Sunday, 30 September 2007

Soy lake

I don't want to sound obsessed with food, but in fact I am (it will soon be time to hibernate). That is why I must announce that I have just bought five litres of Kikkoman dark soy sauce from an online Japanese food store.

Now I don't need to stock up at one of the Chinese supermarkets in Soho next time I visit London. They can be fun to look round, but they often smell bad, they're always packed with other shoppers (ie people who get in the way when I've a train to catch) and they usually hide the Kikkoman somewhere in the basement where uninitiates would never think of looking for it.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Lettuce - why?

What I want to know is, why anyone ever thought of eating lettuce.

Now in civilised societies, lettuce is an excuse for mayonnaise and vinaigrette. But what made the first lettuce eaters decide that lettuce was worth eating? I've eaten naked lettuce myself a few times: it is insipid and slightly bitter. I doubt that it's even particularly good for you, but if it is, the smart thing would be to get something else to eat it for you and then eat that creature. (I'm thinking rabbits here, not slugs.) Then you could save the vinagrette for your seafood salad and just eat the mayonnaise straight from the jar.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Accidental tomatoes

A few months ago I emptied the compost bin and stored a large tubful that we weren't able to use immediately. Later I noticed that some sort of weed had started to grow in the tub but I didn't bother to extirpate it. The "weed" turned out to be this exuberant tomato plant.

Having seen how many bunches of fat tomatoes weighed down its stems, I started to water it every day and feed it occasionally with bonfire ash. It's a race against time now: will the fruits ripen before the autumn frosts set in?

The silly thing is, I don't much like tomatoes. Their only edible forms are those that don't require chewing: very finely chopped; cooked to mush; juice, puree, sauce and soup. Paddy likes them raw, though, and casts a lustful eye on the accidental tomatoes every so often.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Coffee is good for you?

If so, I'm glad to hear it. I went through a green tea phase a few years ago, but it ended when I admitted to myself that green tea both looks and tastes disgusting.

According to a recent post on Healthbolt, coffee is...

...Not just good, but great! Reasonable amounts of coffee - no more than a few cups a day - promote all kinds of healthy side effects, from reduced risk of colon cancer, Parkinson’s, and type 2 diabetes to healthier liver function (aha!). And three cups of coffee have just as much fiber as an apple.

I had already heard most of this elsewhere, but not that "three cups of coffee have just as much fiber as an apple". How reliable is this assertion? I'm not qualified to say, and Healthbolt doesn't cite its sources, so I'll take it with a pinch of salt (but I may have to watch my blood pressure there).

Another thing I've read about coffee is that it isn't really an anti-diuretic. The Coffee Science Information Centre, for instance, says:

Q: Is coffee a diuretic?
A: The caffeine in coffee is a mild diuretic, but
moderate consumption of coffee has no greater effect than that seen with plain water. Decaffeinated coffee contains minimal amounts of caffeine and will therefore also have no greater effect on fluid loss than water.

Q: So will drinking coffee make me dehydrated?
A: No, coffee is an important source of fluid in the diet and moderate consumption, of 4-5 cups per day for the general population, will have no adverse effect on fluid levels in the body. In fact, experts in nutrition state that coffee can contribute significantly to daily fluid intake.

CoffeeScience (which appears to be a different organisation) confirms this and goes into more detail - an excerpt:

The diuretic effect of coffee was also evaluated in previous studies which Dr. Armstrong reviewed. The mild diuretic effect in coffee, tea and soda stems from their active agents, classified as methylxanthines. Dr. Armstrong explained, “The caffeine in coffee, tea, and soft drinks is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Tea contains theophylline – 1,3-dimethylxanthine. Theobromine is found in tea, chocolate and cocoa as 3,7-dimethylxanthine. All three compounds are central nervous system and cardiac stimulants, as well as mild diuretics in some situations.

Both serious athletes and weekend athletes consume a number of beverages that, when taken in large volume, have a diuretic effect. It is interesting to note that researchers have shown that fluid-electrolyte replacement beverages have diuretic activity, and that even water is a diuretic. At less than 300 mg a day, the diuretic activity of caffeine is similar to that of water.

What I can tell you for sure is that drinking coffee is good exercise (but just how good depends on how far your desk is from the coffee machine).

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Botched operation

Now I know what surgeons go through.

