Monday, December 17, 2012

I Would Rather a Modern Roman than a Dane

Well I've just bought a new frying pan.  I'm not quite sure why I bothered since I tend to cook my meat to a colour and texture pretty much indistinguishable from the chunks of teflon that have been breaking off the old pan and finding their way into my meals.  However the sight of a disintegrating frying pan is aesthetically displeasing to me so a replacement was in order.

What on earth is it about frying pans that makes them so damned expensive?  The basic design has been with us for several thousand years and with all due respect to horny handed frying pan craftsmen is not particularly complicated.  I will grant that the non stick surface adds a level of complexity that frying pan makers in ancient Rome didn't have to grapple with but frankly that non stick surface would have had to be shat out of a rare Indonesian civet cat to make the price justifiable.

The most expensive pans I saw (ie the ones I didn't buy) were retailing at over two hundred dollars, and that was the discount price.  Perhaps it was the fact that they were made in Denmark which contributed to such an outrageous price tag.  While I was delighted to see that the economy of Denmark is sustained by something other than Lego and tourists who got lost while looking for Germany I must wonder if manufacturing frying pans is quite the right fit for the Danes.  Denmark is a first world country and part of western Europe into the bargain.  This means that they are pretty much required to pay decent wages even to people who work in factories.  Ask any businessman how economically irresponsible that is.

Manufacturing in Europe survives by operating at the high end of the market.  That is by making high quality, high tech equipment which requires a certain level of education and technical skill even on the part of the skut workers on the factory floor.  Thus high prices can be commanded and high wages at least partially offset.  This plus the snob value of having "made in Europe" as opposed to "Banged together by semi slaves in some third world shithole you've never heard of" allows at least some products to be competitive.  Those of you who thought that Liechtenstein's sole contribution to modern civilisation was facilitating tax evasion and the laundering of drug profits may be interested to learn that the best high quality optical equipment in the world is made in that tiny country apparently by the seven or eight people who aren't bankers, tax lawyers or the royal family.

Frying pans however strike me as being rather marginal as far as being a high end piece of technology goes.  No doubt the Danish product is just wonderful but personally I think a perfectly serviceable frying pan is something that can be readily created in any semi civilised economic disaster area.  Which is why I went straight past the two hundred dollar frying pan and bought the fifty dollar one that was made in Italy instead.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Apocalypse - The Directors Cut

Well the end of the world is upon us yet again.  I think that makes the third time this year.  Obviously the hideous death of the entire human race is a topic that never loses its appeal.  It has to be admitted that we as a species have a long track record of apocalyptic predictions.  We've been predicting the end of the world for pretty much as long as we've known there is one.  Psychologists might say this indicates deep rooted feelings of uncertainty and impermanence in the human race as a whole (mind you, psychologists might say just about anything).  I personally think the human race is just addicted to cheap melodrama.  Or possibly we're running out of excuses for not doing our homework.

One might assume that predicting doomsday is a harmless enough hobby and keeps a certain type of the street.  Sadly the hobby is not harmless at all.  Predictions of imminent apocalypse lead to mass panic, short selling of stocks, lousy disaster movies and the election of Frederick III as Holy Roman Emperor.

Still there are some compensations.  For me one of them is the sheer delight I take in listening as people earnestly discuss the possibility of the world ending as a consequence of the date measuring techniques of a defunct civilisation who (in case anybody failed to notice) actually had their own personal apocalypse some centuries before they ran out of calendar.

Another fun thing to do is watch people attempting to prepare for the end of the world.  By definition the end of the world isn't actually something you can prepare for unless you actually have a method of leaving it.  This, however, does not stop people trying.  The usual methods employed seem to be the digging of bunkers and the stockpiling of canned goods and firearms.  I must admit whenever I see these people interviewed on TV I usually get the impression that that is what they would be doing anyway and the upcoming fiery death of all humanity is merely a convenient justification.  Still digging holes in the backyard and stockpiling supplies is almost certainly less harmful than anything else these people are likely to be doing and should give the local economy a bit of a boost as well.

After the event of course or, to be more accurate, after the non event they are going to feel somewhat disappointed.  Particularly if they have just blown their life's savings on shovels, canned goods and firearms.  Hmm, a group of bitterly disappointed, heavily armed, well supplied people with their own bunkers and fortifications.  Possibly there is a slightly less than certain future for their neighbours at any rate.

Perhaps it Would Help to Think of Zoos as Retirement Homes

Some people don't like zoos.  Which is fine, everybody is absolutely entitled to like or dislike whatever they like (or don't like).  However some people seem to dislike zoos because they are mean to animals or some such thing.  Of course a badly run zoo most certainly is mean to animals, or at least it stands a good chance of so being but I have little sympathy with people who object to zoos on principle.

Whenever you hear somebody whining about the dignity of animals or how terrible it is for wild animals to be housed in zoos you should listen a little closer.  With a bit of effort you should be able to hear their brain actually decaying.  For starters if the animal is genuinely wild I would probably prefer it to be kept in a zoo.  Particularly if the only other alternative is to carry an elephant gun when I wander down to the shops.  While not many of them developed opposable thumbs or animal rights activists most animals were a good deal more successful at developing teeth and claws.

Animals do not tend to roam free because they are active libertarians.  Animals roam free simply as a function of where they were born.  If  a wildebeest is born on the Serengeti then it is going to roam free.  At least it had better if it doesn't want the grazing to be exhausted pretty quickly.  This doesn't really seem like my idea of freedom.

As for the dignity of animals, that's an easy one.  There isn't any.  Animals don't have dignity.  They have far more pressing concerns, like survival.  Any dignity we see in animals is imparted by our own imagination and is based on our (to my mind) arrogant delight in seeing human qualities in animals.  It is just as silly to claim dignity for an animal as it is to dress your pet dog in a sailor suit because he looks so cute.  A lion is a magnificent, handsome beast but do you honestly believe it is thinking about dignity at all when it is shoulders deep in the carcass of the wildebeest we met in the previous paragraph?

The most amusing thing about the concerns of animal activists in this situation is the cognitive dissonance involved.  By caring about animals, worrying about them and taking an interest in their well being they are essentially treating those animals as pets.  Nothing like that happens in the wild.  When humans were wild and uncivilised, just one animal amongst many, they didn't keep pets.  Animals were something you killed and ate if you could and hid from if you thought there was a good chance you would be on the wrong end of that transaction.  Even when we domesticated animals we did so so that we could eat them or exploit them in some other way more conveniently.  Actually being disinterestedly concerned about their well being is a very modern phenomenon.

I suspect that people look at the harmony of nature and see it as some sort of well organised collective with each according to their needs and blah blah blah.  Actually the harmony is created by everything doing their best to kill everything else and not quite succeeding.  The proof of this is simple.  On the entire planet there are only three types of animals that stand a chance of dying of old age.  These are humans, our pets, and the animals we put in zoos.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

You Can Be Brain Dead and Still Have Your Intelligence Insulted

I saw an advertisement for Evian today (I believe they sell water) which proudly proclaimed "Every drop sourced from nature."  Where did people think it came from?  That statement is about as helpful as "Made from stuff" or "Contains ingredients".  I think the thing that annoyed me most about it is that it is so obvious that either the people who created that ad were terminally stupid or they believe the rest of us are.  My money is on the latter.

The place my money won't be is in Evian's coffers.  OK, regular readers of this blog will know that getting me to buy bottled water is a pretty hard sell in any event.  I'm perfectly prepared to pay for coca cola or vodka or any other beverage that has been manufactured.  I'm even prepared to spend a little money on fruit juice in acknowledgement of the fact that people had to rip bits off trees and squash them up in order to provide it but I am deeply reluctant to pay for a bottle of something that I can lick up out of a puddle.

Still, Evian's advertisement has guaranteed that I will never drink their (sorry, nature's) product.  It is a total insult to the intelligence of the human race and in my case at least seems to assume I never even evolved to the stage of splitting into two cells.  You could piss into a bottle of Evian and sell the result with the same claim and the same accuracy.

I do understand the difficulties involved in marketing water.  Evian is essentially attempting to sell something that pretty much anyone outside the Sahara Desert can get for nothing with a little effort.  It can't be easy but guys, you have standards to maintain.  The advertising industry is pretty much the only thing still producing quality television these days.  If you sell out all we've got left is endless series of Geordie Shore.

At this point I can imagine the advertising team for Evian muttering things like, "It's all very well for you to criticise smartarse.  You have one blog which is essentially read by your parents.  We have to try and market this crap to the world."  That's a fair comment so in the spirit of helpfulness I have bent my not considerable brainpower to the task of producing a better tag line for Evian.

I will admit there were a couple of false starts.  My first concept was something along the lines of "Evian; when you're too fucking lazy to turn on a tap."  I liked it but I can see why others might not, including pretty much anyone who works at Evian.  My second effort was "Fabulous outfit? Check.  Electronic music? Check.  Bag full of pills? Check.  What's missing?" but I decided Evian was probably looking to expand their appeal beyond their traditional customer base.

