Thursday, 14 June 2018

Cut Throat's 2018 Half Time Review

We have past the half way point of 2018 and so it's time for my half way review.

1. Learn to Butcher and Fishmonger.

I can confidently gut, fillet and skin most of the fish that I like to cook. Monkfish is an exception but it is very rare for anyone to buy that whole. I still need to tick off more shellfish, mussels and oysters I'm fine with - though I have learnt that oysters are no longer a safe bet due to our world's oceans slowly turning into a sludge of pollution - but dressing crab, langoustines and deveining prawns are skills still to be mastered.

Butchery I have not practised at all and am relatively uncertain about where to begin, since it is an mostly impractical habit if you don't own a very large freezer or have access to wholesalers. I'll see what I can do with various bone-in joints to build some carnivorous familiarity over the next few months.

2. Study with a Purpose.

Reading has slowed over the last week as I prepare to move house, again, but I have ticked off almost my entire reading list when it comes to closely studying pedagogy. I'll be moving on to word religions soon which should take less time to familiarise myself with  since I have a slightly more compact reading list for that topic.

I mentioned using Nietzsche as a third area of study but I might swap that out for pragmatism/philosophy of science/epistemology just so I can spend a little more time looking at 'analytic' philosophers.

3. The Youtube Party is Over

Youtube has won. Damn.

4. Sleep Better. Eat Better.

Due to me having to attend a lot of late night events over the past couple of weeks I have gotten less sleep than I had hoped. Over the past couple of months I have gotten more unbroken sleep through reading and writing (on paper, not on a laptop) before bed. My diet has improved further, I have undergone a period of caloric restriction which even now has given me a more acute awareness of the sheer caloric density of junk food.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Cut Throat's 2018 Quarterly Review

1. Learn to Butcher and Fishmonger.

Plenty of fun had on this front, at this moment focused entirely on fish. Skinning, filleting, boning I do it all now. Just a case of practising this more before heading on to meat. It is very time consuming but also very satisfying to present someone with fish you have handled and processed from the start.

2. Study with Purpose.

I have picked three areas of study for the year: Pedagogy, particularly social/political debates about the purpose and nature of of good education; World Religion, since I know so little about them compared to Philosophy and finally for fun, Nietzsche... a lot of his themes resonate with me, others less so and it would be nice to have a properly informed position on his work.

3. The (Youtube) Party is Over.

This has been a mixed victory for me, a lot of my work now involves scouring Youtube for interesting sources and accessible videos so it hasn't been particularly useful resolution, however the block on social media has been both effective and well adhered to.

4. Sleep Better. Eat Better.

I certainly sleep better now that I have cool down period at the end of the day and I have generally started going to bed early and getting higher quality sleep. Cutting down on my casual alcohol consumption during the week has also helped me get deeper sleep. Finally portioning up my food and batch cooking has helped keep my diet in better shape, it is still nowhere near as under control as I want it to be but it certainly better than what it was before the start of this year.

Thoughts on Fake News: One Step Forward One Step Back

Wikipedia should be considered as an eighth wonder of the world. A totally open source encyclopaedia covering almost every topic imaginable that, despite the prejudices of some, is remarkably accurate. It is proof that democracy works; that allowing everyone to participate, even in something with as little margin for error as the construction of an encyclopaedia, can be as effective as entrusting this task to an exclusive team of experts. You can now receive a reasonably authoritative information dump on almost any subject you can think of, with an accompanying bibliography, within seconds. What's more through the use of 'talk pages', you can read through archived debates between editors so that you have context for why one article was written or edited one way or another. News can similarly also be acquired now through the internet and social media, spread through shared articles and first-hand reports rather than received from a handful of broadcasting corporations who decide in private which stories are worth spreading.

Stories of ‘Fake News’ perpetuated by trolls that tell more badly thought out lies with every passing minute and insular social groups curated by benign but ghettoising algorithms are the other side of this new digital levelling. Furthermore, this open source world is already being exploited by disinformation campaigns run by organised intelligence agencies. Wikipedia has so far proved fairly resilient to low level trolling and casual human error but attacks launched by state-sponsored groups have only just started to ramp up. Open source technology has so far sustained itself on the good will of the internet. There have been malicious attempts to subvert the format in the past but they have generally been easy to spot and correct. Now we are faced with well-funded groups working hard to find exploits that could give their masters control of this new digital space.

Some people are alarmed by this modern predicament of having more information and confusion at the same time. But fake news is not a new phenomenon; propaganda and misinformation have always been a part of media. When searching for information we now have a lot more junk to sift through but we also have more options when cross-referencing or gathering alternative views. The distribution of news through social media may be more open to abuse but has also allowed for a more independent culture of media consumption, and I can’t help but wonder if those decrying the rise of digital fake news, primarily those still invested in ‘old media’, aren’t just mourning the loss of their cultural capital. The public are undeniably growing less dependent on newspaper editors and it must be uncomfortable for them to watch their status as the cultural arbiters of truth slowly slip away.

