Italian Dogs

June 19, 2021

Over the last weeks, CNN has been plugging a show about Italy, but which is really predicated on Italian food.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan of both, but the ad drives me nuts, using trite crap such as “if you don’t believe in god you believe in tortellini.”

I’m usually subjected to this when I’m assembling breakfast for my canine companions. Just as no two people are identical, these hounds have very differing views about food—the younger one is voracious to the point of mandatory dieting, whereas her older sister has a contemplative and fastidious nature—god rather than tortellini, if you will.

Although I provide a staple diet, ancillary morsels from last night’s dinner are not uncommon. These serve the dual purpose of enriching the breakfast experience and as a pre-meal teaser for the older hound. Dogs and humans have much in common—which is perhaps what endears them to us—and if my more fastidious friend gets enthusiastic, then she will wolf, if you excuse the pun, through her bowl of victuals.

These morsels often include fish, and I’ve established that the dogs prefer cultivated to wild-caught fish. This is undoubtedly diet-related: pet foods, just like human foods, tease us with protein hydrolysates.

To go down this particular rabbit hole, we need to roll back to a little high-school organic chemistry. Aminoacids are the building blocks of proteins, and they’re linked together by means of a peptide bond, shown in blue below.

The two aminoacids shown at the top are identical—this is the simplest one of all—glycine. The red atoms (water) are removed in a dehydration reaction, leaving the dipeptide shown at the bottom.

Hydrolysis, or hydro + lysis, means breaking with water. When you hydrolyse a protein, that’s just what you’re doing—using water to break it up. Organic chemists discovered many moons ago that some of these protein hydrolysates, in particular glutamic acid, add flavor to food—MSG, or monosodium glutamate, comes from glutamic acid.

Flavor as a whole is a weird bunny—you smell when you inhale but you taste when you exhale, so these are two different sensory experiences. I suppose that folks with halitosis bring yet another dimension to this—though not a pleasant one.

Kissing someone who has bad breath (we’re not talking a peck on the cheek here, people) is tricky, since you won’t be able to smell the breath when you’re kissing—and presumably are not exhaling through the mouth while osculating if you’re going full snorkel. I had some fun checking this out on the web, and the most hilarious detection tip (ranked only number five on the list) is:

If people are visibly stepping away then it may be time to do something about it.

My canine curiosity arose when considering the morsels Italian dogs get to eat, when compared for instance with Dutch or British dogs—the assumption here is that dinner in the latter jurisdictions is in general neither plentiful nor tasty.

The Italian canine can expect a touch of ossobuco, veal marsala, or a spot of spaghetti al vongole, whereas north of the Roman Empire, a lucky pooch may perhaps filch a stray chicken nugget. An Indian hound, on the other hand, might wrap his chops around a Rogan Josh or test his vegetarian skills on a side of Matar Paneer.

If you’re a Frenchie, life is far more ritualized—salad comes only after the entree, cheese invariably before dessert, and if you violate the wine pairings, the doggy guillotine awaits. Quel stress, Monsieur Bow Wow!

For a cat, the whole narrative is different—devoid of home loyalties, felines forage as they please—and are far more difficult to please.

Felines await feeding at an animal shelter (courtesy of Forbes)

DNA studies show that cats have taste receptors—flavor sensors—in various parts of their body: the mouth and nose are obvious ones, but felines have sensors in the stomach and other parts of their body.

As a consequence, cats can pass judgement on the palatability of food after they swallow it—quite a remarkable attribute, and one that poses a real challenge to pet food manufacturers—this is obvious when you swap cat and dog rations.

The dogs fall upon the cat food like rabid alligators, the cat sniffs its fare once and after a minute’s contemplation, makes up its mind.

Well, I’m going out.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Vax and the Vaxnots

June 13, 2021

It’s been six months since jabbing began, so now’s a good time for stocktaking. I was vaxed Monday, and have spent a good part of the week recovering from the experience—but then again, I got hit with the J&J—a bit of a sledgehammer.

After my jaunt to Scandinavia, a vaccine passport is definitely what I need—the only way to avoid constant nasal invasion any time I travel. As if on cue, the European Union is rolling out a ‘digital green certificate’ to all Member-States on the first of July.

A number of countries, including Denmark, Germany, Greece, and Spain already issue vaccine passports—henceforth vaxports. Most other countries are technically ready to issue, and there are a couple of laggards. How the process works internally is unknown.

The vaxport is an app (duh), which will undoubtedly add to the conspiracy theories—but we’ve already established that big brother is watching you, largely because you want him to. The app isn’t made by Microsoft—so this time Bill Gates gets a free pass—it’s made by Deutsche Telekom. C’mon, people, Europe could never have a US-made passport.

