Tag: india

Day 991: The Subjective Science of Getting Friendly With Your Water

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Good morning, water. You look lovely today. The way you have meticulously extracted the energizing essence of those crumbly brown nuggets of Sumatra in my coffee maker really brings out the glimmer in your droplets. Look, I’m a married man, but if I wasn’t, I would totally be gettin’ up in dat aqua, you feel me?

According to Dr. Masaru Emoto, I may have just created a more healthy and vibrant cup of coffee. Dr. Emoto is a revolutionary oracle of scientific knowledge, inasmuch as he has concocted his own definitions of the words “scientific” and “knowledge”. Dr. Emoto has “proven” (and it’s hard to find a source for his work that doesn’t nestle that word between the comforting pillows of quotation marks) that positive energy makes water better.

Not better-tasting, not more nutritious or refreshing… just better. Happier. More wholly fulfilled. Dr. Emoto unearthed that line where metaphysics and alternative medicine cross over into crazed Lynchian fiction, then leaped across it like a doped-up Olympian. He landed among the Technicolor bobbles of the absurd, cultivated his own particular brew of ludicrous reasoning and slapped a price tag on it.

And we bought in. Oh, how we bought in.

How could we not trust that sincere face?

How could we not trust that sincere face?

Masaru Emoto earned his doctorate at the Open University for Alternative Medicine in India, though I feel “earned” should be yet another resident of Quotes-Marks Manor, as I have unearthed a couple of sources which claim that such a degree can be bought for around $500. But Dr. Emoto’s doctorness is relatively moot, as he immediately set out to sail the vague ocean of alternative medicine, which contains far more fetid flotsam than it does navigable current. Read more…

Day 977: The Last American Witch

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In the throes of one of America’s most delightfully absurd episodes of mass hysteria, twenty people were executed in 1692-93 for the crime of probably being witches. Maybe. The Salem Witch Trials – which were merely the American performance of a fad that had been lighting it up in Europe for decades – have leaked into all formats of American high art: poems, novels, movies, and a segment of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror VIII” episode.

But while we, the sophisticated and wise citizenry of the modern age, can look back upon our ancestral paranoia with a wry titter, our bubbly sense of smug urbanity goes flat upon learning that witch trials are still happening in 2014. So-called witch-children were slaughtered in the Congo in 1999. An angry Kenyan mob burned eleven suspected sorcerers in 2008. In India, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 women are lynched each year for being witches – some are accused of such simply because they turned down a sexual advance.

This is an era in which a car can pilot you to your destination while you restructure your fantasy football league in the back seat, and people still freak out over witchcraft? Fortunately, the good ol’ U.S. of A. has evolved significantly in the last 321 years. In fact, there hasn’t been an actual case of witchcraft accusation since… wait, 1970?

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Welcome to Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona; a solid 6/10 on the national GreatSchools rating system, and home of the Mustangs. It’s also the kind of place where a rumor can be as dangerous as a drunk holding a lit match in a tumbleweed factory. This fact became evident in the aftermath of a late 1969 visit by Dr. Byrd Granger from the University of Arizona. Yes, this story about witchcraft features a woman named Granger – Harry Potter fans, feel free to rejoice. This prof happened to be an expert on witchcraft and folklore, and was happy to pass on her knowledge to the local juniors and seniors. Read more…

Day 963: The Hounds Of Fealty

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Yes, I’m writing about dogs again. Last year saw the earthly departure of Rufus and Yoko, my two loyal – albeit halitosis-heavy – bulldog assistants, and I would be remiss (which is Latin for “an asshole”) if I did not honor their memory with a few feel-good tales of puckish pooches to warm the cockles (which is Latin for “the taint”) of the heart. Luckily, as chock-full as the internet may be with cat pictures, it is similarly packed with tales of loyal canines.

I make no apologies for the fact that I am a dog person. Dogs may not be smarter than cats – though they could be; I distinctly recall some Youtube video in which a dog retrieves a beer from the fridge – but they are more emotionally devoted to their human friends. I love that when I come home every day, my remaining bulldog assistants (Bessie & The Bean, so named for her legume-esque stature) are jubilant to the point of ridiculousness. In my limited experience, cats simply don’t offer that kind of overflow of positive energy.

