Saturday, December 31, 2011

My New Year's Resolutions

Okay, I think I pretty much have my new year's resolutions set up, but they could still use some polishing. I can always toy around and figure it out as I go along, and there's no problem setting additional resolutions in the middle of the year.

The first three are intended to be chronological pretty much, while all the rest are either concurrent throughout the year or can be tackled at leisure. Again, I'm trying to be less concrete-bound than I was last year, this time opting for more broad goals that will help direct me to form concrete goals around it.

1.) Get a second job in culinary-oriented place and stop washing dishes:

Ha, I've been washing dishes professionally for about two years now. It's time to move on, hopefully into fine dining. I can afford to be a little bit more picky this time now that I have a job to hold me well, so in a week or so I'm going to begin hunting down all the great places. It sticks in my mind that I should focus on hotels, for some reason.

My purpose in life isn't very concrete, but I do know I want to become a chef that specializes in protein cuisine (i.e. meat, fish, poultry, game, etc.), so I've got to go someplace where I can get a good knife in my hand. Hopefully I can use a second job as leverage to cease washing dishes at my current place and become totally a bartender and kitchen hand.

2.) Move into an apartment:

The above flows into this. It's unfortunate that I've lived with nothing but bad people for most of my life. My mother was freakishly unnerving with her emotional disorder, and my grandmother was always pushing her anxieties on me. While renting a room here in Texas is much better, I've come to detest my landlord since she, surprisingly, has a lot of the same attributes as my past family, even done to some speaking mannerisms. Plus she has maintained her health so poorly that she's had about literally a dozen "emergencies" with her type-1 diabetes, which has erased any sympathy I could have for her. (And I dislike dealing with the other roommate too.)

All in all, regardless of how it increases my cost, I simply value living alone very highly. When my mother temporarily moved to Florida and left the house all to myself it was heaven. No, I didn't have parties and hardly invited a single friend over; I just loved the peace. I cleaned the way I wanted to, ate the way I wanted to, organized the shelves I wanted to . . . I love being a self-responsible adult, and I relish that responsibility the most when I don't have other people around to interfere with me, particularly if they have emotional problems they force on me (as was the case in all the homes I've had so far).

Additionally, I think my current place constrains other goals such as cooking, since I have very limited pantry space and am too often pestered in the kitchen. I'll often procrastinate on coming out of my room in the morning if I hear somebody downstairs. I can be very social, but I just don't like living with people!

I don't dislike my current place intensely enough at least that I'm not willing to go move into a slum or ghetto, as my current income would limit me to. I can wait until I can afford something decent.

3.) Begin investing:

To protect my savings from inflation and whatnot. I don't like the thought of what kind of attention it would take to these issues in order to be able to make money, so my only concern is with protecting my actual financial worth. Buying precious metals and the like, for instance.

4.) Perform mental exercises every single day:

To reiterate my previous explanations in my previous articles, I want to do this since I've found that training specific mental skills has had very good benefits in the past. For example, doing arithmetic exercises mentally has helped me develop a mental calculator in the past.

My major goals in life will dictate what exercises I do. Math will be one particular, as I see great value in being able to do mental math for restaurant work, meaning culinary math. This is definitely a resolution I'll been polishing and mastering throughout the year, but so far I can only think of three areas I can perform these exercises: Math, concepts, and imagination.

For math, I'll use this and this website, mainly the former, to practice doing equations mentally, striving to do as complex of problems as quickly as possible. Of course, I won't be writing anything down during the solving, which is the key. I am frustrated, however, that these seem to be the best options out there, as I'd still like generators for decimals, percentages, fractions, and so on. If you know of any, let me know.

For concepts, I'll be doing my conceptual exercises again, at least five per day. I'm tired of reiterating what they are, so unless you ask let's settle for the fact that they're a little more sophisticated than a typical vocabulary exercise, instead being aimed at groundings terms in reality.

The imagination aspect was something that struck me as I was reading The Brain That Changes Itself that a whole spectrum of cognitive training is possible just through imagination alone. Succinctly, I've learned it's possible to practice and hone skills just by imagining them, literally. The book puts forth a strong case that imagining performing a skill stimulates the portions of the brain that are involved in actually performing that skill, so the imagination, with practice, can develop those parts of the brain. It's no substitute for real practice and doesn't yield as good of results, but it is promising in how it can aid. For instance, in learning how to carve a roast duck for work I could do the physical practice at work, in whatever way I can at home, and then practice some more with some imagination exercises. I see this as a god-send, as I've always wondered what's the best way to develop knife skills when, say, I can't afford fifty ducks to bring me to mastery. I know it sounds ridiculous, but read the book and it'll make perfect sense.

For this portion, I'll have to rely on context. It'll probably change rapidly throughout the year. I might imagine practicing a liquor pour the evening before and after I actually employ it in a shift, for instance, and then maybe a knife skill in preparation for the next.

I hope I can think of more cognitive exercises later on, but this is all I can conjure right now.

- 5.) Achieve mental exhaustion at least five times a week

The best improvements to my mental functioning come when I push myself hard enough that my brain feels fatigue. The above will flow into this, but won't always be a cause of it.

6.) Cure my bipolar and OCD tendencies

Already talked about it, and don't want to delve into it more for the moment. Simply put: I'm still recovering from a life of dealing with bad people.

7.) Optimize diet:

I've strayed a little too much from being optimally Paleo. 

8.) Practice cold meat preparations:

If work takes up so much of my time that it limits cooking at home, then I'd like to begin dabbling with something like sausage-making. 

9.) Turn reading into my primary form of entertainment:

I love books, but haven't habituated reading enough to experiencing the full power of their enrichment.

10.) Become more inspirational as a person:

This ties into a lot of things, such as how I want to be more assertive as a person, whereas I'm a lot more toned down nowadays. I seem to be tiring out too much now to competently elaborate, but to paraphrase Gandhi: You must be the change in the world you want to see.

11.) Buy and master more knives:

While I have the essentials, my collection is still incomplete. Also, I need to practice more. 

* * * * *

There might come more, but these are my new year's resolutions. What are yours?

(Edit: forgot to mention knives.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stumped on a Resolution

I intend to do a full post on my new years resolutions, as I haven't fully thought them out yet and the ones listed in my last article are still incomplete, but I could use your input on one resolution if you could give it. One I definitely know I'm going to pursue is the practice of doing cognitive exercises every single day. This is multi-faceted. For one, it would be really good for my mind and intelligence to do this, and would go a long way in enhancing my functioning, efficiency, and overall competence. For two, I've found that I best develop a skill -- although this is obvious -- when I isolate it and practice it intensively, so I'll be able to reach new heights of cognition by concentrating intensively on particular areas of importance, such as math and mental calculations (which would be helpful in doing culinary math as a chef). Thirdly, it would also combine into and assist another resolution, reaching cognitive exhaustion five times a week (i.e. exercising my brain so much that it makes me physically tired), as if all else fails in the day, I could achieve this goal by repeating my cognitive exercises until I'm sleepy. (I want to do this because I've noticed that the greatest and most rapid changes to my brain and mind came when I exerted myself to fatigue. I would go to sleep and "magically" find the next day that I've attained significant improvements in an area, such as the ability to whistle a note when I couldn't the day prior.) And finally, doing all this could give me more hours in the day and be more efficient since achieving cognitive exhaustion allows me to obtain "super sleep" during the night, the phenomenon of getting ultra-efficient sleep that's lasts a very short amount of hours but is insanely restful. How could one pass up all these benefits?

My difficulty is trying to figure out which exercises to do, and how and how often to perform them. My particular mode of thinking right now is that since there are seven days in a week I could do seven different exercises to maximize variety and balance, but there are some complexities. Some particular exercises, I think, should be done everyday and not once a week, and then there's the other confounding factor of, say, trying to do multiple exercises in a day, doing more than seven different ones in a week, and just varying what combination I do each day (and never doing ALL of them on one day, since that would be too time-consuming).

So far all I know for certain is that I want to do a math and conceptual exercise.Ultimately I'm trying to stick to exercises that's relevant to my most important functions in life, so these are the only two I can identify right now.

