Remember, Remember, the fuzz of Movember …

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It’s Movember again. And that can mean only one thing: the terrible and dispiriting moustache of a just-teenaged boy.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. For the past 2 or 3 years my friends both here in Hong Kong and elsewhere have bravely (read: effortlessly) resisted the razor and bushed up, top-lip-wise, in next to no time. I can’t remember now the exact rhetorical wriggles I resorted to in order to excuse myself, but they evidently worked …

This, though, will be my ‘tache-growing debut. 2013. Remember the year. History will.

In truth, very little will change—at least from a distance. Up close (ohhh, up close …), I’ll look that bit more like a try-hard, fall-short, fishoutofwater hipster. Or I could, alternatively, look genuinely creepy, of course, like some disgraced middle-school caretaker found with a handmade “sex-Tardis” in his living-room. (Don’t Google that.)

Other characterful visages are more than possible, and none of them look good in the mind’s-eye.

Despite these relative unknowns, however, there are some certainties to rely upon. The main one being that whilst my Mo-friends are Mo-rauding round Hong Kong like a halloween-gang of George Bernard Shaws, I’ll be the one looking like a shit, blonde, Gary Neville impersonator. And I’m not even sure such a category exists.

Whatever the case, though, whilst others lazily leaf through books of moustache designs, deciding which one to wax, twirl and thirrup into place first, I’ll be living with the genuine, adolescent regret that I even started out with this whole Mo-growing fiasco in the first place.

And that’s got to be worth some sponsorship, even if you’re inexplicably pro-testicular cancer, which seems, I would hope, unlikely.

I’ll be trying to write a bit more about the damn thing on here, mainly as an angst-outlet, but also as an excuse to fire up the casual-writing engine again. And the blog itself, which has lain fallow for far too long.

This is my page.

And this is my “team’s” page.

Your part is simple. Get sponsoring. I’ll report back soon.

Après moi le déluge!

The system-driven selfishness of the capitalist mode of production, as seen by Marx all those many years ago:

In every stock-jobbing swindle everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but everyone hopes that is may fall on the head of his neighbor, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in secure hands. Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Capital therefore takes no account of the health and the length of life of the worker, unless society forces it to do so. Its answer to the outcry about the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work, is this: Should that pain trouble us, since it increases out pleasure (profit)? But looking at these things as a whole, it is evident that this does not depend on the will, either good or bad, of the individual capitalist. Under free competition, the immanent laws of capitalist production confront the individual capitalist as a coercive force external to him.

(Capital, 381)

It is perhaps the last two sentences which speaks most readily to current predicaments.

Progressive change (whether in relation to workers rights or environmental degradation) as a purely market-driven effect, divorced from ethics, is only too palpable when it comes to the depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, where serious implementation and funding of alternatives will only commence (in the coming decades) when the price of producing oil exceeds the production costs of its cleaner rivals.


Growth, Growth, Growth

7 billion people now inhabit the Earth. Although they don’t, of course—the article announcing the news is by now hours old. Now there will be several thousand more. Even now you can add on another couple or so. And now? Yeah, maybe you’d better just keep your pen handy …

This 7,000,000,000+ already uses 1.5 planet Earth’s per year—an inescapable statistic which defies logic as it damns. “Use” is perhaps a little neutral in this sense. How about “consume”? Everyone is, after all, born into a capitalist system hell-bent on consumption, on the acquisition and loss of money.

This capitalist system requires at least 3% growth in order to sustain itself. David Harvey’s lecture does better than I could ever do. As does Sir David Attenborough quoting President Kennedy’s environmental advisor Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad—or an economist.”

The whole of the Attenborough speech can and should be read here.

I wrote nearly 18 months ago on this same topic and surmised that we suffer from what political scientists call “status quo bias”—basically a resistance to change when the imperative for change seems insufficient. Expensive products and holidays help drive this. The worldwide Occupy protests are an important step in the opposite direction.

Population Growth, consumption Growth and 3% compound Growth feed each other hungrily. And it is from these three interconnecting issues that a whole host of other worthy causes stem. It almost seems unnecessary now to talk of the environment, of animal welfare, of renewable energy, of global warming, since all are intimately related to and negatively dependent upon these three predominant (and growing) problems.

Answers? Well, I’ll probably have it all figured out in the morning …

For starters though, a healthy dose of consciousness raising through the (very limited, given the readership of this blog) dissemination of important information. Start with the Harvey lecture. Go on—consume it up all nice and tight.


Become enlightened; join BAMME

At the Baptist Ministry for the Materially Enlightened (BAMME) we are committed to your future, both within and beyond the mortal plane. It is our belief that it is only through a deep understanding of BAMME’s teachings that true salvation can be obtained, and that material enlightenment can translate into spiritual magnificence.

