Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Life's Purpose Update

Since clarifying my purpose in life, identifying that I want to dedicate myself to the culinary arts, I have been doing some intense thinking/daydreaming about the long-range goals in my life, and things have become even clearer.

For one, I don't think becoming a chef is my passion per say, but it is at least my medium-term goal. I love cooking, but my interest is more intensely intellectual, so I don't think I'd be able to gain my happiness in the long-run by dedicating myself to the physical pursuit entirely. So my goals have changed: In the short-term I want to improve my income and finish my project, move to another state in the shortish-medium term (perhaps; definite goal, but indefinite time-frame), and become a chef in the medium term. My long-term goal, however, is different.

While out actually physically doing job hunting -- I think internet job sites are impractical given my current career development -- I have developed a little hobby of collecting restaurant menus. In all honesty I don't eat out that much, but I love seeing what efforts restaurants take to advertise themselves. Aside from the menus I also love looking at the architecture and decorations of the actual dining areas, to observe themes and analyze whether the foods and services fit that atmosphere. Throughout all, the purpose of such collecting and observing is to arrive at my own individual tastes and conclusions on how I'd like to see a business operate.

I think in the long-term I want to be an entrepreneur who operates his own chain of food businesses. The more I think about it, the more I develop my ideas: in what attributes I'd like to see in workers and how I'd treat them, various business practices and services I would utilize, and I've even imagined some innovative technology I would like to bring into existence, either as an inventor or investor with a proposal. I increasingly like the idea the more I entertain it. I'm even going to start an entrepreneurial journal in order to document my musings, observations, and ideas about business for development and future recall.

To your disappointment, however, such writings will be done on paper only and kept private. Some of the ideas I have I consider to be greatly valuable, unrealized since I am unable to use them currently, and I could risk losing monetary rewards, a positive business reputation, and even the ability to achieve other goals if I blab about my ideas and someone decides to implement them before I can. It was a short bit of a conflict, but I almost published a post detailing such an idea, and am thankful to have decided against it.

Anyhow, it is surprising how logically aligned my goals are now that I'm clarifying my purpose in life. Previously it was horrendously difficult for me to even project "five year plans," but now I can conceive of them, and beyond, now that I think I know what my ultimate goal is and the approximate steps I'm going to take to get there. First, my short-term goal entails a project to deal with a problem that is interfering with my productivity. Once I get that out of the way, then I'll work to develop myself into a chef so that I'll establish an actual competence in the processes of cooking and baking, and so will be able to bring to reality dishes that only existed in my mind before. All the while becoming a chef I will, of course, further develop my finances and my technical and business knowledge. Somewhere in there, I don't know where, I'll work on moving to another state in order to live in a more pleasurable climate, more varied food industry, and better local culture. (A healthier local economy is a stretch to ask for right now, I think.) Beyond that, I'll then put my knowledge, skills, and finances to the ultimate test by opening my own business and work to develop into an actual chain, or at least own several businesses in order to be able to properly judge good workers. I wouldn't want good ideas sullied by incompetents.

As to my ultimate goal, since so many of my entrepreneurial ideas are tied up in them, I can only speak vaguely of them. Basically, I wish to operate a breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant, a bakery, an ice cream shop, and perhaps even a cakery if I find it needs to be distinct from the bakery. Varied, I know, but why not? Aim high.

Perhaps in the future I may make it a separate post on why I like these specific businesses, why I'd like to operate them, and why I think I can be successful, but for now you'll have to be content with the above information.

Of all things, my current project must be completed first. The problem this project sets out to eliminate has been interfering with my concentration, learning, productivity, and even overall emotional health, so I view this problem as a threat to all my other goals and must be dealt with first before moving on. It stresses me out and upsets me that instead of practicing and studying food preparation, studying business, and other values that I must concentrate my efforts on something unrelated, insignificant, and yet undermining. But if it must be dealt with, it shall.

As a small update on my project, things are going moderately fine. I've made tons of intellectual and materialistic progress since the project's conception, but I've still yet to satisfactorily establish the beginning of my career, so still cannot say how many months is left in this endeavor. I still believe I can finish it before the end of the year, perhaps even before my birthday if I meet with success. Until then, I'm pushing on.

Musings about the future become so much more heartening when you know what your direction is. I can't wait to fill up several entrepreneurial journals.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chocolate Review: Endangered Species 72% Mint

So it turns out I've been deceiving myself. Previously I tried to portray myself as having a conflict in deciding which is my favorite among several varieties, but I guess I was mistaken: It's certainly Endangered Species 72% cocao with mint. I love it so much that I actually bought it in bulk. Mint is just positively one of my favorite things.

This bar is wonderful. It doesn't contain a particularly attractive design on the bar, but it does have that nice shiny gloss which makes it look appetizing and moist, and a decent mouthfeel where it melts and becomes creamy at an acceptable rate. What really makes this great, in my opinion, is the mint alone: I love the way it smells, tastes, aftertastes, and makes my breath smell (and taste). It's particularly refreshing, especially intensely so if you crave it, and can be a wonderful addition to foods that have a strong scent; you certainly won't want to brush your teeth after eating one of these bars.

The only improvement I can think to really make is to intensify the mint. When I consume something minty I want to be slightly overwhelmed by it and breathe it out the nose. I may just get my wish since Endangered Species announced the possibility of a mint cream filled bar on its Facebook fan page, but it's still up in the air; I submit my vote in that regard anyhow.

However, there is still the need for me to justify my choice in face of other competitors, such as Green & Black's 60% cocao with mint and New Tree's 73% cocao with mint. They're both good varieties, but both have vices that make me choose Endangered Species instead.

