Saturday, 24 July 2010

Oka, Golf Courses and Billy Two Rivers

I am always amazed at the small coincidences that occur over the course of a lifetime. Despite the fact that I know that among the myriad events that occur in the universe some events, for a particular person or penguin, will have a tenuous connection with at least one other event; in an infinite universe, it would surely be impossible for it not be so. Still I am still surprised, intrigued when it happens.

Now, back in the days when TV was in black and white only and there were still 240 pennies to the pound, there was a long forgotten phenomenon called British 'professional wrestling'. I say long forgotten because it was little akin to the kind of glitzy razzamatazz so beloved at the WWE. This was fully in keeping with the television of those far off days. Staged in little 'local' arenas, seating perhaps a few hundreds, an evening's cheap 'entertainment' could be had watching two, sometimes four, men act as though they were engaged in some kind of competitive sport. Boxing without the gloves, gladiators without the gladius*.

Then, as now, there would be good guys and bad guys and you could pretty much guess who was going to win; it was always set up before the fight. Well MG tells a story of his Gran who used to live downstairs in the two up, two down 'Victorian artisan dwelling' that was home for the first 18 years of his life, complete with no running hot water, no central heating and a 'privy' in the garden. His Gran used to religously watch the 'wrestling' every Satuday afternoon at 4:00pm and would just as religiously shout mild obscenities at the TV (Gran didn't swear or cuss) about the digusting behaviour of some of the performers, the bad guys. The same guys, week in, week out, Jackie Pallo, Steve McManus, Steve Logan (who all came from the 'rough' areas of London), cheating, 'punching', hitting the man when he was down, you know the kind of stuff, and every week his mother, on hearing voices, would go downstairs to check that one of her sisters or brothers had not come to call on their mother. This itself just goes to show what kind of dysfunctional family MG actually was bred into. After months of this, still it fails to register. It's 4:15pm, it's Saturday, of course Gran is railing at the TV again! Of course no-one would visit without calling up the stairs first.

Anyways, as a child MG too would watch the wrestling, upstairs on his parents' TV. They weren't affluent but, God, you'd better have your own TV set. Now MG, like every little boy who thinks there might be some justice in the world, would always be rooting for the 'good guys'; Mike Marino, Tibor Szakacs, Les Kellet, Catweazel and, most of all, Billy Two Rivers. Billy was perhaps the most flamboyant of wrestlers in an age when flamboyance just didn't sit very well with the Brits. Pallo had his gold lame cape but Rivers came on in full cheiftain's headdress, like Geronimo in the movies, and a full on raiding, Mohawk haircut; just a track of hair down the middle, front to back, spiked up, just like some proto punk!

Now as gimmicks go, this wasn't bad for austerity Britain and the general concensus was that he proably came from Bolton or Manchester. After all Kendo Nagasaki came from Stoke!

Now, recently I came across something called the 'Oka Crisis'. The town of Oka, in Canada, sits alongside a Mohawk 'reservation' called Kahnawake. In 1990 a dispute arose over some sacred, to the Mohawks, ground outside of Oka. It was believed by the Mohawks to be held 'in trust' by some Christian 'brotherhood' who had built a 'mission' on it but when the mission was abandoned, the Canadian government did not agree that the Mohawks had any right to the land, despite the fact it was a major burial ground for the Kahnawake people.

The crisis came when the Mayor of Oka decided to extend the 9 hole golf course that ran adjacent to the 'sacred' ground. Needless to say, the golf course was going to go right over the disputed land. Where else? After all, these were only indigenous people we were talking about, it's not like they mattered.

Anyways, the Mohawks armed themselves, set up road blocks and basically staged an occupation. It all got a little nasty when a policeman was shot when the police tried to break up the occupation and the state government called in the Federal army. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, with the army only five yards away from the barricades, it all ended 'amicably', ie bloodlessly. The Mohawks retired back to their reservation and the Mayor never got around to extending the golf course.

And one of the leaders of the Mohawk occupation? Billy Two Rivers!

Not from Bolton, after all. I wonder if the soldiers ever got to feel the 'tomahawk chop'.

* gladius - a short, Roman sword, whence is derived 'gladiator'; he (or she) who fights with a gladius.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Young, Vanadium and Diabetes

You know the young! Feckless, irresponsible, senseless; we've all been there. But sometimes they do things that make you proud, ay?

