Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Think I'll be a Viking When I Grow Up

A little trivia piece at work today pointed out that Vikings made drinking cups of their enemies skulls. I can't see how that would work, all the alcohol would trickle out the eyesockets. Of course what the Vikings actually did was cut off the top of the skull and fit a cup in there. So Vikings didn't make drinking cups out of their enemies skulls, they made stubbie holders out of their enemies skulls. You can just imagine the binge drinking sessions on icy Winter nights, a group of Vikings gathered around one of their number chanting, "skull, skull, skull". Then when the lad had passed out there would be comments like, "I knew he had no head for drink" and "he's not the only one who's off his face". Hey there's nothing like a little decapitation humour to pass the time while you're waiting for the longship to come out of the garage.

When they weren't promoting irresponsible usage of alcohol or leading the way in dark ages recycling technology the Vikings were seafarers, raiders and traders. Anywhere there was water you could find Vikings. During the ninth century it wasn't safe to run a bath without alerting the local militia. Not that they would do you any good as the Vikings were the most kickarse bunch of marauders around at the time.

They even turned up in Byzantium where the emperors took one look at this bunch of hairy, axe wielding maniacs and said "Would you guys be looking for a job?" The Varangian Guard, the emperors personal bodyguard was originally made up of Viking warriors who had made their way to Constantinople for one reason or another. Service in the guard was highly prestigious and very well paid. There is a story of one Norseman making his way home being arrested in France because he was carrying a suspiciously large quantity of gold. He was released when a letter came from the Byzantine emperor confirming that the money was his severance pay. Harold Hardrada who is best known as the guy who didn't conquer England in 1066 did a stint in the Varangians before returning to become king of Norway. Considering how that worked out he might have wished he had stayed.

Over in Kiev the locals did one better than simply hiring the Vikings as bodyguards. They hired them as kings. Legend states that the Kievan Rus tired of squabbling amongst themselves invited a Viking named Rurik to come and rule over them and give them peace. Like most legends this is probably a complete lie and the Vikings rarely waited for an invitation before turning up but nevertheless there was a Viking aristocracy ruling the Rus before there were Varangians in Constantinople. Funny story, the Byzantines came into contact with the Rus when at the instigation of their Norse rulers they attempted to raid Constantinople. The Byzantines introduced the Rus to civilisation by way of Greek fire a sort of medieval napalm. Those who survived decided to try trading instead.

It must have been a jolly life, roaming the world, burning and looting, doing the odd spot of jobbing kingship and protecting emperors from their enemies (frequently their relatives) and when it was all over they could get a job fitting cups into peoples skulls. Vikings; the multitaskers of the dark ages.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Furry Gloves are Cool

My apartment block in knee deep in cats. It is almost impossible to walk outside without stepping on something small and fluffy. Furthermore I think they're breeding because there have been a number of incredibly cute kittens hanging around the place lately. We have an old lady who feeds them (every apartment block has such a person) in addition to the two of her own that are legitimate residents. Some people have complained to the council about the burgeoning feline population. The council's less than helpful response was that if we caught them the council would take them away. I think if we could catch them we could probably arrange the taking away ourselves as well. So it looks like the cats are here for the duration. I don't really mind, they're quieter than some of my neighbours and they bury their own shit which is something I wouldn't trust all of my neighbours to do.

On a completely unrelated topic I suddenly realise I need some furry gloves. A woman came into the cafe (Satellite Expresso by the way, awesome place, great coffee, great cook, lovely owner; free coffee next time Ash?) wearing a pair of furry gloves. Suddenly I realise what has been missing from my life; furry gloves. Suffice it to say I am sitting here deprived of furry gloves and I feel their absence. Even the thought of furry gloves makes my life better by a small but measurable degree.

I realise I have mentioned furry gloves six times in the previous paragraph. There is the possibility that I am getting a bit obsessed. However its nothing a pair of furry gloves won't cure. Furry gloves would be cool, I could be quite the fashion plate with a pair of furry gloves or at least a fashion saucepan. There are other benefits to furry gloves as well. If I left them lying about the place, and people who have visited my flat know this is quite likely, then I could pretend I had kittens without the hassle of feeding them or training them to use kitty litter. Furry gloves could be the ideal pet for me; small, low maintenance and, above all, furry. I could give them names and cuddle them on cold Winter nights. Yes, this is the kind of thinking I do when I'm on my own.

On further reflection though I don't think it would be a good idea to keep furry gloves as pets. If I lost one of them it would be like a death in the family.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another War Crime

It is sad when a book disappoints so thoroughly in the first twenty pages or so that you can't bear to read the rest of it. I recently purchased a book called Mussolini's War which claims to be a history of the Italian armed forces in the Second World War and to "set the record straight" about their supposed poor showing in that conflict. Being a bit of a sucker for the Italians in that particular conflict (rather like my affection for the Austro-Hungarians in the previous war) I purchased the book. I fully expected a certain amount of revisionism but I also hoped to learn a little more about the actions of Italy's military. Most histories settle for saying something like "and the Italians surrendered en masse" which while usually true is not entirely fair. For all their overall failure there were plenty of acts of courage and (occasionally) skill both at the individual and unit level that the Italians can point to with pride. I rather hoped this book might bring some of that out. In the first twenty pages or so I found five deliberate misrepresentations and at least two outright lies. There may indeed be good stuff in there somewhere but I'm afraid I have no interest in looking for it.

This leaves me with the other book I bought recently which I hope will be better. Unfortunately it's in German so I have to buy myself a decent German-English dictionary. The title of the book is Radetzky: Eine Biographie which even I can handle but apart from that its going to be rather slow work. The only other phrase I know which might be of use is "in deinem lager ist Österrreich".

Lest anybody think that amateur translation is going to become a hobby of mine I was really driven to it by the fact that there don't seem to be any satisfactory (or for that matter unsatisfactory) biographies of Radetzky in English. Type "Radetzky" into amazon's search engine and all you get is several pages of various publications of the Radetzky March which I already have plus the German language biography I have just bought. Hopefully I will prove a little better at learning German now than I was at school. In fact, hopefully I am a little better at pretty much everything now than I was at school.

I already have a biography of Archduke Karl of Habsburg. Now that I have my biography of Radetzky I only need Wallenstein and Prince Eugene of Savoy to make my collection of Habsburg military luminaries complete. Mind you if anybody wanted to provide a collection of military idiots in Habsburg service the list would go on for pages. Four outstanding military leaders in an empire that lasted approximately four centuries seems a little skimpy although the Habsburgs did have a number of commanders that at least make it into the second rank.

Of course the Habsburgs were unlucky in their enemies. Most generals who run up against either Frederick the Great or Napoleon are going to come off looking rather silly by comparison. Still one gets the impression that military genius was not really a qualification for high command with the Habsburgs. Even Radetzky who rose to the highest rank was a little surprised. Summoned to the emperor's presence to be given the position of chief of staff Radetzky protested his own lack of experience and education for the role. The emperor's response was "you are too sensible to make outrageous mistakes and if you make ordinary mistakes, well I'm quite used to that from my generals". The emperor who said that, by the way, was Franz I who would have gone down as the empire's most mediocre ruler if he hadn't been succeeded by his halfwit son Ferdinand.

