A Causal Analysis – Why is Obesity Increasing in Sweden?

Our second assignment in the essay writing course was to write a casual analysis. A casual analysis is, quoting from the text book, “a type of text that aims at finding the underlying reasons for certain trends or phenomena . . . Your casual analysis should establish a trend or a phenomenon based on the author’s personal experiences and raise the question ‘why’ which will be the core of the analysis”(freely adapted from Academic Writing by Lennart Björk and Christine Räisänen). We were given the choice of two topics: Why is Obesity increasing in Sweden? Or, Why is Cosmetic Surgery becoming more popular? I choose the first one, since I have had battles myself dealing with overweight in recent years. Anyway, this is what I submitted:

Why is obesity increasing in Sweden?

The problem of increasing obesity in Sweden should not come as a surprise, at least not at a first glance. Our standards of living have increased continuously for the last hundred years, work and leisure-time activities are no longer as labour-intensive as they used to be, and our food is becoming more processed and enriched in calories. Moreover, sugar-rich and fat-rich products are in abundance, they are at arm’s length and at virtually no cost.

Vending machines eager to provide you with a little treat can be found almost everywhere. If you choose to live a life without physical training or labour-intensive work and at the same time eat crisps, sweets, and junk food every day you are free to do so and it will cost you marginally more than living a healthy life. Thus the short answer to the obesity problem is, there is an abundance of food, it cost marginally more to eat energy-rich food compared to energy-poor food products, and you do not have to work labour-intensive jobs or even be prepared to do so. If you want to pour full-fat cream into you food every day, you can do that.

But that line of reasoning does not explain why everyone then is not overweight, nor does it provide any solutions other than aiming at reversing time. Put a ban on sugar? Inform people of the dangers of being overweight? Tax candy manufacturers more than other businesses, thus making candy once again something you buy instead of something else? Finding the answer to why obesity is increasing must reach beyond this line of reasoning, and instead answer the question of why some people choose not to do something about their life styles or food consumption. Why do people keep eating pizzas for lunch if you work at a desk? It is like smoking – it is most certainly bad for you, and if you agree to that, and if you want to give it up, then why not just quit?

In our opinion, there are three explanations for the increasing obesity. One is that the level of mental stress in today’s society is increasing. There are numerous studies that show that most people think of problems related to their work after office hours. Numerous studies show that many people cannot mentally leave their jobs or studies at the work-place or school. Pupils worry about their exams. Managers worry about not meeting budget. In other words, eating pizza for lunch is one way of coping with the daily stress that comes with working in a stressful environment. In the 19th century it was drinking, today it is eating.

The second explanation is more sinister. People are reluctant to exposing themselves to physical strains. If losing weight entails one month of enduring hunger or eating salad for everyone’s amusement, then it is just not worth it. Or – putting it even more sinister – people have lost the mental capability to deal with things unpleasant, difficult or plain hard. Why study maths or physics, when you can study soft subjects such as language or literature? This is not making an argument for increased advanced maths in schools or an attempt of adding fuel to the ongoing debate whether the youngsters of today are unspeakably lazy or not, it is just a general feeling that we have. People in general avoid difficult things. We believe that this is the reason for the immensely popular diet called LCHF, a diet low in carbohydrates but high in fats and proteins. By this, you can eat as much fat and meat and of course as much béarnaise sauce as you like, as long as you avoid the chips.

Naturally, there is a third reason also, which may be the most plausible: People do not care. So I am fat, what is the problem?

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Weekly words, fever soaked…

So, how’s everything today? Not so good, if you ask me. I am home from work, the third day in a row now, down with some kind of fever and cold. I amuse myself with watching old episodes of 24 and the West Wing, and doing Dynamo generated word tests. How many of theses words do you truly and extensively grasp? No lying, please!

