Friday, August 14, 2015
In Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be" we find the phrase "the thousand Natural shocks that flesh is heir to." In this week's missive, I would like to focus a briefly on the reverse of the medal, that is, "unnatural shocks." A distinction here seems, well, only natural.
Now what Hamlet was on about was the fact that life by its very existence entails any number of untoward and unexpected happenings. These occurrences can range anywhere from volcanic ash tumbling down on you to being infected with the Ebola virus, or from fighting off a shark to the Kardashians crashing your very private party (the last example is not mutually exclusive).
What I would like to address, however, are those occurrences that, however unexpectedly, do not happen naturally. They can be traced to our actions rather than an outside source such as an exploding volcano, a jungle disease, or swimming with sharks and/or celebrities. In other words, our fault.
Three unnatural shocks come to mind.
The first, and by far the most dangerous, are those religions that encourage a "me only" approach, with any other belief being beyond the pale and subject to scorn, banishment, or even death by any number of ghastly ways. In early days, this approach might have provided some comfort in enduring a life that was, as Thomas Hobbes' wrote in The Leviathan, "nasty, brutish and short." But this is the present, and I find Voltaire's' words more to the point: "The first clergyman was the first rascal who met the first fool."
Secondly, and almost as worrying, a medieval outfit such as the National Rifle Association continues to exist and have enormous influence on the American political scene. It is high time this organization should cease being an unnatural shock and fade into nothingness.
Finally, we as electors in a democracy, have an unfortunate habit of electing the inept or oafish into positions of power, thereby bringing their jurisdictions into a state of fiscal collapse. Where ineptitude is concerned, step forward Greece and Ontario. Where the election of an oaf is concerned, look no further then the Trump candidacy in the U.S.
"Elect Trump?" you say. "No way we would elect such an oaf!"
"Why not?" I would reply. "You did it in 2000."
Friday, August 7, 2015
The story of inventions is a long one, complete with the epic (the wheel) the barbaric (the rack) the silly but enjoyable (the hula hoop) and the challenging (chess). I am sure astute readers could give many more examples. As humans, inventing is what we do.
In my opinion, however, two inventions stand out for their simplicity and utility. Moreover, they have been adopted world-wide with a speed that astounds. I have entitled them The Trident and The Easy Turn.
First, The Easy Turn.
When driving, making a left hand turn at a busy intersection can be difficult, given that oncoming traffic must cease before the turn can be attempted.* In addition, there could well be an impatient driver behind you who has not needed to make such a turn, but is nevertheless captive until you succeed in your endeavour. Worse, no end of road rage incidents have resulted from this impasse.
The Easy Turn resolves all this by creating a short extra lane set aside for just such a purpose. Suddenly, you are no longer the cause of fury on the part of the driver just behind you -- he remains in his own lane, and proceeds happily on his way. In addition, a further bonus sometimes appears in the form of a secondary invention called "the little green arrow" which, when shining, allows for an advance start on making the turn.
Now, The Trident.
This invention is commonly seen in banks and airports, where an initial single line debouches into several, each leading to a teller (in a bank) or a baggage handler and ticket taker (in an airport). Thus you are not now faced with what became known as "the line-up" gamble, where you tried to pick the line most efficient and fast-moving, and where you invariably found yourself confronting glaciation. Now, if there was one hold up at one point, the others were still operative and the line was moving as fast as it could.
Again wonderful. And a salute to those who first thought of these techniques. In my view, this is Nobel Prize stuff.
In conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not also pay homage to one of the world's most esteemed inventors, Alexander Graham Bell, and his concept of the telephone. If I recall correctly, the first telephonic words were spoken on March 10, 1876, from Dr. Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson: "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you. Someone is offering us a free Bahama cruise."
Or words to that effect.
* This would be a right turn in some wayward jurisdictions, given an unaccountable desire to drive on the left side of the road. - Ed.