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A Long Walk in the Woods

I haven’t written anything much this past couple of weeks because life intrudes and there are always a zillion things [I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate] to look after – figure out – pay for – sort out – not least of which is getting up at the crack of dawn and doing my job.  Fortunately for me I work at home and can come and go as I please although that means mostly ‘going’ as I deliver kids to school, run the endless errands, take the dogs for walkies, feed the birds, feed the fish, feed the turtle and the gerbils and the guinea pigs, take a few courses at the university, sit on a few committees and generally run around all day like a chicken on crack.  Figure into that runs to the doctor and the pharmacy to pick up another few dozen bottles of all these heavy duty pills I’m on for all my various ailments – and how the HELL did I get so old!  When I look in the mirror there’s this old hag staring back at me.  What happened to that trendy bright eyed, blue-eyed girl from the 60’s with the frizzy blond mop [courtesy of Revlon], the high-heeled winkle-picker shoes  and the skirts so short that she had to become adept at the bunny dip to pick up pencils off the floor?  Life is cruel chaps – but perhaps I don’t have to tell you that?

 

Anyway all this is leading up to a major life-decision that I’m on the brink of making – or at least I’m on my tippy-toes at the end of the diving board peering at the water.  For a few years now books and articles have popped up under my nose on a frequent basis, causing me to shore up some of my sagging beliefs – one or two of which have to do with fate.  It started a few years back when Shirley MacLean started churning out her books on spiritualism, the cosmic consciousness, Karma [I’ll get you Dorothy and your little dog too..], and something called the chakra centers which I assumed were Indian social clubs of the time.  She’s quite the gal is Shirley – she travels all over the globe solo and can be occasionally spotted hiking up some mountain pass in the Himalayas or wreathed in fog at Machu Pichu.  Not your average self-absorbed celebrity at all.  She sometimes even neglects to visit her hairdresser and her manicurist for weeks at a time – gasp.  However, one book in particular caught my eye.  She had just come back from Spain [Shirley not the manicurist] where she had spent a month walking the Camino.  Now vat is zis Camino I thought to myself [..with a fake German accent.  I often do this don’t you?  It makes mundane thoughts so much more interesting] as I scanned the back cover for the – hopefully discounted – price.

 

Well what it is apparently is a very long walk through the northern half of Spain.  And I mean a *very* long walk.  So long in fact that you have to have special hiking boots, special hiking shirts, belts, socks and undies and a very trendy back-pack and possibly some Lycra skintight something or other holding in your tum.  No not really – in fact this goes completely against the spirit of the Camino which was – and is – a pilgrimage route running from the border of France at one end to the border of Spain and the sea at the other.  Chaucer himself walked – or rather rode – the Camino, which is possibly where he got the idea of writing about that other famous pilgrimage to see Becket at Canterbury.  Not the play – the saint– or rather his rather moldy bones by now I would think.  Although if you’ve seen Becket the movie with Peter O’Toole and – erm – another actor – the Archbishop was a rather naughty boy and a decided pain in the bum who practically forced poor King Henry to have him offed in the vestry by several overly enthusiastic hangers on who were more than happy to oblige.  But I digress – as usual.  The Camino has been traversed for thousands of years – long before the Church got the decidedly modern capitalist idea that relics wuz BIG business  – Oley!  No sooner had some monk in a cell with nothing to do but play with his abacus all day worked out the details of such a vastly untapped market than the Holy Roman Church practically fell over itself to encourage poor pilgrims to make the trek from far and wide as often as possible and to part with a few groats  – or preferably more – along the way.    I mean – all those crusades were becoming bloody expensive and they were probably running out of heathens to convert or slaughter even though the local Swords r Us was making a mint.  And all the church had to do in return was offer time off from purgatory.  The longer you walked the more time you got off – and of course the more money you spent – Voila!  Business school grads take careful note.