Ansate

Assay

Paragon

Paramour

Paramount

Parable

Parallelism

Paramour

Paralysis

Paraphernalia

Paragon

Abstain

Abject

Abstruse

Abrogate

Abjure

Abidance

Abnegate

Abhorrent

Abrasion

Abscond

Abusive

Abscess

Aberration

Absolution

Abeyance

Abominate

Abrade

Abstemious

Ablution

Abscission

Splice

Torque

Droll

Slake

Soar

Drawl

Drone

Fawn

Pique

Dote

Blithe

Thrift

Limn

Tout

Wean

Spurn

Loll

Feint

Quaff

Taunt

Molt

Gouge

Hew

Guile

Foil

Pith

Prone

Pine

Glean

Pyre

Cant

Wend

Shun

Glib

Goad

Lien

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A paratextual analysis

Our first assignment in the literature course is, and this is my assessment, rather strange. The assignment deals with the paratextual dimension of a book, which I know nothing about… Quoting from the instructions, since “The Curious Indicent of the Dog in the Night-Time is the very first book in this module, you may not have had time to finish it yet. Therefore, I give you an assignment to get you started and you can deal with it by merely looking at the cover . . . In Paratexts (1987) Gérard Genette deals with the effect the features that are not part of the fictional work as such have a on the reader . . . Suzanne Keen writes that ‘paratexts are of two kinds, the peritexts, which appear within or on the book itself, and the epitexts, which exist entirely outside the physical book.’”

Aha! This is truly a strange assignment. But ok, I’ll have a go. Our teacher has set up a group discussion with three major topics. Firstly, what emotions and associations does the title evoke? Secondly, what is your initial impression of the visual and textual features of the cover? And finally, discuss the cover as a result of both marketing strategies and a wish to inform the potential reader about the contents.

There are many emotions and associations that are evoked by the title. This must be a comedy, the language used in the title must signify that. But a clever type of comedy, I am expecting the humor being of the same version as, for instance, in A Series of Unfortunate Events. About someone, being slightly outside the normal group, experiencing very strange and unexplainable things happening without being able to control why they occur. A bystander’s comedy.

Concerning the visual and textual features of the cover, well everyone seem to praise this novel! The cover is literally covered with outstanding reviews! My expectations are given a dramatic boost, no doubt about that… Feeling slightly sorry for the dog, though.

Last, the cover as a result of both marketing strategies and a wish to inform the potential reader? Well, I think that the marketing people have overdone it – since the cover is soaked in all the excellent reviews I think it spells a “better safe than sorry” kind of reasoning. But, the trick has done its job, I am standing here with the book and my expectations are of a Dickensian magnitude.

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On Myself

Our first assignment in the course in essay writing is to write a short essay about ourselves. This was due today. Here is what I submitted!

On Myself

Unintentionally paraphrasing the opening lines of David Copperfield, expressing myself in Facebookian timeline lingo, I guess I was born some forty years ago in Göteborg. I am not going to dwell too long on places I have lived or visited, but just to make a long story crackingly shorter, I grew up in a small village outside Södertälje. I finished my secondary education north of Stockholm, studied Business and Accounting at the University of Lund, worked a couple of years in Helsingborg, then moved back to Stockholm where I now live working as an accountant at a small firm. When asked to give a short description of myself in public, I tend to say that my days as an accountant are filled with assorted horrors such as VAT returns, bookkeeping, year-end compiling, debt collection, income tax filings, and the like… That is, of course, only partly true. Therefore, please let me tell you about the other things I do and like.

First of all, I like reading. Mostly non-fiction, I enjoy books about history primarily. I have read a great deal about the Second World War, and 17th century European history. I also enjoy reading biographies, next up for reading in that category is Jean Edward Smith’s book about FDR. Lately I have turned to fiction, this summer I plowed some twenty Swedish crime novels. Some were good, others I quickly discarded. But it was an interesting project! Apart from the reading list for this and the other course, I plan to read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem this autumn.

Secondly, I like writing. For the last three years I have been writing on a small food and wine blog, called Red Scream and Riesling. In English, Red Scream does not mean anything, it is simply a literal translation of the Swedish word for plonk into English. But I thought it was funny. I try to update it twice a week, but sometimes work or going to the gym or some unexplainable urgent need to watch television gets in the way. It is not strictly food and wine, which my fellow wine bloggers often and happily tend to point out. I do not know if that is good or bad, but I think it is good. One should not get too nerdy.

Thirdly, as you might have guessed by now, I like food and wine. I would not go so far to call myself a foodie, or a wine buff, but I have always enjoyed good food and quality wine and I usually spend the extra money buying better products.

Fourthly, and this is a newer interest of mine, I have become deeply smitten with photography. Although I have always been interested in photography, I bought a DSLR, or digital single lens reflector, just two years ago and almost every day I thank my lucky star for giving me the push to buy that camera! My favourite objects are people and the light at dusk and dawn. Sometimes I set the alarm at three o’clock in the morning just to get out and catch that first light… nerdy, I know…

Now then, why this course in English? It was not that much of a life-turning decision that sprung it, I have always enjoyed English and I want to learn more. I guess my grammar is beyond fixing, but I will give it a try. I need to expand my vocabulary. And in the end, when I am beyond fixing in my disbelief in the daily horrors I listed above, maybe I would like to become a teacher. Business administration, accounting, financial statement analysis, and English? That does not sound too bad, does it?

