Friday, January 30, 2004

FUN: Via the excellent (and fairly new) blog of Michael Brooke, I've found these fun, British-politics-oriented pages: a Daily Mail headline generator, a David Blunkett Policy Maker , and ... Michael Howard Sings the Smiths. Michael finds this the least effective of the lot; it may just be the pathetic Morrissey fan in me, but I don't. I mean, who can resist the comic prospect of the leader of the Tories proclaiming 'The poor and the needy are selfish and greedy' or 'I found a job and heaven knows I'm miserable now' (well, being charged with leading the Tories back from the wilderness isn't all fun and games, you know, Mike), or 'I crack the whip, and you skip, but you deserve it' (so he hasn't really changed since he was Home Secretary, eh?), or '18 months hard labour seems fair enough' (how about 18 years New Labour?) or 'This positions I've held, it pays my way but it corrodes my soul' (politics will do that) -- or, poignantly, 'Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me'. Well, maybe someday someone will.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

CAFFEINE FIENDS: Jacob Levy has a hilarious -- and educational! -- post on caffeine consumption up at Volokh. Several thoughts:
Jacob's right: 8 hours of sleep is good. I know; I used to not believe it, too. Was I not a member of the Directed Studies class of 1999, which adopted as its official motto 'Sleep is for the weak!' (They really shouldn't have assigned us The Birth of Tragedy AND part of Untimely Meditations AND The Genealogy of Morals -- AND had Brian Leiter lecture to us on Nietzsche, as well; being exposed to so much Nietzsche, and such a charismatic interpreter of Nietzsche, was too much for our young minds, I fear). I must've averaged 6 or so hours a night as an undergrad, and that's only because of those 10-hour-sleep fests on some weekends.
But now I am a grad student, and older and wiser. Or just much idler and more slothful. Now when i don't get my 8 hours, I feel it (as I do now). Actually, I haven't noticed any great improvement in intellectual clarity or performance (if anything, the reverse), or happiness. But it's kind of nice not to feel like shit all the time.
Jacob also wisely cautions against too much dependence on blood-sugar boosts. Amen. Especially blood sugar boosts PLUS caffeine. I remember the time I was studying for my final Political Philosophy exam in, again, DS freshman year, and consuming a cocktail of jelly beans and Mountain Dew as I went along (in the library -- yes, it was against the rules).
For one thing, it was revolting. For another, it messed me up but good. I actually started to twitch and shake from the excess of sugar running through my veins. I had to get up and start pacing around Sterling Memorial Library. I couldn't study -- hell, I couldn't SIT -- until I had consumed a healthful dinner of chicken tempura tenderbites (i.e. deep fried breaded whitemeat chicken pieces. God -- what we did to our poor bodies!), and a good deal of water.
So, that was a mistake.
Jacob himself seems to be quite the caffeine consumer. I can't believe that's healthy. I've never had that tolerance, or that need, for caffeine -- I do remember all too well being addicted to coffee my senior year of high school (if I didn't have my second cup by 11am, BOY did I get nasty. I understand that suburban NJ remains littered with the recks of unwary AP students who crossed me. I feel kinda bad about that now.) But eventually having to ask myself each morning 'Ok, do I want to have a headache or acute indigestion today?' (My stomach never could take the stuff very well) got to be too much, and I kicked the habit. I still love the smell and taste of coffee, but can't really handle it -- it pretty well screws up my system. Pity.
Indeed, given my tendency towards insomnia, even too much black tea, or tea too late in the day, keeps me up all hours. This is not to say that I don't need caffeine. Oh god, I do. But I can only tolerate it in the form of tea or small amounts of coke or chocolate. (Mmmm. Tea is good. Though I don't think that those who've only had the adulterated American versions of tea can appreciate the goodness of British tea.)
Of course, while Jacob's advice on how to maintain energy through a tiring day is good, he doesn't offer the real key to staying alert. This, I suspect, is out of concern for his reader's health. For the secret, I fear, is a medicine worse than the disease: tobacco. Apparently, when tobacco and caffeine meet up in the bloodstream, the tobacco says to the caffeine 'Hey, hold on there! What's the hurry? Why jump around like that, and exhaust your potency in such a short period of time? Chilllll ...' And the caffeine, mesmerised, replies 'Yeahhhh ... okay. This is fun, being here in this guy/gal's system -- let's stick around for a while, and do some real work!' And so the tobacco calms and sustains the caffeine high, yielding longer-lasting, more focussed energy which allows one to be productive without being hyper.
At least until one finds oneself lighting a new cigarette with the cigarette stub that one is puffing madly away at, fumbling with both in one's shaking, yellow hands, as one coughs up a sizable portion of one's lungs, or what used to be them. No, it's not pretty, and probably not worth it. Still, if you are not/haven't been addicted to tobacco, and aren't the addictive type, and don't have a history of cancer in the family, the SPORADIC ciggy in moments of extreme need may prove more serviceable than sinister. But I say this with great hesitation. It really is a filthy, unhealthy habit.
Now, where did I put my pipe ...
(Just kidding, mom and dad)
Ok, this must be the most frivolous (well, most intentionally frivolous) thing I've ever written. Enough.
Drink (caffeine) responsibly, folks.