 

The modern Camino is almost as popular now as it once was and you don’t even have to be a religious nutbar to do it.  This is the bit that intrigues me.  I’m an agnostic you might say – or you might say that I prefer to hedge my bets and not commit myself totally to either side just on the off-chance that they’re both wrong.  However I do think – along with Einstein – that there is some intelligence to the universe [not here obviously but out there somewhere beyond the stars].  The trek to visit the church of Santiago de Compostella in fact means ‘St. James in the field of stars’ – wonderful.  Therefore I’m going to undertake the Camino as a spiritual exercise – both literally and figuratively.  Since I can’t get off the planet – although I’d certainly like to – next year in May  I’m going to opt out al la Shirley for a month’s walking.  500 miles from France to Finisterre [end of the world – and I’m sure it will feel like it].  Perhaps the solitude and the connection to nature – or the dust, the rain and the heat – will [un]focus my mind away from this rat-race I live in – just for a little while.  Thoreau did it in the woods – I’m going to do it in Spain.

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Future Day-Dreams

The Numa-Tube [patent pending] – a Proposal to Save the Planet

The Problem

We have too many cars. Cars pollute the atmosphere, deplete our stocks of fossil fuels, promote competition and greed, capitalism and rampant consumerism, disrupt both our mental and physical well-being and enable a constant search for oil which leads to price-gauging, invasion and war.

The Solution

Get rid of cars. Hmm – a bit too simplistic. We are in love with our cars. We strive to procure the biggest, the flashiest and if not the most extreme, at least the latest model – the one with the most knobs and dials, the back-up camera, the OnStar GPS, iPod dock, heated leather seats and the lumbar support – not to mention the drop-down video screen, the programmable AC and the dashboard designed by NASA . Entire industries worldwide are inextricably entwined with the production, the maintenance and the manufacture and sale of a million different accoutrements that go along with the ownership of cars. Huge conglomerates, i.e. primarily the oil companies and their subsidiaries, make trillions of dollars per year in profits, investors become rich, governments pay down the national debt with gas-tax dollars and dealers spend their winters in Hawaii with the proceeds from the buying and selling of cars. The car has become an iconic symbol of Western culture. We must have a new one if not every year then at least every couple of years at the very least because we tire easily of the old ones and must have the latest, the biggest, and the best. We ‘wear’ our cars like we wear our clothes – they signify success. The owner of a car more than five years old is pitied as poor, unaccomplished, un-ambitious and in every sense of the word a failure. Therefore any full or partial replacement for the car must be subtle, and sneaky – a very gradual change over time.

So the question becomes “if we want to supplant the car what do we put in its place?” Simple – provide cheap, fast, reliable, attractive, safe and comfortable public transportation – an alternative transportation network that not only services immediate local areas but is easily expandable to become trans-continental as well.

Therefore, I would like to present to you the “Numa-Tube” – a system of interlocking transparent tubes [imagine a series of interconnected brightly coloured ‘hamster’ tubes], that can be subterranean or not depending upon aesthetics and cost-effective design. Inside the tubes are a series of ‘ball-shaped’ cars containing seats for 4 [see diagram], mounted on gimbals for stability and comfort. Extremely fast forward motion is produced by expelling air at various points along the tunnel in order to create a partial vacuum. This has the effect of ‘pulling’ the cars forwards until an optimum speed is reached. The slowing of the cars at each ‘station’ is accomplished by allowing less air to be expelled. Of course, sudden violent forward motion – not to mention any sudden stops at the end – would obviously have a detrimental effect upon any human body – much like the end-result of jumping off a tall building. Therefore gradual acceleration and deceleration is produced by a series of ‘on-ramps’ powered by, possibly, a mag-lev system – an arrangement of magnets in series along a track.

