Thursday, September 28, 2017

Black Plums. Innocent Health Product or Deadly Performance Enhancer?

In the most shocking fruit related expose since this blog pointed out that figs weren't vegan (a fact known to nobody except everyone likely to care) comes the news that black plums aids in skin care and blood clotting.  This pearl of wisdom was dropped into my glass of vinegar courtesy of the diligent staff at my employer's HK office.

Say what you like about the management of our HK office (and I frequently do) it cannot be denied that they are looking out for their employees.  Whether graciously permitting them to leave the office when a typhoon hits or making sure that their blood is appropriately clotted courtesy of a black plum drive, surely employer concern cannot get any greater than this.

Before dawn the shock troops were out; hundreds of masked, camouflage clad commandos swooping on orchards all over China seizing the prized black plums and carrying them off in triumph to Hong Kong.  Because let's make no mistake, our office isn't just encouraging people to eat black plums.  Every available space in our HK corporate headquarters is stuffed to bursting with the damn things.  A laudatory verse to them has been inserted into the company song (and no we don't have a company song, we're Chinese not Japanese) and next years bonus payments are being tied  to "acceptable" levels of black plum consumption.  Acceptable being defined as "eating the damn things every waking moment". 

A blood test is taken on arrival at work and anyone who displays any liquid in their blood at all is taken to the black plum re-education room and "encouraged" to enjoy a second breakfast consisting largely of, you guessed it, black plums.  Sure there have been angry mutterings.  Proponents of the consumption of other types of plum have called us racist.  Complaints have been made of the persistent odour of putrefying fruit coming from our offices (so far we're successfully blaming the noodle bar next door) but we shall not be deterred.

Did you know that the average life expectancy of employees in our HK office is 174 years?  That our sixty five year old secretaries beat up cage fighters for fun and when the ground started subsiding after the last typhoon the facilities team went down into the basement and physically held the building up?  In fact they're still there sustained by a conveyor belt of black plum based foodstuffs provided by our admiring catering staff.

Black plums are the secret to our standout performance.  Thanks to their blood clotting properties our partners are the only ones in HK who can sharpen their blood to a point and use it as a weapon if negotiations get tense.  And believe me when you've got an entire office of high achievers desperately "chasing the plum" as the saying goes things are likely to get tense.  Very, very tense.

Still its better than the bad old days when our people were so anaemic that opening their eyes caused them to faint (which was somewhat counter productive) and their blood was so thin that it trickled out the pores in their skin.  That's all behind us now.  No longer are our offices referred to as "The Crimson Fountain".  Now we are the Black Plum Big Dogs and all fear our wrath.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Birthday Greetings #72

Oh dear god do I have to do this?  Yes.  Deep sigh!  Happy birthday to, well to, no; I'm not going to do it.  Sound of gun being cocked off screen.
All right, all right god damn you.  Happybirthdaytobilboandfrodobaggins.  There are you happy?  Let the puppy go.

Yes, for those who care about such things (I sincerely hope I don't know any of them) today is Bilbo and Frodo Baggins birthday.  They were each born on September 22 which seems to indicate that nine months prior to that date is an event of celebration (or at least heavy drinking) in the Baggins household.

The Baggins family lived in the Shire which was Tolkien's wildly rose tinted vision of rural England as opposed to Mordor which had more in common with the Pennsylvania or Birmingham black countries.  Which is yet more proof of the tendency of those who have benefited most from our civilisation to bite enthusiastically on the hand that feeds them.  One wonders how Tolkien would have enjoyed living in bucolic simplicity eating his raw food off a flat rock and writing his novels by painting on a cave wall with his fingers.

After living most of his life in blameless inanity Bilbo suddenly trotted off with a group of heavily armed thugs, stole a hermits ring and contributed to the extinction of a critically endangered species before filling his pockets with whatever valuables happened to be lying around and buggering off back to the Shire.  Frodo, somewhat more creditably, did at least attempt to return the stolen ring to the place that made it but let's face it he made a pretty mess of that and if it wasn't for the assistance of his companion probably wouldn't have succeeded.  The Lord of the Rings would be better titled "How Samwise Gamgee Managed to Save the World Despite the Interference of those Irritating Baggins Twats".  I'll bet nobody celebrates Sam's birthday.

Despite my confident assertion of 22nd September as the birthdate of both the Baggins loons the Wikipedia page I was appalled to discover existed does note that discrepancies between the Shire Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar (the one we use) mean there is some debate about when to celebrate.  So let me get this straight, somebody has made an intense study of a non existent calendar and attempted to reconcile that piece of fiction with a dating system we actually use in the real world.  And there is "some debate" as to the accuracy of the results.  No shit!

I would dearly like to sit in on such a debate.  Well, no I wouldn't.  I can't imagine anything I would less like but I would like to know where such a debate was taking place.  So that I could inform the authorities and have the participants taken into care.