I was reminded of this by something that happened off the coast of South Africa the other day. How a youngster took his/her revenge for all the senseless cruelty visited on his/her brethren by generations of the thoughtless, the uncaring, the downright cruel. How one small act paid back at least a small part of the suffering, the torment, the anguish.

Yep, you guessed it, the Southern Right Whale youngster who did a fine job wrecking a pleasure boat! Now, note that the whale did not completely destroy the boat, just left it with a wrecked mast. It didn't kill anybody, did not repay wanton cruelty with more of the same. Just did enough damage to make you think twice.......maybe.

The photo is courtesy of Paloma Werner, I am sure she won't mind me using it. At last one that's not Photoshopped.

Of course, you're all saying that it was an accident. The whale didn't mean to do it. It just breached too close to the boat, pure happenstance. Now I know this was only a youngster but you're telling me that the whale couldn't see the boat? That it didn't realise the boat was in the way. No, the whale knew perfectly well what it was doing. Occasionally these gentle giants just take it into their head to put a small downpayment on the lien for all the whales (and penguins) you've managed to slaughter over the years. Who knowns, this may be the start of something.

I got an email today from a service that I used to subscribe to - basically how the US f**ked up its economy and is ruining/has ruined all those little nest eggs salted away for the soon to be retired - the email was a lengthy advert extolling the vitues of vanadium supplements in managing type 2 diabetes (late onset diabetes). Now this has to be one of the most dangerous emails I have ever received from this mob (who naturally wish to deny all responsibity for putting this out and who do not in any way endorse the product - cowards!)

Now lot of people get Type 2 diabetes when they get older. Insulin production starts to shut down or the insulin ceases to be as effective, either way there's a whole raft of stuff you can get, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, gangerene, if you don't conrol your blood sugar levels. On the whole, insulin is not prescribed because it's like taking a bomb to get rid of the tree stump in your garden. So diet is all. The problem is, I think, that US citizens are so bad at eating properly that doctors there prescribe drugs to artifically lower blood sugar level. The problem is that the drugs are not entirely safe. Enter vanadium.

In lab tests, animal studies and cell cultures, vanadium seems to mimic insulin. Wow, you're thinking, a cure for Type 2 diabetes. Except that there have been no long term clinical trials in humans. More to the point, as far as I can tell, vanadium, like chromium, is stored cumulatively in the body. What you don't use gets salted away. What are the long term effects? No-one knows, but generally vanadium-like elements, only found in trace amounts in the body, have a tendency to be toxic in sufficient quantities. So we have a potentially toxic substance being sold to some of the most vulnerable people in the western world.

What some people will do to turn a buck!

Vanadium occurs in trace amounts in all kinds of beans, wheat, parsley etc. Eat properly and you no doubt get all the vanadium you need and probably control your diabetes as well. But no, much better to buy a quack cure and potentially let that do you in instead. Sometimes I wonder whare all that accumulated wisdom that you're all supposed to have has gone.

Clinical trails exist for a reason!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Lamguage, Conformity and universal Understanding!

Now as we all know language, whether spoken or written, is in a constant state of flux. Spoken language tends, I think, to move faster; etymologists have traditionally attributed the creation of phrases, idioms, new words to the spoken language before they first appear in print. There are some exceptions, such as portmanteau words in German or inventions, either ideas, processes or objects, which often occur in journalism, the scientific press or goverment documents before becoming, de facto, a part of the spoken language. But, I think, by and large*, the spoken word generally 'evolves' faster, although in an ever increasing volatile environment, linguistically, due to the ease with which people can communicate on a global scale, the lag is probably getting less and less with each passing decade. After all, what are twitter, facebook, wikis, if not the printed word?

The primary purpose of language is surely to communicate? I expect you will agree. After all, there is no point in asking someone to have sex with you if they then go and produce a vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard under the stairs and reply "OK!". (I'm talking 'most' people here not the freaks who think you can get a cheap 'blow job' from a Dyson. I'm not saying a Dyson is safe but what you should avoid is the 'Hoover Dustette', a 'mini vac' for the car or upholstery. The blades of the fan which create the suction are only 14-15cm away from the entrance to the nozzle! Documented cases of.....well we'll just leave at that, ay? But they exist!) So, if language is to have any purpose it must communicate an idea, a suggestion, a request etc to another individual who speaks the same language, no?