BLAIRING TRUMPETS: Of victory, that is, for the British PM (Sorry about that title. That really must be a new low for this blog, which is saying something.) Tony and his government have won (narrowly) the battle over top-up fees, and have been vindicated over the allegedly 'sexed-up' dossier and the death of Dr. David Kelly. (Blair's speech summarising the Hutton report was terrific, by the way -- for a webcast of it, and other Hutton Report related links, check out OxBlog.
I haven't read the whole Hutton report yet, and am unlikely to do so -- there is that DPhil. But from the summaries I've read, it does seem like the media's portrayal of the Blair government's actions was unjust and inaccurate. I'm distressed that certain journalists acted so badly -- despite widespread cynicism regarding the media, a retain a romantic notion of the reporter's job, duty, and ethics (which may have something to do with the fact that I've never worked as a journalist, or seen journalism practiced up close). But I'm also relieved to see Blair and his government cleared of the charges against them. Government mendacity and manipulation is a good deal scarier to me than media misconduct. And it's nice to be able to admire Blair, even with considerable reservations.
As for the top-up fees issue: there's been a lot of debate (blog and non-blog) about this going on, at Crooked Timber notably (see here, here, and here), as well as an occupation of the Schools Building here by angry students. It's a complex issue, and I don't have a clear or simple view on it. I do mind it a bit that Labour promised not to introduce top-up fees, and now has -- though one can argue that the current policy is significantly different from what they said they wouldn't do. It still seems a trifle dubious. But the bill, so far as I can see it, provides a certain amount of support and protection for poorer students, which is I think the key thing (whether the proposed support is adequate, I don't know). Certainly, the way Britain funds its universities, or allows them to be funded, needs to change, unless British higher education is to be saved from complete mediocrity (not that mediocrity is ENTIRELY a bad thing; it does allow some people -- like me -- to get into grad programs).
Also, as an international student here, I have trouble getting too upset about this. One result of British universities' inability to charge British students sums large enough to keep the universities running is a reliance on foreign students, who are treated as cash-cows. International students get charged much more than British students -- and take slots away from them, as well. But I haven't noticed British undergraduates doing much to protest against rises in the price of residency in the UK for international students. Indeed, the protests of British students smacks more of entrenched privilege fighting against threats than a genuine crusade for egalitarian values. This may be quite unfair, of course, and inaccurate too; but that's the appearance of things from my armchair.
Anyway, Tony Blair must be pretty tired, but pretty happy tonight (indeed, one can only hope that at the moment he is sleeping the sleep of the just). And I'm glad for him.

TAB, PLEASE! I always enjoy reading Paul Berman, and often learn a lot from him. But boy, am I glad I don't go out drinking with him. Sheesh!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

SNOW IN OXFORD!!! Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay!
Glorious snow, covering the old stone buildings, and the branches, and the cobblestone walkways (well, ok, slush covering the cobblestones; I'll take what I can get). Magical. And it makes up for my missing a talk today by the President of Malawi.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

WOW. Fred Inglis, Professor Emeritus of Cultural Studies at Sheffield (and one of the few practitioners of that subject whom even I know about) gets all Matthew Arnold on certain sanctimonious and fusty postmodernists', um, bee-hinds. This is one of the fiercer, and better, polemics I've read of late. I tend to think that he goes overboard -- while I don't know her own work at all well, and from what little I know of it am less than an admirer, I find it hard to believe that Gayatri Spivak (or anyone) deserves Inglis's treatment of her. (I also am not sure that he doesn't overdo it with Fredric Jameson, though I think that, as Inglis means to suggest, it's largely Jameson's own fault for trying to dress up a perfectly sensible but commonplace point in obscuring [and obscurantist?] rhetoric -- assuming that that's what he was doing, rather than just spouting, which I'd like to believe. The treatment of Mary Beard, on the other hand, is if anything too merciful, focussing attention more on the offensiveness and self-satisfaction of what she wrote than on its sheer lack of sense and engagement). I also am not, after the initial reading, entirely sure what to make of Inglis's slide towards Platonism later in the article. But as a particularly pungent, entertaining, and splenetic expression of the by-now-commonplace (but not necessarily therefore valueless) point that much of what passes for sophistication in contemporary theory masks paucity rather than profundity of thought, Inglis's piece is worth a read, however much one might balk and even cringe at his excesses.
(Article by way of Norm Geras, to whom the hat is duly tipped)

Monday, January 26, 2004

FASCINATING, FUN, AND INFORMATIVE: Check this out. Sometimes I do just love the internet.

MORE TOP LISTS: My fellow list-fan Norm Geras has announced the results of his big top-10 movies list survey over at his place; take a look here.
As Norm kindly notes, I contributed to the survey. I won't repeat the movies I named that wound up on Norm's list, but will indulge myself by noting those that didn't make the cut:

The Big Sleep
A Hard Day's Night
Chariots of Fire
Hannah and her Sisters
Kicking and Screaming
L'enfant sauvage
Bridge over the River Kwai

(It will be noted that a good many of the entries in my top 10 list -- 9, in fact -- didn't make the cut on Norm's survey. This is partly, of course, a reflection of my oddity; it's also a reflection of absentmindedness, as I forgot certain movies that would've been on the list had I remembered them in the moments when I was responding to Norm. And it's partly a matter of wanting to highlight movies that I think aren't as well known as they ought to be.)

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