Actually, the software is a product of T-Systems , a subsidiary of DT, and SAP. The guy in charge of the vaxport at T-Systems is Daniel Eder—a chap who looks rather youthful for a senior manager.

As befits the brave new world, the app code is on github. As you wander through the files, a couple of east European names jump out at you, including one Oleksandr Sarapulovgl. The name sounds Ukranian—I tried to find him online with little success—the only link in my search was a Eurovision-themed video which can only be described as… bizarre.

So after a left turn at the lights, we’re back to vaxland. The app will do what any self-respecting app does—tap into massive cloud databases where all the EU big brother vax records live. Since I got jabbed with one-night-stand Janssen (the EU name for the J&J), my vaxing days are over and I’m on a national database that speaks to the vaxport app—most likely via a couple of intermediaries.

The main requirements for designing the vaxport app are three: security, communication, and information—there’s a lot of fraud in COVID testing—the PCR I took in Denmark had such a pretty certificate I plan to frame it. The Danes wouldn’t give me the results by email or SMS, even when I told them I’d sign a release document exempting them for any responsibility for misuse. Instead, they gave me a paper with a hologram and embossed notary seal—you’d need a qualified forger to fake that.

In the meantime, a huge proportion of the world lingers in vax limbo. How bad is the situation?

Er… pretty fucked. Two things jump out at me from this chart. The first is about the developing world—vax rates are woefully behind. In South America, Chile and Uruguay are islands of success, and in Asia? …Mongolia. Who knew? Africa, as usual, is a living tragedy.

The second is the vax ceiling. When we look at North America, the EU, and the UK, the percentage gets up to the sixties and sits there. As of June 12th, Israel has 63% vaxed—that’s the max vax. The ambition is to pass seventy, the holy grail of herd immunity.

And that’s going to be a struggle, along with some kind of synch across the world. Just like the rise and fall of communism worldwide, some vaxing will be waxing and some will be waning.

The consensus, which I can now confirm, is that vaccines give you a headache.

Expect more headaches in the months to come.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Head in the Cloud

June 6, 2021

What song could be more appropriate for this article than ‘Get Off My Cloud’? I duly searched for the best version I could find, and then the law of unintended consequences made me find this. So we’ll start off with a bit of craic.

The original version of the song always reminds me of one of the most unusual assignations of my life. I spent time in a British boarding school (a bit like saying I did time in prison) and the boarding house contained only boys. For reasons I am now unsure of, and was probably uncertain then, the housemaster organized a ‘disco’ with a girls boarding school one Saturday evening.

I think the girls were as sex-starved as the boys and I had a memorable evening with a particular young lady—I remember her well but I never saw her again—and it all started with that song.

This version is equally memorable in rather a different way, and the funniest comment about it was “This is fantastic! And you could have left the lyric, “… just killed a man.”, although the guy who wrote “I showed this to my wife just before she broke a frying pan over my head…” gets an honorable mention.

I was also unfamiliar with Aunt Flo, so we live and learn.

So… back to the cloud, then.

The events of the past few years have blown social media out of all proportion—anyone can broadcast an opinion, so everyone does. Weird theories abound, and precious time that should be used to live is being wasted bandying and debunking a bunch of loony-tunes.

But the most subtle aspect of social media is data—and where it lives.

When computers first appeared, there was a concept called ‘the mainframe’. While at Lakeside high school, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the founders of Microsoft, used to rent time on a PDP-10, which meant hooking up to a dumb terminal—even when I was in college, computer science classes used terminals, so all your data was stored on a mainframe.

Then the world opened up to distributed computing—your desktop or laptop had a disk inside it and you owned your data. Same with cell phones, when it all started, but for a decade or so things have really started to shift. Where? To the cloud, of course, that collection of fluffy white feelgood little lambs—my data is resting safely in heaven, zzzz…

What? WHAT? IT’S NOT? WHAT’S GOING ON?

A couple of things. The first is the distinction between voluntary and involuntary—when you do OneDrive, GoogleDrive, or Dropbox, you’re being voluntary. When all your social media comments, emails, pictures, locations, and times are stored in the cloud, it’s involuntary; I don’t mean you could sue, because somewhere along the line you clicked or checked a couple of boxes so now you’re stuck—I mean you are unaware, or at best half-aware that there is a permanent record of your life.

On the voluntary side, the problems start when you store data that a cloud company may object to. The terms of service may allow for companies to delete materials, block access to your own data, or even block your account while retaining your data and possibly sharing it with the authorities.

The major cloud operators are Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and they in turn are tapped into by the US intelligence community, so your privacy goes down the drain. Of course this applies to email as well, as illustrated by the Petraeus affair.