The ball shaped cars travel rapidly and continuously through the tunnels [which are pleasingly lit by ‘rings’ of phosphorescent crystals]. For safety and security each car is equipped with state-of-the-art video surveillance and a two-way voice system. The walls are sound-proofed to the extent that any loud or sudden extraneous noises are filtered and soft music, climate control and subtle lighting provides a relaxing ambient effect. Four comfortable recliner seats upholstered in organic, plant-based fabrics in neutral colours are arranged around a table/desk containing a computer console that can be activated to provide on-board games, movies and music as well as Internet access. Power is generated by the movement of the cars through the tunnel by means of a dynamo system in contact with the external tunnel wall, making the ‘energy foot-print’ virtually non-existent. The air under pressure expelled from the tunnels to create the partial vacuum can be directed to wind-farms which in turn produce the power to expel the air and power the tunnel system. Any energy produced that is surplus to requirements can be channeled off for other uses – providing ‘power-docks’ for small electric cars that may be used for traversing city streets for example [because people will still require/prefer cars to reach out of the way places no doubt].

Numa-Tubes can cross oceans by the simple expedient of sinking the tubes to neutral buoyancy depth, far below any turbulent waters, but not so far down that extreme pressure and cold presents an obstacle. The extreme speeds produced by the full or partial vacuum can be easily tolerated by the human body once full acceleration has been accomplished. In fact, the occupants of the cars would probably have no sensation of speed at all, much like travelling at supersonic speeds on an aircraft like the Concorde or the Space Shuttle. Lengthy travel times will become a thing of the past because speeds reached will be in excess of two thousand miles an hour – making a trans-continental trip that used to take 8-10 hours [from Toronto to London say] possible in less than two hours.

Objections

The immediate, and possibly loudest, objection will come from the oil conglomerates and subsidiary industries that support the present car-based infrastructure. If the Numa-Tube system [ultimately] obviates the need for gas-guzzling cars and planes then the oil and gas industries dependent upon them – the oil companies will say – will collapse, making millions of auto-workers redundant and throwing social support systems, not to mention middle-eastern governments, into an economic tail-spin from which there is no return. The world as we know it will end.

Refutation

Any savvy Business Studies Grad type worthy of the price of his Ivy-league admission will realize that vast revenues can be made from diverting oil-based industries into other modes of production – into plastics for example [as the Graduate would have said]. It is to be hoped however that oil production companies would simply re-tool their lines to produce ‘green’ products instead and collaborate with other industries to find alternate power sources, produce electric, solar powered or hybrid cars for about-town use – producing ‘green’ fabrics that are non-animal based, building Numa-Tubes and ‘train stations’, digging tunnels, maintaining and servicing the transportation system as a whole. Line workers by their very nature can be retrained to work on any line – whether it produces cars or solar panels or widgets of any shape or size – it really makes no difference at all – and if GM can retool its lines to make a different model of Land Crusher each and every year as it does now then it can always churn out Numa-Tube cars instead.

Existing sub-way systems can easily be adapted, extended and modified to hold Numa-Tubes and since the entire system is, ideally, underground, more green-space and arable land is freed up, roads and expensive road maintenance infrastructures become redundant, saving millions of dollars in road maintenance and repairs, not to mention salting and sanding equipment, and pollution falls to manageable or hopefully non-existent levels within ten years.

To wrest such a symbol of success and power that is the fast expensive car from the hands of the wealthy may be more of a challenge however than getting GM to retool its lines. The car is the ultimate signifier of power in many minds therefore Corporate types must use the power of advertising to ‘sell’ consumers on the idea of environmental not to mention fiscal responsibility. We need to sell the idea that dispensing with your car is to act not only as a role-model to the masses but will gain you status, kudos and approval as well – akin to donating to some worth-while charity or travelling to Africa to work with orphans or adopting a child from a third-world country. You and your corporation will be viewed as heroes of your time.

If we have more green space we can have more bike paths, more village greens, more community, ample and less crowded inner city housing and therefore less crime, and thus far less strain on essential services and social supports. Biz Grads will immediately recognize the revenues to be made from populations that are living longer through healthier living, a clean environment and no pollution i.e. retirement communities, travel, fitness clubs, leisure industries, bicycles and other modes of ‘people powered’ transportation systems. For the young we will have more playing fields, more stadiums, more swimming pools, more athletic clothing – and all the commercial opportunities that go along with that, the Ivy grad would say.

