Monday, October 31, 2011

Must Look Good in Purple

Help Wanted!  A position has become available in our organisation for titular ruler of a disintegrating empire.  The successful applicant will be young, malleable, easy going and capable of taking instruction with a relaxed attitude to the hideous murder of friends, advisers and relatives.  Duties would involve; sitting on a throne, posing for coins and doing what you're told.  Pay and conditions negotiable, would suit unambitious adolescent with a death wish.  Apply to Orestes c/- What's Left of the Roman Army, Ravenna.

With a job description like that is it any wonder that Orestes had trouble finding applicants?  Eventually he had to dump the job on his fourteen year old son Romulus Augustulus thus laying himself open to charges of nepotism, breach of child labour laws and really hating his offspring.  One does tend to think of empires as being handed down from father to son but by the last half of the fifth century AD the western Roman Empire tended to be passed down to the person who murdered his predecessor.  Orestes was never emperor, Romulus' predecessor was a character named Julius Nepos whom nobody seems to have liked very much.  He had been appointed by the eastern emperor Zeno to get a grip on the rapidly disintegrating western empire but all he seems to have done is annoy everyone.

Possibly the silliest thing Nepos did was appoint Orestes as his magister militum (essentially commander in chief) thus proving that whatever talents he did possess judgement of subordinates was not among them.  With the ink barely dry on his appointment Orestes marched the Roman army, by now reduced to a pack of undisciplined, untrustworthy and (ominously for Orestes) largely unpaid barbarian mercenaries, on Ravenna the imperial capital.  Nepos stood not upon the order of his going but hightailed it across the Adriatic like a bat out of hell and wailed for Zeno to restore him.  Since Zeno was currently fleeing across Anatolia as a result of his own usurpation issues he wasn't much help and Orestes settled down to rule Italy crowning his young son as emperor into the bargain.

Almost immediately a problem arose; die cutters complained that the new emperor's name was too long to fit on the coins.  Sadly (for him at any rate) this would prove to be the least of Romulus' problems.  Remember those unpaid soldiers I mentioned about half a paragraph ago?  They wanted paying which is why Romulus wanted coins.  Unfortunately the soldiers didn't want coins they wanted land which has the advantage of not falling through a hole in your pocket.  More specifically they wanted half the land in Italy which was just about everything the empire had left.
Orestes said, "No"
They said, "We'll take it anyway"
Orestes said, "You and whose army?"
They said, "Yours".

From amongst their number they chose one of their senior officers named Odoacer and he led them in an uprising.  The last Roman army essentially became just the latest group of barbarians to rampage through the empire and after a bloody struggle Orestes was killed and Odoacer and his forces arrived at Ravenna.  Much to the surprise of everyone Odoacer didn't kill Romulus, he simply forced him to resign and pensioned him off.  Thus the Roman Empire in the west ended not with a bang but an adolescent whimper.  At the time very few people noticed.

Odoacer sent the imperial regalia to the eastern capital Constantinople with the comment that there was no longer a need for an emperor in the west.  One emperor was enough and he would rule Italy in that emperor's name.  Despite the protests of Julius Nepos, still whingeing from the wings, Zeno (who had managed to deal with his usurper somewhat more efficiently - murder was involved) appeared to accept the situation.  A few years later he persuaded Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths to invade Italy, kill Odoacer and rule the area instead.  It is uncertain why he thought this might be an improvement.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Burning House is Tax Deductible

In 1689 Habsburg general Enea Silvio Piccolomini burnt down the city of Skopje as an anti cholera measure.  Piccolomini himself died shortly afterwards of (you guessed it) cholera.  As a public health measure the burning of Skopje must be counted as a bit of a failure.

Obviously in the late seventeenth century preventative medicine was in its infancy.  Nowadays when cholera ravages an area we respond by airing television advertisements for Oxfam.  This is about as useful as Piccolomini's approach but results in fewer burnt houses (unless the people from Oxfam get really pissed off).