For the math, it would be of immense benefit to be able to quickly and accurately do mental calculations in my head since I work in the restaurant industry. Lots of math is involved: divvying up tips among workers, determining discount percentages, the yield and cost of a particular recipe, and much much more. At my current stage I think it would be greatly helpful in serving costumers by doing calculations in my head rather than being held servant to cumbersome and possibly buggy computer (and, not to neglect, impress them with my fluent ability and garner tips!), and later on it could also be helpful in dealing with tax stuff and whatnot at the end of a shift. There's other uses too, such as adding up my grocery total in my head during shopping, figuring out the best prices, and so on. There's math everywhere, and I've been far too weakened by voluntarily enslaving myself to the calculator.

To practice, what I'd do is find (or possibly create) an online math equation generator online and then practice figuring out the problems for a certain amount of time. The challenge is that I won't allow myself to write anything down: I must do everything in my head.The practice lapsed before, but I once did this with addition and subtraction with another generator and got very skilled, to the point that I plateaued only because I maxed out the numbers and digits the generator was capable of producing. It was entertaining, challenging, and kept me quite sharp in my everyday functions.

While I do know exactly what type of practice I'd like to conduct here, the only concern is with finding the right generator. Do you guys know of any? I want to play with ones that are capable of producing very complex problems with a lot of numbers and digits, like ten numbers all with ten digits, and decimals too. I'd like to utilize generators capable of producing different kinds of problems too, like fractions, percentages, and so on, but if I have to use multiple generators for that, then that's okay. I can find these generators online, but the difficulty is that the ones I've one have some annoying constraints, such as maxing out at too few numbers and digits, hence limiting how far I can challenge myself.

The conceptual exercises, on the other hand, are a more philosophically sophisticated vocabulary-type exercise. The reason why I don't just call it a vocabulary exercise is because I'm not just learning a word and its definition; I'm trying to train my psycho-epistemology and integrate the concept into my knowledge, thereby working to keep me reality-oriented, have a well connected network of concepts, and so on. Of course, it does bear some similarity to a vocabulary exercise, such as picking out unfamiliar words and looking up their dictionary definition. What I do to go beyond that is work to connect the concept to its proper chain (such as visualizing chairs and tables to understand "furniture," or figuring out how the concept is derived from another or is a precursor to a higher one, etc.), what it's similar to, and what's its distinguishing features are. Definitely more intense than the normal vocabulary exercise. The way I've got it now still has some kinks, but it's overall good. The main problem is with productivity: It has a few burdensome elements in it that makes me procrastinate on and drop the practice, as it's annoying to maintain. I'm okay doing the exercise; it just annoys me to have to be on the lookout for words to perform exercises with (such as during reading, when I don't want to break my concentration) and documenting them for later reference (I used my audio recorder before, but it's annoying to have to listen to separate audio files that consist of only a single word). If I can smash these annoyances then the practice will be much easier to maintain, but I guess until then I'm going to have to just exercise discipline. I thought of this whole practice, I think, years ago, and despite recognizing its immense value I've had a lot of trouble doing it regularly, and often dropped it for months at a time.

Kinks and whatever, those are the cognitive exercises I can think of so far to do, but what else is there? A physical practice to develop my motor skills for cooking and bartending? A audio challenge exercise to enhance my listening ability for coworkers and costumers at work? (A book I'm reading right now noted a blind woman that developed the audio portion of her brain so much that she can comprehend speech at a rate way above normal.) Just what other areas of my brain and practices can I challenge to push my cognitive limits in 2012? The sky is no limit. Could you, perhaps offer some suggestions? I do have other ideas on how to improve myself cognitively, such as speeding up my handwriting while maintaining neatness and speeding up my reading while retaining or speeding up comprehending ability, but those, I think, are distinct because I can incorporate their practice into a great many activities rather than isolating them and stop pushing myself once I reach my goals, whereas the cognitive exercises are mostly isolated and will be practiced indefinitely.

For right now, I'll keep thinking. Despite an approaching "deadline," I doubt the police will come after me if I don't settle on my resolutions before midnight on the 31st. And there shouldn't be anything wrong with making new year's resolution during the new year, right?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Bittersweet 2011, and Prospects for 2012

Alright, finally a day off from work and time enough to write! It being near the end of 2011 I'd like to reflect on how this year went and what my plans are for 2012. Before I tackle how I did on this year's resolutions I'd like to take a brief chronological tour of the events.

All in all, this has been a bittersweet year. I got some major things done which changed my life in a major way, but I've been against myself psychologically in a way that's been holding me back hugely, so the major up points are offset by major vices. It's taken a long time, but I'm starting to make progress on bettering myself, which I realize now I need to focus on if 2012 is to be great.

I don't really remember much about January except my dedication to the Project. As some might know, quite a while ago I had a thing going vaguely called "The Project," which I had to keep secret since it was actually a plot to move away and cut my family off from my life. The first three months of the year pretty much orbited around the Project.

A little context is needed to understand the Project I suppose, but I'd like to write on it minimally since I'm still having a hard time dealing with some of its lasting mental aspects, which I think are exacerbated when I talk about my situation (and is why I tend to dislike talking about it in person). Concisely, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that my family was in no way helpful to the pursuit of my happiness, and after fighting with them for years about certain decisions which have massively enhanced my well-being I devised "The Project" as my last resort to solving our disputes. Whenever I tried initiating a dialogue to talk about our problems I would get yelled at, lied to, have the topic shifted to irrelevant fields, have the person pretend not to remember or know certain facts, and even be walked away from, so our problems continue to accumulate and make the relationship increasingly unhappy. At root the hostility began when I decided to disassociate from my mother when she kicked me out of the house in 2008, for knocking on her bedroom door too loudly. While I wasn't abused or physically neglected, I was spiritually neglected and deprived of the attention I really wanted, and other elements -- such as her unpredictable emotional explosions -- made dealing with her mentally hellish, and she contributed a lot to suicidal tendencies I nurtured for over a decade. She was well aware of how much I was suffering under her care, especially since I told her flat-out, but time and time again she chose to run away from her parenting responsibilities, thus making it a moral failure rather than innocent mistake, so when I finally intellectually recognized that I detested my mother I secretly planned to cut her off and did so accordingly when she kicked me out about three years later.

I told my family about the reasoning behind my decision and supported it with concrete incidents from my childhood, but everyone was displeased and hostile about my continual refusal to deal with my mother. What's contemptible is how almost every single person conducted himself: They'd ignore my position entirely, mouth conclusions without support or evidence, refuse to give support or evidence when asked, restate their conclusions verbatim perpetually without making changes, and then resort to mean tactics such as yelling, name calling, nasty e-mails, and public intimidation when I inevitably didn't change my position. I'm not going to overturn the conclusions I've drawn from hours of thinking and hundreds of pages of writing just because someone uttered a three-word belief; if they were to influence my actions, they had to direct themselves at my  mind, and instead they stupidly tried plucking at my heartstrings by quoting tired cliches and being savage. Rude isn't the word; they were uncivilized.

As much as I tried going about my own affairs, not forcing or putting a burden on anyone, my family continued to meddle, particularly my grandmother, whom I lived with. I wasn't engaging in any self-destructive behaviors, and yet whenever I did anything that was contrary to popular opinion or whatever their beliefs were we'd have endless disputes and pressures in our relationship. I would always give my reasoning, thinking, and research behind my actions, but they would always counter by, again, mouthing conclusions without evidence or support, refusing to give evidence or support when asked, restating their conclusions verbatim perpetually without making changes, and then resort to mean tactics such as yelling, name calling, nasty e-mails, and public intimidation when I didn't change. Worse yet, they simply could not drop the issue and allow us to part our ways in this realm and deal with whatever reality we might bring forth; every dispute would become an issue forever haunting our relationship, sometimes for years. I almost never brought the issue up in conversation; they would. Since I lived with my grandmother, I was primarily fighting with her: we fought over cruise control in cars, potatoes, rolling shirt sleeves, and, for god's sake, what the sunlight does to the carpet. Nothing was off limits, and since I was totally unable to predict how my grandmother would respond to anything I developed an immense anxiety around her, since literally anything could set off a dispute. They were other problems too, such as the fact my grandmother is neurotically obsessed with what other people believe about her and spends a significant amount of time searching for dark events to feel bad about (as some kind of moral duty to recognize the bad in life), which just made dealing with her absolutely miserable.

