I am generally a fairly liberal guy when it comes to religion. People believe all sorts of weird nonsense and fantasies but so long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and do not impose upon others then what’s the harm? Well, of course, that the problem, isn’t it? Especially when those others are not capable of making their own decisions about what to believe and practice.
So I was both shocked and saddened to hear about the death of an infant boy last September who contracted herpes after his circumcision by a rabbi using the ultra-Orthodox ritual known as metzizah b’ peh where the rabbi removes blood from the wound with his mouth. Where was this medieval ritual performed? Can you believe it took place in Brooklyn Hospital, New York? It’s unclear who performed the circumcision but it is not the first time infants have contracted herpes in this bizarre ritual. In 2004, three infants circumcised by Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer were determined to have contracted herpes, city officials said. In 2005, there was another infant death following this practice.
I am all for the importance of tradition as Topol would say, but enough is enough. No doubt the parents are distraught at losing their child but this ritual needs to be criminalized. Needless to say, the rabbi who is responsible for this is beyond contempt. He must have known that he had herpes at some point and he also must of known of the risk. I can’t really see any justification for allowing this practice to continue.
One of the most common and yet peculiar superstitions in the UK is to salute a single magpie (Pica pica) to avoid bad luck. This is often accompanied by some form of salutation such as “Good Morning, Mr Magpie, where is your wife?” Magpies are monogamous and mate for life so a solitary bird has been considered a bad omen. The custom has also been traced to the myth that the bird was the only species not present at the crucifixion, lending to the belief that it is a cursed bird that brings bad luck.
Don't Look Back - Just Ride!
Certainly that seems to true if you happen to be riding a bike during the spring in Australia, where the local variety is noted for territorial aggression. Last Sunday, four-year-old Seth McInnes, out riding his bike in a Toowoomba park near Brisbane, Australia, was attacked by a magpie that pecked out his left eye leaving him blind in that eye and in excruciating pain. When I read this story, I was reminded of the shock scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” where the birds peck out the eyes of various victims. Such swoopng attacks are not uncommon during the August/September mating season for the male Australian magpie which is a much bigger version of its European cousin. The article even has advice about how to avoid attacks and injury such as wearing broad brimmed hats and dark glasses. Apparently, magpies will not attack if you look at them directly and if you walk through a danger zone, draw eyes on the back of a hat or wear your sunglasses on the back of your head. I don’t think I would risk staring down a swooping aggressive magpie and prefer the shotgun tactic.
BTW, the Latin word for magpie, “pica” is also the term for the weird psychological disorder, where sufferers eat non-nutritive substances such as nails, glass, buttons, dirt etc. The origin for the word comes from the belief that magpies eat and collect almost anything and especially have an eye for shiny things.
You have already probably seen this unbelievable image of Maria Hose Cristerna, a mum of four from Mexico, who has transformed her body to become her vision of a vampire. She is almost totally covered in tattoos and has titanium horn implants. Maria explains that she decided to do this to her body in response to a childhood of abuse. She told a UK tabloid, ‘Tattoos were a form of liberation for me – my way of being immortal – and the horns I have are a symbol of strength and were implanted without anaesthetic.”
According to the 2006 statistics from US Food and Drug Administration, 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo and the Pew Research Center estimated that 36% of 18-25 year-olds have at least one tattoo. I am sure there are many reasons people modify their bodies but the common explanation is that it is a form of self-expression – an act that differentiates oneself from the crowd. Many have secret tattoos and piercings – a bit like the hidden or real self that is kept separate from public scrutiny. But for those who like to display their tattoos, there appears to be something addictive about them as I know very few people who just have the one. What may start out as a single example of self-expression eventually becomes familiar and loses its impact factor. Soon, there is a perceived need to do something new.
Not everyone who was abused gets tattooed and not everyone who is tattooed was abused. For Maria, this is her explanation for her extreme body modification and I doubt many would go as far. But it is clearly a fashion on the increase (as documented by the popularity of TV shows about tattoo studios) which is ironic if tattooing is really is a measure of non-conformity.
Are you tattooed? What was the evolution of your body modification?
The season finale of “My Strange Addiction” reports the bizarre case of 26-old-old Casie, a widow who is gradually eating the cremated remains of her husband who died from an asthma attack. While transferring his remains from crematorium box to an urn, she accidentally got some of his ashes on her fingers. Rather than simply wiping her husband off, she decided to lick them. Unfortunately this has developed into a bizarre behaviour of eating the cremated remains which taste of “rotten eggs, sand and sandpaper.” Apparently Casie is at risk of the chemicals used to embalm her husband which are still present in the ashes but her greatest fear is what to do when he is all gone. She has already consumed 1lb of the ashes in two months and there is only 5lbs left. Yet another extraordinary example of essentialism. You can read more and see the video here
Tis neither superstition not science, but it makes for a damn fine ghoulish story. Our beloved natural treasure, Sir David Attenboroug, he of Planet Earth fame, bought a piece of land that used to belong to the “Hole and Wall” pub adjacent to his London home with the intention of turning it into an orchard and garden. During the excavation, the builders discovered a skull that belonged to (or should I say was) Mrs Thomas, a widow in her 50’s who was murdered 132-years ago.
Mrs Thomas was murdered by Kate Webster who pushed her employer down the stairs, strangled her and chopped her body up and then boiled it down. That’s gruesome enough, but in true Sweeny Todd style, a few days after the murder, some boys said that Kate Webster had offered them some food and she said ‘ere you lads I’ve got some good pigs lard which you can have for free’. The boys ate two bowls of lard which was unfortunately Mrs Thomas. Eeeeuggh.
