Thursday, April 29, 2010

Small offerings.

I'm in respite at the moment, as you'll know if you're reading shortly after writing.  If you get my meaning.  This place is a sort of dual-purpose respite care/hospice/hospital overflow facility.  Two days ago, I got a new neighbour, for her last journey.  A couple of hours ago, her next journey began.  It's been really nice.

I'm not mentioning her name, simply because I'm not fully across her family's traditions in this respect, and with many Aboriginal families and peoples it is considered taboo to use a person's name for a time after they have died.  This is tricky if, for example, you might share their name.

Anyway, she was very old, an elder in the local Noongar community; Noongars being the more original inhabitants of this part of Australia before the European invaders arrived.  It's been a busy couple of days here in the hallways and out in our shared courtyard spaces, with scores of people coming to pay their respects.

Here's one of the things that struck me as especially beautiful:  we have little whiteboards outside our rooms, where we can write our names, or stuff like what we'd prefer visitors to do if we're asleep.....stuff like that.  Mine is blank.  Next door's was covered very early in her stay with messages from kids.  Grandkids and other younger relatives all leaving messages of love, speaking of how they'll miss her, expressing hope that she'll have a peaceful sleep and asking her to say hello to 'everyone' when she goes.  Entirely unselfconscious and real about what was, is, happening.  Not something you'd traditionally expect to see with the white folks around here.

It's been noisy, sure, but 20 people organising cups of tea in a lino-floored room across the hallway always will be.  But despite this, the vibe has been peaceful and lovely.  There was an hour or so of people working the phones just after my neighbour went (in her sleep) and even this was soft and real.  Now, it's just people milling about in various stages of emotion, a bit of laughter here and there, and good stuff generally.

I never got to meet her, but given the way Noongar families are name-wise I am pretty certain I have worked with a couple of her relatives - probably grandkids.  Doesn't matter.

I'm just writing to share thanks for her coming, and passing, and for this wonderful (if noisy) moment of life today.

So thanks, lady whose name I know.  May your spirit find home easily.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No Posts, Probably

Typing fast so please excuse any typos.  Telstra suck, as usual.  My USB modem is causing my computer to freeze every couple of minutes, requiring a cold reboot, and sometimes from the moment of connection.  Telstra support dudes are hanging up on me when I call because they don't want to deal with my speech problems, or so it seems.  Having worked in the performance management field in a call centre I can safely say that they are 'accidentally' terminating my calls.  I'm not spending fortunes in mobile charges chasing them either.  I doubt f I will be able to receive any reply to the email I sent them.

So the message to me is fairly clear, I guess.  Go in.

See you next week, probably.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A day of small firsts

Last night we had our first fire of the season.  It promised to be a very cold night, and we'd set a fire in our slow-combustion stove a few days prior in anticipation.  I also wanted to spark up the first while we were both here, just in case there was a flue issue.  Beyond an initial back wash of smoke from the cold pipes and firebox, it went fine.  There really is nothing quite like it.  Burning wood for warmth is a sacred act.

In the mornings, unless it's raining, we go outside to our little garden sitting area and enjoy the start of the day.  For so many years I was a nocturnal type, but now I love the earliest bits as the sun does its hello land thing.  This morning we saw the first of the season's balloon flights.  We have a couple of hot-air ballooning companies here in our valley (the header of this blog is a shot over our valley, taken a few months ago), and they take off only a couple of kilometres from our house. Generally, we are pretty much right under the flight path.  It's a fantastic sight (and sound), these ponderous yet entirely graceful globes of light sailing free across the sky in the bright early mornings.  It's a really friendly thing.

When we fiorst moved here, I was outside early on my own with coffee in hand and heard this bizarre, loud whoosh/roar noise somewhere to the North.  There it is again!  What the?  My thoughts were along the lines of a seriously malfunctioning hot-water heater next door (theirs is a gas one) when suddenly, over the trees and only a few hundred feet up.....there she sailed.  Felt like a child again, instantly.  Wonderous stuff.

To top it off, I just saw a shed levitating.  Not something one sees every day, yes?  I walked out the back, preparing to donate some of my precious urea salts and moisture to a deserving patch of mulch, when movement caught my eye to the right.  There, two yards up (which we can see now since their tree butchery) was a 3m x 3m aluminium shed, levitating along the fence line at about 5 feet off the ground.  It was some seconds before I also saw the heads of those carrying it.

Today I had back spasms very early and took a pill.  For a moment there I was wondering about side effects.

Oh, and Collingwood comprehensively towelled up the hapless Essendon side in today's now-traditional ANZAC Day match at the G.  Not a first, but a great thing, this is.  I shall refrain from going on, but I think this picture of our big fella Josh Fraser (reminds me of Boxer the horse in Animal Farm, a real honest workhorse) says it all.

Respite tomorrow afternoon for a week, so I shall catch up on my writing probably.  Been a bit slow in that department lately, my apologies.  Never mind, eh?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thundery with chance of a cloud

There are few places in everyday life where you are more effectively publicly entrapped than when getting a haircut.  I had one today.  It's a little one-chair joint I go to, in the classic half-finished mould of country barbers all over this nation of ours, and Elizabeth has run the place for I think 15 years or something like that.  There was a new furnishing addition I noticed today, a blue plush velour back seat from a car turned into a waiting couch, underneath which was bizarrely hung a radiator grille from a mid-70's Toyota Crown 2600 Deluxe.

Interesting that almost every example still alive today is this colour.

But that is not my story.

There were a few waiting before me and it's not like I was in a rush or anything, so there was no problem.  I can't easily hold a newspaper these days (without sitting at a table) so I just vagued out, alternating between looking out the window and tuning in to the dreadful telemovie showing.  Just as a new patron wandered in, nodded to all, and sat down next to me, it hit me.

You know the feeling, surely.  A slight but sudden pang right deep in your abdomen -  small but sharp pain that only lasts a moment until there's a little rumbling and movement and everything settles back into place.  That's right; there's a really big fart in there.

Now many people, including of course myself in the past, would deal with one that's hard to just redigest or hold on to by letting it go really, really slowly and silently, if there's a decent enough crowd for plausible deniability and your poker face skills are running high.  Not an option for me anyway, as the last 6 months since tube feeding have shown me that my arse-talking skills are not always that predictable or controllable.  Plus, there isn't even the chance of a couch-cushion gas insertion, as I have sat opposite the new car-seat couch, on one of the leather directors-chair type arrangements. 

Other folks would just let it on out, brazen it out, or have a laugh.  Not me though.  I'm not exactly confident in my verbal communication skills (ie can't really tell a joke or put on a show) without reliably recognisable speech, and besides, I'm a bit delicate that way.  Never been into gross-out physical humour.