In the course of a long career Radetzky served first Franz, then Ferdinand and finally Franz Josef who raised standards of imperial governance back up to the levels of Franz after the rather disastrous attempt to run the empire as a special needs school.

I seem to have wandered about a bit in this blog entry which makes me doubt if I have the attention span necessary to translate an entire book. Those who know me are probably surprised that I possessed the attention span to purchase it in the first place. I'm also still looking for a book that can give me a decent account of Italy's armed forces in the Second World War. Suggestions welcome.

What if You Went Back in Time and Killed Hitler's Grandfather?

It is so easy to lose track of time. We measure time, regulate it, chop it up into bite sized bits and then charge for it but if we turn our backs on it for a second it gets away from us completely. I'm currently in my second, or possibly third, day of a four day weekend and I'm finding it hard to make any distinction finer than day and night. Normally I use my job to measure time. Up at six thirty, at work by about eight fifteen and then the various tasks I perform and even the lunchbreak help me carve up my day into useful segments. At least this is what I claim during performance reviews. Without work to force me out of bed at a certain time I tend to lose track of it completely. The only other time management device I possess is the television and frequently there is no reason to turn it on.

Humans spend an inordinate amount of time (hee hee) trying to control time which is silly as time is the one thing that will get away from us no matter what we do. I suspect that this is one of the causes for the popularity of time travel as a basis for science fiction stories. Pretty much everyone has some incident in their life that they would like to revisit and do differently. It never seems to occur to them that since they're the same person in the same situation access to a time machine probably won't stop them from screwing it up all over again. This is before we get onto the entire popping back in time and drowning baby Hitler in the bath business which is another favourite delusion.

I suspect that at least part of Hitler's issues stem from the fact that he was pursued by a murderous gang of time travellers for most of his life. Guys there is no point in trying to kill baby Adolf, history tells us you failed. If you're a certain type of science fiction writer (or god forbid a scientist) then you'll pass by the opportunity to meet famous people throughout history (and sell their autographs later for a fortune) and go straight into the other plotline for time travel. The old "if you kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother then what happens to you?" Well hopefully you'll be arrested for murder and executed you psychotic bastard. That's the trouble with time travel, if you follow it to its logical conclusion it winds up disappearing up its own arse. The answer is simple, your very presence proves that you didn't kill your grandfather. You killed some other poor bastard before using your access to high technology to flee justice.

The entire concept that history can be reshaped through the actions of time travellers is ridiculous. Note I said reshaped, not shaped. It is entirely possible that half the famous characters from history were actually time travellers who popped back for a quick look and got caught up in events. Why not? It's no less plausible than a good deal of the history we're expected to swallow now. However changing things is not likely to be possible. At this point people generally start rabbiting on about free will and determinism and to them I say "shut up, this is my blog". Simply possessing free will is not sufficient to enable you to change history. I possess free will but I doubt if I would be capable of assassinating the president of the United States for example. Hi to all the guys at the NSA who have suddenly started reading this by the way. It probably wouldn't be any easier for time travellers.

We know Hitler wasn't drowned at the age of three, we don't know that some time traveller didn't pop into the bunker in 1945 and blow his head off. When you travel in time unless you have no knowledge of history whatsoever you can sometimes know the results of your actions, but nothing more. You can't change history although I suspect it is possible to become part of it. The other worry is that mucking about with the timeline might unravel the universe to which I respond; if the universe was that fragile it has probably already happened and we haven't noticed so what's the big problem?

Episodes of Doctor Who not withstanding I would suspect that once the initial thrill wore off any society that developed time travel probably wouldn't bother too much. There might be a certain amount of money to be made in temporal tourism and no doubt some history students would pop back for a quick birds eye view of their subject material but that would be about it. The only useful application for time travel I can think of is for historians to travel back and see exactly how much they got wrong. Once time travel is invented I suspect that pretty much every history book in existence is going to have to be substantially rewritten. How about that that? Time travel will change history after all.

The Ultimate in Recycling

Lest anyone think that my blog entries are the result of spontaneous genius (you were thinking that weren't you?) I must admit that I usually write drafts of them in long hand first. So what appears to be spontaneous genius is actually well drafted mediocrity. It's only sensible that my creations should undergo a certain amount of turd polishing before they reach that bastion of style and sensitivity that is the internet.

I write drafts of my blogs in my commonplace book which is a particular piece of pretentiousness which I got from a biography of HP Lovecraft. Apparently commonplace books were used to record recipes, favourite bible passages and uplifting thoughts. My commonplace book has no recipes or bible passages and it would take a more egotistic person than me to describe the thoughts in it as uplifting, or even thoughts. In truth its just a notebook but I use the term commonplace book because the term notebook seems somehow commonplace. Page after page of crabbed writing in friendly red ink helps to fool idle viewers into thinking I might be doing something with my life; idiots. Certain people are still expecting the great Australian novel to rise from these pages like a monster from its slab. Instead they get this blog flopping about like a landed fish.

Is writing a blog entry about my blog (and not the first one either) an exercise in introspection or merely an act of monstrous narcissism? Personally I think I'm too beautiful, intelligent and talented to indulge in narcissism so it must be introspection. To be introspective is to look within oneself to see what is there. I do this from time to time and I always see the same things; lungs, heart and various squishy red things that I can't quite identify but would probably miss if they suddenly decided to leave. In my wallet is an organ donor card but I strongly suspect that any surgeon presented with my organs for transplant would decide that the patient would be better off taking their chances with the original.

Transplants are pretty awesome though and getting more so by the day. They're doing whole faces now which might be a bit awkward if the recipient turned up at a party where the donor was expected. Eventually transplanting will be reduced to a game of mix and match. Victor Frankenstein's dream realised in reverse. I wonder how long we could keep the transplant game going for? Take a liver from one person, implant it in another and if that person had an organ donor card and some really terrible luck it could move on to person number three. Perhaps this is the key to immortality, not as individuals but as reusable parts to be spread around. How much of a long dead person would you have to reassemble before you could legally claim they were the same individual? Probate law might suddenly become very interesting indeed.

This is the sort of thing I think about when I allow my mind to wander; proof, if proof were needed, that it shouldn't be allowed out unsupervised.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome Abigail

My friend Jason has just given birth to a beautiful daughter (his wife Idette did most of the heavy lifting). Welcome Abigail Warburton, I just thought I'd take this opportunity to give you a little life advice before you get old enough to realise I should be ignored at all times.

First: Welcome to the planet, I'm sorry its such a mess. I was planning to clean up before you arrived but things kept coming up at the last moment.

Second: Get a mobile phone. You aren't anybody without a mobile phone these days. You probably belong to the last generation that won't have a mobile phone surgically implanted into them before birth. As I understand it Apple is working on iBreeding as we speak. Future children will be born fully connected, hands free, with downloadable apps as standard and with the ability to dial strangers at midnight in different countries. On the downside apparently they're all going to look like Steve Jobs. Unfortunately Abigail you will have to make do with an external phone. Get one in the next few days. Don't worry your parents will pay for it.