And devotion. That’s a big one. The loyalty of my slobbery little friends has never truly been tested, but I’m sure it exists. The canine companions who grace today’s page have all demonstrated a form of loyalty that every super-villain dreams of extracting from but one of their grunting minions.

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Any pile of devoted-dog stories must contain a customary bow to Hachiko, the Akita owned by University of Tokyo professor Hidesaburo Ueno. Every afternoon, Hachiko would show up at Shibuya Station to await Ueno’s train. In May 1925, only about a year into their relationship, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never made it home. Hachiko showed up anyway, and proceeded to pop in to the station at the exact same time every day to await his master’s return. For almost ten more years. Read more…

Day 933: The Thin Red Line Of Being An Offensive Jerk

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As a writer whose surrounding landscape is the unfiltered cessbucket frontier of the internet, I don’t spend much time worrying about offending my audience. Conversely, as a Canadian awash in synaptic decorum and apologetic genetics (or, apologenetics as we call them here), I feel compelled from the meaty core of my innards to fight the potentially offensive word choices that might trickle untowardly from my fingertips. This is why I don’t refer to my friends as my ‘niggaz’, why I reserve the word ‘Oriental’ to describe an avenue in the game Monopoly and not a collective of people, and why I won’t likely pen a kilograph on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The issue has arisen – both here in this compositional marathon as well as in “real” life – regarding the appropriate label for that group of peoples whose presence in this part of the world predates that of us whiteys. We grew up calling them Indians – a game of Cowboys ‘n Indigenous Peoples doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

It seems as though every few years I am told that the politically appropriate appellation I’ve been using is incorrect. With only 68 remaining opportunities to explore the weird wide world in this project, I think it’s time I put this issue to rest.

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We all know Chris Columbus plopped his feet down on Antilles soil believing he had found the fast-track to India. His bewildered hosts were dubbed ‘Indians’ as a logical consequence, though it didn’t take long for Chris to figure out his mistake. The misnomer stuck, however. The Caribbean islands were dubbed the West Indies, and every explorer who nudged their hull against the east coast called the locals ‘Indians’. It was easier to adopt and embrace the mistake than come up with a new word, I guess. Read more…

Day 924: The Forbidden Foodstuffs

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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.

 

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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 917: That Big Ol’ Salad Plate Known As Earth

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There are certain scientific truths which appear to be inarguable. Light travels faster than sound, an explosion is exponentially more bad-ass when someone is walking slowly away from it, and the consumption of alcohol makes me a scientifically better dancer. But we have come a long way since our ancestors cracked two rocks together and created a spark which they attributed to the Mistress of Dark Magic.

We no longer give props to the gods for changing the seasons, and rather than attribute those weird sores on our bodies to an infestation of demons, we get a shot of penicillin and stop sleeping with skeevy people we meet at the bus station. Also, we can hop aboard a boat and cruise into the sequined azure horizon without fearing that we’ll drop off the edge of the planet-disc and tumble into the intangible ether.

Well, most of us can. There still exists – and I have no idea just how deeply into their cheeks their tongues may be pressed – a Flat Earth Society. In theory, there are still dozens of dubious doubters who suspect that the so-called globe theory is little more than a ruse being perpetrated by the scientific community for the purposes of… well, I’m not sure why scientists would want us to believe the planet to be a sphere. Globe sales? Communism? Probably communism.

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In defense of the ancients, there was really no way for them to know the earth was round. Homer and Hesiod both depicted a flat disc, with the water surrounding the land and stretching to some mysterious edge. Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher whom Carl Sagan has credited with having performed the first ever recorded scientific experiment, saw us as living on the round top of a short, stumpy cylinder. Anywhere you went: India, the Norse lands, China… the earth was flat as a crepe. In fact the Chinese held on to their belief that the earth was flat and square (though the heavens were spherical) until they caught wind of European astronomy in the 17th century. Read more…

Day 864: Mu-vin’ On Up From The Lost Continent

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“The antediluvian kings colonized the world; all the gods who play in the mythological dramas in all legends from all lands were in Atlantis.”