Finally I came up with this.  I can't claim its particularly inspired but I honestly believe its an improvement on what they have now.  Evian logo at the top and underneath it the line "Water is Life".  No silly statements, no ridiculous claims.  Just the logo and a simple statement of fact.  Of course if the general public wants to conflate the two and rush out to buy 44 gallon drums of Evian to avoid dying of thirst that's entirely their affair.  I said Evian's original tag was insulting the intelligence of the human race.  I didn't say it was insulting it by much.  If anyone from Evian happens to read this blog entry please feel free to use this idea (assuming somebody hasn't already) and pass it off as your own.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We Commend Our Brother to the Gullet

I honestly don't know why I haven't thought of sky burial before.  What a brilliant concept!  Forget expensive funeral costs.  Worried about the amount of valuable land cemeteries are taking up?  Worry no longer.   Concerned about what your cremation might do for your carbon footprint?  Sky burial is the answer.

All you need to conduct a sky burial is a small flat space outdoors.  Oh yes, and vultures.  Vultures are rather important to the whole process.  In fact, vultures are the whole process.  One rather suspects that the term sky burial was invented because it sounds a lot less grisly to say "we gave Grandma a sky burial" than to admit that a beloved relative was torn apart by carrion birds.

Traditionally sky burials have been conducted by Tibetans (where, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the ground is rather stony and difficult to dig graves in) and by Zoroastrians for reasons connected with the polluting nature of corpses and the desire to get rid of them quickly and cleanly.  They dressed it up in religious mumbo jumbo of course but frankly it sounds thoroughly sensible in regions like Iran and India anyway.

Sky burial has gone into a bit of a decline in recent times for various reasons largely connected with governments.  In Tibet they got invaded by the Chinese who crushed all opposition, drove the Dalai Lama into exile and killed or imprisoned those who disagreed with them but nevertheless banned sky burial because they considered it barbaric.  The Chinese reversed this ban in the 1980s but made no comment on whether they no longer considered the practice barbaric or were merely striving for consistency.

In India the Zoroastrian community (or Parsis as I believe they are called for some reason) got on the wrong end of well intentioned government idiocy when the drugs that the Indian government were feeding to their cattle inadvertently wiped out most of the meat eating birds on the subcontinent.  At the time of writing burial arrangements for the entire Parsi community depend on seven morbidly obese buzzards who are actively contemplating vegetarianism.

Still, none of these issues should stop us from introducing sky burial into Australia.  If anyone objects we'll just say we're embracing multiculturalism (there's got to be a few Tibetans or Parsis in the country).  Yes, its a sky burial for me.  The only thing I haven't worked out yet is how to persuade the vultures to eat the headstone.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Jealousy of Bats

I'm waiting for bats to swoop down and carry me away.  This may sound unlikely but they've been gathering outside my apartment and I'm sure they're up to no good.  Actually I think there's only one bat but its been moving about a lot and making that leathery swishing sound with its wings.  I'm also not sure if bats do actually swoop down on people.  My knowledge of bats is limited to horror movies and old Scooby Doo cartoons.  All I can say for certain is that bats tend to concentrate around the smart girl and knock her glasses off thus rendering her blind and helpless.  I know I'm not a girl but I've switched to contacts just to be on the safe side.  No bat is going to send me blind.

It's all jealously of course.  Bats are almost blind so they're probably envious of people who have managed to overcome their own vision impairment by wearing glasses.  Thus they spend their time trying to even up the score.  Which is grossly unfair of the bats because they get sonar.  We don't get sonar, not even the most blind of us but with bats it comes as standard.  Even the rare bat with twenty-twenty vision gets sonar.  We have to build our own.

Now that I come to think of it bats must be great at finding submarines.  I wonder if anybody has considered exploiting that?  Rather than spending immense amounts of money on high tech equipment we could simply equip every naval vessel with a cage of bats to be dumped over the side to hunt for submarines.  Of course there is the minor drowning issue to be overcome but surely equipping the bats with scuba gear would still be more cost effective than an entire sonar array.

If the bats won't do it for us maybe something else will.  Manta rays look a bit like bats, has anybody investigated whether they have sonar.  If they do we could save a fortune on bat seasickness pills.  If it turns out that mantas are sonar challenged perhaps a little genetic engineering could help.  I think I left my gene splicer in the drawer with the other cutlery.

So in conclusion if, while out walking at night, you are suddenly mobbed by a flock (herd? swarm?) of bats don't worry too much.  They're probably just irritated because you're wearing glasses.  Either that or they were spooked by a low flying submarine.

Another Silly After Action Report

On the 18th of November 1941 the British launched Operation Crusader, designed to destroy the Afrika Korps and relieve the siege of Tobruk.  As part of this plan the British 7th Armoured Division charged into the open desert to meet and beat the Afrika Korps on ground of its own choosing.  Unfortunately the Afrika Korps completely ignored them leaving the 7th Armoured in the rather embarrassing position of not knowing what to do next.  On the 19th some decisions were made one of which involved sending the 22nd Armoured Brigade south to clean up a position at Bir el Gubi which was defended by the Italian 132nd "Ariete" Tank Division.

So here we are with ASL Scenario 56 "Half a Chance" which pits the Italians of the Ariete against the British of the 22nd Armoured.  Historically the Italians handed the British their arse in a sack.  As commander of the Italian forces could I repeat history?  Six desert map boards stretch before me but I can set up on only the three most southerly.  To defend against the oncoming British I had five anti tank guns and eight squads with a collection of machine guns and anti tank rifles plus a telephone with a direct line into a nearby artillery battery.  The desert before me was interspersed with tank unfriendly boggy patches (apparently it had rained recently) thus reducing the amount of ground I would have to cover.

My opponent, Richard Weilly commanded fourteen crusader tanks (fast but mechanically unreliable) of various types.  He would have the choice of either attempting to thread his way through the solid patches of ground covered by my defences or swing round to the north where the ground was solid but where my second turn reinforcements in the shape of sixteen M13/40 tanks (slow but mechanically unreliable) were due to arrive.  He chose option two.

I set up sprawled across all three southern boards.  The rules stated that I had to allocate at least one anti tank gun and two squads to each board thus guaranteeing that at least a third of my force would be hopelessly out of position.  Assuming, accurately, that Richard would attempt the northern flanking route I set up my three 47mm anti tank guns on board 30, the northern most of my set up area and allocated one 37mm gun each to the other boards.  Squads with machine guns also lurked in the vicinity while my phone operator got the artillery on speed dial.

Dividing his tank force into two sections Richard poured onto board 30 where I swiftly discovered how useless 47mm guns are at long ranges.  Dropping smoke to cover himself Richard turned north and headed for the firm ground.  I successfully brought my artillery down to absolutely no effect, a level of efficiency it would maintain throughout the entire game.  By the end of Richard's second turn his tanks were nicely positioned on the eastern part of boards 29 and 31 largely safe from all but the most fluky of anti tank shots and waiting the arrival of my tanks.

So far things had been reasonably event free with Richard maneuvering with relative impunity out of effective range of my impotent defenders.  But now my tanks were arriving!  Sixteen of Mussolini's finest clattered slowly onto the board and proceed to get shot to bits by their British counterparts.  OK, I admit it.  I screwed up badly.  I entered my tanks as close to the western edge of the board (and as far from the British) as I could intending to take up positions to cover Richard's exit locations and force him to come to me.  I had neglected the fact that the guns on Richard's tanks were somewhat better than mine, particularly at longer ranges.  The next few turns were gruesome for me as Richard methodically shot my tank force to pieces without my being able to give an effective reply.  In retrospect perhaps I should have charged on as close to his tanks as possible where my guns would also have been able to score kills.  Using my artillery to drop smoke would also have been helpful since it was proving useless at actually killing enemy tanks.

The next several turns consisted of Richard cheerfully reducing my tank force to scrap while edging his forces a little closer to his exit board.  It wasn't all one way.  I got some hits in and killed a few crusaders but turn seven found me reduced to four tanks huddling behind the wreckage of their comrades as Richard moved in for the kill.  Only it didn't quite happen like that.  To win Richard had to exit approximately six tanks off the board.  He had started with fourteen and had lost about four.  He lost another to my surviving tanks as he closed the range and I could get off some effective shots but the real killer was that previously mentioned mechanical unreliability.  I had managed to immobilise one of his tanks with a lucky hit.  Now two more that he had stopped in order to fire effectively failed mechanical reliability rolls when he tried to restart them.  With three tanks immobilised, four destroyed and one recalled for breaking its main armament Richard was left with the necessity of exiting every remaining tank.  When a lucky shot from an anti tank gun immobilised one of his remaining runners I thought I had the battle won but Richard was up to the challenge.

Bailing crews out of his immobilised tanks he led them on a foot charge to the exit following those of his tanks as he had been able to exit.  These lovely calmly strolled through long range machine gun fire to give Richard exactly the number of victory points he needed for the win.  Sigh, defeat is bitter although to be fair after the tank screw up on turn two I was probably lucky it wound up as close at it did.  On that note both Richard and I seemed to love the number six.  Richard broke three guns and recalled one tank in addition to immobilising two of his own tanks during the course of the game.  I recalled one tank, broke two anti tank guns and then destroyed them while trying to repair them just as Richards surviving tanks were waltzing off the board.  Still it was a good game which for quite a while I thought I was going to win as Richards tanks spluttered to a halt.

God Should Just Get a Twitter Account

In religious news a farmer in India has a goat whose hide markings spell Allah in Arabic script.  He has been caring for it lovingly and hopes the beast will fetch a good price in the Eid al Adha festival.  I suppose the farmer was fortunate that the name of God was written in a language he could understand.  If the name had appeared on the goat's hide in Chinese script he might have committed an unwitting act of sacrilege.