Well, just go outside for a minute!  Ah, but there are The Rules Of The Barber Shop.  You cannot for instance stick your head in the door, see that there are a couple of guys there already, and say "I'll come back in 20 minutes."  Well you can, but it has no meaning other than that you do not know The Rules.  Anyone else who arrives in the meantime is There Before You.  Because the rules pertaining to waiting and order of service state that You Must Remain In The Barber Shop At All Times Or Lose Your Place.  Seeing the parking inspector go past the window, knowing your parking meter is getting low or expired, and issuing a loud and heartfelt plea to all those present for mercy is one of the only ways to (perhaps) be granted a stay, and then only if you run out (and back) in a panicked fashion and be prepared to regale all and sundry with an entertaining bullshit version of subsequent events thereafter.  Preferably involving some amazingly effective witty one-liner in the face of the parking inspector.  (But our town has no paking meters). Otherwise, Stay Put.

I'd been there 10 minutes, the guy before me was just getting in to the chair, and I am Going To Make It.

Often when one suppresses a lower section gaseous threat, it just seemingly reabsorbs.  At other times it just gathers strengh, and periodically knocks at the door.  A bit louder and more insistent each time.  It's OK, my previous history of worse bowelliferous disruptions has trained me well, and my clenching and holding reflexes are good.  But lordy, this is some serious amount of pressure here.

My turn.  I'm just going for a tidy-up, so it shouldn't take too long.  You know how hard it can be to talk normally and hold on real tight abdominally speaking? (Ha! Top pun almost!)  Well, herein is a silver lining.  Elizabeth remembers me and we'd discussed my illness and speech difficulties before so beyond the initial niceties it's a silent cut.  I think she appreciates the break from constant bullshit also.

Keep holding, You're doing well.  Keep holding.  Remember to breathe, relaxing everything that is not needed for vapour retention.  Good.  Nearly done.  We're actually going to make it........

You're a young woman working in a medium-sized office of accountants etc, and one of your half-dozen strong office group of girls is leaving work today to have a baby, yay!  You've all gone to the pub for a long lunch (thanks, for the extra hours, bosses!) and all but one (the bubby one) have had a couple of refreshing beverages by way of celebration and a great time is being had by all.  There's a gift from 'the girls', a card, promises to email, and "keep up with my Facebook" and the odd tearful moment - but mainly a great bunch of friends having fun.  Gotta get back to work though, so drinks are finished up, skirts smoothed, and the laughter continues all the way out the door.....

Regular readers may be aware the my autoimmune condition has made my skin very tight and hard, and has similarly affected my gastro-intestinal tract.  Also affected are all the major sphincters of my body (yes, even my pupils!) so my arse-tooter has changed somewhat from the usual mellifluous organ most of us are familiar with to a more constricted variety of outlet.  As we all know, something passing through a relatively smaller diameter opening will tend to do so at higher presuure and/or also take longer to fully pass through..........

Yay!  Elizabeth's charged me even less than usual because it was "just a tidy-up" and I'm out the door free.  I can finally let, hang on, let this couple with the pram get by first.   Come on, come on, I wonder if they were in the pub with the little'un?  Come on......OK, getting ready, give them a moment to get out of earshot andBRRAAAAAPPOBRAAAPPPPPAAAAAHHHHHHHFFFFFFFFFFFWEEeEEeeeeeeeeptf...

The dread anti-sound of peals of womanly laughter suddenly ceasing in the now-open doorway just behind me assail my ears.  The last sound I heard before the deadly silence was a slightly horrified

".....the fuck was that???"  I turned around to see them all looking my way, as one, just slightly aghast.  Yes, it is you, the young woman we met earlier.

"Er, I've just had a haircut."

I so wish I'd said that.  It was the first thing on my mind, but at the time my absurd-o-meter censored it straight out of my neuronal brain-mouth queue.  Still, something by way of response was called  for.

"Oh, hi" with a little half-wave of my half-deformo-claw hand.  And turning, I continued to walk away to the chorus of silence behind.  I started counting.  One-elephant, was eleven-elephant before the first of them broke.


And luckily for me, their office was in the other direction.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Eugene coming or going?

I knew a girl called Eugenie once.  She was the slightly younger sister of a girlfriend I had in high school.  Eugenie was a robustly constructed, strong and athletic woman who (notwithstanding any possible difficulty about the flame-red hair) would have been a superb candidate for the Nazi's master-race breeding program.  So would her sister, for that matter.

The concept of eugenics is a fraught one, especially since the Nazis took to it with such murderous zeal.  This has effectively poisoned the word for all uses now.  However, this has not stopped humanity from having to deal with the moral and practical issues around eugenics.  It's a debate that is going on all around us, but mainly by stealth, or by proxy.  Because it's a really unpalatable subject for many and not often conducive to modern notions of political correctness.

Could be time we had more of a public chat about it all though, to lay all the ideological cards on the table.

What is eugenics?  You may be asking at this point.  the word has had its meaning shift a little since the height of its usage in the early 20th century, but broadly we can define eugenics as (thanks wikipedia)

"...the study and practice of selective breeding as applied to humans with the aim of improving the species."

Easy enough then.  In practice in its ideological heyday, this meant not just policies designed to have "superior specimens" breed on at a high rate, but also to prevent "inferior or defective" specimens from breeding at all.  Just like you'd do in a herd of domesticated animals.  Improve the breed.

Certainly couldn't improve the cuteness factor here.

Now, once we get to the definitions of superior, inferior, defective, and improve, we're already in murky water.  Sweden (for example) carried out over 60,000 mainly 'voluntary' sterilizations of people between 1934 and 1975, targeting mentally ill and 'deviant' people in the main.  Versions of eugenic practices and policies were embraced and enacted by the governments of many countries in the 20th century including Britain, USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, China, Sweden, Norway, France, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Switzerland and Singapore (that I am aware of at least, there are certainly more) and of course any sort of 'ethnic cleansing' counts too.  As we all know, in some countries it went way beyond sterilization into mass killing.  Economically a very effective use of and savings in resources.  Why sterilize and continue to feed?  If it were a herd, we'd just eat the cull, yes?

Eugenics as a modern concept fits into a wider areas of Utilitarianism and Utilitarian Bioethics.  Don't be afraid of the nasty academic words, we'll chunk 'em down together.  Utilitarianism is essentially a school of philosophy about making choices based on doing "the greatest good for the greatest number of people", or in a slightly more recent sense 'Negative' Utilitarianism aims to "prevent the greatest amount of harm/suffering for the greatest number of people."  The addition of the 'bioethics' tag takes this stuff straight into the worlds of the biosphere, medicine, health, and reproduction.  Hence the eugenics crossover.

Think of the arguments currently about 'curing' asperger's syndrome and autism, and how that would rob their 'sufferers' of something special that the rest of us cannot experience but also may need, as a society?

When you go to the emergency room with an injury or illness, you are triaged.  This means that the first person to see you will make a recommendation about the urgency with which you should be seen by a doctor based mainly on the severity of your apparent condition and its probable prognosis.  Heart attacks get seen pretty fast, and small flesh wounds further down the chain.  You might have seen a variation on this theme many times in M*A*S*H when the choppers and ambulances bring in more wounded than they can handle.  This triage is different in that they are first looking to rule out those who almost certainly won't make it anyway, medicate them as best as possible, and get them out of the way of those who probably will make it if treated.

Triage in war.  Decisions people never want to have to make.