After such a difficult childhood I was willing to simply wipe everyone's slate clean and get on with my life and, I wished, begin to love my family, but they gave so little support to my pursuit of well-being that I've come to hate them the most out of all the people I've ever dealt with. Regarding disassociating my mother, not a single person has ever contested my points or said that my conclusions were wrong: they deceive themselves into believing what they want to believe (e.g. since I disassociated from my mother right after she kicked me off, most family members probably make themselves believe that that's the issue driving my actions, despite my saying otherwise several times and pointing to other problems), mouth conclusions in hopes that it'll somehow bypass any argument I've put forth, and then resort to intimidation (such as yelling) when it fails. I think the source of their hostility is that they recognize I speak the truth and need to evade it in order to avoid emotional discomfort and to continue conducting their lives as they have, and they needed me to play along and reconnect with my mother in order to solidify the evasions. When I didn't, I became a scapegoat for their own internal problems.

As the disputes continue I gradually developed an obsession with figuring out solutions. It didn't bother me much at first since I was oblivious to any other problems outside of my relationship with my mother, and entirely focused on healing myself and getting my life back together after spending so much time in erosion, almost committing suicide. For a while, I was uninterrupted in my dedication, but as the problems continued, built up in quantity, and intensified it got to the point where I could hardly read a book without being distracted, and got upset if my grandmother merely entered the room. My mind wheeled away as to how to rationally solve these problems so I could continue my life, but after observing how infinitely evasive my family members were I kept running into dead ends and started thinking in circles. For instance, whenever I tried thinking on how I could modify my arguments to make them at least acknowledge it I couldn't drop their evasive mentalities from my thought processes, which led to me continually dreaming of scenarios where they simply don't listen, pretend not to know things they do actually know, and yell at me. My life got incredibly better with my mother out of the picture, but I plateaued in my improvements since the new problems called for me to put my life on hold until they were solved.

After trying many methods, doing research, and seeking input from lots of other people for about two years, I finally realized there's no reasonable way to deal with these people. They simply won't acknowledge to me or themselves that it's my thinking driving me, so there's absolutely nothing I can say which will make them pay heed; they have to make the choice themselves, and they won't. Furthermore, while I cannot predict what will concretely come about I do know their characters enough to know that disputes will continue to arise endlessly in the future, as whenever I contradict popular opinion or their beliefs it leads to upsets, and since I exert no effort in knowing what popular opinions are or what their beliefs are when it comes to choosing my own actions -- I use my own, individual judgment -- that also means I'll have to deal with the anxiety of not knowing how anyone will respond to any one thing.

It took a long time to reach the decision, but I decided to move away and cut them off from contact. Deriving conclusions from the principles of their character, I knew the problems wouldn't cease if I merely moved away and kept my address and phone number apparent because then they would just bring their behaviors to my new home, probably with greater intensity. I also knew this from the fact that my grandmother once had my mother attempt to cut her off, but my grandmother continued to persist in attempting to deal with her for the three years that lasted. To make the problems end totally, I had to cut them off totally. Since they were of no spiritual value to me in my youth, often either worsening my psychologically or passively allowing me to suffer, and interfered with my long-awaited healing, I wasn't hesitant to do so either. I tried having a healthy relationship with them and tried resolving our differences, and failed at every try.

It took about a year's worth of struggling, but I've finally made it to Texas, though I'm renting a room from an old lady rather than having an apartment to myself. In 2010 I got my first restaurant job, but no matter how hard I pushed I couldn't get myself to the point where I could afford to live on my own, especially with the psychological difficulties I was dealing with, and decided to move out of state to integrate into The Project another goal, my desire to leave Michigan. I didn't actually realize my family was the source of my troubles until about 19; before then I was always dealing with horrible people outside, such as vicious bullies, passive teachers that didn't care, and more. I've dealt with so many bad people that I think it's a full-blown cultural aspect of Michigan, which has been making me yearning to get out. (And yes, I think Texas is better in that realm.)

Now that the context has been established, I don't remember much of January except that maybe, as I always was at the time, dealing with the frustrations of my family. I was a dish washer at the time just beginning to do some line work, mostly deep frying, and probably during that month decided I wanted to move out of state since I detested Michigan so much, and would probably be better off knocking off two goals at once, since moving out of state might have been harder if I were incurring living expenses beforehand. Moving to Texas immediately made me have more of my savings at my disposal to cushion me.  (Though, to be clear, I moved in March.)

It was in Febuary that the real happenings began, as my cousin managed to secure me a night at her old restaurant in Dallas. I talked to the Sous chef and we agreed on a date, and then spent the weekend driving up there to take advantage of opportunity. God I won't forget that drive: So exciting, yet so uncomfortable. Standing up at the gas station was bliss. Looking back, I'm rather impressed with my adult capabilities: The way I was able to secure the motel reservations, plan my expenses, and so on . . . it was a big undertaking and accomplishment. I was tremendously curious when I entered Texas, but I could only limit myself to touring the gigantic Whole Foods nearby and buying some chocolates I couldn't find at home, and spent most of that day anxiously awaiting my appointment at the restaurant. It was a very exciting night that increased my enthusiasm for getting into fine dining. Oh, I loved it, and am proud I went. It's probably my greatest accomplishment for the year. Afterwards the sous chef said I had some very good prospects there, and to contact him when I got home in Michigan. Another long drive home.

When I did contact him he said he would help me find a job once I did move up there, so to me that was the signal that the race was on to get the hell out. I may not have had a job yet, but there sure was opportunity . . . more than I can say of Michigan. I let my employer know how things went and got their blessing to leave. They even guaranteed my job back if things went awry. So, with an opportunity I couldn't pass up, I arranged to move to Texas in March, and arrived March 2nd.

Unfortunately, March to mid-April was a little nerve-wracking. I thought I was a shoo-in at my cousin's old restaurant, but it turned out they didn't have any positions available, so all the sous chef could do was nudge me in the direction of a few places. I immediately went to a country club he recommended that he hailed the chef there as his mentor and even supposedly got a job there, but since they continued to endlessly procrastinate on my starting date I ran dangerously close to running out of money. They were my ideal prospect since the job could have both supported me and really moved forward my culinary learning, but waiting for them turned out to be too financially risky and forced me to find another job at a pizza place, which I secured on tax day of April. I wasn't enthusiastic, but hey, as long as I'm in the restaurant industry.

Doubly unfortunate is that both the country club chef and sous chef bailed out on me. I sous chef I auditioned for moved out of state and pretty much hasn't been in contact with me since then, and the country club chef continually lied to me and led me on, forcing me to simply eliminate him as a prospect. Initially I was supposed to start at the country club just a few weeks after they "hired" me, but then they started delaying it by weeks, and then months, which forced me to find employment elsewhere. I'm still bitter about it since I trusted that guy and was looking so immensely forward to finally do some serious culinary work, so duping me like that has wasted far too great amounts of time. I then accepted my position at my current pizza place and began to enjoy it, and excelled to the point that I became the most valued dishwasher there.

Truth be told, I think April to November has been some of most difficult months emotionally for me. Even though I cut off the concrete source of my problems, my family, there was still a lasting psychological impact. Attempting to think of solutions to my problems for so many years while I was still dealing with them has wired some very bad thinking habits into my brain, and as a result I still tend to run over the same thoughts again, to the point it consumes hours, even thought it's no longer cognitively useful. I dislike talking about it with my friends since the subject tends to open this Pandora's Box of bad habits, and brings a lot of negativity back. (Furthermore, while my position isn't difficult to comprehend, it does require a lot of points to understand the full context, which makes me annoyed when people assume I'm in a typical teenager situation when I don't elaborate on everything.)

All the progress I made on healing myself emotionally was pretty much undone during the disputes with my family, and in combination with facing bleak aspects of today's world situation I've been spending much of the year battling a sense of hopelessness and depression, which has been preventing me from going hard-core at developing my talents since I have this stupid sense that it's somehow not worth it. For instance, while I've kept myself financially stable, I've been having difficulty remaining rationally frugal since the prospect of hyperinflation has been making me viewing my money as destroyed savings, tempting me to spend while it still has any value. And the prospect of an upheaval in prices (hyperinflation, again) and destruction of food production has been preventing me from seriously practicing my cooking since I view matters as lost and that I shouldn't start any skill-development routines since I'll just be promptly stopped midway and won't be able to go any further. While these are real danger, I also know better in that there are ways to protect myself against these evils (e.g. investing in precious metals to protect money; growing own food to cook with), but I've been having severe trouble in making myself emotionally believe that and act accordingly. Stranger still, I still maintain an optimism for the future, that there's a good, fighting chance for a better future in our lifetime, so the crux of my problem is in coping with what I ultimately perceive to be the wild turbulence on the way there. Intellectually, better and better ideas are coming onto the scene and seem to be making healthy progress; I think all the bad things yet to be suffered are potent only by the means of momentum. They only have power because they had a head-start. We can win, so what I think we're fighting now is just pure, bad inertia. The question, I think, is how to best deal with those bad things in the meanwhile, such as the prospect of hyperinflation. The question has been provoking the worst of emotions in me, and in the end I see now that such disturbances has really held me back from pursuing my goals full-force. Emotionally, I've believed partially that life will somehow end or be destroyed on the other side of these events, though I never even have a clear picture why, and that has been tempting me to procrastinate and be idle in my endeavors since I don't view them as something that will be allowed to amount to something worthwhile in the end. Paraphrasing Keynes: "In the long-run we're all dead."