Green & Black's, on one hand, seems to have a more intense mint flavoring, but its 60% cocao content makes it appear sickeningly sweet. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but the paid the price of such pleasure later on in feeling a bit ill. G&B's might be good in moderation or integrated into some dessert, but considering how much chocolate I like eat when I concentrate on it I wouldn't eat the bar by itself. Plus it's more expensive too, so perhaps I'd save it for a special occasion.

New Tree, on the other hand, is either equal to or greater in mint intensity as ES. It actually bests ES in the aesthetics department by being the most attractive bar I have ever seen: The bar's novelty is that it has the texture of leaf veins on it, but its so extremely detailed that it looks like an actual leaf imprint rather than an imitation. It also has 1% more cocao than ES, but the additional nutritional benefit is probably insignificant. I would pick this bar over ES if it weren't for one thing: The price. This is absolutely the most expensive chocolate I have seen to date, and only purchased it since I had a gift card. Honestly, I really don't see any justification for such a high per-unit price, so unless it's with another gift card or a higher income I'm going to opt for the cheaper ES since it offers more satisfaction on the dollar.

As such, my current verdict is that Endangered Species wins in the mint arena, and serves as my absolute favorite chocolate brand and variety for the time being.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bowser, The (Mixed) King of Koopas

I used to be a heavy player of video games when I was younger, but as I've made philosophical changes to my being, my interest has waned. My gaming habits are now near nonexistent, but still I enjoy a game every blue moon or so. Recently I've purchased Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and have already finished it twice. While playing it I noticed something strange: I enjoyed and admired the character of Bowser more than I did the Mario Bros. In fact, despite the fact that Bowser is an evil character, I reacted more strongly to his situations and obstacles than I did the Bros. and even felt offended when the they abandoned Bowser in a near-fatal situation. Considering my interest in morality, in both identifying the proper code of ethics and actively applying it to my life, how is it that I felt more positive emotions towards one of the evil characters in the game than the heroes? I was downright indifferent to Mario and Luigi.

A dietary contradiction in the game gave me a significant lead in my thinking, allowing me to also form an integration across other games and art forms, as I noticed my positive response to Bowser has similarities to my response to other villains. As mentioned many times before, my nutritional guidelines are that of a paleo diet, which consists of high-fat meats, nuts, cocao, vegetables, no grains, and the like. I have obtained significant health benefits from following these guidelines -- such as enjoying food more, sleeping better, losing weight, and more -- but these guidelines are of course still rejected by mainstream "wisdom." Even though nutrition plays no role in M&L there are a few jokes about diet. It's revealed the Bowser's own nutritional guidelines are that of a high-fat diet that consists nearly entirely of meat. Various characters in the game make fun of him for his eating habits, strongly insinuating that his diet is unhealthy, and even Bowser has stated that he eats unhealthy. Among the jokes he is sneered at by an organic carrot farmer who refuses to raise meat and giggled at by his minions when he gorges at a feast. Given the comical nature of these situations, it becomes obvious that the makers of the game adhere to the notion that eating fat is bad for you, insinuating that it's the cause of obesity and degenerative body conditions.

However, the reality in the game is different. Despite being mocked, meat is actually one of the best healing items in the game, besting out the mushrooms the Bros. use and falling short of a piece of candy which fully heals any character. On this diet of nearly pure meat, Bowser is incredibly strong, lean (for his height and body type), amazingly durable (nearly being crushed to death didn't even leave visible wounds), and healthy. While in the game he does overeat to the point of instantly becoming obese, making it look as if it was the fat that made it so, what is ignored is that Bowser also gorges on high-carbohydrate (the kind of carbs that quickly convert to glucose) and sweet dishes such as whole cakes, giant donuts, and pigs in a blanket. In comparison to Bowser's body, the Mario Bros. are individually weaker than Bowser and look almost frail. Diet-wise they're strict vegetarians and won't allow themselves to eat meat even if they collect it after a battle. So comically enough, while Bowser is portrayed as an unhealthy eater, he is in actuality in better physical condition than the Mario Bros., and meat is the superior healing food next to mushrooms.

To summarize, the odd thing is that while the game is trying to influence you to have a certain evaluation of what it presents, the reality of the matter is otherwise. The game tries to make you evaluate Bowser as an unhealthy eater who will eventually develop degenerative health conditions, but in actuality he's enjoys the best physical condition out of all the characters in total and eats a food that drastically improves and maintains his health, much better than the vegetarian Bros.

I thought more fondly of Bowser after making this identification, seeing we shared similar diets, but still wondered why my estimate of him was so positive in comparison to the heroes. A healthy diet does not a good person make. After doing more thinking, I've come to the realization that there are further contradictions in the game and Mario Bros. series in general, where the game's intended portrayal doesn't match up with reality. Bowser isn't actually pure evil, as the intended portrayal is, but rather a being of mixed premises, and the Mario Bros. may in fact not be the heroes they're showcased to be.

Let's start with Bowser's objective status. Don't be mistaken: He is evil, just not pure evil. Wanting and pursuing to rule the world in order to enslave people and physically coerce them into satisfying your wishes is the factor that makes him irredeemably evil, but lumped together with Bowser's evil are virtuous and desirable traits. Take the management of his army for instance. He's not some fool who happened to be able to enlist to his service some other fools in order to incompetently fight for his desires; he's intelligent enough to be able to guide his army strategically and physically strong enough to serve in the ranks, which he has before many times. He's probably even strong enough to take his own army down! The various Mario games try to portray him as a thick-headed aspiring dictator who is simply doomed to failure in his endeavors, but if you look back at the games you'll see that Bowser in nearly all instances came excruciatingly close to succeeding. In his attempts to kidnap Princess Peach and rule the Mushroom Kingdom he has almost always succeeded in hauling Peach to his castle and overwhelming Peach's supposedly "elite" guards; the only obstacles are Mario and Luigi. Bowser raised his children (known as the Koopalings) to a level of competence that they have successfully taken over kingdoms all on their own, making Mario and Luigi's job to dissolve already established dictatorships. Bowser comes amazingly close to establishing his own dictatorship, but probably fails before completion since Mario is able to travel to him so quickly, otherwise Mario would have to overthrow yet another dictatorship.