I so don't fancy making those sorts of decisions, do you?  But I can fully appreciate their necessity.  It is eugenics in a short-term small-population scenario.  Resources are scarce.  Spend them where they'll do the greatest good.  Bad luck for those who require too much looking after, or who have a small chance of survival (or of 'meaningful' life beyond surviving).  We accept this as necessary, in general.  So we subsume our claimed 'rights' to be treated equally to a notion of resource deployment for the common good, in these sorts of situations.

Oh, by the way, I don't have any answers to this stuff.  I'm just trying to lay it out so we can all see it.  Or so I can, at any rate.  Because there's a big personal question coming.

Despite our acceptance of emergency triage, seen from a wider perspective we as a society (I'm talking about the monetarily affluent Western world here) have a real problem with this deployment of resources for the "best outcomes for our species into the future."  It gets all tangled into the 'sanctity of life' stuff from religious and spiritual viewpoints, and the 'equality of rights' from libertarian political thought.  We spend the vast bulk of our health resources on economically and genetically non-productive members of our society.  The elderly, the disabled, the chronically ill.  We do our damnedest in so many cases to ensure the survival of the weakest, most defective babies and damaged adults who will require constant lifelong care.

Is this just social selfishness on behalf of the society of 'haves?'  We can do it, so we should? 

So, my big question:  do I continue to 'deserve' to live?

As an aside, here's an interesting set of conundra, to do with the conservative Republican movement in the USA.  They tend to go for things like Right To Life (ie anti-abortion) which means in some cases carrying to term and caring for resource-depleting high-needs babies, which of course also take an otherwise productive parent/s and/or carer out of the economy too.  They also opposed mandatory health insurance and especially opposed a form of public health insurance, preferring instead that the market mechanism stealthily 'weeded out' those people who had proved their inferior worth to society by not having been able to afford adequate health cover.  So they force life on the helpless on one hand, and deny it cruelly on the other.

Well, am I a valuable and contributing member of society?  Is a heavily resource-dependent special-needs child likewise valuable?  Or are these questions irrelevant, and if so, why?  The common answer to this last question is where we get stuck.  It tends to go along the lines of

"God says all life is sacred, ergo we should always protect it at all costs."

I would say that then it logically follows that our emergency room triage system goes against God's apparent will.  Because we are judging worthiness.  We are taking chances with people's lives.  My headache (low urgency) may well be an aneurysm just about to go whose swift diagnosis and treatment may save my life.  Oops.  I played God and had that broken finger seen to first.

I don't have a solution, as I said.  But I can see where part of the issue lies, and that's in the attempt to systematise stuff.  There can really be no authoritarian response that respects individuals' choices while attempting to muster resource usage for the common good.  People just won't fit that box easily.  We can only find out how we feel, how we would act.

OK, so I'm going to go hypothetical.

We all live in a valley village ecosystem, with a fairly stable and sustainable life.  But it's only sustainable as long as each member of our village can contribute in a practical way to the work of our survival.  I now have an injury or illness that presently and for the future prevents me from doing so, and furthermore requires that I have a carer, who would be taken out of the production cycle too.  My valley village does not judge me badly, and will of course (they say) support me in my needs.  We are all family as it were.  It's just going to be harder on everybody.  What do I do?  Another simple one: same village, ultrasound and genetic tests confirm a seriously defective fetus in my womb (assuming I had one), which will most certainly die young and be extremely impaired in life whilst requiring full-time care.  What do I do?

Do shared resources mean shared responsibility?

Impossible to say, because all the infinite variables of human existence and experience come in to play.  But there will be extreme situations that arise where my decision would be social euthanasia, rather than knowingly condemning my fellow villagers to severe hardship or danger of starvation.  If it happened a lot, the village would over time develop a history of experience of this, and may become proactive.  It's happened all over the world that we've made population control decisions, and not just with reproduction, but with the elderly and infirm.  We have responded as other species do to their environment.  We accept when it cannot sustain us.

I'll recall just one small example.  A certain indigenous tribe in rainforested South America somewhere, living as they had for centuries.  Spanish or Portuguese slavers discovered them, and  would make raids to round them up and sell them.  They started killing the very young children.  Because the adults could only run effectively with one child apiece.

Now, get big.  6 billion big.  2 to 4 degrees celsius bigger.  Scale up this thinking and ponder the choices ahead if (when) environmental or other resource-pressure shit hits the fan.

Is this why we're not talking openly about it?  We don't want to have to make choices to not have babies or allow chronically ill people to die sooner but perhaps better?  We just want a magic alpha-male figure to do all the hard stuff for us?

That's what armageddon is all about, abdication of responsibility.  Letting it happen to you through some arms-length agency beyond your influence entirely.  Not having to face the fundamental truths of your own volition, and your own mortality.  Procrastination about suffering.  Would we rather not go through the pain of being honest about death being everywhere all the time, and suffering being inevitable in life, and it all being outside our controllability, for as long as possible?

So I don't know, is Eugene coming, or going?  Are we headed for some big global (or lots of small local) conversations about all this stuff?  Or are we just letting it be subsumed in proxy talk of religious fundamentalism, carbon trading and GM crop organisms?

People are angry, all over.  And many of them don't really know exactly what they're angry about.  There is a deep frustration and fear.  We feel strapped in to this hurtling thing, and many of our fellow travellers seem hell-bent on making a total hash of any attempt to steer a half-decent course.  All in?  Or every man for himself?

I don't know.  What do you think?

I know many of my readers have situations that in some ways mirror my own, or harder still, care for those with extra needs.  Please know I am making no judgements on the decisions made by anybody.   My exploration has been about the Utilitarian ethic only as it applies to eugenicist and bioethical questions.

My personal conclusions (for now) are that one size may truly fit all, from a Utilitarian point of view.  But that only those for whom a Utilitarian ideal is right and true can make such decisions for themselves and their unborn.  I resist the notion that any authority can tell us what we should do about our lives, and their continuance.  Regardless of whether I agree that such a directive makes sense to me, it may not to another.  If I do not respect that, I would have no reason to expect my desires to be respected either.

Here endeth the rant.  Please accept these flowers for peace and make happy.

Eugene?  Are you there, Eugene?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vale, Viewed

Yesterday, Viewed died.  He was a six year old racehorse, most famousest for winning the 2008 Melbourne Cup  (the world's richest staying race).  Horses just by their natures are extremely susceptible to sudden gastric problems.  Viewed died after suffering complications from a twisted bowel.  It was unfixable, and they quickly euthanised him.  I am sad at his passing.

Viewed and jockey Blake Shinn, just after The Cup win.  
This is the face of a horse who knows.

Despite being an instant legend by virtue of winning the "Race That Stops A Nation" (the Melbourne Cup), Viewed never really got to show us all he could be.  Undeniably a great champion, having won near enough to 6 million dollars in prizemoney and having beaten many great horses to do so, but not quite a legendary champion for the ages.  Yet he could have been.  He was not yet back in work after some health issues when he died - this spring would have seen his last campaign before going off to make babies at Think Big Stud, where he has now been buried standing up as a sign of special honour, next to the flag pole where his winning Melbourne Cup flag sometimes flies.  Today, presumably at half-mast.