Sometimes I wonder what might happen if charities and other NGOs armed themselves and started getting a little more assertive about their role.  Once an area of need was identified it would be all systems go.  The Salvation Army would be the first in of course to crush any resistance and secure the perimeter.  After that organisations like Oxfam could take over the administration and conscript the locals into press gangs to work on clean water pipelines, roads and sewer systems.  Foodbank and Action Against Hunger could launch raids on surrounding areas to seize food supplies, the Salvation Army could stand by with heavy weapon support in case of need and of course the Red Cross and Medecins sans Frontieres could take care of medical support and organ harvesting.  The RSPCA could provide trained attack dogs (and possibly lions) as an extra security measure.

And this is just the beginning.  Charities usually have tax exempt status.  It shouldn't be beyond the abilities of a capable lawyer to argue that any territories they control should be similarly exempt.  Multinational companies and the world's banking elite will flock to set up business in these "charitable enclaves".  This will provide an income stream a lot more certain than the rather fickle charitable donations most survive on now and will allow some serious forward planning.  Since "areas of need" cover about a third of the globe it won't be long before our newly empowered charities are a superpower in the making.

Naturally there is always the danger that things will go too far; that this new assertiveness will go to the charities heads.  We have enough difficulties dealing with rogue states.  Imagine what it's going to be like trying to deal with rogue charities.  It won't be long before they have clandestine WMD programmes and are sponsoring radical charities in other regions.  At this point the world (or what's left of it) will need to take action.  Various nations will huff and puff and of course the United Nations will say something that will probably be ignored or corrupted and wasn't of much use to begin with.  Ultimately of course, no matter how we try and avoid it, we will probably have to get the United States to invade the charities during the course of which most of the area will be burnt to the ground.  Possibly we can claim it as an anti cholera measure.

Full Metal Dressing Gown

Well after a day or two of seasonably warm weather it has snapped back to being chilly and rainy.  I'm delighted, it means I can sit here in my fluffy dressing gown all snuggly and warm.  The other people in the cafe are looking at me strangely but that's a small price to pay.

Isn't it odd that the most comfortable clothes one can buy tend to be those we never wear outside the house?  Women, of course, are the main sufferers in this regard but even men tend to dress a little less comfortably when they go out.  I suspect that the cause can be found in our dim and distant history.  Traditionally clothes were worn for protection, from the elements, the prying eyes of men or, in extreme cases, from swords and arrows.  With protection the main rationale comfort naturally took second place.

Once inaugurated ideas are incredibly hard to kill, even today comfort seems to be the last thing on most clothing designers minds.  The one exception to this is when comfort is the only criterion and in those cases the results are clothes that even I would hesitate to wear out of doors.  I wonder how many clothing designers realise that they are the direct heirs of armour makers?  Which of course leads to the question of which designer will be the first to send a model down the runway clad in a quarter of a ton of exquisitely made steel?  Don't laugh, it will happen.

Once it does we will have come full circle.  Mass production clothing chains will jump on the band wagon (knocking out cheap copies made with inferior steel of course) until everybody is clattering around like a garbage bin rolling down a flight of stairs.  Eventually sloppy versions will be created for us to wear indoors and we won't have any comfortable clothes at all.  I would develop this theme further but I have to polish and rust proof my slippers.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sport as a Substitute for Doing Something Else

Well the rugby world cup has come to an end.  I am reliably informed that New Zealand won.  Good for New Zealand, if Australia couldn't win (and it seems that they couldn't) then I'm glad somebody else did.  Otherwise all the players would just be standing around looking stupid.  I'm a little disappointed that Georgia didn't do quite enough to get over the line but there's always next time, assuming the Russians have left any of it around by then.  Somebody has to win these things otherwise, what's the point?  There would be no reason to do a haka for starters.

The Maori haka is awesome when the performers follow it up by risking life and limb on the football field.  I doubt if it would have quite the same resonance if done by New Zealand's synchronised swimming team.  Without football a haka is just a folk dancing exhibition with all that implies in the way of sad, pathetic datelessness.  I was deeply disappointed to see a number of letters and articles in the newspaper (a real one, not the free one I get each afternoon) complaining about the haka.  Apparently these people felt that such a dance with its ritual challenge, aggressive posturing and throat slitting gestures was not quite the sort of thing we should have before thirty powerful, muscular men run onto a field, charge head first at their opponents and try and trample each other into the dirt.  Possibly they would like to have Chilean flute music as a lead in to the rugby instead.