And what about Bowser's relationships? He is displayed as short-tempered and possibly abusive, but there's evidence that Bowser and his army mutually value one another, as opposed to the army worshiping him while he takes them for granted. As far as I've observed, the only times Bowser has been shown to be abusive to his troops is during slapstick and comedy scenes. Other than that, Bowser takes his army seriously, doesn't inflict injury on them purposely, and even fights with them unhesitatingly when he finds them inadequate. Furthermore, he has even undertaken to bring back to life and nurse to health certain members of his army after they have failed and been killed by Mario or Luigi, and allowed them to continue fighting in his ranks. Even more telling is that the only thing Bowser doesn't seem to tolerate from his army is traitors, as it has been seen before where a member of his army would break off in order to pursue other courses in life, seemingly without Bowser's disapproval. Kamek, the koopa who raised Bowser, has been an active participant in the army for years, but is shown to be retired and running his own business in the first M&L game. Unless I am mistaken, in New Super Mario Bros. Wii Kamek is shown to have rejoined Bowser's army, indicating Bowser had few, if any, qualms with Kamek temporarily pursuing other paths in life, and allowed him to rejoin. Some monty moles, on the other hand, suffered from Bowser's fire breath (albeit in a comical fashion) when they told him they broke from his army to join those of another aspiring dictator, and Bowser killed them after they attempted to murder him.

How Bowser regularly treats people outside of his normal network of associates is questionable as well. In various games, when he visits villages while not implementing a plan of his the citizens are visibly terrified, but at the same time he's not hostile or attempting to impose some harm on them. In M&L:BIS he's even seen engaging in a valuable relationship with a metallic man who wishes to trade with him. After completing a couple favors for the man, you eventually meet him at his permanent location, an outdoor shop for healing items and gear. Given the strength of both the man and his pet dog, Bowser could easily overcome the man and dog, steal all the goods, and then burn down the shop -- but he chooses not to. Instead Bowser agrees to monetarily compensate the man in exchange for his goods, and even undertakes to collect a dozen or so more animals for the metal man's shop, in exchange for the dog. Bowser easily could have gone the route of brute force in this dealing with this stranger, but instead traded to mutual benefit. What's this about him being a thief now?

On the flip side of associates, the army only seems to be afraid of Bowser due to their intense respect and seriousness towards him. They work to help achieve his goals, fight for him, defend him, and even die for him. His goomba minions, in M&L: BIS, don't even seem to mind being set on fire for him, as during one of Bowser's attacks they're shown to willingly and unflinchingly stand still in order to be set on fire by him, and still seem to be concentrating on their attack even as they fall from the sky, engulfed in flames. Let us not forget that Bowser too has suffered serious injuries and has even died before. In all those instances his army has revived and nursed him back to health. A perfect display of this kind of valuing can be seen in New Super Mario Bros. DS, in which Bowser Jr. collects Bowser's bones from molten lava, revives Bowser back to life and full health, and then fights in conjunction with him, standing right in the front in order to protect him.

While Bowser's character isn't developed enough (story-wise) to indicate whether or not he is worthy of such worship, there is still plenty of evidence and implications to draw inferences from. The fact that he keeps trying over and over again to kidnap the princess and take over the world shows us that he has near-infinite resolve, a high work ethic, amazing endurance, and constantly stimulated intellect. Keep in mind that most of his failures have been painful, resulting in serious injury and even death (in New Super Mario Bros. DS you see him turn into lifeless bones after falling into lava) -- and still he comes back. Presentation-wise he shows confidence in himself, high energy, high motivation, focus, and intense hatred towards those that frustrate his desires (not metaphysical reality, but the men who fight him). Even though he is demonstratively evil by what goals he pursues, many of the characteristics that compose Bowser's being are actually desirable traits to have and pursue, and are admirable when they're witnessed in human beings. If you were to omit Bowser's evil intentions a pleasant picture is painted: a guy of great strength and intellect, with respectful and awed followers; a guy who values his family, associates, and monetary wealth; a guy with indestructible resolve, no matter how catastrophic his failures; and more. If you saw a moral human being with these traits, you'd probably value and admire him, and he'd probably accomplish great things in his life and move mankind forward.

The fact that Bowser is portrayed as *pure* evil, however, is a bit disturbing. If I were to send this analysis of Bowser's character to his creator, assuming he'd read this, he'd probably deny that he's trying to portray Bowser's virtuous traits as actually evil. But more of the story becomes clear when you observe Mario, Luigi, and Peach's objective status in comparison. They not only lack much of Bowser's virtuous traits, but even possess vices that dampen their moral character.

To start, take a look at how the supposedly good characters in the Mario Bros. series (such as the mushroom headed toads) treat the three heroes. In this universe, Mario is probably the most talented and heroic being in the entire world, having functioned competently in several careers (baker, medical doctor on call, pilot, tennis player, etc.), developed several physical talents (acrobatic jumping and extreme strength, to name a few), and maintains a consistent resolve despite the frustration of an undefeatable evil. Yet, he's hardly appreciated by the people he saves and offers such immense value to. He has manufactured cookies, cured illnesses, and dissolved oppressive dictatorships, but still he can walk around town much to everyone's indifference. The only time he seems to be actually appreciated is the short time period after he's accomplished a heroic feat, and even then the appreciation appears short-lived. Luigi, while not as talented, is still physically talented and heroic, and yet it has been seen over and over again that people cannot even remember his name, making it seem as if though Mario is one of the few people who values him.