Why do I care?  Especially since it was him that singly ruined my chance of a Trifecta on the day? (He says, fondly.)  I guess the answers are a little complex.

My father grew up very close to Randwick racecourse in Sydney, and must have had a real thing for the gee-gees, because of the few stories he told about his childhood, racing stories were pretty high on the agenda.  He worked in the stables as a schoolboy, and later in life developed a little 'thing' for going to the track.  He certainly recognised his potential as a problem gambler, so his answer to this was quite simple: he didn't.  Back in my childhood the races were much more a part of everyday Aussie life than they are now.  You'd be watching maybe some cricket on TV on a Saturday afernoon and every 40 minutes or so it would be suddenly be interrupted by a live cross to a race at Randwick, or wherever the races were on that day.  I'm told it was the same in Melbourne too.  It was great.

Racing at Royal Randwick.

I got busted by the school deputy in high school for running a Melbourne Cup sweep (the main issue was that I was in fact running it as a for-profit venture) when I was 12 or 13.  To his credit, he allowed me to carry on, and donate the proceeds to the school's charity work.  It was the year Kiwi won, I remember that.

Non-Australians wouldn't understand the Melbourne Cup thing.  Indeed many Aussies may not credit just how much our entire post-invasion cultural history has been shaped by racing and betting on the nags.  It really does stop the nation almost entirely.  I recall one year when I was managing a motel in the picturesque NSW town of Mudgee.  I was the only one on duty (the Cup runs on the 1st Tuesday in November) and with a few minutes to go the roads fell silent.  I had the TV on in the back office.  Meeta was upstairs watching in our manager's flat.  The horses are all loaded in........and they're off.  Now being a staying race (that means a long-distance race - the Melbourne Cup is 2 miles) it takes 3 minutes or so.  Would you believe the bloody door to the motel opened?

Quandary.  Can I ignore them safely, even though they can hear the TV and could just stick their head in the office door?  No.  I know, of course, they must have lost track of the time! (Trots out front)...

Here's Me: "Hi! Quick, the race is on, they've just jumped, you can watch it in here!!"

The Guy: "What is your rate for 2 nights please?"

Damn.  Poms.  No idea.  Attitude, you can tell from the faces.  If she speaks, you just know it will be some cutting put-down in disguise.  Solution?

Here's me:  "Just a moment"  (Disappears)

2 minutes go by while TV sound very incrementally goes down until just barely audible by me (giggling quietly) until Makybe Diva (subsequently the greatest mare ever to grace the thoroughbred ranks in Australia, perhaps the world) wins her first Melbourne Cup.

Impressively, they just completely ignored my disappearance and we carried on as if nothing untoward had happened at all.  Anyone else would have done the same or similar, I can assure you.  The Cup is just that important.

Viewed just holding our Bauer (the grey) to win the 2008 Cup.  
Horses like these know exactly where the finishing line is.

So anyway, all of this is just to illustrate how I was always a bit fond of horseracing, and horses in general.  I was lucky enough to have had some horse friends as a kid, to have ridden just a very little, oh, and the sucker punch - as a very tiny little kid, I picked the winner of three consecutive Melbourne Cups.  Gold and Black, Arwon, and Hyperno.  Maybe my ego is inflating my memories, but I'm sure about the first and I remember them all very clearly.  I was 7 years old when Gold and Black took the honours.

Then I fell in love with Meeta.

We married.

It is good.

Very good.

But importantly for this story, she is a bona-fide racing tragic.  Nature and nurture have combined to make her a true aficionado of all things Equus ferus caballus, and most especially of the Thoroughbred.  She is a diligent, artful, and amazingly good thoroughbred pedigree analyst, among other talents.

So I entered into another whole level of immersion.  As with anything, you take what appeals and works and leave the rest to one side.  The encyclopaedic and technical breeding stuff is so deep and huge I'm just left far in its wake but the 'vibe' side, the near-numinous, mysterious and energetic, I'm right into.

I've come to understand a whole lot more about horses through Meeta.  I am going to say here that she is in fact part horse, and just hope that you all understand I mean this as a deep compliment to her and the equines equally.  Through more exposure, and reading the likes of Monty Roberts and Linda Kohanov  and of course Meeta's tutelage, I have been able to get into the whole horse thing much more wholly.  In a shamanic sense, I suppose.  I don't really remember the point at which I felt confident in knowing what a horse is feeling or saying, but it did come.  And with it, or (allowing for the possibility of correlation rather than causation) at some point on my accelerated journey of the last half decade especially, came a visceral love of horses.

I think we all have it.  I think that it's in our species memory.  I think that since not long after horses chose to partner with us in life, we have taken a piece of each others' souls and like quantum-paired particles, we get each other. 

Man and Horse, painting by Maria Grazia Repetto.

This big ramble tells you a bit about me and equus.  Which of course in part explains my small and tender grief at Viewed's passing.  Who was Viewed to me?

He was a champion, sure.  But more than that, he was an exemplar of the type of racehorse we are (happily) seeing more and more of lately - one who just loves his life in racing.  Bart Cummings (his trainer, another champion and legend and part-member of equus right there) thought him a wonderful personality - he really liked him.  I'm sad for Bart and Dato Tan Chin Nam, Viewed's owner.  Bart and Dato are both getting on a bit now, and have a longstanding friendship and business partnership.  Dato seems to be one of the few who can bring Bart out of himself when there are other humans nearby.  They've lost a friend.

Bart Cummings.  Horse Jedi.

The phrase is "an honest horse."  That's what they say about some horses, but not many.  It's a horse that is truly partnered in to the endeavour.  One that gives his or her all to the moment, every single time.  Who, just like the humans we often most admire, will shrug off niggles and pains not because we ask them to, but because they want to be involved in this great thing that is racing.  It's true that there are still horses going around that don't and they simply should not be there.  They need a different life and it is flat-out wrong to ask them to do something they don't want to.  Wrong because they'll do it out of loyalty to us, to their herd.  They almost never make great racehorses.

But every now and then a classy, honest horse like Viewed just quietly comes along, and does his thing.  Impressing those who see him, nonplussed about fame or glory, just pleased to win.  Pleased to share the win.  They race in nature, you know.  Many times, a stallion can pass this quality of spirit and temperament on.  We need more noble horses like Viewed, but we shall never know now.

An honest horse.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wealth. Grows on trees, you know.

It's true that I have never had much money, and still don't.  There have been times when I've been exceptionally poor, but I have never suffered a massive substance addiction, or severe mental illness, I don't have children to support, and I live in a welfare state.  So despite prior and current health debacles, and a bankruptcy once upon a time, I've been OK.  Never starved (except ironically due to medical problems rather than monetary) and never truly homeless.

It's also true that I've had a few rather well-paid and at times satisfying jobs, so I'm no stranger to comfortable financial surrounds either.  Long-term readers may recall that I was able to buy this modest wee house only because of the silver lining of the Australian Public Service's chosen superannuation provider's compulsory Death And Total And Permanent Disability Insurance.

I have learned through all these tribulations a fair bit about wealth.  And today especially I feel most wealthy indeed.  Our small income has not changed at all.  The other day though, we paid homage to the changing of the seasons and had 2 tons of firewood delivered.

