Shambling man-like creatures.

  

It seems that in Trump’s America, Evolution is a dirty word in many schools. That is a pity. Look at this little fellow. Does he remind you of anyone? Yes. It’s you. Look at his toes, all ten of them. He has developed a  clever adaptation of the fingers. It has taken millions of years to produce such perfection. He probably would make an indifferent pianist or keyboard operator. But the fingers work for him. Maybe Evolution intended to equip him with an umbrella during the aeons of precipitation  when oxygen and hydrogen came together to fill the cavities of this cooling planet with water. However he got a hang glider. Not even Leonardo da Vinci (clever chap) succeeded in doing that. It has taken humans unreckonable numbers of millennia to achieve flight. To give Leonardo his due, he did many other admirable things.  The definition of the Renaissance Man is that he did not specialise in one narrow field, as is the pattern nowadays. Would you go to a fresco painter to design a helicopter for you, or a military fortification? You would look askance at a portrait artist or a writer of sonnets (backwards) who spent his nights sneaking into morgues or tombs to dissect cadavers by candle light. Those are jobs for specialists. They have papers attesting to their qualifications. No room for gifted amateurs.

This is Agatha,  an Aye Aye, a specialist. She has enormous ears for eavesdropping on termites. She has wonderful eyes for seeing in the dark and locating termites. Observe the remarkably long middle finger–for (you have probably guessed it)–locating termites inside trees and drawing them out, the perfect finger food.  There must be days or even nights when she sees the dark silhouettes of bats crossing the face of the moon  and wishes that just once, she could try something different. But no. She has to concentrate on the endless search for termites. High in protein, deliciously crunchy, inordinately nutritious, as the experts might say.

I’m not averse to a spot of evolution, especially when explained by someone like Attenborough. We have followed  his account of the development of life on earth and the many twists and turns of that story. He has opened our minds to marvel and wonder at the myriad complexities of this story. We like to think that human ingenuity has liberated us from the tyranny of a mere struggle for survival. We talk of Progress as if all new things are better and will make us happier. Trump has spoken about beautiful American weapons. Weapons make us feel secure. Nothing bad can happen to us if we have enough weapons. Arm the teachers to protect their schools. Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong film mogul had twelve Rolls Royce cars parked on his driveway. He had nowhere to drive them. The Plains Indians captured horses from the invading Spaniards. This increased their productivity when hunting buffalo, to the extent that they had to lug piles of buffalo hides (their index of wealth)  around, when they went on migration. This slowed them up. The Flathead Indians tied boards across the foreheads of newborn babies to make them more beautiful. This compressed the frontal lobes of their little brains, impairing their development. The tribe died out, a kind of reverse evolution. The wealth generated by The Industrial Revolution, was won at a hideous cost.  We should be able to do better—given our superior intelligence. Rupert Murdoch wants to acquire yet more media.

I watched  a shambling hunchbacked figure emerging from the mist. His head was lowered, oblivious to everything around him. His prehensile thumbs flickered across the screen of his phone, tablet, ipad, ipod or whatever, a Quasimodo of the digital age. In a generation or two his descendants will have developed  thumbs to rival the Aye Aye’s termite-catching finger, (specialised evolution). Their heads will grow out at right angles from the body, (specialised ditto) the better to see the screen. Perhaps, of course, Natural Selection will cull the most ardent screen watchers, by means of bigger, faster motor vehicles, particularly those who combine phone use with driving. Look around any restaurant. Families dining together, a vital bonding ritual since the days of the cavemen, sharing the wisdom of the elders with the young to give them a start in life. No they don’t. The wise old elders are texting and the young are left to their own devices. No mutual eye contact. The meals take place often without a word. They have the latest gadgets, so they must be happy. They are specialists. Nobody chipping arrow heads, painting the walls, stitching furs together, singing songs, sharing stories and jokes, tending the fire, looking out for sabre-tooth  tigers or demonstrating a rudimentary wheel (brilliant idea, might just catch on).

The Chinese used to crush the bones of little girls’ feet and bind them so that they grew into ‘beautiful lilies’. This was to make them more attractive (?) and unable to run away from their husbands (progress?). It was the fashion of the time. The mutilation was usually carried out by the older women of the family. I don’t understand modern shoe fashions. A  bevy of young ladies, fashionably dressed as for a wedding, scampered barefoot across a pedestrian crossing in front of me, carrying their fashionable, but unroadworthy,  shoes in their hands. But I thought shoes were for…..Nah!  They laughed as they ran and talked animatedly on their phones. I hope they weren’t late for the wedding. At least they were able to run. That’s progress I suppose. Grumble grumble. I guess I’m a Luddite at heart.

Not bad but still no cigar.

 

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Observe, Grasshopper, and Learn.

Archbishop Martin spoke recently about the changed nature of violence among young men. He looked back to a more innocent time, when young lads fought, as they always will and one, or perhaps both of them, emerged with a bloody nose. There were boundaries to what was allowed. To cross those boundaries brought shame and contempt. To kick an opponent was the hallmark of a coward. ‘When did this change?’ he asked plaintively, appalled as he is, like any reasonable person, by the prevalence of extreme violence  on our streets.

