Feeding the Active Writer: Cookies

As I have mentioned before, I have a big sweet tooth.  Feeding that, while keeping my blood sugar down is always a challenge.  Here are a couple of recipes for cookies that go a long way toward that end.

Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 6 Tbsp butter (softened)
  • 2/3 cup Splenda or equivalent granulated sucralose sweetener
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flower

I did this one using a food processor.  Cream the sweetener and butter together in the food processor for about a minute.  Add the vanilla and do another minute.

With the food processor on slow, gradually add the almond flour.  Stop from time to time to scrape the sides.  Continue until all the almond flour is mixed in.

Scrape the dough into a small bowl.  Give it a final stir to mix in any remainder that was stuck to sides or bottom of the food processor and didn’t get thoroughly mixed in.  Chill the dough for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Form the dough into small balls and flatten into disks about 1 1/2 inches across.  Place them on a cookie sheet so they are not touching.

Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes.

Snickerdoodles

These are basically the same as the shortbread only you coat them in cinnamon sugar before baking.

Make shortbread cookie dough as above.

mix about 1 Tbsp of ground cinnamon and 2 tbsp of Splenda or equivalent granulated sweetener in a small bowl.

After flattening the dough into disks, drop them into the cinnamon sugar mix.  Flip so both sides are covered.  Place onto a cookie sheet so not touching.  Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes.

Peanut Butter

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 1/2 cup Splenda or equivalent granulated sweetener
  • 1 16 oz jar 100% peanuts, peanut butter.
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Place the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Run it on slow for about 2 minutes, then on high for about 5 or until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Scrape the contents of the slow cooker into a bowl and set in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Roll out 1″ balls and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Use a fork to press criss-cross marks into the balls (or if lazy, squish them with a thumb–they’ll taste the same either way).  Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Makes about 90 cookies.

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Dhampyre the Hunter 1, Cover Reveal

No sane person believes in vampires.

And that’s exactly the way the vampires want it. For centuries vampires have existed among us, hiding solitary in the shadows, preying on an unsuspecting humanity. Secrecy is their weapon and their security. In times past then they were discovered, they relied on their other weapon–fear–keeping humans too terrified to use their superior numbers and ability to walk the day to exterminate the vampires.

Dani Herzeg is a Dhampyre, born to a vampire mother for the express purpose of serving as an aid and daytime guard. Instead, she hunts vampires. Only now some vampires are no longer hunting alone. Combining into gangs and going on bloody killing sprees, almost uncaring of keeping the secret of their existence from the larger world.

With Indianapolis police detective James Ware her only ally, Dani must try to stop the bloodshed before the secret is revealed and vampires are launch a campaign of terror against the human world.

Or is it already too late?

DtH trial 1f.jpg

Coming soon.

The Bugaboo of Equality

People talk a lot about equality.  Equality of opportunity.  Equality of results.  Equality in the eyes of the law.  Equality in the eyes of God (for those who lean that way).  And so on.

Some people are so caught up on equality that they’re willing to see everyone worse off so long as things are more “equal.” If asked if they would prefer $100 if someone else was getting $500 or if they would rather $50 if the other was also getting $50, entirely two many would take the later “equal” choice even though both people, including themselves, is worse off.

In 1835, Alexis de Toqueville published the results of his extensive study of the American system of government titled “Democracy in America.” (Some people want to quibble over the title–“Democracy” vs. “Republic.” However, regardless of the label applied, his study was quite thorough in the day and went into great detail in particular in why the results of the American Revolution were so very different from those of the French Revolution.)

He wrote:

“In America the aristocratic element has always been feeble from its birth, and if at the present day it is not actually destroyed it is, at any rate, so completely disabled that we can scarcely assign to it any degree of influence on the course of affairs.  The democratic principle, on the contrary, has gained so much strength by time, by events, and by legislation as to have become not only predominant but all-powerful.  There is no family or corporate authority.  America then, exhibits in her social state a most extraordinary phenomenon.  Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune and intellect or, in other words, more equal in their strength than in any other country of the world or in any age of which history has preserved the rememberence.”

