August 18th, 2009


The Slyness of the Hams.

(This post is sponsored by the Ardbeg. The last one was fairly coherent but continuity of coherence is not guaranteed tonight).

'Ham sandwich, bucket and water plastic Duralex, rubber Macfisheries underwear.' Thus spake Eric Idle when he uttered the first line of the first sketch of 'Rutland Weekend Television'. In so doing, he placed 'Ham Sandwich' forever in the annals of comedy.

Now it is in the growing annals of carcinogens. In a display of random words that rivals Mr Idle's comic genius, some people from the Lumpy Club (World Cancer Research Fund) have declared, without giving supporting numbers or references of any kind, that we are going to die from eating ham sandwiches. They also want to ban bacon and all kinds of processed meat. Even Spam! Yes, while we're all scared of smoking and drinking and fast food, that sly ham has been sneaking up on us.

Well, I'm done for. I smoke and drink and I love salty food. I eat things called 'Butteries' which are a sort of bread made from salted lard that melts if you heat it up too much. I warm them and put butter on them. One day I'll go for a cholesterol test and be sure to have a couple of these just before. The result will come back 'dead'. I also eat ham sandwiches, corned beef and if I go without bacon for a week I get withdrawal symptoms so severe that I have been known to beat a Rottweiler to death with a hedgehog. And that takes some effort.

I'm fifty next year. No sign of cancer. I'm at the age where spontaneous cancers can arise, with no outside cause. I have taken every risk in the book and I am lump free (wait, let me check.. yep, even my bag of lumps has only the required quantity of lumps within).

'Spontaneous cancers?' you might be saying. 'We've never heard of such a thing'.

Cancer is due to a fault in, initially, a single cell in your body. At the end of your chromosomes is a bit called a 'telomere' which gets shorter every time a cell divides. When it gets too short, the cell can't divide any more which is why your arms aren't fifteen feet long and you don't have a head like a beach ball. The body's cells are programmed to stop growing when you're big enough. It's not perfect. Sometimes they stop too soon, sometimes they stop too late which is why we have people ranging from two foot six to around eight feet tall. Genetics is a bit of a lottery, when you get down to it. Okay, there's a lot more to it but this isn't a genetics lecture.

If the cell mutates in such a way as to produce an enzyme that keeps those telomeres from shortening, the cell just keeps on dividing and dividing until it becomes a lump. A cancer. Cells can sometimes break off the lump, travel through the blood and stick somewhere else, where they start another lump. Eventually the lumps wreck something important and you die.

The cancer is the end product, not the cause. The cause is a fault in the cell replication mechanism in a cell. That can happen because of a carcinogenic compound or it can happen because of radiation or it can happen simply because all your cells are old and knackered. That 'seven year' thing, where all the cells of your body are allegedly replaced every seven years, misses one point. They are all made from the previous cells. The cell membrane might be less than seven years old, but your genetic material is the same age as you, plus nine months.

There are many causes of cancer. Hot showers have been shown to increase cancer risk. Seriously. Sitting in front of a CRT tube has been implicated. I have an incubator that was given to me for free because it contains white asbestos. The lab that gave it to me isn't allowed to use it because of the cancer risk from asbestos. It's all on the inside. There's no risk unless I open the casing, and I won't. Sunlight can cause cancer. Sunlight also generates vitamin D which helps prevent cancer. You buys your sunscreen and you takes your chances.

The truth, of course, is that the ham sandwich story is bollocks. The chemicals in cheap white bread are worse for you than anything you put in between them unless it's plutonium or lead, and they're not especially bad unless you eat a loaf a day, minimum. Even then, you'd probably get diabetes before you get cancer.

The research they allude to is mostly very old. It refers to acrylamides, created when meat is cooked until it's black. Those burned proteins on the outside do indeed contain potential carcinogens but not very many. You'd have to live on crispy bacon to be at risk. Some do. Some burn all meat to a crisp before eating it and risk cancer in later life. On the other hand, some like to eat rare hamburgers, with low cancer risk but with the risk of catching Salmonella today. If it's gonna get you, it's gonna get you. Life is a risk. It might be short. If you spend all your life worrying about death, you won't enjoy any of it. You'll get to the end and think 'Well, what was the point of all that?'