The late Sam McAutrey remarked wryly, that the recruitment of young men into the army in World War Two, kept them off the streets and out of trouble. No doubt they learned transferable skills in the war, which they could apply in later life. We all learned from post war comics, how to deal with sentries like the Commandos did, silently and efficiently. The Germans seemed to recruit blind and deaf soldiers, specifically as sentries. The enemies went down in flames or up in explosions, in the graphic art of The Wizard, The Hotspur and The Adventure. That was o.k. though. They had asked for it. ‘Our chaps’ fought fair and square, by the rules of war. In the final analysis, a punch to the jaw was usually enough to sort out any foreigner. Or was that all in fairy tales?

Enter the Dragon!. We were in Drogheda one Saturday afternoon, minding our own business, when the cinema disgorged a crowd of young lads into the street, from the matinee show, the first ever Bruce Lee, Kung Fu epic. It was as if buckets of yelling spiders had been emptied out all around us. Satisfied customers. They kicked and jabbed with the appropriate blood-chilling yells. A good time was had by all. There was something different here. Bruce Lee was undoubtedly a foreigner. That made his kicking and hitting below the belt, understandable. He could levitate, unlike the kids in the street. He represented the forces of good, just like the knights of chivalric legend. He always won, just like the good guys in the Wild West films. Since then we have been overwhelmed by  practitioners of the martial arts, judo, ju-jitsu, kendo, karate, tae-kwando, origami, sushi. You are nobody if you can’t kick your opponent on the head or levitate onto roof tops. No holds are barred.

Gus Mulligan a Commandant in the army and a good neighbour, occasionally gave us boxing gloves to work off some steam. We strictly observed the Queensberry rules. Ollie Coulter, a bit of a wag, put his snake belt around the top of his head. Every boy had a snake belt, the coolest fashion accessory at the time. ‘No hitting below the belt,’  he insisted, as he weaved and jabbed, feinting with his left and following up with a devastating right…At least that was what he said in his running commentary. We fell about, laughing. Yet there was some moral force in the belt. I found out later what the belt was. A medical student, twice  my size, was throwing his weight around at the bathing place. ‘Did you ever hear of the solar plexus belt?’ ‘No.’  ‘Come here and I’ll show you.’ Knowledge is power. He showed me all right. I wish that I was a black belt fukushima expert at the time, but Bruce had not yet burst upon the scene. I wish I could have levitated and landed a few devastating blows on top of Ollie Coulter’s head, come to think of it. No, I’m glad I couldn’t do that. Ollie made us laugh. It was all in sport.

Do you remember when the notion of a professional foul came into the language of sport? Is that an oxymoron or what? Is it a defence in law?  I remember. I saw J.P.R. Williams, a god of Welsh rugby,  fell Mike Gibson with a punch, thereby averting a certain try. He justified it as a professional foul. A what? A case has been made that athletes should be allowed to use whatever drugs they want… and the Devil take the hindmost. Fortius, citius, altius.  Stronger, Faster and as High as a kite. The hindmost is most likely the clean competitor. The damned fool. What about a professional lie, as distinct from perjury? Lord Denning cast doubt on the capacity of black people and immigrants to serve on juries or practice law. In the case of The Birmingham Six, he ruled that their action against the police, would, if it succeeded, ‘open an appalling vista…’  No ‘reasonable person’ would want to open that can of worms. Even a Law Lord can stoop to a professional foul. We call it ‘Post truth’ nowadays.

Lord Queensberry curbed the excesses of The London Prize-Ring rules (anything goes except biting and gouging) with his generally accepted rules of boxing. These could not be applied to dog fighting, cock fighting, bull and bear baiting, so these sports remain illegal.  Significantly, the champions win enormous belts, big enough to cover the solar plexus. They do not, of course, wear these belts during the contests, especially not on the head, despite Ollie Coulter’s best efforts. Even amateur Olympic boxers are not allowed to wear protective headgear, despite the current concern about concussion in sport.

I admire some things about Conor McGregor. He dresses impeccably. He is clever and highly articulate. He turned the disadvantage of unemployment into an opportunity. He is a shrewd businessman. He is dedicated to his calling. He has a charismatic influence, especially over young men. He makes a lot of money. He tells the truth. ‘I’m involved in a violent and dirty business…’ He said this on being presented with his award for R.T.E. Sports Personality of the Year, as decided by a public vote. Personality, yes, but Mixed Martial Arts/ Ultimate Fighting/ Cage Fighting is not sport. People die.

Is it any wonder, Grasshopper and Your Grace, that young men bring what they observe and learn, onto the streets, particularly late at night and after a few drinks? They are all Bruce Lee in their own minds. The man who made the most money out of this phenomenon was a Hong Kong film maker, Run Run Shaw. Possibly the best advice when confronted by ninjas, dragons or tattooed Viking berserkers in a late night food outlet. Run! Run like hell!