Remote working with the Numa-Tube is a distinct possibility. Presently we are restricted to work places that are within a certain narrow ‘transportation’ range – just as many of us are restricted from extensive international travel due to time constraints and cost. However, if I can travel a distance of a thousand miles in under an hour then I can conduct work searches over a much wider area. It may even be possible eventually to live on one continent but work on another. This will have several distinct advantages from a social standpoint. If I can work in any urban centre and live in another – or even live in my log cabin in the back woods of Lake Superior but work on Wall Street this will have the added effect of – eventually – breaking down international boundaries and barriers as well. What will this do for commerce and trade? I would say it would open up hitherto undreamed of possibilities for trade on a global scale. Similarly the population as a whole will ultimately become amorphous which will have the effect of breaking down race barriers as well. If we are citizens of the world and not one particular country or another there are no boundaries left to fight over.

Consumers in general will adapt to the system readily provided it remains reliable, fast, comfortable and inexpensive. If, for example, I can travel from Toronto to Paris or even from London Ontario to Ottawa for a fraction of the current price, not to mention a fraction of the time, then I would opt for the Numa-Tube over Air Canada or CNN any time. I would also readily dispense with my environmentally unfriendly car, as I’m sure most of us would, if I could replace it with a convenient cost-effective alternative – particularly during an Ontario winter. Fighting traffic, breathing fumes and paying exorbitant prices for gasoline will become a thing of the past – as will pollution related illnesses such as Asthma, bronchitis, various cancers, many allergies and possibly even colds and flu too.

Conclusion

It is obvious that the Numa-Tube is the way of the future. With the Numa-Tube in place we can dispense with cars and therefore roads, and of course the main by-product of the automobile, pollution. No pollution means fewer health-related issues and lower medical care costs, a healthier planet, healthier children, an emphasis on ‘green’ production, the global workplace, breaking down of race barriers, the dissolution of borders, more green space, more arable land, more leisure, less stress. We can then perhaps make our planet into the garden it once was.

Size Matters

I’m a researcher – or perhaps I should say I’m an information broker – someone who finds and sells information to clients around the world [insert shameless plug here]. It also means that I spend much of my day surfing the Net and trolling through databases of various kinds, together with other online and offline sources and newspapers. The rest of the time I play Warcraft, read blogs and buy things off eBay, but that’s beside the point. What I wanted to talk about was some of the very surprising things I find while surfing around cyberspace, a great deal of it pornographic. The other day, for example, I was searching for something innocuous, like the standard medical treatment for some disgusting disease or other, and although I usually use some highbrow source like the National Library of Medicine for such a search I often drive off the info highway down a side-road and Google it as well – just to be thorough and have a little fun looking at all the wacky advice and info out there – such as can be found on Wikipedia for instance [Oh sit down you at the back – yes I know you love Wikipedia – but did you know the last entry was probably inserted by your addled old granny and has as much authority as my six year old grand-daughter reading the back of her crisps packet hrrrumph]. Anyway, as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself for a bit of a rant – yes – I was looking for something to do with the treatment of scurvy or some such [don’t ask – but sailors have info needs too you know, and not all of them to do with dalliances with ladies they met in Thailand].
I clicked some innocuous sounding link and before I knew it – rather like rubbing Aladdin’s Lamp – oops wrong metaphor – up popped [stop it] the most improbable [and possibly impossible] images I have ever seen. Come on guys out there – tell me how it is possible for one man – black of course because racial stereotyping is alive and well in the porn industry – to have an – ahem – member [nudge nudge wink wink] thicker than a tree-trunk and twice as long as his leg? I did pity his unfortunate girl-friend – or six actually, all of whom were wearing bright red lipstick, red shoes and nothing else and doing a lot of pouting and mouthing and licking of lips with what I take was meant to simulate orgasmic expressions on their Barbie-Doll faces. The last time I saw a male member [and I’m not talking about the Masons] that size it adorned a Greek pot in art class and belonged to a Satyr who would obviously have had some difficulty running to the Bacchanalia had he jumped down off his rock in a hurry.

