Monday, August 29, 2011

My Blood is Worth Bottling, And Then Selling.

"The Blood is Life". How many cheesy vampire movies have managed to squeeze that line into what, for want of a better word, must be considered their dialogue? Ok, there are reasons. It neatly encapsulates the entire vampire "theme" and gives the lead character something to say in between chewing bits out of peoples throats. It must be admitted that its also accurate, you'd be pretty stuffed without blood even if you weren't a vampire. However water is just as important but you don't see many vampires cackling "The water is life" before launching an attack on the kitchen sink. Possibly this is because its just too painful trying to sink your fangs into the plumbing.

It all comes down to water, even blood is mostly water admittedly with a few significant additives. In fact you could probably bottle blood and sell it as water with extra iron (good for building the immune system). A nicely shaped bottle and some pseudo scientific babble about how this was one of the traditional remedies of the ancient Babylonians previously lost to medical science and is the principal reason why they were so healthy until they died at the age of forty two always assuming they evaded that pesky infant mortality which was hanging around at the time. Of course there would have to be a warning label as well "shake vigorously to avoid coagulation" or some such but I'm sure some clever marketing could iron out the bumps.

Alternatively they could let it coagulate and market it as a spread. How cool would that be, water you can spread on your toast. I think a lot of people would be encouraged to eat breakfast if that was on the menu. A diet of bread and water would suddenly become a lot more appealing to some (and of course infinitely horrifying to others). I'm not saying there wouldn't be drawbacks. Health issues would loom large on the horizon (or your toast). It would be very easy for coagulated blood to become a breeding ground for disease but there is a simple solution to such problems; a good legal team.

How awesome are lawyers? They are the ultimate multi taskers. Are you a lousy builder? A dodgy mechanic? An alcoholic surgeon? Sure you could spend time and money retraining, cleaning yourself up and generally becoming a credit to your profession, or you could hire a good lawyer. This is likely to be the best option in fact. After all if some vampire is banging down your door because the water on toast you sold him has given him fang rot then a course in the hygienic packaging of blood products is probably not your most immediate requirement. It all really depends on whether you prefer to be surrounded by angry vampires or eager lawyers. At least you have options.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Collateralised Sleep Obligations.

How much coffee in one day is too much? Should one stop when one is feeling alert? Jittery? How about when people point you out in the street as a poster boy for amphetamine abuse? I personally believe the tipping point comes when my kidneys spontaneously tear themselves free from my torso and seek asylum in someone else's body. Fortunately this has only happened a couple of times.

With all the coffee I drink its amazing I sleep at night. Actually its amazing I slow down long enough to draw breath. The truth of the matter is I sleep like a baby. That is; in twenty minute stints from which I wake up crying but I'm pretty sure that has nothing to do with the coffee. My neighbours will certainly be glad when I start sleeping through the night.

I'm a little ambivalent about sleep. It takes up time I could use to watch late night movies or surf the internet. Having reviewed the last sentence I'm forced to admit that sleeping is the most productive thing I'm likely to be doing at that time of night. It's certainly the most healthy. To be honest I quite like sleeping. I'd like it even more if I wasn't always asleep when it happened. It sort of detracts from the experience.

I wonder if you can market sleep? At this point there is an advertising agency assuring me they could market pretty much anything with a good hook and a celebrity endorsement. What would be the slogan for a sleep marketing campaign? "Sleep, the third most fun thing you can do in bed!" or how about, "Sleep, when death comes don't be unprepared!" or for the more realistic out there "Sleep, what else are you likely to be doing anyway?"

Once we have a thriving market in sleep there will be sleep companies, sleep products and different categories of sleep for the ordinary and high end market. Trading in the shares of sleep companies could revitalise our economy (you remember when we had one?) and lead us on to more exciting ventures. We could trade in sleep derivatives, chopping a good nights sleep into individual catnaps and bundling them together to create packages that could back complicated debt instruments which we could then sell to gullible halfwits like the world's premier financial institutions. At some point of course the wheels would fall off as we discover we have now packaged and sold more sleep than you could obtain by putting the entire population into a coma. This would lead what is left of our economy collapsing and desperate shortages across the world. Soon it won't be long before we're all losing sleep.

