. But, that is when we must swallow our pride and take any opportunity to apologize and make things right.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The excitement of the new

When I was around 14, I got my first job. Or, I should say I got my first job were I was paid--you know with taxes, FICA and stuff. My mom was a hog unit manager, and her employer paid me to help out. For most of my youth, hog unit exposure was a given. Those less-than-sweet smelling places, where one was required to shower before entering and leaving. It seemed ironic that one had to clean up before going into a pigsty.

More and more, the units of old are closing down. The one I used worked at has been torn down. The one we used to live at is now a Hutterite colony. And most (if not all) the units from here to Howard are abandoned. Perhaps, that’s the way it goes… At one time, smaller-based hog units were a newfangled exciting business opportunity. And, the model has faded. Not sure how. Or what’s taken over. I’m guessing huge outfits. I haven’t kept up. Plus, I haven’t stepped near one in years, let alone in one.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Fire Fun, Smoke Snuffing

So, how often have you gathered around a campfire with a group of friends only to have the fun sucked out by that smoke billow that seems to follow you wherever you sit? Growing up, we used to say that smoke followed whoever was the best/hottest person. Fake flattery aside, it’s still no fun to be engulfed in smoke, when you want to relax.

Now, as I have become more learned in the ways of fire, I’ve figured out that so often we commit a sin again fire that causes it to spew grey billows our way. We anger it… Fire’s desire? Proper air flow.
From my Army survival manual, I learned how to make a Dakota Fire Pit. Sure, while trapped out in enemy territory, a soldier may need to make a fire, one doesn't want to give a position away, so it makes sense to dig a hole for a fire. But, there lies in the problem. Fires draw in their air from the bottom. By placing a fire in a hole, you essentially choke the fire. When a fire lacks oxygen, it creates more smoke.
The Dakota Fire Pit solves this problem by having you dig a smaller, adjacent hole next to the fire pit. And then connect the two holes with a tunnel. This allows the fire to draw oxygen from the tunnel in order to feed it, which has a twofold effect. It gives the fire air, and it also creates less smoke. 

So often, we have similar problems when we create campfires. (And this also is a problem with grills.) Many fire pits are nothing more than an elevated hole in the ground. (Or, grills are nothing but charcoals sitting at the bottom of a plugged up bowl.) Thus, bothersome smoke often accompanies what should be a pleasant experience. Taking cues from the Dakota Fire Pit, we can apply these techniques to our campfires. The simplest solution to create a fire with less smoke is to raise the fire off the ground with a grate-like fixture. Once at a garage sale, I found a cast-iron grate from fireplace. I use in my fire pit., and it works great.

But, what if you’re out camping and you don’t have such an option? There are a few other techniques you can employ. One, you can stack your wood on a pile of spaced rocks. This helps draw air from the bottom. Or, if rocks are not available, you can stack a few layers of crisscrossed sticks at the bottom of a campfire. Sure, eventually, they’ll catch on fire, but in the meantime, you can enjoy less smoke as you soak in the heat of the hotter burning fire. 

Another trick I learned from my handy-dandy Army survival manual: by digging a cross-shaped trench beneath your fire extending well past the diameter of your fire, you allow fire to pull in air from various direction. And, if there is a breeze from various directions, the wind will follow one of the channels to feed you fire. If you build your own home fire pit, you could incorporate this design into. Perhaps even place a grate over the intersection of the cross. Or, you can dig the cross-like trench beneath campsite fire rings (now I’ve never tried this, and I know many campsite fire pits have concrete bottoms making this impossible).

However you cook it, I hope these tips help your campfire experience from going up in smoke.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Battle of Hastings

Norman Knight Sometimes I look at the small victories in life, and think of them as insignificant. You know, those events where I just barely eek out what I was supposed to accomplish. (But, not the small defeats for some reason. Those are almost always significant.) Yet, sometimes we just don’t see the significance in even the most seemingly insignificant victories. We think well, if I barely made it, it can’t really mean that much… But, the past is filled with near-miss victories, that have dramatically changed history.

For my current novel--Domesday Relic--I’m doing some research into the history of England, and one such moment comes to mind. The Battle of Hastings. This one day, a sloppy battle in 1066 propelled William the Conqueror to a throne, setting up systems, cultures, languages, and legal documents that still exist today.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Heaping up in order to beat them down

When battling, we often think the more weapons you have, the better. But, what good does having a lot of weapons do, if we don’t know how to use them? In our ever growing divisive culture, many people apply such tactics. When we disagree. When we dislike. Or when we despise a certain point-of-view, we believe the more points we have to beat down our opponents, the better. 

I adamantly disagree… But I don’t want to beat anyone who disagrees with me with gobs of points. 

I know. I know. It is so very tempting to lash out when we hear a possible ‘gotcha’ flub our opponents might make. Any hint of a mess up. Any shred of flaw. We can’t wait to use it against our enemies. And, the more points we have the better… Right?