The Internet porn industry aside we have always liked to adorn our houses and gardens, not to mention our offices and our cars and just about everything else with phallic symbols – that and the apotropeic eye to ward off evil but now of course we just have CCTV cameras. The Romans used to place bloody great stone replicas of penises around their arenas and outside the door – just in case someone came along and accused them of being weeky weedy wimpies or something. They just couldn’t resist a bit of male posturing in some sort of sublimated territorial display that said – keep off – this is *my* patch –grrr [cut to shot of caveman beating his chest while wifey – clad in fur bikini of course – looks on admiringly]. Today they would just be driving around in Corvettes or some other enormous great expensive car shaped like a torpedo to demonstrate just how big *theirs* is. It doesn’t take much to see what I mean – look around you at that tube of toothpaste, that car, that missile, that jet-fighter, the CN Tower, the Post-office Tower, Cleopatra’s Needle, all those ancient Greek columns, that microphone clutched in the hands of some blond bimbo singer with her red lips so close … need I say more? You don’t have to be an iconographer – let alone a pornographer – to get the symbolism there now do you? Anyway – now I’ve got you thinking I’m going off to go get some lunch – hot dog anyone?

Open to the Public

I’ve been mulling over the question of ‘Privacy’ lately – sparked by a recent media row that caught my attention whereby a Canadian doctor who is a writer as well as a military man wrote an article for the American magazine “Mother Jones” [http://www.motherjones.com] entitled “Talk to me like my father; Front line medicine in Afghanistan“, about his recent tour of duty and the things he experienced while there. There would be nothing remarkable about that – and it was a well-written piece – if he had not described in graphic detail the heroic efforts made to save the life of a Canadian soldier who had apparently been shot accidentally by a tent-mate and died shortly thereafter. Again – nothing remarkable about that – in fact, some would say that it is laudatory that the author brought the harsh reality of life ‘outside the wire’ to the public consciousness. The fatal error on his part however, was that he actually identified the soldier in question by name – thereby , some would say – violating patient-doctor confidentiality, committing a gross invasion of the deceased soldier’s privacy, not to mention the privacy of his grieving family and also cast into question his own ethics both as a writer and a ‘war correspondent’.

 

So the dilemma is now – should the doctor in question be sanctioned or not – and by whom? The Canadian Military? The Medical Board of Canada? Should he be sued by the parents and family for invasion of privacy – breach of confidence – what have you? At the very least, should he be pilloried in the Press for his actions? The other side of the coin is that the doctor/writer was instrumental in recruiting civilian doctors to work with the troops in Afghanistan in the first place. He is also lauded by his literary colleagues and has won various prestigious prizes for his writings. Does that however give him the right to breach the [implied] confidence of his patients? Is a war correspondent exempt from the normal expectations of confidence and ethics? If I was a war correspondent in Iraq for example – do I have carte blanche to describe everything I see in graphic detail as well as identifying the protagonists on either side? The answer appears to be – it depends. When American soldier Jessica Lynch was captured during the Golf War at the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003 her story spread like a brush fire through all the major newspapers around the world. She was not only identified by name [and in photographs] but her injuries – either real or imagined on the part of the reporters – were documented fully. The identity of the man who informed the Americans of her whereabouts was also fully disclosed with the result that he and his family were subsequently granted asylum in the States for fear of their lives.

 

You young things out there will no doubt have only ‘seen’ the Kennedy assassination through old videos on YouTube but I remember the day’s events fully. It was one of those ‘you remember where you were when’ moments, like the death of Diana or the death of the Big Bopper [gotcha there huh?]. The newsreels played the scenes over and over again – the crowd running, shaky camera angles as the reporters scrambled to get a shot, the indelible image of Jacky Kennedy climbing over the back seat to get at her dying husband, the blood on her otherwise immaculate pink suit as she stood by the president elect as he was urgently sworn in… Now I ask you – was this the grossest invasion of privacy or was it an historical moment and therefore above and beyond the normal mores of society? Because the central character was a Head of State were the newspapers absolutely duty bound to show us, the reading public, those images over and over again without cease for days on end? And what about the death of Diana? A British television documentary program has just aired several hours footage dealing with this very subject – a documentary that has outraged her sons and her family because it purportedly shows images of her dying moments while she was still in the car in the Paris tunnel. Has this so far exceeded the bounds of propriety that it should never have been shown?  Or is it just that we have the right to know everything when it comes to a head of state and/or a celebrity because this is part of the historical record, but the same does not apply in the case of  an ‘everyday’ citizen?  If this is is true then what about all the stuff plastered around the news about Jessica Lynch?  She was an ordinary citizen wasn’t she?  Or was she different because she was a soldier – or a female – or just a handy propaganda tool …