God has this tendency to appear in strange places.  People see him in rock formations, oil slicks, the occasional toasted sandwich and now a goat.  The one place I've never heard of anybody encountering God is in a church.  Possibly he's a little cautious about the company he keeps.

Still the name of God appearing on a goat hey?  It's obviously a sign, it might even be a portent.  A portent is basically a sign with ominous music attached.  A sign might mean anything but a portent means bad news.  A sign could be an indication of joyful news for mankind but a portent pretty much guarantees that the phrase "rivers of blood" will be popular in the coming days.  Portents are bad news.  Here's an example; if a door has the word "Welcome" written on it that's a sign.  If it has the words "Abandon all hope ye who enter here", that's a portent.

So, is this Allah touched goat a portent?  I fear it might be.  There is a rather obscure passage in the Book of Revelations which goes, "and all these things shall come to pass when the iron king shall reign.  The righteous will fall like wheat beneath the scythe, the rivers shall be red with the blood of the faithful and the name of God shall be lost to all but the beasts in the fields".  All right I will admit that it doesn't specifically mentions goats.  I'll also admit that I made the whole thing up but you've got to admit that it sounds pretty damn portentous.  I even managed to get in a "rivers of blood" reference.  On an unrelated note the Book of Revelations is pretty much proof that while hallucinogens might help your creativity they do nothing at all for your comprehensibility.

But back to the goat.  I think the staggering weight of evidence provided in the previous paragraph pretty much establishes the goat's portent credentials.  Let the last word go to the farmer himself.  "We have looked after this goat like our own child.  His meat will be very good."  Obviously the appearance of the name of God on his hide was a portent for the goat at least.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Housework or Homeless. Give Me a Minute to Think About It

I dislike housework.  I realise this is unlikely to be a revelation, I'm sure very few people actively enjoy it.  However the thing I dislike most about housework is its impermanence.  You do housework, you work hard, you get your little abode sparkling clean and then six months later you have to do it all again.

I have no problem with work (honestly officer I don't) but I have a serious problem with work that doesn't end.  I like to be able to draw a line under things and say they're done.  Housework isn't like that, as soon as you're finished the place starts getting messy again.  Possibly the only thing I could do to keep the place tidy is live somewhere else.  This strikes me as being a little extreme.

Although now I think about it not living in ones home has a few advantages.  For starters you could cut down on furniture.  Secondly while housework would presumably still need to be done not being there would make it easier to ignore.  Another great benefit would be the extra storage space.  Humans, no matter how frugal, seem to accumulate immense mounds of crap the moment they stay in one place for more than twenty minutes.  Just ask anyone who has tried to move house, or me when I try to find that important memo on my desk at work.  If you're not living in your home you have that much space to store unnecessary crap you're never going to use.  Plus, of course, it won't get in your way.

Naturally if you are using your home as a high net worth storage facility then you're going to have to find somewhere to actually live.  Have you considered being homeless?  There are some advantages; for starters no one can possibly expect you to do housework on the entire outdoors.  In fact people's expectations plummet when you're homeless.  If you remember to pull down your pants before going to the toilet you count as high functioning.

Still there are disadvantages in being homeless such as heat, cold, rain, discomfort, misery, muggers, rats, police, public contempt and the unwanted attention of social workers.  So here's my actual suggestion.  Stay with friends.  This has all the advantages of home ownership without any of the hassles.  Naturally, humans being what they are, your friends are likely to get tired of your presence after eighteen months or so.  To avoid this you should try and help them out a bit.  Offer to do the housework.  Everyone hates doing that.

Some Things Can Wait Until the Kids are a bit Older

A fourteen year old girl was recently shot in the head in Pakistan by the Taliban for advocating the education of women.  This appalling act of barbarity reverberated around the world.  It has even penetrated to places that only have the most tenuous of connections with the world, like Hollywood.  Apparently Angelina Jolie has written an essay detailing how she explained the event to her children.

OK, let's leave aside the question of whether its appropriate to be telling preteens cheery stories about young girls getting shot in the head.  Actually, let's not.  Why on earth would you give that sort of information to an eight year old?  What precisely are they supposed to do with it?  When I was eight my coping mechanism was fully engaged dealing with the fact that Santa wasn't real.  I'm a firm believer in not wrapping children in cotton wool but there is a difference between that and actively rubbing their faces in one of the most hideous acts one human being can perform on another.  There are a few facts of life that can wait until the children hit puberty.  Such as the fact that their mother is bat crazy for instance.

Still at least the world knows that Angelina is on the case.  Haiti had to lose a quarter of a million people in an earthquake before she noticed them.  Incidentally, does anyone know the outcome of that?  Are the people of Haiti still living lives of ghastly, deprived misery or have they returned to their usual state of ghastly deprived misery?  Maybe Angelina could tell us.

In the meantime Malala the brave Pakistani girl indirectly responsible for the Jolie kid's future psychological problems is in hospital in Britain.  She's under police guard at the moment due to the fact that a number of people have pretended to be relatives in order to try and get close to her.  The fear is that the Taliban might try and finish the job although its probably just natural curiosity.  I wouldn't stand the police down just yet though.  It's entirely possible that one of them was Angelina Jolie looking to adopt her.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Happened to the Days When Rats Just Hung Out in Sewers Spreading Disease?

Scientists have come up with a way of genetically modifying mice so that they can detect land mines.  This is great news as well as further proof that scientists shouldn't be left alone with too much time on their hands.

Amazing though this news undeniably is it will be just another day in the office for a Belgian company that has been training mine sniffing rats for years.  The rat of choice is the African giant pouched rat which is easy to maintain (its a rat for god's sake, its not like its a finicky eater) and lives for a respectable six to eight years which means you don't have to replace them too often (unless you make them work when they have a head cold).  Another advantage rats have over mine sniffing dogs, for example, is that they don't bond with a particular handler, they work solely for the food.  Or to put it another way they're mercenary little bastards so you needn't feel too upset if they occasionally find a mine the hard way.  It's difficult to tell whether this is a mine clearance technique or a little belated revenge for the black death.  Today's forecast; cloudy with a chance of rat.

The same type of rat is also used to detect tuberculosis.  Jesus, are these guys death magnets or what?  The procedure is much the same, the rats are trained to detect tuberculosis bacteria in sputum samples.  When a successful identification is made the rats are withdrawn and the sufferer is detonated in a controlled explosion.

So why, since we appear to be waist deep in mine sniffing rodents, did somebody decide to genetically engineer a perfectly acceptable mouse to do the same job?  The answer lies in the training time.  Not being as stupid as humans rats do not normally bugger about with high explosives.  It takes approximately eight months training to get a rat to the point where it can do anything useful in a minefield.  Breeding an animal with a predilection for TNT (the most common ingredient in land mines) from the get go cuts down the lead in time.

So; to summarise.  We are breeding genetically enhanced versions of an animal we have been utterly incapable of getting rid of in order to replace another animal we can't seem to wipe out to assist us in locating randomly scattered explosives which were scattered by us.  It is getting increasingly difficult to believe that we are the highest lifeform on the planet although it could be pointed out that we haven't got to the point where rats are training us to clear minefields.  Still, I can't help wondering what is going to happen to all of the redundant rats that now find themselves unemployed and possessed of a working familiarity with explosives.  This can't go badly wrong at all can it?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Birthday Greetings# 28

Happy birthday to Count AndrĂ¡s Hadik de Futak or Andreas Reichsgraf Hadik von Futak if you want to be all German about it.  He was a Habsburg army general and would certainly have got a shout out last year if it weren't for the fact that he had the misfortune to share a birthdate with Prince Eugene of Savoy.  Saying Hadik was a Habsburg general is a convenient way of avoiding assigning him a nationality.  He was born in Slovakia which was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary which was then part of the Austrian empire which didn't exist although there was an Austrian emperor but neither Slovakia nor Hungary were part of the empire that he did rule.  I hope that makes everything clear.

Hadik joined the army, specifically a Hungarian hussar regiment at the age of 21 (rather old to go for a soldier in those days) and served in a series of the Habsburg's typically mismanaged wars.  He personally managed to distinguish himself and rose higher in rank until he entered the Seven Years War (with Prussia mostly) as a corps commander.  He proved to be excellent at what was referred to as "small war", what we would nowadays call a combination of guerilla actions and special forces operations.  With his hussars at his back he raided outposts, bushwacked messengers, cut up supply lines and generally made a thorough nuisance of himself.  Strangely for such a stodgy, by the book empire the Habsburg monarchy was well known as being particularly good at this "small war" (big war, not so good).  The Habsburgs achieved this by recruiting the most recalcitrant of their far flung subjects and saying something along the lines of, "that stuff you've been doing to us.  We'll pay you to do it to other people."

Hadik's greatest moment of glory came when Frederick the Great of Prussia marched his army south to do battle with the Habsburg forces.  Hadik snuck around behind him and led five thousand hussars on a raid on Berlin.  Having extorted a ransom of 200,000 thalers for not burning the place to the ground he made a clean getaway.  High decorations and a promotion to lieutenant field marshall followed and apparently Frederick the Great was so embarrassed by the action that he refused to speak to Hadik even after peace had been made.  There is a military barracks in Slovakia named after him.

The information on this blog entry was provided from a combination of books I have on the Seven Years War, wikipedia and a rather disturbing Hungarian white supremacist site I stumbled over by accident while researching him.