There is reason to be worried about the future of online democracy; malicious disinformation, the rise of hyperbolic click-bait and the formation of online political ghettos are problems that could cause a lot of trouble in the future. In saying that I'm not sure a return to traditional media structures is really much of an improvement. 

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Resolutions 2018

New Year Resolutions 2018

1. Learn to Butcher and Fishmonger.

 These skills make meat eating cheaper, provide you with a hands-on understanding of the flesh you consume and go some way to job proofing you in the case of societal breakdown. It is also a ridiculously satisfying skill to practice. 

2. Study with Purpose.

Reading sporadically and choosing books on a whim is fun. Selecting a topic and tailoring your reading accordingly can be even more rewarding. I have enjoyed being able to let my hair down and consuming whatever found its way to the top of my reading pile, but I have missed the satisfaction of really sinking my teeth into something. 

By the end of 2018 I will have completed three blocks of reading, each of which will consist of eight weeks of focused study. Micro-economics is certainly a candidate here, as is Python 3.0 and other ‘mathsey’ sub-disciplines that are alien to me.

 I will keep a record of when these periods start (and end) along with a note of their content. Where possible I will use these periods to simultaneously work on some sort of relevant project to show proof of learning.


3.  The (Youtube) Party is Over!

I have installed a website blocker that prevents access to Youtube on my home laptop between 2am and 8pm – meaning that Youtube will only be available to me in the evening. The potential benefits here should be obvious.


4. Sleep Better. Eat Better.

I am quite proficient at getting in shape through exercise, however there are limits to this approach. You grow in the kitchen and the bedroom. Eating right and sleeping well is vital to mental, physical and intellectual health, and I frequently neglect both.

This year I am going to work on developing a stable night time routine and more conscientious eating habits.  Achieving success on both these fronts will require a good bit of experimentation. Until a tried and proven strategy is identified, I will settle for a considerably vaguer intervention.

To start 2018, I will create a cool down period at the end of the day by reading in bed. I will also start writing weekly shopping lists; organised with macros, nutritional density and gross calorie consumption in mind.   



Although I have included ‘Learn Butchery and Fishmongery’ in this year’s resolutions I intend to tone it down on the food front. Nitro-charging my cooking skills last year was rewarding and I am proud of how far I have come. However, it was the most time-consuming hobby of last year. Between sourcing ingredients, studying the recipe, cooking the food and cleaning up afterwards you can end up regularly sacrificing the better part of your evening to standing in front of a stove-top cooker.

I will continue cooking and playing around in the kitchen, but I will not force myself to spend time I do not have exploring new dishes. 2018 will be busy for me, so my sojourns in food will have to be reduced to an occasional indulgence rather than an everyday activity. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Cut-Throat's 2017 Resolution Round Up

I have been busy. Accordingly my last quarterly review will be replaced/superseded by the cut-throat annual round up, which starts now.

1. Seize the Day (Off).

So I started this year wanting to make more of my free time. In particular I wanted to plan ahead more so that I could do more interesting stuff with my days off outside of 'whatever strikes me as fun/practical on the day'.

This one has been a mild success, the use of a calendar helped but to be honest phone apps proved more effective. No one checks their calendar anymore, but you check your phone hundreds of times a day. It just makes more sense to organise your life through your phone. However while I have been able to do more exciting/interesting things with my time off, at least some of that success must be attributed to the more stable, predictable and easily planned 9-5 lifestyle that I now lead.

Either way this is just something that I expect to get better at with practise.

2. Learn a Craft.

I wanted to get a more technical grounding in a combat sport; originally I was looking at grappling but quickly switched to Muay Thai. I have trained with two/three different teams since the start of this year and am looking to get back into fighting. The coaching I have received has been some of the best technical and strategy focused coaching I have ever had. I am hugely satisfied with my achievement on this front.

3. Specialise in the Kitchen.

I ended last year after going back to the basics in the kitchen and have spent this year learning Scandinavian and Japanese cooking. They are rather eccentric choices of cuisine but they were deliberately picked for their obscurity. The idea was that by learning about schools of cookery far removed from what I had experienced before, I would be able to expand my knowledge of food much faster than if I had done something more orthodox.

Learning to cook this way has been fun but it has made hunting for ingredients more time consuming; though it is often a pleasant adventure to go rooting around in specialist stores looking for a herb or seaweed that you previously had never even heard of. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly depending on your perspective, I have gotten the most satisfaction out of the development of classic skill sets like stock-making and butchery - despite having actually done comparatively little of them. Next year I'm probably going to focus more on this side of cooking.

Otherwise I feel like I have begun to flesh out my grasp of world cuisine and develop tastes of my own. No doubt there is a long exciting road ahead, and it feels good to have had such a strong start this year.   

