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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Last night’s spectacular electric storm put paid to any thought I’d be alone in my bed as bursts and rattles and booms brought the kids to me fairly quickly. Hunkering down in a mass of cuddles through blinding flashes and rumbles of thunder that shook our livers, conversation naturally turned to nature before broadening out toward what may hover beyond the power of a local light show, it being, no matter the magnificence, merely a little blip in the weather over a mere slip of land in just one of Earth’s oceans; Earth itself being a small bit of stuff amongst billions.

Perspective of place and significance isn’t an easy concept for kids, it being a child’s mandate to consider him/herself the center around which all else revolves until the socialization process seeps in and a sense of the importance of contribution shifts the pivot point … hopefully.

Humans, however, are hardwired to see the species as unique to the point of some dedicated idea that, although individually important only to a degree, we are the very definition of intelligent life … a frightening concept with Fox news on the air and all.

The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe is a mind-bender for many, the subject of much science and no little religious opinion.

On the science front, recent discoveries are tending to indicate the possibility of life on other bits of stuff.

Experts examining results from the Kepler telescope have identified more than 1,200 planets in orbit around distant stars, 54 of which are a similar size to Earth and in habitable zones from their suns.

The research follows several recent discoveries which point to the possibility of life on other planets.

There appears to be a rather strong NO on the idea of extraterrestrial life from the Christian side.

The Bible’s ‘big picture’ seems to preclude intelligent life elsewhere in God’s universe. But what about bacteria on other planets for example? It’s possible that God made these, but exceedingly unlikely. What would be their purpose? The entire focus of creation is mankind on this Earth; the living forms on Earth’s beautifully balanced biosphere are part of our created life support system.

No matter the background, it seems takes on the possibility of life elsewhere assume it will look something like us, carbon-based, water-reliant and built of blocks of DNA even though we have already found exceptions to at least some of those long-assumed rules right here on terra firma:

“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”

Is it possible that if we can be so wrong about what constitutes ‘life’ on our planet we are equally mistaken in our ideas of intelligent beings elsewhere?

With neutrinos maybe breaking a bunch of rules that have long parsed understanding of the basic of basics, if it turns out we’ve been wrong about how fast light can move, what else have we missed?

Our grasp of energy is challenged again in today’s news with this report on happenings in the Crab Nebula …

Astronomers have spotted gamma ray emissions coming from the Crab Pulsar at far higher energies than expected.

This challenges notions of how these powerful electromagnetic rays – like light, but far more energetic – are formed, researchers suggest in Science.

They found emissions at more than 100 gigaelectronvolts – 100 billion times more energetic than visible light.

When we speak of the “spark of life” are we not suggesting, even in our limited understanding, that energy may have as much to do with being as being carbon based?

Even the idea of ‘universe’ needs challenging, as what we have long thought the be-all-end-all could in actuality be two a penny

Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.

Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.

And if matter doesn’t matter?

Is it possible that we’re biased toward matter because that’s what we think we are, what we can see and can grasp?

And what about antimatter?

There is considerable speculation as to why the observable universe is apparently composed almost entirely of matter (as opposed to a mixture of matter and antimatter), whether there exist other places that are almost entirely composed of antimatter instead, and what sorts of technology might be possible if antimatter could be harnessed. At this time, the apparent asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics.

An unsolved problem, but as real as the nose on your face, as those neutrino chasers at CERN point out:

Antimatter – a mirror image of matter – is an idea so revolutionary that even its discoverer initially feared its consequences. It annihilates with ordinary matter, disappearing in a puff of energy – the ultimate scientific experiment.

This annihilation is a compelling scenario for science fiction. The first example was robots with brains having antimatter pathways.

Now antimatter is used every day in medicine for brain scans.

Transforming all its mass into pure energy, antimatter is the perfect fuel. Star Trek’s faster-than-light science-fiction spaceships use antimatter power, but research projects have also investigated the use of antimatter fuel for real.

What if it’s that “puff of energy” that is the foundation of ‘intelligent life’, rather than the box it comes in?

There was a time not so very long ago that people didn’t believe in bacteria because they couldn’t be seen until instruments came along allowing us to count and classify the buggers. What if we’re as surrounded by energy critters?

What if, in fact, we are energy critters merely shuffling about in temporary structures of cells and atoms?