If there really is a risk from ham, and with modern processing of cheap presliced ham there might be, it'll be small. You'd have to have a ham sandwich every day for years to crank the risk up to 'serious'. If you are sending your children to school with the same sandwiches every day throughout their school lives, you have no imagination at all, no thought process at all, and should be applying for the Gorgon's cabinet. Even so, the risk to the child is small because, chances are, once they leave home they'll never touch sliced ham again.

But it's not about the ham. It's not, as some will assume, the rise of Sharia law and the gradual elimination of pork products.

It's Hilarious Bin, the vegetable in charge of agriculture, and his mission to turn us all vegetarian and kill all the animals to reduce emissions. The Lumpy Club is riding his coattails with this story. It's all smoke and mirrors. Well, with this government, just mirrors. They've banned smoke.

Going outside on a sunny day risks skin cancer. Getting old risks all manner of cancers. Walking along a busy street risks lung cancer and all manner of other ailments from traffic fumes. Walking in the country risks anaphylactic shock from a wasp sting or an allergic reaction to pollen. You can't win. You are going to die one day. Accept it and forget about it. You have a life and it won't be all that long. Few of us get to the century mark. If you're going to spend all your time worrying about it, you're just going to waste it.

Suppose, for a moment, there is a God. Suppose you are called in when you die, to account for your life.

God: So, I gave you a life. What did you do with it?

Ghost: Well, I spent most of the time worrying about dying.

God: You're a dick. Next.

All of it is exaggeration. All of it is some bunch of State teat-parasites trying to suck a little harder. There are real dangers out there, but ham sandwiches are not going to stab you or shoot you or give you gratuitous infections or sting you or bite you... They are a bit of meat in two slices of bread. If you can be made to fear that, then you are wasting your time with life. Laminate yourself and live in a plastic bubble if you wish. Live on tofu and seagrass if you wish. Don't force me to do it. You ban bacon and I will pick up a cheap bacon slicer from a doomed butcher and steal your body while you sleep. I'll make a fortune with black market long-pig rashers.

Healthier alternatives are fish, low-fat cheese, houmous, or small amounts of unprocessed, lean meat such as chicken.

Fish, Eat fish every day and you'll accumulate so much mercury that you'll get taller when the weather is warm. Low fat cheese has no taste. Cheese is made of fat. Low fat cheese misses the point in spectacular fashion. You give your kids houmous sandwiches for school and they'll slit your throat in the night, and if I'm on the jury, they'll get away with it. Small amounts of chicken are, to me, only half the chicken. This is a pile of nonsense that could only come from someone named Craze. Oh.

And finally, some real studies with real data, for a change:

Fatty foods and cancer. Note the talk of 'high intakes'. High intake of anything is bad for you. Drink four litres of orange juice and see what you get (tip: put the toilet paper in the fridge).

Food sensitiivity in children. Normal. You don't hear that word often these days.

These are the numbers. There are the studies. These are not 'ban it because we think you should' stories.

I know I'll die one day. So will you. I know I'm past the halfway mark, possibly well past. There's no point worrying about it. I plan to enjoy whatever's left to the fullest of my ability. Don't try to stop me.

Because if you take away my ability to enjoy life, I have nothing left. Nothing left to lose.

That makes me, and everyone like me, very dangerous indeed.

Let me eat whatever I want to eat.

Machine wrapped, with butter.

Don't climb the ladder.

I hang around with writers and wannabe writers a lot. I'm one too - some short stories out there but no luck with the big stuff yet. We worry about getting the grammar and spelling right, because we know that if we send something to a publisher, it's far from the only thing they'll read that day. They'll have a pile of stuff to get through and there'll be more tomorrow. So they'll read the first paragraph. If it's full of typos, bad grammar, text-speak and spelling that the writer should have grown out of within the first month of school, they read no further. I know the modern way of teaching is 'the content is valid no matter how it is expressed', but that is nonsense. Write like a blindfolded five-year-old whose fingers have been taped together and nobody will want to read it. You might have the answer to ageing, the cure for the common cold or the very meaning of life itself in there but if nobody can get past the first paragraph, it'll never see the light of day.