To Boldly Litter Where No Man Has Littered Before

The Earth is an orbiting garbage dump.  You know all of that stuff we persist in shooting into outer space.  Well it turns out that outer space isn't so outer after all and most of it doesn't come back.  There is a multitude of crap whizzing around our planet serving no purpose except to act as a hazard to navigation for anybody trying to visit or, for that matter, leave.  It has to be said though that being pelted with high velocity garbage is probably about as appropriate a welcome to planet Earth as we could devise.  After that the aliens could hardly say they weren't warned.

I think the presence of this orbital garbage is a good thing.  Alien invasions are going to be that much harder if the all conquering battlefleet has to steer like a roller coaster just to get into that position beloved of sci fi movies of looming ominously over the planet's major cities.  It also sends out a very powerful signal.  "If this is what its like in the space around the planet just imagine what you're going to encounter on the surface".  Nobody travels several hundred million light years to invade a garbage dump.  I personally wouldn't cross the street.

The more I think about it the more I realise that massive levels of pollution and environmental degradation aren't signs of short sighted, greed driven consumerism.  Instead they are the result of a subtle, carefully thought out planetary defence strategy to protect us from alien domination.  Which makes environmentalists not just irritating but actual traitors.  They are fifth columnists of the worst kind plotting to deliver us into the waiting tentacles of their alien paymasters.  "Save the trees," these eco-Quislings howl with one eye cocked to the heavens hoping to gain the approval of our new masters.

Extra trees, saved whales, drinking water untainted by arsenic, these are all signs that our time as an independent species ruling our own planet is coming to an end unless we take drastic action.  Burn, pollute, destroy and above all keep shooting stuff into space and leaving it there.  If we do this future generations can look up at the starless night sky and wheeze a little prayer of thanks to their wiser (and no doubt longer lived) ancestors.

Why Cows Hate Me

I'm currently the recipient of a certain amount of gentle teasing from my co-workers revolving around what I like to eat.  Or more specifically, what I don't like to eat.  Apparently a distaste for seafood and wagyu beef are sufficient to classify me as some sort of mentally disturbed freak.  Which is funny when you think about it because there are much better reasons to classify me as some sort of mentally disturbed freak.

All right, I get the seafood thing.  Most people love it and I really don't.  Disliking seafood is a little unusual particularly when it extends to pretty much everything water related including, in all likelihood, seaweed, otters and low flying albatrosses but I refuse to accept there is anything strange in disliking wagyu beef.

Wagyu, I am led to understand (by wikipedia admittedly) is so damned delicious because of the marbling of fat throughout the meat which adds great flavour when cooked properly or something like that.  All well and good but I don't like fatty meat.  I cut the fat off any meat I get my hands on.  As far as I'm concerned you could get the same result as wagyu but cooking a regular steak in a bucket of lard and I wouldn't eat that either.

Then there is the sheer effort put into raising wagyu cattle.  Special diets, massages, loads of care and attention.  I fully approve of efforts to make food as tasty as possible but surely there comes a point when we have to admit its all a bit much for what is ultimately little more than a fifteen minute journey from plate to digestive tract.  Possibly the cows appreciate the extra attention.  It would be nice to think there was some sort of bovine status symbol attached to being a wagyu beef cow.  This may sound a little sad but the average cow's life consists of eating grass and getting killed.  Compared to that the attention lavished on wagyu cattle must seem a little special.  A slave's only source of pride is the price he brings at auction and equally a cow can only measure its worth by the care taken in preparing it for the kill and the price demanded for its meat afterwards.  Then I come along turning up my nose at all these classy cows and demanding the most plebeian of lean beef.  Cows must really hate me.  Sorry cows!

My Teeth Are Dentist Whores

I am deeply annoyed at my teeth.  I clean them, I floss them, I speak gently to them in the dark and they go and repay me by hurting occasionally.  It seems that no sooner do I visit the dentist than, bam, ten years later I'm back again.  Possibly my teeth just get lonely for the attention of somebody else.  This annoys me, we're supposed to have an exclusive relationship.  It's not as though I use other teeth occasionally.  If it was going to be OK for us to see other people that is something that should have been worked out at the beginning of the relationship not several decades in.  Still like many insecure people in relationships I will tolerate the occasional infidelity of my teeth for fear that if I don't they will leave me for ever.

I suppose it isn't to be wondered at that my teeth may stray occasionally.  After all, dentists are better educated than I am, they earn more money and they have lots of interesting toys specifically designed for the benefit of teeth.  I should be grateful that my teeth didn't run away with a dentist years ago.  Still it hurts, quite a bit actually.  The only thing in my favour is that dentists are total sluts.  They may make my teeth feel like they're the only ones in the world while I'm actually in the chair but we both know that as soon as I leave the surgery that wonderful dentist will be elbows deep into someone else's mouth.  That's the way it is with dentists, there's always another set of teeth walking in the door desperate for a little loving.  Who can blame them for taking advantage of their opportunities.

Of course what this means is that one day my teeth will leave me for good, hoping against hope that they will be the ones the dentist will cherish forever.  They'll wind up discarded and alone but it will be too late then.  By that time I'll have a set of dentures.  The relationship wont be the same of course but I'll be getting older by then and excitement will be less important than certainty.  At least I'll know that my dentures won't be developing cavities solely so they have an excuse to see that cute dentist.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Suck a Pebble

A hideous malady is sweeping the nation.  Dry Mouth Syndrome stalks the land spreading misery and despair in its wake.  Fortunately for the sufferers of this fell condition help is at hand.  At least so a recent television commercial informs me.  According to a professionally dressed woman who reads an autocue with the sort of nuance and depth of emotion normally associated with laundry lists Dry Mouth Syndrome (it is worthy of capitalisation) is a curse comparable with the biblical plagues at their worst.

However relief is at hand or so this woman woodenly assured me.  Apparently the world's top medical researchers have tossed aside their work on trivial crap like cancer and heart disease and by dint of furious effort their combined genius has been crowned with success.  This is the greatest leap forward for medical science since doctors stopped rubbing dirt into wounds to make them heal faster.  Dry Mouth Syndrome has been conquered.  This has got to be worth a Nobel prize for those involved or at least a carton of Marlboros and the afternoon off.

I can't help thinking that medical science has got ridiculously involved in recent times.  In the old days all you could catch was plague and you either died or you didn't.  Grim, certainly but refreshingly uncomplicated.  If anybody wanted to explain an illness to one of their medieval forebears nowadays the first thing they would have to do is give them a lecture on the last thousand years of medical history.  Actually the first thing they would have to do is invent a time machine but the medical history lesson would come second.

Don't expect too much sympathy from your ancestors though.  After sitting patiently through your long winded explanation their response is probably going to be something like, "Dry mouth?  Suck a damned pebble and get to work.  These fields aren't going to plough themselves."

Europe, Your Troubles Have Only Just Started

So, it would appear that I'm travelling to Europe next year.  My co-workers have staged an intervention and the upshot of it is that I have to take some holidays or they will put me into rehab.  It will be the first genuine holiday I've had in several years and I'm doing my best to look forward to it.  I shall be travelling to London, Berlin and possibly Prague or Vienna.  Now all I have to do is save money, find my passport, book things and renew my membership of the Inspector Rex fanclub.  I'm also hoping to persuade my sister in law to come with me.

Some people say that travel broadens the mind but then some people will say anything.  Travel certainly broadens your experience even if the experience largely consists of getting lost in a wide cross section of the world's airports.  At least travelling to other countries increases the probability that your taxi driver will understand English.  One thing travel doesn't broaden is your bank account.  I've done careful calculations and I think I can afford this trip if I sell a kidney and die no later than the age of fifty (probably not a difficult proposition with only one functioning kidney).

In return for poverty and a drastically reduced life expectancy I get to immerse myself in the culture of Europe.  Or at least I get to stand next to some of the more photogenic bits of the culture of Europe.  Or at the very least I will be temporarily in the same country as some of the more photogenic bits of the culture of Europe. 

Of course I'm taking a risk going to Europe at all.  The way things are going there at the moment I will be lucky if I don't get mugged by a desperate finance minister the moment I get off the plane.  It also occurs to me that by the time I get there the place may have been repossessed and put up for auction by various banking houses who for some reason thought lending money they didn't have to people who couldn't repay it was a sound business practice.  More likely though is that the place will be waist deep in euros as everybody attempts to refinance their existing unsustainable debt with new loan instruments and pay for the lot with a depreciated currency.  Which if you think about it is rather like putting your mortgage on your credit card and then trying to pay it off with bus tickets.

For souvenirs I'm just going to bring everybody back a couple of billion euros worth of Spanish government bonds.

Wow, A Blog Entry! Neil Must Have Woken Up Briefly

A month and a half without a blog entry isn't really a long period of time.  Indeed, it could be looked upon as a prolonged (or in my case entirely typical) period of laziness.  Yet I feel rather guilty at having neglected my blog and the audience that has come to enjoy reading it.  Said audience consists largely of my parents and, according to the statistics page, a bunch of Russians I've never heard of.  Still I should start writing my blog again or, alternatively, pick up the phone and call my parents.  All sorts of exciting things have happened over the last couple of months and I have recorded none of them.  OK, I don't know for certain that exciting things have happened but its statistically likely somewhere in the world yet their occurrence has gone unmarked on my blog.  Somehow the world has kept turning.  I guess that answers the age old question about whether if a tree falls in a forest and nobody asks a stupid philosophical question does it still crush a squirrel?  The answer to the more traditional version of that question is, of course, "no" ask any physicist.

