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Thursday, April 29, 2010

We are the galactic spear-chuckers

Remember these images?

These are one of the few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes left on Earth. They were spotted by planes who scour the Amazon to find where such tribes may be living, primarily with the intention of ensuring that they are left alone.

On first perusal, given the many horrible precedents that exist, especially in the Americas, for what happens when uncontacted tribes meet the modern world, that seems like a sensible policy.

Live and let live and all that.

For this tribe, as for similar tribes in the Andaman Islands, New Guinea and a few other pockets, life is an eternal Stone Age, with no inkling or conception of the huge and developed modern civilisations that surround them, threatening to engulf them.

I wonder about whether stranding people in pre-history is a good thing or not. Equally, this lot didn't seem to be very welcoming to outsiders.

But I also wonder if perhaps the entire human race are in fact the neolithic spear chuckers of the universe.

One of the great questions raised by astronomy and the vastnesses of the known universe it has uncovered for us is that of alien life. With so many opportunities for life to develop elsewhere in the universe, it is frankly unthinkable that this planet would be the sole example of a life-bearing planet.

So, in that case, if the universe teems with life, why hasn't it contacted us? There are a few possible answers: the lifeforms aren't conscious; they are way too far away to get in touch; the universe is huge and we're far out from the galactic centre and perhaps they haven't found us yet despite our radio waves and Voyager.

For leading physicist Stephen Hawking, there's no doubt life is out there. And in a new documentary, he explains why he thinks it might not be benevolent towards us.

"If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans," he explains.

Which brings me back to my moral conundrum.

We no longer enforce contact with civilisation upon Stone Age tribes because all our previous experience of doing so indicates that it is damaging, in terms of health, well-being, population size, and a number of other measures, to the indigenous peoples involved.

Without any example of a successful encounter between civilisation and such a tribe, we must assume that the reason why life in the universe has not contacted us is not actually because they fear us, but possibly because they fear what impact they would have on us.

Perhaps Earth is little more than a couple of straw huts, galactically speaking. Perhaps our solar system is nothing more than an empty corner of rainforest where no one goes.

In galactic terms, perhaps we are the spear chuckers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Pleasure Instinct

I've been reading Dr Gene Wallenstein's book slowly, because I'm not as up on the minutiae of brain receptors and human evolutionary development as perhaps I should.

Likely, neither are you. Hey, we have busy lives, right? So let me summarise part of what he says in this biological study of where pleasure comes from.

The human brain transits information and processes information by way of a massively complex system of biochemical transmitters and receptors.

Different receptors respond to different biochemicals, and hence are known as systems. Some of these biochemicals have cognate chemicals (ie they function the same as the body-built versions) in the real world.

Four systems appear to govern pleasure. The mesolimbic dopamine system is primarily in charge of wanting.

Then there appears to be three systems that oversee liking, the reinforcement mechanism of pleasure. According to the good doctor, these are the opioid system, the cannabinoid system and the GABA-benzodiazapene system.

Yes, you read that right. The human pleasure system rewards us (the liking half of the wanting and liking equation) with natural opioids, cannabinoids and benzodiazapene.

You may have guessed at the real-world cognates of those body-generated biochemicals: smack, weed and your classic tranquilisers.

Is it any wonder that drug addiction is so difficult to treat and so misunderstood by the populace in general, when the human brain rewards itself with substances which can now be bought on a street corner for a few quid in highly potent (if not downright toxic) forms?

But for all the poetry and lyrical words we opine about our human happinesses and the things we take pleasure in, ultimately pleasure comes down to a shot of brain-brewed smack, weed or tranks.

Even if what you're actually getting high on is a beautiful sunset, sex or a bar of chocolate.

There's a sobering thought, eh?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stop voting like your Grandad did

One of the many problems with the Irish electoral system (whose PR-STV system is pretty excellent) is that too many people vote tribally.

Not tribally like in the headcount that passes for political elections in the North, but tribally nonetheless.

Even stupider is the fact that there is no overriding sovereignty issue dividing the tribes in the South. It's an antique inheritance from the civil war. Why else do people continually vote FF and FG? Primarily because they consider themselves of the respective tribe.

I always find it fascinating when people cut loose from inherited opinion and think for themselves. To this end, the extension of VoteMatch to include Northern Ireland is fascinating.

My results didn't surprise me:
SDLP 51%
Sinn Fein 45%
Alliance 37%
UUP 35%
DUP 28%

What did surprise me what how little I agree with ANY of the parties on major issues. Hence I shouldn't be surprised when half of what the SDLP choose to do infuriates me, and more than half of what the Shinners do.

I'd love to see a version for the Republic. I think probably three-quarters of the electorate might be surprised to find how little they agree with the people they vote for. Perhaps they might even change their voting patterns as a result.

Wouldn't that be revolutionary?

Well, it would beat holding a sit-in with five mates at the Anglo-Irish Bank on a Saturday.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just can't keep their hands to themselves

French footballers, that is.

As if palming the ball into the net to cheat Ireland out of a World Cup final place was not ignominy enough, the French national soccer team appear to be grasping for ever greater shame.

Two of their most prominent players have just been questioned by police over allegations that they may have slept with underage prostitutes.