While I was out, Meeta stacked pretty much all of this.  What an excellent thing to come home to.

Yet more.  There's still a pile in the driveway too.

What a fabulous feeling.  Not so long ago my dream of woody wealth had me being the contented steward of a modest forest, felling a tree or so respectfully every summer and spending a couple of days with saw and axe and (romantically) oxcart to bring the winter's fuel home.  We'd have a really efficient wood range that we'd cook with and which would supplement the solar heated water for showering etc.  Our food would mostly come from the permacultured ecoparadise that existed around the house with roses and fruit trees and all manner of small-bird-habitat shrubbery between us and the parkland-cleared horse paddocks inside our ring of forest.

I know that feeling so well that I can anchor it to buying a load of firewood.  I can't physically do all the stuff I need to do to live that dream, and probabilistically speaking the trees I plant will mainly bear fruit after I am gone, but I have dreamt the dream deeply and all of that future fulfillment has become a part of my present, now that the longing has been healed.

Don't get me wrong, we still buy the odd lotto ticket and it would be a fabulous adventure to move to such a place as I have described, substituting money and the hands of others for my own abilities, but I am in large measure now content with my worldly lot.

All because I can still manage to get a great stack of wood for the winter, and I can still carry it inside.  Sure, moving and stacking half a ton has taken me three days, but I can still enjoy it.  There's a very satisfying meditation in building a nice wall of wood.  Splitting kindling's sort of fun now.  I'll try for a video.  It'll look like a guy in slo-mo, hung up on invisible elastic skyhooks as he tries to reach the ground.  Very carefully not dropping an axe.

There's another whole thing about this wood that's made me happy too.  It's been harvested by guys who actually care about trees.  You can tell by the way the wood's been handled and cut.  I have cut and burned much wood in my time, and used to work a bit as a firewood contractor so I do know something about it all.  There are few certified sustainable contractors and these guys are also tree surgeons etc so they have a pretty rounded tree thing going on.  A good vibe.  Plus, I can confidently assert that our 'two tons' was more than that.  Good business sense, that, especially for first-time customers.  And good wood.

Mostly white gum, but with some banksia and jarrah thrown in.  A fair proportion of recycled jarrah fence posts, no ants, termites, all well split and seasoned.  Can you tell I love firewood?

I really do - always have.  Heat can be gotten from many sources, but there is something undeniably sacred about releasing the sunlight that a tree absorbed over a century ago, sending that life energy back into the grand cycle.

Soon, the weather will turn.  Soon, we will light the fire and warm the heart of our house.

Thanks tree guys.  Thanks, trees.

Should serious poverty ever come my way again, or even worse than I have known, I shall feel wealthy whenever I can sit by a fire.


Puny, are we not?


See that dot up there?  No?  Here's another.  Just at the end of this last sentence, and this one.

It's dots these size and smaller that have virtually shut down most of Northern and Western Europe's airports.  This could be the case for days, weeks, or......who knows?

The dots are volcanic glass, caused when hot magma from a volcano under the Ejfjallajokul glacier (no, I can't pronounce it either and even the SBS newsreaders haven't had a go at it) in Iceland - until yesterday the 5th largest in Iceland, now just a bunch of steam and floodwater - erupted spectacularly.

Kapow!  Can you say "Ejfjallajokul"?

Apparently, this isn't a large eruption in terms of mass ejected.  But it was fairly energetic at first, and continues to be fairly much so now.  The magma flies up, hits the air, suddenly cools into tiny little droplets of glass as big as the dot at the end of these sentences, and these head upwards on the huge convection currents created, up to 20,000 feet or more in the sky.  Very awesome stuff, eh?

Jet and other sorts of turbine engines are also awesome.  Hugely powerful, and yet very fragile to little things like ducks - or tiny droplets of glass and assorted volcanic ash bits.  in the 80's a pilot flew into such a cloud at cruising altitude over Indonesia.  The engines stopped.  Most of us are aware that jet airliners have roughly the glide ratio of a brick.  Slightly better, but not a great deal really.  Maybe a brick with wings.  Anyway, the pilot managed to 'glide' down very fast and at 4,000 feet or so - rather low for a hurtling jetliner - managed to restart the engines.  By that time though, the lenses on the landing lights had been abraded away and a whole bunch of paint had been stripped off the plane.
Ducks and dots not allowed through here. 
Not quite as pretty as the Rolls Royce Merlin, is it?

I do so love volcanos.  Also hurricanes and their kin, and even earthquakes.  Because even though these events are just tiny blips on this vast planet; which is really just a tiny blip in a tiny blip of a solar system etc etc ad infinitum.......they are so much bigger than the biggest thing we have ever done, ever.  And that inspires and delights me.

My young adulthood was spent in the 80's (lucky me!) and the Cold War was still very much a goer.  Films like Threads and The Day After were shown at my school as part of our Religious Education class (would you believe?) and my peers and I were fairly convinced that a nuclear armageddon was a virtual certainty, probably by accident.  

What?  Why Religious Education class?  Because we had this really left-wing quite cool teacher for the subject who was into the core 'living' messages of the Christian thing, as opposed to spurious Catholic dogma and bible history stuff, so used RE to bring some breadth and discussion of spiritual matters into the realm of the real-world.  She did well to counsel everyone through these pretty horrific (for 13 and 14 year olds at least) movies, and then asked a simple question at the end of them both.  "Which movie did you prefer and why?"  What she was driving for was the glimmer of hope at the end of The Day After (Threads remained steadfastly dystopic) as a way of helping us face the fears widely promulgated in the world at the time.

How quickly we forget, eh?

Anyway, the USSR (as it was then known to us) takes the prize for having detonated the largest ever nuclear device, the "Tsar Bomba"

Not the sun.  The fireball of Tsar Bomba was 8km in diameter, and it reached the ground.

The design of this bomb theoretically gave a yield of 100Mt (megatons) but they toned it down a little to 50Mt.  It was detonated 4km up in the atmosphere, and the fireball could be seen and felt 1000 km away.  Windows were broken in Sweden.  During the 39 nanoseconds of the actual fission/fusion reaction, the Tsar Bomba generated energy equivalent to about 14% of the Sun's output.  The mushroon cloud reached up 64km (about 7 mount Everests) into the sky.

The guys flying the plane only just got away.

And what?  This baby's entirely impossible to deliver in a war, and the very biggest warheads now tend to be a tenth the size.  Most are way smaller again.  Had this bomb been detonated at groung level, it would have measured 7.1 on the Richter scale.  We have dozens of earthquakes every year that are bigger than that.  Fortunately, most are not near densely populated areas or too deep to matter too much.  Had it detonated in a populated area, it would have done not much more of a thorough job than Hurricane Katrina or the recent Haiti earthquake.  But with added burns and radiation etc.

Yes, nuclear armageddon is still a very real, if not often thought about possibility.  Radiation is a bad thing for us lifeforms.  Carl Sagan once famously summed up the madness of the "nuclear deterrence" mindset of the Cold War thusly:

"Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches, the other seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger."

But even with all of this, we've got nothing on nature.  