To make matters worse Mario and Luigi live way below their deserved standard of living. Mario used to own a castle, but in recent years he's been shown to live in a small shack-like house with his brother. He and his brother deserve much more, but have been deprived through the unjust treatment of his fellow citizens, and maybe even Peach herself. (More below.) Sure, he does get thank yous and kisses on the cheek after his heroic feats, maybe even a whole cake and parade, but you have to admit that's a pretty crappy reward after you've risked your life countless times. In juxtaposition, Bowser lives in great wealth (albeit probably stolen), a gigantic castle in his likeness, and has hundreds of soldiers who protect him and are in awe of him; Mario and Luigi live in poverty among toads that hardly appreciate them and can in no way protect them competently, as seen by the fact they're always overwhelmed by any evil that chooses to fight them.

Peach, interestingly enough, may not be the person of pure morality as she's presented, and may be evil near the caliber of Bowser! As given by her title of Princess and the fact that her queen mother and king father aren't present, we know that she serves as ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, the head politician if you will. Judging from the game in which you can freely examine the Kingdom, it's apparent that most of Peach's subjects have a low standard of living, and even the subjects that are supposedly wealthy cannot seem to obtain material property that symbolizes it, as many of these wealthy people live in homes equal in size to their lower class counterparts, only better decorated. The only person who is not only wealthy, but enjoys it in terms of fantastic living quarters, servants, and luxurious foods is -- Peach! She doesn't engage in productive work other than ruling the kingdom and has a small, near non-existent record of being a hero (SMB. 2 doesn't count since it was revealed to be Mario dreaming), so we can only deduce that she lives poshly on the taxpayer dime. She may be even a dictator that enforces statist policies on her kingdom, as we learn in the first M&L game that thousands of Mushroom Kingdom coins amounts only to a small handful of Beanbean coins, meaning the Mushroom Kingdom has suffered through the phenomenon of hyperinflation, an economic condition that probably results solely from statist economic policies. How can Peach be seen as good now that we see her as a destructive parasite on her subjects? Her subjects' worship of her can only be explained by bad philosophy that touts the notion of innate values, values that have no relationship to anyone and no grounding in reality.

It prompts the question now why Mario and Luigi choose to save the princess, considering they're unjustly rewarded with cakes and single kisses on the cheek for risking injury, disfigurement, and even life to save her. If Peach truly is a dictator that is economically destructive to her subjects, she may not be worth saving. For God's sakes, despite the absolute knowledge of the dangers she faces, she's unable to build an army that can competently protect her kingdom, since they fail and fall every time the Koopa Troop attacks. Bowser, on the other hand, has enough military power and competence to be able to quickly seize control of most of the world. It's hard to say whether Mario and Luigi's moral character is damaged by choosing to defend the Mushroom Kingdom's brand of dictatorship since we know nothing of their motivation, only that they're two guys that have good intentions. For now I guess we could call them morally innocent, as they may not be intellectual enough to be able to examine the implications of Peach's dictates.

Compared side-by-side to Bowser Mario and Luigi become more unappealing. Mario has a tiny structure (so tiny that Peach has appeared to have been a giantess in comparison to his dwarfish figure), unknown psychological workings and motivation, speaks very little, and lacks depth in his emotions. Luigi is more likable from a humorous standpoint, but the video games make so much fun at his character, everything from the childish color of his socks to his cowardly adverseness to risking his life, we cannot appreciate him as a true hero. I lost taking all seriousness in his character when it was revealed to be one of his attacks to force himself to become obese through overeating and to create a tremor by slamming his body fat onto the ground. Bowser, on the other hand, is big, muscular, fierce, serious, and assertive. While literally a monster, Bowser dominants character-wise.

This explains why Bowser appeals to me more on a philosophic level than Mario or Luigi: Although evil, he has specific traits I explicitly admire and resonate to, and am actively trying to integrate into my own being, minus the enslaving the world bit. When I did some further thinking I also found out that this phenomenon is actually pretty common, explaining further why I've found conventional heroes unattractive most of my life. Let's take a brief look at some other video games.

Everyone's familiar with Sonic the hedgehog, right? In the series the main villain is a mad scientist named Dr. Ivo Robotnik (now conventionally known by the nickname Dr. Eggman). Out of all the mad scientist types I have ever seen, he is almost certainly the one with the greatest demonstrated intellectual ability. Most impressively, he works mostly alone, having only tools and robots to assist him in his endeavors. Through his own intellect and labor he has managed to invent hundreds of machines and robots that number in quantities of thousands. He even managed to create a spaceship, called the Death Egg, similar in size to a planet all by himself. He's not afraid to follow and put to action his own judgment, and regularly risks his life by utilizing machines that are newly invented and thus have no record of dependability or safety. He has even been inside machines while they exploded, and has the intellectual foresight to install safety measures that allow him to escape uninjured and the courage to continue using and testing new inventions.

His opposition, Sonic the hedgehog and Miles "Tails" Prower the two-tailed fox, come no where near touching his stature. Sonic is only able to beat Robotnik through brute muscle and speed, not intellect. Tails, while the "good genius" in the series, hardly has an iota of Robotnik's ability. Tails has been shown to have made several inventions and can operate an aircraft and special-made weapons, but it pales in comparison to Robotnik's countless inventions, ranging from robots with advanced artificial intelligence, multiple air and spacecrafts, specialized one-person vehicles that can levitate through air, drive on land, and submerge themselves in water and lava; and more. Sonic and Tails, at the very least, enjoy the moral high ground in that they only work to resist Robotnik's enslavement, but damn is Robotnik mentally active!

