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Title

Studying

Earlier, I finished the assigned 22 pages of “Chemistry in Context.” I think the last time I studied (and by ‘studied’ I mean read something that someone else assigned) was in the spring of ’94. I had to read a ton of stuff on U.S. politics, which I hated, on comparative politics, which I didn’t mind as much, and all the key texts in theory which fascinated me then, and still do. I did all this for my “Comprehensive Exams,” the last hoop to be jumped through before I could become ABD in NYU’s Dept. of Politics.

January 21, 2010
 

Earlier, I finished the assigned 22 pages of “Chemistry in Context.” I think the last time I studied (and by ‘studied’ I mean read something that someone else assigned) was in the spring of ’94. I had to read a ton of stuff on U.S. politics, which I hated, on comparative politics, which I didn’t mind as much, and all the key texts in theory which fascinated me then, and still do. I did all this for my “Comprehensive Exams,” the last hoop to be jumped through before I could become ABD in NYU’s Dept. of Politics. There is, of course, a strong correlation between interest and success (a correlation clearly revealed in my case by the fact that I failed the U.S. politics exam at my first attempt) so it’s fortunate that while not exactly an eco-warrior, I am profoundly, and increasingly, concerned about the fate of this big ball of stuff we human beings call "home."

(I used to think that the damage we’re doing would only affect my great-grandchildren, and that it was, therefore, not really worth worrying about when I’ve yet to even see my sons safely in good high schools, let alone college. But then I realized that our misbehavior might screw things up for my grandchildren, even my sons…and then I started to get pissed off. So these days, for a mid-sized, 48 year-old, I have a carbon footprint that might be described as dainty: I live in an apartment, I don’t have a car, indeed, I even don’t know how to drive, I don’t fly that often, I recycle, I refill my water bottle, and I use those low energy bulbs whose glow forms an ironically dim halo over my efforts.)

Now, here I am, 16 years later, studying again and the good news is that I understood the first 22 pages of CIC (…phew!); the bad news is that one shouldn’t attempt to operate heavy machinery for at least three hours after reading it.

The text proper, which doesn’t actually begin until page nine, following several pages on the panoply of study aids available to the student and a full page photo of the Earth (Dermot to Earth: “My God, you look marvelous! You do, you really do!”) and only then with a page on how Earth looks different depending on where you stand (‘my’ professor, Trace Jordan, a man incapable of such waffle, soars in my admiration with each bromide-laden paragraph and I consider getting passing round the hat to pay him to write the seventh edition) which reminded me a bit of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, or at least my memory of it. So it’s only on page ten that I begin to get worried that I’ll soon start to get hopelessly confused.

The focus of pp 10-22 is air, air as breath, and ambient air -- the air we must, absent an oxygen tank, breathe. There’s much discussion of air quality, of ambient air’s components, of particulates, of how to convert percentages into parts per million, and along the way there are colored boxes labeled “Consider This,” “Your Turn,” and, God help us, “Sceptical Chymist” that invite the student to answer various questions about the volume of our daily breaths, oxygen levels, and so on.

(Since it’s not even a pun, I’ve no idea what “Sceptical Chymist” is meant to … mean, or, still less, why none of the four authors, ten "reviewers," or indeed any of the august members of the American Chemical Society said, “Guys, “Sceptical Chymist”? Let’s take that out.” I can only assume someone thought it was cute; oh how I hate "cute.")

The assignment concluded with my first encounter with the elementary table in 34 years. I remembered, when I saw it on the page, that there was such a thing as the elementary table, and I might even have had to learn it off by heart, like multiplication tables, just before I left school a month before my fifteenth birthday to become a commis (apprentice) chef, but I don’t remember. I guess I have a notion of what elements are, they’re elemental, but beyond that I’ve no idea what they are, or, to put it another way, I can’t think of any non-elements (alloys?). But I’m sure that will be covered in tomorrow’s class.

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