If Anybody Finds a Pair of Opposable Thumbs, They're Mine.

So far today we've managed to have brilliant sunshine and driving rain. I await the fogs and snowstorms that will make the day complete with anticipation. I like it when we get all our seasons in one day, it shows a level of efficiency rarely achieved by nature.

Nature is so messy; there's stuff growing all over the place with everything from lichen to sequoias jostling for position. Nature is either horribly indecisive or simply makes a lot of mistakes. If a sequoia was what was wanted from the get go then why not stick a wacking great trunk under a bunch of lichen. Chances are nobody would notice the difference. Let's face it, nobody's going to judge nature (except me of course). It isn't as though somebody is going to come around with a clipboard and say things like, "Hmm, I can't help noticing your sequoia looks like somebody just put a really big trunk on a patch of lichen." No, nature can get away with cutting corners so why doesn't it.

Take lions for example. Yes they're impressive and I grant you that the economy of Kenya wouldn't be the same without them but was all that effort really necessary? Nature could have achieved much the same result by putting really sharp teeth on a gazelle. In fact there are a lot of advantages to that approach; whereas a lion has to sneak as close to a gazelle as possible and then charge for a victim while gazelles flee in all directions all another gazelle would have to do is trot up all friendly like and then reveal the fangs.

Then there are humans. If nature really knew what it was about it would just have stuck opposable thumbs on monkeys. Well, alright, that is pretty much what nature did but in which case why do we still have monkeys? Did some of the thumbs drop off? I think nature should be less worried about diversity and more worried about quality control. In any well organised ecosystem you should be able to get away with little more than a dozen, well designed species which you could pack onto one continent. That would leave the rest of the planet free for nature to do something much more interesting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Trees Everywhere But Try Getting A Toothpick When You Want One

The weekend papers annoy me somewhat. Every weekend paper has supplements, lift outs and "lifestyle" sections. I would not presume to dignify my rather mundane existence with the fancy title of "lifestyle" but if I did I probably wouldn't waste any of my time reading about it in the weekend papers. No! I would be out there living my lifestyle and serving as a beacon to others as I plough my chosen furrow. The teeming masses who look to me for guidance would scour the weekend papers for hints on how to make their lives just a little more like mine.

Does that sound even the slightest bit plausible? I doubt it, even if you inserted a more likely name than mine as the lifestyle front runner. Yet these supplements get written and, presumably, read. I refuse to believe it. I cannot believe that anybody reads these things. So why are they written? It can only be a long running, deep seated plot to reduce the number of trees in the world.

Ringing across the virgin forests, above the howl of the chainsaws, is the proud battlecry of the forestry industry, "We must get the weekend supplements out" and nobly do the loggers answer the call. Neither the ache of their muscles nor the sweat stinging in their eyes will deter them from their chosen calling. As for environmentalists; they can get fucked. The trees themselves pick up the mood and hurl themselves forward, eager to meet the chainsaws sweet caress, vying among themselves for the opportunity to become a four page colour illustrated review of toilet brushes imported from Italy.

At some point people of power and influence looked around and said, "There are just too many damned trees in the world" and so weekend supplements were born. It must be admitted that at one point large parts of the world were overrun with trees. They're not exactly rare even now. Obviously the burgeoning tree menace needed to be addressed and reams of slightly malformed photocopy paper could only do so much. Hence the need for weekend supplements.

As theories go the above has logic and simplicity to recommend it, or at least more logic and simplicity than any other theory for the existence of weekend supplements that is likely to be advanced.

Mummy, Where Does Long Pig Come From?

"Eat it with love". This was the advice given by a perpetually smiling self help guru gave when an audience member nervously queried whether eating animals could be squared with his injunction to love all living things. As advice goes it probably wasn't bad. To my mind it certainly beats having a sense of moral superiority based on sparing animal lives by killing more vegetables. Still I'm not sure I want to love the things I eat although, if pressed, I will admit to being rather fond of lamb.