I needed to repair the hem on a pair of trousers. I got out my sewing basket, selected my tools, prepared my materials and mentally rehearsed the procedure one more time. I was now ready to do it live. I accomplished the first part of the procedure by neatly pinning the hem so that it would stay in place while I worked on it. I checked that the vertical crease on the turned up section was exactly in line with the rest of the leg, both front and back. I threaded my needle with just the right length of cotton and penetrated the cloth.

Then I proceeded to sew up the wrong damn leg.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Cat Worship...

...Have I allowed it to get out of hand?

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Widbrook Wood

This morning I went out for a walk along the canal at about nine o'clock and came back via Widbrook Wood, a part of the Moulton estate which Alex Moulton (famous for the Moulton bicycle and dynamo) has generously opened to the public. The week before I'd seen some red current bushes full of ripe fruit - light red, translucent and glistening. They looked so attractive that I decided to pick some this time and collected about four pounds from just three bushes growing near the grassy walkways that the estate has laid out between the trees and shrubs.

The trouble with currants is that they are too sour to be eaten raw, and have such large seeds that they can't be used in pies. Just about all you can do with them is make red currant jelly - so that's what I did. I found a simple recipe on the internet which didn't even require pectin. All you had to do was boil up the currants until they were mushy, strain them through a "jelly bag", and then boil up the juice with a large amount of sugar. We don't use sugar at home, so I had to nip out to the corner shop for some, but I did have a suitable bag from my wine making days.

Then I boiled, and I boiled, and I boiled. I was afraid the end result might be a sort of red toffee, but the hot juice did eventually jell into a sticky goo, reminiscent of jam, which I was able to pour into two large jars. It tastes nice but it is very sweet, even though I used less sugar than the recipe specified.

The question now is: how much venison am I going to have to eat in order to use up all the jelly?

Friday, 14 September 2007

Environmental compromise

Most people understand that environmentalism reduces standard of living. Airfares and car journeys become harder to afford if carbon taxes are added to the price of fuel; garbage is collected less often and costs more to dispose of if everyone has to use recycling bins as well as one for general rubbish; "energy efficiency" drives house builders to design ugly boxes with thick walls, low ceilings and small windows.

Fewer people realise that this is a life-or-death issue. After all, those who think government should impose 'green' taxes don't advocate killing anyone: they just want to take a little bit of life away from everyone. Like petty insurance cheats, they think their victims can afford to lose the small amount that's stolen from them. But there's no place to draw the line, morally or materially, for either theft or a forced reduction in standard of living.

The connection between standard of living and life itself is not obvious in western society. No one in the west starves, dies of exposure for want of warm clothing, or is worn out at forty by manual labour. The widows of Kensington may live ten years longer than those of Clydeside, but all of them can expect to reach their mid-seventies. The connection is clearer when you compare our society to those of the third world: there aren't many old people in Mozambique or Haiti. So, here's a question for environmentalists: just how much life is it OK to take?

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Blowing hot and cold

Since I, in common with most environmentalists, am not a scientist, I won't try to explain the absurdity of attempting to reduce "carbon footprints". Here's a hint, though: carbon dioxide is not a significant greenhouse gas.

I'll believe the predictions of global catastrophe when scientists understand the climate well enough to a) predict what the local weather will be next week; b) explain the enormous fluctuations in climate over past aeons; c) determine just what the optimum temperature is, so that each of us can know whether global warming, or global cooling, or global stasis, is good or bad, with respect to our own location.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

magical creatures

Wondering what had caused his abrupt return to consciousness, he opened his eyes and saw something with very large, round, green eyes staring back at him in the darkness, so close they were almost nose to nose.
This sounds very like Pussy Janeway; but in fact it's Dobby the house elf, as described by JK Rowling in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire(Chapter 23). Unlike Dobby, Pussy Janeway apparates silently. Once she's made herself comfortable on the bed pillow, though, she starts washing loudly - SLURP! SLURP! SLURP! nick-nick-nick SLURP! SLURP! How we love her, in the hours before dawn.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Happiness - Greek, not Roman...

... according to The Oxford History of the Classical World. Reading up on Cicero, I came to this passage:
Before and after Cicero, it was common to comlain of the deficiencies of Latin as a philosophical language. Cicero protested, with some justice, that new subjects in any language require the creation of new words, and that Greek philosophers too had resorted to neologisms. He himself introduced, for example, qualitas, moralis, and beatitudo, for 'quality', 'moral', and 'happiness' (it is suggestive that Rome, left to herself, needed no word for happiness).

