Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The End of the Pickled Eel Blog - Almost

I have been working on transferring this blog to (this blogsite here) something that will give me a bit more flexibility in how I present my material. It is a work in progress (you will see I am still having some fun with the formatting) but it is finally at a point where I think a reader can survive navigating their way around the site.

I hope you like it. Let me know your thoughts if you have time to leave a comment.

The new blog is at

If you are an email subscriber please resubscribe on the new page - I am using a different email service to the one I use here. Assuming of course you continue to wish to have my posts drop into your inbox. THANKYOU.

Feel free to forward this on to anyone who you think might enjoy the occasional digression in their web reading.

The Last Post (if you have a bugle sound it now).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Flight Loads in the US - Getting Some

If I was was to reflect on my travel this last 12months I would ruminate over some of the unexpected destinations I found myself heading towards, obscure places visited and always the remarkable people I have met. Some old friends. And some new ones. The process of getting there has been interesting as well. The nightmare which is now Heathrow Airport stands out. And so too packed aircraft. I can understand there being no spare seats out of Baghdad - that kind of makes sense. In fact packed aircraft are now the norm although the thrill of flying (I am still a ten year old boy in that regard) tends to outweigh the small seats, lack of legroom and awful food. (Can anyone beat freeze dried carrots in a small plastic packet (flight from LA to Dallas)?) With cheaper airfares, the demands of business, and 2001 receding into the background (though the chart here barely registers a minor blip in 2001), more and more people are taking to the skies. In fact the expectation is that commercial airline passengers will double in the next ten years, explaining the massive buildup of global airlines which are creating their hubs in the Middle East. And then there is China's incredible airline expansion which has yet to really impact us. But it is not all bad. Being packed into a seat on a small MD80 making a connection from Philadelphia to Dallas earlier this year I got chatting to about six or seven American travellers in the rear of the aircraft. The cramped confines made for an intimate setting of sorts and we spent the couple of hours in the air talking about family and business but mainly literature. As we descended into the behemoth which is Dallas Forth Worth airport the woman next to me declared (imagine a slow southern drawl), for all the rear cabin to hear, "boy, with an accent like that you could get some." There was much mirth. Sometimes being an Australian abroad can be good for the ego - even if you are getting mileage out of something you have no say over. It was of course a standout moment in 2007.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sydney Storm

Some dogs smell them coming and hide under the hedge. Others smell them coming and spin on their chains in insane, barely comprehensible excitement. I relate to the latter. Standing in the middle of a cracking storm is an almost spiritual experience. In fact I suspect it is - completely. Sprinkled, hosed down, baptised with a thorough deluge that hammers every sense. It does help if it is a tropical storm and the rain is warm. But being caught in a storm of any sort sharpens the senses, gets "up your fur" and makes you feel very much alive. Sadly for this one I had to settle for the office window today - though 45 minutes earlier I had been out under a clear and sunny sky eating lunch. This photo (courtesy of Fergus Woolveridge at the Sydney Morning Herald) catches the storm that hit our office this afternoon - and it is hitting right where our office is. A remarkable burst of sudden rain from a ruptured black tank above us. No warning, no spitting, leaking drips. Just a boom and a splash, and you're on your way home for a change of clothes if you didn't see it coming.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Leunig Lessons For Life

It is that time of the year again when those of us who have resorted to online newspapers pick up a print copy - the Leunig calendar is out. Was out, on Saturday. His ability to distil the essence of an idea in a few simple lines, and convey a poignant message at the same time is to be envied, admired and even emulated. If we can. Here he is again (click on the label to see the post on him from last year).

