Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Battle With Pineapples

I have recently taken delivery of approximately eighty-seven tonnes of pineapple.  OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, and by exaggeration I mean bare faced lie.  Although "bare faced lie" is what I call it I freely acknowledge that this definition is somewhat obsolete in our post modern world.  As I understand it I believe the term to use now is something along the lines of "I have a battle with truth". 

I have a battle with truth?  Nonsense, its hardly a battle when you crush your opponent with the very first salvo.  Eighty seven tonnes of pineapple baby, count them.  Battle with truth indeed.  I blame Gitta Sereny quite frankly.  It took a while to take off but she really coined the term.  Let's be very frank, I don't have a battle with truth.  Nobody has a battle with truth.  Belle Gibson that pseudo cancer surviving wellness food thingamy didn't have a battle with truth.  She was just full of shit.  Some people tell lies.  That's not a battle, truth isn't even acknowledged let alone engaged with, wrestled to the ground and finally slain in a R18+ deathmatch that results in bits of entrails hanging from the curtain rods.

Nobody has a battle with truth.  Having a battle with truth makes about as much sense as taking delivery of eighty seven tonnes of pineapple.  Which, spoiler alert, I haven't actually done.  I have bought a honking big tin of pineapple though.  Why?   Well partly because I like pineapple, but mainly because I have found it very difficult to acquire tins of pineapple lately so when I saw what appeared to be a forty four gallon drum with a picture of a pineapple on the side in my local convenience store I snapped it up.

It was the only tin of pineapple there (although to be fair there probably wouldn't have been room in the store for a second one) and I hadn't actually been able to source pineapple for a couple of months.  I actually did some research to find out what the hell had happened to my pineapple supply and found a rather unusual answer.  It would appear that in Queensland (that great sundrenched pineapple field of the Australian nation) farmers recently introduced the labedus tick, a small blood drinking parasite, in the hopes that it would kill off the rabbit plague Australia has been experiencing ever since we were idiotic enough to introduce rabbits in the nineteenth century.

Sadly as a result of the calicivirus (a previous rabbitocide attempt) altering their blood make up it turned out that rabbit blood was poisonous to the labedus tick so instead it started attacking the great throated woodbelle a formerly prolific native Australian bird species which also had an integral role in the fertilization of pineapples.  With woodbelles literally dropping out of the sky the, ahem, reproductive needs of pineapples went unfulfilled.  As a result Queensland is ankle deep in dead birds, live ticks and no pineapples.

Actually it was caused by a drought in pineapple producing areas.  Sorry, it would appear that my "battle with the truth" is ongoing.  Still as Belle Gibson could tell you there is almost no story that is so stupid that somebody wont be stupid enough to believe it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Birthday Greetings #49

Happy birthday to Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor.  If you've seen the movie Gladiator then you have a rough idea who Marcus Aurelius is.  He's the old emperor who gets murdered by Joaquin Phoenix.  In actual fact Marcus Aurelius died of natural causes (probably stomache cancer) and his son, although deeply unsatisfactory in virtually every respect, was not seriously suspected of killing him.

Marcus Aurelius came to the throne in 161 AD and was a member of the Antonine dynasty which produced six emperors only two of whom were actually related.  While it was considered desirable for a coherent, violence free succession that an emperor be succeeded by his son the actual position of "son" was something that the upper echelons of Roman society were quite happy to subcontract out.  Thus Nerva adopted Trajan, Trajan adopted Hadrian (at least according to Hadrian) and Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius on condition that he in turn adopt Marcus Aurelius and another character called Lucius Verus.

Marcus was of high birth to start with.  His father was the brother of the emperor's wife and as Marcus grew and displayed his talents he came to the attention of the emperor Hadrian himself, and not just for the usual reason that well set up teenage boys came to the attention of Hadrian.  It would appear that Hadrian intended that Marcus succeed him but Hadrian's sands were rapidly running out.  With death touching his shoulder and Marcus still a very young man Hadrian realised his captain's pick needed a little more time to settle.  Turning to one of his most trusted advisers, Antoninus Pius, he offered adoption on the conditions noted above.  The motive was obvious.  Antoninus Pius although nobodies idea of a genius was a highly competent administrator and a man of absolute integrity.  If you needed things done after you weren't around to oversee them then Antoninus was your man.  Antoninus Pius would keep the empire running and the imperial throne warm while Marcus got some life experience and since he was already in his fifties it shouldn't be too long.  Actually it was over twenty years, apparently clean living does extend your life.