Third: Remember that the future of the human race is its children. I realise that's a lot of responsibility to drop on your shoulders at less than a week old but I'm sure you can handle it. Just do what we did, feed the same line to your children.

Fourth: Be patient with your parents. Parents are adults and adults are stupid. Any teenager will tell you this, frequently without being asked.

Fifth: Don't develop substance abuse problems, make an idiot of yourself in public or generally behave like a brain dead imbecile unless you do manage to become a teen pop sensation. If you don't you're just going to have to develop a personality like the rest of us.

Sixth: If you don't manage to develop a personality; try shouting loudly. It's amazing how few people will notice.

Seventh: Education is very important. If it wasn't for education none of us would realise how ignorant we are.

Eighth: Politicians are some of the most noble, self sacrificing and talented people you will ever meet. Since modesty is also one of their characteristics do not be surprised when they conceal their greatness behind a flawless mask of stupidity, cowardice, indecision and venality.

Ninth: You will have the opportunity to select between many religions, belief systems and general philosophies. Choose none of them, they are all crap. The thing which unites the pope in Italy, an imam in Saudi Arabia, a yogi in India and that idiotic hippy who sells hand made crap at the markets is the desperate belief that their inner emptiness can be filled from the outside. If you want a creed to follow; be honest, kind and forgiving. That way you will deserve salvation even if you don't get it.

Tenth: Never dislike anybody on the basis of their colour, ethnicity, nation of origin, sexual orientation (within certain legally defined limits of course) social class or religion. As you get to know people you will find much better reasons for disliking most of them.

Eleventh: Never refuse to dislike somebody on the basis of their colour, ethnicity etc etc. It is entirely possible for someone to be a member of a despised or ostracised minority and still be a complete dickhead.

Twelfth: In this country we choose our leaders in the following way. A small group of people you have never heard of write down the names of an even smaller group of people united only in their unfitness for the job and select one of them to be presented to the public in each electorate of the country. Their opponents do the same. You, Abigail, and the rest of the voting population select which of these individuals makes you less nauseous and collectively the group that win the most electorates select one of their number to lead the country. This is an insane way of choosing the leadership of a country but I wouldn't advise emigrating to any country that chooses their leader by some other method.

Thirteenth: Humans like disasters. Catastrophes give us an opportunity to be busy and demonstrate how nice we can be to our fellow humans at least for short periods of time. When things are going well humans get edgy and nervous and take out sub prime loans.

Fourteenth: The world is doomed. The world is always doomed. Humans have been saying the world is doomed pretty much ever since we developed language. One day of course we will be right. The current threat du jour is global warming. You must prepare yourself for global warming. I recommend that you take swimming lessons and avoid purchasing beachfront property.

Fifteenth: Reality television is evil. It is a wretched god forsaken suckhole into which people with little personality and fewer qualities are drawn so that they can dance for the amusement of others. They are still (remotely) human, accord them the dignity you would like to be shown yourself and refuse to watch.

Sixteenth: Read. No funny comment, just read. Time spent reading is never wasted unless what you're reading begins with the words "Dear Penthouse"

Seventeenth: Avoid environmentalists. Environmentalists frequently speak about the degradation of the planet, how we're killing the world, drowning in our own filth and so on. They are probably right but they're no fun at parties.

Eighteenth: Certain extreme environmentalists advocate the reduction of the human race to more "sustainable" levels. These people are evil hypocrites. If they truly believed that they would commit suicide and thus get the ball rolling. Ignore this wretched vermin.

Nineteenth: Aldous Huxley an author and part time philosopher once said "It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.' ". He needn't be embarrassed, it's good advice.

Twentieth: Don't pay attention to what people say. Pay attention to what they do. I for instance never stop talking and I do virtually nothing.

There you go Abigail a set of life rules which certainly deserve to be written on a tea towel somewhere. I hope you like them, I hope they help and I hope your parents are still talking to me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

History: A Portrait From Life When the Subject is Dead

I read quite a bit of history one way and another. I think largely because I have too much time on my hands. History is fascinating and it teaches many important lessons. The first lesson it teaches is that people haven't really changed all that much in the last ten thousand years or so. The second lesson is that you should really never trust historians.

There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn't trust historians and the first although by no means most important is the likelihood that they just don't know what the hell was going on. The study of history has been likened to attempting to do a jigsaw puzzle with no picture and 98% of the pieces missing. The more comprehensive and detailed the information the more likely it is to have been extrapolated into existence from a pitiful handful of clues which are usually open to multiple interpretations. Especially if you want to open them to multiple interpretations. This leads me to my second reason for not trusting historians; they usually have an axe to grind.

If you have made the study of history your lifes vocation, to the point where you are now writing books on the subject then history is very important to you. You will no doubt have your own theories on how to interpret evidence and your own opinions on which events were the most significant and why. To put it another way when you write your work of history you are not telling what happened you are telling what you think happened. Or what you think ought to have happened. Or what you really would have liked to have happened. Or possibly you're just a pathological liar. Even if you strive for objectivity your own opinions and the quality of your education will colour what you write.

History should really come with a disclaimer, something along the lines of "the following is a true story only the facts have been changed" or rewritten, or misinterpreted. Anyone who reads this blog (hi mum) will know that I toss in some historical comment myself. Anybody whose knowledge of history was nil could be forgiven for thinking I know what I'm talking about. And I really don't. To write the history of anything well you have to like it and if you like it then that noise you hear is your objectivity quietly leaving the room.

I'm fascinated with the Byzantine and Habsburg empires. I buy every book I can afford on both subjects. I have built in my own mind a structure of what each empire was like and even I am capable of telling that it is probably wildly inaccurate. The Byzantine empire lasted for over a thousand years, the Habsburg empire for half that long. To accurately document the complete history of either is probably impossible. Neither was particularly interested in leaving a disinterested summary of their successes and failures. The result is our sources tend to praise them to the skies or consider them to be harbingers of the Anti Christ. At various times and places either description has a certain amount of justification.

Edward Gibbon did such a knife job on the Byzantine empire that it took a century for scholars to get a slightly less jaundiced view of it. Yet Gibbon wasn't deliberately trying to make Byzantium look bad, he just thought it was bad and wrote accordingly. The first book I read on Byzantium was written by someone who obviously loved it tremendously and he was a good enough writer to impress that on me to the point where I wanted to know more. Since then I have read several more balanced (or at least more detailed) histories and know that the first gloss wasn't necessarily accurate. Nevertheless that first impression has never quite faded and it would be a braver man than me to accuse the author of gilding the lily. He wrote as he saw it and he wrote well.

My own little historical bits are somewhat less forgiveable. I don't actually make things up but I rarely strive for historical accuracy to the exclusion of a good (or bad) joke. And my fact checking makes Wikipedia look like the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is my dearest wish that one day some deeply ignorant person will download one of my historical blogs and use it as the basis of an essay for which they will confidently expect high marks. Imagining the look on their face when their paper is returned gives me a little malicious amusement.

Another thing which threatens to make history less accurate is the desire (frequently unconscious) to make it conform to modern attitudes and behaviour. Terms like "balance", "cultural sensitivity" and "social relevance" wander through modern discussions of history like plague rats through seventeeth century London. Sometimes there is no balance. Sometimes one group were a pack of psychotic maniacs and that's it. As for cultural sensitivity and social relevance the only relevance and sensitivity history can possess is that of the time being documented. If that doesn't happen to conform with todays standards then that's just tough.