That reminds me, I have to go shopping. Among my other purchases will definitely be lamb. Or, to be more accurate, small red parcels of something which the supermarket assures me was cut from a lamb. It's difficult to develop much of an emotional attachment to bits. Some people are worried that children, particularly in the cities, have no real idea of where their food comes from. Apart from the fact that on general principles I think knowing things is better than ignorance I really can't see the problem. If a child lives on a farm then it may well be helpful for them to know that, at a pinch, they can get a lamb chop by taking a rifle out to the paddock. For a city child it is infinitely more practical for them to know that they can achieve the same result by trotting down to the butchers with a handful of money.

Practical knowledge differs depending on the circumstances. The fact that I cannot milk a cow (and would be too scared to even try) is of less practical value to me than my knowledge of conflict searches which earns me the money I use to buy milk. Of course if civilisation collapses tomorrow my survival chances would be slim but then so would everyone elses. In such a case possibly the best piece of practical knowledge city children might possess is the realisation that under certain circumstances cannibalism is a valid lifestyle choice.

Do Colds Get Sick Days?

I hate having a cold. A cold is such a boring and trivial illness. If I came down with leprosy or malaria I would feel justified about having a few days off. I also would feel no hesitation about demanding sympathy from my friends and relatives. Having a cold is annoying because while you're undoubtedly ill, you're not that ill. Even while you're suffering the symptoms there is the underlying realisation that things could be worse. Unless they are very lucky everybody has suffered something worse in their life. As a result the poor old cold barely gets acknowledged as a disease at all.

I can't help feeling sorry for the cold. There it is, criss crossing the world working its little ribonucleic butt off to infect all and sundry and what is the result? Irritation at worst. There are no UN health warnings, no quarantine, no stockpiling of vaccines. All in all we treat the arrival of a cold with little more than an exasperated yawn (punctuated by an occasional cough of course). We give the cold the same kind of welcome we give to annoying but fundamentally harmless relatives. "Oh all right, come in then if you must but keep your feet off the furniture." Even the name is an insult, nothing sexy like tuberculosis or interesting and difficult to pronounce like creutzfeld-jakob disease. No; "the common cold" is all it gets. How dull, how plebeian. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

One can imagine the scene in whatever drinking hole diseases frequent (all of them I suspect), there's a cute little bacillus drinking by herself at the bar. The cold is working up the courage to make his move when creutzfeld-jakob swaggers in, buys the bar a round and leans back, lord of all he surveys. You just know that bacillus is going home with him tonight while, ignored in a corner, the poor old cold is weeping into his beer. Sometimes I wonder if the cold is even really trying. You can imagine it there with a checklist, "OK cough; check, runny nose; check, headache; check, right let's move on, I've got another twenty of these to do before knock off time.

Even on those rare occasions when somebody does get really sick does the cold get the credit? No, after the cold puts in all the spadework pneumonia swoops in and takes all the credit while the cold drifts back to obscurity. I have to admit though, I've had pneumonia a couple of times and it is way more interesting than a cold.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Catharsaurus Rex

Things used to be much bigger back in prehistoric times. Dragonflies had one metre wingspans, jellyfish bulked like hundred tonne gobbets of mucus and the lizards, don't get me started on the lizards. What the hell was in the water back then? Apart from jumbo sized jellyfish of course. Nowadays if I see a giraffe or an elephant I tend to think of them as pretty large. Actually what I would probably be thinking is "What the hell are giraffes and elephants doing wandering through suburban Sydney?" but after I got over the initial shock I would probably think they were pretty large. Yet either of them would be something that a short sighted apatosaurus would scrape off its foot.

I can't help thinking that evolution made a bit of a cock up with dinosaurs. After the most recent batch came out of the egg evolution inspected them said "Hmm, still no opposable thumbs what the hell, I'll just double the size and see how that works out". Notice, incidentally that I've anthropomorphised evolution. When one does that the result is usually called "God". In which case we would have to admit that God is a bit of an idiot. Although for the religious evolution must be a tremendous relief (a godsend even) because at a stroke they have an excuse for every silly, pointless, malevolent or just plain demented lifeform on the planet. "Oh that wasn't God, just nasty old evolution up to his silly tricks again".