Mega Man is another well-known series. Citing the American storyline, Albert Wily is a scientist who became angry and evil after the world ignored his contribution to creating humanoid robots, so he broke from his partner Dr. Thomas Light and spent the rest of his life trying to enslave the world. While he is defeated every time by Mega Man and Dr. Light's inventions, one can observe that Wily has a significant edge in his competence over Dr. Light. From game to game Dr. Light is shown to have hardly been active in his line of work, producing few inventions and upgrades for Mega Man. Dr. Wily, on the other hand, has in the same length of time produced an army of robots and fortresses. The robots are oftentimes superior to Mega Man's design, whether it be in increased functionality (able to fly, move quicker, etc.) or greater strength (sometimes being capable of destroying Mega Man in two blows or less). Dr. Wily even invented a robot that can alter its own design through a biologic-like process of evolution.

Mega Man and Dr. Light disappointingly have severe moral failures and foolishness that makes them pathetic as heroes. Light and MM hold onto pacifist predispositions even as they recognize violence is necessary to combat Wily. They continue to trust Wily's assertions even after witnessing an asinine amount of lying from him, and Wily takes full advantage of their stupidity every time. The only time Mega Man came close to obtaining practical morality is when he nearly executed Wily in Mega Man 7, but Wily was able to distract him with questions about his morality long enough to be teleported away to safety. It's even more frustrating since it was demonstrated in this game that Wily is too dangerous to simply be alive, even if imprisoned in a maximum security facility, as he was able to create robots to break him out after six months of absence from his labs.

I could go on, but I think the point is made. The parallel between these series is that the villains are beings of great ability, competence, and desirable human traits, shamefully wasted to evil pursuits, while the heroes are lesser beings that defeat the evil not by besting them in their own realms, but at strategy.

This explains to me something I've been puzzled by for years: Why conventional heroes in general never succeeded in impressing me, and why I actually liked the villains. With very few exceptions -- such as Atlas Shrugged, Ironman, or Disney's Hercules -- I've never found much satisfaction in witnessing the villains get defeated, not only because they were of such interesting characters, but also because they were defeated by unworthy people, such as Dr. Wily's easily duped, pacifist Mega Man.

Expanding these thoughts to cultural commentary in general, it's discomforting to see such desirable and admirable characteristics, such as extreme intelligence, resolve, wealth, and work ethic, be given to the villains while the heroes are deprived. In all honesty I don't think the creators of these stories and products really believe that things such as intelligence and resolve are evil things that should be despised, but they've integrated, whether they know it or not, elements of bad philosophies that make these portrayals logical and near automatic of their consciousness. Conventional philosophy and rank emotionalism holds that things such as a questioning mind, ambitiousness, unequal ability, and so on are undesirable and should be avoided and detested. It makes sense, then, that the creators who integrate these premises make their villains intelligent (they use their minds to learn the nature of reality), in pursuit of dramatically high goals (not know their "place"), ahead-of-the-era competence (thus "unfairly" better than the rest of population), and more. It also follows that in order to make the heroes righteous by these standards they must lack the traits the villains possess, so here we have the spectacle of heroes possessing average or below-average intelligence, no central purpose in life, average competence, poverty, and so on. Sadly, the traits that would make a great hero, a hero you would want to see win, is more often given to the villain who is set to be destroyed in the end.

But not Bowser hopefully. He has, after all, come back from death with full mental and physical health, and will probably be around for years still to come. It might even be worth speculating that Bowser's brand of dictatorship may be better than Peach's, since we don't know specifically what he would do after taking control, and it seems as if though the only person he truly wants to kill is Mario, as he's never been seen murdering any of Peach's subjects, instead choosing to jail them. At the very least it's hardly debatable that Bowser operates a more competent army and could better protect his jurisdiction, as demonstrated by his defeating armies world-wide.

I don't think I'll ever get into video games as intensely as I have before, but I might always enjoy a good Mario game. Hopefully we see more of Bowser's adventures.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chocolate Review: Ghirardelli's 100% Cocao

While it may sound unappealing to most, it is possible to develop a cocao threshold high enough to enjoy full-bitterness chocolate, although I'm not sure how a person would go about establishing such. In my case, I guess my threshold increased through repeated eatings of increasingly bitter chocolate in conjunction with a restricted-sugar diet.

Anyhow, this review is for Ghirardelli Chocolate 100% Cacao Unsweetened Baking Bar. My main intention in purchasing this was to supplement a magnesium deficiency, as I had been suffering from intense leg cramps, but even as my cramps have disappeared I find I enjoy this beyond its supplementary purposes. Without the sugar it tastes uniquely different than that from sweetened chocolate, but not unpleasantly so. My cocao threshold seems to have even transformed the bitterness into something pleasurable and appealing, rather than something to be detested and spit out.

However, I don't seem to respond that strongly to this variety. I suppose that means I've been eating too much of it, so in that area I suggest eating sparingly lest you lose your taste sensitivity, but then again that's just common sense. I thoroughly enjoy the bitterness paired up with something sweet, such as mildly sweetened almond butter. In fact, the other day I was enjoying the combination of placing frozen banana pieces on broken off Ghirardelli bits and eating them in conjunction, giving a wonderful chocolate-banana taste experience. (Much better than that of the Valor's chocolate banana bar. That bar was the worst I've ever had.)

I have to admit that my lack of knowledge in professional tasting prevents me from describing too much in depth its flavor, so the most I can say is that its bitterness is very pleasant and leaves a good aftertaste, and it tastes much more intensely chocolately if a craving is present. Other than that, I ask my readers: Could there possibly be a difference in the taste of cocao beans that would cause a variety of flavors among unsweetened chocolate? If not, then cost and form will be the most important considerations for this type.