History gets rewritten on an almost daily basis as we either discover more or wish to hide more. Opinion is divided as to which of the above is gaining the upper hand. The kindest thing one can say about history is that it is absolutely fascinating. Maybe things did happen the way the historians said and maybe they didn't but whichever it's a great story. It's the story of people and however wrong we get it as long as we remember that its about people we won't get it completely wrong. Unless you're using this blog to help in your studies of course.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Whatever Happens, Democracy was Something or Other

The trouble with this country is we hang too many parliaments and not enough politicians. I'm not even going to pretend that's an original sentiment but it encapsulates the opinion of the electorate pretty well. I, like fourteen million odd other Australians, exercised my democratic right over the weekend and my conclusion is that some of those Australians are very odd indeed. I had the joyful task of choosing between a man I rather like espousing policies I despise and I woman I distrust espousing policies I probably despise slightly less than the others but that's ok because I doubt if they will ever implement any. The people spoke on Saturday and the rough translation is "Huh!". Julia Gillard made a not quite concession speech and Tony Abbott a not quite victory one. They could probably have swapped scripts without anyone noticing too much.

Now both parties are going to have to kiss up to various independents to form a minority government. Do we gain anything from a minority government? Yes, we get politicians who are nervous and eager to please. This is a good thing, it will make them more responsive to the wishes of the electorate. Or at least the wishes of those electorates with independent MPs. Or possibly its a bad thing because the absolute terror of upsetting anybody is why both parties went to the election representing themselves as having the personality of wallpaper paste.

A plague on both your houses (now that one is original I thought of it myself). The greatest fear now is that the governor general will bang their heads together and tell them to go and do it again and this time get it right. Am I prepared to put up with three years of incompetent, insecure government governed by the whims of a handful of independents, completely unable to make any sort of future plans for fear of a no confidence motion in order to avoid voting again? Yes, yes in the name of god, yes. I can't see much difference between that and an incompetent insecure government with a thumping majority governed by the whims of a handful of marginals and completely unable to make any sort of future plans due to simple inadequacy.

Meanwhile the world goes on. It will be a little awkward explaining to the Americans that the woman who replaced the guy they knew is now trying to persuade a group of rural socialists (don't bitch Katter you know that's what you are) that a moderate left wing party with no ideas is better than a right wing party with no brains. I can't help thinking about the American politician who gently warned his colleagues when they were taking their time writing the US constitution. "It might be wise to hurry up gentlemen, before the public learn that they can do very well without us". Most of the government runs on autopilot anyway. Italy hasn't had a properly functioning government since 476AD and while it might not be the best run place on earth it hasn't actually sunk into the sea.

Why is it that farmers manage to be conservatives and at the same time demand a level of government intervention that would make Karl Marx blanch? Both parties have the choice of negotiating with up to three rural socialists and one urban socialist courtesy of the Greens. Whatever happens the Greens hold the balance of power in the senate which means that nothing can get done without their say so unless both major parties vote together. I'm not the first person to suggest this but possibly the Labor party and the Liberal party could form a coalition and then tell everybody else to go to hell. Everybody has made much of the Greens success in this election. They got about 11% of the primary vote. Informal got 5.5%, surely that means that Informal should have a few senate seats as well.

To put our little spat into perspective the Nepalese parliament has just had its fifth attempt to elect a prime minister without success. The leader of the Maoist party got the most votes but not the necessary three hundred. As Australia staggers towards a new political paradigm with little hope and less expectation may I be the first to make a suggestion. It looks like Wycliff Jean is not going to able to stand for president of Haiti after all. Is it too late to shoehorn him into one of our political parties? And if not him maybe the Nepalese can spare a politician or two.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Finally a Use for Wild Animals

If you think the police have a tough job pity the ones in Canada. A group of police conducting a drugs raid found a marijuana crop defended by a group of black bears. Fortunately the bears were so habituated to human contact that they didn't put up much of a fuss when the police turned up. Apparently they just sat around doing nothing. Does anybody else suspect that the bears might have been sampling the crop they were supposed to protect?

If you want an animal to guard your drugs you want something a little more formidable than a bunch of stoner bears. In Italy a group of cocaine dealers had the bright idea of hiding their drugs underneath a rare albino python. Unlike the Canadian bear recruiters they didn't make the mistake of feeding it. Thus when the police turned up the python was bitter and looking to kick heads and take names. This is a good idea up to a point, the point being when your ferocious albino python starves to death. May I suggest when this happens you simply paint a draught excluder white and coil it up on the drugs. Chances are not too many people will notice the difference. Particularly the sort of people who come to buy drugs.

Actually using animals to guard criminal operations is a great idea. I personally have a team of highly trained sharks which I use to protect my illegal fish farm in the Snowy Mountains. I don't know why more people don't get into fish farming by the way, its so easy. You can go away all day and when you get back the fish are still in the paddock you put them in in the morning. Rounding them up is pretty easy too. You don't need a dog, just a pitchfork. Of course milking them is a bitch.

I don't know how I got into the illegal fish racket. It started off small, just the occasional can of tuna bought from some dodgy character outside a supermarket but soon I owed so much money that I had to go into dealing just to fund my habit. My big break came when I was introduced to a group of Colombians who were using trained trout to smuggle tuna into the country. I saw an opportunity and I went for it. Now I raise up to a thousand head of trout a year and sell them to international fish cartels to be used as tuna mules. Everybody's got to have a hobby.

Still on animal related news the authorities in southern Sudan (which might soon become an independent country) are planning to remodel their regional capitals in the shape of animals. Juba, the main city, is going to look like a rhinoceros. Apparently they plan to spend ten billion dollars sculpting their cities to look like animals that are going to be extinct soon anyway. Juba is a city that has more tribal groupings than it does paved roads and the electricity isn't turned on all the time because the sudden light scares the inhabitants, nevertheless good times are coming for Rhino City. This, no joke, is what they plan to call the new development. In the governments defence nobody is trying to claim that currently Juba is anything other than a shithole (a functioning sewer system is something else they haven't got yet) but whether reshaping what is essentially a collection of slums so that they look like a rhinoceros is the best use of available resources is up for debate. Especially when the available resources are nil.

Possibly the government of Juba should settle for having the city look like a cowpat. Of course they'd have to clean it up a bit to achieve that as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chinese Whistlers Mother

I was looking at a home delivered pizza the other day and that got me thinking. "That got me thinking" is a phrase I use rather a lot and would probably come as something of a surprise to those family members who know me well. To explain, when I say "that got me thinking" what I actually mean is; the handful of semi functional synapses I still possess careened off on an irrelevant tangent without much input from me. It is not unknown for me to start cleaning my teeth and wind up a few minutes later wondering why I'm in the bathroom and what the hell is that sticking out of my mouth?

It's possible I have attention deficit disorder although I think those people are supposed to be active. I consider registering a pulse to be sufficient exercise for one day. My brother was diagnosed with hyperactivity when he was a child. We were advised to feed him boring things. I must ask him how that worked out. Assuming I remember.