Marcus developed a rather unRoman interest in philosophy at an early age and studied it whenever he could, aligning himself with the Stoic school (which frankly sounds rather appealing) despite the protests of his favourite tutor.  He would follow Stoic principals as best he could his entire life and he is probably best known for his book of meditations which is a series of guidelines on how he could more appropriately live his life.  I have a copy which I read from time to time when I want to feel like an unworthy slob.

With Antoninus Pius in charge Marcus got the kind of jobs which would be considered nepotism if he had abused them but which we can call useful training since he approached them with application and dedication.  Although never a healthy man Marcus worked hard at his duties despite the fact that he apparently despised court life and wanted to go off and live in a cave or something.

At the age of 74 Antoninus finally died (apparently of an overdose of cheese) and Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus stepped up to the big job.  Remember Lucius Verus?  He was coemperor with Marcus and was utterly unlike him.  A sport loving party boy he possibly wasn't the best match for Marcus.  He tended to get into embarrassing situations a fair bit.  Fortunately war broke out with the Parthians and Marcus sent Lucius off to fight it.  Actually Lucius sat around gambling in Antioch while the legions fought the war but they were successful and Lucius returned in triumph until he conveniently died of the plague his troops brought back with them.  Less conveniently approximately five million other people died of the plague as well.

With the Parthians (and Lucius) off his back Marcus settled down to running the empire.  He revalued the denarius (actually increasing the silver content for a change) and sharpened up and improved both the legal system and the administration.  He did this simply by taking an interest and being good at it.  Its amazing how well a bureaucracy can run when the staff realise that the person in charge knows their jobs better than they do and incidentally can have them executed if they screw up.

But this being the Roman empire Marcus wasn't going to be able to spend the rest of his life terrifying his officials and getting beloved by the common folk.  The Parthians may have been thumped but various Germanic tribes were getting rather uppity, raiding across borders, torching border posts and the like and that damn plague just wouldn't go away. 

The war with the Germanic tribes (largely although not exclusively the Marcomanni) went on for most of the rest of Marcus's life.  These are the guys Russell Crowe was beating up in the opening scene of Gladiator.  The war was hard fought (largely because the Marcomanni had their own problems and were desperate) but ultimately victorious.  Problems arose because Marcus settled some of the defeated barbarians in Italy where they revolted a couple of times and had to be put down.  Settling barbarians on the fringes of the empire was established practice but Marcus was the first to bring them into the heartland and it can't be said to be a success.  One possible reason is the casualties caused by the plague had resulted in serious depopulation.

Still by the time he died things seemed more or less settled and there were plans to create a couple of new provinces from the captured territory but Marcus died before they could be realised.  Possibly the worst thing Marcus did was break with tradition and have sex with his wife.  This resulted in a natural born son who inherited the empire after he was gone.  This lad, Commodus by name, turned out to be a living example of the benefits of adoption.

Meeting the Neighbours

I met some neighbours the other day, I met their cat and paused to say hello.  Since the neighbours turned up hard on their cat's paws common politeness demanded that I say at least as much as I said to their cat.  I'm pleased to record that my neighbours also behaved in an appropriate matter.  They didn't introduce themselves, providing names I would then have to forget nor did they make impertinent inquiries about the state of my health.  Rather, they introduced the cat.  His (or possibly her, we didn't get as far as gender allocation) name is Spooky.

Spooky is a plumpish black cat with a white underbelly.  He (or she) has a little grey around the muzzle and is definitely not a kitten any more.  I can't really describe the neighbours although I think one of them is female.  Which by logical inference tells you that one isn't.  As long as I'm either correct or incorrect about both those assumptions my conclusion still stands.

With feline introductions concluded to the satisfaction of all none of us felt the need to hang around, not even Spooky who fled inside the neighbours apartment, so we went our separate ways.  It's rare to have such a satisfying interaction with other human beings and I'm positively looking forward to seeing them again which I predict will happen in six to eight months time when Spooky gets out onto the landing again.

When did people lose their disinterest in others?  I blame social media.  Suddenly everybody is following everybody else and hanging on every hundred and forty characters dropped by the objects of their obsession as if they were holy writ.  What happened to the days when you could encounter someone with a fist growing out of their head in the street and just give a polite nod and keep on walking?  Nowadays one can't even retire to a nightclub toilet cubicle for a brief tryst with a recently met acquaintance without somebody uploading a video of it to the internet.  Seriously guys, some discretion please.  If those involved had wanted their activities to be public they would have done it on the dancefloor.