But I know better. There's time yet to win and ways to protect oneself. I need to make myself believe that if I'm to start getting ahead once more, much like how I made rapid progress back in my teens when I first discovered Objectivism and was unimpeded by other people's objections.

So the time between April and November has pretty much been a waste, I'm ashamed to say. I've gotten ahead at work and built up my savings, but mentally I've really stagnated on doing things such as enhancing my intelligence, making material progress at other goals, and so on. Oh, the only notable thing I can recall during that period is starting and ending Capital Bean, the website I created to showcase my chocolate reviews. After a few months of that I realized I was eating more chocolate than I wanted to, both in terms of desire and health, and that it was distracting from my real culinary goal of becoming specialized in meat, fish, and poultry, as I not only value these foods the most but also find I perform best on them health-wise.

Worthy of note is that my mother died in June. I didn't talk to her after I had left for Texas, ignored her on her deathbed, and don't regret it. She was a terrible person. She let her emotions dictate her actions almost down to a T, and living a life of acting on whims has utterly destroyed and ruined her in every possible way, including health, relationships, and career. She had no friends or lovers, wasted in her time in a career she didn't like, abused the hell out of her body, wasted years being idle, and ultimately passed after having lived in a self-constructed hell on earth. My birth was certainly an accident and probably a product of her whim-driven ways, and she may have even been maliciously attempting to trap a man, as my last name is that of my married father, but I have a different biological father. Neither man has been present in my life.

Growing up with her was hellish too. While she provided for me in food, shelter, and entertainment -- though that's debatable since she depended so heavily for a long time on government and family handouts -- but emotionally I was neglected. She was just an utterly passive parent. She might as well have locked me in a room with a bunch of toys, books, and video games to deal with, as that's what her parenting style essentially amounts to. We never did any meaningful activities together -- she was always giving me something else to do alone while she watched television all night after work. I begged her continuously to play with me, but she has relented fewer than five times in my life, which pretty much left me to grow up alone, especially since my grandmother and grandfather did virtually the same thing when I went to their house (movies, T.V., and video games), though I at least remember taking walks with my grandfather. My mother has contributed nothing spiritually or intellectually to the being I possess today, and you could say she literally expected society to raise me instead of her, since she practically never offered guidance. I was never even given the birds and the bees talk; she just started talking about sex casually at one point, as if I already had been taught what I needed to know (which I had, from school instead of her).

Most significantly, she has contributed the most to the suffering I had to endure while growing up. If anything, I have two dominant images in my mind that symbolizes who she was: her walking around the room holding her temples, complaining of an imminent nervous breakdown, and her laying on the couch under a blanket with her eyes open and glassy, trying to sleep. Oh she was always trying to nap away her depression, and she never succeeded in the decades she maintained the practice. I have my own theory as to how she became like this, but I think it's sufficient to say that she let her emotions dominant her thinking and actions, and for that she paid the price of literally ruining her life. Unfortunately I got partly caught in the process of her self-destruction, and because I couldn't think I ended up adopting a lot of her behavior, thinking, and emotional patterns, which made life so miserable that to keep myself calm I had to either be daydreaming, playing a video game, or watching television at nearly all times. I have to wonder if I might of suffered some trauma at her hands as well, as my life in first grade is the only year I remember positively nothing about despite having memories before and after close to that period.

Trying to deal with my problems with her was horrible. She got so distraught that she often freaked out and often blew up. Telling her that the bullies at school made me upset, for instance, moved her to shout at me. When I came seeking help on how to deal with my emotions she yelled and encouraged me to repress them. I often upset her with my kid antics when she was in a bad mood, and developed very low self-esteem since I believed I was a bad person for making my mother act this way. She frequently threatened to abandon me, and even went forth attempting it once. And whenever I showed evidence of a worsening psychology she either became hysterical, delegated me to other people, or simply evaded me. The worst event I can remember is when she fell silent and ignored me when I told her about my suicidal thoughts -- she just quietly went in the house and pretended nothing ever happened thereafter -- as that's a parenting failure of despicable magnitude, and became the pivotal turning point in our relationship where I would from then on distrust her, detest her, and eventually plan to cut her off forever. After she kicked me out and I was actually going through with not talking to her she destroyed herself more and more, to the point she herself attempted suicide and temporarily went insane. I'm glad I wasn't dealing with it, because she treated her family viciously given her overwhelming hatred. It's blatantly wrong to consider me the focal point of her suffering, as she was obviously suffering from her other ruined aspects of life, and it's easily ascertainable that if I reentered she would have found a new focal point to rationalize her pain.

I felt very dull when I found out she passed. I tried to make myself cry, but couldn't. I don't think I've shed a tear yet. But there is sadness. Just not in missing her. I'm sad she squandered her only chance of happiness by living a life of irrationally, whim and hate-driven actions, mindless indulgence, and general destruction. It's the *potential* the hurts me -- her potential to be a good person, to pursue her dreams, to be happy . . . all wasted now that she's dead and can no longer have second chances. Most of all, she ruined any chance we could have had at having a healthy mother-son relationship, as we simply could not continue on the way they were. I tolerated enough and had to get her out to pursue my happiness, and did so, and her continuing evasions and mean treatment of others demonstrated repeatedly that I made the right decision, right up until the day she died. Without a father I have officially joined the league of those parentless. Hmph. I never felt like I had a mother. However much she "loved" me it is her actions that count in judgment, and her actions were greatly unloving. 

I don't miss her. All that matters now is recovering from the damage, making up for lost time, and loving those who deserve to be loved.

In November, if I remember correctly, I successfully became one of the two new bartenders at my workplace, which has reignited my enthusiasm for my job. While I don't drink as per my regular habits, I do love a job that demands me to use my mind to get ahead, and there's an incredible amount of ways to stimulate my intellect. I can only hope there's plenty of customers to challenge me. (Then again, that's a secondary challenge: Pulling them in.) I'm very excited to begin my bartending shifts in January, but I've certainly have got to get my ass in gear in preparing my improvement ventures for the job. I still want to cook, but all in all it's still relevant since I ultimately want to learn everything. All knowledge is good knowledge. Until then, I'm dish washing, and will probably balance my bartending shifts with dish washing anyhow.

December has been a pretty busy much professionally, but again it's been slow in terms of intellectually progress, so I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to do for 2012. I had a lot of concrete-bound goals this year that largely got neglected or semi-completed, and I think the essential problem is that I haven't focused enough on my self. My lasting psychological difficulties are what's holding me back, and I need to ultimately address those with fury if I'm to reach my ideal state of being . . . perfection, in fact. If I can address all my mental shortcomings in 2012 who knows what the hell I'll be capable of then?

But before we think about 2012 let's go ahead and look at how I did on my resolutions for 2011:

* * * * *

1.) Get Project finished: Meaning moving to Texas. Done within the first three months of the year. It was full of an incredible amount of struggles, but I got here.

2.) Read 20 books: Drat! I ended up reading about nine, particularly because I ran into some technical problems. For instance, I realized that it isn't always in my best interest to read the entirety of a non-fiction book, so the books I skimmed didn't add to the total, and things such as comic books didn't count either. I read throughout the year, but the technicalities keep me from saying I've actually achieved my goal. Overall, I don't think I read intensely enough. This year I'd like to try making reading my primary form of entertaining, as I find I get much more out of it than I do watching programs, and merely need to establish the habit.

3.) Try out at least 3 different kinds of salt: I tried two, and flubbed the third. It was just something to stimulate my culinary thinking.

4.) Start writing activism articles regularly on activist-oriented blog: Technically I didn't, but then again I did. What I really did was take it in a different direction: Instead of writing full-blown articles, I made it a regular habit to post activist-related links on my Facebook profile and explain what I got out of it and thought about it, so in the end I still engaged in activism, just not in the form I planned on.