Cloud storage capacity is so vast that in essence it can store the human race. Everything. And that capacity is growing every day—as an individual, you have no idea, but if you think for a moment about the photos and videos you take, and then consider how many of those you share—after all, that’s why you took them in the first place—well, you get the idea.

Consider what happens when you forward a WhatsApp image you receive—Quora provides the obvious answer.

Because once you send it to a particular conversation, it has also been indexed in WhatsApp’s servers. Next time you want to forward it to someone, all WhatsApp has to do it is to send the already indexed media file to the receiver who now downloads it from WhatsApp’s servers.

The same is true for voicemail, text, email attachments, bla bla bla.

The key questions, if you value your privacy, are: ‘what can I do to prevent this?’ and ‘what can they do with my stuff?’

The only answer to the first question would be a collective rejection of cloud data storage—one person can’t fight this except by becoming digitally autistic—paying cash, never using a GPS, throwing out the cellphone, and turning off the internet.

The answer to the second is ‘pretty much everything’. Targeted ads are the obvious evidence, but it goes much deeper and much further back. If you’ve been on WhatsApp since 2011, ten years of your life are archived—your loves and hates, the ways in which your health and professional life have changed, the doctors you visit, and the people you sleep with.

My opinions are on WordPress since 2008, when I first put pen to paper. Why? First because I wanted to help promote my books, second because writing makes you a better writer, and third because I enjoy the freedom to say whatever I want and have people read it if they choose to.

The price I pay is what these lines reveal about me. Where I go, who I meet, what I think, how I roll. And one of these days, when it all stops… when I die.

Just like the child born in 2020 who thinks our species always wears a mask, so they will grow up in a society that really knows everything about them.

If you care nothing about this and your privacy is worth sharing the wonders of your day, at least read the small print in the terms and conditions.

Big Brother really is watching you.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Viking Talk

May 30, 2021

The history of Denmark is one of my black holes—in fairness, that’s true for all of Scandinavia, but occasional conversations with Norwegians and Swedes have shed some light on Norse historical antics.

What you’re told very much depends on who’s shining the light—the three stronger powers took turns setting the scene, although Norway was nowhere near as successful as Denmark or Sweden. Finland was not in the running—first it was ruled by the Swedes and then by the Russians—the big neighbor syndrome, which exists to this day, made it impossible for Finland to join NATO and led to compulsory military service.

The Vikings—a generic name for Norsemen—went everywhere. As far as Newfoundland to the west, and all around the European seaboard. The light green areas show the main communities and the blue lines the sailing routes—200 years from England and Ireland all the way to America.

During the Viking period, the explorers went up the Guadalquivir to Seville in 844, deep in the times of the Caliphate, on a series of missions of rape and pillage, but also selling blond slave girls to the harems of the Moors. A century later, the Vikings were in Istanbul—their inland routes are a map of the major European rivers, from the Dnieper to the Vistula.

I was given a Danish history lesson over a few glasses of excellent Ripasso—a fairly indifferent band played in the background, but it’s been so long since I heard (or played) live music that it warmed my heart.

It had been a very long day, including a stint at the Danish parliament and a number of press interviews—Denmark has a complex environmental problem and I had been asked for my thoughts on the matter. When it comes to press, the key is often what you leave out—I was repeatedly asked whether the Danish government had got things wrong, and had to explain that as a guest in their beautiful country it certainly wasn’t my place to provide a comment.

One of several Danish constitutions on display in the main hall of parliament—the oldest dates back to 1849. In other nations, access to parliamentary grounds in restricted and limousines are the norm, but in Denmark you just stroll into the outer courtyard, where you are greeted (as everywhere) by a sea of bikes.

Christian II is an unavoidable reference in Danish history. He was famous for attempting to give more power to commoners—this in the XVIth century—and for conquering Sweden, and infamous for the Stockholm bloodbath.

Danish and North German history are intertwined. Parliament has a paternoster elevator—I’d last been on one in Kiel over twenty years ago—and Copenhagen has three. One member of parliament famously went up and disappeared, only to do a handstand and come down the other side.

The flat and pungent north German province of Schleswig-Holstein was one of the points of dispute between Prussian and Dane—Denmark was so upset at the loss of prime agricultural land in the 1800s that it went on a reclamation spree, land-filling lakes and coastal areas to compensate.

At present, sixty-one percent of Denmark’s area is devoted to agriculture, one of the highest proportions in the world. This results for instance in forty percent of EU seed production—the Danes are the world’s largest producers of grass seeds.

Denmark, like the Netherlands and Portugal, is a small but fiercely independent European country. In these times of regression to a historical past of isolation and ‘me first’, it’s a privilege to make this my first post-pandemic visit.