Give it a few decades, and maybe just a couple of puny degrees celsius, and we'll remember who's boss, as it were.  Ask someone from Tuvalu today.

But here's a really good part.  The sun has millions of years of good times ahead.  We know that the earth has been through enormous calamity over and over again, and still life survives here (unless you are a literalist Creationist, then sorry, but I hope you are one of the Saved in your world).  All manner of life thrives at Chernobyl, and people still live there.  Not so well, maybe, but they're alive and largely happy.  Life always finds a way, and part of its secret is exactly its puniness.  It's the small and delicate things that colonise the newly destroyed places first, almost always.  Small always gets in.  Apparently, the meek shall inherit the earth, or somesuch poetic notion.

An apartment block in Pripyat, next door to Chernobyl.  
The trees are recycling the buildings; there are birds, and deer, 
and life abundant.
Photo © Quintin Lake. See more of his good work HERE.

So I, for one, am glad to be so terribly, terribly tiny.  Be not afraid, people, we'll make it somehow.  We know this deep down.  It's why we are so into procrastination and obfuscation about climate change and nuclear disarmament.  We recognise that we don't actually have the answers - we can't fix it with our minds and hands alone.  Don't worry about it. Just do what's right for you, in each moment as it comes.  Keeps you clean.

Today's meditation?  The immense power of a tiny dot.

Bet my PEG tube gets clogged today :-)

 Darn dots.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Conversations With Drusilla

Sounds like the title of a Lou Reed album, doesn't it?  But it isn't.  Drusilla, as some of you may recall, is a rabbit.  I was having my mid-morning blended feed today, just chillin' idly, as you do when you're waiting for gravity to do its magic work through the syringe, when she suddenly spoke up:

Drusilla:  "I know you'll eat me eventually.  Like you did Hamish."

Here's me:  "Well, I don't know about that.  I mean, I didn't put you in this blend, did I?"

Drusilla:  "It's alright, I don't mind.  Just like you, I was born to die."

Here's me:  "Deep philosophy from a rabbit now, huh?"

Drusilla:  "What, you don't remember Watership Down?"

Here's me:  "Attitude, too.  Is it that you actually want me to eat you?"

Drusilla:  "Like I said, I don't mind.  It's certain that I will eventually go The Way Of All Things.  When is unimportant."

Here's me:  "Look, for starters, I gave you to Meeta for Easter so it's her call in the first place."

Drusilla:  "You want to get into the moral philosophy of owning another lifeform?"

Here's me:  "You're a chocolate rabbit."

Drusilla:  "You're talking to me."

Here's me:  "Yeah, but you started it."

Drusilla was silent for a moment.  It actually seemed she turned a little away from me.

Here's me again:  "I'm guessing that you consider yourself alive, then."

Drusilla:  "Isn't it you who claims that everything is the same stuff - that I'm as much God as you are?"

Here's me:  "Fair enough.  I had to put up with Hamish banging on about his supposed past exploits and bragging about how he could best Niagara Falls and survive the Vitamix unscathed so it's not incongruent chatting with you, I guess.  You didn't seem upset in the least when he got smashed to bits, I must say."

Drusilla:  "He knew exactly what would happen.  You talk about 'supposed' exploits; all that stuff was real, you know - what would you know of the soul of a chocolate rabbit?"

Here's me:  "Only as much as I'd know about my own, I suppose.  But really, you weren't upset, and it does seem you actually want to get eaten.  Why is this?  Doesn't life always want to go on?  Isn't that the definition of life - a mode whose only constant is the move towards continuance?"

Drusilla:  "I have no reason to be upset at the inevitable, and besides, it's what he wanted - what he was made for.  Same as me, except I'm not a daredevil rabbit.  You could say I'm more of a philosopher.  Or a stirrer, at any rate.  Yes, I want to be eaten.  It is what best fulfils my purpose.  I would rather not be just forgotten in a cupboard or left to melt on a windowsill;  but if that's my fate, well, so be it.  I just have an aesthetic preference for outcomes to match design purposes.  I am chocolate, after all."

Drusilla's non-preferred final form.

Can't fault the logic there and I find myself admiring her integrity of being.  I start to wish that I could be as integrated with my thoughts and feelings as this small milk chocolate rabbit is.  As in touch with my sense of purpose, as at ease with the notion of death being ideally a mirror of the life that went before, but that if it isn't, then that doesn't matter either.  Life would be a lot simpler for a chocolate rabbit, I'm thinking.

Here's me:  "Maybe you're a bit like that creature in the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, the one who's been bred especially to want to be eaten - even suggests good cuts to it's prospective diners."

Drusilla:  "Maybe.  Or maybe I'm just a chocolate rabbit."

Here's me:  (with an idea)  "You are what you eat, they say."

Drusilla:  "Mm-hmm."

Here's me:  "Thanks, I do believe I will eat you.  Or at least a bit of you.  I'm sure Meeta won't mind.  It'll be a couple of days though, alright?"

Drusilla:  "Dude, like....whatever."

Clearly, some people have a more literal take on this concept.

I shall post pictures and any final words when Drusilla's time comes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aah, that's better

You must know that feeling.  The one where you didn't realise you hadn't been for a couple of days.  "Why am I feeling so sluggish?" you might ask yourself.  Then maybe there's a bit of a nagging feeling deep down in your gut.  Eventually, it dawns on you, and sometime later - often with a great sense of relief and release, sometimes after a bit of a struggle - all comes to pass.

I was talking about constipation there, btw.

What I've just done is quite similar.  I just deleted 4 draft blogs, all quite largish, so a total somewhere upwards of 5 or 6000 words.  Maybe 10,000, I don't have a real accurate feel for word count as yet.  Lots of what I had written was actually quite good, from the brief glance I had just then, but it was all as I'd mentioned before - trying.  I was loathe to let it go because of the time and thought that had gone into it, but now that it's gone I feel so much lighter both here in blogworld and in my body.

Here's the thing:  I had quite a lot to say on a particular broad topic, but deep down I wished I had nothing to say at all about it.  Writing it was a way of trying to expel the thoughts, but of course as we know, whatever we give any energy to only grows.  What we resist persists, as it were.

All of this is the main reason I've not posted here for many days.  Now I'm nicely empty something good and juicy is bound to come our way soon.  You'll be either the first or the second to know.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

A strange day of coincidental cornucopiscence

I have of late, though wherefore I know not, had a bit more energy.  Maybe it's a seasonal thing, as autumn up here in the wheatbelt is almost more of a spring than spring itself, what with the rain and all.  But truly, it's a bit illusory.  When I go to do something like a bit of messing about in the garden, I am clearly not as capable or endowed with stamina as I was only a little while ago, but the main thing is that I feel strangely more energised despite this.  I think the Bowen sessions and herbs are combining very nicely.

So over the last 24 hours or so I've taken advantage of this and the perfect meteorological clemency to do a bit of garden wrangling.  Not a lot, just helping Meeta with the emplacement of our new bird bath and mulching up some of the beds down the NW side of our house.  We're making what was the driveway into a pleasant linear-ish courtyard for hanging out and general beautifulness purposes.

Looking toward the side gate.