It is difficult to distinguish between mental decay and simply poor attention span. All I know is that my train of thought strongly resembles a series of Chinese whispers where the end result bears no resemblance to the original thought. Always assuming there was an original thought, most of my thoughts turn out to be sadly unoriginal as frequent readers of this blog could testify. I've given up attributing the jokes I've stolen from elsewhere partially because there are too many of them but mainly because I'm lazy. Sometimes, by dint of great effort, I can recapture the original thought that led to the ongoing series of increasing irrelevant musings and when I do I always feel a great sense of achievement. Let's just think about that for a moment. I get excited when I can remember what I was thinking about five minutes ago.

Possibly I should be concerned but its difficult to muster up the energy. Considering the amount of coffee I drink I should be bouncing off the walls but instead I yawn and roll over occasionally. This is sometimes embarrassing, particularly when I do it at work. It's even more embarrassing when I roll right out of my chair. I generally fumble for something on the ground to make it look deliberate but I don't think I'm fooling anyone.

I like coffee. Of all my collection of vices, neuroses and bad habits (which I collectively call my personality) coffee is the only one I think I would fight to retain. Or at least complain bitterly upon losing. There is nothing better than sitting in a cafe with a cup of coffee and the promise of more to come as long as the money holds out. The important word in that last sentence is "money" so I guess I'm not quitting my job any time soon. I'd probably better stop sleeping there as well.

It isn't as though I'm missing any sleep either, I do it almost every night. Nevertheless I shamble through the day longing for my bed or somebodies bed anyway. At my age it doesn't pay to be too particular. Anyway the point I'm really trying to make is; isn't it great that we live in a society where for a modest fee pizza can be delivered to your door? I think there's something in that for all of us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Birthday Greetings #11

OK this is the big one. Happy birthday to (deep breath) His Imperial and Royal Majesty, Franz Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria, Illyria; King of Jerusalem, etc.; Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany, Crakow; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, the Bukovina; Grand Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke of the Upper & Lower Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, Oswiecin, Zator, Cieszyn, Friuli, Ragusa, Zara; Princely Count of Habsburg, Tyrol, Kyburg, Gorizia, Gradisca; Prince of Trent, Brixen; Margrave of the Upper & Lower Lusatia, in Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, etc.; Lord of Triest, Kotor, the Wendish March; Grand Voivode of the Voivodship of Serbia and so on for quite a while.

Franz Josef was the second last Habsburg emperor (we looked at his successor yesterday) but to all intents and purposes the empire may be said to end with him. Born in 1830 he took the throne under less than auspicious circumstances in 1848 as revolution tore through Europe. His halfwit uncle Ferdinand was obviously not handling the situation well and in a family conference was persuaded to resign. Franz Josef's father being somewhat of a nonentity it was decided to skip a generation and put young (if not exactly fresh) blood on the throne. From that moment on Franz Josef never deviated. So conservative that he made conservatives look like communists and blessed with a spectacular lack of imagination he presided over the gradual decline of the Habsburg empire.

He came to the throne with unrest in Austria and Bohemia and outright rebellion in Hungary. Fortunately for him that one eternal verity of the empire saved him. The imperial army remained loyal and a trio of military figures came to prominence. In Italy the octogenarian Field Marshal Radetzky beat the crap out of the Italians and then turned his forces inwards to support the emperor. Baron Jellacic, Ban of Croatia (technically a vassal state of Hungary) rallied the Croats in the emperors name and finally Prince Windischgraetz crushed the popular uprisings in both Prague and Vienna with a combination of crazy violence and judicious concessions after the fact.

With everyone dragged into line the imperial troops launched a full scale invasion of rebellious Hungary. It wasn't going to as easy as all that though. Having had a taste of freedom the Hungarians fought and eventually Franz Josef dialled in the assistance of possibly the only monarch more conservative than himself, Tsar Nicholas of Russia. With the assistance of Russian troops the Hungarians were duly crushed and Franz Josef settled down to rule a quiet, if sullen, empire.

For the first decade or so Franz Josef ruled as an absolute autocrat and about the only spark of originality he showed was in his choice of bride. It had been arranged for him to marry one of the daughters of the King of Bavaria but when Franz Josef went on a visit to meet his potential wife he fell madly in love with her younger sister Elizabeth. He duly married her and thus merged Habsburg inbreeding with Wittlesbach insanity. Elizabeth was an excitable, vivacious, life loving young woman and Franz Josef even at the age of twenty four was a dull, conservative, hard working man weighed down by the cares of empire. Strangely their marriage wasn't a success although there is a good deal of evidence that they did in fact love each other. Elizabeth loathed the stultifying court life and escaped it whenever possible. Franz Josef saw it as his duty to fulfill all of the functions of a monarch on all occasions. As time went on it became apparent that they couldn't live together and Elizabeth became a sort of royal gypsy wandering around Europe. Before she did so she introduced him to Katarina Schratt an actress who would be his constant companion for much of the rest of his life (although apparently their relationship was one of simple friendship rather than anything more physical). Schratt was a pleasant, pretty, not too bright woman who would probably have been an ideal match for Franz Josef in the first place. Apart from that entire low birth thing.

Meanwhile things were going badly on the international front. The Piedmontese, looking to unite all of Italy under their rule, had called in assistance from the French emperor Napoleon (no not that one, Napoleon III his genetically dubious nephew) and war broke out with France and Piedmont on one side and the Empire on the other. Due to the Habsburg penchant for promoting incompetents to high command the Empires initially commanding position was thrown away and a severe defeat was suffered at the Battle of Magenta. Taking command himself Franz Josef led his armies in person at the subsequent Battle of Solferino. Again the Habsburg forces were defeated as much because Franz Josef was appalled at the carnage as because of any tactical skill on the part of the French. Somebody else appalled at the carnage was Henri-Jean Dunant who set up the International Red Cross as a consequence.

For Franz Josef there was no silver lining, his forces had been defeated and the Hungarians who had been beaten into submission were getting restive again. A peace treaty handed over part (although not all) of northern Italy to the Piedmontese and Franz Josef never commanded his troops in the field again. Back home the people were restless and a sort of constitution had to be implemented to calm things down. This would be the way throughout the rest of Franz Josef's reign. Belated, inadequate concessions which never really solved the major issues but somehow stopped the whole powder keg from exploding for a little while longer.

In 1866 a disastrous war with Prussia (with Italy in tow) resulted in not just defeat but humiliation and in the aftermath the dual monarchy was born. With the prestige of the imperial institutions at an all time low Franz Josef could no longer demand Hungarian loyalty he would have to buy it. Their price was high. No longer would Franz Josef be Emperor of Austria. From now on he would be Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary as two discrete realms bound by a handful of common institutions and the person of the monarch. If not independence Hungary had gained what amounted to joint control of the empire.

Slowly the empire wound down as its inherent unlikeliness in a time of nationalities became more and more apparent. Above it all Franz Josef ruled with dull consistency forming one of the few unchanging patterns in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nationality after nationality made demands which the imperial government responded to with incompetent oppression and inadequate reforms. The simple fact of the matter was that fundamental reform was impossible. The empire was well past its use by date and was largely being held together by its own rust.