Evel Knievel

Here is a chap who attempted to kill himself year on year and yet he managed to survive until his 69th year. Passed away from an illness or illnesses that may well have come about from bashing himself up with his motorcycles. And other vehicles. Here is a name that we were all familiar with in the 1970s but a face that had vanished since. Like that of Leif Garrett. Where on earth has he gone? Or the Bay City Rollers?! Boy was I seriously peeved with those jocks - it was pretty hard to compete with life size posters of music heart throbs that distracted our own heart throbs, causing them to swoon over them rather than the blokes in the third row with long shorts and a dodgy haircut. But Knievel had a different impact on us altogether, perhaps best measured by the fact that his name entered our lexicon as teenage boys and has remained there ever since. To to an "Evel Knievel" was to do something so daring and outlandish that it was worthy of peer respect - not always an easy thing to achieve. A broken bone or a suitably impressive gash always helped. In a community where we had reasonably ready access to vehicles, bikes or motorbikes (one of my fellows had even built a motorbike with a wooden frame!) there were all sorts of ridiculous and dangerous "Knievel" challenges posed and attempted. If our parents had any idea what we were attempting on mate's motorcycles they would have grounded us immediately for our own safety. But even without vehicles a leap into a river from a high rock was a "Knievel" leap. I am sure he would not be surprised but Evel had a big impact on us as impressionable country boys back in the early seventies. Its a sad day when a part of your formative fabric, even if it is now a faint, even indiscernible thread, passes away.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A China Dedication

I have been to China a few times now but a trip I undertook with some friends in September 2006 was a stand out experience. In part for the companionship of my fellow travellers. But really for the connections we made in a grassroots way with some of the citizens of that country. We were fortunate to cover some "off the beaten track" places but wherever we went we met the most remarkable folk. It was a poignant way to be reminded that when you meet, know and perhaps understand a little about a neighbour, it is that much harder to get into a fight with them. Wherever we went we met people just like ourselves, with the same hopes, dreams and desires. Wherever we go we are indeed all God's children. I hope you enjoy the compilation, it captures a fraction of the variety we encountered.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Land Flowing with Honey and Diesel

Recollections of an attempt to seize raw honeycomb from a live hive, nestled out of the way in a willow tree.

Norman Mailer and Bad Sex

I do like this piece of news. It tickles my irony bone. So to speak. On my shelves I have a select handful of books on writing ( I know, I need more). Perhaps the most useful in terms of unleashing my pen has been Stephen King's On Writing, a surprisingly well written piece on writing. Bet he worked hard on that title. It's one of those volumes that is read in a sitting but every couple of pages you are being struck by the "bleeding obvious". Quite liberating really. I read Bag of Bones immediately afterwards (he was drafting that novel when he was working on On Writing), and I found myself testing the theory as I read. Putting it into practice has been a far tougher gig.

Another volume which sits up there with On Writing is Norman Mailer's The Spooky Art. Norman of course is famous for his irascible personality and his so called "innovative journalistic" style. I figured you could do a whole lot worse than reading what Norman has to say about writing when trying to figure out your own writing.

So to read in today's news that Mr Mailer, also famous for recently becoming deceased, has won this years prize for the worst account of sex in fiction. The Bad Sex in Fiction Award no less. Not a bad way to back up a couple of Pulitzers.

Here is how he earned it. From his novel "The Castle in the Forest." It gives me immense encouragement. On writing mind you.
"So Klara turned head to foot and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth and took his old battering ram into her lips."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Singapore Sign of Our Times

Notice anything odd about this sticker? It is the reverse (inside) view of a Singapore car registration sticker. Taken as we drove up the freeway when its message caught my eye. It is pretty nondescript actually and I paid it no attention for most of the trip. But then its assumption leaped out at me and I had to laugh - for only in a place like Singapore could such an assumption be made. Albeit a reasonably safe one. That assumption is simply that anyone involved in an accident will be equipped with a camera so 12 (2 x 6) photos can be taken. Cell phones pretty much equip everyone with a camera these days. But I am sure there are plenty who drive who are not fitted up with appropriate optics. And of course there is the matter of "6". Not 3. Not 5. Not 10. When I asked my Singapore friend (driver) about the importance of "6" - he had no idea. But it is a part of Singapore's DNA that they be so precise and so prescriptive. And the irony is of course that I had a camera with me with which to take the photo.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Snow Dump in New York