The Cathars went one step further and simply blamed everything on the devil. They called themselves Cathars because its harder to make fun of that name than Bogomils which was their previous choice. Cathars believed that the entire material world (including us) was the creation of the devil and inherently sinful. They hung out in the south of France in the twelfth and early thirteenth century. Amazing what people can come up with really. If the Cathars could believe the world was created by the devil while living in the south of France one can only imagine who they might have thought created it if they had lived in Somalia.

The Cathars seem like a pretty gloomy bunch but by all accounts they were reasonably cheerful. Full practitioners of the religion (the Perfecti) were expected to lead lives of extreme asceticism but it was understood that most couldn't attain such an ideal and were simply expected to do the best they could while providing support to the Perfecti who were the moral example for the community. Unfortunately Catharism was definitely heretical (the world created by the devil? Didn't you read the book of Genesis?) and as such they attracted the ire of the Catholic church. Something else which attracted the ire of the church was the Cathars unfortunate habit of pointing out exactly how corrupt, greedy and depraved the church had become. This was made worse by the fact that the Cathars tended to live completely blameless lives themselves leaving the church with little by way of a return argument. So the pope declared a crusade against them and had them wiped out.

I'm pretty sure the Cathars would have been fully down with dinosaurs. After all giant, marauding reptiles crushing and savaging their way around the countryside fitted in pretty well with their world view. All in all its a pity that dinosaurs became extinct sixty odd million years ago whereas Cathars didn't become extinct until the middle of the thirteenth century.

Snap Freezing or Putting Your Entrails in Jars, It's A Tough Choice

Apparently we have just had a Tutankhamen exhibition in Australia. I know this because I saw a small newspaper article indicating that it had finished and had been very successful. It might have been even more successful if they had told anybody it was happening. I guess it was the usual collection of trinkets half inched from the tombs of the long dead plus, perhaps, a mock up of the mummy and its case. I doubt if Tutankhamen himself made the trip. At his age his doctors have probably advised him to lay off long distance air travel.

Tutankhamen has had a pretty rough existence really. Firstly he died (and isn't that a great thing to have at the beginning of your biography?) then all his soft bits got taken out and stored in jars. As a preservation technique this worked about as well as storing any organic material in a jar without a vacuum seal is likely to do. Finally the hamfisted clowns who found him hacked his body into about a dozen pieces getting it out the mummy case. No wonder he needs bandages, we can consider ourselves lucky the body isn't encased in plaster of paris. Judging by what has happened to him over the years Tutankhamen probably considers himself lucky that he was dead for most of it. Still, wacking him on a plane and flying him to Australia was probably considered just a step too far.

Nowadays, of course, everything would be much easier. The moment Tutankhamen dropped (or was possibly pushed) off the twig he could have been snap frozen and carted off to a cryogenic storage facility. These facilities work by, well ok we don't actually know that they work at all. Essentially they're nothing more than a sophisticated deep freeze for storing the corpses of people who can't take a hint. What happens is when the subject dies the body is snap frozen as quickly as possible (to prevent that awkward rotting that rapidly sets in) and then; nothing actually. There isn't anything more we can do with them at present. The fond hope of the subject is that at some unspecified time in the future somebody will have nothing better to do than attempt to reanimate the bodies of the dead. Hopefully by this stage a cure will have been found for whatever killed them. In the meantime there is nothing much we can do with these bodies except put them somewhere the children won't trip over them.

For the rest the staff at a cryogenics facility are about as much use as a bunch of Egyptian priests who, after taking out and jarring the entrails, stuffing the resultant hole with grass, anointing with perfumes and preservatives and finally wrapping what's left in bandages, are accosted by an anxious family member saying something like "Do you think he'll get better?" To which the honest answer is "Probably not but just on the offchance you might want to leave a meal or two lying around in case he wakes up and feels peckish". At which point they're going to feel like total dicks for removing his entire digestive system.