What is it about sport?  Why do we get so excited about it (I'm using the special form of we which means "not me" by the way)?  The "sport as a substitute for war" line is just too tired and self evidently incorrect to have any resonance.  If sport is a substitute for war why do we still have wars?  How many wars have been interrupted so that people can play some sport?  War as a substitute for sport is a little more plausible although it does tend to imply that World War I started because the Austrians and Serbians turned up on a field only to discover that nobody had remembered to bring a soccer ball.

No, the rationale for sport is slightly different.  Sport plugs into three very strong and basic human desires; the desire to associate with other humans, the desire to beat up other humans and the desire of the vast majority to sit on their backsides drinking beer while they watch representatives from the first two do their thing.  I think the last desire is the most powerful.  This is why spectators have to pay to watch while the players actually get paid for turning up at all.

So back to the rugby, or rather, not.  Its over, New Zealand won. We have to wait another four years before the half dozen nations who actually play rugby will compete against each other and a dozen more nations who don't really play rugby but who essentially turn up to add a few extra flags at the venue and attempt to perpetuate the fantasy that rugby has even a fraction of the international appeal of soccer.  In the mean time there's always cricket.

Friday, October 21, 2011

They Don't Make Dictators Like They Used To

Two people who I hope were tourists were posing and taking photos of each other at Circular Quay railway station this afternoon.  I'm not sure why.  There are places on the station where you can stand and get a decent shot with the panorama of Sydney Harbour behind you and, best of all, very little of the actual station but these two weren't standing in any of them.  I can only assume they thought they would look better by comparison if they chose a background of grey, bleakly depressing ugliness.  Since one of them was wearing a shirt fashioned to look like an NYPD flak jacket and the other a shiny suit of metallic grey its possible they were right but probably not by much.

While we're touching on things of fashion, Muamar Qaddafi is dead.  We know he's dead because there are pictures of a rebel brandishing his gold plated pistol.  Do all these dictators have the same style consultant or what?  "OK, you've got the puppet legislature, a brutal secret police, your most corrupt cronies as ministers and a deeply demoralised army headed up by your drug addled son.  What else do you need to show that you have really made it in the dictator stakes?  You need something both brutal and tasteless; I've got it!  A gold plated gun."

What is it about absolute power that drives people to orgies of bad taste (as well as destruction and bloodshed of course)?  Louis XIV was just as big a tyrant and arguably less likeable than Qaddafi so how is it that Louis gave the world Versailles and all Qaddafi gave was a gold plated pistol and a crappy statue of a hand crushing an aeroplane?  Of course upbringing and education have something to do with it.  Upbringing and education can't give you taste if you possess none any more than birth can make you a gentleman however if you possess any natural inclination in that direction education and upbringing will help bring it out.

I don't think that can be the complete answer though.  Surely with a history as replete with bloody handed tyrants as ours we should be able to find one with some sense of taste if not class.  I strongly suspect that the answer lies in a feeling of insecurity.  I don't mean personal insecurity or insecurity of position; every dictator is rightly concerned about that and even Louis XIV wasn't famous for taking chances with his safety.  No, I mean psychological security.  Deep down inside every dictator knows he's just a thug who murdered or manipulated his way to the top of a very shaky pile.  The monstrous statues, the golden pistols, the staggering, tasteless excess all smack of the nouveau riche trying to out nob the nobs.

Versailles is staggering but it isn't tasteless and I suggest it isn't because Louis was utterly confident about his position.  Not about its permanence or the inability of others to take it away from him but the absolute, serene confidence of knowing that it is right and proper that he be where he is.  Louis was appointed by God and you don't get more legitimate than that.

The palace of Versailles is seen as a symbol of course.  A symbol of power, magnificence, of France's place in the world and Louis' place within France but perhaps it should better be seen as a symbol of confidence.  Louis had the place built because he wanted it.  Simple as that and because of who he was it never occurred to him that it might not happen.  Versailles certainly sent a message to the world and was intended to but it didn't reflect on Louis.  Versailles is a reflection of Louis.

And to be fair I suppose a golden pistol and a crappy statue is a pretty good reflection of Qaddafi.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You Want Me to do What, With What?