Thanksgiving 2003

We made it to the meeting this afternoon after scrubbing up and brushing the light dusting of snow out of our hair. But were feeling the cold. After slushing and sliding our way down through Manhattan we made it into the hospital and into the manager's office. It was on the fifth floor which was not very high by New York standards but far enough above ground to get a good sense of the canyon streets running through this place. Fortunately I was not doing the talking (well , not much). And I was seated with a view down the street while our client was sitting with their back to the window. In the two hours we were there I watched the snow get more and more horizontal, faster and faster, and thicker and thicker, until I was unable to see the other side of the street. As we stepped back into the street the snow was cutting our faces and there were hardly any locals out and about. Sensible people. Carey stopped here for a frozen pose in the Washington Square Park before we ran for a diner in Greenwich Village were we were meeting up with friends. As we thawed out we sat with slack jaws as we watched the snow howl up the canyon - you could not see past the kerb by now. Poor Carey made the mistake of heading for the bathroom just as we were finishing up. Out of his overcoat by now and dressed only in business attire we convinced a Mexican waitress (who had served us ground up, raw Chihuahua (or so we were convinced, it was so awful)) to let Carey know we had headed off up the street. Taking his overcoat we then propped in an alcove and watched an exasperated friend step into the blizzard, put his head down and trudge out of sight into the whiteness. We counted to ten, then ran after him, catching him looking around for his sense of humour and somewhere to buy a new overcoat. He had decided he had lost us in this Alaskan wilderness whiteout. Fortunately he found his sense of humour in one of his overcoat pockets or somewhere and we spent the rest of the afternoon following in the footsteps of Amundsen as we alternatively froze then thawed our way from cafe to cafe, bookshop to wonderful bookshop and finally found our way back to Times Square, tired and cold but as happy as ten year old boys in a puddle. Which was about the sum of it!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What are the Churches Not Doing?

I am no social commentator, not do I have aspirations to be one. But as a "member" occasionally things just leap out and slap you when they point at our society and highlight our shortcomings. In the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend there was an interesting article about a small company which has built its business around the cleanup required after a death (accidental or otherwise) or where a site is so filthy no regular cleaner will go near it. Council contracts for abandoned apartments and that sort of thing. They do a good job I am sure. But their observation about cleaning up the apartment of a derelict struck home. One of the cleaners said " one should live like that(in a "pigsty") It is great to be able to help make his life a little better. Rightly or wrongly the reporter went on to say "This sort of work used to be done by charities or nuns or concerned people in the community. It is now done by cleaning contractors such as Gabby Simpson."

Well I am not sure about you but it strikes me as a pretty sad state of affairs that our social safety net, our network of care, is reduced to not only contractors but to cleaning contractors!! Come on! Good on Gabby and her cleaning contractors for having the attitude they do. But shame on the rest of us for letting things get to a point where a reporter observes that in our community one of the key groups we expect to be best tuned into the needs of the poor and needy - the church - is not so tuned in. OK, there is a reasonable argument that plenty of churches are pulling their weight (here is one I know). But church or no church, our community is confronted by the fact that too many in our community live and die alone and none of us are aware until their lonely deaths hit the press - usually salaciously since some have rotted in situ for months and in one case for more than a year. Too many of these in Sydney these last couple of years. I sincerely hope we can do better than leaving these people up to our forensic cleaning contractors. Who incidentally, are usually on site when it is far too late!

Hidden Piper in Xian

It is a not uncommon cliche of those who observe China that these are a people comfortable being in close proximity with each other. They live right on top of each other and being comfortable around other human beings is something that is part of the their DNA it seems. Certainly they have a sense of personal space which is VERY different to our Australian culture, which likes to put wide open spaces between us, even between those who live in our capital cities. (Want to see a bunch of Australians at their most uncomfortable? Insist they crowd into an elevator or commuter train!)

But that does not mean the Chinese don't appreciate their space. They seek it out in all sorts of ways and at different times of the day. In Xian I was in the habit of getting out as early as I sensibly could, to walk around the old Muslim quarter, eating their doughy breakfasts with them and wandering through Lianhu Park as they went through their exercise rituals. One morning I heard the clear, haunting sound of a flute carrying across the park and initially assumed it was being piped across a sound system. But as I walked around the lake I realised the sound was coming from a bushy knoll. When I climbed through the bushes and across a handful of rocks I found this flautist (I think that is what he is) playing his music. In his own space. A few like me had come to investigate the sound, and a couple sat and tapped along, keeping time with their feet. Everyone else ignored him and he had his own place and space in the middle of one of the most ancient and well lived-in cities on the planet. It was a magic time and place for me as well.