Cost-wise this bar is moderately decent, but it's about twice as expensive as the Baker's variety of unsweetened chocolate. Despite that, I've tried both of them, determined that they taste the same, and still prefer Ghirardelli's variety since it trumps in form. While Baker's is much cheaper, it's horrible in form. Upon opening the box I found that Baker's is not in bar form, but rather individual blocks wrapped in pairs. This is what makes is so terrible. The squares are super thick and are too strong for me to be able to break them apart by hand. Even using a steak knife to separate them is difficult, and when I broke through, some of the chocolate went flying. Even breaking them into smaller blocks makes them no easier to eat, as they're still so thick that you really have to gnaw on them to break them apart. This has led to a mess of drool, chocolate bits, and chocolate smudges all over my face, not to neglect the chocolate bits shed on the floor. Baker's is much cheaper and provides more chocolate than Ghirardelli's, but its atrocious form makes it unenjoyable to eat.

Ghirardelli's, in contrast, is in the form of a thin bar, can be broken apart and bitten off easily, and won't leave that much of a mess except if it accidentally cracks apart. If you're on a really tight budget or just want chocolate for supplementation purposes then go ahead and purchase Baker's; otherwise, I've found that Ghirardelli's is much more enjoyable.

Though don't think I'm giving my fullest recommendation to Ghirardelli. So far I've only eaten two unsweetened chocolate brands, so Ghirardelli wins by default for the present. If I consume another unsweetened variety that's equally manageable in form and cheaper, then I'll switch brands. For now, I'd say avoid Baker's solely on the grounds of how frustrating it is to eat.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Project Time Estimate Update

Good news: After assessing my situation and the expenses involved in the project I have determined that it can be accomplished in 1 to 3 months, 1 month for quickness and 3 months for thoroughness. It certainly pleases me greatly that I can advance my life forward in a shockingly small amount of time.

The bad news is that I don't know when the waiting period of 1 to 3 months can begin. The particular expenses involve not only savings, but an income level. To accomplish this feat, I need to be making at least minimum wage, working five hour shifts five days a week. Given my current wage earning potential, the more hours I can garner the better off I'll be and the more easily this project can be completed. If I manage to actually increase my wage earning potential then the project becomes even less difficult. In order to obtain that, however, I'll need to work at increasing my value at my current workplace or else find a supplemental job or income.

Overall, despite the uncertainty, I am confident that I can achieve my goal before the year is finished, maybe even much sooner. When I was originally unemployed I found it of massive benefit to exert most of my energy towards finding a job, and doing such made me find a job much quicker than before. It's surprising how reachable goals become when you concentrate on them.

Given the short waiting period, my sense of life gets a bit of a boost, knowing great self-improvement and productivity are just around the corner. Don't worry, you'll get a nice long post explaining what the project was after I have finished it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Adam, Eve, and Moral Cheating

The more I think about it the more I become convinced that, in the old Christian bible story of the Garden of Eden, God punished Adam and Eve for what effect the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge had on them, rather than for the actual eating of the fruit. I am, of course, an atheist, but I have been thinking about this Christian legend because I believe I have found a parallel between the story and how people act in regards to ethics today.

To summarize the story succinctly, the story of the Garden of Eden is about the very first man and woman to come into existence, and how they committed a "sin" which caused them to get kicked out of the Garden and damn the rest of mankind with finite lifespans, the sensation of pain, having to work for sustenance, etc. According to the version of the story I've heard, the devil in the form of a snake with legs tempted Eve and convinced her to eat the fruit even after God explicitly warned both Adam and Eve not to, and then afterwards Eve convinced Adam to eat the fruit, by which then they both got cursed and kicked out of the Garden.

Omitting from discussion obvious contradictions -- such as how God's omniscience could not have foreseen what Adam and Eve were going to do, why his omnipotence could not have made the tree unattainable or else restorable, etc. -- I have been thinking that what God truly got angry about is that the fruit made Adam and Eve knowledgeable about the nature of good and evil, rather than the actual eating of the fruit. In fact, and this is another contradiction, it's downright foolish for God to have gotten angry for the consumption of the fruit: Since Adam and Even did not know about good and evil beforehand, how could they have known that eating the fruit was a bad thing to do and then act on moral principle?

If my analysis is correct, then knowledge here is being regarded as innately evil while ignorance is innately moral. So long as a man is ignorant, in this context, then he can achieve morality.

And in regards to a proper philosophy it is true that there is a difference between innocent mistakes vs. moral failings. An innocent mistake in the moral context is when one commits a self-destructive action due to honest, unwillful ignorance and is willing to correct one's errors and act accordingly (and follows through with that intention). A moral failing, however, is when one commits a self-destructive action while knowing in advance it is self-destructive, and could have acted otherwise. In addition, the immorality is intensified when one is unwilling to examine and/or correct the errors, and is engaging in willful ignorance.

I've noticed that in my own life some people engage in willful ignorance consistently, often, and regularly as a way of preventing themselves from having to own up to their immorality, possibly with the implicit intention of achieving the moral "purity" of Adam and Eve. (The dominant religion in my network of people is Christianity.) For instance, if I recall the specifics of the conversation correctly, I was once having a discussion with someone about the merits of a government program, and he was implicitly trying to tell me that it was practical while I was arguing against it. When he questioned me on my position, I posited a question with an obvious answer: "Where do you think the government gets its funding?" Immediately he widened his eyes, broke eye contact with me, and nervously said "--I don't know--"

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I started to explain how the government got its funding and was cut off in mid-sentence by an angry outburst. He snarled that I should be thankful that such programs are available for assistance, but when I started to explain that they do not achieve their intended purpose he told me he was incapable of doing anything about it and then ended the conversation, and perhaps even walked away from me.