And back the other way.  Nice, eh?

Not so very long ago, a small mulching job like this would have been something I'd have just blithely and competently motored through, enjoying it well enough, but with more than half my focus on the 'getting-it-doneness' of it all, so I could bullock on to the next thing.  A lovely facet of being physically handicapped now is that despite there being some things I simply cannot do at all, most stuff just takes a lot longer, and requires more ingenuity.  So it's all more enjoyable, now I've gotten past resenting not being able to dig a hole 'properly', for example.

Then this morning I harvested the first few of our pumpkins - I'll leave the rest on the vine as long as I can, we shouldn't see frost this early, surely.  Your first harvest is a wonderful thing.  We didn't do too much vege planting straight off when we got here, partly as it was still winter, partly due to me still very much adjusting to my new physical reality, but mainly because we'd decided to go slow, plan a bit, and get into the garden in a different and more conscious way this time.  We've always been planters, which some people see as odd given our history as serial renters, but really we're no less stewards of the planet just because we don't hold title deeds, are we?  Anyway, the first pumpkins are out curing now.  It's ace.

No idea what variety these are, they came from an excess plant from the neighbour's.  
She doesn't know either.  Mystery punkins!

Later in the day, and this had been on my mind somewhat, I had an appointment with something completely different.  I shall start by saying that  I have never been much of a tit man, really.

Sure, as a heterosexual male I naturally enough acknowledge the attractiveness of the female of the species in all her womanly bloom, and breasts are without doubt a part of all that.  What I mean is that I've never really had the sort of fetishistic lustfulness for all things breasty, or found myself always drawn to women with a particular size or shape of breast.  Maybe it's somehow to do with my very early life experience, for I don't think I was breastfed for all that long by contemporary mores.  Honestly I can't remember, but I think that's right.  Part of the movement to 'liberate' women (as it was then termed) in the late 60's/early 70's was a push in some circles to be free of a physically attached child for such a large and onerous proportion of one's life and besides - we'd developed formula now.  Or maybe not, I don't know.

Breasts are good, I like them.  But not so much on men.  
This is no-one I know, btw.  Doing an image search for 'breasts' is interesting, isn't it?

Now I am starting to get used to my PL2G app on the iPhone I am preparing for events like, for example, a trip to the doctors, by pre-programming some of the things I'll need to say.  One thing I love about the discovery process with this program is finding out when it has a picture symbol for something you've typed in.  It even has a picture of Kevin Rudd!  So anyway, one of the first things I typed in was

"I have a lump in my left breast" and sure enough, there's a little picture symbol with breasts and an arrow.  Cool!  I left the voice as female for that visit.

My left nipple has been a bit sore for a couple of months on-and-off, but a few weeks ago it suddenly developed an alarming lump.  Very tender too.  Men can get breast cancer, I know this, so I chose to cease ignoring it now.  The doc thinks it's possibly mastitis, ups my antibiotic dose, and says to get an ultrasound if it hasn't cleared up in 5 days. It hadn't cleared up.

I love some of the classic small-town stuff we get here.  It's the same sonographer I see today as did my liver last time (liver's fine, thanks for asking, just my gallbladder is apparently tiny) and we had a good enough chat considering my speechiness thing.  There's no 'collection' of cells as one would see with a tumourous growth, and she asks me about medications.  Because it looks to her like gynecomastia.  And since we're all small towny folks together now she made a quick call to my doc who thought it a very reasonable diagnosis and sent some instruction about not needing the antibiotics anymore and I don't need to see her so let's everyone be cool and happy.  Gotta love this commonsense stuff when it rears its head, yes?  In short, I have grown a very small breast.  Yep, just the one.

As it turns out, one of my medications (domperidone) which I use for gastric motility, is used in some parts of the world to promote breast milk production, so I'm guessing that 4 years or so on, there is finally a side effect.  Simply live with it, I shall.

Sigh, I suppose this does mean I am now, technically, a tit man after all.

Weirdly, I like this new development.  It makes me feel just a little more in tune with the creative force, but in a more yin way obviously.  So, garden growing and personal growing, what more could you ask from a day? Felicitous fecundity all round.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Daredevil stunt (-ed)

", it's Death Defying"
   -Death Defying, Hoodoo Gurus.

Have you ever eaten a pet?  Me either.  I mean, something's not a pet yet if you've only had it a few days, right?  And it sort of depends on the kind of pet we're talking about too.  A pet rock isn't probably all that edible to start with, but you know, people have pet sheep, and cows, otherwise often referred to as 'livestock' or in agribusiness as 'ovine/bovine production units' respectively so that would be a bit different from eating your old budgie, wouldn't it.

My mum told me a story about when she was in Singapore, fresh off the ship en route to 'the Old Country' (England) as a 21 year old, as people did as a right of passage in those days.  She was with some variety of host family - probably relatives or friends thereof; it's not important - and was sent to the market to buy a crab for dinner.  Well, they're alive, aren't they?  They have huge nasty nippers and have these restrained by a length of stout string.  Mum walked the crab home, as if on a leash.  It wasn't a pet.  They ate it.

I made a blend up just then, here's what went in (standard dodgy memory disclaimer inserted):

handful almonds
half handful pine nuts
red quinoa, uncooked, maybe 3Tbspns
2 very cute little organic sweet potatoes, minus dirt
2 similarly gorgeous yellow nectarines
a banana
medium Lebanese cucumber (locally grown, they're just called Lebanese)
5cm turmeric root
couple big cloves of garlic
large green capsicum (bell pepper)
1 Tbspn flaxseed oil
e.v. olive oil, probably 3 or 4 Tbspns
big pinch wakame seaweed
large dash cardamom
oat milk
1 rabbit, peeled, went by the name of Hamish.

Oh, darn, I just forgot I had some great fresh dates I didn't put in.  Never mind, next time.

Turned out a lovely dark chestnut beige.  There are pictures below.

The finished product; here lies Hamish the Daredevil Rabbit.  
A tad rich maybe, I'm having just a bit of indigestion right now.

Hamish was a stunt daredevil rabbit.  He joined our house at Easter time, brought here by his uncle The Evil Easter Bunny as a sacrificial offering.  Hamish's half-sister, Drusilla, is here too, and seemed entirely unmoved by Hamish's bold (and failed) feat today.

I do not know who this little girl is.  I hope she is safe and OK now.

Hamish had heard all sorts of tales in his life, and told stories (which I admit were hard to believe at times) of his exploits.  His unrequited wish to date was to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, as daredevils of old used to do.

"What a man can do, will not stop a determined rabbit" intoned Hamish haughtily.

Until, that is, he discovered the Whirling Vortex Blades Of Death.  All thoughts of a measly repeat attempt at surviving the Falls penned up in a tin can evaporated when Hamish considered the glory of attempting - live or die - an unprotected bout with The Spinning Deadly Beast.  That's right, readers, foolhardy Hamish wanted to take on the awesome power of the the VitaMix - a blender that is to ordinary appliances what Niagara is to your average toilet flush.  Just like Evel Knievel's ill-conceived rocket flight attempt across the Grand Canyon, there was no talking him out of it.  Here's how it all went down.