5.) Establish an original layout for my blog: I did for both Musing Aloud and Capital Bean. That may come as a surprise to some considering how simplistic they are. My lack of technical skills and knowledge in this area made is horrendously difficult and time-consuming, so I don't want to go through that again. In fact, it was so agitating that I pretty much recycled the template for this blog and am not going to bother prettying it up anymore, even if just to center the title. My god was it irritating.

6.) Cook a pasture-raised steak at least once: I cheated. When I moved to Texas I purchased some grass-fed ground beef from Whole Foods. It had a pleasant sweetness about it. I'd definitely try it again, and hopefully in the future I can get myself able to eat it regularly.

7.) Try out sous vide cooking: Totally failed, mainly because the stove is so crappy at my current home. Optimally a fire-top would be necessary in order to be able to attempt a duplication of sous vide cooking, but here it's a glass-top, which has made this goal a no-go.

8.) Improve my writing skills for chocolate reviews: However vaguely worded, I did accomplish it. My main concern was in taking more time and effort in constructing the pieces, rather than just publishing the first-go draft. I printed out the articles and edited them by hand even. Since I don't do chocolate reviews, however, this goal loses its relevancy.

9.) Buy a camera and start practicing food photography: I did, for Capital Bean.

* * * * *

In summary I'd consider this a very bittersweet year. I managed to complete the Project and end some very serious ongoing problems in life, and get into bartending to advance my career, but my failure to get into fine dining, intellectual stagnation, and ongoing emotional difficulties are disappointments that counterbalance the good points a little too significantly.

If you already know how much I value self-improvement ventures, you already know I value new years resolutions. This year, rather than set a lot of disperse concrete goals, I'd like to emphasize more a theme which will influence the concrete goals I set around it, which is an idea I've gotten from Trey Peden.

I want 2012 to be the Year of Self-Mastery.

Stated above is that a lot of the good things I managed to merge into my character have come undone due to the frequent disputes I ran into. It's debatable whether it had to happen or not, but I think my personality changed in face of these problems because they were omnipresent, which means I might have had to adapt in order to get by in day-to-day living. Mentioned above is that my grandmother would have emotional upsets over the smallest of issues, drag them on without end, and be unpredictable in how she would response, so I went from a person who was able to freely express his opinion to someone who hid it all the time and felt anxious at questions, because back then my opinion set off a number a fights regardless of how politely and properly I expressed it. I also used to be a hardcore studier and voracious reader, but I gradually lost both attributes since I started spending more and more time thinking about all the difficulties I was facing.

I was able to pursue and integrate a lot of good attributes since I went a long time without interfere and was unaware that any interference might come my way. I was just free to make any kind of changes I wanted to myself without annoyance, and I think I got pretty far. This isn't to say that I've actually reached my ideal state before, just that I got pretty well towards it before making some serious retrogression. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind is how rambunctiously I once acted in advertising a game during a fair at work. I loudly projected my voice and advertised vigorously, got enjoyably riled up with the people who decided to play, and overall just felt comfortable asserting myself in that way. It wouldn't be easy for me to be so bold today. Another scene that pops into mind is me engaging in intellectual arguments with my friends at the lunch table in high school, where I was able to freely express and defend my views while entertaining others, without a tinge of fear. Nowadays I'm not at all as vocal, and it's mainly because I've become afraid after dealing with so many emotional eruptions after that period. I'd like to reattain those attributes, and make other improvements to my mind that will set in place self-reinforcing habits, thus bringing me to my ideal state of being. I don't know if I can achieve the ideal within a year, but hey, a year can be a long time, and it's worth trying. At the very least I definitely need to conquer my emotional problems.

I'm still contemplating my resolutions, but here's a rough draft for now. Some are tentative, and the vaguest ones I haven't fully thought out yet or may be kept vague so they can serve as cues for concrete aims later on:

* * * * *

1.) Move into an apartment: To get to Texas I compromised on my goals and moved into an old lady's house, renting a room, instead of getting into my own apartment as I wanted. Ironically, my landlord shares many of the same tendencies possesses my grandmother and mother, which has made me take a disliking to her. Her worst attributes is that she's an alcoholic and type-1 diabetic, which has lead to some serious episodes where she was in danger of dying due to her condition. It's happened about a dozen times now -- though I didn't experience all of them -- which I find unforgivable since she's essentially forcing an obligation on me to take care of her. I detest her now. However, at my current income level I can only afford to live in some seedy places, and given the circumstance I'm willing to tolerate my landlord until I can afford better, since our relationship as tentant and landlord leaves us separate enough for me to be more at peace. I can wait until I can afford a gated complex or the likes.

The main appeal of having an apartment is being alone. I'm not a full-blown loner, but I do like having my own private space, my own private slice of the universe where I'm unrestricted by anyone's presence. I'd invite friends over and stuff, but it's so wonderful to have that place where you can arrange your cupboards and furniture as you'd like, be uninterrupted and undisturbed, conduct your lifestyle without rude commentary, and other wonderful things. I MUST make this happen this year.

2.) Begin investing my money: I don't really want to spend my attention on making money at stocks, but rather invest in something that will protect my money in the face of currency devaluation. A wise thing to do.

3.) Perform mental exercises every single day: Intelligence is one of my highest values, if not my highest value, and I want to maximize what my mind is capable of. How else am I to truly realize my potential as a human being? As such, I'd like to pick up a regular habit of mental exercises to enhance my intelligence in the areas that matter. For instance, it's going to be important for me to be versed in culinary math for my profession, so it would be practical to develop the skill of doing mental calculations in my head.

4.) Achieve mental exhaustion at least five times a week: A sub-goal to the one above. I have a layman hypothesis that the best changes occur to the brain when it's pushed to exhaustion. I've noticed, for examples, that the greatest improvement in my concentration came about when I attempted concentrating for periods of time past my limit, and that I made the fastest progress on learning how to whistle when I practiced to the point of fatigue. While the book doesn't mention it, my current material, *The Brain That Changes Itself
*, argues very well that our brains are plastic and change their biological workings when exposed to new stimulaces and practices. I think that physical tiredness is evidence of the brain trying to make a change, and while it would be difficult I think my brain power could be immensely boosted if I worked hard enough to achieve this kind of tiredness on a regular basis.

5.) Cure my bipolar tendencies: Strangely enough, I didn't realize I had bipolar tendencies until just last night. Reading the book above has introduced me to the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and I realize now that I fit perfectly in that category. While my mood swings aren't frequent or rapid, they do seem to be biochemical/neurological in nature since I've noticed that my mood will often change in spite of no concrete events or thoughts setting it off. Often at work I'll just get randomly depresses and use a music player to distract myself, and as randomly as the mood comes randomly the mood goes.

You've probably already deduced it on your own, but I suspect this is leftover from the emotional turmoil I had to deal with when still with my family. My mother herself was bipolar and prone to some incredible swings of dramatic intensities. I don't know through which process I became this way myself, but I did, to a lesser degree. This may in fact be the core of my emotional difficulties and all the problems causes there forth. If I can nip this in the bud then I will have officially emotionally healed. Nipping this also means making a huge advancement towards my ideal state of functioning, as from there I should be unimpeded by emotional barriers. There might be other emotional difficulties to address, but this one seems to be the core.

6.) Optimize diet: As part of my anxiety difficulties I've gone a little too far off the track of my Paleo diet. While I haven't gained weight or anything, I have gotten acne and irritating skin sensations again, which is enough to bite into my vanity. Mainly I want to go back to being more strict, though I do make regular allowances for things like chocolate and dairy. I'm already beginning to psychologically rewire my explanations, such as by reteaching myself to be satisfied with half a chocolate bar rather than desiring to eat the whole thing.

7.) Practice cold meat preparations: Charcuterie and the like, I mean, though I don't want to limit myself to things like pork. In the future I plan on working more hours, which may limit how much cooking and stuff I can do at home, so I figure one good way to advance my culinary education is to practice some kind of cold meat preparation, such as sausage making, in order to continue my culinary education within my time constraints.

8.) Turn reading into my primary form of entertainment: I really enjoy reading, but I have terrible habits in regards to it, so my enjoyment is harmed by my bad practices. While I do like T.V. and movies I don't value them strongly enough to regularly partake in them, so I'd like to shift my entertainment focuses away from Hulu and more towards books, so that I can perhaps exceed the 20 book goal I set for myself in 2011. However, I intend to continue enjoying shows I already like, such as *One Piece*, *Good Eats*, and *Mythbusters*, so I want to abstain from adding to my viewing time commitments.