Some people celebrate "Hobbit Day" as it is known by having parties in the way the Hobbits did.  Fortunately Tolkien (possibly with an eye to future fans) made these parties pretty much like our own with food, dancing, fireworks etcetera.  I personally would have been more impressed if he had included torture, human sacrifice and the eating of dung just so I could watch cosplayers abuse themselves horribly in the interests of literary realism.  Other, possibly less extreme, Hobbit freaks simply celebrate by going barefoot as the Hobbits did.

If you're walking down the street and you see someone hopping on one bare foot while attempting to pick the broken glass out of the other wish them a happy Hobbits Day.  And then steal their stuff.  They're unlikely to be able to chase you very far.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's Alive - ish!

So what's the latest and sexiest thing from humanity's Reckless Tampering With the Building Blocks of Creation Department?  Artificial Meat!  Or rather thoroughly genuine legitimate meat grown in a laboratory and never having come into contact with anything as plebeian as an actual animal.

It wasn't so long ago (in a geological sense at least) that I was opining in this blog that insects would feature heavily in our future dining choices.  Now it looks like I might be wrong.  In various high tech laboratories and wildly keen start up companies across the world eager biochemists are encouraging otherwise unemployed animal cells to duplicate like crazy until eatable quantities of meat are produced.

It's taking a while but the initial signs are hopeful.  That is to say the cells are indeed duplicating and so far no hideous monsters have lurched out of the various labs to wreak havoc among the innocent citizenry.  So far so good.  Fish, beef, chicken all these things and more are destined to hit our plates without much in the way of involvement from actual fish, cows or chickens.  "Ethical Meat" is the selling point.  Now an innocent animal doesn't have to die in order to provide you with an inedible cheeseburger.  While I have no fundamental issue with killing innocent animals to provide me with semi nutritious food I've got to admit the prospect of them not being killed to do so is rather pleasing on a sentimental level.

Of course once we're all eating ethical meat there will be the awkward question of what to do with all of the millions of food animals we've got gathered across the planet.  I suspect that nobody will be particularly interested in taking care of them now that a profit creating trip to the abattoir isn't going to be the end result.  I can't imagine this will result in a happy outcome for them.  Still the deaths of millions of animals is a small price to pay for not killing millions of animals.

There are a couple of other issues as well.  Brilliant though this technology is it does come at a cost.  It takes a lot of energy so power bills tend to be a little prohibitive at the moment to providing low cost steaks for all.  Still a lot of that will no doubt be fixed by economies of scale.  Once you're feeding entire continents you can probably get away with high power costs and still sell cheaply for a profit.  Besides since we'll have all the dead former food animals lying about the place anyway possibly biogeneration of electricity or cattle fuelled power stations may be the way to go, at least in the short term.  Throw another cow on the fire.

One more issue and since this is a blog entry about food it probably surprises you that I haven't brought up cannibalism yet.  Wait no longer.  Normally we develop a technology to a certain level of maturity before abusing it and doing morally dubious shit that previous generations wouldn't have considered.  It is a measure of how sophisticated we are as a species nowadays that we are considering the abuse even before we've got the technology bedded down.  Yes, I'm talking about ethical cannibalism.  It has been pointed out that, in theory at least, what can be done with animals and fish can be done with humans too.  If we get to that point then the involvement of animals in the process (currently reduced to minor cell donations) can be eliminated entirely and we will literally be eating ourselves.

Imagine a food chain consisting of a single link.  We're on the way there and I'm sure this won't create any significant ethical or psychological conundrums for us to solve because that stuff never happens.  Meanwhile all we need to do is work out how we're going to defeat the roaming gangs of sheep, cows and goats who escaped the executioners bullet and are now marauding on our society.  And of course deal with an ocean so full of fish that we're going to be able to walk overseas for our holidays.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It Puts the Pill in its Mouth

"Taking vitamins used to be hard" announced a television commercial I watched recently.  I found myself nodding in solemn agreement with this statement.  After all back in the day one would have had to hunt the necessary animals, harvest or gather the specific crops and then select just enough of each to have the appropriate vitamin intake for healthy human life.  And that was before one factored in raids by rival tribes, plagues and incipient ice ages.  Frankly its amazing anyone managed a well balanced diet in those days particularly as nutritional science was in its infancy.

But the television commercial wasn't referring to that.  Oh no, they were bemoaning how difficult it was to stick a vitamin tablet into your mouth and swallow.  Apparently this was a task beyond the abilities of most normal human beings.  People were dying of malnutrition as they pawed feebly at a mess of vitamin tablets on a table utterly at a loss as to how to get the tablets the final few feet of the journey to their bodies.  Mothers gazed helplessly down at starving babies.  How to provide the nourishment their beloved child needs?  They know it has something to do with the mouth, perhaps if they post a photo of the mouth on snapchat the baby will recover.