"I want my husband to use sock puppets as foreplay but he thinks it's weird and has started distancing himself from me".  Thus ran one woman's plaintive cry to the letters page of the free newspaper I unaccountably garner for myself every day.  A few questions come immediately to mind; does it have to be sock puppets or will any kind of marionette do?  Are you going to be tying the puppets up, slowly undressing them or simply throwing yourself on them with crazed abandon?  Do you really think anybody is going to stop laughing long enough to seriously address your problem?

Since idiotic advice is something I'm just as good at as the next person I will attempt to address this problem (between chuckles it must be admitted).  The first thing you can do is find out what weird or bizarre sexual fetish your husband possesses (don't worry there always is one) and offer a straight quid pro quo.  He does the sock puppet routine and you lie back on a pile of cushions and rub your self vigorously with a frozen chicken (to take an example chosen totally at random, I swear).  Alternatively get yourself some sexy high heeled boots to give him something to focus on while you're checking out the socks with buttons for eyes.

For the husband, get over it!  Sock puppets are pretty tame in the fetish stakes really.  At least she isn't asking you to urinate into her mouth (or vice versa).  Frankly sock puppets are harmless, inoffensive and make great toys for the kids once you've finished with them.  Indeed from the sounds of things you might not be having any kids without them.  Also, of course, you will never wonder what happens to those odd socks which "vanish" from the washing machine ever again.  Would you prefer it to be sock puppets or would you rather she asked you to dress up like somebody she would actually prefer to have sex with rather than you.  At least its difficult to get jealous of a sock puppet (although not impossible I'm prepared to bet).

For the final word on sock puppets let me take you to a strip club.  Or to be more accurate recount an occurrence that I witnessed on a (very rare, honestly) visit to one.  There was a pole dancer; she was attractive, athletic, naked and thus fulfilling most of the requirements for a pole dancer but the only reason why I remember her at all is this.  Half way through her routine when she was naked except for her boots she suddenly produced a pair of sock puppets and did a sock puppet dance routine to the theme tune from The Muppets.  Possibly the only time that music has been played in that particular establishment.  I can't say I was sexually aroused but it was the most thoroughly enjoyable strip tease routine I have ever seen.  She got laughs and applause without the spruikers having to remind the audience to take their hands out of their pockets.  Sock puppets rock!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When In Doubt, Make It Up

How can one predict the future?  Traditionally predicting the future seemed to involve killing something and examining the entrails.  This begs the question that if entrails are so good at predicting the future why didn't they warn the animal in question to stay away from the nutcase with the knife.  Others place their faith in spirit guides, as if the dead don't have anything better to do.  The spirit world must be pretty dull if the denizens have nothing else they'd rather be doing than providing advice for a bunch of lack witted, superstitious idiots.  I hope I don't wind up there when I die.  Although it must be admitted that the opportunities for a little malicious fun seem almost limitless.  But back to predicting the future, I personally can read palms, which is to say I was taught how to do it by someone who believed in that stuff.  I mention this occasionally, generally in the middle of some rant about the stupidity of fortune telling, and immediately find myself surrounded by people eagerly demanding that I tell their future.  If people insist on being that stupid it seems almost wrong not to charge them money for it.

Of course there is another form of fortune telling.  It consists of examining the likely consequences of possible actions and the likely responses of people to those actions.  This is colloquially known as using your common sense and despite the name it isn't very common.  I rather suspect that most people who go to a fortune teller already have a pretty good idea of what their future holds.  They don't go to the fortune teller to hear the future, they go there to hear something different.  I, for instance, have a reasonable idea of what my future holds and there is no way I would pay good money to hear something that boring and depressing recited back to me.  A lottery win and an affair with Scarlet Johansson would be the least I would expect.

So, how does one predict the future?  We can disembowel every animal on the planet without coming any nearer the truth and if the inhabitants of the spirit world are anything like me you would be insane to place any faith in them (although if you place faith in them you probably are insane).  Even the common sense option doesn't work as often as you might think due to the intervention of coincidence, chaos and the inherent refusal of most humans to do anything even remotely sensible.  So what to do?  Watch television is my answer although in deference to our new cyber age possibly I should extend that to communications media in general.  Watch them and try to pick out the hidden trends.  This will enable you to make educated guesses.  As an example; in Australia at the moment every second television advertisement is for life insurance.  Life insurance works on premiums being paid during the course of ones life in return for a lump payment on death.  Consider it saving for a rainy funeral.  Suddenly every financial institution in the country is hawking life insurance.  What does this tell us?  It tells me that it is increasingly likely that we're all going to live forever.  Good thing it wasn't an uneducated guess really.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Statues Are Useful Going Up and Coming Down

What does one have to do to get a statue carved of oneself?  In the old days it was easy, win a few battles and before you knew it half the sculptors and bronzesmiths in the country would be banging away.  Being royal helped, naturally and from time to time a lessor political luminary got the nod as well.