In my defence I should point out that it hasn't been sheer laziness that has stopped me from making blog entries.  Or to be more accurate (and honest) it hasn't been only sheer laziness that has stopped me from making blog entries.  I have been busy studying for a diploma in Applied Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing something which sounds far more interesting than it actually is.  This has eaten into my blog writing time.  With the course triumphantly completed (note, I don't say "passed") I can get back to more important things.  Such as writing mindless inanities for a barely existent audience.  Since an inanity is mindless I suppose I can also add tautology to the list of grammatical crimes I have cheerfully committed on a semi regular basis since starting this blog.  It's good to see that I have returned to the field in top form.

Speaking of the diploma it is a little disturbing to note exactly how many of my friends reacted to news of my studies with comments like, "so, you're qualified to launder money now?".  Actually I'm not.  You need law or accountancy qualifications to do that.  Money laundering must be the only crime which requires more study than simply obeying the law.  One thing that I have learnt over the preceding nine months is that money laundering largely exists because nobody really wants to stop it.  Well, of course they want to stop it but they're not prepared to do what is required in order to achieve that goal.  In much the same way as a fat person wants to be thin but isn't prepared to give up eating nine meals a day.

It is actually quite easy to stop money laundering.  Ruthlessly enforced customer identification laws, transaction reporting and a decoupling of every secrecy jurisdiction from the global financial system would take care of most of it.  The only problem is if we did that the entire financial sector would find it rather difficult to operate (if only because most of their top management would be in gaol).  We'd also start to see a lot of impoverished refugees from places like the British Virgin Islands, Macau and Delaware.  The average customer in the street would probably be a bit annoyed at having to provide a DNA sample every time they wanted to open a bank account as well.

The truth is money laundering laws work like all other laws.  They're really just there to tell you why you're going to prison on the offchance you get caught.  There is an unspoken compromise between those who enforce the laws and the rest of us.  Essentially enough safeguards are put in place to ensure some people get caught so that the law doesn't appear completely useless while at the same time nowhere near enough safeguards are put in place to ensure that crime is eradicated completely.  This might not sound like a great way of operating but it is unlikely that human society would be improved terribly much if all of us were in gaol.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Lethargy of the Long Distance Blogger

I was supposed to run the City to Surf today, I really was.  I collected my race pack, rose at a ridiculously early hour, showered, breakfasted and changed into my running clothes.  Then I looked at the weather.  I could have saved myself all that effort if I had just looked at the weather the moment I woke up.  If I had done that it is entirely possible I wouldn't have got out of bed at all.  Now I'm sitting in the cafe with a mixed feeling of guilt and relief hoping the weather gets worse to fully justify my decision not to run.  Naturally that will make it tougher on those hardy souls who did run but they all have to make sacrifices don't they.  Besides, imagine the sense of achievement they'll get from completing the run in a blizzard.  Who am I to deny them that?

Since I told most of my friends and family I was competing you might think I would feel a certain amount of embarrassment at admitting I didn't.  If so you don't know me terribly well.  Besides most of my loved ones were surprised I entered at all, the fact that I piked out at the last minute will surprise no one at all.  And yet I feel a certain amount of disappointment in myself, particularly since the weather has improved somewhat since I woke up.

Still, I shall bear that disappointment with the stoicism to be expected of someone who almost ran the City to Surf.  None shall know of the inner pain caused by my lack of activity.  Not a whimper shall escape my tightly pressed lips.  No word shall...Oh who am I kidding?  I'm glad for an excuse not to do it.  I shall relish every stolen moment and glory in my unexpected inactivity.

Exercise is something I feel I should do rather than something I want to do.  As such it is very easy to persuade me not to do it.  So easy in fact that I frequently manage it without assistance.  Now I come to think about it not doing exercise is one of the few things I can accomplish on my own.  I recently called an electrician to check why most of my lights don't work.  His advice can be summarised as, "try to be more careful changing the bulbs in future".  To his credit he didn't actually charge me very much for saying this.  Now at least some of my lights work.

Anybody who thinks they are truly independent should answer two questions.  Did you kill the food you're eating and did you make the clothes you're wearing?  I personally require so much external support its possible I should be reclassified as a parasitic organism.  I don't even generate my own chlorophyll.

Despite my uselessness at the simplest of tasks (I can't even build a pyramid without help) I can proudly and forthrightly take ownership of my lack of exercise.  Oh wait a minute, if it wasn't for the fact that the friend I was running the City to Surf with pulled out at the last minute I probably would have done it.  Apparently I can't even be lazy without assistance.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sirrah! Thy iPhone Doth Offend!

I have a friend (hi David) who loathes people who meander slowly down the street with their eyes glued to their iPhone.  I don't know if I would go so far as to say I hate them but they certainly irritate me despite the fact (mandatory disclosure notice) that on occasion I have been one of them.  Despite my occasional lapses it is something that I try not to do as I consider it rude.  Common good manners would tend to indicate that one should look where one is going.  Common good manners are, however, becoming increasingly uncommon.

Keen eyed readers will note that I didn't preface that last sentence with the word "unfortunately".  This might seem a little strange because I actually value good manners quite highly.  However I am somewhat ambivalent in general terms as to whether bad manners are actually a bad thing.  On the fact of it of course bad manners are bad, that's why we call them "bad".  They're inconsiderate, rude and selfish.  On the other hand bad manners are an indication of how relaxed and tolerant our society has become.

Manners are not something we're born with, they're something we learn.  Or to put it another way, they are something we are taught.  People have been teaching manners (and its more socially acceptable cousin etiquette) for pretty much as long as the human race has been around.  Why?  What is it that made our distant ancestors with their shorter lifespans and limited time for the imparting of essential wisdom decide that manners of some sort (varying with the society of course but every society has some) deserved to be squeezed in between how to grub efficiently for bugs and which types of berries were poisonous?  I suspect the answer is, fear.

Good manners and intricate etiquette are generally indicative of a violent and brutal society.  When the simple act of walking down the street in a particular fashion can provoke somebody to run a sword into your guts then learning the appropriate modes of behaviour is very important indeed.  The more elaborate the ritual, the more wincing the care taken not to offend the more likely it is that buried somewhere in that culture's past are grim penalties for transgression.  People learned good manners not because they wanted to be nice to each other but to reduce the likelihood that any of the neighbours would murder them.  Conversely they would be narrowly watching those self same neighbours for any indication of a slight which would require avenging.

Manners thus go from being the affectations of an effete society to an essential survival tip in a vicious and essentially lawless world.  When your life depends on not giving offence then manners are very important indeed.  Conversely as the organs of civilisation (or at least civilisation's idiot stepbrother, government) strengthened, as the state became more able and more willing to enforce its own codes of acceptable behaviour and withdraw punishment for transgressions from the hands of individuals it became less necessary for those individuals to do likewise.  Many people think that we, as a species, have got ruder.  I doubt it.  I rather think we were always this rude but now we're less scared.  Possibly surly ill manners are the hallmarks of a successful civilisation.

For those people deeply offended by the inconsiderate bastards who insist on texting as they're walking down the streets one of two options remains.  Either suck it up or round up your kinsmen, dependents and vassals and lay waste to the offender's huts and crops.  If you choose option two I know at least one person who will ride with you.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Davros Guide to Child Rearing

You can see them coming for miles.  Their sprawling bulk dominates to streetscape.  Heavy duty tires bite into the ground as though avenging a personal injury.  Dogs, children, pedestrians and even cars scatter to give them room as these modern behemoths thunder down the street.

Exactly when was it decided that prams needed to have the approximate size and manouvreability of aircraft carriers?  I see them on the weekend, frequently at the cafe or rather outside the cafe as the person responsible for its movement attempts to squeeze something that needs a truck bay in through an entrance designed for human beings.  Honestly if you gave one of these to a Gipsy he'd hitch a horse to the front of it and move his family in.

As for the baby, the putative reason why most parents now need a heavy vehicle licence to walk to the shops, well the most I can say is that its probably in there somewhere.  Certainly the prams are festooned with baby accessories (as well as shopping, superfluous clothing, laptops, dry cleaning and occasionally machine parts) but its entirely possible that the proud parents accidentally left the kid at home and just brought the pram.  Alternatively its possible the baby is in the prams basement playing pool with a few mates and growing hydroponic dope.

If anybody wonders at the proliferation of monstrous four wheel drives (or SUVs as they are now known in a pathetic aping of our American cousins) the answer is simple.  Nothing smaller will fit the pram in.  A seven seater SUV (now I'm doing it) will comfortably carry two adults, one infant and a monster pram to help the first three make that arduous journey from the car door to the entranceway of a shop.

At this point some people might review my own childless status and suggest that I have little sympathy with parents and am harbouring a secret inner resentment.  This is absolutely untrue.  I am harbouring a very public outer resentment.  I am five feet, seven inches tall and it irritates me that someone who would barely come up to my knee if they could stand upright at all somehow contrives to occupy ten times as much space as I do.

Still progress progresses I suppose.  The next step will be to motorise the pram so the parents are spared the chore of pushing.  After that we can rig up some sort of mental control so that the babies can steer themselves about the place allowing their parents to retire to a cafe in peace.  From there its just a small step to adding some extra protection and a weapon for self defence.  Holy shit!  We just created Daleks!  At least the parents will be able to relax and have a latte while their infants are out conquering the galaxy.