I laugh at your puny pointy bits, jughead machine.

As you can see, Hamish is no ordinary rabbit.  He is a purebred dark chocolate Lindt bunny and even in this shot you can see the pugnacious and garrulous personality that would ultimately lead to his delicious demise.  His half-sister Drusilla is a milkier variant on the breed.

 Calmly observing the preparations for his stunt.

The plan is for Hamish to maintain floatation atop the madly spinning mixture of foodstuffs, to avoid being sucked down to a grinding, pulverising death at the ends of a set of 28,000 rpm razor-sharp blades.  About now is where I'm really starting to think "Idiot."

Hamish nudes up for the plunge, insisting on complete freedom of movement for his Houdiniesque attempt at bucking (pun!) the odds.

I told him the stories, I made him read the previous post about the VitaMix, and he didn't so much as flinch.  Once he'd set his mind on it, there was no dissuading him.

Last chance, Hamish.  No?  Alright then.  
Oat milk bath and then the countdown.

To his credit, he lasted whole for nearly 3 seconds, spinning about 5 or 10 times right in the last instant before being shot to the bottom of the All-Destroying Vortex and momentarily slowing the blades just the merest fraction as they smashed him into his constituent molecules, distributing his tasty goodness perfectly evenly throughout the resulting pearlescent, aromatic brew.  One of my better ones, actually.

Thanks Hamish, my indigestion has passed (I probably just had too much) and I feel closer to you now than ever before.  I like to think (anthropomorphically at least) that I have saved him from a terrible life of limbo.  Imagine just waiting to be eaten, piece by piece - imagine getting one of those nibbler/hoarder types that drags the torture out for days and days, I've done him a kindness. Vale, Daredevil Rabbit.

Does this mean my blender is no longer a vegetarian?


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Death's beautiful tools

It's true that beauty, like truth and contact lenses, lays in the eye of the beholder.  We have constructed much in the way of beautiful ritual and such around death and dying in our society, as have most peoples on earth.  Some of the finest art, music, writing and so on have been inspired by grief or notions of the end of life - and what may happen next.  These are not really the subject of this post.  Nor is the DEATH of Terry Pratchett novels.  Although a scythe shall be my first example.

The scythe.  Form follows function.  
Style is a happy by-product.

I was a war nerd as a kid, into toy soldiers and so forth, but more into history and strategy and the science of warlike stuff.  Of every age from the dawn of mankind up to the present.  Everyone has known a boy (they're usually boys) like that, I guess.  Naturally, some of the fascination stays with you.

One thing I started to wonder about as I grew older was why I was more attracted to some sorts of weapons over others.  I can explain psychologically why I liked tanks - at times I felt vulnerable and emasculated as a child so the notion of some impenetrable shell with a huge fuck-off gun was an obvious symbolic remedy - but why did I so much prefer, say, a Panzer V to a Sherman?  It's not just that it was a better tank (which it clearly was) but that it had a certain purposeful style that the more mundane and utilitarian Sherman just lacked. 

Check out the racing lines.  Sadly for political correctness in my childhood I noticed the Germans had far tastier uniform aesthetics too, especially the Afrika Korps.

Truth, beauty and contact lenses; subjective, yes.  But fighting men (let's just use the male gender for this post for ease of handling, OK?) have always wanted their weapons to be beautiful.  Strange, when you think about it.  You'd think that the most important thing was its effectiveness as a tool of death, as a killing implement, and that looks would be very much secondary.  But perhaps, the beauty aspect was part of a sense of a weapon's power.

The Spitfire did not win the battle of Britain.  Sorry, but it's true.  In terms of numbers available and effectiveness in the battle the Spitfire was at that moment in time far overshadowed by the excellent Hawker Hurricane.  Certainly the Supermarine Spitfire evolved into a magnificent killing machine, and as such became the 'hero plane' of the RAF;  which is probably why its role in July to September 1940 became so overstated in public memory.  Plus, it is one of the most achingly beautiful, purposeful-looking (and sounding) aircraft ever designed by man.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VXI

Even its engine is sexy, if you like engines.
The legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

Perhaps some of the Spitty's looks come from the fact the she was derived from a pre-war racing plane, and used to have floats instead of an undercarriage.  So the original design was about speed and efficiency - but then again, it's what you want from a fighter plane too.  There were an uncountable variety of planes produced during WW2, and many were indeed lookers, but most - just as can be said for all the various weaponry used in the conflict - were not.

Over time, what I started to put together was that the most effective, the best varieties of killing implement tended to share the fact that they were also more stylish and aesthetically pleasing than their less-effective counterparts.

Why should this be so?

Maybe we can consider something really simple to explore this question.  How about the humble sword?  It's a basic thing, a stick of metal with one or two sharpened edges used to either slash or stab.  For over 10 centuries it was pretty much the ne plus ultra of face-to-face combat, the world over.  It developed in countless ways in response to the arms race of armour and other countermeasures, and was often a warrior's most prized and decorated personal item.  I like swords, I even used to make a living selling them.  Some are beautiful, most are not. 

There is a style of sword however that I find always alluring in its simplicity.  It just looks deadly.  It is also probably the most effective cutting weapon ever made, to this day.  It's the katana, from Japan.

Looks dangerous just lying there, doesn't it?

Famous originally as the sword of the samurai, although contrary to popular image the samurai in battle was primarily a horseback archer, a well-made and well-handled katana could cleave a person from shoulder to groin in a single stroke, and could have easily penetrated most western armour of the period.  All down to a highly refined metalworking technique, a simple curve, and perfect ergonomics.  For my mind it is the best example of beauty naturally occurring when form perfectly follows from function.

Yes, but again, why is it so?

Because nature is beautiful.  Divine and/or Darwinian processes have time and again produced breathtakingly beautiful predators and killers in nature, and as I noted with weaponry, very often the most effective at violence are the most aesthetically appealing.  Big cats, anyone?  The sleek lines of the shark?  So in order to channel the force of death upon our own species, it would follow that nature - which we are indisputably a part of - repeats its meme.  Designers are part of nature too, and do not wish to create anything, regardless of its use, that is ugly. 

As we have neared the current zenith of our destructive abilities, the forms have become perhaps entropic, returning to simpler and simpler designs, losing complexity, until we arrived back at the simplest of all.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the phallus.  For what else is a modern missile?  Even the ubiquitous bullet is nothing more than this, delivered with all the speed and force able to be mustered.  And we revere phalli in at least equal measure to the repulsion and fear we hold for them, do we not?

War and killing are ugly things, most of us would agree.  But when we step back just a little and look at how even in this we have a need to create beauty, how we find that beauty makes even the act of destroying life in some way more (aesthetically at least) satisfying, we see that life - which I cannot separate from beauty - will always find its way forward.

So thank you R.J. Mitchell.  Your most famous machine may have been used to end the lives of countless people, but you have given the world a great gift of beauty also, and showed us at least one small way to salve the horrors of our fratricide.  Loving the beast.

Now, can I have a ride in a Spitfire please?

R.J. Mitchell, aeronautical engineer and designer of the Supermarine Spitfire.  Nice work, mate.