Here he is in the video, lost in his own music and creating a special place for the rest of us in the park and under the bushes on the knoll. At the end of the piece (I regret not filming more of it) he signed to me that the music was about a train - I fancy the sound of a horn can be heard in there somewhere. Travel in China is all about these special moments.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Drawing Attention to a Killer

Here is an interesting dilemma which I find rather intriguing. Take your spent fuel rods and bury them somewhere other than near the Hudson River. Then warn off the accidental and the curious who might want to dig the stuff up again - not a good idea if you are planning on dying in your sleep at a ripe old age. Here is the dilemma - what you write on the warning signs might be good for now. We all know the radioactive fan symbol and of what it warns. But what about this stuff that hangs around in lethal doses for ten thousand years. Those warning signs need to be legible AND understandable in ten thousand years as well. The text shown here tells the opening lines of the poem Beowolf. Believe it or not it is in English. The shift in language over 1000 years has been dramatic and few outside of Old English classes can read this text - not even I who spent three years studying the language. I am pretty rusty now. Look how many languages remained a mystery to us that were only 4,000 years old. Clearly warnings around radioactive waste need to have some ready currency in 10,000 years.
An interesting challenge that is actually being addressed by some of America's scientists. They flag some scenarios that speak to human nature as much as anything else. So we put up warning signs, saying "don't dig here, a horrible death awaits." That did not deter those who dug around the tombs of ancient Egypt or of Persia. Indeed, the more vociferous the warning, the greater the attraction. An archaeologist in the year 9007, whose hair has not already naturally receded from his pate and fallen out his ears, might think that the urgent warnings are signs that he is on the cusp of a famous and wealthy find. After all there would be no immediate signs of ill health. One of the more interesting solutions is to seal and bury the stuff without any signs or warnings. If someone is smart enough to find, the hope is that perhaps they are smart enough to be carrying Geiger counters with them - not always a safe bet with boffins. Thinking practically that is.

The Economist carried this article on future proofing nuclear waste bunkers that caught my eye.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lashes for Being Raped - Saudi Hypocrisy

There is a breathtaking hypocrisy in the news floating around overnight that a Saudi woman has been awarded 200 lashes and a prison sentence because she was in a car with a man who was not her relative. Apparently she was gang raped in that trip. The lads get off with a comparatively light sentence but as a victim she suffers this. It is of course her fault - if she was not a woman and not in the car then the men would not have been provoked into raping her!! The hypocrisy is even more breathtaking when in Riyadh you watch the boys picking up the girls at the shopping centre. In broad daylight. Or sit in certain hotel bars on Dubai Creek and watch the Saudi men march in (usually in pairs) and pick up their East European hookers. One (loose) rule for the men. Lots of rules for the women - which damn them for being women just to start with.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New York Blizzard

Yesterday afternoon I caught the Amtrack up from Philly. I planned on working but it was freezing outside and warm as toast inside. I think I only heard three bars of clickety clack music and I was asleep. I woke just as we arrived at Penn Station. I had an address for the hotel which I saw was in 7th Avenue. I counted the blocks and figured there was only a short distance to travel. I had a case for each hand, was wearing only a suit and business shirt and in the warmth bliss of the station figured this would be a quick and bracing trip. After a block I can confirm the bracing, but not the quick. Stupidly I walked past a man selling mittens of a dollar. Not one man actually. About five. By the time I had cleared the station they were well gone. So on I pushed. Block after block after block. Across Broadway, up 7th Ave, through Times Square and on and on. Slower and slower. More and more braced - stiff. I did not realise just how stiff until I arrived at the hotel reception and was unable to speak, unable to put my cases down and appearing like a mute before the rosy faced receptionist. She seemed to know what was going on and pointed me at a corner near a heater, beside which which I thawed, eventually released my hands and then attempted to sign in again. But even though I could mumble (the jaw needed massaging to help it along) I could still not hold a pen. She accepted a scrawl.

