Friday, February 27, 2015

Rules Rule

I am sure that everyone has tucked away somewhere in their psyche a set of rules to live by, or, if not, they should. In any event, and for no reason in particular, these are mine.

1)  Do No Harm

Now for a person who has been in what I term "The Trade", this may seem a bit odd, given the occasional need to employ the phrase 'terminate with extreme prejudice' every now and then. For justification, I turn to that symbol of sound medicine, Hippocrates, and his famous oath that he must not do harm.*

Yet Hippocrates himself felt no remorse in attacking disease, and neither do I. In this context, I consider members of such groups as Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the like to be cancers on the body politic, particularly in the form of those most vulnerable, women and children. The removal of a cancerous tumour can save a life; the removal of a group of addled killers in the thrall of an imaginary figure leading them on can save an entire village. If I can play a small part in such elimination, I will.

2) Do Not Whine

Whining and bemoaning and bemoaning is behaviour to be avoided whenever the urge strikes. It accomplishes nothing, puts you in the dumps, and irritates the hell out of those in your company. Stop it.

3) Stay Away From Grudges

Somewhat linked to #3, this is also pointless activity, and can wreak havoc on the psyche. Avoid at all costs, and keep in mind these words from comedian Buddy Hackett (whom I have drawn on before) "Never carry a grudge. While you're carrying a grudge, the other guy is out dancing."

4) Rely On Laughter

This is the balm of my entire existence. As Victor Borge well knew, "laughter is the shortest distance between two people." And there is an added bonus to this rule: you can never go wrong when you laugh at yourself.

5) Get As Much Happiness As You Can

No explanation necessary

And a final rule, learned from bitter experience: when travelling in the American south, never ever crush the mint in a julep.


* The relevant portion of the Hippocratic oath that the good Lady is referring to is as follows, keeping in mind that my knowledge of ancient Greek is not all it should be: "As to the elimination of diseases, make a habit of two things --- to help, or at least, do no harm." -- Ed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Irony Lives!

My little thesis for this week is that irony is getting a new life. To buttress this opinion, I offer the following examples.

1) Global Warming

The fact that the media is still using this term surprises. Few dispute the concept of climate change (climate is always changing) but if global warming is still occurring, it is news to anyone living in the Northern hemisphere. The Arctic climate, the polar vortex, the Siberian air mass, or whatever, WON'T GO AWAY.

Those that rejoice in this: Ski hill operators and polar bears.

Those unhappy with this turn of events: Al Gore and David Suzuki.

2) Better Living Through Technology

The irony here begins with the first workable version of an item of technology (a home computer, a mobile phone) that creates a great deal of satisfaction (and a great deal of money). Then the "better living" aspect all goes to ratshit. Future versions of the item become so intricate, so complicated, that if this is "better living", irony truly lives. Bah, humbug.

3) The Arab Spring

Little Tunisia excepted, this entire initiative has sprung back to the winter of the Islamic 9th century, now complete with modern and murderous weaponry. And the "spring" is spreading through such lovely groups as the Islamic State. Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and a gazillion little off shoots, all bent on sharing the wonder of a kind and merciful imaginary friend. I can only trust that the hope-filled word "spring" has not been forever doomed to irony.

And would that the master of irony, O. Henry, agree? I suspect so. Wholeheartedly.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Serengeti Analogy

First, a definition of 'analogy'. This is necessary or else the argument which follows will founder.

The O.E.D. defines the term thusly: "A resemblance of relations or attributes as a ground for reasoning." The term "resemblance" is key; we are not talking in terms of direct copies or clones, but rather are in the world of the "akin" -- something close to the original whose use is to better illustrate a point.

Given this, I should like for a moment to dip a toe into the crystal clear waters of algebra,* to wit: "an analogy to x would be y." Expanding this analogy, I would see x as the world of crazed Islamic jihadists, and y as the world viewed as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

In these two worlds, dangers lurk. In terms of x, if one is careless, or gets too close to a jihadist herd, one is all too likely to meet a nasty fate involving being shot, hanged or (a favourite) beheaded. Oh, and if a woman, the possibility of being stoned to death becomes a grim reality.

In the world of y, Tennyson's line of nature being "red in tooth and claw" is first and foremost, particularly if you are a wildebeest.** The big cats -- the lion, the leopard, the cheetah -- are some distance from cute little Muffin who contentedly curls up on your sofa. Moreover, getting too close to a water buffalo or rhino is strongly not advised.

And there is the nub of the analogy in the phrase "getting too close." In the Serengeti, this makes perfect sense, and most everyone complies, realizing that you are not looked upon as a benefactor or well-wisher, but as something to be gored or trampled or, dare I say, lunch.***

In the world of x, this oddly does not appear to make the sense it does in the world of y. In both worlds, animals attack, with the clarification that in the Serengeti the animals are really animals while the jihadists are somewhat lower on the evolutionary scale, and should be classified as sub-human.

Yet far too many people, often with a willingness to help and bring relief to those suffering in the world of x, fall into the hands of the jihadists and come to ghastly ends. This would never happen in the world of y. One can but hope, however, that once x is viewed as being akin to y, people will stop "getting too close."

Unless, of course, you are in a capable army unit and armed to the teeth.


*Algebra -- a term developed by Arabs before all too many of their "leaders" decided that education was a Western Satanic practice.

**Alfred Lord Tennyson, "In Memoriam".

*** Not all comply, given poachers profiting from the horrible trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. China really has to get serious about moving into the twentieth century.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Male / Female Unscientific Survey

The other day, on TV, I stumbled into a rather weird little survey on the just how powerful was a woman's prettiness on a man's attraction to her.  The survey was a segment on one of those shows featuring the glories of home decoration, the wonders of modern cookware, and how best to improve familial relations.

Now normally I would have fled the channel. I thought the survey question bordered on the ludicrous, but lingered to hear the result. The program I was much more interested in, a documentary on Bell's Theorem and quantum entanglement,* had a few minutes to go before being aired, and I already knew the result of the survey.

Or thought I did. Men fall for the pretty every time. This view was supported heavily by the (almost all female) audience.

Not so, came the answer.

The survey done by some Bureau of Statistics somewhere -- the show's host was a tad vague at this point -- indicated that some 70% of men looked for other attributes in women before  beauty.

When I thought about it, I realized that the discrepancy between the audience's results and those of the actual survey was not surprising. On these types of talk shows, men are often written off without any regard for their ability to suss out the qualities mentioned in the survey: intelligence, kindness, wit, and a good sense of humour.

Given the above, a woman with these qualities would be highly successful in the partnership milieu. Being pretty would help, but it wouldn't be the be all and end all. (Unless she were ten feet tall, came with two club feet, and possessed facial features equivalent to a relief map of Montenegro. Then, yes, perhaps all bets would be off.)

And if the survey's designer was not named in the TV show, I can give a sturdier prop to the survey's findings. Here I turn to Marcel Proust, who in one of his letters wrote, "Let us leave pretty women to men without imagination."

It is for insights like these that the good Marcel and his A La Recherche De Temps Perdu will remain a classic for a very, very long time.


* Don't ask. Suffice it to say that Bell's Theorem was cited by Einstein as "Spooky action at a distance." If feeling brave, turn to Google. -- Ed.