Let's be clear, I'm not talking about busts.  Anybody with an unemployed stonemason handy and some room on the mantelpiece can get a bust.  No, I'm talking about full on statues; life sized or greater with a plinth and quite possibly a horse thrown in for good measure (or possibly because they ordered too much bronze in the first place).  You really have to have impressed somebody to get a statue, either that or you possess sufficient wealth and power to impress yourself.  Statues are the way a grateful nation says "thank you" (or the way a ruthless dictator says "fuck you").

But let's go with "thank you".  I wonder how many statue recipients would happily have swapped immortality for the cost of the statue in ready cash?  Of course quite often statues are commissioned after the subject is dead.  This is a better option for a couple of reasons.  Firstly with the subject in the ground its unlikely they're going to turn up at the opening ceremony and announce that they would have preferred an index linked pension and a few more years with the grandkids.  Secondly with the object of veneration no longer around its less important if the statue doesn't really look like them.  To make doubly sure you can put the statue somewhere it's unlikely to attract close scrutiny.

The perfect example of this is Nelson's Column in London.  Sure, there's a statue of Nelson, at least they say its Nelson but since the thing is standing on top of a column over a hundred and sixty feet high who the hell knows, it might be anybody.  They probably just grabbed a one armed jockey, covered him in pigeon crap and used him as the model.  In fact how do we know there's even a statue there?  It might just be a vaguely Nelson shaped pile of pigeon droppings.

Yet we keep coming back to statues.  From the time of Nebuchadnezzar we have loved statues.  No dictator is so tinpot that there isn't at least one statue of him hanging around to be torn down by the infuriated rabble (or occasionally the US army) when his time comes.  In fact creating colossal statues of dictators can be considered a public service  What would happen if dictators simply settled for having their heads on stamps?  You'd feel pretty damn stupid attempting to demonstrate your hatred of the tyrant by ripping up a postage stamp in front of the news cameras.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You Should Really Be Able to See This One Coming

How much would you have to be paid before you would transport a human head from one city to another?  It's one of the perennial questions of course, its hardly possible to gather round the water cooler or go for a quiet drink with mates without the topic coming up.  Then you get into questions of distance, condition, preservatives (or lack of preservatives, ick) and more of the same.  One common thread was that we all agreed that we would be prepared to charge less if the employer was a university or medical facility and somewhat more if your employer was some guy named Antonio that you met in a tattoo parlour.  Oddly however there was much less danger of us simply pocketing the money and tossing the head in the bin if Antonio was picking up the bills.  And for good reason, he's repeat business.

Of course transporting human heads isn't for everyone and even those of us who do it have our own standards.  I, for one, refuse to transport any human head still attached to a body.  After all, what do you call someone who ferries complete human bodies around?  That's right, a taxi driver.  If I wanted to be a taxi driver I would emigrate to a country where I didn't know the language or the road rules.  I also refuse to transport more than one head at a time.  Some of my colleagues simply pack the heads in until their backseat looks like a clip from a Futurama episode but I like to think my customers appreciate the personal touch.

Naturally one hears the stories; of someone on their way to drop off a head and stopping for an impromptu football match.  I think that these tales can be safely relegated to the status of urban myth (and there is no way I was offside).  OK, perhaps Halloween isn't the best time to get a head delivered on time and undamaged but apart from that I can assure you that we are sensible, professional people who rarely interrupt their delivery schedule to go bowling.

Professionalism is the name of the game.  Sure there were some cowboys in the early days and I wouldn't like to guarantee that every head consigned back then reached its destination but times have changed.  I can confidently assure you that my colleagues and I have a business for heads.