I recently tried Lardy Cake which originates from close by in Wiltshire. It is made from rendered lard, flour, sugar and spices. It was quite tasty but then I did not realize it was made with animal fat. Following the story of Mrs Thomas, I don’t think I will be eating it again.
An expensive leak
If you have ever been to a public swimming pool then I am pretty certain that you will have swallowed water with a very diluted sample of someone’s else’s urine. People, and especially young children pee in swimming pools. Normally no one gives it a second thought but when a Portland 21-year-old man urinated in the Mount Tabor reservoir, administrators decided to dump the water supply at a cost of $36,000.
I reckon that he probably produced no more than a third of a gallon whereas the reservoir holds 7.8 million gallons. Urine is relatively sterile and even if he had hepatitis, I am reliably informed that the virus would not survive long. And of course, in some cultures, drinking urine is considered therapeutic. I am not advocating that practice but emptying the reservoir is somewhat of an over-reaction by the authorities. What’s more is that dead animal carcasses regularly turn up in the reservoir and yet, the authorities do not take any actions. When asked about the decision to drain the reservoir, administrator David Shaff said,”Do you want to drink pee?” When pushed further on the scientific rationale, he retorted, “Answer the question. It has nothing to do with scientifically. Most people are gonna be pretty damn squeamish about that.”
This incident reveals the strength of essentialism as well as scientific ignorance. No wonder homeopathy is perceived as being effective.
For all you out there who are not fans of the Vatican, fear not, as the papal city and the rest of Rome for that matter, is to be reduced to rubble tomorrow according to seismologist Raffaele Bendandi. Already, many Romans are leaving the city and it is predicted that one fifth of the workforce is not turning up to work tomorrow.
But how accurate are Bendandi’s readings? Pretty spooky to be honest – the man has been dead for 30 years! That’s right. The whole of Rome is getting itself in a tiss about this urban rumor that is circulating on the internet. Anyway, many Romans are putting their faith in the papa. One inhabitant, Franceso Verselli, said that Rome would be spared because it was home to the Pope: “Wherever the Pope is, nothing will happen.” Maybe he’ll say a prayer so that the earthquake doesn’t happen.
It was only a matter of time before someone came up with the bright idea of making cheese from human breast milk. You may remember that I covered this a couple of years ago when I blogged about the Swiss restaurant that was serving dishes made from human breast milk. Here we have an entire cheese shop in NYC selling produce made from human milk. Given that cheese is already rancid milk, I guess it can’t get much more disgusting. Still the lady is right – why is it alright to eat animal lactation and not human?
"I think this egg is off"
I was at Prof Barbara Saharkian’s lecture on cognitive enhancement a few weeks back where she talked about the growing use of drugs to improve academic performance. Apparently the situation is epidemic on US campuses where approximately 16% of students are taking these clinical drugs to help them cram for exams or do all-nighters to complete assignments. She presented evidence where drugs such as Ritalin, originally intended for the treatment of ADHD, have been shown to improve performance on a number of cognitive tasks.
Modafinil, originally designed for the treatment of narcolepsy, is one of the latest growing trends of cognitive enhancing drugs. The market for Modafinil is estimated to be worth £700m per annum alone with approximately 90% destined for “off- label” or non-clinical use. According to Saharkian, she found that a number of her US colleagues privately admitted to taking Modafinil when traveling to give lectures as it is very good for overcoming jetlag.
Access to cognitive enhancers is fairly restricted in the UK but there is always the internet. The trouble of course, is that many of these drugs are manufactured in the Far East which has notoriously lax attitudes to quality control. It is simply dangerous to buy your drugs online. In the past, they have been found to contain a variety of toxins.
There again, China also has more natural ways of maintaining concentration. For example, you may want to try spring eggs hard boiled in children’s urine that have been prepared in Dongyang, Zhejiang province, eastern China, for thousands of years and now culture officials want to take it worldwide.
“The urine is gathered from local schools and the very best comes from boys under 10 years old. They pee in buckets and we collect it fresh every day,” chef Lu Ming explained. He continued, “Then the eggs are boiled in the wee, first with their shells on and then with them off for a day and a night before they’re ready to be eaten.” The eggs are regarded as delicious and healthy because they help concentration when feeling sluggish or sleepy.
I have a conference coming up in a couple of weeks where I would like to be alert and attentive. But somehow, I think I will not be relying on any Chinese remedies – natural or not.
Wish I Had a Body Like That
There is something deeply disturbing about these two images. I guess the idea of wearing another person’s skin is reminiscent of “Buffalo Bill” from “The Silence of the Lambs” who kidnapped women and then skinned them so that he could make a female suit.
This hoodie comes complete with a tattoo but I think you would still have to have a reasonable body to look good in it. Actually, strike that, I don’t think anyone can look reasonably good wearing another’s skin.
The other image is also a bit weird. These are a set of designer shoes that have been commissioned by the Cheltenham Horse Race Meeting which is currently underway just up the road from Bristol. They look like some part of a pantomine outfit. For those non-Brit followers, we have this peculiar stage form where people dress up as horses and cows.
Seriously, Would You Wear These?
Anyway, outside of panto, I think dressing like an animal is strange. I guess the hypocrisy I am voicing is that I don’t think there is anything amiss about wearing animal skin. Leather, is of course, just another skin but like many aspects of the human animal relationship, we prefer not to be reminded too much of where it came from.