With cryogenics of course after the corpse has been defrosted what you're left with is a defrosted corpse. It doesn't even have bandages on it. Of course the subject hopes that one day a cure will be discovered or a means of rolling back the aging process will have been developed. This is quite likely. Over the centuries we have actually come up with cures for most of the things that have killed humans throughout history. We could probably cure Tutankhamen if it came to that. The real problem that cryogenics staff are going to face is not curing the disease its raising the dead. I can't help thinking that posting your body to Haiti might be a better option.

If the cryogenics people do try to raise the dead we can only hope that they'll fail. Think of all the problems. For starters imagine the paperwork. It takes long enough to apply for unemployment benefits now. Then there are overcrowding issues, food supply of course and the reappearance at family gatherings of that tedious uncle everybody thought was safe in the grave. Naturally some people will benefit; probate lawyers probably have wet (or frozen) dreams about situations like this. Historians, too, will have a field day as they clamour to interview people dragged back from the afterlife so that they can discover what happened in the barbarous and semi mythical twenty first century. Probably the first question they will ask is, "Why the fuck did you freeze your dead?"

Rise of the Planet of the Spiders

I'm starting to review my laissez faire attitude towards spiders. Some time ago while cleaning out my apartment I swept away a whole bunch of cobwebs. I felt so guilt stricken at the thought of homeless spiders that I resolved never to do it again. The trouble with making a concession like that is that it doesn't take long for the scuttly little beggars to start taking advantage. The other night I was ironing some shirts when a spider the size of a small dog crawled out from the sleeve of the shirt I was ironing and ran across the ironing board. I say ran but it walked, nay strolled, in a leisurely fashion as though it knew it had nothing to fear. I'm pleased to say I did not succumb to my baser instincts and kill it. Indeed, I gently escorted it out onto my balcony. At least that's what I did once I had got down off the counter and stopped screaming like a girl. Once on the balcony I'm sure the spider waited two seconds until I had my back turned and then nipped back inside. Putting my boots on in the morning has become quite the adventure.

My recent moment of terror notwithstanding I can't help feeling that as a species we are under utilising our spider resources. Let's face it, there are millions of the little things out there and with a certain amount of genetic modification we could have food animals forever. There would be no more arguments over the Sunday roast, everybody would get a drumstick and if anybody was bad they could get the poison sac. If anybody gets a little squeamish about eating spider we could market it as "land calamari". The more I think of it the more I think this idea has legs (sorry). Just think of the benefits that would accrue from having the country overrun with giant spiders. For starters all our other problems would be put nicely in perspective.

There is the possibility that giant spiders may well have other roles to fill as well. With a little training they would make a great children's ride at fairgrounds or we could turn them upside down and use them as jumping castles. Australia could export giant spiders to the world. If they learn to swim we may export them whether other countries want them or not. Then there are the extra jobs that would be created in the spider wrangler, spider tamer and, of course, rogue spider hunter industries. Five percent unemployment? Forget it, we should be able to get that down to one or two percent, particularly if we run out of spider food.

Finally, and this is very important, if spiders were the size of large donkeys there would be much less chance of them popping out of the sleeves of peoples shirts and scaring the crap out of innocent ironers.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gentlemen Start Your Burros

There is exciting news from Colorado! Previously a rather obscure state of America known mainly for South Park and for being where Doc Holliday died Colorado is about to explode onto the world stage. The reason? Pack Burro Racing! In keeping with the American tradition for having an official state mascot for pretty much everything there is a push currently underway to make pack burro racing the official state sport of Colorado. Colorado already has a state insect (the Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly), a state gemstone (aquamarine) and a state fossil (stegosaurus) and now there are moves to create an official state sport. Surely an official state disease can only be a short step away. My suggestion; tuberculosis "When you're tired of coughing, you're tired of Colorado".

But back to pack burro racing. You don't actually ride the burro, instead you load it up with fifteen kilos of mining gear (you can put other stuff on as well if you like but the mining gear is mandatory) and then you lead it on a rope. You must not ride the burro! You may, if you wish, carry the burro if you think this will give you an advantage but sitting astride it is definitely out. You then lead (or carry) your burro (lead rope may be no longer than fifteen feet) over a predetermined cross country route. First person (and burro) across the line is the winner. There are veterinarians on hand to assess the health of the burro and to ensure that nobody simply shoots the thing, loads it onto a pickup truck and drives the route (I quite liked my chances until I heard that).