What is so remarkable about language is the humans have increasingly tried to refine the rules, words, grammar, punctuation, whether consciously or unconciously, to make the comprehension of the spoken and written word as universally comprehensible to the native language speakers as possible. Before the advent of dictionaries, Ambrose Bierce's** notwithstanding, spelling, in the written language, was notoriously idiosyncratic. Punctuation likewise chaotic. Grammar is probably a special case, as humans seem to have an inate ability to formalise the grammar in which their native language is spoken; almost as if there is a universal grammer, which however local conditions may modify it, humans instinctively know, from an incredibally early age. That "Sat on the mat the cat" is 'wrong', intrinsically. You know it means "The cat sat on the mat", you just have to work that much harder to make sense of it. And it has nothing to do with 'learning the rule' that simple sentances are constructed with the formula 'Predicate + noun(subject) + verb + Predicate + noun(object)' for transitive verbs. A three year old can do it! And not just by mimicry! And they 'know' the first example is wrong. (Try Chomsky's 'Syntactic Structures' if you don't believe me.)

So, from Ug and Glug grunting in a rudimentary fashion, we arrive at something akin to 1950's 'received English'. Now granted, a foreign (not English - and here I include the Americans; American English is a different language. In the race for the universal language, we'll see who wins, suckers!) language speaker has to 'learn the rules' of grammer, puctuation, style but they didn't for their native language, did they? A few arcane, little used consructions maybe, but, on the whole, they knew them already.

But from the 1950's onwards, and it is exponentially rising, the pace of change is accelerating so rapidly that I am increasingly of the opinion that 500 years of language 'evolution', but more importantly 'standardisation', is about to go down the toilet, l'Academie Francaise' notwithstanding. Poor education? Laziness? A desire to be different? The latter is always a good thing but when you can no longer communicate with your fellow human beings, what kind of life is that? At some point 'standardisation of language' is good. It lets you communicate with the maximum amount of people who speak the same language.

I am only writing this because of a question asked of the 'Straight Dope', required reading in my view, if only to find all of the questions 'Trivial Pursuit' got wrong! Someone asked a question which is reprinted below (verbatim):

"first of x-files and the video game are just another thing to incourage sceptics and futher more talking to any1 about it and the abduction theories they don't care and it gets me a lil' pissed off i've treid streiber and another and they don't return anything by looks the government has sold our souls to the greys and i think any concerned people about this area 51 crap is nothing compared to what evidence there is in the past are possesions of these inteligent intergalctic beings after all we where created by them why do u think that after all this time there still isn't peace in the world plus there are so many religons although we have changed hands many times --BIRDDOG21"

Do you have any idea what this means? Can any other human being have any idea what was in BIRDDOG21's mind when he wrote it? He obviously thought it made sense and, perhaps, have even liked an answer.

It's easy to pull one example out of the hat and deem it the collapse of western civilisation as we know it. But this kind of comment gets posted to stuff on the web all the time. Blame education? Well, there are some people who are born thick. But this? Either drugs, alcohol or the worst education I've ever seen. It's quite clear that this came from an American citizen (Area 51?).

And who controls the world's most powerful nuclear arsenal?

Be AFRAID. Be VERY afraid!

* By and large - comes from a nautical order to the steersman. "Sail as close to wind as you can".

** The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bearce (American journalist of the the late 19th and early 20th centuries). An absolute hoot! Almost as quotable as 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
The definition of 'Insurance' is too long to quote, but is priceless. So "Happiness" - An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." Cynics of the world unite, I'm with Ambrose!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Song and dance at Auschwitz

So, does anybody have a right to sing and dance at Auschwitz?

A viral doing the rounds at the moment, or at least until YouTube pulled it, pictures an 89 year old holocaust survivor doing the conga with his relations (grandchildren?) at Auschwitz, seemingly under the entrance, you know, the gate that has 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work makes you free) over it, to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's 'I will survive'. The question is: was it appropriate? In bad taste?

Now I suppose that if anybody has a right to do as he/she pleases at Auschwitz, it is a holocaust survivor, more so if that was the very camp that they survived, but isn't it a little disrespectful to all those unfortunate enough not to have survived? Or their relatives, friends? It's an extremely knotty problem, don't you think? On the one hand, why shouldn't someone who lived through such an experience celebrate the fact that, 65 years on, they're still around to bear witness? On the other hand are they not guily of, at the very least, very bad taste? Perhaps even more so as the impetus for the viral's success appears to be the gusto with which neo-nazi groups were circulating the link to other like-minded sh*tbags. After all, there are enough people who want to deny that Auschwitz was ever a 'Vernichtungslager' (extermination camp) set up with the stated purpose of gassing as many Jews as possible, or at least those unfit to toil at back-breaking labour from before dawn until dusk and there are many more who are quite prepared to admit it happened but would like to repeat the exercise.

