Archive for September, 2009

Some charming British themed videos

September 29, 2009

Well, as the title of this post suggests, I recently managed to get ensnared in some charming British themed videos.

It’s a double feature — First, Patrick Stewart on his struggle to come to terms with male pattern baldness:

Then, a retrospective on TV classic Dad’s Army.

(I used to watch unhealthy amounts of this show when stuck in England without Nickelodeon.)

Fight Climate Change with Epistemology

September 22, 2009

I don’t want knowledge, I want certainty!

– random sample from that 90’s-tastic Trent Reznor/David Bowie album
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President Obama spoke to the UN Climate change summit in NYC today (text available here). He said:

“We know what needs to be done. We know that our planet’s future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution. We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world.”

Wow, we know everything! It is pretty uncanny that “We” happen to have all this ultimate knowledge sitting around…though I suppose it shouldn’t be so surprising since “We” (God/the State/the patriarchy) always seem to come up with all the neat and correct answers right when you need them.

Unfortunately, climate change is an extremely complicated non-linear animal — for example, the possible carbon feedback loops (like melting tundra releasing previously trapped carbon into the atmosphere) are pretty much unpredictable at this point. David W. Orr from Yale writes: “Given the roughly 30-year lag between what comes out of our tail pipes and smokestacks, the climate change-driven weather effects we now see are being caused by emissions that occurred in the late 1970s. What is in store 30 years ahead when the forcing effects of our present 387 parts per million of CO2 are manifest? Or further out when, say, the warming and acidifying effects of 450 parts per million of CO2 — or higher — on the oceans have significantly diminished their capacities to absorb carbon? No one knows for certain, but trends in predictive climate science suggest that they will be much worse than once thought.”

So there’s a real element of uncertainty here. (Usually when people say stuff like this, they are trying to suggest that anthropogenic climate change doesn’t exist — I’m going to defer to many years of empirical evidence and broad scientific consensus on the matter and suggest that it does.) In calling attention to this uncertainty, I’m trying to play the old post-modernist game of subverting modernist narratives of progress. I admit I’m a little rusty at it.

When “we” claim to know everything and thus claim the ability to dictate the solution to climate change (hey, just like those one-shot solutions to poverty, famine, water shortage, etc. How are those working out?) you can be sure that said solution is going to be lucrative for all the right people and pretty securely fastened to already problematic patterns of “development.”

Should we cease to care about climate change? No. But we could learn something from Adam D. Sacks who decries “our failure to understand that greenhouse gases are not a cause but a symptom, and addressing the symptom will do little but leave us with a devil’s sack full of many other symptoms, possibly somewhat less rapidly lethal but lethal nonetheless.” Which is to say, building new technology and making grandiose pronouncements about cutting greenhouse emissions is not good enough — we have to address the whys and wherefores of how our civilization got into this mess in the first place.

Sacks goes on: “Living sustainably means, in Derrick Jensen’s elegantly simple definition, that whatever we do, we can do it indefinitely. We cannot use up anything more or faster than nature provides, we don’t poison the air, water, or soil, and we respect the web of life of which we are an intricate part. We are not separate from nature, or above it, or in any way qualified to supervise it. The evidence is ample and overwhelming; all we have to do is be brave enough to look.”

But why bother looking when we already know everything?

Executive Pay

September 21, 2009

Do I really want to weigh in on such a contentious issue? No. Or at least, not without another cup of coffee.

I just wanted to point out a correlation between what Paul Krugman said in his NYTimes column this morning…

“What’s wrong with financial-industry compensation? In a nutshell, bank executives are lavishly rewarded if they deliver big short-term profits — but aren’t correspondingly punished if they later suffer even bigger losses. This encourages excessive risk-taking: some of the men most responsible for the current crisis walked away immensely rich from the bonuses they earned in the good years, even though the high-risk strategies that led to those bonuses eventually decimated their companies, taking down a large part of the financial system in the process.”

