Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Breif Reflection on 'Democracy in America' by Alexis de Tocqueville

It's interesting how classes from different departments have commonality. Last semester for a class on American Political Thought, de Tocqueville was a required text. When selections of his 1835/1840 work Democracy in America showed up as a reading and reflection assignment for a Media Law and Ethics class this semester, a visceral link was made - so much so that it inspired the undertaking of a massive credit course, an independent study course in the political science department, next semester. Specifically in the area of political communication, mass media, and voter behavior.  A bit social science-ie, but it should be enlightening, and a good way to round out the final semester (still, it's fun to play with the idea of staying on to get a minor in political science, just for shits and giggles). It's self-directed and one-on-one. A new experience to be sure.

It's surprising how many academic topics overlap, politics and (mass) communication particularly.

While in the thick of research and writing, it seemed prudent not to neglect this blog. Despite the expanse of time between entries, you, dear readers, are never far from thought; nor is the therapeutic release that's missing from writing here.

Anyway, the following is a (very) brief reflection on de Tocqueville's text. It got a "Well Done" by the professor, which is an achievement, because she is difficult to get approval from.

Reflection on 'Democracy in America' by Alexis de Tocqueville

In the chapters of Democracy in America provided, de Tocqueville discusses the factors that make America’s political and legal system unique compared to that of its foreign counterparts. At times in these selected chapters he seems to harbor idealistic notions of the potential for America’s new political and judicial system in the early 19th century.
De Toqueville attributes a decentralized government, in which the people, not an elite group or small collective, have more sway over the political and judicial operations of the country and are key to the order of the land. He states that this makes for a “less [...] regulated, less enlightened” (83) society and this broad reach, though boisterous, is perhaps less efficient. De Tocqueville positively credits the Constitution’s relatively rigid power, which is allowed by the people, and the wielding of its power by the judicial system, for granting the courts “immense political power” (92) over American society. 
In reflecting on the various aspects de Tocquevill observed in the American political and judicial environment, what may have seemed a nearly ideal situation in his eyes at the time, would perhaps seem altogether different in the modern age. As the country has grown since his time, decentralization may no longer seem so beneficial, as integral processes of politics and law have become burdensome due to it. The systems involved in effective law and politics have become weighed down in bureaucracy, ineffectual to progress. These issues can be attributed to a problem created by an extensive decentralized government spread out over a vast terrain and impeded by special interests of the very men claimed to have been elected by the people. Additionally, a growing culture of Constitutional reverence has worked to hinder aspects of social advancement.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

So That Happened...Again...


One of our first tests and we failed to answer all of the questions. This isn't the first time, sadly.

It happened last Fall semester too, much to our chagrin.

Last semester is was an entire backside of the question "booklet" (which resulted in a horrible grade). Needless to say it was an embarrassment, and we managed to bounce back and pull an 'A' out of the class...but...
This time it was about a quarter of a multi-faceted short essay question. The class was Media Law and Ethics, and the part we failed to answer was one that we had nailed answering in the review session the week before about utilitarianism. The suckie part about it is that the class only has three tests the whole semester. Aside from a paper coupled with a presentation, this is all there is to be graded on. *gulp*

We had prepared for the bad testing grade, having realized days later that there was a high chance that the question had not gotten answered completely. The guys at work got to hear about the worries, as we fretted about the grade. To which they responded: "Were you just sitting at your desk thinking about ethics?!"...supposed that's opposed to sitting there thinking about nothing, which is probably what they do all day.

The test was finally passed back this week (two full weeks after having taken it), and the could have been worse, but based on what the professor could have been soooo much better.
As is, we got out of the test with a fairly high 'B' and a repeat on a lesson from last year...

You're never as smart as you think you are...ya know?

On the upside we've started to decrease the hours at work (but only by 3.5 hours a week so far) so there's more time to focus on the avalanche of assignments, tests and essays that has started to cause stress headaches and malaise. It seemed more prudent to deal with the lack of income and not have to pay to take a class over again. Additionally, having a nervous breakdown is not conducive to passing classes either, and if anything has been learned over the last several years, especially by journaling - it's easier to notice the signs, be honest and be proactive, than it is to pretend that everything is just fine and end up worse off for it. Guess that's one lesson we've actually learned...maybe?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Diary of the Guinea Pigs: The Final Days

<< Day Twelve

So the last day was actually this past Sunday, which ended at noon. The Saturday excessive eating was brutal. Like, disgusting. Mostly dinner was the worst. All-in-all the calorie count was over 3800. This for a body with a RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) of just over 2400 calories. So, the excess alone was just a little less than the amount of calories we eat in a day normally. It still is unclear why they end the study that way. It seems cruel. Not only that, but it caused a 3 pound wight gain - which has came off since then. Yesterday they redid the weight, the DEXA and RMR test so that they can adjust the calories for the next two week portion of the study coming up a week from this coming Monday.

Oh, yeah, this is what 3800+ calories looks like:


3800+ Calories
So, the first session is over. (yay, no more milk!)

Tonight is the first night having alcohol in 18 straight days (yum), tomorrow will be the first coffee (mmmmm) since the same amount of time.