Reflecting back, it's obvious to me now that he knew how the government funded its programs and had refused to think about whether or not they achieve their intended purposes; when I started making identifications for him he panicked and cut off the conversation before the issue could be fully clarified, thereby maintaining his self-inflicted "ignorance." Given that government programs for economic assistance are destined to fail -- what with ignorant, unspecialized politicians being in charge; wealth merely being transferred from one party to the next, and so on -- I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to defend his moral status by stating "I didn't know!" when a government program he supported fails. More likely, however, is that he'll continually keep himself in a haze and treat economic failures as metaphysical facts.

But then again I could be wrong. It can be very easy to make philosophical identifications in ethics on the level of broad abstractions, such as the particular one above, but extremely difficult to find where they apply in specific situations. Even if you spend several months to study and integrate the proper code of morality, it can still take years of applying its standards to find how it applies to particular men, and even then one could still make an error of judgment. Men are, after all, capable of dishonestly presenting their natures, though I suspect it cannot be kept up indefinitely.

As such, I don't exactly know whether or not the person in my example was utilizing evasion to keep himself morally pristine of the consequences of government programs or if he was just terrified of questioning and altering his premises. In his case, he utilizes a clusterflop of techniques in order to try and make himself exempt from scrutiny. For instance, he advocates determinism and claims metaphysical necessities when he's being morally condemned or feels uncomfortable at my condemning someone else, but when it is I he wishes to scrutinize he suddenly advocates freewill and believes man's choices are not metaphysical necessities.

Whatever the case, the particular technique of evading in order to be "innocently" ignorant of the nature of one's actions does not allow one to achieve the moral status of being innocently mistaken. This is an attempt to cheat morality; and, in addition to the nature of the person's actions, the person opens himself to be more intensely condemned for the nature of his evasions.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Perceived Productivity and Actual Progress

One thing that bothers me is when someone judges me to be an unproductive person simply because they cannot see any physical manifestations of my productivity. If I were to isolate my activities to another location out of this kind of person's sight and engage in predominantly mental work, for instance, the person would assume I would be doing something equivalent to nothing. Once while engaged in studying I was interrupted in order to complete an insignificant task that could have waited, and then told to be thankful that I was given "something to do."

While it is true that accomplishments should have some manifestation of the sorts -- whether it be an emotional change resulting from introspection, a physical device being built, or the likes -- progress can nonetheless still be obtained purely in the mental realm. If one is stumped by an intellectual problem that affects one's life, for instance, one could still be considered productive in a personal context by having sat on a rock for a few hours in order to solve it.

In truth, if this be a more common problem outside of my context, I think the root lies in the fact that one's mental world is entirely private. No matter how loud you think or daydream such mental activities will be hidden from other persons, even if their ear is pressed against your head. While a person may be intensely engaged in a mental process, lacking telepathy, the only thing other people can see is a person standing around "doing nothing."

As far as I have observed, the persons who hold that thinking is akin is idleness are themselves particularly unproductive people. Since they don't stop to *think* about how to maximize their productivity, instead opting for thoughtless action and habits, they end up wasting their time spinning their tires. A person who "wastes" a few minutes examining driving routes, for instance, is more likely to reach his destination quicker than the person who simply relies on his habits.

This line of thinking actually occurred to me last year when I spent a bit of time thinking about to optimize a process at my old job as a Park Ranger. A volunteer and I were working on rolling some caution tape, and I was annoyed with how excruciatingly long it was taking. I remembered a technique I saw on Mythbusters, spent an extended amount of minutes trying to develop a process -- rather than dedicating myself entirely to the rolling -- and came up with a massive shortcut to the process by attaching the caution tape to a drill, which saved significant time. A person who wouldn't "waste" his time thinking would have spun his wheels in the long process of rolling via hands.

I have to wonder if this association of thinking with idleness has any deeper implications in formal philosophy. I had been thinking about Marxism in particular, though I confess I haven't studied it yet, so I cannot make any claims to ideological or historical accuracy. If I recall what I've read correctly, basing their actions on the Marxist doctrine, statist advocates actually went out and murdered industrial leaders since they thought they were evil for "exploiting" workers, that the workers engaged in the physical labor were doing the actual work while the bosses were being idle (that is, wasting their time on mental work). This explanation, I believe, was intended for clarifying why some statist countries (e.g. Russia) went to economic hell so quickly: They killed the brains that drove the economy, feeling their mental work was nonessential and insignificant to the process.

Either way, it incenses me that such an association is made in any number of instances, serving as proof that the particular persons who adhere to this believe that the mind is nonessential to life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chocolate Review: Endangered Species 72% Raspberry

I noted a few posts ago that I like to review chocolate on my Facebook profile. I've decided now that it would be better to do so on my blog, since I have a disclosures page anyhow and would like to share my thoughts with a wider audience.

First, a bit of a back story. When I started transitioning from my high-sugar diet to a high-fat Paleo diet I suffered for quite a while from intense lactose and general sugar cravings. I managed to easily cut certain sweet treats out of my life, but in exchange my body was sending me the signal to drink ever greater amounts of milk, and sometimes I would feel "possessed" to consume something sweet. After having a panic one night with one of my cravings I decided to purchase some dark chocolate in order to pacify my cravings in a healthy way, and to slowly mitigate them.

At first I didn't really enjoy the taste or bitterness of dark chocolate, but I kept at it in order to keep things under control and to benefit nutritionally from the chocolate. (I started at, I think, 70% cocoa.) Strangely enough, after repeated eating I develop a taste for the bitter stuff and can now enjoy upwards to 100% cocoa. Even though my constant milk and carb cravings have disappeared I still partake in dark chocolate and take pleasure in trying out different varieties and brands. I still utilize it for health reasons -- I seem to be suffering from a magnesium deficiency for instance -- but for the most part I enjoy it for its own sake. Just recently I have taken to reviewing the brands and varieties I try since I take the tasting so seriously, and I really enjoy sharing my thoughts on what I'm eating. I don't plan on becoming a professional food reviewer and I probably wouldn't enjoy it if I tried it; I just like detailing my preferences to other people.