…and a passage from UCSD Prof. Chalmers Johnson (whose various treatises on Japanese industrial policy have been required reading for more than one class so far):

“Morita Akio, chairman of Sony Corporation [circa 1982], believes that the emphasis on profitability has been a major cause of American industrial decline. He asserts, ‘The annual bonus some American executives receive depends on annual profit, and the executive who knows his firm’s production facilities should be modernized is not likely to make a decision to invest in new equipment if his own income and managerial ability are judged based only on annual profit.’ Morita believes that the incentive structure of postwar Japanese business has been geared to developmental goals, whereas the incentive structure of American business is geared to individual performance as revealed by quick profits.”

Johnson argues that the Japanese developmental state was predicated upon cooperation between the state and private interests — especially the strategic allocation of rewards for management other than short-term profit. The grossly oversimplified result was long-term planning, which, in addition to other factors institutional, geopolitical, and (possibly) cultural, led to the post-war Japanese economic miracle.

Of course the irony is that the industry-government kabal in the Japanese finance sector proved disastrous when their own bubble burst…

That said, what Krugman seems to be looking for is some kind of give and take between the state and the finance sector: government gives you a huge taxpayer bailout, you should respond by giving the government some measure of slack. This kind of arrangement has eluded the U.S. in every sector save the military.

Two TV Chefs

September 20, 2009

The school year has begun! It always takes a little while to get going, and said little while has elapsed. I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand I really do enjoy the poring over texts, the pondering of abstract notions, the pontificating of…uh…woops, that’s an intransitive verb. Shucks to my parallelism…anyway, those are the fun parts.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of unwanted reading and concomitant school-type stresses to get through — picking paper topics, trying to force oneself to talk in class, worrying about how to tie in any of it with possible career goals, etc. Those are the less fun parts.

My point is that in college I discovered that cooking shows helped me to relax, and to temporarily banish the less fun parts without also forgetting too much of the fun parts. Through some accident of fate, we had free cable one year and I started watching too much Food Network. Like many Food Network viewers, I became besotted with the irrepressible Rachel Ray. But then Ray’s charms caught the eye of media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who transformed her into (or arguably, accelerated her inevitable progress towards) the culinary Ricki Lake. I had to let her go.

So lately I’ve been looking for new TV chefs to idolize, especially people who are a little edgier than Ms. Ray and are hence unlikely to saturate the airwaves down the line.

As a way of procrastinating, I wanted to share my thoughts on two that I’ve latched onto so far: Hubert Keller and Anne Burrell.

Hubert — his first name is awesome — has a PBS show called “Secrets of a Chef.” It’s supposedly geared towards normal TV-watching home cooks, but really it’s just a hilariously elaborate exploration of fancy food. I really don’t know anyone (who isn’t retired) who cooks like this. But even though I could never envision actually preparing any of these dishes, I do love watching the show because Hubert is really goofy, with his long locks and whatnot, and he does the whole song and dance without any apparent effort. Also the show has an amusing low-budget quality and (related) a cheezy jazz-funk soundtrack throughout! Incredible.

In fact Hubert did a stint on Top Chef Masters where he mentioned his other great love, which is DJing!
So here’s a clip of him DJing whilst dancing around, which I think adequately conveys why I like him:

Look at how much fun he’s having! Yay!

My other pick is Anne Burrell, who has a Food Network show with title uncannily similar to Hubert’s: “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.” (You may also remember her from the Mario Bitali kitchen crew in Iron Chef America.)

First good thing: Chef Burrell’s food is easy to make and calls for ingredients that folks probably have in their kitchens. Next good thing: her background as a culinary school instructor shines through because you definitely take away little tidbits of information with every viewing. (For example: before grilling salmon, you should let it sit with the skin up for a while — that way the skin dries out and gets all crunchy when you cook it.) The other great thing about Burrell is just style. She has spiky hair, makes wacky hand gestures whilst cooking, and seems to subscribe to some kind of vaguely transcendental hippie philosophy of food preparation, without actually being vegan or anything like that. I don’t know what this belief system is or implies exactly, but I dig it.

Finally, here’s a medley of (exaggerated) odd noises that she has made on camera — which also gives you a sense of the gestures and style and cetera:

I hope I’ve broadened your TV chef horizons a little bit. Now I’ll return to the books and to the free range chicken legs that have been slow braising with veggies for much the afternooon…awesome!