A nation that highlights both individual achievement and societal tolerance—proudly Dane and calmly European.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Eighty Is a Long Time

May 24, 2021

I was going to write about animal welfare—driven by a terrible story out of China about something called ‘Mystery Boxes’. Like other things Chinese, this has turned into a craze, where you pay a small amount to receive a package of unknown content—usually a small toy, but occasionally you get something worth much more than you paid for.

The insane part is that some Chinese companies have taken to sending live pets through the post, and the story doesn’t end well—apart from video of kittens and puppies kept in appalling conditions, a number of the poor pets have arrived at their destination dead—pretty horrific stuff, so much so that I won’t even link it.

That out of the way, and I hope it gets permanently scuppered, I prefer to talk with you about music, with some travel anecdotes thrown in.

After all, it’s Robert Zimmerman’s birthday, the man with a voice like sand and glue.

Uncle Bob turned eighty today. Congratulations, may you stay forever young.

I chose one of my (very many) favorite songs to celebrate the day. It’s a great version, but for some reason it peters out—maybe Dylan got fed up half-way through—it happens. The beauty of this live performance is The Band—they originally recorded the album Planet Waves, one of Dylan’s least known, and one of his best.

Close your eyes when Robbie Robertson belts out the first solo and fly away.

I spent all day traveling, my first time on a plane since February 2020—on the flight from Africa to Europe the stewardess asked me why I was wearing a mask, looking suspiciously at me as if I was contaminated. I smiled and told her a hard rain’s gonna fall.

Today, en route to Denmark, masks were everywhere—there was even a dude with mask and visor three rows down from me. The Danes deplaned us from the back, which must have really pleased the guys in business, but at least we weren’t redirected to Minsk.

Because I was a pandemic flight virgin, I was bemused most of the time, and amused a little of the time.

When I landed in Copenhagen, they asked me to pull down my mask so they could see my face—”Just like Saudi Arabia, huh?” I remarked to the immigration lady—she looked amused in a Danish kind of way.

I made sure to get a COVID PCR forty-eight hours before flying—getting cotton buds stuck up my schnozzle first thing on a Sunday morning is not my idea of brunch, but needs must.

I chose to ignore the signs at Copenhagen airport requiring me to have a COVID test on arrival—after all, Sunday was yesterday—but a cop soon set me straight. While I waited in a queue as long as a Dylan song, I remonstrated with a staff member; she explained yesterday’s test was so I could fly, today’s was to get into the country.

I countered with a double barrage: first, I was only flying in order to get into the bloody country, which is why I had the test in the first place, and second a test is a test is a fucking test.

The current procedure in Denmark is to put a shitload of hapless travelers into a large hall and have some prepubescent twit come in with a sheaf of certificates and shout out names. After he’d called ‘Peter’ for the second time, I began to wish my parents had called me Engelbert or Xenophon. Every time he shouted Peter I shouted surname, to the amusement of my fellow travelers.

I eventually got my passport—that’s the local term—and escaped into the city.

Denmark is besotted with bicycles—you don’t get Ubers here, and you don’t get Limes—I was looking forward to a good scoot. But you do get Lime electric bikes, which I duly secured in order to find myself a nice bit of fisk.

When I discussed breakfast arrangements at my hotel, the receptionist asked for a time window and then he said, “just bring your test”.

“Excuse me, did you say ‘test’?”

“Yes, it must be shown.”

Well! Good job I didn’t chuck it into the nearest trash can in my fury at all the palaver at the airport. The fisk restaurant welcomed the weary cyclist. “Do you have your passport?” I knew just what he meant—out popped the COVID certificate.

So, the sun has set—late at this latitude and this time of year—my day is done, and I want to ride on, if you’ll excuse the pun. I hereby forgive all the hurdy gurdy misdemeanors, and bid you adieu with a few choice words from the Minnesota bard.

Bob’s poetry is wonderful—I’ve always loved poetry, as long as it’s set to music.

May you build a ladder to the stars

And step on every rung

And may you stay

Forever young

Eighty years is a long time, and I’m privileged to have shared some of that with you.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Goldfinger

May 15, 2021

Over the past months, digital currency has been on a tear. I’m specifically talking about some of the seventy or so flavors of bitcoin that pullulate the internet.

The name is not a differentiating factor, because all currencies are tendentially digital, with the exception of a few analogs—notes and coins—that sit in wallets and purses.

Money is fascinating because it is in essence a belief system—in a world of facts, factoids, and fake news, pretty much everyone believes in money, in particular the power of money.

The use of notes and coins has been going down steadily for a couple of decades, and during the pandemic it tipped straight down as online sales boomed. In the UK, a decade ago sixty percent of transactions were made in cash, but by 2019, only twenty-three percent survived—the rest, i.e. the vast majority, were digital, using debit and credit cards or other digital forms of payment.