It might be better if this upsurge of interest in people's behaviour was accompanied by an interest in people themselves but it hasn't.  Polite disinterest has been replaced by morbid curiosity and the assumption that your opinion on what is going on is of vast interest to anybody actually involved.  Here's a tip; if you aren't part of the solution stop being so bloody fascinated with the problem.  And don't like people's twitter feeds, it only encourages them.

Reading blog posts is perfectly fine of course.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tilting at Robot Arms

Facebook has recently launched a series of ads for its not for profit initative which aims to bring free or at least affordable internet to those parts of the planet not currently blessed with such a thing.  It would be churlish to suggest they're just hoping to get more customers for facebook.  The ads focus on people who have achieved extraordinary things despite the crippling disability of internet deprivation and end with an invitation to us to consider how much more they could have done if only they had access to the world wide web.  It's all very touching and uplifting really.

As a total non sequitur I can't help wondering how wretchedly bad a product has to be if the people tasked with marketing it figured that the most effective way to do so was to highlight the achievements of people who have never encountered it.  It would be like making a car commercial that featured nothing but draught horses.  Which would be ridiculous because everybody knows that draught horses advertise beer.

The first advertisement I saw featured a couple of young girls who had built themselves a robot arm.  This was, rightly, noted as pretty impressive for a couple of girls living in an internet free zone.  Am I alone in wondering if that might actually have helped.  With no internet you do rather have to think of something to do yourself.  Still, as I noted the ad posed the question of how much more the girls could have done if they had had the internet.  Possibly they could have built an entire robot.

The marketing team seem to be forgetting a couple of things.  Firstly if the girls had had the internet they would almost certainly have spent most of their time watching humourous cat videos and cyberbullying their peers.  Secondly they haven't really taken into account the fact that the girls are building robot arms essentially to pass the time until next year when depending on their culture and location they will either be preparing for their arranged marriage or going to work in a tin mine.

The next ad was even more bizarre.  It featured a couple of young boys who had designed a windmill.  Considering the surroundings they apparently live in I can't help thinking that a windmill is probably of more practical use to their community than any half a dozen robot arms you care to name.  And again there is the "imagine what they could have done if they'd had the internet" hook.

I'm sorry to be the one to point this out but we have had windmills of various descriptions for almost two thousand years longer than we've had the internet (and I know that's true I looked it up on wikipedia).  If we had had to wait for the internet before we could get around to designing windmills a lot of people would have gone very hungry, and died.  Using the internet to help you build a windmill is like going onto youtube to learn how to be a blacksmith (and without even checking I'm certain you can).  If those boys had internet access they would probably use it to find jobs in a part of the world where designing a windmill isn't an essential life skill.  I'm joking of course, they would use it for porn.  Unless they were of a particularly ambitious frame of mind in which case they would use it to cut and paste enough information from wikipedia to get themselves a university degree, and porn.

I don't think facebook's initiative is actually a bad idea.  Opening children's minds to a vast array of new ideas and experiences will help them to be dissatisfied with what they've got right now and dissatisfaction with the present has always been the thing that drives us towards the future.  Besides, the possession of a functioning internet service in these communities opens up the hope that other benefits of modern civilisation like potable water, adequate food and halfway decent healthcare might also put in an appearance.  For a society that apparently produces nothing but windmills and robot arms that's got to be pretty appealing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I'm Sorry But Cold Fusion Simply Isn't Worth It

At the ripe old age of somewhat older than me my mother has learnt how to send text messages.  This is a deeply disturbing development.  Firstly there is the potential damage to our relationship.  I have a very good relationship with my parents which is based almost exclusively on the fact that I see them infrequently enough that they have forgotten what I'm like by the next time I come to visit.  With each new foray into communications technology there is an increasing risk that my parents will actually get to know me.  It's bad enough that they read this blog.

The other issue is even more concerning for my well being and self esteem.  Self esteem can largely be defined as "an appreciation of how much better you are than most of the people you meet".  Now that my mother has mastered texting what's next?  A facebook page?  Computer programming?  Designing nuclear reactors in her spare time?  Don't misunderstand me, this would all be great for my mother.  I'm sure she would gain a great deal of fulfillment from spending her remaining years getting cold fusion up to the plate as a viable energy source. 