Garms of Morpheus

One of the things I love about Winter is the fact that I get to wear clothes to bed.  I find something strangely enjoyable about putting on specific garments (or "garms" as I call them in the privacy of my own head) just to go to bed.  Let's face it, it is an indulgence.  For millennia people simply flopped down in whatever pathetic rags they happened to be wearing to catch a few hours of exhausted sleep before returning to the fields.  A goodly proportion of the world's population still do this today.  To have specific sleeping clothes really is rather a luxury.

For me they're also a symbol of relaxation; a sign that I have completed (or more likely, put off) whatever tasks I had to perform throughout the day and may now relax for whatever time is left before I crawl into bed.  I revel in this little taste of luxury as I tick down the remaining minutes of my day.  This is helpful to me because I actually resent sleep.  The only reason why I sleep at all is because if I don't I tend to fall asleep.  If I have to sleep I would much rather do it in specially designed clothes in my bed than, for example, while wearing a suit at the office.  I know from experience that this is a less acceptable option.  For starters my colleagues have complained about the snoring.

So there I am, tucked up in bed warm and snuggly waiting to be enfolded in the arms of Morpheus as I believe the saying goes.  I have to say he's not the most satisfying bed partner I've ever had and he often calls at inconvenient moments but on the other hand he doesn't expect conversation or to be taken out to dinner either.  And he never complains about the fact that I'm always wearing sloppy pyjama type clothes whenever he turns up.  Frankly I don't know why he puts up with me.  He doesn't even complain about the fuzzy dragon slippers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fish Parasite of Judah?

Just when Bob Marley probably thought things couldn't get any worse (what with being dead and all) comes news that is certain to perk him right up.  It was recently announced that he is going to get a minuscule parasite that lives on fish named after him.  This is great news, the name Bob Marley shall finally be plucked from obscurity.  Now all we have to do is pluck the parasites off the fish.

I can't help wondering how much of an honour it is to give your name to some tiny parasitic fish sucker.  From now on whenever I hear the name Bob Marley I'm going to think "Oh yes, the fish parasite guy".  Not quite how he thought he'd be remembered I'm sure.  Still I guess we'd discovered (and shot) most of the impressive lifeforms by the time Marley died.  He probably had a choice between the fish parasite and some microbe that lives on the arse of a dung beetle.

The other thing I wonder about is why do we call them parasites.  In this politically correct age I would have expected a term like "differently symbiotic".  I don't have much patience with political correctness as a general rule but if I don't stand up for the fish parasite who will?  After all tigers insert sharp protuberances into deer and feed on them at leisure but we don't call them deer parasites, we call them carnivores a name that has a far more alpha male ring to it.

Still I suppose there are worse things than parasites (says the guy who works for a law firm) because when one looks at the magnificent, top of the food chain beasts that stride proudly through the wilderness we start to see a common denominator.  Most of them are on the edge of extinction.  We tend to kill carnivores, we seem to have less luck with parasites.  It's entirely possible (or to put it another way, entirely impossible) that tigers and their ilk dream of being fish parasites, living quiet unobtrusive lives unhindered by gun happy humans.  Actually forget my concerns about the fish parasites, they're doing OK.  I'll bet they're not endangered.  There's still plenty of fish around and, since they get by on a purely seafood diet, they're probably smarter than we are.

Well at Least the Heroin is Safe

The United States has recently announced that Afghanistan has the status of a major ally.  This is good news for Afghanistan which in most people's eyes barely has the status of a country.  Nevertheless this is a clever move by the United States.  In one swoop they have secured their nation's heroin supply.

As one looks over the list of major allies of the United States one finds names like Pakistan, Egypt and Israel (and, um, Australia).  One can't help thinking that the Americans use the term "major ally" in circumstances where most other people would probably select a phrase like "serious liability".

I can think of many terms to describe Afghanistan that you could put the word "major" in front of.  Heroin producer for example or policy disaster.  Shithole is yet a third.  Somehow "ally" doesn't really get a mention.  Afghanistan isn't even allied with itself much less anyone else.  A more accurate statement would have been something like "the United States has announced that approximately two blocks of downtown Kabul is a major ally".

Reality aside there are still good reasons why the US shouldn't have made that announcement.  It is the diplomatic equivalent of nailing your colours to the mast.  When the United States leaves (and it will) and Afghanistan disintegrates into a tribal bloodbath (and it will) then whoever is president or secretary of state will probably be able to do without snide reminders from the other side of politics that this gore spattered hellhole is a major ally.  At some point the Americans are going to have to cut Afghanistan adrift (in which case they will look like fools) or commit to a pretty much permanent occupation force in order to prevent their "major ally" from cannibalising itself to death.  At some point they're going to have to leave anyway and the more blood they lose before that happens the worse they're going to look.

There are some countries it is better not to have as allies.  They are the geopolitical equivalent of those family members you hastily put into rehab before meeting outsiders.  If the United States wants a policy that will work in Afghanistan then they should pull all their troops out and attempt to destabilise the country from the outside.  This is what is going to happen anyway but at least they would be able to claim a policy success.

It isn't as though any of this should be news to the Americans or anybody else.  Despite having lousy weather and exporting nothing except heroin and refugees Afghanistan seems to have exerted an almost mystical attraction to the superpower of the day.  From Alexander the Great onwards they all left faster than they went in.  I don't understand the attraction as even Afghans don't seem to like the place that much.  Presumably there are geopolitical reasons for getting involved in Afghanistan (geopolitical being a word which loosely means "something stupid we're getting up to in a foreign country").  Of course a lawless and anarchic Afghanistan makes it the perfect hideout for socially unacceptable groups like Al Qaida and the UN Security Council which is why the US went in in the first place.  It would be churlish of me to point out that so far almost as many Americans have died in Afghanistan as did in the September 11 attacks.

I suspect that the reason why empires have continually invaded Afghanistan is because they think they can effectively deal with the inhabitants by invading the country.  This is a fallacy, Afghanistan is too weak to break.  There is no nerve centre you can effectively hit to change anything on a fundamental level. Alexander's empire is gone, so is the Mongol empire, the Mughal empire (which originated in Afghanistan), the British empire and the Russian empire.  What remains?  Afghanistan.

Let the last word go to an Afghan tribal chief from part way through the 19th century.  He was talking to a British officer at the height of that empire who was expounding on all the benefits that would come the country's way if it took its place as part of Britain's colonial empire.  The chief acknowledged that there were many great advantages that could come from British rule but, "we would rather stay as we are than accept a ruler strong enough to tell us what to do."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Terminal Disease Got Better

Hypochondria is a great way to while away the idle hours.  The tiniest sniffle, the faintest headache, the merest hint of a flesh eating bacteria chewing my face off; all these things evoke a deep and fascinated interest in me.  They send me scurrying to the internet for frantic attempts at self diagnosis.  Note that they don't actually send me scurrying to a doctor, I may be a hypochondriac but I'm not an idiot.  Browsing the net trying to decipher which particular terminal disease I'm suffering from today is a great way to spend the afternoon and not a whit less productive than anything else I'm likely to be doing.

There is the frantic search on for mention of my appropriately vague symptoms as I clutch myself to stop my, no doubt, liquifying organs from seeping through my skin.  Then there is the thrill of discovery as I get a match and confidently diagnose myself with Creutzfeld Jakob Disease despite the fact that I gave up cannibalism decades ago (the neighbours complained).  Once successfully diagnosed there is the added joy of nobly enduring my terminal disease without dropping a hint that my (barely discernable) symptoms might indicate something serious while spending my few remaining hours writing heartfelt farewell letters to my friends and family.

Evetually of course I have to accept that on balance I'm likely to live through the night and I must have contracted one of the milder strains of rabies.  At this point I regret not having made more of my symptons while I had them and thus garnerig a little sympathy before my utterly unexpected recovery.  Also of course I have to dash around madly gathering up all those embarrassing (and occasionally incriminating) farewell letters and burning them.  This has got so bad that my neighbours think I'm running a private crematorium in my living room.  Then I get the sniffles and the whole cycle starts again.

There is just one note of caution I would like to sound before encouraging you to take up hypochondria as a hobby.  From time to time your internet search will turn up a disease or condition which not only dovetails with your symptoms but actually sounds rather plausible.  When that happens it can be absolutely terrifying.

Now to Find the Satan Particle

Well they've finally done it.  After spending billions of dollars, digging more tunnels than the inmates at Colditz and almost dumping the planet into a mini black hole the team at the Large Hadron Collider have finally achieved something more than just sitting around bashing their bosons.  The elusive Higgs boson, the so called "God Particle" (so called mainly by people who don't know what they're talking about) has finally been captured, photographed, tagged and released back into the wild so we can study its mating habits.  The excitement in Geneva had to be believed to be seen.  Professor Higgs himself shed a tear and the festivities went on into the early hours of the afternoon.

One can understand the delight of Professor Higgs.  Finally, after all these years, it looks as though he has given his name to something which, on the balance of probabilities, is more likely to exist than not.  Or something like that.  Of course this is only the beginning.  It is not definite proof.  Nevertheless the results gained so far are what sub atomic particle physicists called a five sigma result (and they wonder why they got beaten up in school).  This is the way physicists measure the likelihood of a previously untried experiment being accurate.  The more sigmas you get the less likely it is that you got your results purely by coincidence.  Five sigmas is pretty damned high, to get any more you would have to have a signed autograph from the Higgs boson itself.  For the layman a five sigma result can be defined as "far more certain than the likelihood of your reprobate son dropping in for a visit and only slightly less likely than the chance of rain at a garden wedding."  Any result greater than five sigmas (particularly in sub atomic particle physics) is likely to actually warp reality itself.  Which means that while the experiment will still be valid it is possible the universe it is taking place in won't be.