So …

While watching the lightening and feeling the thunder, the energy firing between synapses in three carbon-based skulls shaped by DNA contemplated the nature of what makes us sentient beings … breathing in and out and reproducing facsimiles, or thought sparks that travel beyond the storm into the unknown … and wonder if shucking the shell, as we all will do someday, might just make the speed of light inconsequential to our travels between universes and time.

Big questions on stormy nights pass the hours quite nicely.

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In February of 1985 I got married. It was a lovely wedding, a nice day, the day after which my new husband, Scott, and I took off for some post-ceremony together time in San Luis Obispo … one of our favorite places on the planet.

We had been together for about five years by that point and had developed a reputation for being a bit of an odd couple … not in the Oscar/Felix sense, but somewhat outside the norm … a fact underlined and much commented upon by the fact that we took a computer with us on our honeymoon.

Sure, today no one would think of heading off for two weeks without at least a phone to keep them connected, with a laptop or an iPad considered little more extraneous than sexy lingerie and a toothbrush as not Tweeting events and updating Facebook status would be dereliction of duty, but in 1985?

Way back in those dinosaur days our cell phone was the size of a phone BOOK and a call cost as much as a bottle of decent champaign … and I’d always opt for the champaign. Postcards were about all anyone would expect from a newly married couple off debauching their way into the troth recently plighted

For us, though? Well, we had Mac, and we weren’t about to go anywhere without him … which is just about as close as I can get to saying I did a honeymoon with Steve Jobs.

I’d actually forgotten about having the Mac with us until today’s news reached me and all my personal Mac-related history flooded back.

My first Mac had 512K, having let Scott do the groundbreaking with his 128, and I’ve never looked back.

Of course, the shift from IBM Selectric typewriter to Macintosh was like the first breath after emerging from a smoke-filled room into clean mountain air, and with a small mountain of diskettes I soon learned now much easier it was to think and produce with MacWrite, even to MacDraw and MacPaint. I set my dot matrix printer flying into clackety hyperdrive cutting and pasting with no need of scissors or paste.

When bored, I’d get Mac to talk to me, putting words in his mouth I wanted to hear, with no idea I’d someday link the cadence to Stephen Hawking.

Over the years Mac taught me how to grow with him, to expand my boundaries to touch on the fringes of his as he taunted me with possibilities beyond my direct need and willingness to wrap my head around what he could get done for me.

That little box of smiling face greeted me daily for years, then was followed by a series of astounding innovations in various shapes, sizes and colors with welcomes I could choose and vary and tweak to my heart’s delight.

Many years later, a different husband moved me to a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean and Mac and I grew even closer. He became not only my workmate, but my lifeline to the rest of the world.

Yes, the rest is history, and a part of that history died yesterday. As one friend put it, he was the Thomas Edison of our time.

RIP Steve Jobs.

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I haven’t written about adoption in a rather long time … Heck! I haven’t written about much of anything … but an article in today’s BBC sets wheels to spinning and fingers to keyboard.

Hundreds of parents in Nepal are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their children have been adopted by Western couples without their consent.

The article goes on to say that there are “about 20, mostly female, agents operating in Kathmandu, obtaining children for orphanages …”, and I don’t doubt the accuracy of that estimation.

Reactions from the gut happen … my gut, too. The photo looks fake, the girl in it a faded insert, and the copy states the woman had just one female child yet the caption reads: Sarita Bhujel says that she is devastated that her baby daughter appears to have ended up in Italy.

Horrible. Rotten. Dirty tricks played on illiterate parents in poor countries and hopeful adoptive parents in more affluent lands that must be addressed.

Yep.

At the root of the problem … ?

Adoptive parents pay thousands of dollars in fees and “donations” to orphanages and government officials who process their cases, creating what many observers describe as an incentive for widespread abuse.

Many observers say that, heh? I’m sure they do, and to a certain extent they’d be right to do so.

But …

The root of the problem has nothing to do with potential adoptive parents; it goes so much deeper than that, deeper than the roots of the Himalayas themselves.

The issue is poverty, poverty compounded by corruption, a global circumstance of real life for many of the world’s people.

What happens to children in poor countries? Well, let’s take a look at Nepal, shall we, since this is where this story is set?

– Statistics shows that of about 7 million children between 5-14 years old working in Nepal

– The number of bonded children is estimated as 33,000

– It is estimated that at least 1 million children in Nepal are working as child labourers in difficult circumstances, often as slaves in carpet factories, brick kilns, domestic service, agriculture, plantation, construction, transportation, stone quarry, mines and as migrant workers.

