The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Two Caravans

I’ve just finished reading “Two Caravans” by Marina Lewycka.

As well as being a rollicking good read, it’s changed my approach to some of the food we eat. I can’t look at those nice packets of chicken in the supermarket in quite the same way, any more.

The description of intensive chicken farming (admittedly in Britain) is terrible and I’m well and truly put off.

I’ll take the liberty of quoting a few passages to illustrate the point:

When Neil opens the door of the barn for him to look inside, a wave of heat and stench hits him, and in the half-darkness he sees just a thick carpet of white feathers; then as Neil turns up the light, the carpet seems to be moving too; no, crawling; no, seething. They are so tightly packed you can’t make out where one chicken ends and next next begins. And the smell! It hits him in the eyes as well as the nose – a rank cloud of raw ammonia that makes his eyes burn, and he coughs and backs away from the door, his hand over his mouth. He has seen paintings of the damned souls in hell, but they are nothing compared to this.

And:

… they call them chickens, but their bodies look more like a misshapen duck’s – huge bloated bodies on top of stunted little legs, so that they seem to be staggering grotesquely under their own weight.

‘Yeah, they breed ‘em like that to get fat, like, quicker.’ … ‘It’s the supermarkets, see? They go for big breasts. Like fellers, eh?’

… ‘They keep the lights on low, so they never stop for a kip – just keep on feeding all night. … They mix the feed with that anti-bio stuff, like, to stop ‘em getting sick.’

Later, the description of catching the chickens is quite appalling.

Then we get to bit about how they are slaughtered:

When the chickens arrived at the slaughterhouse, Tomasz’s job was to hang them up by their feet in shackles suspended from a moving overhead conveyor, where they dangled, squarking hopelessly, especially those with broken legs… as the conveyor despatched them, head first, through a bath of electrified water, which was supposed to stun them, before their throats were cut with an automatic blade. But just in case the water didn’t work or the blade missed, which was often enough, there were a couple of slaughtermen standing by to slit their throats before they were sent through to the steam room, where they were plunged into the scalding tank to loosen the feathers. Then they were mechanically de-feathered and de-footed before being eviscerated by another team of slaughtermen.

Somewhere along the way we learn that the chicken is injected with water, salt, pork meat and “other stuff” to make them look plump.

I’m pretty sure the latter (injecting…) does not happen in Australia where food standards seem to be marginally better, but this all tallies with British Bacon.

Years ago we were travelling around the UK, and found that the bacon wouldn’t crisp, if you put in a pan it would boil and all this watery crud would come out before you could eventually get it to brown a bit. We were later told that the bacon has water injected into it. Great for getting the weight higher, but tastes like crap. At least Australian bacon is not that bad, so I’m hoping the chicken gets slightly better treatment as well.

And European orange juice tastes strange as well. Turns out that here we use the orange juice. The British stuff (god knows where it comes from) is crushed whole oranges – including all the bitter oils that come from the skins.

ANYHOW – if you get a chance, read it. You’ll never look at intensively farmed meat, fruit, or vegetables the same way again.

Entertaining, good fun, and appalling – all at the same time.

Novels of Shane Maloney

SWMBO and I have recently discovered the novels of Shane Maloney, an Australian writer who does mysteries with Murray Wheelan as the somewhat bumbling central character.

So far we’ve found 2 or 3 of the series in the local library, and it’s a really good change to be reading an Australian novel set in Australia. The scene, the people, the descriptions all have a context we can easily related to. It’s even better that Maloney is a witty writer with a prose style that is easy to sink into.

As I read fiction by different authors, there are two things that always stand out to me – the first is the construction of the story, the second is the style of the writer (the prose). A lousy construction and plot usually take a while to become apparent.

The writing style and turn of phrase are usually apparent within a few pages. In mysteries, I’m always taken aback by Sue Grafton, Robert B Parker, and to a lesser extent John Grisham. Some passages I have to read several times, looking at the way a few sentences can be put together to be descriptive, or humorous, and yet simultaneously be economical with words. Gee I wish I could write like they do!

By way of comparison, I really struggle with P.D. James, who has a tendency to use lots of words, in long flowery turgid passages that make the reading a labour rather than a pleasure.