So from now on -- though not on a consistent or constant basis, since it costs money you know -- I'll take it upon myself to post my thoughts on the chocolate I'm eating here on Musing Aloud. Hopefully it will influence your eating!

* * * * *

Disclaimer: I have no relationships with the chocolate companies mentioned other than that of a customer.

So I tried Endangered Species' 72% dark chocolate with raspberries. I'm disappointed, but it's good enough that I'd perhaps eat it again. It utilizes dehydrated raspberry flesh rather than using an extract, so it doesn't have the flavor integration and consistency you would find in ES's mint or cherry, which makes it inferior in my opinion.

However, the fruit flesh does give it a nice appearance. It's combined into the chocolate very inconsistently, rather than smoothly, so when you get into it it has this nice spotty bright pink appearance. In a way it gives me an impression of it being particularly feminine due to its pinkness, but it doesn't bother me and won't prevent me from eating it since all sweet foods remind me of women, therefore leaving me fine with the prospect of feminine sweets. In fact, why not make all sweets feminine in a way? It's a nice association.

Taste-wise it's particularly mild. The chocolate is good as always, but the chunks of raspberry are too mild and end up playing as quiet background singers. There is tartness, but not much. As I said, I'd still eat it again, but I'd like to see ES utilize an extract to intensify the raspberry flavor, as they use such extracts for their mint and cherry bars. In fact, what would really be nice is if they utilized both an extract and fruit flesh; the extract for flavor intensification, integration, and consistency, and the fruit flesh for appearance enhancement. That would be wonderful.

All in all, it's a nice bar, but you may want to pass it up unless you really like raspberries or mild tartness. Fruit-wise I think the cherry bar is superior, and you might come out alright if you stick to bars with fruit extracts. I might buy it again, but with my current supply of bulk chocolate and new flavors to try it sinks really low on my wish list. I'd *really* like to see a bar with apricot extract.

I'm looking forward to trying the organic health collection in my fridge since they have a greater amount of flavors blended into them, making me suspect more intense flavors, but I'm going to take my time getting to them due to my budget. I don't want to exhaust my variety and get into a monotonous cycle.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Categorizing Time

Building on my last post, I went through and brainstormed my essential values on a page in my introspection journal. Granted, my thinking wasn't scientifically precise, meaning I didn't measure out numerically the time commitments I want to dedicate to each value, but I did arrange the sections of my life into a hierarchy and devise good approximations. The categories and subsections I came up with are:

1.) Career: Employment, training, learning;

2.) Home activities: Cooking, reading, studying, exercise, writing;

3.) Media: Internet usage, television, DVDs, music, and movies.

(My career is likely not to be home-based, thus the segregation of career and home.)

The first item is the most important while the third is least. In each section, the individual items are approximately and loosely grouped according to importance. I plan on making my life fuller than this so to speak, but with my project -- keeping in mind my project is for the advancement of my life -- limits me currently, so some things will have to wait. Romantic aspirations are on my mind, for instance, but it may just have to wait for the next few months or so.

Anyhow, as I've said before my original problem was wanting to do "everything." After seeing how dissatisfied I was spending so much time in one area while neglecting others, I identified that my time commitments were messed up since I didn't have a proper *positive* value hierarchy. In this context, by positive value hierarchy I mean a hierarchy of values positioned relative to each other, not taking into account non- and anti-values; originally I just compared my values to non- and anti-values. My mistake still kept me value-oriented in my pursuits, but didn't help in budgeting time for some values over others.

Now as for my present thinking, I must confess that the only time commitments I feel truly certain and comfortable about are my recreational values. DVDs, for instance, can simply be rented or stockpiled and then watched whenever I wish, in however long a stretch I desire. I do not currently value any regular events that occur on specific dates or times, so I don't need to take into account as to how to align my life with my calendar.

My learning and skill development, honestly, is my biggest worry. For these I know to give the biggest time commitment, but I fret at making sure the proper learning and practice methods are being utilized, and whether or not actual progress is occurring. I take this to be perhaps be a fear that I might atrophy or lose my knowledge even at the slightest sign of slacking off or rest. This fear could be a lasting result from my institutionalized schooling, where the improper learning methods used forced me to simply memorize and parrot what was being "taught," and then to forget it shortly afterwards -- within less than a month. All the forgetting I've done of my school curriculum has probably spilled over into my personal studies as a fear I'll simply forget what I've learned or quickly retrogress in my competence.

To remedy this I'll need a better understanding of what it is I would like to *do* (physically) in my life, and then to determine the knowledge that such action requires. After integrating such a premise and putting it to practice for a while, I predict my consciousness will be geared towards only its dedicated pursuits and I'll naturally lose interest in wanting to do everything else. My dedication to the culinary field, for instance, has made me lose the desire to study formal philosophy intensely, reducing me to partaking in mostly modern works. (Though I plan on reading the translated works of Aristotle.) While philosophy is immensely important, it's simply too great and intensive for me to dedicate significant amounts of time to.

My thinking and resulting actions may be better once I can afford to implement fully the advice offered in Getting Things Done, as right now I'm limited to only utilizing electronic lists. The documentation and storage procedures suggested in the book should be able to help me in the future by helping me identify patterns in my thinking and chosen values.

I certainly feel better after this round of thinking, but it's still an ongoing process. Enhancing my competence, ability to learn, and ability to know myself is what will cure my time budget maladies.