Note that de Toqueville was basing his observation when slavery was still extant in the United States.  But do note that Great Britain only abolished slavery in 1833, just two years before “Democracy in America” was published.  France had abolished slavery during the Revolutionary government, but it was restored under Napoleon, and only finally abolished.  De Toqueville was French and since slavery was still extant in the French Empire, perhaps he did not see slavery as a mark against what he said about equality–with which he referred to free men.  It is not my purpose here to go into a long treatise on the subject of slavery and its eventual abolition in the Western world.  Suffice to say that the great minds of the day were stumbling toward what seems obvious to us in hindsight–that the ideals of the founding of the US were simply incompatible with holding other people as property.

In any case the relative equality of free men was sufficient to impress itself on de Toqueville who was born only a year after Napoleon seized power in France.  The Aristocracies of Europe would have been the norm for him as opposed to the young United States, where, as just one example, relatively unschooled backwoods frontiersman Davy Crockett was serving in the House of Representatives (defeated for re-election in 1831 but regained the seat in 1833).

America was more “equal” than her European counterparts either contemporaneously or historically.  However one thing was abundantly clear:  de Toqueville was not talking about equality of outcomes, not the “equality” preached by the nascent socialists of the French Revolution (“Fraternite, Liberte, Egalite”) and certainly not the “equality” claimed as a goal by later writers expounding on those themes–Marx, Engles, and many to follow them.

The problem with equality of outcome, despite the claims of many who think it would be “fairer” than other systems, is that the very mechanism needed to enforce the equal outcomes requires some group of people to collect production, to ensure that people take the more demanding, dangerous, and unpleasant jobs (since “equal outcome” means you can’t offer them more payment to do those jobs, all that’s left is force), and distribute it “equally” to others is inherently subject to abuse.  Once that power is given to someone there is nothing to stop them from distributing it unequally at their own whim.  Perhaps the first ones will be paragons who would not think of using that power for their own ends, but what about the ones that come after?  The position will be highly attractive to those who would abuse it so they will seek it.  And sooner or later one of them will succeed.  If history is any guide “sooner or later” will mean “from the start.”

Even the attempts to partially “equalize” usually make matters worse.  In the US, the more government has interfered with the economy in the name of “equality” the more unequal things have become.  And yet the proponents never attribute the rising inequality to the failure of the programs, let alone recognize that the programs abet it.  They decide that they simply haven’t done enough with their programs.  There does not seem to be any point where they will look back and seriously ask if what they’re doing isn’t making the problem worse.

So we’re left with equality of opportunity.  And already people complain that we do not have even that.  There are already those in positions of influence (college professors) complaining that parents who read to their children, who have a loving home for their children, give them an “unfair advantage” over those who do not.  So, of course, the only thing to do is to try to “equalize” this.  Which brings us right back to the problems of enforcing equal outcomes.

Yes, I give my daughter a loving home.  I read to her when she was little and taught her to love reading.  And I work hard to give her opportunities that she might not otherwise have had.  I make no apologies for this.

However, there is a more basic way in which equality can have a meaning, and that’s equality under the law.  Specifically that the law does not put artificial, arbitrary obstacles to some people and in favor of others.  This allows each person to achieve according to their own drive and ability.

The term for that is “liberty.” Government, in that instance, has the role at most of establishing a basic framework of rules that apply equally to everyone.  It does not impede some, or favor others.  A referee, not a player.

As the late Milton Friedman said: “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

So if you really want equality, stop trying to enforce it from above and try freedom instead.

A Snippet

Very busy day today.  No time to write much.  So here’s a snippet from one of my WIPs (one that should be released soon, if all goes well):


Special Agent Reid, FBI, stood up.  He removed his phone from his pocket and turned it on.