It's difficult to know why YouTube pulled the video. It claims that it was 'copyright infrinement', presumably for using 'I will survive' without permission. However that flies in the face of all the other videos that have been put on YouTube using the same backing track. I'm inclined to think that the bad taste police have been at work again and may have missed the point about the video depicting a survivor and not some neo-nazis taking the p*ss.

So on the one hand you have penguins like me who think people should be able to say and show what they like and on the other hand, you have four fingers and a thumb. OK bad joke, but it difficult to see how censoring this video, ie deleting it totally, normally they just remove the offending soundtrack, serves any purpose. YouTube may have thought it more likely to attract unsavoury comments but, again, in the light of some (most) of the comments on YouTube videos, they are unlikely to have any worse that a whole host of others.

Besides, Jews as a group have a long history of using humour to defuse the almost universal persecution they have had to endure, Mel Brooks' 'The Producers', the 'SS officer's glass eye' joke that did the rounds at Auschwitz, Seinfeld to name but a few. Shouldn't they be allowed, even encouraged? Not everyone can be Primo Levy, can they? In the end, it comes down to a personal value judgement, doesn't it?

Free speech notwithstanding, I am inclined to agree with MG who would not tell jokes about people's speech impairments, complete with 'funny voice', despite the fact that, like the 89 year old Israeli, he has a 'right' to, having suffered a similar affliction. Fine, you can do it in the comfort of your own home but posting it on the internet? Dumb!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Gride, Crabs and Bribes

You know the sound you get when you scrape YOUR fingernails (not mine, which are non existent) down a blackboard? How it fair puts your teeth (not mine, I don't have any) on edge? One of those sounds that gets really on your wick. Like 'Kagagoogoo' or a nuclear detonation just above your head? But not quite like them because 'Kagagoogoo' succinctly sums up that nauseating sound and 'boom' very loudly will quite suffice for a 10 megaton hydrogen bomb; but 'the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard' just doesn't have the same brevity, the same succinctness, does it? It's merely a description and a long winded one at that. Well, fear not! I have the perfect word. Archaic but if enough people start using it again it will re-enter the modern-day lexicon. Become fashionable. The 'in' word. The word is 'gride'. So start using it and reinvent the language!

"Sir, will you please stop griding and put on some Kagagoogoo! Your equations are getting on my t*ts"

Look it up if you don't believe me. And shame on you if you don't believe me! Would I lie to you? Invent stories just for fun? Am I not a penguin? Is the Pope catholic? Does Monica Lewinski smoke cigars?

Talking of ML, did anyone do a DNA test of the dress? I mean, was it really Bill's? After all, with little danger of impeachment, Bill might just have admitted it to avoid Hilary accusing him of impotence these past ten years. Mind you, you'd be impotent if all you had to look forward to was getting into bed, bath, bathroom floor, back seat of the car, airplane toilet, hot air balloon with Hilary. About as much sex appeal as a horseshoe crab.........and that is being unfair to horseshoe crabs. Which, incidentally, I have always found to be mildly erotic in a 'Botticelli's Venus' kind of way.

Which leads me nicely on to the topic of day! Would it be better, and cheaper, to bribe the other side to just put a sock in it rather than fight a war? I was drawn to this realisation by an article in the 'Straight Dope', a service provided to people who have more time on their hands than I do and who insist on asking ever more silly questions. (It started out as a newspaper column, what doesn't, and has now taken over America!).

Now the SD used the Vietnam war as an illustration and, to be frank, I can't be arsed to do the research about the Second World War, which would be the real killer (oh, I know it was). Maybe, one day. So we'll just stick to Vietnam.

Now from the cursory research I've done, the figures for cost etc pretty much pan out give or take a few billion dollars so we'll let those figures speak for themselves. The cost of the war was $140 bn dollar over a ten year period. The population of Vietnam was approximately 40 million at the mid-point of the war. So that equates to about $3,500 per capita per year for the duration of the war. Average earnings for the Vietnamese per year, about $120.