But what about me?  It's bad enough that my technical skills are limited to a somewhat erratic ability to change a lightbulb (I had to call an electrician the last time I tried), its going to be even worse when I have to admit that I got lost on my way to her Nobel Prize acceptance ceremony.  I already have one parent who can pretty much unravel a human DNA chain on his garage workbench, with two I'm going to look like something of an underachiever.

Of course it could be argued that with study, application and hard work I could improve my skills at least to the point where my parents no longer have to hide me in the attic when company calls.  Being possessed of highly intelligent and capable parents should be a driver making me go beyond myself and becoming the best I can be.  Well yeees, in theory I guess you're right.  In practice I'm a lazy bastard.  Besides that sounds like it would take quite a bit of time and I haven't even caught up with the last season of Game of Thrones yet.

So I'm going to have to stomp on my mother's texting before she realises how much further she could go. I do feel a little bad about that.  The Nobel prize would look great on the shelf over the fire along with her arts degree and various other proofs of ability but let's face it the cat would just knock it off anyway.  If that happened my mother would be rather upset and its no use blaming the cat, it would just look furry and adorable and she would wind up apologising for putting her proof of benefiting mankind in its way.  So I'm really doing her a favour and saving the cat a bruise or two for which PETA if nothing else should thank me.

The only trouble is I'm not really sure how to go about it and for reasons which should be obvious to anyone who has read the preceding paragraphs I'm not actually prepared to put much time or effort into it.  So what am I to do?  I think the thing is to divert my mother's attention with something else.  So far to my certain knowledge she can act, write, draw, cook, sketch, sew, paint, do calligraphy, speak three languages and make jokes in Latin.  I wonder if its too late to get her interested in gambling?  Fortunately I can now send her a text and ask her.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bit of a Bugger Being Crucified at Easter

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that the people might enjoy a four day weekend.

I have a question about Easter.  Were the Roman soldiers paid penalty rates for crucifying Jesus on Good Friday?  And if the answer is "yes" wouldn't it have made more sense to put it off for a couple of weeks and then do it during normal business hours?

One can imagine Pontius Pilate sitting in the prefectural palace tearing his hair out at the wages bill.  Of course he may have been hoping that ticket sales would defray the cost.  If Jesus had been crucified on a rainy Tuesday with everybody at work he would have been looking at a zero turnout.  Then there's t-shirt sales, sideshows, rides for the kids.  Actually, the more I think about it the more I suspect Pilate was not so much tearing his hair out as he was rubbing large fistfuls of coins over his body and calling for the list of irritating religious figures to see if he could do the whole thing again next weekend.  Fortunately then, as now, the Middle East didn't exactly have a shortage of such people.

Naturally the soldiers involved would have had their own grumbles.  I mean penalty rates are all very well but they were probably looking forward to some time with the family over the long weekend.

"Why did I have to get assigned to this?  I promised the wife I'd take the kids out this weekend."
"Did you have plans?"
"Yeah, I was going to take them to the crucifixion."

Which helps to explain why one of the less recorded episodes of the entire affair is a six year old voice piping up,

"Stick the spear in him again Daddy," followed by,

"Quiet son, I'm working here," while a centurion bellows at the hapless soldier that Bring Your Kids to Work Day was last Thursday.

Still I'm sure that at least some of the soldiers were glad to get out of a midday meal with the in-laws.  They would stand there weeping crocodile tears and piously claiming that duty called while Mrs Legionnaire banged crockery around and muttered under her breath.  These were probably also the ones who diced for Christ's clothing afterwards, anything to avoid spending quality time with the family.  Some families are like that.

So I guess I have the answer to my question.  Pilate made a sound and fiscally responsible decision to crucify Jesus when he did.  It was certainly better than some of his decisions.  He was eventually recalled a few years later under a bit of a cloud, it having been determined that he was a little too brutal in crushing a Samaritan revolt (which to the modern mind makes about as much sense as being attacked by the Red Cross).  Pilate must thus be the only Roman official who was recalled for being nasty to the natives.

Things went downhill for him from there.  According to our sources he got caught up in the institutional psychosis that formed the reign of Caligula and committed suicide, quite possibly in self defence.  Fortunately for his sense of outrage he was safely dead before Vespasian and Titus slaughtered half of Judea and rather than getting recalled used the pile of bodies as a springboard to the imperial throne itself.