Post-pandemic, I expect that number to have increased. I observe my peers at gas stations, stores, or restaurants, and seldom see a cash payment. About ninety percent of my total transaction volume is digital, and I’m pretty fond of analog—I suspect your digital footprint may be higher.

Humans are in fad mode—the pandemic appears to have increased our appetite for crazy shit, as evidenced by extreme positions on practically everything, from the US election to climate change and Miley Cyrus, by way of Democrat pedophile ships in the Suez.

The GameStop fad was part of it (still is, if you follow the markets), as is crypto. The smart money knows there’s an issue when something goes mainstream, and speculation on various bitcoin flavors, Ethereum being one of the most popular, is rife.

The quantum leap of Ethereum in 2021—a game for all the family.

One bitcoin is today (right now) worth 39,589.33 €, about forty-eight thousand dollars, Ethereum is around ten percent of that. Folks are plunging into the wild ride with the same enthusiasm that got them into the subprime mortgage bubble and tulipmania.

The madness of money and popular delusion is well-described by Charles Mackay, but here’s a cool add-on from John Maynard Keynes, after he was recalled to the government in 1943.

Here I am back in the Treasury like a recurring decimal… …most people’s only idea was to get back to pre-1914. No one today feels like that about 1939. That will make an enormous difference when we get down to it.

Bitcoin has drawn comments from caustic comedy kings such as Bill Maher, who recently claimed it was pointless and no one understood it, even if they said they did—again, a good indication of the direction of travel.

We’re peaking on a bubble—you can’t make everyone rich unless what they own is worthless; but for Bill and his audience, a brief clarification, since I understand it. There are three reasons why bitcoin has thrived: the first is greed, the natural tendency of humans to jump onto bandwagons—this is just another Klondike; the second is more structural, because the commodity is in short supply and all transactions are traceable—not so much to a particular person, but to ensure we cannot spend more coin than actually exists.

The world’s nations have provoked this by systematically devaluing their currencies against any underlying physical support—traditionally, this was gold, again a commodity in short supply, but it could be silver, diamonds, or even cod—the only prerequisite is that the support level matches the weight above it, and over the decades, the roof crashed into the basement.

Aristotle wrote that money must be “durable, divisible, consistent, and convenient and possess value in itself.” Here the intrinsic value of bitcoin fails, but then so does a five hundred euro note, if its base of support—such as gold, for which it is a surrogate—fails.

The final reason for the success of bitcoin is the anonymous—or more accurately pseudonymous—nature of transactions. In a world where tax is universal and any relatively minor financial transaction requires explanation, the ability to buy and sell undercover—even if no underhand activity is involved—is popular.

Cryptocurrencies are now undergoing serious scrutiny under the ESG—Environmental, Social, and Governance—microscope, particularly since it transpired that much of the bitcoin mining is being done in China.

Pseudonymity—the new big word—is of course a good way of hiding your dosh from the taxman. However, this can only work if the currency is transactional and there is some assurance of stability—seeing your bitcoin life savings wiped out due to their collapse in value against the dollar or the euro is not a pretty sight.

A fascinating complement to the increased use of digital is the paradox of banknotes: digital transactions take an increasingly higher share of the market, but the value of NIC, or notes in circulation, has increased. In dollars, euros, and pounds. Notes in circulation? Under mattresses and in safe deposit boxes, more like.

Crypto and the banknotes sounds like a good name for a band, but they may actually be, if you excuse the pun, two sides of the same coin.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Out of Time

May 2, 2021

The new president of the US—apparently 70% of the GOP still believe he stole the election—recently announced America would pull out of Afghanistan by September 11th 2021.

The Taliban rubbed their hands together joyfully—after twenty years, the sons of dogs were leaving.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s ungovernable hellholes—a mix of internecine warfare, drug trafficking on a grand scale, and religious fundamentalism—a place where no one wants to go, where factions change like the wind, and loyalty can only be rented, never bought.

The United States made a good decision in 2001 and followed it with a series of bad ones, the consequences of which persist to this day. Back on nine-eleven, as I sat in a Gothenburg bar and watched the twin towers crumble, re-crumble, and tri-crumble on TV, listening to bemused pilots recount their day, it was obvious the US would retaliate.

They did it one month later, using the classic wave of air attacks—the West’s weapon of choice in the Mid-East since Churchill’s day. So far so good, but democracies can’t stick to the brief—in this case kill Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and destroy the Taliban.

As I write, only the first objective was belatedly achieved—by the time Bin Laden was found and killed he was out of the running, holed up in a family villa in the ironically-named town of Abbottabad.