 

If we had had newspaper reporters and video cameras when Mary Queen of Scots or Anne Boleyn went to the block, or a few aristos in France met their maker would we have all sat around watching it live on News at 10 or reading about it in the ‘The Daily Distress’ instead of standing outside with the unruly scrum knitting and jeering? Has the world gone mad? Are we so insatiable for gore and voyeuristic detail that we take positive pleasure in the suffering of others – there’s that old Schadenfreude raising its ugly head again – or are we justly entitled to be well-informed of all the world’s events – ugly and distressing as they may be? And of course if some people are hurt along the way – such as the heart-broken and grieving family when their son’s death is raked over the coals once again – well that’s just too bad in the larger scheme of things. We the public have a right to know!

 

Comments on a post-card please.

Book Report

I haven’t had much time for blogging this week because I have been reviewing books. Yes chaps I am a book reviewer – well – I’ve reviewed one or two probably not very well and not very accurately because I did drop one of them in the bath and the pages stuck together but there you are. I can now say that I have joined the ranks [tatty fringes] of serious journalism. Of course it would help if I could write in terse, well-crafted, precise sentences instead of waffling on for ages and then flitting off on tangents as soon as the fancy takes me. I notice that if you were to read any of my wordy constructions aloud you would probably die of asphyxia long before you got to the end. I should write thrillers – all beginning “It was a dark and stormy night” and go on for six pages without pausing for breath. Of course there was a time when short sentences were anathema – [now there’s a new word for the day] and were frowned upon especially by those of the legal profession who were paid by the word. That’s why your lease is forty-five pages long and dotted with hithertos and theretofores like currants in a figgy pudding. Plus it makes the author appear more substantial and formidably erudite the more words s/he uses even though s/he probably has no more idea than I do about what the hell s/he’s driveling on about. And as an aside if you want to appear to be the final authority on some topic or other it also helps if you can sprinkle your text liberally with quotations from Virgil or the Bible – using the original Latin Vulgate of course – or perhaps include a few pithy Bon Motes in Arcadian French.

But I digress – where was I? Oh yes – reviewing books. I enjoyed a couple of them – in fact one or two were a really interesting read i.e. Gordon Ramsay’s recent autobiographical offering: “Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen” – which goes quite some way to explaining just why he loses his temper so often and uses swear words as punctuation and hates his dad and has a low sperm count [standing in front of hot stoves all day – be warned] but then I ran into a veritable Great Wall of China of a book, which as you know was built to keep out invaders – and obviously book reviewers as well. I could not get through it with a steam shovel – or possibly a conquering horde of Mongolian Marauders. So now I’m on the horns of a dilemma [there’s those dilemma horns again]. The work is self-published – what was once called a ‘Vanity Press’ production – and before you give us the old French shoulder shrug and sneer at this, I believe Honore de Balzac [also known as Honorary Ballsack amongst the uncouth classes] availed himself of the Vanity Press of his day – although I could be making that up – my memory for Farcical French potboilers is somewhat hazy.

Anyway – what to do about a really bad book? Do I slam it to the ground and jump up and down on the authors literary day-dreams or do I try and be politically correct – sort of like being the Paula Abdul of the book reviewing world – and say something along the lines of “this book was written entirely to the author’s own personal standards of satisfaction and was no doubt enjoyed by not only him but all of his friends and relatives too – and by the way I liked his picture on the back”, or do I go off on a Gordon Ramsay and declaim that he writes about as well as my old aunt Sally who is chained to a wall down at the local looney bin and thinks she’s the Shah of Iran? If there are any ‘real’ reviewers out there perhaps they would be kind enough to share some insights with me. In the meantime I have found a suitable use for what I like to call the ‘Doorstopper’ book – it’s quite good for resting your coffee cup on while you read about Jamie Oliver roasting his wienies over a slow fire [he evidently likes to cook in the nude – I never realized that his TV show the “Naked Chef” meant precisely that].