– Available data suggests that approximately 7,000 girls between 10 -18 are lured or abducted into prostitution each year. In many cases, parents or relatives sell young girls into sexual slavery.

– As an illustration, it is believed that 200,000 of the prostitutes in India are Nepalese. 20% are thought to be under 16.

– Half of 100,000 girl prostitutes between 10-14 in Bombay are from Nepal and are kept in brothels against their will.

– Poor, uneducated young women from Nepal’s rural regions are trafficked to India to work as prostitutes and for bonded labour. Nepalese citizens also are trafficked to Hong Kong, Thailand, and countries in the Middle East. Government officials suspect that organised crime groups and “marriage brokers” are the primary traffickers in Nepal and state that parents and other relatives of trafficking victims are sometimes complicit.

– A survey done in Kathmandu on 52 commercial sex workers by the Department of Research and Planning suggests that out of the total commercial sex workers surveyed, 13% were between 13-17 years.

– The NGO CWIN alleges that 2000 brothels exist in Nepal and a high percentage of the prostitutes working were children.

– Notorious in their own right for appalling working conditions, Nepalese carpet factories, where 50% of the workers are estimated to be children, are common sites of sexual exploitation by employers, as well as recruitment centres for Indian brothels.

It has longed seemed that outrage aimed at adoption is a red herring. Sure, shit happens and it should stop and those who profit in any way through corrupt practices should be strung up …

BUT …

wouldn’t it be more helpful to take on the bigger issues of real life?

No. I’m not suggesting adoption should not be subject to examination, controls, effective protocol or that it’s the be-all-end-all-warm-fuzzy-fix, just that it’s too damned easy to slap “Adoption (insert negative emotive word here)” into a headline and prompt a diverting knee jerk that shifts focus from the shit that is our world, no matter how far from our neighborhood where everyone’s heard stories about bad adoptive parents who sent their kid back to Russia.

Countries that conduct business under a layer of sleaze are crooked on all levels and those making money selling kids aren’t picky about who they sell them to … not even biological parents more often than most would like to think … so how about a global push to chop the balls off any man who has sex with a child? That seems a much better use of time and funds and energy, seeing as how the bottom would fall out of the kiddy sex industry pretty fuckin’ fast if there was a real chance they’d be separated from their testicles … not to mention all the extra duck food around.

Of course, some will argue that such drastic action would rob girls of a way to make a living, and in far too many circumstances that’s exactly what child prostitution is, so there would have to be provisions made, but perhaps a population lighter in the scrotum might find ways of being more creatively concerned with methods of living better suited to the welfare of all.

As this in The Independent suggests, the turn against adoption has not been the answer to the needs of children.

Only 60 babies were adopted in England last year – startling evidence of how Britain’s system for adopting children is grinding to a halt despite record numbers being taken into care.

Thousands of children are being held in limbo in care homes, secure units and temporary fostering because so few adoptions are being signed off by social workers. Their guidance has been to try to keep families together, which has also led to some children being left with negligent or abusive birth parents for too long.

Sadly, I can almost hear the standing ovation inspired in some by the news of adoption “grinding to a halt” and hope they read far enough to get to:

Three-quarters of the children in care, or about 48,000, were placed with a foster family. Twelve per cent, almost 8,000, were cared for in residential accommodation. A third of young adults who left care were not in education, employment or training last year.

The world is not a fair place. Bad things happen to good people, and many of those people are children.

Adoption is not a perfect solution, nor is it an evil foisted on the world. It is nowhere near the scale or condition of the sale of children into prostitution, yet one could be led to equate the two and with adoption far less a challenge to halt making that focus an easy rant.

And a BBC headline that shouts, “NEPAL COMES TO TERMS WITH FOREIGN ADOPTIONS TRAGEDY” misses the point that Nepal … for one … needs to come to terms with corruption and the sale of its children to pimps, that children in Britain languish for years in foster care and institutions and that a lot of men will pay money to have sex with kids.

By the way, writing about this again after all this time has brought to mind why I don’t often have adoption as a topic any more …

It just fucks with my head.

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Ah, the subtle swaying of simple minds ...

Election furor in the US.

Some of that here, too, with the National Assembly vote very soon.