Shane Maloney fits more into the mould of Grafton and Parker, then adds the spice of Labor party internal machination, inner-city ethnic politics and bickering, and a bumbling main character who falls into a hole and rather than thinking, tends to dig, and dig, before finally escaping his predicament.

Thoroughly enjoyable, and witty. See Dougs comment here, for a lovely quote.

And for something similar, read Naylors Canberra.

Sideways

I’ve been feeling very under-the-weather with this cold, which has presented an opportunity to read.

I’ve just finished “Sideways” by Rex Pickett. The film of the book was out about 6 months ago, which I also got to see

Both are hilarious, especially if you are moderately into wine.

The story takes place over about a week – two guys going on a road / wine trip as the last hurrah before one of them gets married, and the chaos that ensues.

Thoroughly recommended.

Morris West

On and off over the years I have been reading the novels of Morris West.

These books certainly do not fall into the cheap trashy novel style, and they are not “johnny-go-get-em” either. West’s writing is perhaps best described as literature.

Each book can be read and understood on many levels. There is always a deeply held moral or philosophical point. Some of them are a bit pretentious. West has a long obsession with the Catholic church. By no means is he an apologist for the Church. Rather he draws out moral dilemmas, exposes hypocrisy, and challenges his readers. He shows the world in all it’s true complexity.

Be prepared to be confronted, challenged, and maybe not to like it. But read a few of the books by Morris West.

Beyond Fear – Take 2

Some good quotes from “Beyond Fear” by Bruce Schneier…

p112:

… Society continually demands more options, greater convenience, and new features in products. The economic incentive, then, is for greater complexity. Technological systems are naturally complex. The more technology, the more complexity. Newer systems are, by their nature, less secure than older systems. Often technology requires complexity, but that doesn’t mean simplicity shouldn’t be a security goal. Albert Einstein supposedly said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” He could have been talking about security.

p113:

Modern systems are constantly evolving, which affects security. The weakest link doesn’t stay weakest for long….

Someone might think “I am worried about car theft, so I will buy an expensive security device that makes ignitions impossible to hotwire.” That seems a reasonable thought, but counties such as Russia, where these security devices are commonplace, have seen an increase in carjackings.

And (p276) for our crazily litigious world:

Finding blame or fault is a perfectly human reaction, but it’s important to accept that sometimes failures simply happen. Not all grievances can be redressed. Not all wrongs can be righted. Not all things can be fixed. This fact can be tremendously serious and heartbreaking. When a sniper attack makes the front page or a rare surgical accident debilitates someone you know, it’s natural to demand safeguards so the problem won’t happen again. But in a country of XXX million people, even incredibly unlikely events will occur once in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the system is flawed, someone is at fault, or retribution is deserved. Too often people image all sorts of horrific scenarios and then demand to be protected from them. Lawyers exploit this misconception, as do politicians. Even warning labels on the products we buy (seen on a Dominos Pizza box: “Caution! Contents hot!”) imply that somehow we can avoid the risks inherent in life.

Beyond Fear

I’ve been reading Bruce Schneier’s book “Beyond Fear”, which I was able to pick up from one of the Amazon associated sellers for a decent price.

This should be compulsory reading for those crazy people who want to confiscate tweezers at airport checkins, and who removed all the rubbish bins from out main railway station.

Security is more than what you first think of. Putting your money in a bank is a security measure. So is not walking down dark alleys. Same with keeping your car tyres pumped up, and keeping oil in the engine. Security is all about evaluating the things we do or don’t do, and working out the consequences.

The book gives a simple 5 point evaluation / checklist to figure out if a security measure is worthwhile.

It is the clearest, most straighforward explanation you will ever find for so many of the crazy things you see happening around you in the name of “security”, and it covers a lot of human behaviour as well.

This book is well written, well structured, straightforward and so, so sensible.

The Firm

I’ve just finished reading “The Firm” by John Grisham.

In usual Grisham fashion, it is a compelling page-turner. For the last few nights, I have been sitting up until way too late, unable to put it down.

Finally finished! A damn good read. Now I can talk to the family again.

Hmm… I think I have “The Partner” sitting waiting somewhere…

I guess I had better finished Bruce Schneiers’ “Beyond Fear” first.

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