Archive for category Social Commentary

Finito, Alberto, La Musica

This was one of my mother’s favourite phrases, uttered when things had come to their inevitable conclusion. Had she been a fan of Douglas Adams she could equally have said, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

After three years of moaning, complaining and, hopefully, educating and entertaining I have decided to bring this blog to its inevitable conclusion. It has been an interesting foray into the world of social media, so different from the world I grew up in. The ability to connect with so many people from all over the world is truly amazing and should continue to shrink the world’s boundaries and bring us all closer together. Disaster and misfortune no longer occur in far off places to people we neither know nor care about. Even though we have never met them everyone is a potential friend, acquaintance or colleague with beliefs, hopes and ideas that are not so dissimilar to our own. Surely this can only help to break down our prejudices and barriers and make it more difficult to continue injustices and demonise people from other countries. With easy access to so much data each of us has a duty to be informed and act rationally. Irrational hatred based on race, nationality or religion can no longer be excused on the basis of ignorance.

Even this little blog has attracted almost 100 followers (modest, I know, compared with many others but intimidating enough for me when I think how many people are reading these words) and readers from 76 countries. I would like to thank everyone for reading, commenting and liking and I depart with one final request coming, of course, from another TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/myriam_sidibe_the_simple_power_of_hand_washing). Wash your hands! With soap! Do it frequently! Do it properly! Do it now!

Hand washing alone has a dramatic effect on infant mortality. It can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by half, respiratory infections by a third and mitigate the spread of flu, trachoma, SARS, cholera and even Ebola. Regular hand washing with soap will allow 600,000 children to see their fifth birthday.

In conclusion, it is probably appropriate to finish with a line from Get Smart, one of my all time favourite TV shows.

Pausing to leave, Kubacheck utters the immortal words to Smart, 99 and the Chief, “As George Washington said in his farewell to his troops “Farewell, troops!””

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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Unnatural Selection

As a veterinarian, atheist and scientist I have championed the cause of natural selection all my life. It is a magnificent device that has driven evolution for eons, constantly upgrading and improving species to better allow them to adapt to their environments. Through natural selection we have moved from unicellular animals to multicellular ones to the incredibly complex array of species we have today, species that run, fly and swim, enabling them to find homes in every possible niche on the planet.

There is, however, one species that appears to stand above natural selection, and that species is our own. I have been short sighted and wearing glasses since I was seven years old. If natural selection had had its way with me I would surely have missed seeing that truck, bear or crevasse and perished long ago. I certainly would not have lived long enough to produce my own pair of myopic humans. Now I have a dicky heart and sleep apnoea. However, our ability to overrule natural selection once again affords me the opportunity to live on.

Every day we try our best to cancel out the effects of natural selection. From vaccinating ourselves to prevent diseases that might otherwise kill us, to treating ourselves with antibiotics when we are sick. From artificial insemination and embryo transfer when we can’t conceive naturally, to Caesarean sections when we can’t deliver the fruits of those conceptions. And it is not just ourselves that reap these benefits. We make sure that our friends do too. Many are the cows that I saved from almost certain death (at least long enough to make it to the dinner table) by assisting in the delivery of their calves. Ease of delivery (at least in humans and domestic animals) has been virtually removed from the selection process.

Will the fact that large numbers of short sighted, infirm, sub-fertile humans that can’t give birth, are passing their genetic material on for generations come back to bite us? We must surely be weakening our species as a whole, but who would refuse the artificial fixes that are available to us? Certainly not I. It does seem a tad hypocritical, however, to laud the marvels of natural selection while studiously stepping around it ourselves wherever possible.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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I Do It Because I Like It

Unfortunately I can be one of those people who emerge from the gym feeling decidedly smug about the great workout I just completed and how I am adding years to my life through regular exercise and a reasonable diet. While it can be fun to rub my less active friends’ noses into all that health and vitality it really is just a happy coincidence. Perversely, I really wander around lifting heavy objects because I enjoy doing it. I tend to avoid hamburgers and fish and chips because I don’t find them particularly tasty. The fact that I am also doing things that are good for my health is really just an added bonus, and I suspect most people who spend their weekends running, cycling, and canoeing really do it because they love it, and those who spend their weekends lying on the couch with a beer and a packet of chips do so because they don’t enjoy being active. How else can you explain all those people who constantly take out new gym memberships only to see their gym clothes gathering dust in the closet after a month or so? No matter the intention, if you don’t enjoy it you are very unlikely to persist with it, whatever it is.

Unfortunately this holds true for me too. I have read no end of articles about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I have attempted it on numerous occasions but find it difficult and don’t enjoy it. My current record stands at three days in a row before I let it lapse again, and not because I don’t have the time. Who can’t find ten minutes a day for a quick meditate? The person who does not enjoy it, that’s who. I would much rather take out the garbage, clean out the chooks or scrub the fish tank, even though I know the value of meditation.

I guess the key is to find things you enjoy that, by coincidence or design, are also good for you. Then you too can act smugly and pretend your activity requires enormous willpower and you are only doing it because it promotes your wellbeing.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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Anthem

I endured another rendition of Australia’s insipid national anthem, sung prior to the start of last Saturday’s Grand Final, and reflected on the fact that anthems are supposed to be stirring pieces of music, exhorting us all to stand together to defeat the common enemy, or some such jingoistic nonsense. Unfortunately Australia’s anthem encourages somnolence rather than action, a fact that is compounded by its archaic lyrics. “Our home is girt by sea.” Girt by sea? When was the last time anyone ever used the word “girt”? Since it is in the national anthem perhaps we should try and bring it back into the current vernacular? Just in case you are interested my house is girt by forest, while the neighbour’s house is girt by paddocks. I can see a massive “girt” revival on the horizon.

Unfortunately countries that have anthems with stirring tunes tend to have stirring lyrics as well, perhaps a bit too stirring. “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt“ translates as „Germany, Germany above all, above all in the world“. And we all know the trouble that caused.

The French aren’t much better:

Aux armes, citoyens,     To arms, citizens,

Formez vos bataillons,  Form your battalions,

Marchons, marchons!    Let’s march, let’s march!

Qu’un sang impur           Let impure blood

Abreuve nos sillons!       Water our furrows!

The Spanish appear to have the ideal solution. No lyrics at all. Admittedly the melody could do with a bit of work but you can stand at that soccer match enjoying the tune, while feeling proud to be Spanish, and girding your loins for the coming battle knowing that you don’t have to rhythmically open and close your mouth in order to mask the embarrassment of not knowing the words to your national anthem.

Dr. F. Bunny

“Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world

Than the pride that divides when a colourful rag is unfurled”

(Rush, Territories, from the album “Power Windows”).

 

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Witch Hunt

I saw an astonishing program the other day. Apparently witch hunts still occur in New Guinea. When something bad and unexplained happens it is not uncommon to blame it on some poor woman and accuse her of witchcraft, after which she is beaten, tortured and often killed. While her family will sometimes support and protect her more often than not they go along with her accusers and denounce her as well.

Some of these accusers were interviewed in the program. All of them were men. Hopefully this means the women are too intelligent to believe in this sort of nonsense. The interviewed men seemed to genuinely believe in what they were doing despite the absurdity and cruelty of it.

Unfortunately it seems far too easy to accuse someone of witchcraft. Presumably if you held a grudge against them you could come up with something farfetched like, my chicken just died, point the finger and shout, “She did it!” And that is all that is needed. The accuser is not required to come up with any kind of proof, making it impossible for the accused to defend herself. If she survives the beating and torture she is often ostracised by her community and may as well have been killed.

It is truly shocking how ingrained this sort of nonsense still is and how horrible the consequences are. Still, cultures that support the notion of rising from the dead, water turning into wine and thousands of people being fed with a few loaves and fishes need to be careful about throwing stones. They should be setting an example by renouncing their own superstitions.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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I Volunteer!

All manner of information has been published recently about the benefits of volunteering. As I appear to have a bit of time on my hands at the moment I thought I would give it a try. As part of the appeal of volunteering is to get out into the big wide world and do something practical I approached the State Emergency Service (SES) first up. I have long thought of putting my hand up with the Country Fire Authority (CFA), who do a fantastic job every summer, but my too close for comfort experience with the Black Saturday bushfires put me off that idea. Besides, the SES appear to offer more variety, cutting trapped people out of smashed cars, pulling trees off houses, etc. So I gave them a call and the woman I spoke with said she would pass my name on to my local representative. If they had not got in touch with me after a few weeks, call again. This did not strike me as the sort of organisation that was tripping over itself to get new helpers. I felt a bit discouraged with the lukewarm response to my offer and, needless to say, I have not heard a thing since my phone call.

Being a veterinarian I thought Birdlife Australia might be useful. I have experience with mist netting, bird banding and handling. I even joined up as a member. While I was pointed at a couple of subsidiary groups within Birdlife Australia the person I was suggested to email about volunteering my services has also declined to respond.

How about a nice conservation organisation? Unfortunately World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and others are all based in Sydney, so I tried Friends of the Earth. I used to frequent their shop as a student to buy my groceries each week and I thought that a regular spot helping out there would be useful. I filled in their form, registered my interest and have heard nothing since.

I contacted Kiva, the microloan organisation, as they need people to vet their loan applications. Thank you for your interest. You have been placed on our waiting list.

Perhaps I should try something specifically veterinary? Vets Beyond Borders run several programs in India sterilising street dogs. Unfortunately these places have a “no euthanasia” policy, presumably on some kind of strange religious grounds (as an aside, my wife met a Cambodian Buddhist at her book club the other week. She was most surprised to discover that it was okay from him to eat meat as long as he did not kill it himself. An interesting loophole that can be exploited by any carnivores who are contemplating Buddhism). Recently I watched a program featuring Luke Gamble, a vet working with Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS). He visited an animal refuge in India. The entire place was full of paralysed, emaciated dogs dragging themselves around on their back ends, with various limb ulcers that needed constant bandaging. The Dutch woman who ran the place refused to entertain the notion that most of these dogs were in constant pain, had no quality of life and should be euthanased. I don’t think I could work in that sort of hypocritical environment that promotes animal welfare without acknowledging that, sometimes, animal welfare can best be promoted through euthanasia.

I thought about volunteering with WVS. Unfortunately many of their placements require a significant time commitment, while others, like Earthwatch, expect you to pay for the privilege of helping them out. Is it not enough that I am prepared to forgo payment and cover my own costs without having to pay to work too?

Perhaps I am just being too picky but, I must admit, I have been quite surprised at the sort of lukewarm (ice cold) responses I have received. Most organisations appear more than happy to accept donations of money but seem curiously unenthusiastic about donations of time. Maybe I should just go and plant some trees?

Dr. F. Bunny

 

 

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I Am Sorry, I Have Forgotten Your Name

Recently I watched a video by comedian Bill Bailey in which he championed the cause of Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace conceived the theory of natural selection and evolution independently of Charles Darwin. While the two did correspond and the theory was originally published as the Darwin-Wallace Theory, Wallace has since faded into relative obscurity whereas Darwin went on to fame and fortune having a city (Darwin Australia), birds (Darwin’s finches) and a cartoon chimpanzee (in the Wild Thornberrys) named after him. All Wallace got was a Line (the Wallace Line which separates the ecozones of Australia and Asia and runs between Borneo and Sulawesi in Indonesia).

Unfortunately Wallace’s descent into oblivion is not unique. History is littered with characters whose contributions were at least as significant as those of their more famous colleagues but who, for whatever reason, have been forgotten.

Take Watson and Crick for example. While we all know that Francis Crick and James Watson were the first to describe the double helix structure of DNA and received the Nobel Prize for their efforts, who knew that Maurice Wilkins was part of this discovery and received the Nobel Prize along with them? Never mind the fact that Rosalind Franklin also played a key role in this discovery. She was not nominated for the Nobel Prize because she died before the Prize was awarded and it is not given posthumously.

Burke and Wills were two famous explorers who decided to cross Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, a journey of 3250 km. While they successfully completed the trip north they both died on the return leg, John King being the only member of the expedition to make it back to Melbourne alive. But who has heard of John King? Australians do seem to prefer their heroic failures. Look at the Gallipoli campaign.

While James Cook is credited as having “discovered” Australia in 1770 (despite the fact that Aborigines had been living here for up to 60,000 years) Dutchman Willem Janszoon arrived here in 1606. He was followed by further Dutchmen, including Abel Tasman who bumped into Tasmania in 1642. Cook was not even the first Englishman to reach Australia. That honour belongs to William Dampier who arrived in 1688. Presumably Cook got the credit because no one had bothered to claim the place until after his arrival.

However, it is not just the worlds of history and science that are littered with the forgotten. Stuart Sutcliffe was one of the original members of the Beatles but left to pursue a career in painting. Now there was a good career move. A similar situation occurred with Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, except he left the band to go insane.

History, it seems, takes a very subjective view of those who grace its pages, some awarded lasting fame and notoriety, others drifting quietly into anonymity. Unfortunately the category you end up in seems to have very little to do with your actual contribution and a lot more to do with your ability to sell yourself and capture the public’s imagination (VHS v Betamax, IBM v Apple). In the current era where we can all achieve our fifteen minutes of fame and saturate the airwaves with our photos, opinions and antics it will be interesting to see who is remembered in a century from now and who has faded away. Hopefully those who generate lasting achievements will still be lauded while those who clutter up my inbox with cute kitten photos will burn in hell.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

 

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