* * * * *

This is all I can think of at the moment, but hey, there's still six days left to come up with some more, and there's no problem with making resolutions in the middle of the year.

In totality, I want to emotionally perfect myself so that I'm fully psychologically healthy and not tempted to irrational behaviors, to become more assertive as a person and unafraid of expressing my stances, to develop my mind to the point that the desire to stimulate and test it is part of my nature, and to habituate a drive that pushes me to set and attack goals at all time with fury. I'm not sure if this composes the totality of what I view as ideal, but it would be damn good work for a year.

To 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Conundrum of a Million Endeavors: Using Reminder Cards?

Those of you that have followed me here from Musing Aloud are probably pretty aware that I'm huge into self-improvement. I love taking on new ventures to maximize my abilities and make myself a better and better person, as I believe that realizing my fullest potential literally is necessary for my greatest happiness, and making a continuous practice of picking up these ventures has enhanced my life everywhere from my speaking habits to how I treat people. In fact, it's part of the reason why I've named this blog A Giant Doing, as it's modeled after my favorite quote period ("A giant is as a giant does" - Rod Serling) and that drives my life. So much of my life has been spent around people obsessed with appearance -- smiles instead of happiness, "manners" instead of respect, pretending instead of being -- and I've suffered a lot as a consequence. As such, I'm going to spend the rest of my life concentrating on the substance of my being and behavior, and I think that saying captures the essentials with beautiful concision.

So let's talk about another self-improvement venture.

One thing that has always plagued my ventures is that I often identify more endeavors than I believe I can handle at one time, which leads to internal conflicts in deciding which one to take on first, or on at all. I know the rational thing to do would be to determine a hierarchy of importance in deciding which to tackle first, but I'm not very good at keeping my promises in that realm for later, as those ventures I shelve end up being neglected altogether. What drives me nuts is that these endeavors can feasibly be combined together and worked on concurrently since the time demands are neither imposing nor in danger of overlapping, so the difficulty is that of short-term memory: Setting down my goals and remembering to tackle them when the time comes. When I put a lot on my plate I end up breaking some goals simply because I've forgotten about them, especially when they're time or location sensitive. Should I tone down my aims -- which may lead to the frustrating forgetting or abandonment of efforts -- or is there something else I can do?

Recently I've realized that, by and large, the majority of my efforts have some kind of special trait that leads me to pursue them either at a special time or in a special location. For instance, if I have a goal to alter a speaking practice, then I'm likely to pursue it mostly at work since that's when I do most of my talking. Or if I have a goal to improve my ability to navigate around town, then I'm pretty much only pursuing it in the car. I am, of course, never in the car at the same exact time I'm at work, so these two location-sensitive self-improvement ventures can be done concurrently without overlapping or creating interference. So then I thought: What if I created reminder cards I could carry around with me and consult at their assigned location, so that I don't have to fret about mentally balancing goals or forgetting them? For instance, I could write out a list of goals for work and stick it on my uniform so that I know to take it to work, and for the navigation goals in the car I could leave a note on the driver's seat so that I can't miss it any time I enter the car.

Doing this, I think, could actually increase my capability to pursue more goals at once, as writing them down in a portable form would negate any need to remember them, and sticking them in the appropriate places would both reduce the mental load and worry since I'd only have to concentrate on a few things at once given what my notes deem appropriate.

While I'm not really upset, this is one of those realization that makes me feel silly. I've been big on self-improvement for years now and this problem has always been present, and only now do I figure out a good way to solve it! Well, life is about moving forward, so I won't dwell on missed opportunities and instead focus on perfecting my habits.

This is certainly worth a shot. I've got some good stacks of note paper I can use, so I'll be writing on them and sticking them where appropriate. For now, I don't really have any time-related goals, so I don't know what to do about that. I'll probably use Google Calendar to send me an e-mail reminder or something. Next, I'll need to habituate myself to notice and look at those notes, so that I can always take heed of what they say.

Let's give it a try then.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Some Goals for Bartending

Hm. I know I'm way behind on my supposed writing goals, but I'll get there I promise! Work, again, is taking up a nice portion of my life right now, and I'm not budgeting my time as well as I should. I certainly haven't forgotten those other articles I've promised to write, but for now I'd like to introspect on my new career advancement.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I got promoted to bartender at work! I'm still in training and haven't gotten my own shifts yet, so I'm still balancing it with my usual dish-washing fare, but it's awesome that I'm finally in a position where my mind can be in my work. For career satisfaction, the most important thing for me is to have something that's intellectually satisfying. I don't care how physically laborious it is as long as there's some mental aspect in it that keeps me thinking, and I'm seeing quite a world in bartending.

My position is quite ironic actually, as par my normal habits I don't drink, and my Paleo dietary guidelines would keep me away from things like beer and whisky anyhow, but I shall enjoyably adjust anyhow and start including alcohol in my life to expand my culinary repertoire. In the long-run I want to become a chef specializing in meat -- perhaps offal meat in specific -- but until then I say all culinary knowledge and experience is relevant knowledge and experience no matter what. Things like brandy, bitters, and wines seem like they could be incorporated into a Paleo lifestyle in moderation, and for tasting things like beer I can take the traditional wine-tasting route and spit it out at end. On that latter note, I could also do this in coming up with my own special recipes, and even with ingestion I wouldn't be drinking very much; you don't need a whole lot in order to judge its taste properties, which will enable me to also come up with recipes including things I wouldn't actually sit down and drink a whole glass of.

I'm very excited since there's so much to think about, learn, practice, discover, and more. I didn't know the world of bartending could be this complex, and my imagination is just on fire with all the knowledge I can seek out, all the various nuances that will compose my style, and what great of height of skill I dream is possible to me. I need to get hard at work, as my thinking has made me realize there's a vast amount of things I need to do and can do to develop my skills.

So far, here's the guide I came up with of what goals I want to pursue. They're structured roughly in order of importance.

1.) The basics:

    * Memorize liquor stock: Important in being able to tell a customer promptly what we have or don't have, and in knowing whether something can or cannot be made.

    *  Master pouring: This does have a little difficulty, surprisingly. It's important that the alcohol hits the glass just right. Beer, for instance, needs its glass angled so that a minimum amount of head foams up. Another example would be different wines, as some wines should hit the side of the glass in order to release the aromas while others should hit the center for minimal disruption. There's special grips too for various bottle.

     * Memorize basic recipes: This includes things like the Bloody Mary and Screwdriver. The more I memorize means the less likely and often that I'll need to consult any book or internet guide, thus speeding up service.

    * Be able to distinguish various types of alcohol: This both is and isn't a separate step. It's separate in that I'll need to knowledge in order to be able to discuss things with customers, such as alcohol content or a beverage's production, and it isn't separate in that I'll probably combine this with my endeavor to memorize the liquor stock, as this type of knowledge would aid memory.

    * Memorize the work menu: I did memorize enough to pass the cashier's test required for my position, but I don't think I've mastered it enough. I need to study some more, handling less information at once. For instance, I'll probably work to master each page individually at separate times rather than trying to mentally ingest/review the whole thing at once.

    * Master cuts for special garnishes: I've been thoroughly enjoying the bartending book I bought, and one thing it has introduced me to are some rather elegant cuts for garnishing drinks. For instance, there's a neat way to tie fruit skin into a knot, twirl it around a straw, curl it and give a drink a "horse's neck," and much more. I don't think we do much of it at work, but they're so attractive and beautiful that I can't pass it up. Somewhere down the road I'll probably buy a bunch of the different bar glasses and practice putting the garnishes on them with bulk purchased fruit. One has to invest money to make money.

    * Cultivate mental math skills: Sure, there's calculators and an electronic cash register, but a competent mind is always the best choice. Establishing this kind of skill would definitely speed up service some more, and with a high level of competence I might even be able to perform intelligent tricks such as telling a customer precisely how much alcohol is in the special mix I made them. I plan on perusing three books so far: Quick Arithmetic, All the Math You'll Ever Need, and Culinary Math. Time to get nerdy.