Once somebody recreates the experiment and gets the same results it will be officially proved.  At least, something will be officially proved.  It isn't as though they now have a box of Higgs bosons hanging around that they can hand out to schoolchildren touring the collider.  In fact they haven't actually encountered a Higgs boson at all.  The Higgs boson is a shy and retiring beast, rather like like leopards at the national park I visited in Nepal many years ago.  The rangers assured us there were leopards there, they found occasional tracks and droppings but nobody should expect to actually see one.  As it is with the leopard so it is with the Higgs boson.  What has actually been discovered is the sort of effects one might expect to encounter if a Higgs boson had recently been in the room but had just stepped to answer a call of nature.

So that's it then, mystery solved, universe explained, shut down the collider, unshackle the scientists and let them go home to their families.  Well, not quite.  There are still questions to answer.  Of course there are.  There is a model for how the Higgs boson is supposed to behave.  Some of the results have shown certain deviations from this model.  It is not certain what "type" of Higgs boson we have encountered.  At some point you just have to assume that the universe is simply screwing with us.  But perhaps this is a good thing.  After all we have that atom smasher and all those tunnels, if there wasn't anything left to do with them there would be nothing for it but to turn the thing into an amusement park ride for kids.  I'd buy a ticket for sure if I got the opportunity to play a game of pin the sub atomic particle trail on the boson.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Diamond Tortillas

I woke up at four am the other morning singing the words "diamond tortillas" over and over out loud.  Why?  I really don't know.  Just because my subconscious rents space in my general vicinity doesn't actually mean I have any control over it.  My interactions with both diamonds and tortillas have been pretty minimal over the years and I am rather at a loss to explain my burst of nocturnal song.  I even googled the term but that didn't produce anything useful unless I am likely to visit a Mexican restaurant in Missouri which I assure you I am not.

I very rarely dream and never before have I woken up singing about anything.  There is obviously some deep rooted psychological reason for my actions and it is imperative I discover what it is.  Actually I couldn't care less but without doing so I'm several paragraphs short of a blog entry.  Therefore I subjected my little ditty to what, for me, passes for in depth analysis.

Firstly let us consider the word "diamond".  To me that conveys several meanings.  Firstly value, then beauty and rarity.  These are the obvious ones of course but following on their heels are the words Africa, violence, suffering and (thanks to the marketing guys at deBeers) permanence. So that's the word diamond sorted.  After that we come to the word "tortilla".  Naturally that makes me think of Mexico and food but also peasant food, poverty, deprivation and want.

With the words sorted we can turn to the delivery method; song.  I was singing.  Singing is not something I normally do because I suck at singing.  Singing (when done by me) conjures up images of failure, awkwardness, unease and disassociation.  To convey a message by song would, for me, imply foreboding or concern with the inadequacy of the performance highlighting feelings of dread and inability.

Finally, there is the timing.  I woke up at four am for god's sake.  This is a time of darkness and vulnerability when my mental faculties are at their lowest ebb and my physical body, cocooned under a doona, is incapable of rapid movement and therefore unable to act efficiently for either defence or flight.

From all of the above I think it is easy to determine the reason for my early morning aria.  My subconscious is obviously deeply concerned about food security in the third world, the increasing price of basic staples, the very real danger of violence as a result of this and despair at the lack of genuine interest being showed by more affluent regions.  It's good to see that my subconscious has such an active social awareness because I have to admit that it doesn't bother me at all.

Of course none of the above explains why, when I woke up, I giggled for ten minutes straight.  Possibly my subconscious has a nasty streak after all.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Fact That You Think You're Healthy is Actually a Symptom

I hate being sick.  No surprises there, I'm sure everybody does but what I hate more than being sick is being pre-sick.  That general feeling of not being quite well while not actually feeling sick enough to take a day off work.  There is that feeling of unpleasant anticipation as you wait to see which largely indefinable pseudo symptoms will actually develop into something you can coherently describe to a doctor or leverage into a couple of days off.  Even more irritating is when they don't develop into anything at all.  I know it sounds a little odd to complain about not getting sick but after several days of dragging myself into work while feeling shabby I feel a little cheated if I can't get a day off at the end of it.

There's also the credibility aspect to consider.  Nobody can reasonably complain if you ring up and explain you can't come into work today because you have smallpox but there is little sympathy if you ring up and say, "I feel icky".  Particularly if you never actually come down with something.  You get an undeserved reputation as a hypochondriac.

What is needed, I think, is to for pre-sickness itself to be identified as a medical condition.  This would make things so much easier.  No longer would I be a whiny, self pitying freeloader.  Rather I would be the sufferer of a genuine illness whose mere presence at work would represent a heroic struggle against invalidism.  I would gain the sympathy of my colleagues and the understanding of my supervisor as I ring up to explain why I won't be in at work for the thirty fifth day in a row.  Anything I did manage to achieve would be seen as a triumphant struggle against insuperable odds.  I would appear on motivational posters and the sort of heart warming youtube clips that some people insist on posting on facebook.  Being pre-sick could become a career in itself.

Naturally as boundaries shift and being pre-sick takes its place as a genuine illness the position it currently occupies will be taken by being pre-pre-sick or, as it is currently known, well.  That will be the best result of all; when you can ring up your boss and say, "I can't come in today, I'm feeling fantastic" and have him reply, "Not to worry, get better soon".

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why Do We Always Have to Give Something Up?

Someone I know posted a link on Facebook today entitled 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy.  I'm sure the person (or people) who compiled that list did it with the best of intentions and I'm sure there is some cogent advice lurking within the suggestions which many people would do well to follow.  However I'm not entirely sure that as a quick recipe to bliss this is necessarily the best path to follow.  The suggestions are as follows;

1.  Give Up Your Need to be Always Right
2.  Give Up Your Need for Control
3.  Give Up on Blame
4.  Give Up Your Self Defeating Self Talk
5.  Give Up Your Limiting Beliefs
6.  Give Up Complaining
7.  Give Up the Luxury of Criticism
8.  Give Up Your Need to Impress Others
9.  Give Up Your Resistance to Change
10. Give Up Labels
11. Give Up on Your Fears
12. Give Up Your Excuses
13. Give Up the Past
14. Give Up Attachment
15. Give Up Living Your Life to Other People's Expectations

As I said, there is some good advice buried in there if you take it in context and don't go nuts.  Let us admit, however, that the human race does have this tendency to go nuts over various ideas (and the nuttier the idea the more likely it is to happen) and there are times when the wholehearted acceptance of anything leads only to disaster.  Just to play devil's advocate (which pays much better than prosecutor) let's do a little analysis of these suggestions.

1.  Give Up Your Need to be Always Right.  I don't know if I would call it a need but it is certainly nice to be right.  Useful too, particularly when reading a map.  Personally I would rather like to be right all the time.  It would take a lot of the angst out of decision making.  Naturally everybody else would hate me.  People always hate those who are right all the time.  But the only other option is to be deliberately wrong.  This may well lead to temporary happiness up until that point when you confidently assert that the train looming down on you will stop in time.  After that things might get a bit messy.

2.  Give Up Your Need for Control.  Again, its nice to be in control.  Of course you can't control everything and there are some things which arguably you shouldn't control such as the lives of others or (in my case) anything breakable or dangerous.  Still, if the aforementioned train is bearing down on you it might be handy if you could control that.

3.  Give Up on Blame.  A fine sentiment on the surface.  But if everybody gave up on blame then nobody would be blamed for anything.  Which means that nobody would have to face any consequences for their actions.  I'm not sure that this would improve either the world or my personal happiness.

4.  Give Up Your Self Defeating Self Talk.  Yes, I will concede this one despite the tortured syntax.  Defeatism is a terrible drag on going out and doing what needs to be done.  On the other hand if you are manifestly unfit to be doing what you're attempting then a little constructive defeatism might just keep life in your body for a few more years.

5.  Give Up Your Limiting Ideas.  This one would sound fine if they hadn't attempted to emphasise the point by saying "spread your wings and fly".  I earnestly entreat you not to spread your wings and fly otherwise you will find that instead you have flapped your arms and fallen.  Possibly to a hideous death.  Limits are imposed on what we can do.  They aren't imposed by us necessarily, they are imposed by things like gravity, ballistics and inertia.  Ignore them at your peril.

6.  Give Up Complaining.  This won't make you happier but it will certainly make everybody around you happier.  On that basis I'm prepared to accept this one.  Or to put it another way; Shut the fuck up, nobody cares.

7.  Give Up the Luxury of Criticism.  See blame.  Yes criticism, especially unjustified or ignorant criticism is tedious, irritating and frequently an absolute pain in the neck.  I would be firmly in favour of abolishing unjustified criticism as long as we didn't toss justified criticism out with the bathwater.

8.  Give Up Your Need to Impress Others.  This one seems unimpeachable but there is actually a need to impress others.  Nobody builds a genuine relationship whether of love or friendship with somebody who doesn't impress them in some way.  Unless your idea of bliss is to be vaguely well thought of but utterly ignored by absolutely everybody you are going to have to impress somebody and that might take a bit of effort.