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The weekly words, introduction

Swedes in general have an obsession with numbering the weeks. “No, let’s do that week 5, the course will start week 37, do you have anything booked week 44?” This is quite problematic when you are using modern devices such as a smartphone or an on-line calendar, since whenever given such a question you need to consult old-fashioned cellulose-based equipment created and manufactured in Svedala. Or, preferably, use your smartphone to visit web pages such as vecka.nu which I am sure sprang from such frustration or some other site. I am sure the synchronizing problem of merging vecka.nu into your iphonic calendar or downloading some internet-based calendar with week numbers isn’t that staggering, but my downloading skills are not that developed. Mind you, I am not born in the 90s.

Anyway, one of the first two courses is a course in literature and vocabulary. We are given instructions to visit a site called Word Dynamo and actively work with our vocabulary. I log onto the site, select the graduate level, take the first test. Eight out of ten words correct, good start! I create an account and surely, I will work with this tool.

However, in addition to this I will use an alternative method that I used to do. During this term we will do a lot of reading, and most of the unfamiliar words will be looked up and written down. From this list a limited number of words will be selected. Then I will write short texts using these selected words. In this way, I hope that the selected words will be shifted from the passive vocabulary to the active. In other words, this is a way of expanding the number of words you actually use.

So, every Sunday from now on you will see a compilation of somewhere between ten and twenty words that will be used during the coming week, and you can expect to see short texts using these words. The words for next week are all from Kill Your Friends by David Niven, since I haven’t got hold of the course literature yet and I just picked something fresh from the shelf. I took the first ten words that I didn’t fully grasp:

Crapping away

Spliff

Pewter

Cretin

Gobbler

Groove

Coy

Scant

Ditty

Doggerel

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Vocabulary wake-up call

Yesterday, I was invited to a wine tasting hosted by the New Zealand wine producer Cloudy Bay. I enjoy the occasional glass of good, quality wine, preferably accompanied with cheese or delicious food, but I could not say I know that much about wine. More than average, yes, but there are some very large areas which I have not covered yet, to put it mildly. This invitation, to come and experience this world famous Sauvignon Blanc producer, was too tempting to let it pass.

Standing there in the dimly lit cellar it became utterly apparent that although I know a lot about wine, and often being quite capable of expressing this in my native tongue, in English it came to a complete standstill. A wine, aged in big vats, what do you call that? A vated wine? Hardly! You can vet someone, and ferment grape juice in vats, and then you add VAT, but this tongue-twister of an utterance – a vated wine – isn’t gonna fly. A wine apparently just can’t be vated. At least not when native English-speaking persons are listening. But with a pair of flapping arms and mid-air formations of the hands, shaping my thoughts, the idea got through. Thanks, arms.

Having got through the first steps of wine defragmentation, the harder bits just kept lining up. What the devil are those berries called in English? And what about the scent in the first place, it is a scent or a smell? Can’t be a smell, can it?!?! I felt my jaws working and something that could resemble English worked its way out.

So now, for my coming English studies, I need to work on my vocabulary. I need to select certain areas for explicit targeting, and I think I will start with my wine vocabulary. I now know it is called oak aged, or aged in oak barrels, rather than being vated. And there is something called the palette. That’s important. And the berries are called raspberries. What a shock forgetting that!

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Day Two: Signing Up, Buying the Literature

After a series of logging in and verifying this and agreeing to that I finally arrive at the Blackboard teaching platform, fully prepared and fully admitted. First things first: when’s the first seminar? And what books do I have to buy? It seems that I shall attend two courses parallel, a course in literature and vocabulary, and one in pronunciation and essay writing.  The dreaded grammar courses have yet to appear on the Blackboard screen – not looking forward to those!

The course in literature and vocabulary seems nice. We are supposed to have Robert Eaglestones book Doing English as a reading partner and learn all about the so-called Freytag triangle, which I didn’t understand any of. Could easily end up being the Bermuda triangle. First book to read is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Haven’t read it before. The only book on the reading list that I have read is The Remains of the Day, which I plowed many years ago. We have our first seminar on September 12th, I am actually looking forward to that.

The other course – pronunciation and essay writing – also seems very interesting. Our first assignment is to write an essay about ourselves. That’s due September 9th – will see how that goes. Then there is something about a casual analysis that we are supposed to do, I will have to acquire the course material so I can find out what is meant by such an analysis.

Well, that’s all for now. If you are curious about the header picture, it is from False Bay.

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