Palestine’s bid for membership in the UN will be vetoed.

An execution in Georgia took place.

Austerity measures are protested in Greece.

Facebook makes changes.

Just a few of the topics swirling this morning that bring to mind a recent discussion on democracy, what it means, what it is, and what’s do be done with it, spawned partly from last week’s declared International Day of Democracy marked on the 15th.

So, what exactly did that occasion celebrate?

democracy
diˈmäkrəsē
noun ( pl. -cies)

a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives : capitalism and democracy are ascendant in the third world.

• a state governed in such a way : a multiparty democracy.

• control of an organization or group by the majority of its members : the intended extension of industrial democracy.

• the practice or principles of social equality : demands for greater democracy.

ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from French démocratie, via late Latin from Greek dēmokratia, from dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule.’

As a quick read through the democratically organized Wiki shows, democracy comes in many different flavors.

You’ve got your Representative Democracy, your Consensus Democracy, your Deliberative Democracy, Cosmopolitan Democracy, democracy Representative, Parliamentary, Presidential (and Semi-Presidential), direct, inclusive,
participatory, Socialist, Sortition, Supranational and the Anarchists … any of which can be liberal … or not … characterized by Majority Rule, but, as mentioned, ” … it is also possible for a minority to be oppressed by a “tyranny of the majority”.

While there is no universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, equality and freedom have both been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times.These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes.

Nice idea, heh?

Those of us who were around during the time the US was busy wrestling dominos in the course of “saving the world for democracy” might be forgiven for thinking democracy a new-ish, western-ish concept since not a lot of talk about Mesopotamia, Phoenicia and India, cultures that adhered to democratic practices before the Greeks came up with the word, entered debates over whether or not dropping cluster bombs over Cambodia was a good plan.

Democracy went from being a Greek word to a Buzz word once … dum de dum dum … communism gave it something to bounce off of and resonate, and as is the nature of such things it became undemocratic to question the righteousness rightness of democracy.

It doesn’t take a deep investigation into history to see how that worked out. Do the term McCarthyism ring a bell?

During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person’s real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment and/or destruction of their careers; some even suffered imprisonment.

As Thomas Jefferson so aptly put it: A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

So, is democracy a red herring, a set of shiny, jangling keys designed to take our eyes off the prize of true freedom and call it healthy compromise?

American history is rife with praise for the democratic way of doing government, starting as it did from roots dug from monarch trees that had held the mountaintop for centuries, but perhaps the motivation was best summed up years later by that very British brain, Winston Churchill, when he said, ” … democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Unless the world ends in 2012, there is much more to come in the way of evolving systems of governing bits of our increasingly crowded planet. Power will shift, economies will weaken and strengthen in little relation to rightness or wrongness, wars will happen and winners will be touted as those holding the true path to glory. People will even adjust to Facebook altering the way feeds work.

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
~ John Adams

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Ten years ago today I was on a sofa in North Carolina staring into the beautiful eyes of my granddaughter who had just passed her first month on earth. My daughter had handed her into my care so she could get a bit more sleep and I was about as content as I’ve ever been with perfect, tiny fingers grasping one of mine as the baby girl dozed in my arms.

I lunged for the phone when it rang, hoping my daughter wouldn’t be disturbed, and was surprised, yet happy, to hear my son’s voice on the other end. It was very early in California, an unexpected time for him to be calling the East Coast.

“Mom,” he said, interrupting my queries as to what the heck had him up at the crack of dawn. “Turn on the TV.”

Tucking the phone under my chin and the baby against my chest, I fumbled for the remote to the huge set and clicked.

Of course everyone saw what I saw.

“What the fuck is happening?” I asked Jaren.

“We’re under attack, Mom.”

The second plane came in before I’d managed to absorb anything but terror, and like the rest of America the only words that came to mind were: Oh my god!

The juxtaposition of realities … the new life in my arms, the new horror in New York … could only compound the distress.

“What sort of world do you have now, Baby?” I asked.

Part of the answer I knew then: her world was one in which people drove planes into buildings full of other people.

In efforts to try to gain perspective, I conjured an image of another woman at another time holding another newborn as a radio announced the attack on Pearl Harbor, that woman asking the same question I just had just posed to the cosmos.

The specter rising from that was World War III.