Pottermania

Now I know what [crap] writers block is. For a week I’ve been trying to think of something moderately interesting, faintly controversial, vaguely sarcastic, slightly funny, deeply profound in the shallowest sense – or whatever – anything – to blog about and coming up blank. What must it be like for real writers like J.K.Rowling, contractually obligated to churn out seven Harry Potters in a row, whether she wants to or not, whether she’s absolutely sick and bloody tired of sodding Harry Potter and the wand he rode in on? Now that’s pressure. I ordered my copy early – about two months ago – and so added to the mountain of cash about to flow her way – again. They say that she’s the richest woman in England. She’s got more money than Liz and Phil and the crew – she’s probably got more money than Bill Gates and that’s certainly saying something. He has enough to have a string of bonfires down the west side of the United States and up the other entirely composed of tenners if he so desires – and I hope he doesn’t because think of all those people starving in gutters who could do with one or two. You know them, they are the people sleeping on heating grates [in Canada at least] – we step over them on our way to work in the mornings.

The latest and last [maybe] Harry Potter comes out, in what, two days from now? Spoilers on the Net are rife [it’s ok you can uncover your eyes because I’m not gonna tell you the ending although I do know that, according to Rowling herself, the last word will be ‘Scar’. Hmm. We will have to ponder on the meaning of that won’t we chaps.. But you can bet your bat cape that the dastardly Voldemort will have something evil to do with it. Anyone want to start a betting pool?

So what is Rowling going to do now then? Having finished her Opus Dei she can hardly dispense with the old ink pot and hang up her quill pen now can she? I can’t see a steady stream of seedy murder mysteries suddenly springing forth can you? Mind you – it’s possible. They could feature one PC Potter of the Dales who solves crimes right from under the noses of those smarty-pants London cops using his crystal ball and a divining rod. He will be at odds with the senior inspector, one Detective Inspector Snape, who keeps an odd assortment of pets and things in dusty jars on his desk.

They say that Arthur Conan Doyle, after dispatching Sherlock and his arch-nemesis Moriarty to watery doom down under the waterfall, flung his pen against the wall so hard that the steel nib stuck in the wood paneling with a resounding ‘sproingggggg’. He no doubt uttered a few choice Victorian epithets as well but we will probably never know. Not unless he comes back from the afterlife and tells us that is. After all, he *was* president of the Psychical Research Society and is possibly up there discussing further plot developments with H.G.Wells, Henry James, Verne, and his other mystical buds.

Many authors get caught on the horns of the same dilemma [how come dilemmas have horns]. Anyway …. Many other authors have discovered to their dismay that they are locked into writing about the same characters forever. Think of Ian Fleming who could no more dispense with Bond than put on bat wings and fly to Gotham. Fortunately – or unfortunately as the case may be – he conveniently died before he got the chance to find out. Clive Custler has recently made a few unsuccessful and financially suicidal attempts to knock off his long-time hero Dirk Pitt in order to substitute one Kurt Austin instead. However, Kurt bears some slight resemblance to Dirk – he is tall and athletic, loves old cars, has or rather had dark wavy hair now gone a pleasing – but manly – shade of silver. He has a cheerful indomitable side-kick – is a member of NUMA and has a habit of getting himself embroiled in international incidents having to do with evil corporations hell-bent on polluting the oceans and murdering innocent cruise-ship passengers who only signed up for a last-minute trip around the Bahamas. Hmm.