    * Nurture good character for customer service, and fluent speaking/vocabulary for personal aesthetics: Among other things, I note that I need to speak louder and more directly, and be less meek in my manner. I don't think I really need to set any particular goals other than consciously match up my actions with what I view as the ideal personality in my mind's eye. Citing Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is a habit, not an act." If I want to nurture an appealing personality, then I simply need to repeatedly do what I view as ideal until it becomes a habit and an actual aspect of my character. Speaking, on the other hand, may require specialized practice.

2.) More advanced improvement: Once I get the essentials down, here's how I plan to step it up.

    * Nurture creativity: One piece of advice given to me was to try and specialize in something, like a particular drink. It's broad and abstract, but I want to set my specialty as "adaptation" or "growth." In other words, I don't want to voluntarily limit myself and shrink my repertoire to a single drink. I'd like to be the kind of bartender that customers can always go to for some new recipe on a regular basis, so that there's always something fresh to try out. In the long-run this would be very beneficial for nurturing a creative culinary mind, and it would be profitable in establishing the potential for repeat customers who can consult only me for my personal signatures they can't get anywhere else or make themselves.   

    * Deal with special ingredients, such as seasonal fruit and whole spices, and other things: With essential skills established, why limit oneself to lemons, oranges, and limes? There's whole spices (e.g. nutmeg), seasonal fruit (like pomegranates), confectionery (e.g. red licorice), and more. There's certainly a limit on what I could bring into the restaurant, but I doubt I'd have any difficulty with, say, bringing a sealed package of gummy bears, or a few apples if I submerged them in the produce sanitizer we have.

To gain an edge in persuasion, I think I could utilize a tiny, personal chalkboard that would encourage customers to make certain demands, and I could justify the special ingredients with documented requests. I have some other ideas of how to make use of such a chalk board, so that wouldn't be its only purpose. Perhaps I'll flesh out the chalkboard idea later on.

    * Bar tricks: Definitely. Definitely, definitely, definitely. This would add greatly to the aesthetics and enjoyment of both the customer and I, and would be immensely profitable. My current housemate told me that he has a friend who does such tricks at his employing restaurant, and he pulls in about $200 in tips on weekdays and $500 on the weekends. Certainly can't pass this up. I'll practice at home with my own glasses and equipment, and will try to get into the restaurant early in the morning, before opening for business, so I can practice there and get used to transferring my motor skills to the new environment. (And if any of my bosses are reading this, yes, I'll do all the practice with my own glasses and with water, so no company property is at risk.)

There might be a limit in what I can do since our company stoppers aren't specialized for the purpose, so I may have to settle for juggling the Boston shaker and whatnot, but we'll see. I love my career enough that I'd be willing to buy the special stoppers myself.

    * Slight of hand: A little elaboration on the bar tricks. In thinking of bar tricks one of the first things that came to my mind was magic. Magic tricks, if they can be incorporated, could add greatly to the aesthetics and theater of bar tricks without being gimmicky. For instance, wouldn't it be neat to ignite a flaming drink by, to the perception of the customer, snapping one's fingers? Or making ingredients appear in hand without anyone see them be picked up? There is a specialized magic shop around here in Texas, so perhaps I should give a owner a contact.

    * ???: There's endless possibilities, and I certainly haven't thought of them all. One possibility could be incorporating science in someway. For instance, an idea I've been semi-entertaining is aromas. From the Alinea cookbook I learned that this science and theater based restaurant utilizes aroma pouches to stoke the appetites of their customers. They're not very big and are hidden, and release their scent when a waiter sets a plate down on top of them, as they're concealed by the place mat, napkin, or whatever. This would be a great accompaniment to some drinks. Imagine serving something that emphasizes cinnamon, and emphasizing it by discretely dispersing a cinnamon aroma. Its practicality is questionable at my particular restaurant, however, so it's just stuff to keep in mind for now.

* * * * *

There are other things to do to that I haven't listed on this guide. I'm reading a memory book to enhance my speed of learning and recall, for instance, and intend to do other things such as read neurology books (like this and this) to see what practices I can take up to help enhance the competence of my mind, make me adapt motor skills quicker, and so on.

Bartending is certainly a lot more than simply pouring a drink. I'm incredibly excited to start sinking my teeth in all these things.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The National Defense Authorization Act: Overhyped and Misinterpreted?

A person gave me a rather convincing argument as to why we should be skeptical of the claims made in the article I linked to in my last post, so now I'm starting to suspect that the NDAA isn't as dangerous as people are claiming it to be. In short, there seems to be no evidence that it will authorize the military to engage in law enforcement on US soil. For example, the article I linked to in my last post insinuates that the senate is redefining American soil as a "battleground," but using the search function on the PDF file of the actual bill reveals that neither the words "battleground" nor "battlefield" appear at all. Smoke up our butts, it seems.

It is in concern for the truth that I post this skeptical analysis. If I be guilty of passing along overhyped misinformation, then I shall redeem myself by offering a retraction and correction.

The person who persuaded me to be skeptical has given me permission to repost his writing, but he wishes to remain anonymous, so this is unattributed and has identifying information omitted. Any formatting changes or alterations in [brackets] are mine:

All,

Though not a lawyer, as an [...], it is hard to avoid some knowledge of detainee operations. More importantly, there are some key tenants of the civilian-military relationship and long-standing traditions and aversions regarding things that the US military DOES NOT DO, that make this entire thing look a bit dubious.

In my understanding, a good part of the reason the provisions causing a kerfuffle are even in the bill is that no member of Congress wants Guantanamo detainees to be moved to their districts. That is also why Obama gets push back even from many Democrats when he starts talking about sending an al Qaeda operative to a federal court in their state or district. Of course, many have a more fundamental disagreement with treating al Qaeda operatives tried as criminals.

But what the argument is really about is closing Guantanamo is one of Obama's key campaign promises and transfering al Qaeda operatives to federal prisons and trying them as criminals in federal court has been one of his central policy positions, because he cannot close Guantanamo without doing so. These provisions we prevent him from doing so, which is why he has threatened a veto.

Though many Democrats wanted certain parts of this provision changed to support the Obama position, it was not important enough to make them oppose the bill as a whole (Congress sneaks all sort of provisions through that way, but at least this provision was related to the bill in question). Remember the 97-3 vote was on the entire bill, the annual authorization bill for the military. Although all budget bills have been slow of late (many parts of our government have now run on continuing resolutions for several years), the one the usually has one of the easier times is the Defense bill, because Congress does not want to be seen opposing it as a whole, and they all get pork out of it.

As for this specific issue, it looks like it may be being overplayed on the web. The fact that just about none of the articles I have seen actually quotes from the bill is a good indication of that. I just went through the bill--available here[:] http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112s1867pcs/pdf/BILLS-112s1867pcs.pdf [...] and found the following:

The relevant subsections are under Title X, Subtitle D--Detainee Matters

1031 is basically affirming that detention until the end of the conflict or trial by military tribunal of Al Qaeda members and supporters, as well as others committing attacks against the United States is within Authorization for Use of Military Force because they are detained persons under the law of war.

1031.(d) - "Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force." This means that Congress believes no new authorities are being granted to the military. The important part of that are the restrictions placed on the armed forces by the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibit the Armed Forces from engaging in law enforcement within the United States. This is contrary to many claims you will find online. Posse Comitatus is not [mentioned] in the act, and I could find no other language suggesting that other parts of the act would overrule it. That is because the issue here is the holding and trying of those detained during an ongoing conflict with al Qaeda and its associates. This sections merely specifies that an authority that the president already has to use the military, must be exercised for a certain class of detainees, as defined in the following section. Interestingly, the bill does state that this can be delayed while law enforcement officials question the detainee (see 1032.(c)(2)(B) to 1032.(c)(2)(C)). This is a result of fall out from the underwear bomber, where the government took flak for the way that it handled the coordination between several different law enforcement and intelligence agencies and muddled the waters on what was said by the suspect under what authorities.

1032.(a)(2) states who is subject to this requirement. A person who is determined--(A) to be a member of, or part of al Qaeda or (B) to have participated in the planning ore execution of an attack against the US or coalition partners.



1032.(b)(1) specifically states that this requirement "does not extend to US citizens."

1033 - no DoD money may be used to transfer detainees to the US (exercising power of the purse--we will not let you pay for it, therefore you cannot do it). This goes back to the Obama administration wanting to move Guantanamo detainees to federal prisons.

1033.(e)(2)(A) - by definition, an individual detained at [Guantanamo] may not be a US citizen.