Over the 10 years between then and now that has not happened. We have not experienced mass conscription or concentrated conflict inflicting colossal damage across great swathes of the developed world or food rationing or bombs dropping on our beds or that-country-against-this-country, but rather sporadic terrorist attacks and religious fanaticism and fear.

Civil wars and oppression and human rights abuses continue as they always have, people starve and fight and kill and rape and poverty breeds the hungry, the uneducated and the dangerous while wealth motivates those hungry for power and equally dangerous. While many strive to survive, others do what they can to protect, to inspire, to effect change for the positive to varying degrees of success and failure.

The world of my granddaughter turns out to be not much different, in human terms, than the one my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother … and so on … and I were born into — a world where people perform deeds of great kindness and acts of almost unimaginable horror.

No, my granddaughter will not be able to sling on a backpack equipped with a Swiss army knife and a couple of pints of contact lens solution then board a plane like I did. She’ll learn to travel without belts in slip-on shoes and allow 3 hours for check-in. She’ll probably never sip a cocktail in a rooftop bar overlooking a major city without at least some trepidation. She may look askance at those who dress and worship differently and choose to surround herself with the familiar for illusions of safety.

History will show her that paradigms shift, that deadly enemies, the evils incarnate, eventually become familiar trading partners no matter how dissimilar they may be in look and faith and culture and background as it absorbs the dead and those imprinted with images of fire and smoke and collapsing monoliths full of humanity pass along.

We no longer tremble at the thought of Japanese or Germans, no matter the price they exacted from the world only a bit more than half a century ago in their bids to accomplish their goals, but have contextualized the horrors and moved beyond as we comprehend new evil, new enemies,

This is how we humans do things. This is how we have always done things, and it’s history that dictates wrong from right as it divides winners from losers.

What will be far different for the children born with the rubble and toxic dust of the Twin Towers in their path are the impacts of events less dramatic in the making but much more in outcome and harder to live with — the results of the relentless attack of man on the planet.

There is no template for putting the climate back together after an onslaught, for negotiating a truce between rising seas and inundated land. No reconciliation can be won once patterns of weather are so drastically changed that the seas no longer function as Earth’s lungs.

Reparations will be futile and even discussion of them will set human against human, as will attempts to share out slices of the ever-diminishing pie. Once again, wars will be waged and many will die, a circumstance that will relieve a bit of Earth’s burden, but when she’s too wounded to carry on we’re done and all fights are over.

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Pierre Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

On the blog no topic is ever really dead, so no surprise at today’s resurrection of overpopulation of this planet by humans as issue du jour again.

A recent reference to Soylent Green as a menu item that would reduce burdens created by more mouths to feed on fewer resources brought recycling into the discussion. What the heck, heh?

As this article in today’s BBC points out, we’re quickly running out of room for storing all the empty containers we will all drop …

Resting beside our loved ones when the time comes is a reassuring notion for the living. Families pay thousands of pounds for land where generations can rest in peace together for eternity.

But in the UK at least, the ground is filling up.

Should I wish to, I could not be buried near to my relatives at Yardley Cemetery in south Birmingham. Space there ran out in 1962.

Similarly, I would struggle to find a place near another strand of my family in Halesowen. There is no room left underground there and other facilities at nearby Lye and Wollescote are expected to run out in the next four years.

What if I head south? I lived in Brighton once and a seaside burial sounds quite nice. But four of the seven cemeteries run by Brighton and Hove Council are already full, and of the three remaining, one is for Orthodox Jews only.

Yes, the days of great whopping tombs constructed over the illustrious dead are about done, and even the standard single 3’x7’x77″ plot is only a short term stopgap measure in some places.

Some countries use a “double decker” approach to avoid overcrowding.

In Germany, graves are reused after only 30 years, the existing remains usually being exhumed and cremated. In Australia and New Zealand, “dig and deepen” is carried out in urban areas as a matter of routine.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, says it is time to change tack.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he says. “Re-use is common in lots of other countries, and was common practice in the UK until the 1850s. I’ve spent some time with some German gravediggers and there the limit is 30 years, but people aren’t happy with that, they want it lowered to 20.”

With my son buried between my father and my grandfather within feet of my great-grandparents, the idea of breaking up the family appalls me, but I do understand the need to free up space in areas more populated than the tiny town in Northern California where they lie. Even there the population of dead outnumbers the living by about 300%.