Overall it was a good experience. The weight loss was great. Like super great. It also provided a lot of much needed studying opportunity, and the next session will be essential to writing at last two of the six essays that are due in the next couple of months. The research for them has been underway for weeks now. Like, swirling madness of Russian serial killer fare, geological related fracking research, mental illness and pop culture, First Amendment and internet bullying legal cases, and implications of smartphone mobility and social media as related to life as spectacle. Plus a yet-to-be-determined midterm essay of as yet unknown topic origin. There's no real central core, just branches off of branches. Maybe it's fitting.

In terms of the semester, because this will probably be one of the last posts for a long while...
Turns out taking six classes (18 credits) in one semester was a bad idea. At least once a week we're fighting back tears walking to the car in the transition between classes and work; stress, panic attacks, and escape-by-sleeping and sprinkled between endless reading and going to work. Work, which despite the paycheck, is a waste of time intellectually, as it's primarily menial labor and the time would be better spent studying, reading, writing and maintaining our position on the Dean's List.

Just trying to keep the end in sight, and remember that it's only a couple of months, and we can plug through, and we can do this, and we're so close to done (only one more semester after this!) that anything less than ending strong would just be a massive disappointment.

Here's to staying strong...and we're not just talking tonight's drinks.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Diary of the Guinea Pigs: Day Twelve

<< Day Six

It's the second to last full day of this session of the study, which means, like last weekend, it's 6 hours (three sets of 2 hours) of 15 minute breath captures.

The nice thing is that it means a day off from classes, and from work, translating into an extra day to study, and start researching for the six papers due by December 2nd.

Tomorrow is going to be a strange day because it's the "overfeed day", word is that the amount of calories given the first three days to stabilize the system is just a drop in the bucket. So they'll take the 2400 calories that this body requires (based on their tests and calculations) and ramp it up. Based on what's being said a lot of people have a hard time finishing all the food (which is required), and for some it takes them an hour to eat it all.

Go fast and go hard, so far, is the motto stuck in the head.

While it will be the favorite of the three menus (cereal for breakfast,  turkey taco salad for lunch - which includes part of a Hershey bar, and turkey pasta casserole), the idea of overeating is already creating waves of nausea. If anything because it will disrupt the great weight-loss that being experience, which is no close to nine pounds since Monday September 15th (less than two weeks!) - for a grand total of 12 pounds since August 13th.

Also, there's fear that somehow once leaving here the edge of the bandwagon will beckon. We need resolve.

This study has illustrated how important sleep is to weight management, how much the massive amount of alcohol previously ingested on a nightly basis was impacting weight loss - given that, in general, overall calorie intake at the 40%< isn't that much different than what was being ingested before, rather the composition of calories was wrong. (over 1/4 of it being alcohol calories).
Also, as the low carbohydrate diet attempted over 10 years ago [which resulted in a loss of 100 pounds - almost a third of which we've put back in since coming back to the states three years ago] showed, which also required the removal of caffeine from the diet, caffeine may have negative effects on weight loss, due to it's propensity to spike blood sugar (and thereby promote the body to store more fat than usual).
So, we realize all of this stuff...but will it change anything?
How fast will the bottle be back in our hands?
Can we maintain the regimen planned of trying to mimic the general composition of the meals they've been providing, only drink alcohol on Friday and Saturday night, and coffee on Saturday and Sunday mornings?
It seems daunting work, yes...but there's a weight loss goal on the docket...and not reaching it would...suck.

Other than that, it'll be...nice...being back at home again for a few weeks...probably.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Diary of the Guinea Pigs: Day Nine

<< Day Six

The wireless signal in this building is literally driving me nuts. And turning the smartphone into a hotspot is often pointless since there's so much steel and concrete surround this building that the signal is weak in most spots. This is not making research projects very easy, as it's a ridiculous feat trying to get the campus library website (where there is student access to a plethora of peer-reviewed journal articles for writing papers) to load. It's like 56k dial-up. Flashback to the 90's when you could get up, make a sandwich or go to the bathroom and return to a page that is almost done loading.


So, this is day six. Sunday was the same food Thursday (dubbed "pasta day") and the day was over just in time. Isolation is fine, but they have the doors here locked 24 hours, and they escort you out, and have to let you in when you come back, so it's not like going for a nice walk over the weekend was even an option. Additionally Sunday was another 2 hour sessions of breath bags every 15 minutes after each meal. Six hours of breathing into a bag 24 times. They'll be doing that again on Friday and Saturday this week...

Monday it was nice to get out, but after about six hours it felt like time to crawl back into the little carpeted oasis that is the room we've been staying in since last Wednesday.

With all of this free time, it really should feel like more homework is getting accomplished, but for some reason there's no sense of achievement. Oh well. At least we're not drowning in it anymore.

Today was salmon day again...only one more meal of that left before going home for the two week break. Pretty sure we're going to miss being here. We get up in the morning, provide a "breath bag", get weighed, provide a "breath bag" right before eating breakfast. Get served breakfast. Get ready for classes. Take the lunch that was packed by the kitchen staff, go to class, go to work, come back, get dinner served at one of the meal tables, go to the room, do homework, go to sleep. Of course all of this is punctuated by "breath bag" on the hour, all day long, but it seems worth it.
No cooking. No cleaning. No commute. No having to think about meals, or cats, or anybody. Less stress.

All in all this has been a great experience. The early bedtime has been surprisingly easy to adapt to. Sobriety has been more painless than imagined, mornings go by without a thought of coffee. It'll be interesting to see if that sustains once these feet hit the threshold of home.

Oh, and the shedding of, now, five and a half pounds, since last Monday, is a great catalyst to a good mood. :-)