1034 - no DoD funds can be used to build new detention facilities in the US (power of the purse again--I do not want it in my district, so I will not allow you to build money to build it). This goes back to the Obama administration wanting to move Guantanamo detainees to federal prisons.

The Feinstein Amendment that keeps being mentioned added the word "abroad" after "captured." It would not have changed the status of the detention of US citizens, it only would have exempted designated individuals captured in the US from the requirement to be handed over to military detention and a military tribunal. This is because she and the Obama administration want to see al Qaeda operatives captured in [the] US tried as criminals, rather than as enemy combatants.

Some reports also state that the exemption to US citizens is taken away later in the bill, but I could not find it anywhere. Key terms that would have to be used such as "citizen," "detain," and "Authorization for Use of Military Force" simply are not present in such a context. If anyone finds anything different, I would be interested to know.

Hope that was helpful.

Integrity,
[Anonymous]

I think I learned my lesson in getting caught up in hype. From now on I'll cross-reference article claims with the language of the bills they talk about, unless they quote it otherwise. That's probably the most essential point: These articles don't back up their claims with concrete evidence from the legislation.

So while America is pretty bad off culturally, we're probably not that far gone yet. Keep your eye on what's going on, but I think we were mislead here, and I apologize for making such a mistake.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Little Activism: The NDAA and Dictatorship

I don't really intend to make this a blog for activism, but this is so serious I must discuss it. It's still quite on the down-low and not much discussed, but apparently there's a bill in the House of Representatives right now that has a tenant defining the United States as a "battleground," which means the military can act on American soil and do things against citizens such as arrest them without charge and imprison them in a military prison for life without due process. Read about it here. This has huge potential to be a tool of censorship and all kinds of physical coercion, and would turn the United States into a de facto dictatorship.

However, there are some confounding elements. For one, I've heard on OActivists that the power would be granted exclusively to the military, not any particular politician (such as Obama), so if it passes its evil could possibly be mitigated by military personnel not wanting to abuse the method for dictatorial purposes, though if left in place it can certainly evolve to that. Secondly, I strongly suspect that the worst politicians supporting this, those who DO want to use this as a tool of suppression and censorship, are trying to take advantage of the infamously short "public memory": Pass the controversial law now, and enact it later when everyone has forgotten about it. Obamacare was passed like this, as it had a quick legislative process and yet was set to go into effect at least four years later, and even after that many of its other tenets don't get enacted immediately; rather, they're employed piecemeal over the next decade, which is obviously a move to make sure this law is long forgotten once its consequences can be observed. By that time all sorts of other scapegoats can be called upon, used in justification for further statism.

It's our job to speak up while others aren't, and to both remember for ourselves and remind others so nobody forgets. Call and write to your representatives! The last I heard this is now in the House of Representatives, so look them up and send them a message. To be effective you don't have to be elaborate; politicians probably just count noses when it comes to learning the views of their constituents, so let them know where you stand.

Here's a sample piece I sent to my House Representative, Angie Chen Button, today:

Dear Ms. Button,

I have already contacted you twice about this matter -- I am not agitated or anything, and know it takes time to respond -- but this matter is too serious to leave matters alone with just one or two responses. I am writing again to ask you to OPPOSE or VOTE NO on the tenet of the National Defense Authorization Act which defines American soil as a battlefield, granting the military the power to act against American citizens with impunity, such as by arresting people without charge, trial, or ANY of the basic rights found in due process of law.

We are not Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany; we are America, the country founded on the principle of individual rights, which includes the right to due process of law (i.e. access to a lawyer, right to a fair trial, etc.). If this tenet is passed then America will become a de facto dictatorship.

Of course, the worst politicians supporting this are probably trying to take advantage of "public memory." Pass the controversial law now, and enact it years later after the public has forgotten all about it. However, I will not forget, and I won't keep quiet so that other people will not forget either. This could be hands-down the most serious issue that America has EVER faced, so PLEASE OPPOSE IT.

Best regards,
Benjamin

This has the potential to be the most serious issue America has ever faced, worse than Obamacare. Don't be idle and quiet, for then you will be responsible for bringing it about. I am in slight disbelief and am hoping to be proven wrong about my read of the situation, but I'm not going to act on that bit of skepticism. Use your freedom of speech while you have it; rights are meant to be used.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How About ARI Commercials?

I've been daydreaming about this for so many months that I might as well release the idea from my head. Several months ago the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) had a contest with monetary prizes where people would compete to make the best video that represented the theme of the book Atlas Shrugged. I didn't watch most of the entries, but the one I remember most is the video about two kids who have competing lemonade stands with greatly differing standards. For instance, one kid would be unsanitary and made his beverage with powdered mix, while the other was very cleanly and made his with only real lemons and sugar. The latter kid with the better practices is the one who ends up getting all the costumers while the other one gets not a single visitor. The successful kid's father comes home near the end and asks him about his stand, and afterwards he asks him to share the profits with the undeserving "friend" across the street who made not a single sale.

This got me thinking and daydreaming: What if the institute itself made commercials to advertise itself, using the commercial style of showing how some philosophies would play out in real life if consistently followed?

One of the bad things in the world today that allows bad ideas to take hold is that people too often don't take them seriously. When read word for word many ideologies are obscenely absurd beyond the point of comedy, and in order to adopt those ideas people approximate them to different forms and degrees so that they seem reasonable, thus allowing people to believe in and practice absurdities.

Let's take the philosophy of pragmatism for example. I believe it was in the article The Menace of Pragmatism that I learned that pragmatic metaphysics holds that the nature of existence is in flux: That the identity of things today may be different tomorrow. For example, a cup of coffee could be as you know it today, but tomorrow turn into a winged monster that flies around spewing lava. Yes, that's really weird, but this is an example of pragmatic metaphysics would literally amount to if we were to take it literally. Obviously the world does not change from day to day like that, but this is what this ideology holds.

But people who believe in pragmatism don't take it that consistently. It would be consistent of their ideology to expect a candle flame to only burn you today and do something different tomorrow, but if you conducted a survey I doubt you'd find a single pragmatic volunteer that would continually subject himself to burns in order to practice his theory.

Building off this, I thought to myself: What if the ARI had a commercial showing rational people dealing with people who took these types of ideas seriously and practiced them consistently?

What plays in my imagination is a scene of a guy driving to an oil change place called "Pragmatic Mechanics" having its grand opening, getting a routine service. It's not a quick oil change place, so he gets out and talks to the boss, who assures him a top-quality service since they're pragmatics concerned with nothing but practical results. The guy is pleased and then goes across the street to get a coffee, and upon coming back he sees the workers doing all sorts of random stuff to his car. One guy is driving a pick axe into the body and tires; another guy wearing a giant foam cowboy hat is tossing laboratory chemicals under the hood, creating smoke and loud cackling noises; another is wearing a blindfold and smearing toothpaste on the back window, and another is on the side playing an electronic keyboard while three females vocalize. The car owner drops his coffee in horror and inquires frantically as to what's going on, and the shop owner runs up to him covered in Christmas wreaths shouting, "We tried everything; you can't blame us!" The commercial then closes with Debi Ghate's narration: "Pragmatism isn't very practical, is it? Check out the Ayn Rand Institute at Ayn Rand dot org for a rational alternative, where you can find writing, videos, audio, and more on how to approach life with reason."

I've thought of some other ones too. To take a morality angle, there could be a video that shows a person attending an outdoor rally that advocates altruism, stating that the world has deviated too far from it. After some discussion a person in the crowd notes that it's selfish to breathe since they're taking air away from other people. The crowd mutters agreement, makes a loud exhalation, and then all but one person faints. Honing in on that lone, semi-rational person's baffled face, another ARI representative narrates: "Looking for a better way to live your life? Check out the Ayn Rand Institute at Ayn Rand dot org for a rational alternative, where you can find writing, videos, audio, and more on how to approach life with reason."

Wouldn't it be great if commercials like these did air? Aside from pointing out the absurdities many ideas lead to, the single rational people these videos emphasize, such as the car owner and rally attendee, could be directed at those people who possess an active mind and yet don't understand what's destroying the world these days. The car owner didn't know that pragmatic methods could lead to the destruction of his vehicle, and the attendee doesn't want to commit suicide and is shocked to see people actually attempt self-suffocation. This type of people give an innocent nod to ideas and ideals like these and then don't know what to make of the results. That would be a great angle for ARI to make its pitch.

However, I admit these aren't serious proposals. Just daydreaming.