This is an excerpt from the legend of Atlantis – or more accurately from the 1968 Donovan song “Atlantis”, but it makes my point. Since the days of Ancient Greece when Plato wove the notion into his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, humans have postulated on the possible existence of a great civilization that sunk into the sea. Once the European jet-set (or large-boat-set, I guess) discovered the New World, the concept of Atlantis was used to explain some of the wonders of the tribes they encountered. The sunken island has a glorious history.

All of it completely fiction, of course. Atlantis is not one of our planet’s uncovered mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle or the physical content of a McRib. Europeans tried to use it as justification for the existence of the Mayan culture because there was no way those indigenous doofuses could have concocted such an elaborate civilization on their own, right?

If you have to invent an entire continent to justify your inherent racism, maybe it’s time to give it up.

Atlantis is not the only slab of land that Mother Earth has misplaced. We should also look to that other massive ocean and the lost island of Mu.

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We can blame the so-called Mu mystery on Augustus Le Plongeon, a 19th-century writer who had investigated the Mayan ruins in Yucatàn and allegedly translated some of the ancient writings. Actually he was working off a mistranslation of a piece of Mayan literature then called the Troano Codex, and he interpreted the name ‘Mu’ to mean a land that had sunk after a catastrophe. It was a tiny leap of connection for Le Plongeon to decide that Mu was Atlantis, or something just like it. He claimed that the magnificence of Ancient Egypt was founded by Queen Moo (probably not a cow), a refugee of Mu. Read more…

Day 849: From Bark To Boom – The Unflinching Spirit Of Our Animal Military

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James Joyce once said that one’s writing should inevitably become the pool of one’s deepest confessions. Actually he didn’t, but that sounded like a plausible opening sentence and it conveniently nudges me into the first point I want to make, which is a confession. It’s true that, for a brief but notable time when I was young, I honestly believed that animals assisted in the performance of numerous household chores during the prehistoric era, just like on The Flintstones. I didn’t think they made sassy remarks – I was gullible, not an idiot – but I could picture an elephant helping out with the dishes.

In reality, animals have been used to help out with human tasks for most of our history. Oxen and donkeys would drag stuff around for us, horses could be posed in comical oversized sunglasses for our amusement, and dogs would sniff our butts and check for worms (that was a big trend during the Renaissance, I believe). These are all well-known practical benefits to having animals around, but animals have also been a huge part of mankind’s most oft-enjoyed task throughout our duration on this planet: blowing each other up.

I’ve already written about great dogs and cats in the military, so today I’m going to open up the proverbial barn doors and check out some of the lesser-known contributors to the war effort. This might be good news for you; if you’ve been having trouble filling the bunks in your compound with die-hard adherents to your militia’s agenda, maybe you can build an army from some of these noble creatures. We’ll start with the big guys.

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At some point in the millennium before year zero (actually, there may not have been a “year zero”, but that’s a discussion for another day), kingdoms in India began utilizing elephants as part of their armies. As Alexander the Great began working his way from Europe through Persia toward India’s doorstep, he encountered numerous foes with war elephants, both to carry heavy equipment and to charge at the enemy. Read more…

Day 826: I’m Living It

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As we clamber into another springtime, the romantics fluttering their tootsies at the prospect of potential prospects while we loathers of the eternal snow pray for sanctuary from the dreary grey, it’s time to get away from talking about the weather and back to what matters: bitching about society. It doesn’t take a Father Knows Best marathon or a visit to one’s local seniors’ home to realize that things aren’t as they used to be. Our inherent institutional respect has deteriorated, our unflinching trust of “the system” has fallen like a Jenga tower of probing questions, and people appear to be less affluent and less happy about it.