In scientific publication, likewise, an inability to express your thoughts in a clear and logical way (with correct grammar) will get your earth-shattering research paper sent back with a note saying 'What the hell is this about?' Sending kids out into the world with the idea that spelling and grammar don't matter is like cutting their fingers off and telling them they can be a great pianist one day.

Unfortunately, that's exactly how the education system treats those kids. They leave school after years of being told that an inability to read, write and add up is no bar to success while simultaneously being told that they have a right to a well-paid job as director of something and they should turn their noses up at cleaning jobs and till-tapping. They aren't qualified enough for a job on the tills. Not even the new laser-powered tills that just scan everything. No reading or adding required. Sometimes something won't scan and the till operator has to read a very long number and type it in correctly. Otherwise, that can of peas gets priced as a flat-screen TV and you're going to get a shock when the total pops up. Reading, writing and maths do matter. It might look cool and trendy to be a rebel with teacher's encouragement, but you won't look so cool in a few years when you have to ask someone to read you the bus timetable.

That education system has effects way beyond the worlds of literature and academia. It's turned out monkeys exactly like those described in the parable Dick Puddlecote posted, and which I've referred to before. Here is a perfect example.

Stefan Gatward added an apostrophe to his street's sign because it needed one to be correct. That's all he did. From the picture, it seems he did a good job of it too. No slapdash magic marker addition, but a proper job in keeping with the font of the sign.

It wasn't the council who attacked him for it. No, they didn't seem bothered at all. In fact -

The 62-year-old's defence of the apostrophe comes after Birmingham council announced it would scrap the punctuation from council signs for the sake of 'simplicity'.

That's because councils are full of very simple people. They don't use apostrophes because they don't know how. So it wasn't the council who branded him 'vandal'. Who then? Pseudoplods? Not this time. Officious and overzealous road sign watchers from another of those quangos? Nope.

But he was immediately accused of being a vandal by one neighbour, and his amendments have been scratched off by others who apparently prefer the wrong version.

It was the other monkeys in the room. Those who have been conditioned to believe that they are Enlightened, that they must follow the Righteous lead no matter what and who have no idea why they object to this man's little paintbrush other than the fact he's doing something different. He's tried to climb the ladder and they react as programmed. No deviation allowed. Initiative must be stamped on.

He said yesterday: 'As we are off St John's Road and opposite St John's Church, both with the apostrophe, St John's Close should have one too.'

But when Mr Gatward decided to correct the crime against the language by painting in the missing punctuation mark, he was jeered by a neighbour.

 'He told me I was wrong. He called me a vandal and a graffiti artist,' Mr Gatward said.

'He tried to tell me that the Post Office would not deliver to the street if you put in an apostrophe.'

The Post Office can be held at bay with an apostrophe? Really? I had no idea a simple punctuation mark held such power of compulsion. Are there more? Would parentheses deter burglars? Would a semi-colon scare away salesmen? I think this needs further investigation.
What kind of mindset regards a correction of punctuation as vandalism? What kind of cretin believes the Post Office scrutinise every street sign and flee at the sight of an added apostrophe? I've seen street signs that have been properly vandalised, with the letters altered or obliterated with spray paint. As far as I can tell, such genuine vandalism has not affected postal deliveries at all.

It's a perfect example of the monkeys and the ladder. They have no idea why they stop new monkeys climbing the ladder, but they know they must. This neighbour has invented a reason and I expect he actually believes it.

Dumbing down education was always going to result in things like this. Now it's here and it's not going to be easy to stop because who's going to teach the next batch of kids how to do it properly? Those currently going though teacher training are those who have already been through the current system. They can't teach what they don't know - and they wouldn't be allowed to if they do know. Existing teachers won't let them climb the ladder. They don't know why, but things are just done this way and nobody can be allowed to rock the boat.

So all we can expect are more monkeys. All following their conditioning, and none of them knowing why.

Thankfully, there are still a few going for that ladder, so all is not yet lost.