Mullah Omar died of natural causes and is therefore presumably thumbing his nose at the Americans, surrounded by seventy-two virgins. As an aside, when I fact-checked that magic number, I discovered it’s also the title of a novel by the current British prime minister. The plot summary is:

The President of the United States plans to visit the Palace of Westminster. A Lebanese-born terrorist aims to assassinate him; Roger Barlow, a hapless, bicycle-riding, tousled-haired MP aims to foil the attack in order to distract from a scandal involving his financial entanglement in a lingerie shop named Eulalie.

Sounds like a self-portrait of the man himself—hapless Roger the Boris, or Boris the Roger.

As for the Taliban, they’re doing fine, and a couple of days ago marked their strength by killing thirty people in a guesthouse bombing in Pul-e-Alam.

Biden’s choice of date for the withdrawal limit is unfortunate—for a country that only recognizes strength, pulling out on the anniversary of nine-eleven is a way of confessing defeat.

In the end, history repeats itself a century and a half later—not with a massacre at the Khyber Pass but the end result is the same—in Afghan eyes at least, the West retreats with its tail planted firmly between the legs.

America’s mistake—the same they made in Iraq—was to try and give the country their brand of civilization, complete with democracy, a constitution, and law and order. Christianity had a six-century head start over Islam, and history has repeatedly shown that the Western recipe of participative government is not a good fit in places like Afghanistan or Iran—the local attitude to gender equality should make this immediately obvious.

Afghan barbary and lawlessness returns, just as it did when they finally kicked the Brits out a hundred years ago. As always, the country, or rather the combination of lawless tribes it contains, waits it out—the Taliban know that time is on their side, and they state it in a simple way.

The US has the expensive watch, but we have the time.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Homo omnivorus

April 25, 2021

Recently, I watched Seaspiracy, a ‘documentary’ about the fishing industry—but which also squeezed in a few minutes on aquaculture.

I watch very little TV, and since the first few minutes were graphic clips of dolphin killing in Japan, the first time around I saved the show for another day—I’m familiar with the herding method of fishing, used in parts of the world for capturing tuna and marine mammals such as whales and dolphins, and I don’t like or endorse it—an orgy of blood and pain.

Fishing is not for the faint-hearted—and neither is hunting—both are an alternative form of war where humans kill other species instead of each other. Killing to eat is a common feature of all animals because unlike plants they cannot make organic compounds—their own flesh and blood.

Humans are equipped to eat both plants and animals, and many of us eat both—the teeth of Homo sapiens are exquisitely designed to allow us to consume meat, fish, and vegetables. An omnivore plays the field when it comes to diet, in contrast to animals that are exclusively carnivorous or herbivorous.

The carnivorous side of our diet means we must kill animals—in the middle ages pretty much anyone could wring a chicken’s neck, but nowadays the process is far from the public eye. Catching cod or cuttlefish with a lure means that the animals suffocate when they’re taken from the water—only the lungfish and its relatives can survive in air.

Animal cruelty or nature’s way? The fable of the stork and the lungfish.

The key difference between animal protein production on land and sea is farming: four hundred generations ago, man began to select and cultivate certain species of plants and animals and developed a concept hitherto unknown in the animal kingdom—harvest.

This revolutionary idea—although we could bring down the tone of the conversation by dwelling on the squirrel’s nuts—allowed humans to store, distribute, barter, and ultimately sell food.

As we developed as a society, folks specialized in different trades and a carpenter or mason no longer hunted or grew food—he bought it with the fruits of his labor.

Seaspiracy begins with images of extreme cruelty to apex predators—the film-maker wears his little badge of courage, risking his freedom to take the footage, but the hunt practice was fully documented decades ago and there’s loads of film available—this is just a clip of the valiant vegan taking on the carnivorous Cro-magnons.

We are then led to gruesome images of shark and other bycatch from fishing vessels—seabirds, whales and dolphins, turtles… which are thrown back into the sea, dead—in the case of sharks, often the fins are sliced off, destined for the Chinese market.

The European Union made discards illegal in 2015 and fully enforced the law in 2019, although many fishermen still get away with what they can. Obviously discards are not a good thing—the solutions are to improve fishing gear, adapt fishing practice both for region and season, and adopt better oversight and governance.

Seaspiracy repeatedly makes the point that the solution to the ills caused by fishing, and by extension to aquaculture, is market-based and driven by the consumer—stop eating fish.

Simple (and often radical) solutions to complex problems are usually wrong, but one general principle is unquestionable—the best way to conserve wild fish is not to fish them—and that’s exactly why we grow them.

The seaspirators then dwell on issues such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats, vital elements of human diet. ‘Since fish get them from plankton, let’s eat plankton instead.’

The typical concentration of plant plankton in the sea is one in a billion—good luck turning that into a burger.

