Rogues’ gallery

Do you remember George Speight? In 2000 he usurped Fijian democracy, nominally standing for indigenous rights, but by a strange coincidence he was also an undischarged bankrupt about to face court proceedings.

Or how about Pervez Musharraf? In 1999 he usurped Pakistani democracy, purportedly fighting corruption, but he had also just overseen the disastrous Kargil operation and was facing calls to be court-martialled.

Hell, do you remember Gaius Julius Caesar, who usurped Roman democracy supposedly to restore order to the empire, but who was about to lose his consular immunity and face repeated Senatorial prosecutions for exceeding and ignoring their military instructions?

And now? Now a man facing charges of taking bribes worth $40 million, pillaging of state assets, and money laundering is firmly on his way to removing a democratically-elected president accused of a bit of creative accounting, in the name of the family and God, of all things. Congratulations, Eduardo Cunha. Welcome to the dismal brigade of self-interested, power-hungry, democracy-screwing arseholes.

Speight, Musharraf, Caesar, Cunha

On the nature of Evil

Ethics, theology, and belief seem to crop up a fair amount on this blog, and many of you may have formed the impression that I am a moral relativist, rejecting as I do the existence of any kind of absolutist law-giving deity, and remaining highly dubious of arguments attempting to demonstrate natural, intrinsic, moral norms.

In this you would be right, at least as far as the Good is concerned. But Evil is a different matter. I have a very, very clear concept of absolute Evil, and it is thus:


Let me be clear, I have no beef with sweet things (literally, as well as figuratively). Cake is fine. Biscuits, sure. We are coming to the part of the year where it is traditional to soak a wide range of confections in substantial quantities of whisky, rum, or brandy and of this I can but approve—though I frown slightly at the tradition of then burning some of it off, which rather defeats the point.

However—and I cannot stress this enough—the combination of sweetness of taste and gooeyness of texture is the nub, the pole, the lodestone, and the very epitome of Evil. That so many of you seem not only ignorant but actively in denial of this fact is a clear demonstration of the Fallen state of humankind.

Every nation commits this sin, in their own way. The British, of course, not satisfied with raping and pillaging the world through centuries of empire, made ourselves irredeemable by the infliction of custard thereupon. The Italians compound their popery and frilly shirts with panna cotta. The Germans gave us operas that last for whole weekends and Schokoküsse. The Turks and the Greeks compete not to deny but to lay claim to the eponymous delight of the former, and the French tauntingly burn a crust onto their puddles of sweetened cream, rather than committing the entire work of heresy to a justly-deserved auto-da-fé.

But Brazil! Oh Brazil! If the brigadeiro, the pudim, and canjica were not sufficient barbarisms to thrust upon your good, God-fearing people, the horrors of horrors of doce de leite alone place you at the height of the list of offenders. It is little surprise that so many of your folk devotedly attend church on Sundays and top up on Wednesdays, for you have much, much to repent of.

And the travesty pictured above? On a flight from Rio to Paris, some hideous, unforgivable individual, some spawn of Satan, some execrable inexcusable excrement of humanity had decided to celebrate this joining of nations by contorting together their greatest evils, and placed before each and every innocent passenger a doce de leite crème brûlée.

That the plane was not struck from the sky by a retributive bolt of divine lightning is the greatest evidence one could ever seek for the non-existence of God.

Punctuated model of inebriation

punctuated model of inebriation (phr.) theoretical model of consumption which proposes that, over an extended period, inebriation should occur due to short bursts of intensive consumption, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. Differs from the graduated model of inebriation, which proposes continual and uniform consumption of small quantities.

Being narcoleptic, the punctuated model works best for me, as it allows downtime for a recuperatory doze mid-session. As yesterday was a feriado here, it seemed rude not to have a couple of after-lunch caipirinhas, a trajectory which clearly could not be maintained through to the small hours of the morning. Careful application of the punctuated model resulted in, twelve hours later, a pleasantly woozy end to the evening on the beach with a bunch of friends, a guitar, and a bonfire, singing those slightly saccharine but catchy tunes which seem to fall off the pens of Brazilian songwriters almost as if—well, almost as if carousing sentimental melodies on a beach till the small hours of the morning was one of the simplest but greatest pleasures of life.