And yes I did write this entire blog entry simply so I could make that lame arsed joke at the end.  If anybody expected better, I invite them to reread the last two hundred and thirty nine odd entries on this blog and adjust their opinion accordingly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saving Endangered Species, For Now

There is an Australian movie out at the moment called Red Dog.  The movie is about a red dog.  Some critics claim it can't be real Australian movie and have cited as proof  the fact that it doesn't make you want to kill yourself and it has been seen by more than seven people not directly connected with the production.  These are quite legitimate arguments but on balance it has to be admitted that the movie is probably Australian.

The most interesting thing about this movie is the sudden explosion in the popularity of red cattle dogs.  Apparently half the population of Australia have contacted their local pet shop to see about getting themselves one of these rusty companions.  Which is proof, if proof were needed, that people are really stupid.

Don't misunderstand me, the red cattle dog is a fine member of the canine community.  They're incredibly loyal, intelligent, affectionate, hard working and would make a great pet for anyone with a couple of kids and a large back yard.  If you live in an inner city apartment you would be better off with a goldfish.  Sure a goldfish won't fetch the paper but they're also less likely to crap on the rug.  At least not without taking a really deep breath first.  No, what I have a problem with is the human habit of latching on to something we see in the movies and deciding we can't live another moment without it.

In twelve months or so the animal shelters are going to be full of surplus to requirements red cattle dogs.  Yet that initial urge to possess is a powerful one indeed and like any normal human I have come up with a way to turn it to advantage.  There is nothing new about this of course, advertising agencies have operated on the same principle (possibly a poor choice of words) for decades.  However advertisers have a problem.  While product placement in movies is very useful the audience is at least vaguely aware that they are being marketed to and this dulls the message.  Sales go up but manufacturers are unlikely to see a rise of red cattle dog proportions.  At least they won't until somebody comes up with a funny, quirky yet heartwarming tale where the lead character is a can of coke.

So what could get the lead role in such a movie?  Two obvious answers present themselves; children and animals.  Since the marketing and sale of children is, for the moment, illegal let's focus on option number two.  Red Dog is the perfect example of a marketing drive for red cattle dogs.  People who hadn't heard of red cattle dogs before this movie are now trampling kids in the stampede to the petshop.  There seems to be no reason why this shouldn't work with other animals as well.  Animal welfare groups could commission heart warming, feel good movies about whatever endangered species they're concerned about this week and create an explosion of well being towards said animal.

It is important to note that I don't intend that they should make documentaries on bears in cages or harpooned whales.  That sort of thing may preach very well to the converted but it just leaves most people depressed while at the same time revealing the activists for the hectoring wanna be dictators they really are.  What is needed is a movie that makes people feel really good and associates the animal in question with that feeling.  Happy Feet that idiotic cartoon about the tap dancing penguin got a little closer to the ideal but spoiled it by being too preachy.  Am I the only one who wondered how many humans were going to go hungry simply to preserve fish stocks for a penguin with St Vitus's Dance?  Also you may note that the observers drew entirely the wrong conclusion from the dancing penguin.  They saw it dance and assumed this was because of pressure on its feeding ground whereas the movie made it plain it was due to pre birth brain damage.  The message I took from Happy Feet is that people must starve so penguins can live and environmentalists are idiots.

No, what we need is movies like Red Dog or, going back a bit, Lassie and such like.  The sort of movie that has people walking out of the cinema empathising with the animal in question.  This outpouring of well wishing can be harnessed to create better conditions for the animal and make us all feel a bit better about ourselves.  A win win situation really.  Of course in a year or so our animal shelters are going to be full of okapi, siberian tigers and blue whales.  At that point, let's face it, we're probably going to kill them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Warning: Nation Dissolves in Water

How do you dissolve a country?  I don't mean destroy, we have time honoured ways of doing that although the destroyed nations have this inconvenient habit of popping up a couple of centuries later to add more fuel to a dangerous ethnic fire and put mapmakers into early retirement.  No, I mean, how do you dissolve a country?  I suppose it helps if it wasn't an entirely real country in the first place.  The Netherlands Antilles dissolved itself a year ago today and nobody seems to have really noticed.

