Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Passionate Bureaucrat

For while my daily rage maybe diminished,
I assure you we are still not finished.
I bet by now you have stolen time
To edit
The Beginner’s Guide to Hell.
I trust you’ve cheated Charon of a dime
And somehow brought a blush to Jezebel.
I see you basting in satanic slime
Before deep-frying in your cockroach shell.

 -Michael J Astrue 

I loved this verse by Michael J. Astrue, the fifty-four-year-old head of the Social Security Administration in the US federal government. Both a steady civil servant, according to the article in first things, and an award winning poet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I am thinking about mistakes I have made, and most of them have been sins of omission. Lack of action that in hindsight discredit me. But I am looking for redemption. Not in the christian sense, because I am not in any way religious, or spiritual in any meaningful sense, but because in the face of the absurdity of the universe we strive in ways big and small to produce meaning. In that sense we are meaning machines.

Meaning, the significance of what we do feel and think gets it's realisation through language and broadly symbols. So one regret I have is that I did not learn French better, when I was younger. I also regret that I didn't learn Mohawk, which was offered at my high school. As a would-be scholar, Latin's significance for understanding European thought can not be overstated. I should have learned those languages when I was younger.

After running and biking so much over the last 15 years, I think I should have been more involved in sport, although I was pretty active, anyway. The discipline of actively pursuing a sport would have done me good. Although I had a some good teachers, high school didn't benefit me- and it is easy to go back to school, here, so I should have dropped out and returned as a mature student.

I wish I had learned to play piano when I was young.

My point is to reflect on meaning as I create it now, and so choose how to correct my lapses. My french is getting better, I have a piano and skim through Wheeler's Latin primer.

We humans can't have a major effect on the atmosphere...

..or can we.

The Earth's atmosphere is a very thin layer of gas, relative to the planet itself. If we imagine the earth as being the size of a basketball(a diameter of a little more than 9 inches), the atmosphere would be about 1/100 of an inch. Moreover that atmosphere contains about 78% nitrogen gas, about 21% Oxygen, a little less than 1 percent argon- the rest is water vapour,CO2 and other gases such as methane.

So the actual gases responsible for the green house effect that traps heat in our atmosphere comprise about 1 percent of our atmosphere. So we don't have to change the composition of our atmosphere much to have an effect on it.

The total mass of our atmosphere is 15 x 10-18 Kg(15 000 000 000 000 000 000 Kg) or 30 x 10 -18 lbs.
These days, humans emit 26 gigatonnes or 26 x 10-9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or about 2% extra carbon dioxide per year. The earth's environment absorbs about half of that( which is causing acidification of the oceans, among other problems). Of course, methane and water vapour also contribute to green house gases, and human activity produces them, too.

So we are making a massive change in the small quantity of gases that keep our planet at a habitable temperature. This current rate has been typical of the last ten years, so our atmosphere should have shown in the region of a 10 % increase in atmospheric CO2 in the last ten years. The WMO reports an increase of 1.8 ppm of CO2 per year over the last decade or 18 parts per million increase out of about 360 ppm. This seems low, and leaves the question, where has all the carbon gone? is it my math? On the other hand, the WMO indicates a 5%/annum increase in CO2- which means doubling in 20 years.

How I write essays

I start by reading- preferably about something related to what I want to write about. And I research, which means downloading academic, peer reviewed articles- I actually read some of them. Then I scribble little ideas on scraps of paper and increasingly on my iPod touch notepad. Then I clean the bathroom. I also try to read things for fun that aren't as stiff or clunky as a lot of academic writing. Adventure novels, feature journalism from Rolling Stone or The New Yorker or the English version of Der Spiegel, popular writing about your topic all help you to pick up good habits of writing. Good sports journalism is often both dynamic and clear, so it helps set you a good example of how to present your ideas.

Two days later, having thought about my idea, I go to lunch and chat about what I am thinking about to someone who is interested in the subject. After lunch, and a nap, I try to reduce my idea to a single sentence based on my conversation. Talking to people about your idea is a great way to develop it. Try talking to a professor or helpful grad student about it. Try explaining it to a friend who has no idea about it- that will help your clarity. That single sentence is what academics refer to as a thesis statement.

That sentence expands out into an introduction, with the idea in mind that each sentence represents a section in the final paper. So the first paragraph of your paper should have an opening sentence that sums up your idea in one shot, and about 8 to 10 sentences that support your main sentence.