Now, here's where I'd like to issue with the Straight Dope's analysis.

One. You can't include the South Vietmanese in the equation. They could already count on shedloads of US dollars to prop up a corrupt government, see Israel. And nobody wants a war, do they? Especially if you might get shot at....or bombed.....or napalmed. So, tentatively that doubles the pay off to the North Vietnamese to $7,000 per year.

Two. Vietnamese adults have children. Therefore lets argue that 1/4 of the population is below 18. This then gives a figure of $9,300 per year for every adult for 10 years.

A couple could cream $18,600 per year for ten years. Or $186,000 lump sum. Invested at a nominal 5% per annum, this would garner around $9,300 per year WITHOUT depleting the capital. There's a lot of difference between $120 and $9,300, isn't there? That's a 90 fold increase. Would you avoid a war for that?

So why isn't the bribe more common? In fact, it seldom appears at all although it makes sound economic sense.

Quite simple, really. The economic costs don't ever tell the whole story. Politics rears it's ugly head, always. Not counting the advantages to the American political system from dissing on the 'commies', you get the added bonus of the appearence of econimic prosperity due to surge in profits of armanents companies, to name but one beneficiary. The problem is that the 'taxpayer', you, is just building debt that YOU will one day have to pay off through increased taxation. Nice game, if you can play it.

And think of the lives it would save. No deaths, no maimings, no lives ruined because of amputations, napalm. No feet blown off through land mines; no disfigurements due to agent orange; no vets in wheelchairs; no vet alcoholics.

I don't understand why you keep electing these bozos to run countries!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Life, Aliveness and Monk

So, I promised you 'alive'. What it is to be alive? How do we know that something is alive? What separates organic from inorganic? Are you well stocked with margueritas?

Now it isn't such a dumb question really. We all know that a tree, an insect, a cat is alive, but how we can 'know', not just believe it be so? Do we have some sixth sense. I know I'm alive so therefore I recognise 'aliveness' because it's an integral part of me and so I recognise it in the same way I recognise my own mother. (We won't get into the question of how I know I'm alive, it's a self defeating proposition if I have any doubt about that and the arguments are going to be pretty short, I think. So we'll just take it as read.)

Now I think most people would answer the question of 'aliveness' by pointing to DNA, assuming they know about DNA. If it's got DNA within it, it's alive in some basic sense. But how do we know it's got DNA in it? In most cases we don't, at least empiracally. We derive our knowledge from books, the internet, somebody else's research. We believe what we are told. But doesn't our certainty extend beyond this, beyond book learning, beyond experiments written up in obscure journals that none of us read? I KNOW my fellow penguins are alive and you know that your partner, children, cat, dog, the damn crane fly that won't get off the wall are alive. But how?

They grow, reproduce, perform acts that seem to have purpose. They eat, have sex (sometimes :), they produce waste. Is a river alive? It seems to have purpose, it carves out ever-deepening, widening channels; it eats, mainly rocks; bar a few exceptions it flows to the sea; sometimes it reproduces; it changes its environment. And yet we only attribute life to its inhabitants, some but not all, of its constituent parts, not to the river itself.

But are we any nearer to defining life? After all, the vehicles that we deem to be alive, our bodies; are they in any way different? A motley collection of mindless cells, different to be sure, but still a motley crew of willing helpers, all working to the common good, our common good, but essentially as lifeless as the water in the river. What is it about the emergent phenomena which makes a simple and not so simple collection of cells alive?

Is a virus alive?I suspect most people, and penguins, would say yes. But is it? It certainly has an effect but it's even more mindless than a liver cell. The only way it can survive and reproduce is by attacking and inhabiting a 'proper' cell otherwise it just strands of DNA and RNA, the simplest parasite we know. Do you still think it alive when it exhibits no vestige of life as we think we recognise it? If it weren't for its ability to hijack our cells we might give it no more chance of 'aliveness' than table salt.

Perhaps Lovelock has it right after all. Perhaps we need to think of the God forsaken rock we all inhabit as alive. Perhaps then the distinction between what we see as life and the so-called inorganic processes which fuel or world would start to blur, smudge, vanish into so much mist that we would no longer see ourselves as separate and merely a part of an all encompassing whole.

Since we talking about life, you try telling me that this manic depressive monkey is not alive!