“We captured one of those…things…a little over a week ago.  He ignored being tazed.  Being shot didn’t even slow him down.  In fact, when we examined him later, we found no evidence of bullet wounds.”

“I thought you feds were better shots than that?” Tanner interjected.

Reid ignored the interruption. “We ended up piling bodies on him to subdue him.  In the process he killed two officers, including my partner, and put three others in the hospital.  He broke the first pair of handcuffs we put on him, leading to two more officers hospitalized before we restrained him with three pairs of handcuffs.”

Reid paused for a moment before continuing. “We’ve got him in a basement cell.  He goes comatose every dawn.  No attempt to wake him between the hours of sunrise and sunset has any effect.  No deliberate attempt, I should say.  The first day, we tried to remove him to the hospital wing.  The instant the attendants wheeled his stretcher into a room with a window, he woke.  He broke the restraints on the stretcher and knocked his attendants out of the way as he ran back into the elevator. His attendants only suffered minor injuries.  He was more interested in getting past them than in hurting them. Security footage shows that he collapsed on the closing of the doors.”

“Dani?” Ware said.

I nodded. “Legend and fiction have a mix of truth and falsehoods about vampires.  Early stories did not claim any particular aversion to sunlight.  The ‘burst into flames’ thing came with the movie Nosferatu.  Real vampires don’t.  Sunlight does hurt them and enough exposure will kill them, but it’s not a quick process.  It’s slow and agonizing.  Vampires do sleep during they day.  Young vampires drop with the first light of the rising sun only to awaken with the last ray of the setting one.  Old ones can remain awake for a couple hours of daylight, but no more.”

I nodded to Reid. “But as Agent Reid has seen, any vampire, when at immediate risk of sunlight exposure, will wake up long enough to evade that exposure and seek shelter.” I looked Reid in the eye. “You’re lucky that Gerald, or the thing that was Gerald, is as young as he is.  As you noted, his instinct was only to seek shelter.  He didn’t stop to kill along the way.”

“Thank you, Ms. Herzeg,” Reid ground out then turned to Ware. “Don’t interrupt me again.”

“Cram it,” Ware said. “This is my case.  You’re here as a courtesy.  You don’t want me to pick up a phone to your supervisor back in Seattle, do you?”

“Is that a threat, Detective?”

“You bet your ass, Special Agent.”

“Please,” I said softly. “Can we save it for the vampires?”

Ware turned to me then back to Reid. “If you would continue, Special Agent.”

“There’s not much more,” Reid said. “Except that about every three days someone in his vicinity would go nuts and try to free him.”

He stopped.  The room went silent for a moment.  After a few seconds, Ware said, “Thank you, Special Agent Reid.  Dani?”

“Vampires can…Push at people’s minds.  They’re limited in how often they can do it, how far they can reach, and how much they can Push a person into things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.  Most things don’t change for a vampire as they get older.  They don’t get physically stronger or faster.  Older vampires do get better, and stronger, at Push.  For a new vampire like that one, reaching people he can’t see, and forcing them to free him, once in three days is about right.”

Ware nodded. “Can you tell us a bit more about what we’re up against?”

“There has been fiction about vampires, before that, legends.  Forget most of what you’ve read.  It’s wrong, stuff the writer created to tell a good story.  Vampires are not pale, romantic creatures of the night.  Instead of being lean and sallow, they tend to puffiness as though bloated, and dark ruddy complexions.  They are bloodthirsty.  Well, Antisocial Personality Disorder is as close as you’ll get in human terms.  They are utterly self centered and utterly arrogant.  They are stronger and faster than humans.  Most weapons have no effect on them.  Shoot them with a lead bullet, and it’s like shooting smoke.  Cut them with steel, and there isn’t even a wound.”

“How about a stake through the heart?” Blake asked, his first words since saying he didn’t believe in vampires.