Free your mind, live beyond +0

According to our consecrated texts, our human existence is organised into seven elemental levels, or strata, each of which represents an ionic-concatenation within our core-psyche. Most people live their lives within just one of these strata, the irreal, and as a result are limited to a life of wage-earning subservience, utility bills and hardship. In other words, the daily grind of what we like to call a “+0 existence”.

This life probably seems familiar to you. But it needn’t do for much longer. Here at the Baptist Ministry for the Materially Enlightened we can help you move beyond the tiresome drudgery of your +0 existence. All that you hold to be so obdurately “real”—states like exhaustion, anxiety and stress; emotions like sadness, frustration and fear—are mere constructs of this base-level ionic stratum, and like all earthly constructs, they can be dismantled using the right tools.

We at the Baptist Ministry for the Materially Enlightened are committed to the facilitation of this life-enabling dismantlement, and Demystification Seminars are held on a monthly basis to ensure that all members of the Ministry obtain the highest possible levels of the Sigma-1 ME Integer—a numeric scale adopted specifically by BAMME to measure our members’ ionic plane progression.

Beyond Demystification there exists only spiritual wonder and plenitude. And as your Sigma-1 ME Integer continues to advance, from the irreal imprisonment of 0.1 through to the syncretic awe-bliss of 1.0—taking in paean, sonos, delphic, phasar and xanu levels along the way—all earthly concerns will dissipate into nothingness, and you shall achieve what is known in the Ministry as “Spiritual Abundance”.

Begin your new life. With us. Today.

In order to start your journey to Spiritual Abundance, all we at the Ministry require is an initial payment of £50—a trifling cost which enables us to register your membership details, provide a full itinerary of upcoming Demystification Seminars, and arrange an in-person interview through which your “cold” Sigma-1 ME integer level can be obtained. Further details concerning payment can be found here.

Is this really an opportunity you can afford to miss?

Pins and needles

As someone whose cynicism borders on belligerence—and as a regular reader of Ben Goldacre (see Bad Science in ‘Onward clicks’)—my recent visits to a Chinese medical practitioner and acupuncturist are, to say the least, a little surprising.

I am not a doctor, nor will I ever be one, and it’s because of this that I decide to put matters concerning my health into the hands of those that are. You know the type: people who’ve completed medical school, passed examinations, practised medicine, built up experience, wear a white coat and a stethoscope. Real dyed-in-the-wool ‘doctor’ types, like.

I am less inclined, then, to believe in the healing power of a magical badge, for example, or a homeopathic ‘tincture’. These things aren’t medicine, I say to myself, they’re make-believe nonsense that prey on the irredeemably bewildered. I know these things to be true, and yet …

How it came to be so

My knee was injured (note the passive voice) nearly two years ago now, when high-spirited festival antics saw my left leg involved in a Six Nations, Calcutta Cup-type incident. Unfortunately, my effete vegetarian—then vegan, in fact—frame was unable to ride the tackle, and it resulted, I much later came to discover, in a slight but not insignificant tear to my meniscus. I was told by the medical staff at the festival that it was a just a slight sprain that needed rest, so off I hobbled to recommence my (now somewhat impaired) carousing.

In the time between now and then I’ve undergone consultations, x-rays, physiotherapy and an MRI scan, and whilst the diagnosis of a torn meniscus remains constant, the rehabilitative treatment suggested has come in many, often conflicting, forms, such as:

  • ‘Exercise until it really tears, then we’ll slice you open quick as a flash.’
  • ‘Exercise? Only if you want to end up in some kind of wheelchair.’
  • ‘Listen, chap, it’s isometric exercise that’ll sort you out, and no mistake.’
  • ‘Isometric exercise? Never heard of it, sonny.’
  • ‘Oh, yeah, you can swim okay, but remember ye this: only front crawl.’
  • ‘Swim away, my boy! Let’s go together—have you brought your trunks?’

Faced with conclusions so at odds with each other made knowing how to progress pretty much impossible, so after a small amount of deliberation and a considerable amount of persuasion, I decided to give acupuncture a try.

Pointy, electrified needles

I suppose this chain of events is fairly commonplace: become disillusioned with western medical practices, try something different. After all, everyone is concerned about their health—some more than others, I admit—so if one medical approach fails, why not try another? The important thing is to feel that you’re doing something about an otherwise intractable problem … I think.

~ ~ ~

Step 1: Diagnosis
Where x-rays and MRI scans are discussed, Cantonese is spoken and a pasty and increasingly nervous white boy sits anxiously clawing at the bed, waiting for translation.