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Book Review: A Hedonist Manifesto by Michel Onfray

Ethics, Art and Knowledge are all subjects that can be seen to have a transcendental element. Each is capable of acquiring a religious tone, especially when they unconsciously replace the un-touchable figure of God with abstract notions of un-corrupted beauty, goodness or truth. Even in nominally secular pursuits there is often a desire for contact with something beyond the mundane and terrestrial: a desire for art that portrays an ideal form, ethics that could transcend human subjectivity or even knowledge that we can be certain to represent reality as it is.

This transcendental impulse is what Onfray takes to be the stumbling block of philosophy. From Plato's cave to Kant's Noumena and Phenomena, philosophers have been obsessed with attempts to reach beyond the material world. Onfray's alternative is to refocus on the here and now. To reject any transcendental claim that pulls us away from the material conditions of life. Drawing on Pre-Christian philosophers such as Epicurus and Diogenes the Cynic, Onfray pulls together thinkers who rebel against the transcendental impulse identified early on in his historiography of philosophy: though he later also incorporates the existential humanism of Nietzsche and hints at some of the themes in Camus in order to more fully situate his approach. The result is a philosophy that is concerned with, and exalts, the human experience and rejects any attempt to supersede our subjectivity.

The book is philosophically iconoclastic in a very exciting way. Onfray doesn't just sneer at the empty verbal gesticulations of arm-chair theorists, he works productively to identify new directions for philosophy. What's more he identifies precedents in philosophy's own history that could act as starting points for more hedonistic and concrete theorising. Onfray's case is extremely compelling, perhaps one of the reasons philosophy is often seen as an impotent practise, next to more scientific endeavours, is due its lack of material relevance Onfray identifies in this book. To quote Dawkins 'Science works'. The criteria for successful scientific research involves an improvement of our ability to control and impact the world: something which is often independent of any abstract truthiness.

Ultimately, 'A Hedonist Manifesto' is not just an appeal to refocus philosophy on human affairs but it is also a polemic in defence of hedonistic human relations. Onfray does not advocate for any particular form of utilitarianism but rather for an ethic of honour and kindness; an ethic which considers acts with the the thoughts, feelings and freedoms of other humans at its heart to be the highest good. An ethic which asserts, perhaps un-controversially, that the highest good is whatever pleases us best. Our moral responsibility is then not to God or History or any empty abstract talk of values but to each-other and we must interrogate norms and practises which suggest otherwise.

His closing suggestion for making this world a better one is decidedly humble, but perhaps this is in line with the books ethos. He advocates not for social revolution or mass immediate change, but for his readers to become 'Nomadic Epicurean Gardens'. Doing what they can to look after those around them and build pockets of micro-resistances to the boredom and tyranny of the world.

This is a far reaching book that does well to unify Onfray's critical look at our current, sorely limited, idea of what philosophy can be, with his more bold and hedonistic sensibilities. It's iconoclastic in a constructive way and subtly political in a way that is more humanistic than it is partisan. An important read for ethicists and lay people alike.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Cut-Throat's Half Time Review 2017

Accountability, Reflections and Musings Ahoy....

1. Seize The Day.

Considering my lack of posting here, I think we all know how well this has gone. That said I have finally planned and had proper holidays for the first time in years and been socializing a lot more. I am certainly busier than I used to be.

I will also be moving house in just over a month, meaning I'll have to make very good use of my time over the next few weeks. Hopefully, this will inspire me to make better use of my diary.

2. Learn A Craft.

  As for sport and fitness, the past couple of months have seen real progress. I have a semi-regular lifting routine and am racking up some serious sparring hours at Muay Thai practice. My striking has never looked better. I was enjoying learning classical Brazilian Jui Jitsu but alas my coach has re-located. Luckily I will be moving to a City with a very well rounded MMA team with great grappling coaches so this is only a temporary set-back.

Otherwise I have some goals to hit before my Birthday 2018, I'd like to compete again. Specifically do a couple of grappling competitions and a Muay Thai fight; and just for giggles, maybe see if I can get a half marathon in there as well!

3. Specialize in the Kitchen.

I have been experimenting a bit more with a different Scandi cook book and have started to get a feel of the Nordic flavors - salted, herbal and earthy. I get the sense that it's basically an un-orthodox and heavily foraged style of French-cuisine, however my understanding of French-cuisine consists of a couple of stock phrases like 'confit' so I don't know on what authority I say that.

 Japanese cooking has also proven fruitful and greatly enlightening regarding western misconceptions of Japanese culture. Sushi was originally a street-food, and before that it was the staple of impoverished rice farmers; Ramen was originally a Chinese dish, one that didn't really make it in Japan until the 1950's. So much of what we think to be 'authentic Japanese cuisine' has its roots elsewhere, or at the very least has more humble origins than is often thought.

Speaking of my lack of experience with classical French cooking, I have noticed a gap in my skill-set - dessert. In typical overambitious 'me' fashion I may in the near future look at learning some French patisserie skills for the sake of variety.