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Friday, July 21, 2017

Electric Universe

 

I wouldn’t want to be around for a complete blackout. Most radios and TVs plug in these days, so it would be difficult to find out whether your kids’ school was still open. Your cell phones might still operate, but with no way of recharging your battery, you’d be pretty careful about using it. Driving the kids to school on the off chance it was open would be too much of a gamble, for gas stations depend on underground storage tanks, and until the blackout ended, stations wouldn’t be able to use their electrically operated pumps to bring up more fuel. You couldn’t stock up on groceries – no credit cards working – nor could you get more cash, for ATMs depend on electrically-run computers too.

Within a week the city would have broken down. Police stations would be isolated with their phones not working, and pretty soon their radio batteries would lose their charge as well; no one could call ambulances, for their radios or phone links would be out too. A few people might try walking to hospitals, but there wouldn’t be much there: no X-rays, no refrigerated vaccines, no refrigerated blood, no ventilation, no lighting.

Going to the airport to try to escape wouldn’t help, for with backup generators not working, the airport’s radars would have shut, nor could planes take off on manual control, for any fuel that remained in underground tanks would be impossible to pump up. Ports would have closed, with no electricity to run the cranes that moved their large containers and no way to check electronic inventories. The military might try to guard fuel convoys, but with their own vehicles running low on fuel, that wouldn’t last long. If the blackout was worldwide, isolation would intensify. The internet and all email would have gone down very quickly; next the phone lines; finally, the last television and radio broadcasts would end.

Starvation would probably begin in the dense cities of Asia, especially with no air conditioning at food warehouses; within a few weeks of a complete blackout almost all the world’s cities and suburbs would be unlivable. There would be fighting, pretty desperate, for food and fuel. With a population of six billion, few people would have a chance of surviving."

Why bother reading fiction? Non-fiction - and popular science - books are so much more exciting. And this small book really packs a punch.


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Thursday, July 20, 2017

One of the defining songs of the 60s

 

It was the time of china dogs on the mantelpiece, ducks in flight on the wall, and drip-dry shirts on hangers. And it was the time of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and 'Blowin' in the Wind'.

I hadn't heard of 'Blowin' in the Wind' before coming to Australia in 1965, perhaps because in Germany I could afford neither a gramophone nor a radio. Within six months of coming to Australia I had made up for the lack of either of them by becoming the proud owner of a radiogram.

Saving money by walking to work instead of taking the bus, I bought every Peter, Paul & Mary record, including this beautiful rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind". For me this will only ever be an English song with English lyrics and I'd rather have molten lava poured down my ears than listen to this German translation:

Wie viele Straßen auf dieser Welt
Sind Straßen voll Tränen und Leid?
Wie viele Meere auf dieser Welt
Sind Meere der Traurigkeit?
Wie viele Mütter sind lang schon allein,
Und warten und warten noch heut'?

Die Antwort, mein Freund, weiß ganz allein der Wind,
Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.

Wie viele Menschen sind heut' noch nicht frei,
Und würden so gerne es sein?
Wie viele Kinder geh'n abends zur Ruh'
Und schlafen vor Hunger nicht ein?
Wie viele Träume erflehen bei Nacht,
Wann wird es für uns anders sein?

Die Antwort, mein Freund, weiß ganz allein der Wind,
Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.

Wie große Berge von Geld gibt man aus,
Für Bomben, Raketen und Tod?
Wie große Worte macht heut' mancher Mann,
Und lindert damit keine Not?
Wie großes Unheil muß erst noch gescheh'n,
Damit sich die Menschheit besinnt?

Die Antwort, mein Freund, weiß ganz allein der Wind,
Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind.

Mind you, if you've watched too much of the Swedish chef in the Muppet Show and are into mock-Swedish, you may enjoy "Och Vinden Ger Svar". "Bork, bork, bork!"


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Turtle Diary

 

This is no "Free Willy" story. The two sea turtles are a metaphor for the story of two lonely Londoners and what can only be described as their midlife slump. Although it is normally better to read the book first, in this case the film so well honours the book that it works either way.

The book's author, Russell Hoban, is a gifted observer of the tiny details that make up our every-day existence. One perfect example is a scene in which one of the protagonists is crossing the street and looks down and sees a manhole cover with the phrase K257 on it. He steps on it and thinks, "All right, go ahead, play Mozart." When he gets home and looks up the Kochel number, he learns that K257 is the Credo Mass in C. "I believe" is what the manhole cover says to him from that day forward.

It's perfect little associations like these that make this book so brilliant, and so touching. If you have ever felt bitter, or lonely, or lost your faith in humanity, read this book or watch the movie. It works either way and you won't regret it.


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I haven't come down in the last shower

 

Home in three days, don't wash!" is the message Napoleon Bonaparte is supposed to have sent to his wife Josephine after the battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800 which was 'une victoire politique' that secured his grip on power in the wake of his coup d’état the previous November.

He came undone fifteen years later at the Battle of Waterloo, but he may have been ahead of us when it came to bathing as recent studies have shown that too much of it can actually do more harm than good.

According to the Genetic Science Centre at the University of Utah (trust those clean-living Mormons), over-cleaning can damage the human microbiome – a collection of bacteria, viruses and other microbes that live in and on our body and are essential to our health.

While the research concludes that our Western overzealous, shampoo-scrubbed lifestyle significantly affects the human microbiome diversity, it could not tell us how often we should actually be showering.

I've decided to stick with the little Corsican's idea and limit my showers to Sundays and Wednesdays. Should you come and visit me on any other day, do yourself a favour and stand upwind from me.


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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This French faux pas Trumps it all

 

Donald Trump's limited vocabulary, mangled syntax and idiosyncratic behaviour mark him as a man of limited intellect. However, confronted with glamorous women he’s in his comfort zone and knows exactly what to do.

Meeting the 64-year-old wife of the 39-year-old French President for the first time in Paris, Trump kissed Brigitte Macron on both cheeks, then grabbed her hand and blurted out “You’re in such good shape ... beautiful”. Then, turning to her presidential husband, he reiterated “She’s in such good physical shape”, as if discussing a prize heifer.

English is one of those languages where what's left unsaid counts for as much as what's been said, and one could almost hear the silent "but" or "considering", as in "... considering that she's 25 years older than you".

The age difference between the Trumps is just one year less that of the Macrons, and it's a pity that the French president didn't turn to Melania and say to her, "You're surprisingly beautiful, considering that you're married to this overweight slob with the social graces of a caveman".

But then Emmanuel Macron is the democratically elected president of a country steeped in culture, whereas Trump is the stand-in clown for a yet to be properly elected president of a nation that gained its place in the world simply by being the last man standing after World War II.

(It then turned its dollar into the bitcoin of the 20th century by printing an endless supply of it and swapping it for all the riches of the world - but that's a story for another day).


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