For Franz Josef, sadly not quite stupid enough to be unaware of these events, his reign was further marred by personal tragedies. His son Rudolf inherited the liveliness and energy of his mother but also her instability and after a career in which he showed flashes of intelligence and energy but also an addiction to morphine he shot himself and his mistress at Mayerling hunting lodge. The peripatetic empress was next, knifed to death by an Italian anarchist on the shores of Lake Geneva and through it all Franz Josef went on, rising at four every morning from his narrow iron cot and spending most of his day at his desk dealing with paperwork.

Years became decades, the world changed but Franz Josef didn't and by not doing so he became unconsciously one of the strongest remaining supports of the monarchy. His reign lasted over sixty years and towards the end nobody could imagine life without him. The old, stern patriarchal man might not have been loved but he was widely respected for his integrity and unwavering service. When Serbian terrorists were looking for somebody to kill to make a big splash the emperor's name was suggested but rejected for fear that killing "the old gentleman of the Hofburg" might be the one thing that could unite the empire against the killers. Instead they decided to kill the heir to the throne whom nobody liked very much, not even Franz Josef.

That assassination triggered World War I although to be fair elements within the empire had been agitating for war with somebody (they didn't seem particularly concerned with who) for years. In the past it had been Franz Josef himself who had slapped them down. He had seen war and in his heart of hearts knew his empire wasn't in any shape to fight one but in 1914 he was past eighty, ill and very tired. With tears in his eyes he signed the declaration of war against Serbia which was his own monarchy's death warrant.

In one last act of mercy at the end of a long, sad life he died before he could see the collapse of his empire and is buried in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. In keeping with tradition when his funeral cortege reached the crypt it was closed. The Chamberlain hammered on the door and the priest inside called;"Who knocks?"

The chamberlain replied with the ear bleeding list of titles recited at the beginning of this entry and the priest said, "I know him not"

The chamberlain knocked again and in response to the the question replied, "The Emperor-King requests admission"

Again the response was, "I know him not"

Finally the chamberlain knocked for a third time and when the priest asked "Who knocks" replied, "Franz Josef a miserable sinner begs admission"
Only then was the crypt opened and the emperor's body allowed in.

Franz Josef was not a good man, he was a dull, arrogant, hidebound man who had learnt to hide his emotions behind a mask and demanded that duty occupy the same role in his family's life as it did in his. He was merciless with those who fell down and much of the empire's ingrained conservatism was a reflection of his own attitude. Lacking the genius to remodel the empire he substituted stubbornness and dedication to duty and managed to hold together a disintegrating tapestry probably for decades longer than it should have lasted. His last words were simple and typical. "Wake me tomorrow at four."

Fool Me Once, Shame on You Fool Me Fifty Times, I'm a Freaking Imbecile

Anglers are mourning the death of a carp in Britain. Strange really when you consider that it must happen quite a bit. Especially if there are anglers around. Ah but this was no ordinary carp. This was the famous Two Tone; 65 pounds in weight and 45 years old when it died. Apparently catching it was the holy grail of carp fishing. There was a picture of it and it looked rather like a fish shaped barrage balloon. Two Tone seems to have been quite a good sport about the entire angling business, he generously allowed himself to be caught about fifty times in his career to the great joy of the angler in question.

I think Two Tone answers any lingering questions we might have about the intelligence of fish. Caught fifty times? Somebody wasn't really trying. Either that or Two Tone had a sick fetish for having a sharpened bit of metal stuck into the roof of his mouth and being half suffocated. Not my idea of a good time but there's nowt as queer as fish.

I tried fishing once or twice when I was a child but fortunately I grew out of it. Fishing is one of those pursuits I don't really understand. Oh I understand some parts of it; sitting on a riverbank or in a small boat, a rod over the side and a hat over my eyes. That all sounds very pleasant indeed but frankly I could do it at a swimming pool. If I ever actually caught a fish I'd probably have a panic attack, although probably nothing like the panic attack the fish would have. There I'd be reeling, dragging, slipping and probably falling overboard while the fish stares at me sardonically and says "You're new to this aren't you?"

Maybe I am but I'm not the one impaled on an inch and a half of steel smart arse. Some animals are just made to be victims and most fish fall into that category. Another victim animal is the bird of paradise. The bird of paradise is a magnificent creature, beautiful, colourful, striking. Humans took one look at it and thought "wow, wouldn't that make a great hat." Birds of paradise are now protected from the rampages of the international hat conspiracy but for cultural reasons Papua New Guinea tribesman are still allowed to kill some. What do the tribesmen do with the dead birds? They strip the feathers off and make headdresses out of them. Hats, again.

At some point we have got to argue that our culture needs to be protected as well. Our culture just happens to include ravaging eco systems, hunting bears and foxes and making clothing out of pretty much anything that moves and a good deal that doesn't. Next time you get caught chainsawing down a magnificent redwood simply point out that furniture is part of your cultural heritage and demand a government grant. I've never quite understood why ancient cultural traditions are so important to other people but our own have to take second place to laws on the environment, equal opportunity, transportation of convicts and the utterly unreasonable ban on burning witches. Let's face it if traditions were so terribly important I for one would be squatting on a hillside near Inverness freezing my arse off and trying to pinch somebody's sheep. Thanks, but I think I'll pass.

The correct definition of tradition is "Something our ancestors did because they didn't know better". Many traditions had great value back in the day of course. In Australia there was an Aboriginal tradition of knocking out one of the front teeth on achieving manhood. This wasn't just pointless sadism, in a stone age society people tended to get tetanus quite a bit and making a gap in the mouth allowed sufferers to be fed after they'd got lockjaw. A thoroughly sensible piece of preventative medicine for the time and place. Now we have antiseptics and there really isn't a good reason to go around knocking out healthy teeth unless, of course, you're a dentist. Traditions have their place and that place is a long time ago. Sure you can keep some of the more visually appealing ones that might bring in tourist dollars. Britain, for example, does almost nothing else. What you shouldn't do is take it seriously, or expect anyone else to. Build new traditions instead and have a private chuckle at the mess you'll be getting your descendants into if they try to follow them.

Two hundred years from now when the remnants of the human race are huddled in the Antarctic jungle fighting off the dinosaurs that returned as a result of runaway global warming I very much doubt if you will see too many of them carving ipods from stone because their ancestors carried them. Fortunately with all the rising sea levels at least the fishing should be good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Birthday Greetings #10

Happy birthday to Karl I, last Habsburg emperor; although considering the Habsburg's penchant for survival possibly one should say, the last so far. Karl was born in 1887 and didn't seem a particularly high prospect for the throne since he was the great nephew of the incumbent emperor. A series of particularly grisly deaths lifted him up the chain. Firstly the emperors drug addicted son blew his brains out in a hunting lodge (along with those of his mistress) and then the next heir to the throne made the mistake of inspecting troop manoeuvres in Sarajevo. Suddenly Karl was heir to the throne and since the emperor was older than god at this point elevation couldn't be long in coming.