This morning I was more rugged up but we ventured out (on 7th Ave rather than the pavement, with large chunks of ice smacking into the ground every now and then from off the skyscrapers, warning us off) to meet a prospective client, only to make it two blocks before a snow flake stopped us in our tracks. We glanced at each other then continued on. By the end of the block it was falling heavily enough to dust us. We back tracked and purchased beanies and mittens (at which point this photo was taken) and just as well since in the intervening minutes a blizzard whipped across the city and the first dustings had turned into an assault in which you could barely hold your eyes open. By the time we scouted out the location of our client we looked like a couple of cold and bedraggled half-beats. We have an appointment elsewhere this afternoon - lets see what that looks like in this weather. And if we can scrub up sufficiently to make the right impression.

Thanksgiving 2003

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Solomon Islands - Frame Up

We have only been here three days and already we have learned the routine. Get going at first light. It is as humid as a warm bath but at least the sun is not frying us. Work like crazy with the sweat sluicing off us. Hats are necessary first to keep the salty water out of our eyes, the sun off us a secondary role. Tool handles are slippery. Clothes cling - fortunately an open weave shirt (as open as sackcloth but not as coarse) I bought years ago in India is doing what it was supposed to do and the breeze shifts through it occasionally while the sun is kept off. All the locals are sensible people - they sit in the shade and watch us slave away. No amount of encouragement works - although one snowy haired young fellow is always keen to help while a couple of the men chip in every now and then. We work as hard as we can in the morning because, as regular as clockwork the rain tips down in the afternoon and washes us out. We rigged some canvas over the generator and kept going in the first couple of days but the talk at the moment is that we will be able to take the afternoons off since we have gotten ahead of the schedule a little. I have been impressed by the two professional carpenters who have taken this rosewood, rough cut from the jungle, and turned the framing into something that would not look too out of place on a building site at home. With a well drained slab however (it lifts in the middle) getting everything straight and square was a test of wit, builders shortcuts and patience. We fetched timber and laid it out while the professionals scratched their heads and muttered to themselves as they worked it out. Its clear this clinic is going to be the absolute best we can build. And damn it, this is infectious. I could easily stay here and do this forever - building something for those less resourced than us might be hot and sweaty and muscle aching work. But its a real pleasure that warms us all.
(Click on image for a better view)
April 2003

I Married a Dog

There is a wonderful line quipped in Ghostbusters by Dr Venkman (Bill Murray) when he rather nonchalantly explains to his colleagues that his girlfriend, now turned into a hellish demon with a canine disposition of Cerberus, is just that, a dog. "So, she's a dog..." It is typical of Venkman's understated throw away humour but its a line that snapped to mind last night when the Hindustan Times picked up a story of an event that is not uncommon in India - a person marrying an animal. But AP picked it up as well and it was splashed across the Sydney Morning Herald today. According to all reports this marriage was one of atonement, the groom having not only felt aggrieved for stoning and killing two rutting dogs years earlier, but was now convinced his stroke and other illnesses were a direct result of that culling. Marriage would appease the gods. Perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. After all it looks like he is doing his own ghostbusting. By all accounts he can divorce the dog with no ill effects and is not precluded from marrying a two legged creature (bird?) when he feels that is appropriate. In the meantime he has no in-laws to concern himself about, he has not had to add an extra room onto the house, his toothpaste tube can continue to be squeezed just the way he wants and the cost of the reception was kept to a minimum. Her family had no guests and while the groom had a feast all she needed to sate her hunger was a bun. Training her to fetch slippers will be a career enhancement, not a red neck sexist approach to living together, and "bitch" will be a term of endearment. Sounds like a marriage made in ...well, India of course.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Confused Chinese Pirates

In the spirit of the craziness that can come out of China, witting or otherwise (movie titles and packing instructions) the following is hillarious. At first glance this DVD cover looks pretty normal. But take a close look at the back cover. The pirate graphics specialist has grabbed text from a variety of places to compile the back cover. Reference to "Arnold" ("back better than ever") to start with - I can only guess this refers to the Californian Governator. In the text we start with reference to Michael's movie but it soon morphs into a review of "Laws of Attraction" and the credits are nicked from "Shanghai Surprise". All those English characters look alike so it kind of makes sense. The brazen plagiarism is breathtaking but the publish and be damned approach underpins some of the humour in this. Of course the irony of the "What Controvosy?" header would be lost on the pirates. And no, don't ask me where I got my hands on this DVD but thanks JP for bringing it to my attention. (Clicking on the image should get you a better view).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Escape from Colditz

My boyhood years were spent with my siblings in small rural town in Otago, New Zealand. More rural than town, our upbringing had a Huck Finn flavour about it in some respects. A well established and fond memory are the "contraptions" built by one of the brothers, the building of one being distilled in this (very) short story.

Escape from Colditz
A Story by PickledEel

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Walking Through the Roman City of Jerash

I took some photos and video when in Jordan recently. An earlier blog refers to that visit but the video gives a better feel for that place. I loved being able to walk through a place that gave such a sense of historicity yet connection with its inhabitants - all at the same time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Eating Squirrels in New Jersey

For those of who are not Americans, and/or who live outside of the CONUS there is a quip which explains the quirky, bizarre and just plain weird. It is simply "only in the US", usually said in a condescending tone, the combination of which helps the listener understand that there is a rational reason for the weirdness. Most commonly used when referring to the escapades of Hollywood. Here is one from the other coast that falls in that basket though. It goes something like this:

False alarm: New Jersey says it's once again safe to eat squirrels. Earlier warnings about excessive lead in the rodents that live near one of the Garden State's toxic waste sites was caused by a malfunctioning blender that they used to "process the squirrel's tissue samples," according to the federal government. Full article under this title:

Have no fear New Jerseyans, the toxic waste hasn't made it unsafe to eat squirrels after all

So what is the "only in the US" element hidden in this article? The squirrel element of course. Everyone else would be concerned about the toxins, real or imagined. Here the city council are pleased to announce squirrel is back on the menu!

Born in A Solomon Islands Dog Kennel

On our third day at Fauabu we had a look at the existing medical facilities. They are pretty primitive. The clinics to which the locals come, emerging from the jungle along invisible tracks, are extremely rudimentary. It is the post natal and post "op" care that we are building this ward for. And if we needed reminding of the need (we didn't really) this morning's visit got us focused. Here is the delivery room. Girls walk out of the bush, deliver their babies on this table and then recuperate on a veranda before walking back to their village. If there are a couple of deliveries happening at the same time then the spillover uses the floor. Perhaps what struck us most forcibly was the fact that this third world facility was operating only an hour or so flying time from first world hospitals and resources in Brisbane. But the lingering impression is the pride with which those who run the clinic showed us around. It is not much better than a dog kennel (one of the lads muttered he would not let his dog give birth in here) but it is all these trained nurses have got.

April 2003

Monday, November 05, 2007

Not so Sleepy Wellington - but Still Windy

I thought when I interviewed with Eric that my next overseas trip was going to be back into Asia but I ended up in New Zealand last week. In Wellington to be precise. Which is where the New Zealanders hide their politicians. In a building that the locals call the Beehive. It kind of looks like one of those upturned wicker type beehives , though nothing like the boxes we used to raid as kids - there were no bears in our woods doing that. It was the local ten year old boys, who would have copped a hiding if we had ever been caught. Wellington for me is always about memories of the Wahine disaster in 1968, also marked for being the year one of my sisters was born. Later I sailed into Wellington from Lyttleton and the bow of the Wahine was still protruding from the harbour waters. It has long gone but I still see it there in my minds eye. A buoy still marks the spot. Interestingly when I was there last week the winds that blew about town approached some of the speeds that lashed the harbour when that ship went down. Wellington has changed a lot since I was there in the early 1970s but it has a slow country town air which is pleasant. You can walk the length of the CBD very quickly but a slow stroll takes you through a quite cosmopolitan dining and drinking scene which is not what I have ever associated with this very windy place. I happened to be there in February actually and the businessman I was with for lunch bumped into two ex Army friends as we walked to lunch. Men he had not seen since his Army days. Its that sort of village.

The video here catches a more recent ferry heading for the harbour mouth, then the view out over Wellington (with the QE2 in port) and then some views of the Malborough Sounds as we headed back to Sydney.

Jews are Smarter than the Average Bear?!

Race is repository of IQ points apparently. According to a reporter sympathetic to the notion and who attended a symposium on the subject at the American Enterprise Institute. Certain Jews apparently demonstrate higher IQs than other demographics. Some Jewish communities apparently flash up an average of 107-115+ of those points when the global average is about 100. It would be interesting to know just how rigorous the testing was. I wonder from a slightly cynical standpoint – I swotted my IQ tests before I went through my officer training examinations. Not that I saw any test set by the military which I had seen in my rehearsals. But putting the brain to that sort of training and discipline, and having some practice at breaking down a problem presented in a particular way, meant I not only completed those timed tests you are not supposed to complete but easily packed 20 or 30 points onto the result. Some of my colleagues, who swotted their university exams like mad were horrified that I swotted my IQ exams – somehow that was not the same thing. I am not sure what their reasoning was but it seemed a reasonable approach in my book.

So Jews are allegedly smarter – if IQ points ever really mean anything. Their claims raise some interesting questions about race, Darwinian theory, comparative intelligence of Christians, the impact of historical events like the holocaust, and pogroms throughout history. Not to mention the matter of being a tight knit demographic which tends to marry and interact within its own bounds- thanks to that round of instruction from Mt Sinai, reinforced by lessons such as the Exile into Persia (Israelis are still trying to get back there lately I see!) Plenty of comments on the issue can be found at the Slate site. Based on my own experience of IQ tests and being able to load up a result I think the following probably apply:

Jews are great swots.

Those tightknit Jewish communities pass around volumes of previous IQ tests for others to swot up on.

Jews own and manage some of the greatest libraries in the world (just don’t tell the Vatican) and those old IQ tests are carefully catalogued, examined, distilled and methodologies are circulated to all Jews.

Schooling for your Bar Mitzvah is really a thorough grounding in IQ test papers.

Circumcision means you are less likely to cock up your IQ results (theory only applies to 50% or thereabouts of the population)

The Shin Bet and Mossad knock off any competitors before they can get to the examination room.

IQ tests are written by Jews.

And in the spirit of those supposed results I would hasten to add that there is no scientific basis to my theories. Which is a long winded way of me saying IQ metrics are bunk at best. But then I work with a Jew who has a brain as big as a house and who definitely is smarter than the average ah, person.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Paul Tibbets and That Nuclear Bomb

Paul Tibbets made news again yesterday with the announcement of his death. (NYT Obituary) Paul was the pilot who flew the Enola Gay (named after his mother) from which the nuclear weapon was dropped on Hiroshima. The news of his death prodded surprising reactions from some in the the newspaper blogs I have been reading. I have the view, perhaps historically driven, that the decision to drop these two weapons was sensible when weighing up the costs of Operation Olympia, the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. With more than one million casualties anticipated, the code breakers indicating the Japanese military factions had convinced the country to fight on and that the defences of the areas into which Olympia was to be directed had been reinforced, combined with Iwo Jima and Okinawa giving a foretaste of what a hometown fight was going to look like (pretty nasty), the two bombs made a lot of sense. But sixty or so years on and our revisionist perspectives prompt comments and views I don't entirely understand - some thought Tibbets' (apparently) painful death was a sign that he got what he deserved from God (just as well God is not a vindictive fellow isn't it?!). Others felt he was an officer simply doing his job (I am sympathetic to that view) while others felt he could have said "no" to the mission - clearly failing to understand the times in which Tibbets lived, or the structure in which he worked. All mixed up in other commentary that gets emotive after all this time about the rights or wrongs of various aspects of that war, aspects which have no connection with Tibbets in any way. Sadly Tibbets lived some of that ambivalence, emotion and hostility in his latter years and he has asked that he be buried with no tombstone least that be a site for protest. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that war it is a part of our history with threads that tie into the fabric of our community today. Beating up on Tibbets now, or at any other time for that matter, isn't going to change any of that.