Why not take the middle ground and eat some nice mussels or oysters? They filter gallons of water every day and are an excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs. But the movie neglects to talk about that at all —it quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t a documentary, it’s a set of horror stories promoted by the vegan lobby.

Like hunting, fishing will be a recreational sport a few decades from now.

Enter aquaculture, often touted as the new kid on the block. Except of course it’s not.

Carp culture has been around for a few thousand years in China, with trout and other fish not so far behind, and oysters, mussels, and clams have been a dietary mainstay for poor folks over the centuries—and still are, in parts of Africa and Asia.

But on a world scale, if you excuse the pun, since early 2014 we eat more fish from aquaculture than from capture fisheries. It’s been seven years of six-percent annual growth—farming is here to stay.

Seaspiracy then goes on an anti-aquaculture spree. At one point someone exitedly claims that in Scotland there are more salmon that people. Duh!

The nature of the food chain is exactly that, more smaller animals than big ones, since on the one hand predators are typically larger than prey, and because ninety percent of the energy (and mass) is lost from one trophic level to another—which is why carp, tilapia, mussels, or oysters are such an attractive environmental proposition—as are lobsters, which feed on shit.

Along this dog bites man rationale, it has recently been found that London has more rats than people, and that there are north of sixteen billion ants in New York, double the population of the planet. Or that the Chesapeake Bay area, in the NE United States, is home to six hundred million chickens.

Shows like this grind their axe, and some of their points are important—unnecessary cruelty, capture of apex predators, and issues with certification bodies are all matters of great concern—but so is feeding the planet, unless you’re a fan of eugenics.

Glib don’t-eat-fish type fixes are no answer to complex problems that many people dedicate their lives to, in the hope of finding the sweet spot of sustainability, food supply, and animal welfare.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Sexual Healing

April 20, 2021

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD—comes in many forms.

Mental punishment for killing others has been with us for millennia, but has only been recognized in recent decades. If death is the ultimate retribution, there must be a price to pay by those who inflict it.

Movies usually make light of death—Netflix or Amazon are rife with glib murder, emotionless killing that we watch between burger bites without batting an eyelid—no nightmares, just another show. Our emotional distance from televised murder is so great that shows that wallow in death are rated safe for over thirteens, with death on a par with ‘foul language’. Telling someone to fuck off is equivalent to ending a life.

Many among us have thought of killing someone, or at the very least wishing someone dead—someone who has caused pain or destroyed a business, a family, or a lifestyle—but hardly anybody takes that to the next step, and if they do, they are usually destroyed by their action—vengeance exacts its own revenge.

In the US, practically every day in the last weeks registered some kind of mass shooting—forty-five in one month. Under cover of the second amendment, which was never written to provide cover to loony loners, assassins utterly devoid of sense regularly blast their way through schools, supermarkets, and shopping malls, and equally regularly get shot, shoot themselves, or end up in jail.

The American response to this carnage is thoughts and prayers, rather than arms control—the developed world watches in amazement, unable to comprehend the madness. China and other totalitarian states see clear evidence of the dangers of libertarian society.

Gun violence in the States splits mainly into white nutcases and black criminals. The guys (and they are always white guys) responsible for school shootings and all the other dreadful mass murders are invariably disgruntled employees, emotionally scarred men, or disturbed folks—the dystopian rants of morons in high places has made things much worse.

The spate of killings in the first months of the Biden presidency provides a handy narrative of Democrat-mediated lawlessness—hardly fair considering where the opposition to gun control comes from.

The criminal component is not of course color-coded—it’s linked (as everywhere) to the poorer segment of society—the disenfranchised are far readier to take up the law of the gun, be they white, Asian, Latino, or black.

It just so happens that in the US, that segment is predominantly black, but you only need to consider Mexico or Russia to understand crime-related gun violence is a technicolor nightmare coat.

The emotional pain of inflicting severe harm is huge—PTSD awaits those who make it out of the rabbit hole. If you don’t end up in prison, where the whole thing is made far worse, the mental scars show up in relationships, employment, family and friendships—anything that characterizes normal life.

Sex disorders are part of PTSD, leading to the appearance of therapies to teach men and women—though I suspect it is more prevalent for guys—to learn how to have sex again, trading anxiety for normality.

In Israel, where military service is compulsory, sex surrogates are a goverment-funded treatment choice. In a country that is permanently at war with a host of neighbors who would like it to disappear into the sea, PTSD is a heavy burden on young people and spills over into society.

Soldiers who have been seriously injured can choose sex therapy that includes er… sex. This had been criticized as government-sponsored prostitution, which technically it is, since women—and men, but much less so—are hired to provide a sexual service in exchange for cash.

The Israeli model has even been rabbi-approved, as long as the sex partners are unmarried. Among its successes? Sexually recuperating severely disabled men, for instance those confined to wheelchairs.