On the flip-side, we have an unending cavalcade of bulldog puppy pictures on the internet, so perhaps we aren’t entirely doomed. But no – that’s the wrong attitude. You can’t get a good kvetch on if you’re looking at puppy pics. If we want to stack our plate at the local gripe-ateria, we must excrete the cutesiness and optimism we might possess and make room for the complaining.

I make no apologies for that metaphor. As anyone who read the book Fast Food Nation knows, we are living in a fast-food nation (I haven’t read the book, but the front cover was very informative). I’m not talking about our collective addiction to Whoppers and Double-Downs and Blizzards and Sonic’s delectable tater-tots. Fast-food is representative of everything we’ve been sinking into, culturally-speaking, over the last few decades. Rev up your grumble-motors – it’s time to whine about ourselves.

Then, and only then can we look at bulldog puppies.

Then, and only then can we look at bulldog puppies.

Sociologist George “Puttin’ On The” Ritzer observed our gradual slip into societal doom back in 1993 when he wrote his best-selling (or at least good-selling – I don’t have the numbers) book, The McDonaldization of Society. Max Weber – that’s the German political economist from the early 1900’s, not the Canadian rock band from the 80’s – used the bureaucracy as a representation of society. George Ritzer felt we’d evolved into a new cultural organism, and that the multi-national fast food empire was a better way of seeing us today. Or, ‘today’ in his 21-year-old book, but I think you’ll agree we’re still there.

We have been shifting from the traditional mode of thought into a more rational process for years. We are less guided by ancient morality and outright conservatism and more driven by the marketplace and the outright scientific means by which we can hold as much of it as possible in our pockets. This shift may have begun within the embers of American capitalism, but thanks to globalization we’re seeing this inferno spread all around the globe.

When you're bitching about society it's all about the metaphors.

When you’re bitching about society it’s all about the metaphors.

Ritzer has pinpointed four pillars of McDonaldization. There’s efficiency: everything present in a McDonald’s restaurant is specifically geared toward minimal time and maximum turnaround, from the pre-cooked patty-warming drawers to the mostly uncomfortable plastic seating. It’s the fastest route from A to B – in this case from a hungry customer to a full one, and evidence of this mandated efficiency pops up in virtually every corporate culture  out there. This leads into the second important concept – calculability. McDonald’s wants to quantify their success through sales rather than qualify it through making food that actually tastes good. Okay, that’s basic economics. But they also know that they can tap into our sense of quantification by offering us a substantial amount of food for a low cost. You can still fill your face at McDonald’s for $6 – that’s enough of a selling point to make a lot of people forget that a McChicken tastes like a sofa cushion.

Now imagine that philosophy expanded to our entire culture. Sacrificing quality for quantity is happening everywhere, from cheapo $5 t-shirts that wear out before lunch to the people who actually buy dollar-DVDs from the discount bin.

The other two tenets of Ritzer’s observations are fairly self-evident mainstays of the McWorld: predictability – every McDonald’s is expected to provide a fairly identical experience, same as you’d expect from every Gap, every Costco, every Old Navy – and control – employees must conform to a strict and rigid corporate philosophy. The other option for control is, of course, mechanizing the process, something that has become significantly easier to attain in the online market that has popped up in the years since Ritzer’s book.AbandonedMcDonalds-3

Fortunately, the McDonaldization process isn’t going to bring about a 1984-esque degradation of our world. We don’t have to worry about becoming corporate slave automatons dressed in sci-fi jumpsuits and confessing our indiscretions to an automated salvation-system that will dispense mind-numbing medication to ensure our continued sheep-like behavior (which is as many future-dystopia-film tropes as I can fit into a single sentence). The corporate system’s weaknesses are already poking through the seams. George Ritzer calls this the ‘irrationality of rationalization’.

This essentially means that the dehumanization will become evident before we all devolve into expressionless flesh-robots. Bureaucratic red tape has snarled the quest for efficiency, the focus on calculability has led to low quality products, employees have become frustrated and confused about their lowly position and few prospects for elevation within the corporate culture (which kills off predictability), and the concept of control is, as a result, getting shakier. Is this good news? Can we all be saved?

Is salvation even in our best interests?