On jararacuçus

I’m a city boy, without any doubt. I was brought up in Bristol and then Plymouth and, as an adult, have largely lived in medium-sized cities: Oxford, York, Bath. The inability to drive coupled with a cripplingly infrangible requirement for americanos means I cannot spend too long more than a short bike ride from an espresso machine.

This is not to say I disapprove of nature, quite the opposite. However, as I think is clear from a previous post, I generally meh English nature. I am not a subtle man: I like my scenary spectacular, my climate hot (without the benefit of carbon emissions), and my rain to be proper rain—tempestuous downpours are far more enjoyable than months of endless drizzle working its way up, in poor excuse for a climax, to windscreen-smothering blatter. I like my flora weird and odourful, and my fauna to look like it lives off something other than cream teas and whimsy. Buttercups and shrews entertain me not: I want a dama da noite and an ariranha that would eat its English cousin for breakfast. Brazil provides me with nature of the kind I enjoy and, when there, I often stay in the village of Picinguaba, which is surrounded by the stuff. But it is also there that, a few years ago, I came up against the limits of my fauna appreciation, on a nature trail nearby.

I went with a couple of English friends (one resident in Picinguaba, the other visiting her) and a Brazilian chap to a waterfall near the next village, Ubatumirim. Visiting waterfalls is a popular alternative to a beach: there is considerably more shade, and usually a pleasant stroll through the forest to get to the falls. A pleasant stroll indeed was had, and then a few hours lolling around and sunbathing and reading and generally being indolent. We started back, and the Brazilian guy was in the front, which was fortunate as but a couple of meters down the path he stopped, held us back, and warned us to be careful, as there was, he said, a snake on the path. Coming up next, I looked at where he was pointing a saw, well, nothing. It took me a quite a few moments before I could make it out, and there is no way I would have spotted it just walking past, but there was, indeed, a smallish brown/yellow snake curled up on the path. Camouflage works really rather well actually out there in the wild, it would appear.

Anyway, our Brazilian friend told us to be very careful. This was a jararaca or a jararacuçu (pronounced ja-ra-ra-ka and ja-ra-ra-ku-su). Whichever it was, he warned us, the snake was very venemous. Can I admit to you that a little voice in my head pshawed him? I mean, it was clearly a biter rather than a squeezer, but it wasn’t that big, and more importantly we know—don’t we, fellow city-dwellers?—from David Attenborough documentaries that nature warns of venom. Poisonous or venemous creatures are brightly coloured or otherwise flouncy and exhibitionist: I cite you the coral snake, the lion fish, and the magnificently-named Pfeffer’s flamboyant cuttlefish, a cephalopod which clearly spends far too much time in the dressing room. So it was clear to me that this well-camouflaged brownish-yellowish thing couldn’t really be properly venomous. Nevertheless, it could at the least leave two unwelcome punctures in my shin, and might sting a bit, so I gave it, as did everyone else, a wide berth.

When we arrived back at Picinguaba I was chatting with my friend Peter, and I mentioned this snake to him. He seemed impressed, and reiterated the line that they were very dangerous. Pshaw, the doubting voice in my head went, but slightly less confidently so than it had previously. On the pretext of establishing whether it was a jararaca or a jararacuçu I got out my laptop and started to look it up online …

… and found that it’s a pit viper. That’s a genuinely rather venemous snake, and aggressive to boot. (Can snakes be anything to boot?) Indeed, of the jararacuçu—which, from the colouring and geographical distribution, I now think it was—the first scholarly article I found said that it is “one of the most dreaded snakes of Brazil.” I appealed to reason. According to most online sources they grow over 2m in length, and this one couldn’t have been more than 50cm. So it couldn’t be that bad, could it? Peter demurred. The small ones, he claimed, are more aggressive and more likely to inject their entire venom reservoir.

The pshaw-voice in my head was oddly muted by now. Perhaps, after all, local knowledge should be respected. And maybe shrews aren’t so bad, either.

A to Z blogging challenge: J