“Immobilizes them,” I said. “Doesn’t kill them.  Remove the stake and they return…as the people at your morgue found out to their cost.”

“How do we kill them, then?” Tanner asked.

“Two ways are reliable.  One is to behead them, stuff their mouths with garlic or communion wafers–don’t ask me why communion wafers work because I don’t know–and sew their mouths shut.  With the rising of the sun, they are true dead and cannot be brought back.  The other way is to burn their bodies to ash.” I pulled my lips back, more a baring of teeth than a smile. “I like to do both.  Just to be sure.”

“Anything else, Ms. Herzeg?” Ware asked.

I nodded. “I’ve seen vampires fight.  Their fangs, even their hands and feet, create wounds that heal only slowly.  They can even kill one another true dead that way.  Something to think of if we can get them to turn on each other.”

I shrugged then continued. “For all their strengths, vampires have weaknesses too.  They’re vulnerable to sunlight.  You can’t rely on it to kill them, but they have to seek shelter quickly or they will die.  Most of the daylight hours, they’re immobile and insensate.  And they tend to be few in numbers.  And while they can sometimes find humans willing to work for them, such servants never last long in the care of psychopaths who see them as food.  ‘Happy Meals with legs’ as one writer put it.  Historically vampires used two strategies to overcome their weaknesses.  One was to operate in secret.  They strike in the darkness from stealth, leaving no witnesses, or at the very least none that anyone important would believe.  If no one believes in vampires, no one hunts them, and the vampires can hunt with impunity.” I stopped and licked my lips.

“You said there were two ways?” Ware gestured for me to continue.

I nodded. “The other way is terror.  They keep people so terrified, so off balance, that they can’t coordinate, use their greater numbers and ability to operate in daylight to hunt and destroy the vampires.”

“And that appears to be what’s happening here,” Ware said. “The government has become aware of the existence of vampires.” Ware’s eyes flicked to Reid.

Reid slapped a hand on the table. “Are you saying this is our fault?”

Ware looked at Reid for several seconds. “No, Special Agent.  By the very rules the vampires operated from, it was the vampire who put himself in a position to not only be identified but captured.  It’s not about blame.  It’s about what to do now.”

“So what do we do now?” Tanner’s voice was surprisingly calm given the series of revelations at this table.

“You work your sources,” Ware said. “You know what we’re looking for now, so keep an eye out.  And don’t try to take them on alone.  Ms. Herzeg thinks we have at least thirteen working together in the city.  We need to fight them on ground of our choosing, when we have the advantage.  Don’t let what they are, and what they’re doing, drive you into anything rash.  We find out where they are, and then we take them down when we have the advantage.”

Tanner drummed her fingers on the table for a moment then looked up at Ware. “By ‘take them down’ you don’t mean arrest them, I take it?”

“You saw Riley, and IUPUI.” Ware shook his head and sighed in obvious frustration. “Can you imagine one of those things in holding or in general pop at State?  Scum and villainy they may be, but they don’t deserve to be massacred by vampires.”

“So we find them,” I said. “We find them and we kill them.” I looked Tanner in the eye. “Can you do that?”

“I helped sort bodies at Riley,” Tanner said. “Oh, yeah.  I can do that.”

Blake nodded. “I’m in.”

“Reid?” Ware turned a hand up to the agent.

Reid sighed. “Dammit, this is supposed to be my case.”

“The powers that be made it mine,” Ware said. “But the truth is, I’m a rookie.  You’re a rookie.  Everyone here is a rookie.  Everyone except Ms. Herzeg.  She’s the one with experience hunting and killing vampires.  If she says ‘jump’ you don’t even ask ‘how high’, you just bounce off the ceiling.”

“Detective…”

“That’s the best deal you’re going to get, Special Agent, so take it now or you can walk out of here.”

“I can go to your Lieutenant,” Reid said.

Ware grinned. “You sure you want to do that?  I mean, all things considered?”

“Damn you.”

“Your call, Reid.  Your call.”

“All right, I’m in.”

So Elizabeth Warren Still Claims to be Native American?

Short one today.

DNA tests show, basically, 1/1024th (0.09765625%) “Native American.” This is about half the average white American (0.18%).  Oh, and the Cherokee nation shut that claim down right away.

So, one part in a thousand “Native American” genes as opposed to just “human” in general.  but how does that stack up to other things?  Well…

Humans have about 96% commonality with Chimpanzees.  Not to say that 4% difference isn’t pretty important but still, it does make the differences between humans of various groups look a lot less important when you consider that all of us are 96% Chimpanzee.

Humans have 60% DNA shared with chickens.  If somebody calls you a chicken, they’re 60% right.

Humans have more than 60% DNA identical with bananas.  Yep, apparently we have more in common with a tasty yellow fruit than with chickens.  So, perhaps a comeback of someone calls you a chicken?  Yeah, well you’re a banana.  The genes in question are those involved in the inner workings of cells which are extremely common throughout the animal and plant kingdoms and involves stuff that evolved a long, long time ago and remained largely unchanged because it worked well enough not to need to change.

Fruit Flies also have 60% identical DNA with humans.  And I guess we’ll stop here because “Yeah, but you’re a fruit fly” just doesn’t have the ring to it.

Land of Second Chances: A Blast from the Past Redux.

One of the thing I like best about the US is that, more than just about anyplace else in the world, it’s the land of second/third/fourth/morth chances.  The ability to say “I screwed, up, but I can still make things better” and have that mean something is quintessentially American.

It makes sense, in a way.  So many people originally came to America because they were looking for a second chance.  For one reason or another things weren’t working for them “back home” so they came here for a new start in a new home.  Maybe they were looking for wealth in a new land.  Maybe they were looking for religious isolation.  Maybe they wanted to build their own farm in the wilderness where they wouldn’t be beholden to anyone.   For whatever reasons, they left what they had behind for a new try in the “new world.”

There’s this “demonstration” that’s supposed to be an illustration of the concept of “privilege.” The demonstrator puts some money out that’s the prize for the first person to reach it.  Then the demonstrator has people take head starts based on various things that he considers “privilege.” His intent is to show that the world isn’t fair and it just sucks for those lacking in privilege.  However, the whole thing fails because it makes some pretty big false assumptions.  It assumes that there’s only one “prize.” It assumes that everybody is striving for the same prize.  You can combine those into an assumption that one can “win” only if someone else loses.  It assumes that the “prize” is all or nothing.  But the big one is, it assumes that people only have one chance at the prize.  They can’t try again for a different prize.

Yet this whole “try again” attitude permeates American culture.  It did, anyway.  Lately it seems to be falling by the wayside.

My own life has been driven by a series of bad choices made on my part and new chances to make better choices.

In High School I never learned to study.  I didn’t need to to “get by” and simple unstructured reading in subjects that interested me was enough to get me “good enough” grades in most of my classes.  But I never learned the discipline of sitting down and studying a particular subject, especially any that didn’t particularly interest me at the time, until I’d mastered it.  Bad choice on my part.  Also in High School I never took the time to seriously look for work.  Whether I found it or not, I needed to be looking for it..  This resulted in my having very poor work habits by the time I graduated from school.

But the real bad choice I made in that era was only applying for one college.  It was a religious school, run by the religion I was practicing at the time.  When the local clerical leader essentially vetoed my application (because I wore my hair too long–it touched my ears and yes they were that strict) I had nowhere else to go.

So I went with “second chance” number one.  I joined the military.  Here I made yet another bad decision.  I originally planned to go into electronics, take whichever job had the longest school (thereby getting as much electronics training as possible), and parlay that into college afterwards.  I let the recruiter talk me into switching to another field.  I would prove remarkably unsuited to that field (thus making a military career out of the question) and it was also almost completely devoid of civilian application so I couldn’t turn military training into a decent civilian job.