Monday, 5 July 2010

God, Booze and those damned bubbles

One of the joys of 'enforced' idleness is the plentiful opportunities to garner little snippets of trivia. Information which couldn't be more useless (and meaningless) other than to gain a reputation as someone you do not want to play 'Trivial Pursuit' with.

I was reading about computational fluid dynamics (CFD) the other day. (Yes, I know, I have some weird interests) Now CFD is way of simulating fluid dynamics using software and a computer which saves all the hassle in trying to set up experiments with moving liquids without the inevitable "I've got it all down the front of my trousers" moment, which can be acutely embarassing especially when going on a blind date after work.

So what piece of research was I reading up on? How to deliver water more efficiently to drought-ridden villages in Africa? How to make propellors that were more fuel efficient? How does liquid helium creep UP the sides of containers? No! Why do bubbles in a pint of Guinness go down instead of up!

Now, it has to be said, that this has been a major issue for Guinness drinkers for centuries, especially after five or six pints of the stuff. Is it all an illusion brought on by copious quantities of alcohol? After all, bubbles are formed of gas which is lighter then stout and so all the bubbles should rise to the top, yes? Well most of them do, but in fact the smallest bubbles do descend, sort of. And it's not an optical illusion. So what is happening?

Well, thanks to the wonders of computational fluid dynamics all can be revealed. The smallest bubbles in the centre of the glass do, as predicted, attempt to work their way up to the top to join their compadres in the 'head', shamrock or no shamrock. However, in floating to the surface they 'drag' liquid molecules in their wake. Now this liquid has 'nowhere' to go, there's liquid above. So eventually the liquid starts to descend again, this time dragging the bubbles in THEIR wake. And so it goes on. Now at least the mystery of the 'lava lamp' beer is solved and we can all sleep more soundly as a result. What we owe science, ay?

(In case you're interested, the paper is here.)

Talking (writing) about Guinness, pubs, copious quantities of alcohol got me thinking. Why do conversations in a bar usually go through a quite clearly defined routine? For the first hour or so the only topics of conversation are sport (if you're male) and clothes/handbags/shoes (if you're female). After two or three drinks, the topics are largely centred around how 'hot' is the guy/woman sitting 'over there' which usually leads to ribald discussions about how you once had three-in-a-bed (usually involving the cat or the dog - we're not getting into the gerbil, OK?) which then leads to ever more smutty jokes about a very limited number of bodily functions. At some stage, the supply of 'fart' jokes runs out and after six or seven drinks, the conversation turns to: "Do I exist?", "Do you exist?", "Is there a God?", "Whose round is it?".

Now it's strange, don't you think? Questions that have taxed the minds of the greatest thinkers down the ages, Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Leibnitz, Hobbs, Lockes et al should become the preferred topic of conversation of the great unwashed largely incapacitated, physically and mentally, by the 'demon drink'? It does seem odd. Even if your booze-addled brain did come up with the definitive proof that God does/does not exist, a flash of insight to equal E=m(cXc), you're not going to remember it tomorrow, are you? It will vanish in a puff of dying and dead brain cells! It will be no more remembered than the fact that you 'mooned' the barmaid just prior to getting forcibly ejected by the bouncers. So why bother? Why not save that conversation for when you are sober, clear thinking, rational?

Perhaps it is mostly to do with the fact that everyone thinks, after a jar or two, that they really can compete with Plato, Russell, Nikki Lauda, Dennis Bergkamp, Michael Jordan, Iman, Claudia Schiffer, Marie Curie, Mother Theresa? Perhaps that's why God invented booze. Otherwise you'd be drowning in a sea of your own inadequacies!

Tomorrow we'll talk about life and how you know something is alive. Better start getting stoked up on the margheritas!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Er, Onan and a rather dubious casserole

Now, let's be quite blunt here. Human beings are a very weird sort of species, no? You foul up the planet, drop bombs everywhere, crash planes into the sides of buildings, gas six million people whose only crime appears to be believing the Torah is a good idea and you shouldn't work on a Saturday and all you can say, individually, is, "It's not my fault, guv! It's those other guys!