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According to journalist Thomas L. Friedman, no two countries with a McDonald’s inside their borders has ever fought a war against one another, at least after the restaurant chain had opened up shop. This is known as the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, and it no doubt has more to do with McDonald’s-hosting countries being relatively stable and financially secure than the ability for each society to procure a Filet-O-Fish. Okay, the US did invade Panama in 1989, but that wasn’t technically a ‘war’. Oh, and India and Pakistan duked it out in 1999, but that was just a regional Kashmir thing, not an all-out military deathmatch.

Shortly after Friedman’s book dropped in 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia, and Belgrade protestors demolished the city’s McDonald’s. Friedman revised his book in 2000, citing the swift end of that conflict as evidence that Serbia did not want to lose its place in the global system that remains very much symbolized by McDonald’s. There have been other exceptions since (Crimea and Russia, for example), but it’s still an interesting lens through which to squint at the world.

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So we may be addicted to bite-size junk journalism, and maybe our post-secondary aspirations have been shaped by pseudo-universities that offer bullshit online degrees. Maybe we’re eager to embrace mediocrity because dammit, when it’s placed in a shiny ad next to a sexy model and a thousand twinkly lights it just looks so good. But I don’t buy it – we’ll sink into this muck pretty far but for most of us, there’s a way out.

As McDonald’s continues to spread its tendrils around the planet, a number of corporations are discovering the massive niche market of people who actually want quality over quantity, who actually want skilled, free-thinking workers and a subtle unpredictability in their experience. Even look at one of the myriad of Buzzfeed articles – Buzzfeed itself being a McDonaldization of online information – about the weird regional McDonald’s dishes that seem to show up in every country in order to cater to local tastes. Is that not traditionalism and/or individuality triumphing in a small way over the corporate machine? Is the proliferation of craft beer not indicative of our collective will to resist the vacuum of corporate homogeneity?

So there’s hope. At least until my next rant – the Kardashianization of popular culture. Until then, I highly recommend an overdose on optimism-feeding bulldog puppy pics.

Ahhh, that's better.

Ahhh, that’s better.

Day 820: The Mind Behind The Map

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Were we to kick aside the boulders of our base knowledge – the works of Newton, Galileo, Edison, Tesla, Shakespeare and the mighty triumvirate of Bell, Biv and Devoe – we would eventually reach the fortified foundation of our species’ early great minds. These are the men (unfortunately, the great female minds were generally thwacked into silence back then) whose cerebral gushings topped the intellectual charts back before the era of empirical science. Hell, we’re even going back before humankind had figured out how to build a decent pair of pants.

Ancient Greece was the time of Plato, of Aristotle, of Socrates – not to mention a number of titan thinkers who haven’t had numerous pizza joints named in their honor. Today I’m talking about the grand-pappy of geography, one of the first great mathematicians, a poet, an astronomer and a music theorist. He voiced an unpopular criticism of Homer’s Odyssey and developed a series of complex calculations that – well, had Chris Columbus read through them a few centuries later they could have really saved him some headaches.

This guy held the most prominent intellectual job posting of his era, and singlehandedly influenced the entire course of science, of map-making, and of how we keep track of history. His name was Eratosthenes. Don’t fret if you haven’t heard of him – I hadn’t until his name flittered across my computer screen this morning.

He was also known as 'Big Ol' Bulbous Chrome-Dome' to his friends.

He was also known as ‘Big Ol’ Bulbous Chrome-Dome’ to his friends.

Eratosthenes was born in Cyrene, a town in modern-day Libya that had been founded by the Greeks back in 630 BC. Thanks to the economic policies of the local head honcho, Ptolemy I Soter (one of Alexander the Great’s generals), Cyrene was a happening burg in which intellectualism and prosperity flourished. Eratosthenes had a standout mind, which led him up to Athens to complete his studies. He was taught Stoicism by the movement’s founder, Zeno of Citium. He became known for his meticulous poetry and a scholarly treatise on the mathematical foundations of Plato’s philosophies, none of which I will repeat here because I’d rather skip ahead to the juicy stuff. Read more…