If you’re young, disabled, and horny, hope is out there—it’s not just COVID shots, Israel has also come up with sexual vaccination.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Thin End

April 10, 2021

I learned my geography during the Portuguese colonial war—a triple war, to be exact: Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea. The notion that a small European nation could fight three wars on opposite sides of Africa for over a decade with no external help is astonishing.

In 1974, the Portuguese revolution marked the swansong of colonialism, but the triple war was certainly not lost—all the more astonishing since the liberation movements were backed by China and the USSR—even the US backed a couple of the rival ‘liberation’ factions, but no one backed the Portuguese, seen in Europe as a pariah fascist state.

The irony is that the liberation of those nations resulted in an enduring set of new dictatorships—hard left for Angola and Mozambique, and a failed narco-state in the case of Guinea. Thus ended the saga of The India Road—a fascist state becomes a democracy and enables autocratic communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique for the next half-century—the Perfect Prince would have been blood-flecked choleric.

The capital of the most northerly province of Mozambique was called Porto Amélia, named after the last Portuguese queen, Amelie of Orleans—after the country gained independence, the city was renamed Pemba.

Amélie d’Orleans tries to save her husband King Charles I during the regicide in 1910.

The province of Cabo Delgado is named after a narrow cape that protrudes six miles into the Indian Ocean above the Bay of Tungue, and since the VIIth century the provincial history is one of commerce and conflict—Cabo Delgado was part of the trade routes of the Arab dhows, and modern-day Tanzania begins on the north side of the River Rovuma, about thirty miles northwest of the cape itself.

Like an ocean front where opposing waters meet, Cabo Delgado is at the interface of religions—a sure recipe for war. It belongs to a sinister club that includes the Balkans, the Hindu Kush, Kashmir, the Sunni-Shia fault lines in the Mid-East, Belgium, and the island of Ireland.

But TIA—This Is Africa—so the Cabo Delgado conflict is spiced by tribal strife among the Maconde, Mwani, and Swahili.

TIA requires an understanding uncommon in Europeans—Mwani means beach in the Kimwani language, and the people have a very specific culture.

…about 1,100 years ago Arab traders came down the east coast of Africa to take slaves. Entire groups became Muslim because the Arabs, being Muslim, were not allowed to take other Muslims as slaves… The Mwani value peace and harmony… relationships and family bonds and respect the elderly. Polygamy is common in this matrilineal society… Divorce is common and many women have been married several times, so family units are difficult to discern. Children go to Madrassa schools, and although they memorize and can recite the Koran, they don’t understand its meaning. Most Mwani are illiterate in the Kimwani language and speak only a bit of Portuguese… They have an awareness of God (Mwenyezimungu) and are very aware of the supernatural world, believing in spirits and magic, and fearing demons. Though fiercely Islamic in name, their worldview is strongly influenced by the animistic world of ancestors and the use of mediums such as witchdoctors. Women are more connected to the spirit world, holding “punge” (séances) which can last all night…

The development of offshore natural gas reserves in the Rovuma basin by French oil major Total in 2019 led to a significant ramp-up of terrorist activity in Cabo Delgado—the Mozambican army did little to control the situation, and in a page taken out of The Dogs of War, the government hired a mercenary group to fight the Islamic terrorists.

Soldiers of fortune are an African tradition, celebrated in books and movies, and personified in real life by colorful characters such as Colonel ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, of Katanga fame. In the case of Cabo Delgado, the protagonist was Lionel Dyck, an ex-Rhodesia and Zimbabwe paratroop commander.

Dyck has certainly led an interesting life, bringing together ex-members of the Rhodesian African Rifles, Selous Scouts, and Chinese-trained ZANLA and Soviet-trained ZIPRA guerillas to form Zimbabwe’s paratroop battalion. Now in his seventies, Colonel Dyck took a contract from the Mozambican government and directed his Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) to perform counter-terrorism actions against the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah group, an Isis offshoot.

DAG’s ‘airforce’ consisted of two Gazelle helicopter gunships—’helicanhões’ were invented by the Portuguese in Mozambique during the colonial war—an old Alouette chopper with a 20 mm gun, two light planes and a couple of Bat Hawk microlights with gun mounts.

During its stint in Cabo Delgado, DAG was accused of killing terrorists and civilians indiscriminately and of firing on a hospital where Islamic forces were hiding. The Ansar al Sunnah (supporters of the tradition)—known also as Al Shabaab—have done far worse, including beheading children as young as eleven.

The controversy around DAG lost them the contract renewal, but Dyck claims his men acted appropriately and had full oversight from the government.

The story of Cabo Delgado is the story of every African nation—the more resources exist, the more suffering is brought upon its people.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


%d bloggers like this: