Tag: Africa

Day 1000: How It Ends

Header

Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

Genetics-1

Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 980: The Man In The Zoo

Header

Within the margins of human behavior, how is it possible for our hunger for self-awareness to coexist with our penchant for abandoning empathy and basic compassion? History’s most exquisite brains have combed the mines of knowledge and speculation in order to pilfer as much truth about ourselves as can be swallowed by mortal minds, yet in doing so they have occasionally stomped upon our collective dignity by treating the subjects of their study as though they belonged to an unrelated sub-species.

Ota Benga was just a dude. Had the trajectory of his existence not been marred by western interference, he might have lived a blasé life of hunting, storytelling and raising a family. Instead he was plucked from the lush, equatorial forests of his youth and made a slave, a sideshow wonder, and a zoological exhibit for slack-jawed tourists.

Most of the injustices thrust upon Ota’s arc were done with the false pretense of anthropological education, cloaked in evolutionary flim-flammery and racist eugenics. But what did we learn, apart from humankind’s tragically vast tolerance for our own assholishness?

OtaBenga-1

A member of the Mbuti tribe in what was then called the Belgian Congo, Ota Benga’s life was first derailed by Belgium’s King Leopold II around the turn of the 20th century. Leopold had dispatched the Force Publique, a heavily-armed militia aimed at reminding the Congolese natives that they’d best remain devoted to producing rubber for Belgium’s financial gain. Ota was out on a hunt when the armed men showed up and murdered his wife and two children. When he returned to his village, he was captured as a slave. Read more…

Day 924: The Forbidden Foodstuffs

Header

 

It was the same conversation, every time I’d stay over at a friend’s place when I was a kid. Inevitably my friend’s mother would learn that I was Jewish (I was one of two in my grade, so word traveled), and she’d ask, “Will you eat [bacon/ham/shrimp, etc.]?”.

I never understood it. I was never Jewish by faith, only by chance of birth, which meant I’d accept none of the dietary restrictions, however I’d inevitably inherit a natural comedic timing and the inexplicable desire to own a media outlet. But give up on bacon? On luscious shrimp creole? On devouring my meat and cheese off the same plate? That’s blasphemy.

But it isn’t only pork and crustacean meat that my ancestry was trained to avoid, and it isn’t only the Jews who are hell-bent on depriving themselves of these protein-rich nibbles of bliss. There are taboo food and drinks across the spectrum. Some – like bacon, obviously – are ludicrously unnecessary sacrifices of outmoded traditions. Others make a little more sense.

 

Pig-1

Pork is forbidden in Jewish, Islam and even Seventh-day Adventist Christians. Even the Phoenicians, Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians steered clear of munching on our little porcine friends, perhaps because they were dirty animals (they did like to feast on their own poop), or possibly because they were revered back then. Yet despite all those cultures waving away the opportunity to savor the unworldly pleasure contained in a rack of baby-backs, the USDA reports that pork is the most widely eaten meat substance around the globe. Read more…

Day 873: The Movie-Money Juggling Game

Header

A spoiler for today’s article: it may shatter your innocence, lay waste to your humbling yet lavish optimism regarding the spirit of humanity, and rend into tatters your perceptions of Hollywood studio executives as upstanding, honest and forthright folk. If this won’t be a problem for you, read on.

The movie business is all about money, as evidenced by the fact that any film that coughs up some modest box office returns seems to get a sequel, or by the fact that Tyler Perry and Martin Scorcese technically have the same job. But beneath the big sparkly numbers earned by flicks like Avatar and Titanic lies an even more impressive act of CGI than those frolicking blue cats – they call it Hollywood Accounting.

Hollywood Accounting has nothing to do with the studios scamming the government to avoid paying taxes. I’m sure like any massive business they employ accountants to help them with that cause too, but specifically Hollywood Accounting is the insider method by which the movie studios can pilfer money from the very artists who concoct their revenue. It’s an ugly side of show business, but one that every aspiring actor, writer and director should be aware of.

To illustrate, let’s talk about this guy:

ArtBuchwald

That’s Art Buchwald, whom you might remember from his Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated Washington Post column, or, if you’re under 50 you might not. He was a brilliant wordsmith though, which is why it was strange that Paramount Studios was unable to transform his treatment into a full-blown feature. His concept – entitled “King For A Day” at this point – was about an arrogant and wealthy African potentate’s visit to the United States, ensuing in wacky hijinks and goofy hilarity. It would have been a perfect fit for Eddie Murphy, who was under contract with Paramount at the time. Read more…

Day 855: Globe-Surfin’ – The Life Of The Perpetual Traveler

Header

It only took 14,465 days for me to figure it out, but I think I finally know what I want to do when I grow up. No, it’s not writing; that’s my fall-back option if the real dream doesn’t pan out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy plucking fancifully at my keyboard like a squid with a brand new marimba. But all that arrhythmic finger-tapping can be exhausting. Also, it gets in the way of my finger-drumming along with Rush’s “YYZ”.

No, the answer wafted sensuously into my think-holes this morning on a breeze of sweet euphoria and buttery revelation. I want a vocation that simultaneously provides no measurable improvement to the world around me while enabling me to try the best regional food and liquor around the globe. Something with only the vaguest of schedules, yet with a built-in excuse to disentangle myself from unwanted invitations whenever necessary. I’m craving a career that would inspire envy and drive in my younger self – a true calling steeped in long, lazy stretches within the regal realm of unending liberation.

I want to become a perpetual traveler. Is that too much to ask?

Not to be confused with a hobo.

Not to be confused with a hobo.

There are two variants on the perpetual traveler philosophy. The first is rooted in the freedom of not being a resident of any nation. It’s an expression of pure anarchy, or as pure as one can muster on the friendly side of local laws. One must still adhere to regional rulebooks, but without having to pledge fidelity to any bureaucratic system. The bastions of authority may still dictate the impenetrable limits of your actions, but they don’t own you. To put it existentially, you are adrift – truly disconnected from the rigors of permanent residency. You never vote, and you are tethered to the ramifications of politics by nothing more than the sponge-cake strand  of your whim. Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? Read more…

Day 832: The Anti-Farting Law That Nearly Was

Header

Every so often a story wanders down the legal footpath, leaving in its wake the floral stench of incalculable weirdness. In the case of the 2011 Air Fouling Legislation in the tiny southern African country of Malawi, the scent is remarkably different. This is the smell of post-legume discipline and puckered determination. This is the smell of one nation doing its best to think green, to live clean and to do right by its citizenry.

This is Malawi telling people: thou shalt not fart.

Well, not really. But for a brief period this was the government’s message, and it was this message that scooted around the globe and lit up the grins of news editors everywhere. It might have all stemmed from a misunderstanding, and deeper still from a genuine desire for a nation’s self-improvement, but it was one of the first pebbles in an eventual landslide that would throw the country into chaos and prematurely end the lives of several people.

I’m sure the backstory to the violent 2011 protests in Malawi can be traced much further than an anti-farting legislation. But this all happened right at the soil level, where the roots become the tree. It’s a strange tale with a downright cheek-clenching twist.

Malawi

Malawi in 2011 was not about to challenge Disneyland’s claim to being the happiest place on earth. There were fuel shortages, electricity shortages, corruption, nepotism, a controversial new national flag and a general distrust of democratically-elected President Bingu wa Mutharika. The press was struggling with partial suppression, and the tenuous thread of democracy that was holding the country together was beginning to fray from the constant pull of the people’s discontent. Read more…

Day 816: Gettin’ High Off Last Week’s Munchies

KENYA-DROUGHT-FARMING

If there is one constant in human nature – and I hope there’s more than one, or I’ll never again be able to employ this opening – it’s that people love to get high. Some get their highs from adrenaline, others from religious fulfillment, and still others simply from exhuming the joyous moments from the depths of every waking moment. For the rest of us, we have other options.

I’m not one to judge another person’s form of escapism, unless that escapism somehow infringes upon my life. If your intake of bath salts instills a desire to consume my flesh as though it were made from Doritos, we have a problem. If your eleventh Jaeger-bomb has convinced you that you’re just fine to drive home despite the fact that your keys feel “fuzzy” in your fingertips, that ain’t right. But if you can get high while posing a danger only to yourself, simply because you feel the need for a swizzled splash of tweaked consciousness, I say go for it.

Even if that splash comes from a polyethylene bag of human poop.

Hey, we’ve all been there. Well, maybe not there, but we’ve all… actually no, most of us have never been anywhere near there. I might have to rethink my lack of judginess on this one. If jenkem is your thing, you really might need to re-evaluate your life.

Jenkem

I’m just going to lay this out there. Jenkem is an inhalant drug, created solely from the stench of fermented human waste. I don’t know the backstory of the first person to have discovered this – though I would certainly tune in for the TV movie based on his or her journey – but for a period in the mid 1990’s, jenkem was all the rage among street children in Zambia. You see, parents? Take away your kids’ Playstations and they’ll have nothing to do but run around in the street and huff doody.

The human waste is scraped from pipes or scooped up from the fringes of the sewer ponds into old cans or containers. The mere fact that these pipes and sewer ponds are so easily accessible to passers-by already bumps Zambia way down near the bottom of my travel bucket-list, alongside North Korea, any place currently at war, and Regina, Saskatchewan. Read more…

Day 801: Billy The Kidd – A Brutal Pirate. Well, Maybe.

Header

Sometimes our most loathsome villains have been misunderstood, their legacies forever stained by the thick-bristled brush of historical “common knowledge”. William Kidd’s name is uttered in the same venomous breath as Blackbeard, Black Bart, and that Rupert guy from Survivor. He makes nearly every list of famous historical pirates, and is the only documented privateer to have actually stashed some buried treasure in the dirt.

But how much actual pirating William Kidd undertook has become the subject of scholarly debate. Was he actually a foul-mouthed degenerate scumbag, out to pilfer profit and goodies from innocent traders, or was he simply a hapless schnook in a game too big for one man to control?

I’ll present the facts as I’ve found them through my countless minutes of research, and let you decide for yourself.

WilliamKidd

By 1695, William Kidd (who was already pushing 50) had earned a reputation as a successful sailor with a knack for catching pirates rather than losing his goods to them (though the pirate Robert Culliford did swipe his boat in Antigua once). He was a loyal citizen, pitching in on the construction of Trinity Church in New York. He got along well with Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont, who was acting as governor of New York at the time. The Earl decided the crown could benefit from Kidd’s skills, and formally requested Kidd’s assistance in capturing a most-wanted list of pirates. Read more…

Day 780: Evil Aboard Flight #8969

Header

When the doctrine of reason is flushed in favor of instinct and terror, the inevitable contusion of blood and debris is fairly predictable. Terrorists, who have been at their game for millennia in some form or another, simply don’t win. That is to say, while they can notch a namesake victory in having successfully hurled a dollop of terror at their target populace, their larger-scale goals are doomed from the outset.

The atrocities of 9/11 failed to draw a collective shrug of defeat from the scores of American infidels – no one converted to Islam, and no one was inspired to forsake their western ways because a bunch of nutjobs opted for mass-murder as a means of communication. Large-scale political or societal goals aren’t easy to conquer, and steering a plane of innocents to a fiery demise has roughly a zero percent rate of efficacy.

But still they try. And when Flight 8969 from Algiers to Paris was selected by an armed group of Islamic militants as a terror target, I’m sure the guys with the guns thought they’d be scoring a huge win for their radical cause. As it is, all they scored was a political mess.

PoliticalMess

On Christmas Eve, 1994, Algeria was halfway through a bloody civil war. On one side was the Algerian government, on the other a gaggle of hardcore Islamic rebels. Trying their best to steer fully clear of the mess was France, the country who had owned and pulled all the political strings in the northern African nation just a few decades earlier. Air France had asked their government if they could perhaps yank their flights to and from Algiers, as the risk of getting caught in missile cross-fire was taking a bit of steam out of employee morale. The government hadn’t gotten back to them. Read more…

Day 759: The Scar Tissue Of The Elite

Header

They tell me that chicks dig scars.

I’ve got one permanent battle etching upon my exterior, and when I was single it did nothing to improve my social life. Sure, it’s just a 1½-inch tic across two of my left knuckles from when I was dissecting a large clam in the seventh grade, but a scar is a scar, right? Perhaps if I’d tweaked the story a bit, maybe told the ladies I got the scar punching out a robotic dinosaur Nazi along the rim of a volcano.

The hard part was luring him to the volcano.

The hard part was luring him to the volcano.

From what I can tell, my problem may not have rested in the relatively tame (and stupid) nature of my wound, but in its arbitrary nature. Scarring these days is often a matter of intent, perhaps as a personal statement or as a form of social acceptance. I’m not one to get judgy about one’s epidermal ornamentation – tattoo art has come a long way from the requisite bicep anchor, and even the most absurdly inked typos on the face or neck can provide a hearty laugh.

Voluntary scarring? It seems a bit over-the-top for my tastes. But as much as the concept appears separated between its modern trendy incarnation and its use among tribal rites and customs in civilizations far removed from our own, there is a bridge: the high-society scar.

That’s right – someone’s wound-shadow upon their skin might have nothing to do with a meat cleaver juggling accident, a Nanumban initiation ceremony nor the desire to express “YOLO” to one’s peers. A facial cicatrix might denote one’s aristocratic roots. It could serve as a cheek-slung banner, boasting of the blue blood that had once oozed through those pores.

They’re called dueling scars. Read more…