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.