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.