I have, in the past, described switching military fields as not the worst mistake I have ever made but possibly in the top ten, certainly the top twenty.  On reflection, I have revised my opinion.  It definitely was the worst mistake I ever made.

Still, I could have put my time in the military to good use.  The military was willing to pay 75% of tuition costs in accredited colleges while served.  Also, the “GI Bill” of the day was voluntary—save up to $2700 for college and the government would match it 2:1.  Bad decision on my part was to not take advantage of either of these.  The only “college” I got from my military tour was from my technical training itself.

So, as the end of my enlistment neared, I got to “second chance” number two.  I applied to college again, several colleges this time.  Each of these colleges, however, required recommendations from high school teachers.  I sent the proper forms back home, to my mother, with lists of teachers to contact.  Once again I made the bad decision of putting my future in the hands of one person . . . who failed me.  She never forwarded the forms.

On returning from the military with no job prospects and no college, oh, and a broken collar bone because I was hit by a car shortly before separating from the military, I ended up in some menial jobs–bussing tables, washing dishes, that sort of thing–and I got to second chance number three.  I tried again to get into college.  Money was tight even for application fees so I applied to only one college, the state university.  I hand carried the forms to the college, met with various people at the college, and got accepted.  The proposed financial aid package would cover my need and all would be well except . . . bad decision:  I had been spending my money, even at the menial job, as fast as it had been coming in.  I had been working at a resort in Virginia at the time (my State of Residence was Ohio).  The job came with a room and cheap meals.  If I had sucked it in for just one summer–banked my paychecks and lived extra frugally for just one summer all would have been well.  But I didn’t think I needed to.  I had the financial aid package that would cover college, including room and board, so I thought everything would be fine and did not plan for the unexpected.  Naturally, something unexpected happened.  I would not receive part of the financial aid until halfway through the semester.  However, the housing arrangements required payment up front.  No one would grant me a short term loan to cover the gap between needing the money and getting the money.  So no college for me that year.

So I went back to menial work yet again, falling deeper into depression.  That’s when I took second chance number four.  My mother had returned to school in Akron and, when the resort job had ended (they closed for the winter) I moved back there.  I was unemployed, selling plasma for cash, and was walking with a cane because of problems with my knees (since improved).  The knee problem, which meant I couldn’t stand on my feet for long at a time, even prevented me from taking most menial jobs.  I was so depressed that I had largely stopped trying, but my mother (whose financial situation as a college student was little better than mine) said she would front the application fee if I would just apply at the local university.  I did.  This time I was accepted.  I found housing I could afford based on the financial aid I would actually be receiving.  I entered the University of Akron majoring in physics.

While I was at school, I learned to study.  I learned to talk to people who actually worked in industry about what I needed to be able to get a job and to act on what they said so that when I graduated I would be able to get a good job.  I then acted on that and got the job.  Once I had the job, I got married.  Once I’d been stably employed for a couple of years I then went looking for a house, one I could afford (even though lenders were urging me to take more based on the “ratios” I had at the time) and would be able to continue paying for even if things took a “downturn” down the road.

I’d like to say that I’ve stopped making bad decisions but it would be a lie.  I still make them.  But when I make them, I have to realize that they are my decisions and it’s up to me to make them right.  I cannot rely on other people to make them for me.  They have their own interests at heart and if they also have mine it’s happy chance, not something on which to count.  My choices are my responsibility.  I can take advice or leave it but in the end it’s my choice.

And so I continue to be employed.  I have a wonderful daughter.  I have a house that is not in imminent danger of foreclosure.  And I did it despite the very many bad decisions I made along the way.  And I did it by recognizing that the bad decisions were bad decisions, that they were my bad decisions not anyone else’s, and that I needed to make better decisions if I wanted to move ahead.