What would persuade anybody to run (or try to run) along mountain paths hauling a recalcitrant quadruped? When you hear of something this silly tradition almost certainly has to be involved. In the nineteenth century prospectors in the Colorado Rockies on making a rich strike would load up their burro and hightail it back to the nearest town to stake their claim before anybody else could snatch it away from them. Pack burro racing is a way of commemorating these days of yore. Strangely nobody has suggested a race that could commemorate all the prospectors who found nothing, got lost, ate their burro and died of exposure in a cave recently vacated by a bear.

Hopefully proponents of pack burro racing will get their way (for some reason more people think about skiing in Colorado than pack burro racing) and Colorado will get an official state sport. Then they can start lobbying for tuberculosis.

The Plot Sickens

Humans seem to love conspiracy theories. The notion that there is some shadowy cabal of individuals or interest groups secretly dominating world affairs has been popular ever since we knew enough about the world to assume it had affairs to dominate. The Americans have their Skull & Bones society, the Europeans have the Illuminati and there isn't a country in the world that doesn't have a few people who believe the world is secretly run by Jews. I'm sure even Israel has a few of those. One way you can tell Jews don't run the world is the fact that I'm pretty sure they would do a better job of it. The entire conspiracy theory fetish also overlooks the fact that there are individuals and interest groups manipulating world affairs pretty openly. Most of them hire lobbyists. Some of them just adjust America's credit rating.

Still conspiracy theories are incredibly popular, the more convoluted and unlikely the better. Books, movies, television and, of course, the internet are all home to conspiracy theories ranging from the merely silly to the outlandishly demented. For the proponents of such theories Occam was just a guy with a long, shaggy beard. So why do we love conspiracy theories so much? In my opinion there are four main reasons.

Firstly, humans are essentially romantic and the truth is usually dull. Secondly, most people are capable of a certain level of secretiveness and duplicity. As such it can be difficult to imagine that those in positions of great influence aren't secretly manipulating them for their own benefit. It sounds like the sort of thing we might do ourselves. Thirdly, it provides a handy scapegoat if you happen to have made a complete mess of your life. No; you're not a witless loser, a secret coalition of freemasons, business leaders, shadowy government departments and aliens from outer space have conspired to wreck your life. Thus believing in conspiracy theories helps people to feel better about themselves.

I suspect, though, that the main reason people love conspiracy theories is because we secretly hope they are true. Speaking personally I would sleep a lot sounder in my bed if I knew the world was under the control of some clandestine organisation that actually knew what it was doing. Sadly, evidence to the contrary surrounds us. Certainly governments and some private institutions attempt to cloak themselves in a veil of secrecy but that is largely a desperate attempt to conceal their shortcomings as opposed to any greater plan.

Most people don't actually work to a grand design. People tend to think in the short, or at best, medium term and why not? After all in the long term, we're dead. Even the cleverest of us tend not to think more than a few decades into the future and even then usually in highly specific terms. I'm not saying that plots and conspiracies don't exist, of course they do. Every power group on the planet is engaged in an ongoing and semi clandestine struggle to secure or further their position at the expense of their rivals. If you're in government this is called politics, if you're in business it is called business, if you're in organised crime it is still called business but with implied quotation marks. If you're an ordinary person in the street it is called displaying psychopathic tendencies. Some, indeed much, of this activity is kept secret. Some of it may even rate the definition "conspiracy" but the broad ranging, hugely ambitious plots beloved of conspiracy theorists are unlikely to be true simply because such deep running, well organised plots are unlikely to ever come to public attention. I would be more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories if there weren't any.

Truly the best argument against conspiracy theories is the state of the world today. Surely if our secret masters were that smart they would be doing a better job of running the place. Frankly I think it more likely that the world is ruled by a pack of stumbling, vaguely well intentioned morons who are pulled this way and that by various very blatant interest groups who are trying not so much to manipulate world behaviour as simply to add an extra zero to their bottom line.

And frankly that thought is far more frightening than any six conspiracy theories you care to name.