Those laid to rest in one spot in perpetuity add up over the centuries, after all, and even though the real estate per occupant may be no bigger than a broom closet acres can covered in just a couple of generations. Where habitation has been continuous for hundreds of generations … well … a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris gives a clue to what crowding looks like.

Cremation, of course, is not only an option but a societal dictate in some cultures. There’s no doubt it leaves more land available for the living, but it’s not everyone’s idea of an appropriate exit strategy.

With death being such a huge part of life, traditional methods of dealing with our dead are almost hardwired, and although some of us couldn’t care less what happens with our form once we shuck it those we leave behind usually react with strong feelings and attachments to one comforting protocol or another.

Even the realm of the dead is changing, however.

With space for the living growing more spare and precious and increasing concerns over our impact on our Earth, another method of dealing with the dead has been invented … and patented.

Promession may just be the way to go in future.

Promession is different from all other alternative burial methods because it is a gentle and clean process which uses vibration to reduce the body remains.

The method is based on three steps:

— Reducing the body of the deceased to a fine powder, thereby allowing subsequent decomposition to be aerobic. This is achieved by submerging the body in liquid nitrogen, making the remains so brittle that they shatter into a powder as the result of slight vibrations. The powder is then dried, reducing the deceased remains to around 30% of their original body weight.

— Removing and recycling metals within the powdered remains.

— Shallow-burying the powder in a biodegradable casket.

It is clear that to produce liquid nitrogen or LN2 on its own would be relatively costly, however this is offset by other factors when it is used to replace environmentally hazardous alternatives; Nitrogen is a by-product of the essential oxygen industry and for every 1 part oxygen, there are 4 parts of nitrogen produced; therefore the Promession method effectively recycles this waste product which otherwise is released back into the atmosphere.

Sweden, Great Britain and South Korea are already close to opening Promatoria (facilities for Promession-based funerals) that will fill the bill environmentally and legally.

The volume of remains left is about a third of the original body weight; the advantages include avoiding the release of pollutants into the atmosphere (for instance, mercury vapour from dental fillings) and the rapid decomposition of the remains (within 6 to 12 months of burial) and the return of the body to life’s cycle. Promession allows for families to be buried in the same plot without disturbing previous remains and meets the requirements of new European Union pollution laws.

It is yet to be seen if Promession will catch on, but I suspect some will sign up to have liquid nitrogen with their obsequies. It is more palatable than ending up on a cracker.

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I am so confused …

Apparently we now live in a world where men are so impressed with balls they have their dogs fitted with fake ones so the world can see their stuff wag, yet women can’t seem to decide if their lips should be bigger (see photo) or smaller.

While those stuck to a woman’s face are seen to need invasive plumping, trimming the lower lips is the nip-du-jour for the tuck down under

Dr Sarah Creighton and colleagues believe the future demand for so-called “designer vagina” operations or labial reductions is potentially infinite and is driven by society’s wider and growing desire for cosmetic surgery in general and changing expectations about what is a desirable appearance for women.

“It’s shocking, particularly because we are seeing girls who are really young. They are asking for surgery that is irreversible and we do not know what the long-term risks of the procedure might be.”

She said latest figures for England show about 2,000 of the procedures are paid for by the NHS each year.

“That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a massive boom industry in the private sector.”

According to the BBC, girls as young as 11 are lining up to have their lines lined up.

Sigh …

It has long been the case that while people are starving to death in some parts of the world, others are busily clogging their arteries every day with stuff containing enough calories to sustain entire villages for a month, but this idea that women in flourishing societies are queuing and paying for a version of the cut that can be called mutilation in the ‘developing world’ is also appalling.

Female genital mutilation is the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia. In its most severe form, a woman or girl has all of her genitalia removed and then stitched together, leaving a small opening for intercourse and menstruation. It is practiced in 28 African countries on the pretext of cultural tradition or hygiene.

Sure, FGM should be considered brutal abuse, but it is at root a cultural dictate that demands women’s bits conform to whatever it is a culture decides the form must take. Are we now moving toward the same, albeit with surgical blades instead of broken shards of glass?

While men so proudly dangle and fondle the holy scrotum no matter how unbalanced the hang, how hairy and wrinkly and bumpy and squishy the bag, it seems women have come to the thought that anything excess of what they had about age five is somehow obscene and in need of surgical intervention.

Really now, Ladies, it’s 2011! Did we not fight long and hard for the right not to have to be tight-lipped?

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