Mar 4 2009

Population Explosion

I remember back in the seventies (world population then was around 3.6 billion) everyone was talking about the urgent dangers of overpopulation.

Then, suddenly, the subject disappeared. For around 30 years. Looks like the discussion’s finally starting up again.

Estimated world population now: 6.7 billion.

Why does this happen all the time? What causes this cyclic collective amnesia?

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Mar 2 2009

From the Afghan archives…

Profound regret that I couldn’t toddle off to this exhibit. Thank you BBC for the lovely slideshow!

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Feb 22 2009

From Petrarcha’s Trionfo del Tempo

Your triumphs and your pomp transpire,
The nobility passes and kingdoms crumble,
Time brings low all mortal things;
And what he reaps from those less good, he does not pass to those more worthy:
And not only the superficial things are laid waste by time,
But also your eloquence and works of genius.
Thus sped along, the world moves with him;
He takes no time to rest; neither does he stop nor turn from his appointed course,
Until in the end he has transformed you back to your essence: a bit of dust.

–Francesco Petrarca, Trionfo del Tempo (The Triumph of Time), v. 112-120 (S.H. transl.) (ca. 1352)

Swiped from Harper’s - visit and see the wonderful detail from a tapestry illustrating the poem

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Feb 1 2009

Irresistible Headlines

You just have to click on it:  Man trapped by sofa sipped whisky
By the way 19 stones = 266 pounds = 121 kilos. I can’t believe the media showed up to interview him for this. How embarrassing. Not what you’re hoping for from your 15 minutes of fame!

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Jan 30 2009

Sniffed, not snorted!

As a child, I was obsessed with 19th century novels. This provided me with no end of wonderful reading, maddeningly combined with some seriously confusing mysteries. One of which was snuff. What was it? What did it look like? Where did it go after it was inhaled?

The whole enterprise remained a bit vague and I never got around to looking it up; but for whatever reason, the last question has really been preying on my mind lately. Sadly, bereft of a local library, I tottered off to the internet.

Who would have thought investigating snuff-taking could be so entertaining!

My favorite impassioned snuff-taker’s site was authored by a delightfully opinionated and dry-humoured Professor Phillips Griffith. Here are a couple quotations for you:

“Of medicated snuffs the most popular is menthol. I do not know if they have any medical value… I regard such adulteration as a breach of of the seventh commandment and an abomination in the face of the Lord, but à chacun son gout.”

On choosing the right-sized snuffbox :

“…Nor too small: nothing could be more frustrating than to find yourself running out of snuff in the middle of your planned one-hour speech in the House of Lords. “

And don’t miss the section on snuff and your health. I never dreamed a cancer warning could make me laugh!

I also found a very entertaining page listing everything you need to know about snuff etiquette: to sneeze or not to sneeze? which snuffbox for which occasion? and the eternal when sharing with the surrounding company, does the snuffbox travel clockwise or counter-clockwise?

One rule includes a bit of alarming trivia:

…in 1820 the double barrelled snuff pistol was invented; it was capable of packing a day’s worth of snuff into the nose using an explosive charge. This kind of behaviour would be considered vulgar by anyone’s standards.

Finally to answer the original question: “Where does it go?” The idea is not to suck the fine (or sometimes slightly coarser powdered tobacco) all the way back into the cranial cavity, but to give a short, sharp sniff with each nostril: “…snuff should only be SNIFFED into the nose, not snorted. The snuff needs to remain in front of your nose, it is not intended to go into your sinuses or throat.”

This, of course, leads inevitably to the yet another question: “Uh, then what?” Well, the rather unpleasant answer is: “It comes back out again.”

In the form of a brown mucus.

The authorities recommend using multi-coloured silk handkerchiefs — as opposed to white ones — to disguise this horrifying side effect, but somehow that just seems to make the whole thing worse.

Just in case you still think this sounds like a viable option for your next new addiction, be aware that snuff-sniffing has been associated with tongue, nasal and breast cancers.

Still, you’ve got to admit snuff was a wonderful excuse to carry around (and show off) some rather snazzy little boxes. Here’s just one of the multitude owned by Frederick The Great (see below).

Too bad about the brown mucus.

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