9.  Give Up Your Resistance to Change.  Yes, embrace change.  Remember this when somebody suggests your entrails might look better on the outside of your body for a change.  Resistance to change is not some piece of stupid dogmatism it is a survival technique.  For every bold adventurer who stepped forth into the unknown and returned covered in glory there are a hundred who stepped forth straight into a lion's jaws.  I don't say you should be violently opposed to change but I do suggest that you walk around change, inspect it closely from all angles and assure yourself as far as you can that it isn't simply bloody silly.

10.  Give Up Labels.  This would be self evidently stupid if they hadn't gone on to say "Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different and try opening your mind."  This is good advice but keep the labels handy anyway.  Its entirely possible that once you have opened your mind and accepted these people or events that you didn't understand you will come to realise that they are still weird and different (and quite possibly insane).  Then it will be helpful to have a label to tag them with so you don't get caught out next time.

11.  Give Up On Your Fears.  They punctuate this point by quoting Franklin D Roosevelt "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" and possibly Nazis and polio.  Fear has its place.  I don't keep my hands out of the fire for the hell of it, I'm just afraid of getting burnt.  If the human race were without fear by this stage we would also be without humans.  Fear does a pretty good job of counteracting people's natural stupidity.

12.  Give Up Your Excuses.  Indeed.  From now on accept that every slight, failure, loss and miserable occurrence is all your own fault.  This will make you much happier.  I actually support this one but not because I think it will increase anyones happiness.

13.  Give Up the Past.  Understandable advice but difficult.  The past is the only thing we actually own.  The present is shared between everybody else and Christ knows who's going to be running the future.  Beside the past has valuable lessons to teach us.  If you did something in the past which made you miserable your future happiness is unlikely to be improved by ignoring that.

14.  Give Up Attachment.  No!  We are all attached to each other.  Some of the bonds are stronger than others, some are so faint as to be almost invisible but they are there.  The writer points out that he doesn't mean to give up loving but merely attachment because that comes from fear.  At this point he is talking total rubbish.  I love books but I'm not attached to them.  The love I have for my friends and family comes with attachment.  I am linked to them as I am not to my books (no matter how much I might say I love them) and I would consign all my books to the flames tomorrow to help friends or family.  I would not burn my friends for the sake of my books.  That's the difference between love with and without attachments.

15.  Give Up Living Your Life to Other Peoples Expectations.  Sound advice within reason.  There are some occasions when it is very wise to live your life to other peoples expectations particularly if those other people are your employers or a parole board for example.  Beyond that there are certain people who make us better than we are because we don't want to disappoint them.

In conclusion (finally) if one succeeded in giving up all of the above possibly you would be happy but you would have given up so much of yourself that it is difficult to see what exactly would be happy.  Certainly it wouldn't be anyone your friends or family would recognise or, in all likelihood, want to spend much time with.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bread and Dynamite

Never cast your bread upon the water.  For one thing it makes the bread all soggy.  Secondly there seems to be little point unless you enjoy the sight of your sandwich floating gently down the stream.

What was the origin of that particular phrase I wonder?  I've read Tom Sawyer so I know that once upon a time people used bread to find bodies that had been taken by the river but unless you have a fetish for waterlogged corpses (and if you do please don't leave a comment) I don't really see the point.  After all you don't want to be tripping over time expired corpses every time you toss a loaf into the water.  Feeding ducks would become a thing of horror.

In fact the only reason I can think of for throwing a loaf of bread into a river is if you're hoping to hit a fish.  A yummy fish dinner would certainly make up for the fact that you're definitely not going to be having toast.  Still if that is your intention you would probably do better to cast dynamite upon the water.  Then you'll be able to have fish and toast and the gunpowder will probably provide a little seasoning.

For some reason fishing with dynamite does seem to be a little frowned on by purists.  I'm not entirely sure why.  Personally I can't see a heck of a lot of difference between killing fish with the locally acquired equivalent of a depth charge and dragging them from their native habitat by ramming a steel hook into the roof of their mouth.  I know which I would prefer if given a choice.  I suspect there is a bit of snobbery behind the entire prejudice against dynamite.  Dynamite fishing is considered to be the preserve of semi literate rednecks whereas angling is the preserve of semi literate rednecks who can afford fishing gear.

Of course the truly destitute are reduced to hurling lumps of bread at passing fish and hoping for the best.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chasing the Fuzzy Green Dragon

Ha ha!  The days of chilly feet are over.  I have just taken delivery of my brand new, fuzzy, green dragon slippers.  No longer will my ankles feel as though they are teetering on unstable blocks of ice.  I can face the upcoming Winter with casual aplomb secure in the knowledge that my feet are nestled in the dragons embrace.

At what point in human development was it decided that civilisation would not advance another step until somebody invented novelty slippers?  What is even more surprising is that civilisation (or some unreasonable facsimile of it) continued to advance after their invention.  Personally I'm amazed that we didn't just collapse in a welter of self indulgent decadence as all our best and brightest wallowed in the sheer delight of novelty slippers.  I know that I was incredibly tempted to take the day off simply so I could bury my feet in my dragons and relax.

I suppose the human race is fortunate that its destiny is guided by people who have a greater sense of duty than I do.  These paragons of virtue eschew the enervating luxury of novelty slippers to better guide the people of Earth to a safer and happier tomorrow.  Pity them, these sacrifices to duty, as they go about their tasks their feet adorned not with funky bunny slippers or furry bear claws but instead the sensible, stylish footwear which both symbolises and epitomises the stern and crushing burden they have shouldered on our behalf.

Only the grim satisfaction of duty well done can go some small way to alleviate the slipperless deprivation in which they are forced to live out their existence (one could hardly call it a life).  Of course its possible I'm giving them too much credit.  For all I know as soon as the cameras taking the official photos have departed our political leaders toss aside their hated footwear of authority and revel in the most extravagant slippers of all.  That would certainly explain why the world is in such a mess.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Freeze to an Unbelievable Level is Coming

The sun is shining, the day is cold and crisp.  It is a perfect Winter's day.  The only problem is, it isn't Winter.  Officially we still have a few weeks of Autumn or, as our American cousins insist on calling it, Fall.  As season names go it has the advantage of brevity but I don't understand why the Americans didn't go the whole hog and rename the other seasons Burn, Freeze and Grow respectively.  Possibly because college students would feel like idiots going to Cancun on Grow Break.  And would Donna Summer have been quite so popular if her name was Donna Burn?

This is the sort of question that occupies my mind when I should be studying for my AML diploma.  The only time my mind thinks about AML is when I'm boring others who have absolutely no interest in the topic.  Hopefully my exam will be in the format of a conversation with the disinterested.

Still, I wouldn't mind calling Summer, Burn.  The only problem with naming the seasons like this is that it becomes a little too location specific.  Burn, Fall, Freeze and Grow might be fine for the United States and parts of Europe but the equivalent in Antarctica would be Freeze, Freeze More, Freeze to an Unbelievable Level and Still Freeze but with Penguins Hatching.  This would probably become annoying after a while.

Speaking of penguins has anybody noticed that emperor penguins are the only southern hemisphere animal to travel south for the Winter?  Apparently the coastline of Antarctica just isn't cold, bleak and desolate enough for them.  I can actually understand the rationale behind this.  If you can adapt to living in a frozen hell (and bits of Hell are frozen, just ask Dante) then predators and competitors for the local food supply are likely to be few and far between.  Although so is the local food supply.

Personally I think penguins should have stuck to more temperate climes.  Yes; the competition would have been fiercer but any bird that can adapt to living in the antarctic can surely adapt to this.  All it would have to do is grow bigger, fiercer, faster and get some serious teeth and claws.  Oh wait a minute.  Some penguins did do that only when they did it we started calling them tigers.

That Thing Too Embarrassed to Show its own Face is Democracy

Big news from the United States.  Mike the Headless Chicken has thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for the 2012 presidential election.  It remains to be seen what exactly will differentiate him from the headless chickens already in the race.  Nevertheless this remains the most significant political news to come out of America since Cthulhu ran for president under the slogan "Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?"

It must be conceded there are a few stumbling blocks to Mike's campaign.  Firstly; he's dead, although to be fair that didn't stop Reagan winning a second term.  Secondly; he's a chicken but since he can produce evidence that he was born in the United States that shouldn't be a problem.  Perhaps his biggest difficulty will be mobilising nationwide support.  He's popular locally (there's a statue to him in his home town) but Rudy Giuliani proved how difficult it is to translate local support into a genuine broad based movement.  Still, I can't wait for the candidate debates.  Democracy can only be the winner.

To see a place where democracy is a loser you only have to travel to Greece.  The Greeks have just had an election the only tangible results of which were terror on the financial markets and a stern injunction from their president to do it again and get it right this time.  The Greeks voted for a kaleidoscope of parties from the lunar right to the nut case left with the only consistent theme being that the mainstream parties should be hung upside down and bastinadoed until their feet fell off.  Not surprisingly no party could cobble together a coalition and the Greeks are going to have to go through the whole tedious process again in a few weeks.

The response to this has been panic across Europe as policy makers realise that the prospects of Greece paying its bills, not defaulting and staying in the euro are diminishing by the hour.  All in all Greece hasn't had this sort of impact on the world since the days of Alexander the Great.  Personally I don't have much sympathy for the Europeans; they are in the position of owners of a family company who suddenly realise that their idiot cousin has blown all of the company's money on coke and hookers.  My lack of sympathy derives from the fact that the people currently throwing up their hands in horror were the ones who promoted the idiot cousin to the board in the first place.  Although if the Greeks really had spent all that money on coke and hookers its arguable that their economy would likely be in better shape.