Before taking on the imperial dignity however Karl had to do his duty as a soldier which for a Habsburg meant commanding an army corps during the First World War. One suspects his war service consisted of pinning on medals while his staff tried to work around him but whatever he saw of war he decided he didn't like it much. In late 1916 the old emperor Franz Josef finally died and Karl ascended to the doomed throne of a disintegrating empire. World War I was going like crazy and the Habsburg empire was buckling under the strain.

Opinion is divided as to whether Karl was a thoughtful and insightful man attuned to the needs of his multicultural empire or an overpromoted nincompoop who thoroughly deserved what was about to happen to him. Which ever was the case Karl was well aware that to have even a hope of saving his inheritance the empire needed peace. Now! Unfortunately rather than approach openly he got his brother in law (who was serving in the Belgian army) to sound out the French about the possibility of a separate peace. During these negotiations he cheerfully ratted out his German ally and put it all in writing. The French government publicised the negotiations and Karl was summoned to the presence of Emperor Wilhelm of Germany for some condign grovelling. With all hope of peace gone Karl's empire was shackled to Germany and as the war went increasingly badly the unique Habsburg combination of oppression coupled with incompetence loosened whatever bonds may have kept his subjects loyal.

Finally in 1918 it came. Turkey and Bulgaria were already beaten, Germany was tottering and the Habsburg empire simply came apart at the seams. The various nationality groups declared themselves independent (or simply behaved as though they had) and pretty soon Karl had difficulty commanding attention in his own throne room. Advised by his last prime minister to get out while the going was good Karl issued something that was definitely not an abdication and left. Very few people seemed to notice he had gone.

Karl hadn't given up though. Technically Hungary was still a kingdom (although since his departure sadly lacking in kings) and with the backing of a group of royalists he attempted to take over at least this part of his inheritance. Sadly Admiral Miklos Horthy (Hungary had neither a navy or a coastline but whatever) who was running Hungary at the time (technically as regent for Karl) refused to give up his post and Karl had to slink out of the country in disgrace. Karl was exiled to Madeira and died there a year or so later of pneumonia.

The Catholic church has since beatified him and he is now the Blessed Karl, apparently because he cured some nuns varicose veins. I've got to say the quality of miracles required for beatification seems to be dropping off somewhat.

Since Karl never technically abdicated the House of Habsburg (very quietly) considers themselves to still be entitled to the throne. In response the Austrians implemented the Habsburg law which bans any member of the family from setting foot in Austria unless they renounce their claims. Keep your eye on that bunch. The Habsburgs aren't finished yet.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beauty is in the Eye of the Plastic Surgeon

I did a whole pamper thing over the weekend. Massage, facial, manicure, scalp massage all very nice. I spent the afternoon feeling thoroughly metrosexual. Or at least I would have if my clothes hadn't been second hand. The facial was a bit of an ego shaker however. I'm not the best looking person in the world (sometimes I have difficulty being the best looking person in my flat) but as the facial doing person reeled off a list of hideous blemishes that I hadn't even known existed I wondered if the elephant man needed a stand in.

Sadly it would appear that the fresh bloom I had on my cheeks when I was young has faded and now my yellowed eyes peer out of my sunken, greasy hide while blackheads and broken capillaries fight for dominance over the wreckage of my features. Then she smeared some stuff on my ravaged face, buffed my talons and now I'm beautiful again. Or at least I will be if I buy a bunch of moisturisers, lotions, creams and spend slightly longer doing my face than the average drag queen. Actually she got off lightly, I'm booked in for a pedicure in a couple of weeks and whoever does that is going to have a heart attack. Not even I try to pretend my feet are the best part of my body.

As a crack team of dedicated professionals tried desperately to hold the advancing tide of age at bay I lay there and enjoyed being pampered. All of the above took two and a half hours to complete and I can't help thinking that as age rolls on one would have to spend more and more time in order to look less and less good. By the time I'm fifty I'll be living at the salon and will only venture out for a five minute stretch when the masters of illusion have rendered me more or less acceptable to the public gaze. Then a sunbeam will strike me and with my skin melting I will flee back for another treatment.

At least that's one option, the other and more likely option is that I will reluctantly embrace my decay in return for having a few extra hours in the day. I'm not a movie star or a politician, there is no particular reason why the public should see anything but the unvarnished me (subject to local indecency laws of course).

People like to look good though, however they define good. Some people spend half their lives in a beauty salon so that the people they meet in the other half think they spend all their life in a beauty salon. Some people shave, tattoo, pierce, scar (that one's a bit creepy but I've seen it look good) or whatever and all with the same imperative; to present to the public the face they want the public to see. Is there any fundamental difference between the woman who puts on three layers of makeup before she leaves the house and the woman who runs a chain between the piercings in her ear, nose and nipples? I don't think so except that I'm more likely to ask the latter one out on a date.

Even I like to look good although I'm far too lazy to put any great effort into it. Occasionally I get halfway there more or less by accident and I feel quite pleased with myself. Most of the time I settle for being clean. I walk down the street in clean clothes, with a freshly showered body and I feel; average. Seriously nobody should get too excited just walking down a street. If the reaction of passersby is going to be the highlight of your day you have way more things wrong with your life than just make up issues.

I feel I have got off the track with this blog entry, I have wandered far from the path of righteousness and into the garden of self indulgence where I have picked blooms of moisturiser and danced in fairy rings of massages and manicures. Then I started rabbiting on about makeup and body piercing. I'm finding it difficult to remember what I was trying to say or even if I was saying anything at all. A quick review of the previous entries in this blog convinces me that I probably wasn't. I don't even know what a fairy ring is.

Entropy increases, things decay and nothing lives forever or even for very long. So what the hell you might as well try and look good when they nail down the lid. Or better yet get your teeth filed to points and scare the crap out of your younger relatives when they come to the viewing. Although with all the vampire movies around nowadays they'll probably hammer a stake through your heart just to be on the safe side.

So what is the point of prettying up our rapidly decaying bodies in the hopes that entropy will pass us by and move on to that couple in their sixties who have obviously given up hope? Well I'm typing this blog with my newly manicured fingers and I'm quite ridiculously delighted at how smooth and glossy my nails are.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Facebook is the New Necromancy

A friend of mine was recently tagged in a photo on facebook. A common enough occurrence but one I found a little creepy as this friend has been dead for several years. Now that facebook can reach beyond the grave I think it is time it was officially designated as a religion or possibly some form of dark magic.

I rather like the idea of facebook as an unholy power that can be channelled by crazed adepts chanting the right liturgies to recreate what was and what can be. Of course the price will be high, you will have to dedicate yourself to the service of facebook. It's corrupting presence will flow through your soul warping your perceptions and altering your appearance. Your face will be pasty, your fingers flattened from continual keyboard use. No longer will you speak to others or see them through human eyes but for those prepared to make these sacrifices the gifts will be great.

In the temple of facebook where the floor is slicked with the blood of sacrifices and the air is cloudy with ozone and the tortured remnants of long lost souls you will find the answers and the power you seek. Without touching your enemies you can destroy them; bare their most closely held secrets to the cold light of day. The sweetness of corruption will be your siren song luring the helpless and the weak into the web which spans the world. Once they are there they are yours; forever. Not even death will release them from this grip. The whole of human experience is your prey to feed to on. Suck the marrow dry without moving from your chair. You hover godlike over the doings of humanity and laugh as they scurry in the dust at your feet.