So I don’t know what Rowling will do without Harry. I suppose sitting in the basement of the mansion counting up the money could take quite some time so that will keep her occupied for a bit while she ponders the exact meaning of the word ‘obscurity’. Listen – what’s that sound I hear? Oh I think it’s the sound of her publishers crying their way to the bank one last time …

Private Lives

Do you ever get the feeling that someone’s watching you? You’re probably right. No it’s not just the nosy neighbours who want to know why you feel the need to go to the store seventeen times per day, it’s the Traffic Cam and the Bank Machine Cam, and the Toll Road Cam [easy to fool that one – just drive backwards up the highway – but then of course you’ll have your face on Police Cam not to mention ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and possibly TMZ]. We live in a surveillance society – some of us more than others. I read that in the UK there are more cameras than people and there are entire police forces devoted to searching through hours and hours of video tape searching for that terrorist face in the crowd or maybe that grannie trying to smuggle soap powder to her relatives in Lithuania, we can never be sure. Or just maybe that grannie has swallowed a condom full of some naughty substance and is now incarcerated in the special ‘holding room’ at the airport while the customs blokes scrutinize her every movement – pun intended.

So it seems that someone or some thing i.e. a camera, has our fizzogs on tape just about every minute of the day that we spend outside. Inside the cameras watch us through the Web instead. Big Brother would be proud and no doubt a member of FaceBook. Mind you I had to dismantle my own web cam – for one thing people out there in webland could not possibly be interested in watching me staring into space for hours on end apart from the mentally challenged – and speaking of the mentally challenged, I also got rid of the web cam because certain ‘photographers’ kept sending me live pictures – of things – usually very small things it must be said, but not things I would want on the screen when the kiddies walked in.

Many people feel discomforted that personal privacy is coming to an end – if it ever existed at all that is. History is full of allusions to people living in tribes which also meant sharing the old longhouse or the log hut or the cave because if you didn’t you were likely to wind up inside a hungry dinosaur’s tum [yes yes I know that MAN and dinosaurs didn’t exist at the same time – but you get the idea] having been naturally selected as it’s afternoon snack while you wandered – foolishly – alone around the plain looking at daisies. There was safety, not to mention warmth and security, in numbers. Privacy – in the sense of personal privacy that is – appears then to be a modern invention. Up to a few hundred years or so ago we all lived together for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above plus it was much easier to pay the rent if there were several of you bringing in the groats at the same time. People lived in extended families which included several generations from the very young to the very old and cantankerous – unless you were members of a certain native group that is, who chose to set old grannie and granddad afloat on an ice-flow for the polar bears to eat instead when they got too annoying and started drooling on the rug.

Living the communal life had many side-benefits. You always had someone around to babysit the kids for instance while you went out to join in the monthly sun dance, and more kids meant more hands to the plough, or the threshing thingy or the mill wheel – which had the added benefit of saving on donkeys, and hence freed up more grain for the oat-cakes, or the whiskey, whichever your preferred. Of course more whiskey also meant more kids so you see it was a sort of self-fulfilling cycle and everyone was happy – except grandma of course who had to babysit all those little nippers running around the cave floor and falling in the river. This may have been why certain children [usually females] were deemed to be surplus to requirements and were left out on the hillside as offerings to the Gods, or the hyenas, whoever got there first. [All together now: Awwww].

More privacy means less communal support. It also of course means that more money in the form of wage labor [I see all you Marxists out there sitting up and opening an eye] must be produced in order to support the family unit. And mum cannot be expected to work out in the fields all day while the kids run wild at home even though Social Services didn’t exist at the time and if they had would be too busy scooping up squalling babies off hillsides to attend to *your* lack of parenting skills. This means that dad had to get up off his duff, stop dozing in the sun while the women did all the work and go out and find a job! There was a price to be paid for privacy you see. Gone was the old way of life and it was in with the new – which meant a need for transportation, which meant a need for cars and buses and trains and planes and motorbikes – and roads and runways and bicycle paths. And of course dad couldn’t just turn up at the office in his loincloth now could he? So that meant a need for clothing stores and shoe shops and sweat shops and Nike.

So it seems then that the cost of personal privacy is the end of civilization as we know it – and it’s possibly responsible for global warming too.