This advertisement marks a watershed.  Advertising companies have thrown off the mask.  They've always behaved as though their customers were gullible morons (to be fair their success would indicate a good degree of accuracy in that assessment) but now they are simply coming out and telling their customers that, literally, they are too stupid to eat without assistance.  And obviously they don't expect their customers to bridle at the assumption that swallowing a vitamin pill is beyond their intellectual and physical capabilities.  Now our vitamins come in a convenient gummi form which, presumably, is easier to stuff in ones gob and then swallow than the user unfriendly shiny capsule of yesteryear.

Here is the thing about medical and pseudomedical advertising (and it doesn't get much more pseudomedical that gummi vitamins).  It is designed to scare us.  In order to sell us health stuff the advertisers have to persuade us that we're unhealthy or, at least, that our health could be better.  Therefore the hidden subtext of such advertisements is that you are a diseased, terminally ill wreck and if you want to enjoy a few more months of wretched existence you absolutely have to have the latest cure for dry mouth syndrome in your (for want of a better term) medicine cabinet.  You know, either that or drink a glass of water.

With their "taking vitamins used to be hard" pitch the advertisers have raised this to the next level.  You're not just sick, you're not just unhealthy you are fundamentally non viable as a life form.  It's a miracle that you've even managed to get this far without gummi breast milk (don't laugh, I'll bet its coming).  Furthermore you are incapable of helping yourself.  You couldn't even swallow without a vitamin company dedicating a massive research team to coming up with the idea of gummi vitamins.

The simple fact is taking vitamins was never hard after we figured out what vitamins were and decided we should eat a few.  It was that sort of creative and imaginative thinking that got us to our current level of civilisation.  Sadly the most brilliant minds of our current generation are devoted to persuading us to eat gummi vitamins.  It is these guys who will take us to our next level of civilisation.  Or, as I strongly suspect, our last level of civilisation.  The incipient collapse of our society should lead to maniacal anarchy of Mad Max proportions with violence, banditry and cannibalism.  Sadly unless somebody comes up with gummi humans before that happens even that level of activity and enthusiasm may be beyond us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Birthday Greetings #71

Happy birthday to Diadumenian, Roman emperor!

What's that?  You've never heard of Diadumenian?  Honestly where have you people been?  Come on, you're kidding right?  Who hasn't heard of Diadumenian, son of Macrinus?  Somebody, anybody?

Yes, well its probably not all that surprising really.  Diadumenian's name is writ but lightly on the pages of history.  Indeed the only reason why he gets a mention at all is because of the rather callous behaviour of his father.  This insensitive bastard decided to have his son crowned co-emperor.

It has been noted in various histories that the Romans weren't particularly fond of their children.  Distance, strict discipline and an appropriately Roman sober reserve seemed to be the way that Roman parents were encouraged to behave towards their offspring.  Of course this is a thoroughly appropriate way for parents to behave.  Let's face it if we could trust the little beggars we wouldn't keep them at home until they were physically powerful enough to force their way out.  Still the Romans did appear to take it to extremes.

In their defence the infant mortality rate of the empire was such that if you got too attached to your children you were likely to be prostrated with grief for much of your life after their almost inevitable deaths.  If the Romans had invested deeply and emotionally in their children then the entire empire would have had a collective nervous breakdown centuries before the collapse actually happened.

Still, there is stern and then there is actively malicious.  One of the cruellest things a third century Roman could do was make his son co-emperor.  Supposedly it helped to secure the succession, in actual fact it just raised the bodycount after the inevitable military coup.  Macrinus, our boy's father, had seized the empire by the simple expedient of having his predecessor murdered.  Lest you feel any sympathy for the victim I would point out that the predecessor was Caracalla and he was begging for it.  With the support of the Senate Macrinus proclaimed himself emperor.  A few months later he made his eight year old son (Diadumenian) caesar.  A few months after that the almost obligatory revolt broke out with certain legions backing a rival claimant for the throne.  With staggeringly bad timing Macrinus took this opportunity to elevate Diadumenian to the rank of Augustus (ie, co-emperor).  The lad was about ten and the shadow over his head was the vulture of death.

In swift succession Macrinus lost a couple of battles, his job, his freedom, his son and finally his head.  His son?  Sadly yes, in a last minute burst of rational thought Macrinus told his ten year old co-emperor to run for his life, unfortunately Diadumenian didn't get far before he was caught and executed.  His head was sent (along with his father's) as a trophy to the new emperor, one Elagabalus by name who was everything a Roman emperor should be.  That is; he was a petulant, self indulgent, savage, sexually confused, extravagant, religious maniac.  This might explain why he lasted four whole years in the job before somebody murdered him.