At this point those of you who aren't directly involved in money laundering or tax evasion are probably wondering "What the hell are the Netherlands Antilles?"  The Netherlands Antilles is (or, more accurately, was) a collection of islands in the Caribbean which were once part of Holland's far flung colonial empire (in the interests of strict accuracy I should point out the islands are still there its just the Netherlands Antilles which isn't).  In the 1950s the Dutch (who were probably embarrassed by how politically incorrect their forebears were) decided to grant this gathering of hazards to navigation independence.  Only not really; by all accounts the locals weren't exactly desperate to remove the iron fist of colonial oppression and the Dutch had to negotiate a generous subsidy package before they would have a bar of it.  There was some agitation but rather than seeking to step out into the world alone all the Antilleans seemed to want was more of a say in local affairs and thus the Netherlands Antilles was born.  Officially it was an independent, self governing nation within the framework of the Kingdom of Holland.  If that sounds like a ridiculous way to gain independence from the mother country I can only point out that Australia went pretty much the same route except the Netherlands Antilles did it deliberately while we just sort of drifted into it while we were busy doing something else.

Obviously, however, things weren't exactly perfect in paradise because little more than fifty five years after the birth of the new nation its owners decided to euthanise it.  What prompted this sudden dissolution?  Its difficult to put a finger on it really, possibly the islands just drifted apart.  This can happen in the best of relationships.  Anyway, in the first years of the twenty first century each island (there are five) held a referendum with four options on the table;

1) Status Quo
2) Separate country status under the Netherlands Crown
3) Closer relationship with Holland
4) Complete independence

The islands all charged cheerfully in different directions and the Netherlands Antilles was no more.  Interestingly the one option nobody chose was complete independence.  Its good to have a wealthy European country with a lingering sense of guilt and deep pockets just a phone call away.

So there we are, the Netherlands Antilles are gone.  One wonders if they issued a public statement, something low key and dignified along the lines of, "The Netherlands Antilles, on mature reflection, has decided to spend less time with itself.  It requests that you respect its privacy in these difficult times."  Not a bad way for a country to enter the dustbin of history really.  It certainly beats the divorce from hell that was Yugoslavia.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Let There Be Civilisation

I have come to the conclusion that light is quite important.  After all without light we couldn't tell which parts of the planet need dusting.  Just think how difficult vacuuming would be without light.  You wouldn't be able to find a power point and you'd be reduced to using one of those old manual carpet sweepers.  I think we can all agree that nobody wants to return to those dark days.

So, as you can see light is very important.  Unfortunately the Sun only provides it for half the day.  It has to be admitted that this is rather tedious.  In fact it really isn't good enough.  Imagine if your power company only provided electricity for half the day.  Would you honestly consider that satisfactory?  No, there would be outrage, complaints and a refusal to pay for such shoddy service.  Some might argue that the Sun provides its service free.  Very true but let's face it, nobody is going to pay for a light service which goes out at night.  If it were anything else we wouldn't put up with it but because its the Sun we just shrugged our shoulders and started working on fire.

Working on fire turned out to be a rather brilliant idea.  The discovery of fire is regarded as one of the most important steps in human development and rightly so.  Before fire we were merely flea bitten apes huddling together against the cold and dark.  Once we got fire we became flea bitten apes huddling together tending burns and scalds.  A much better result I think you will agree.  Fire enabled us to cook food thus inadvertently inventing cooking.  It helped us to keep warm (vitally necessary since we were foolish enough to do part of our evolving during an ice age) and it help protect us from predators (although, again, the light probably attracted as many as it drove off).  Perhaps the most important thing fire did was give us time to think.  Before fire the productive day ended at sunset and all we could do was lie down and wait for dawn.

After the discovery of fire we were able to stay awake longer but since we could hardly illuminate the whole world we were pretty much restricted to our caves.  This combination of wakefulness and immobility prompted thought (and probably terrible arguments but let's look at the upside shall we).  Of course our first attempts at thinking were clumsy and the results manifested themselves in foolish ways like cave drawings of anorexic buffaloes and parliamentary democracy.  Eventually though we gained enough experience at thinking to come up with useful ideas like the wheel and daytime television.

This is what light can do for a species; it can convert them from cave dwelling apes staring at blank walls to apartment dwelling humans staring at Days of Our Lives.  Yet there are some people who would claim that we haven't advanced.  As light drives us onward and upward we can look forward to a golden age of achievement.  As long as we can pay the power bills.  If not we'll be back to drawing buffaloes on walls.  And of course we won't be able to do any vacuuming.