Or, as we call them in the civilised world, children.

Anonymous footballer's defence? The all-time classic (well, it worked here in Ireland and we're still waiting for the corrective surgery on the constitution), "I thought she was older."

I wonder how old he thought she was. Older than 27 year old married Muslim Franck Ribery? Older than 30 year old Sidney Govou, father to a five year old girl?

The age of consent in France is, incidentally, 18. The prostitute on at least one occasion is believed to be younger than that. And of course, the concept of 'consent' is highly debatable in a context rife with pimps.

What charming role models the French football team are for young people, altogether.

At this point, they couldn't accrue more negative publicity if it emerged that they sacrifice downs syndrome children to Satan before each game.

Cheats. And now (allegedly) child rapists.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The JC Skinner guide to trekking and camping

1. Backpacks are for poor people and students. Instead of carrying an unwieldy backpack, why not travel lightly and stylishly, bringing only a briefcase into the wilderness instead?

2. Hiking boots take too long to lace up. Instead, equip your feet with a nice pair of blue suede brothel creepers. They may not have quite the same grip when you're scaling rocks, but they are infinitely better looking.

3. Make sure you pack all the essentials for spending time in the wilderness. A hipflask of whiskey provides warmth, comfort, entertainment and functions as a decent insect repellant.

4. When trekking in hot weather, some people make the mistake of stripping down to light clothing, then slathering themselves in sunscreen to avoid burning. This is easily resolved by instead hiking in a full three piece suit with Panama hat, thereby ensuring no skin needs to be emolliated.

5. Make sure to stay up late drinking each night. After all, what is the wilderness for if not for raucous singing that would bring the police to your door in any urban environment? Don't worry about hangovers. Scientific research indicates that they hurt less than hiking across mountains in the first place.

6. Remember there are no emergency medical facilities in the wilderness, especially not in Third World wildernesses. So try not to fall off mountains, drown, pick fights with forest-dwelling freedom fighters or anything else that might lead to a slow and agonising death. On the other hand, poking tarantula nests with sticks and yelling at bears can be fantastic fun.

7. Of course, you could just stay in the nearest five star resort instead.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Volcano cloud closes in - Continent sealed off

Attention: News Editors

Pictures Editors

Transport / Environ Corrs.

Media Invitation

This evening, Micheal Panic-Stricken, Third Deputy Acting Assistant Secretary, Department of Transport, will brief the media after a meeting of the Government Taskforce on Half-Arsed Planning and Iodine Tablet Distribution, concerning the ongoing issue involving the volcanic ash cloud OF DOOM.

You are invited to attend or to send a representative, or are otherwise advised to paint your windows with white paint, and hide under the table or else in a cupboard until the all-clear is sounded," he whimpered earlier today.

"While it is true that Ireland is now sealed off from the civilised world, this is no reason for alarm," insisted Mr Panic-Stricken. "Ye could hide out up North if the dissidents haven't derailed the Enterprise. And the government has worked hard to ensure the continued ferry services from Dublin and Rosslare."

"We understand that many would-be emigrants are concerned that their attempts to leave this moribund, depressed, jobless shithole could be undone by this tragic volcanic disaster. But we are where we are, right under the volcanic cloud OF DOOM, so it's only by reverting to our traditional strengths - exporting people by boat like cattle - that we can ensure the ongoing green shoots of recovery."

Venue: Civil Service Banqueting Hall, National Emergency Co-ordination Centre, Kildare St., Dublin 2.

Refreshments: Tay and hang sangwiches (made with guaranteed dioxin-free pork) will be made available. Out-of-date iodine tablets will be served for dessert.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Last of the last

According to this morning's Bangkok Post, Europe is the last region to recover economically from the global financial disasters of the past few years.

While the US is showing the fabled green shoots, and Asia is en route to booming again, sluggardly old Europe is lagging behind with barely perceptible growth, major unemployment and ongoing banking crises.

And of course, Ireland is one of the weakest economies in Europe, which given the stiff competition from other messes like Portugal and Greece is pretty dire indeed.

The moral of the story is that we are last of the last, likely to still be suffering from NAMA hangovers long after the rest of the world economies are back on track.

It must be remembered that this is a direct result of the failures in government; the blatantly corrupt and incompetent Fianna Fail aided and abetted by the dewy-eyed amateurs of the Green Party.

If we don't hold them to account, and their hangers-on (the parish pump gombeen independent TDs, the banksters, the specudevelopers) they'll only do it all over again, as they've continually done so since the birth of the state.

Frankly, only an injection of backbone and hard work is going to sort Ireland out now, even if we do rid ourselves of the Fianna Fail cancer.

Where is that going to come from? Hardly from the boatloads of Nigerian scamsters and Roma beggars we imported like idiots to parasite off our ailing economy.

The only place it can come from is the greater Irish nation itself - the Irish in America who are sick of being patronised and ripped off by us, the Irish in Argentina still wrongfully denied their heritage by the racists in the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish in Britain and most of all the nearly 2 million Irish in the North.

We're going to have to throw ourselves properly on their mercy and ask for help. But only after we demonstrate our own intent to roll up the sleeves and do the hard work too.

Otherwise, we're going to be the last of the last for quite some time.