Then I write a paragraph using each sentence as the introduction. This should take no more than half an hour per section, even if you write very slowly. Here is a rule of thumb calculation:

10 page essay =

1page introduction this should encapsulate your whole paper(Tell'em what yer gonna tell'em)
8 pages- 1 page per section(Tell'em)
1page - Conclusion(Tell'em what you told'em)
Think of each section as a question and you have to answer it in a page or so.

I keep feeding the beast until it is as bloated as a goose's liver. I then take it for a brisk walk, and in 20 minutes for a 9 pager, I pretend I am trying to explain the paper to friend who is less than entranced with the idea. I record this onto my iPod, and play it back, transcribing and editing as necessary. Usually, this is pretty easy.

At this point I have a pretty coherent, well thought-out paper of about 8-10 pages.

Some of these stages I may repeat, but the idea is to break up the process into small manageable chunks. Each section, for example is only about 1 to 2 pages long, so it is easier to write section by section rather than to try and write the whole thing in one shot.

You can also try composing your paper orally into a recording device immediately after or during your research. Then you have a first draft to work from. But using the method I outlined works better if you are dealing with really new, unfamiliar information.

Being And Wine; Terroir, taste and time

And then there is terroir

"In Nossiter’s world, wine is all about terroir, the French concept that wine is “an expression of a place . . . the geology and meteorology of a specific site, [but] also of the history of that land in relation to the vine and, equally importantly, the history of those people who have cultivated that place. It’s the intersection of human culture and agriculture. And each bottle is an expression of that intersection.” (The wine that lost its edginess came from a vineyard that had been sold to someone outside the original vigneron’s family.) Terroir is a gorgeous idea, one rooted in labor and tradition, and it ties in beautifully with the humanist argument that gives Nossiter’s book its title—that wine is a kind of liquid memory because it’s imbued with the character of everyone and everything that made it."
- Melanie Rehak Red Wine and Blue: Americans have a long and contradictory history of imbibing and proscribing. Sept/Oct/Nov 2009

This notion of Terroir sounds remarkably similar to Martin Heidegger's notion of the groundedness in Being.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

What is cooking...

Well, a short and sweet update. Politics: I still think the Tories should be concerned about their weakness, given Michael Ignatieff has proven a weak leader. Despite all the criticisms and political missteps(i.e. bad communications) the Grits are only 2 to 4 points behind the Tories.

Academically, I am looking at the intersection of video games and performance art. I have an idea that developing a more sophisticated critical language around video games will give us new critical insights of previously existing genres and art works. I hypothesize  that existing insights into 'ritual' as discussed by scholars like Catherine E. Bell will help explain much of how digital games work. Is the time ripe for introducing ethnography( with it's phenomenological dimensions) to the examination of art works?

Personally, I ran the rather modest distance of 5 km in about 30 minutes. This is the first work out that will culminate in my completing the Montréal Marathon in early September.

Tonight, Anton and I dined on pork chops marinaded in rosemary, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. But what I want to try is cooking sous-vide. This entails heating the food to the appropriate temperature by wrapping it in vacuum sealed bag which is then submerged in hot water. Meats may be grilled after removal just to brown the exterior.  This method promises to avoid over- cooking because the food cannot be heated beyond the correct temperature. For example, the water is heated to 124deg F for a rare steak. The steak can't over cook because 124F is as warm as it will get. I will experiment myself with a pot, thermometer and beef, to see if I can avoid buying the ludicrously expensive sous-vide cookers.

A big shout out to Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog, which gave a great recipe for home-made hamburger helper. Balancing nutrition with what little boys will eat without a stern beating means looking for recipes like this.
Lower in sodium and tailored for the taste of the family in question, it makes me wonder why bother with the Hamburger helper product at all- it is not easier to make than home made(ok, you have to saute the onions and spices, first)
Having searched MGCC I can't wait to try their Perishky recipe(a delicious looking, turnover-like dainty)

I am coming to terms with being single, and feeling my heart un-thaw, a bit. But that emotional release is accompanied by many emotions both light and dark. Seeing my wife, as we pass our son from one another puts me in a foul mood. Childishly, she still denies that this has any more significance than change brands of soap powder. Her home-wrecking lover still denies he owes child support to his ex-wife.

So a bitter ending to a sweet beginning.

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster