>I’ll have the Lot

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Richard Dawkins is one is the foremost critics of the blanket acceptance of cultural norms. The blind affirmation saying ‘ well that’s their culture’ is too often a weak acceptance of repression of whole sections of societies. Too often cultural differences and uniquenesses are studied and accepted unquestionally, considered fascinating by anthropologists or simply a nice picture for tourists. And they can all go home with positive memories, leaving behind the repression.

The Indian caste system removes potential from millions, leaving them swimming in their own poverty unable to improve their lives without permission from others. The same can be argued for the power dynamics regarding men and women in marriages across many religions. Its unacceptable though and shouldn’t be celebrated as diversity but recognised as the suppression of human potentiality. 

Anyway, below is a curious story from South Africa. Everyone seems pretty happy about it. I just wonder how they weighed out the cow price!

A South African man is planning to marry four women in a two-day wedding ceremony, starting on Sunday.

Zulu businessman Milton Mbele, 44, is to marry the women aged between 22 and 35 in Ntlane village in Kwa-Zulu Natal and says he loves them all. The brides are to take their vows together, answering “we do” when asked if they take Mr Mbele as their husband. 

Polygamy is common in parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal but only the first wife is legally recognised. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, an ethnic Zulu, has three wives. But it is not usual to marry more than one woman at the same time. 

The four brides – Thobile Vilakazi, Zanele Langa, Baqinisile Mdlolo and Smangele Cele – all know each other. Mr Mbele has paid a total of 33 cows in ilobolo, or bride-price, for his soon-to-be-brides. He paid 10 cows for Ms Vilakazi, seven for Ms Langa and eight each for Ms Mdlolo and Ms Cele, reports the Sowetan newspaper. 

“We don’t see anything unusual about our marriage. We agreed to marry him at the same time because we love him,” Miss Cele told the newspaper. “It does not matter if we have marriage certificates or not, what is important is that he loves us.” 

The ceremony begins with a traditional event on Sunday followed by the exchange of vows in a local church. “Marrying many wives is our culture,” Mr Mbele said. “However, what is different is to marry all of them at once. I am doing this because I love all these women.” He said the response he has received to his wedding plans has been amazing. “Many people are looking forward to see me making history.”

>Finny story

>Pekka, an expatriate Finnish man visiting California, was recently diagnosed as clinically depressed, tanked up on anti-depressants and scheduled for controversial Shock Therapy when doctors realised he wasn’t depressed at all – only Finnish.

Mr Pekka, whose characteristic pessimism and gloomy perspective were interpreted as serious clinical depression, was led on a nightmare journey through the American psychiatric system. Doctors described Pekka as suffering with Pervasive Negative Anticipation – a belief that everything will turn out for the worst, whether it’s trains arriving late, Finland’s chances at winning any international sports event or even his own prospects to get ahead in life and achieve his dreams.

“The satisfaction Mr Pekka seemed to get from his pessimism seemed particularly pathological,” reported the doctors. “They put me on everything – Lithium, Prozac, St John’s Wort,” said Mr Pekka. “They even told me to sit in front of a big light for an hour a day or I’d become suicidal. I kept telling them this was all pointless and they said that it was exactly that sort of attitude that got me here in the first place.”

Running out of ideas, his doctors finally resorted to a course of “weapons grade amphetamine”, the only noticeable effect of which was six hours of speedy repetitions of the phrases “mustn’t grumble” and “not too bad, really”. It was then that Mr Pekka was referred to a psychotherapist. Dr Isaac Horney explored Mr Pekka’s family history and couldn’t believe his ears.

“His story of a childhood growing up in a grey little town where it rained every day, gloomy snow-filled streets of identical houses and passionately backing a hockey team who never won, seemed to be typical depressive ideation or false memory. Mr Pekka had six months of therapy but seemed to mainly want to talk about the weather – how miserable and cold it was in winter and later how difficult and hot it was in summer. I felt he wasn’t responding to therapy at all and so I recommended drastic action – namely ECT or shock treatment”.

“I was all strapped down on the table and they were about to put the rubber bit in my mouth when the psychiatric nurse picked up on my accent,” said Mr Pekka. “I remember her saying ‘Oh my God, I think we’re making a terrible mistake’.” Nurse Alice Sheen was from Upper Peninsula Michigan, and recognized the descriptions. Identifying Mr Pekka as Finnish changed his diagnosis from ‘clinical depression’ to ‘rather quaint and charming’ and he was immediately discharged from hospital, with a selection of brightly coloured leaflets and an “I love California” T-shirt.

Credit to Lapps

The Pursuit of Knowledge and Inspiration Continues..

The Pursuit of Knowledge and Inspiration Continues..m/2009/09/a_room_without_books_wallpaper_by_bellakullen.jpg”>
Finished recently….

1. Anthills on the Savannah by Chinua Achebe – Excellent novel and concise, literary summary of the present failures of African states.

2. A History of Indonesia – very informative. I am interested in doing my Masters based on Indonesia and learnt a lot of background. Its always disturbing how much global powerplays, geo-politics and economic concerns override the concern for democracy.

3. A series of lectures by Chinua Achebe given at Harvard in 1998 called Home and Exile concerning why he started writing, telling stories of his own land and traditions and why writers needs to write about what he knows.

4. Stories of Africa by Rzchard Kapcusincki, the famed Polish journalist from his years working in Africa from the 1960s to the 1990s. Really enlightening stories. Reminds you that Africa is a continent of diverse people, cultures, religions and landscapes. Great job.

5. In Defence of America – an interesting and needed reminder of the value of the US and its theorectical values even if the writer has rosy-tinted glasses.

6. A History of Saudi Arabia – a lot I didn’t know and highly explanatory of its development and complexities of the Sa’ud family.

Presently or about to read…

7. A History of Modern Africa – more anthropological study.

8. A History of Modern Libya – and yet more.

9. A Streetcar Named Desire – rocking, steamy, intense stuff so far.

10. Summertime by J.M. Coetzee – the third part of his pseudo-autobiography from the Nobel Prize winning writing.

11. The Trillion Dollar War by Joseph Stiglitz – the story of the recent Iraq War.

12. Animal Farm by George Orwell – again!

Yeah. I’ve been busy and enjoying it.

>Inmate ‘drunk on swine flu gel’

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The title explains the main story succinctly to be fair. Prisoners are removed from society for their crimes and their punishment involves forced abstinence from the drugs which are deemed social acceptable. So they’ve been inventive in passing the time.

But the paragraph about the hospital removing the same gels from the toilets as ordinary members of the public were also abusing them is sad especially when considering your standard can of Super Tennents is the odd quid. No doubt it will prove to be tramps, addicts or kids but either way, its pretty pathetic. 

A Dorset prison has removed anti-bacterial hand gel pumps after an inmate is thought to have got drunk drinking from them.

The gel was made available on Monday at HMP The Verne in Portland to help combat the spread of swine flu. But the Prison Officers Association (POA) said within hours there had been an incident with an intoxicated inmate.

The Prison Service said the pumps were removed as a “precautionary measure” and an investigation was under way. It is believed the gel was mixed with a drink before it was consumed.

In March, Royal Bournemouth Hospital said it was one of many hospitals removing alcohol-based hand cleaning gel from reception areas in a bid to stop visitors drinking it.

Andy Fear, from the POA at The Verne, said: “We were informed of an incident within hours of the gel being available. In one of the wings it is believed an inmate was using it inappropriately. When you get something called alcohol gel you can see what is going to happen.”

>R.I.P Norman Borlaug

>From the Economist.

Norman Borlaug, feeder of the world, died on September 12th, aged 95

AS DAWN broke over northern Mexico, Norman Borlaug wriggled from his sleeping bag. Rats had run over him all night, and he was cold. In a corner of the dilapidated research station where he had tried to sleep, he found a rusting plough. He took it outside, strapped the harness to himself, and began, furiously and crazily, in front of a group of astonished peasants, to plough the land.

The point was that he needed a tractor, and at once. He had come to Mexico in 1944, leaving a good job at DuPont, to increase grain yields, and to bring these half-starving people food. Hunger made its own imperatives. Feeding people could not wait. For the next ten years he was to work 12-hour days in these dry, baking fields, walking at a half-stoop to examine the stems for disease, perching on a stool to remove, with delicate tweezers, the male stamens of wheat flowers, harvesting wheat at one altitude to plant it immediately at another, until by 1956 Mexico’s wheat production had doubled, and it had become self-sufficient.

Wherever he went, Mr Borlaug showed the same impatience. Paperwork was spurned in favour of action; planting, advising, training thousands. In India, where he set up hundreds of one-acre plots to show suspicious farmers how much they could grow, he was so frustrated by bureaucracy that when at last his seed came, shipped from Los Angeles, he planted it at once despite the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan, sometimes by flashes of artillery fire. And when in 1984 he was drawn out of semi-retirement to take his seed and techniques to Africa, he forgot in a moment, once he saw the place, his plan to do years of research first. “Let’s just start growing,” he said.

As a boy, he hadn’t known what hunger was. He came from a small Norwegian farm in Iowa, the land of butter-sculptures and the breaded tenderloin sandwich. But on his first trip to “the big city”, Minneapolis, in 1933, grown men had begged him for a nickel for a cup of coffee and a small, dry hamburger, and a riot had started round him when a milk-cart dumped its load in the street. He saw then how close to breakdown America was, because of hunger. It was impossible “to build a peaceful world on empty stomachs”.

Crop diseases drew his attention first, inspiring him to turn from forestry to plant pathology under Charles Stakman, a lifelong mentor, at the University of Minnesota. Rusts especially exercised him: how they lived, under the green live tissue of stems, how they spread, travelling for miles on the jet stream, and how they fell from the sky to infect even the healthiest crop, if the moisture and temperature were right. Rust had devastated the Midwest in the 1930s, and Mexico shortly before he went there. So Mr Borlaug first bred wheat cultivars for rust-resistance, a ten-year task, and then crossed them with Norin, a dwarf Japanese variety, to produce a shorter, straighter, stronger wheat which, when properly charged with water and fertiliser, gave three times the yield.

This was the wheat that swept India in its “Green Revolution”, raising yields from 12m tonnes in 1965 to 20m by 1970, causing the country to run out of jute bags to carry it, carts and railcars to transport it, and places to store it; that made Pakistan self-sufficient in wheat by 1968; that almost doubled yields even in Sudan, on the edge of the Sahel. The famines and huge mortality that had been predicted for the second half of the 20th century never came to pass. More food led not to more births, but fewer, as the better-fed had smaller families. Global grain production outpaced population growth, and Mr Borlaug won the Nobel peace prize in 1970 for saving hundreds of millions of lives.

Greens attacked him, saying his new varieties used too much water and costly chemical fertiliser; his link with DuPont was noted. They complained that traditional farming was disrupted and diversity replaced by monoculture. Mr Borlaug called them naysayers and elitists, who had never known hunger but thought, for the health of the planet, that the poor should go without good food. Higher yields, he pointed out, saved marginal land and forest from farming. Inorganic fertiliser just replaced natural nutrients, and more efficiently than manure. As for cross-breeding, Mother Nature had done it first, cross-pollinating different wild grasses until they produced a grain that could eventually expand into modern bread.
The ticking clock

Genetic engineering of plants greatly excited him. The risks, he said, were rubbish, unproven by science, while the potential benefits were endless. The transfer of useful characteristics might now take weeks, rather than decades. More lives would be saved. The gene for rust-resistance in rice, for example, might be put into all other cereals. He hoped he might live to see it.

Meanwhile what he called the “Population Monster” was breathing down his neck, or rather ticking, like Captain Hook’s crocodile. Every second brought two more people, crying to be fed. By 2050, he wrote in 2005, the world would need to double its food supply. Some 800m were malnourished as it was. Mr Borlaug loved to talk of reaching for the stars, but his day-to-day motto was an earthly one. Get the plough. Start growing now.

>La Vie Moderne

>I went to see a French documentary by famed photographer Raymond Depardon about farming in the hill of southern France last night. It’s a string of interviews with the farmers in the tough and dying industry of hill farming.

There are some hilarious moments listening to old brothers (83 and 90) talking about their nephew’s wife and her lack of countryness but overall it’s a bleak film, poignant, sad and yet entrancing. The faces and hands of these weathered men contrast with their dainty and optimistic wives but no one is under any illusion that they are the last of their kind to live in the hills, walk the beaten brows and ask nothing more. 

>Hands On

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I remember Jen in Japan, Kyoto I think, slapping away a groper’s hand as he reached towards a teenage girl’s skirt. It seems incredible that a modern society like Japan still has a huge problem. The sexual deviancy extends to flashers, Manga magazines on the tube, sex shops next to 7-11 and those sex hotels. It might seem very unproper for a country like Japan which prides itself on its clean image in business and formal manners between people but formal (or straight) societies like Japan, Germany and the UK tend to have this darker side which flourishes underthe cover of silence and pointed looks.

Below is a story about Japan and it’s upcoming non-groper week. Good to see the police are taking this seriously by announcing when and on which lines they will be working.

Tokyo police have begun a week-long crackdown against the twice-daily scourge of gropers on commuter trains. Undercover teams have been deployed on some lines in a bid to catch molesters in the act on crowded trains.

Last year more than 6,000 people were arrested on suspicion of groping or taking unsolicited photographs. According to one survey, nearly two-thirds of young women have been groped on public transport. Some train lines have introduced women-only carriages.

Tokyo police have begun what is being described as a “groping prevention week”. There are conspicuous extra police patrols in stations handing out leaflets, and undercover teams have been deployed on trains to try to catch men in the act.

Gropers can be imprisoned for up to seven years in Japan