Ah but as you revel in your power, think on this. Facebook gives little and takes much. Your great power is merely a shadow, a reflection of facebook. It is a pale imitation of the reality. Of all the wretched beings trapped within the web none is bound as securely as you. Separated from life, bound by your oaths and your desires you serve facebook as helplessly as any slave. Without it you would wither and die, it provides your sole nourishment your one tiny link to the greatness of the universe. But you see only what it lets you see and know only what it sees fit to tell you. Know this necromancer; though you sit on a throne on bones and the puppet strings run from your fingers to the people of the world yet you are enthralled. You must serve and every benefit you gain increases your debt. A debt that will never be repaid.

But what the hell, its better than MySpace.

Domestic Tip #5

Don't use your tongue to test the heat of your spatula

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Whatever the Weather

We had gale force winds in Sydney last night. I know the leaves fell off the tree outside my window. Elsewhere apparently the winds were slightly less innocuous with tree branches, garbage bins and the occasional roof littering various bits of the countryside. Seriously the weather is getting more than a little silly. Forget global warming, so far this Winter we've had global colding, global wetting and now global winding. Or rather we have had local examples of all those things. So far there seems to be no end of reasons for the trains to be late.

Don't you hate people who discuss the weather? On and on they yammer analysing every fluffy cloud and microscopic temperature change in the desperate hope that people won't realise that they have nothing else to say. People who write blogs about the weather are even worse. By the time they finish writing on a subject that interests no one but themselves the weather has changed and they have to start again. Personally when I start discussing the weather you will know that I have completely run out of things to write about.

Here are the people who actually need to know about the weather. Fisherman, meteorologists and anybody planning an invasion of Normandy. Nobody else needs to know about the sodding weather. I think I see a farmer or two nervously raising their hands in the background. You may think you need to know about the weather but you actually don't. If you already have a farm and are raising animals and crops then it is too late anyway. If you've set your farm up in an environment not conducive to farming (such as Australia) then the actual specific weather doesn't matter too much as you can just take it as read that on general principles you are screwed. If you haven't set up your farm yet then you don't need anybody to tell you about the weather either. What you need is somebody to smack you in the side of the head. There is a reason why the human race has been moving to cities for as long as we've had cities and it largely involves getting jobs that don't involve spending anytime at the back end of a cow.

We have plenty of farms that are apparently doing it tough etc etc. We don't need any more. Instead of going to the country and becoming a struggling farmer just stay in the city and go on the dole. It amounts to the same thing in the end but you don't have to worry about the weather. If you really have to worry about the weather; move. You're obviously living somewhere that wasn't meant to sustain human life.

Despite the total unimportance of the weather the amount of conversation it generates is amazing. Partially, of course, this is because most people are terribly unimaginative but also the weather is a nice neutral topic. You can talk for hours to almost anyone on the weather without getting awkward passages like;

"It looks like rain"
"I slept with your wife last night"

or possibly;

"I will drown your cities in blood and build pyramids of skulls from your loved ones!"
"Well you picked a nice day for it."
"Yeah, when we sacked Nisbis last week you should have seen the rain. Drown the city in blood, it looked like raspberry cordial. And don't get me started on the pyramids of skulls all right, two words; mud slide. At the end we just had a heap of skulls and they were all dirty."

I'm sure we've all had conversations like this. No? Just me then huh? OK, but my basic point is that the weather is something of marginal interest to almost everyone. It can safely be used as an icebreaker by the sort of people who would really rather be killing each other. So here is my point about the weather. Only discuss it with people you really hate.

PS the title of this blog came from a tongue twister in a childrens book I had as a kid

Whether the weather be cold
or whether the weather be hot,
whether the weather be fine
or whether the weather be not.

Whatever the weather
we'll weather the weather
Whether we like it or not.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pass the Fermented Bear's Piss Please

A friend of mine has decided to go on the "caveman diet". This is apparently the latest in bizarre ways of feeding yourself that is supposed to result in weight loss, detoxification and general well being. Or to put it another way, it is completely stupid. In an attempt to be helpful I pointed out to him that the diet of the average caveman probably consisted of bugs, tree bark and whatever he could lick off the walls of the cave with perhaps a little raw meat on Sunday if the hunting was good. Sadly my well intentioned commentary wasn't received in particularly good spirit. If my friend isn't careful he will find himself downgraded to "acquaintance" or possibly even "victim".

The first stage of the caveman diet involves "grazing" on nuts and fruit during the day and then gorging yourself at night. I do that anyway except for the fruit and nuts bit. My friend implied that he would still be able to smoke and drink "in moderation" while doing this. I've got to say that this is one hell of a detox. Still in altruistic mode I pointed out that the only time a caveman would have smoked is when his greasy, rancid hair accidentally dangled in the fire and he probably wouldn't be drinking alcohol unless it was fermented bears piss. Again my attempts to be helpful were spurned.

The second stage involves eating nothing at all during the day and then stuffing your face at night. Is this a diet or are we just observing Ramadan? The only thing you can't eat is potatoes. Apparently potatoes were vegetata not grata for our neolithic cousins. You do get to drink water all day if that is the sort of thing that excites you. Stage three involves a sort of combination of stages one and two. The implication is that by this stage you will be craving healthy foods and thus leading a healthier life. In parentheses I should point out that all the water drinking the diet recommends is pretty much a detox process by itself.

What I really don't understand is why "caveman"? Cavemen didn't have a great or healthy life. They dined principally on whatever couldn't outrun them (berries, slugs, carrion) and died at an age when we would be leaving university. They spent most of their lives cold, scared and wretched (although I'm certain some halfwit will be found to wax lyrical on their rich cultural life and attunement with nature). Why doesn't somebody come up with a sensible twenty first century person's diet. Oh wait, they do. It's called a diet. Couple that with some exercise and unless you have an eating disorder or cruel genetics you should lose weight (or at least reposition your weight to its best advantage).

I do acknowledge the irony of me giving diet advice. I have a diet much closer to the caveman than most people I know. That is I eat whatever I can find within scavenging range. In times of desperation I lead a hunting party to the supermarket where I risk life and limb cutting a straggler off from the herd in the freezer section. I know what sensible eating and lifestyle choices are even if I don't take them. I am unlikely to ever consciously embrace an eating routine based on people for whom one slight shift in the weather meant starvation.

I think the caveman thing is a gimmick. In this modern (many would say post modern) world we hunger for the supposed wisdom of bygone times and the spiritual fulfillment that apparently only comes with believing something really silly. If bygone times were so damn wise how come the lives they led were wretched by comparison with our own. The average derelict living on Sydney's streets has a better lifestyle than a peasant from the middle ages and probably a greater life expectancy. In those days diet was whatever you could stuff in your mouth and detox was de poison you smeared on your arrows when you went hunting food.

As for spiritual fulfillment, when seven out of ten babies die in the first two years, plague wipes out your family and famine destroys your farm there can be a certain amount of comfort in knowing that there is a god, he has a plan and if you do your bit he will see you right in the end. Modern people don't need god, we have superannuation. And we most certainly don't need a caveman diet. Cavemen had a caveman diet and they are all dead.