Step 2: Needles
Where needles are (only relatively) painlessly stuck into your body at various depths. An electric current is then sent through the little rascals until your leg is a jabbering all over the place.

Step 3: Cupping
Where, once the needles are withdrawn, a burning ball of flame is jabbed into a wooden cup and extinguished. The cup (now emptied of air) is then placed on your leg where, because of the vacuum, it stays.

Step 4: Herbs
Where some expensive brown herbs are placed in a paper case, put on your leg and then wrapped up in a bandage.

~ ~ ~

The acupuncturist in question has been plying his trade for 40 years now, which, when added to the 2000 or so years that the treatment has been practised in China, suggests (I like to think) that somewhere, somehow there’s an element of truth to it. Whether the so-called ‘meridian lines’ are involved is anyone’s guess, but even if it’s something as simple as a muscle reacting to having a bloody great pin stuck in it, if it works, who cares, right?

If it works

My fear, I suppose, is that it’s effectiveness might lie in that most elusive of human analgesics, the placebo effect, and that by remaining so sceptical about anything that lacks peer-reviewed proof, I’m effectively denying myself access to this relief. I mean, surely the placebo effect can only work if you refuse to admit its necessity in the first place? Otherwise we’d all be walking around in fugs of personal ecstasy 24/7 and no one would get any work done.

Of course, this thought trajectory results in a Catch 22-style paradox whereby the treatment can only be effective if I disprove the effectiveness of the treatment, so I’d much rather just carry on with the sessions for a bit and see how it goes …

Should it turn out to cure my ills then I will donate my heartfelt thanks to charity.

The Flat Earth Society

A map of Earth according to FET

I’ve become oddly obsessed with The Flat Earth Society website of latewhich is a work of such unbridled idiocy that I feel sure only an intellectual powerhouse can be behind it. I initially thought that it must be a hoax, but after idling a few lunchtimes away trawling the forums, I’ve now been convinced of its all-too-disturbing veracity.

Basically, as the name suggests, these folks believe that the Earth is flat, not spherical, and they validate their assertions by concocting a number of slightly differing theoretical perspectives, which can be broadly grouped together under the umbrella term ‘Flat Earth Theory’ (FET). Armed with this ersatz ‘theory of everything’, society members can explain away gravity, satellite imagery, seasons, long-distance air travel and much more besides, and I can’t help but find their obdurate belief in FET strangely compelling.

One of the more generally accepted theories in FET circles is a process called Universal Acceleration (UA), which is used to counter the troubling notion of the Earth’s gravitational field. In UA, the Earth—disc-shaped, flat and surrounded on all sides by a 150-foot wall of ice protected by specially-appointed guards—is travelling upwards through space at a fixed speed equal to 1G, meaning that when you jump in the air, the ground comes up to meet you, rather than you descending to meet it. It really is ingenious stuff.

Those few who try to unsettle the members’ quasi-religious faith in FET—usually by citing scientific evidence, however flimsy—are forced to confront the self-fulfilling prophecy that drives the society forward, which basically posits that anything outside of FET is conspiracy, and is therefore inadmissible as evidence. A more watertight exposition of self-denial you are unlikely to find, and it is demonstrated ad nauseum by the society’s more stalwart members.

Prior to activating this escape clause though, the members usually refer the query to the FAQ section—a sacred enclave of the website where the central and immovable tenets of FET are carved in stone. For many of the members, this knowledge bank is irrefutable, and serves as an essential resource when it comes to defending FET from attack. Once theories enter the FAQ, they are enshrined in a self-perpetuating truthfulness, however ludicrous that may seem to an external observer. Here, for example, are some of my favourites:

Question: “NASA and other world space agencies have pictures of the Earth from space, and in those pictures the Earth is clearly a globe; in this day and age, hasn’t it been proven beyond any doubt that the Earth is round?”

Answer: NASA and the rest of the world’s space agencies who claim to have been to space are involved in a Conspiracy to keep the shape of the Earth hidden. The pictures are faked using simple imaging software.

Question: “What about Lunar Eclipses?”

Answer: A celestial body, known as the antimoon, passes between the sun and moon. This projects a shadow upon the moon.

Question: “What about the stars, sun and moon and other planets? Are they flat too? What are they made of?”

Answer: The sun and moon, each 32 miles in diameter, rotate at a height of 3000 miles above sea level. As they are spotlights, they only illuminate certain places. This explains why there are nights and days on Earth.

If you should have the gall to doubt these ‘facts’—and many do—you are either dubbed a conspirator or referred back to the FAQ for further schooling, which in a fairly neat way renders all debate with the members entirely pointless. For those belligerent few who do choose to persevere, the message is unambiguous: persistence is futile.

God bless the internet.