[Ch.19, "Cicero and Rome" by Miriam Griffin, p. 458.]
When I learned Latin at school I was taught that the word for happiness was felix, but that this really meant good luck rather than the meaning captured in Galt's Speech:

Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.")

[Galt's Speech, in For the New Intellectual and Atlas Shrugged]

So Republican Rome had no concept of an earned happiness! That sort of figures: all those stories about violated virgins committing suicide to escape dishonour and statesmen preferring to execute their own sons than deviate from the letter of the law...
The Greek concept of happiness wasn't quite the same as ours either, though it seems a lot closer: Jonathan Barnes notes in Aristotle that Aristotle used the term eudaimonia, which means 'flourishing' - a successful life and the activity required to achieve it - rather than the state of consciousness that might be expected to proceed from flourishing.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

HP is not PC

Yes, you guessed it - the educational practices described in the Harry Potter books are not Pedagogically Correct:
Despite the very heavy load of homework that the fourth-years had been given for the holidays...
This quote is from Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (Chapter 23) but the Hogwarts teachers overload the students with homework throughout all the books.

Lisa VanDamme will have none of it - here's the opening section of her article on homework:
The Homework Lie
by Lisa VanDamme [Dec. 04, 2006]

Every year, dozens of parents sit at my desk and describe to me the intense frustration they feel as they watch their children get churned through the public schools. One of the refrains of their complaints: endless homework.

And no wonder:
  • The work itself is largely pointless. Students must complete countless contrived worksheets meant primarily to satisfy state standards for homework volume.

  • Their children are overwhelmed, trying to cram this busywork into car rides between after-school activities.

  • Parents do not know the material themselves. They are often unable to help, and sometimes they even hinder the children with their own confused instruction.

  • There is no sacred family time. Instead, the time for bonding between parents and children is compromised by battles over homework.

  • There is no sacred free time; the time the child should be allowed to rest, play, spend time with family, and pursue personal interests is compromised by the looming responsibility of performing hours of homework drudgery.

VanDamme Academy has a policy of no homework. Yes, you read that correctly.
You should read the rest as well. From further on in the article:
Our students shine because we make efficient use of the school day, focusing on those subjects which are most essential to the cognitive development of the child...
So don't expect to see Divination on the VanDamme Academy's curriculum.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Living on earth

Can't beat The Objective Standard for a topical logo:

What you get the other side of the link is also good:
Exploit the Earth or die. It’s not a threat. It’s a fact. Either man takes the Earth’s raw materials—such as trees, petroleum, aluminum, and atoms—and transforms them into the requirements of his life, or he dies. To live, man must produce the goods on which his life depends; he must produce homes, automobiles,
computers, electricity, and the like; he must seize nature and use it to his advantage. There is no escaping this fact. Even the allegedly “noble” savage must pick or perish. Indeed, even if a person produces nothing, insofar as he remains alive he indirectly exploits the Earth by parasitically surviving off the exploitative efforts of others.

Aristotle came first

One of my searches came up with a link to the "Ethical Philosophical Selector":
These questions reflect the dilemmas that have captured the attention of history’s most significant ethical philosophers. Answer the questions as best you can. When you’re finished answering the questions, press "Select Philosophy" to generate your customized match of ethical philosophers/philosophies. The list orders the philosophers/philosophies according to their compatibility with your expressed opinions on ethics.
I tried the link and found my results were Aristotle 100%, Ayn Rand only 92%... There were twelve questions, so I guessed that only one answer had been assesessed as inconsistent with Objectivism. That turned out to be question No. 7:
Should I act as if the maxim (principle) with which I act were to become the universal law for all rational people?
The options were
a) Yes, and any deviation from this rule is wrong.
b) Yes, but in a very loose manner, evaluating the unique specifics of the situation is essential.
c) No, there is a consistent morality that applies to all, but their methods may differ greatly.
d) No, one's own actions are not morally equivalent to the actions of others.
e) Doesn't matter/Dislike all answer choices.
and I chose (b) the first time round, having in mind something like the importance of context. Choosing (a) the second time around gave AR 100%, Ari 95%, and Aquinas 83%.