Now given that you're probably the worst thing that's happened to the planet since it first coelesced out of the primeval dust cloud, a remnant of the last supernova God forgot about, the enormous piles of brontosaur poodoo notwithstanding, you have some strange habits, I think. Now, quite reasonably, it seems to you, you have this awfully widespread view that cannabalism is not a very good idea. Now quite why this should be, defeats me. It seems such a good idea on the face of it. You are tasty, well sharks, lions, tigers etc seem to think so, and once you're dead, you're dead, so why not pack some of that spare protein instead of just incinerating it? Could cure an awful lot of the famine issues you have. (I bet you're all going 'eugh' right now) But seriously, why not? There are real evolutionary arguments for the incest taboo (just look at the UK's Royal Family) but why cannabalism? Oh well, I guess you're just squeemish!

I came across something the other day (prepare for another 'eugh' moment here) which made me think about 'eating people'. A recipe for 'placenta casserole'. No, really, no joke, sans blague! How to derive the maximum amount of bonding with your new born child, eat the placenta! True, this is not uncommon among non-human mammals, it is after all protein, but why on earth, with all the strictures placed upon you by culture, by religion, peer pressure to avoid cannabalism would you want to eat yourself? And invite your best friends around to join you? Apparently it's the only meat a vegetarian will eat, no animal was killed to provide it. Is this all not just a little weird?

Now after the joys of placenta casserole and........ polenta? Chips? Brown rice?, I decided that I needed to take my mind off it with a little light reading. So, quite naturally, I picked up my King James'. I am always up for a bit of smiting, it truth be known, and you don't get much more of a smiteamaniac than the Old Testament God. To be fair, I'm surprised that there were any Israelites left after God had finished with his smiting! Well, purely by chance (honest) I came across what must be worst job (best job) of character assassination* in all of Christendom. Onan!

Now we've all heard of the 'sin of Onan'. The 'sin', beloved of all adolescent males everywhere. The 'sin' of racked-up testosterone levels and no outlet. The 'sin' of sleeping with your hands under the bedclothes, not on top of them. Since the days of the early Church Fathers, Onan has always been held up as an example of what happens when you 'spill your seed on the ground' (God did smite him, mightily!) and therefore, unless you wanted to be smitten mightily, you better lay off 'spanking the monkey'!

Now this is all well and good if you believe that it makes you go blind; makes you sterile; causes feeblemindedness, insanity (well that explains a lot about MG that is otherwise unexplainable); brings you out in a rash or worse still, causes your willy to drop off, but ONAN DID NOT DO THIS! Onan was NOT playing the rattleshake snake in the wee small hours in his tent. Onan was practising BIRTH CONTROL! That's why he was smitten!

For those of you ignorant of the story, Onan's brother Er (his parents could not think what to name him, so just called him 'Er', they always wanted a girl) died childless and as was custom at the time, Onan got saddled with Er's wife, Tamar. Now because Er had not fulfilled his manly obligation to impregnate Tamar, it fell to Onan to finish things off. (We all have a brother like that, ay?) Now, Er's death was a bit of surprise to Onan and he certainly didn't expect to be prodding his sister-in-law with the beef bayonet anytime soon. More importantly, he was fagged if he was going to have any more mewling brats hanging around, spongeing off him, pooping in the dishes and throwing up all over the curtains.

So, Onan went to see his local 'Family Planning Clinic and, in the absence of condoms, IUDs, Dutch Caps, vasectomies and the Pill, got pretty short shrift; all they offered him was the rythmn method, which is all well and good except Onan had about as much rythmn as a one legged, white boy trying to do M C Hammer to Basement Jaxx, NONE.

So what was left? Coitus interruptus. Quod erat demonstrandum!

So, next time you castigate your adolescent son and threaten to tie his hands behind his back if he doesn't stop commiting the 'sin of Onan', just remember, he would dearly love the chance of even a merest glimpse of an opportunity to do as Onan did!

Just in case you think I'm making all this up, the relevant passage is below. How would you read it? :) Bit tough on Judah, if you ask me. Far too much smiting going on in that family. Must have sorely tried the faith, I reckon. Like piles.

"Judah got a wife for Er, his first-born; her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's first born, was displeasing to the Lord and the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, "Join with your brother's wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother." But Onan, knowing that the seed would not count as his, let it go to waste whenever he joined with his brother's wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother. What he did was displeasing to the Lord, and He took his life also. "

* assassination - Interestingly enough - always happy to educate, instruct, enlighten - this comes from the Arabic, 'hashishim'. And yes, you got the 'root' of the word spot on. So, if you want to be Carlos the Jackal, Lee Harvey Oswald or Claus von Stauffenberg, you gotta get yourself some SERIOUS WEED, man!