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Posts Tagged ‘H.G. Wells’

Earth vs Martians vs Martians vs Devlerlich

Posted by Dirck on 17 June, 2013

To start what is apt to become a long series of quasi-reviews of films and partial responses to film critics, I’m starting with far too much to really attempt all in one go.  The critic I’ll be leaning on today is El Santo, a self-confessed fan of genre and exploitation film and a remarkable scholar of same; there are films I have no interest in watching that I’d still sort of like to see, thanks to his reviews.  He is, in fact, just about my favourite film critic.

Film favourites also appear here, although we may play a few bars of the old Sesame Street song and sing quietly, “One of these things is not like the others.”  Because speaking of one is difficult without speaking about the others, the unchewable lump I’m gnawing on today is composed of War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks, and Independence Day, and those links will take you to El Santo’s elegant reviews of each if you’re unfamiliar with them.

War of the Worlds, if you’re unwilling to click that link, is the 1953 original film version, not any of the differently-terrible ones which have appeared since the most recent turn of the century.  I’ve seen two of them, and I wish the period one had been better in some way (acted, written, funded) because that’s the one I wish Spielberg had made.  The one he was attached to very nearly overcomes the presence of Tom Cruise (pause for a shudder), as during the whole flight from the Martians his portrayal of a panicky, worried Joe Lunchbucket dad who is monumentally out of his depth is believable to the point that one almost forgets the terrible pre-Martian segment where he’s established as a Joe Lunchbucket dad (with amazing teeth).  Once the flight ends, and your warning for this is the appearance of Tim Robbins, it turns into a stupid action movie, with a Joe Lunchbucket dad who hasn’t eaten properly or slept in a couple of days performing heroics with hand grenades, pointing out the unnoticed but obvious state of the attackers, and generally getting a spotlight shone upon him.

The 1953 film is, in common with the Cruise object, rewritten for a contemporary setting.  This is, as El Santo points out, fair enough since the original story was also contemporary to its day.  The whole point of the ending is that humanity’s technology is orders of magnitude short of the challenge posed by the invaders, and as much as I wish for a good period movie version I accept that the average audience won’t be as moved by the sight of lancers, horse artillery and ironclads being swept aside as they will by the current cutting edge military technology being shambolized.  Since 1953’s cutting edge included the unspeakably unstable YB-49 Flying Wing I’m just as pleased because there’s a ton of stock footage of the thing in action.  The updating also brings in atomic power, and that allows for my favourite unintentionally funny part of the film, in which our hero Dr. Clayton Forrester hauls out a Gieger counter to examine the “meteor”; the blocking of the scene and the relative heights of Gene Barry and Ann Robinson make it look like he’s got a very accurate bra-detector.

Mars Attacks and Independence Day are both, in essence, remakes of War of the Worlds.  The former is a much looser interpretation but much more open about its lineage to those who know what to look for– the Martians’ ray-guns produce two different colours of blast and make a very specific noise.  El Santo points out that the main reason for the success (artistically) of Mars Attacks is that the director both understood and loved the old films upon which it was based, of which War of the Worlds is merely the foremost.  I’m not a wall-to-wall Tim Burton fan, but I agree whole-heartedly with El Santo that he nailed the required tone throughout Mars Attacks.  There are plenty of nods to both the original bubble-gum card source, the most startling of which is the initial scene, and to science fiction films of most ages; I’m reminded as I write this that The Andromeda Strain was technically an alien invasion story.  While the most obvious touchstone for the saucers is the vessels run up by Ray Harryhausen for Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, there is also a little tip of the hat from Burton to the studio that was backing him– when they deploy their landing gear, the subconscious makes an effort to apply a set of enormous black canvas high-top sneakers to them.

Independence Day on the other hand, while sticking a little closer to the storyline of War of the Worlds, strays from it in exactly the wrong ways.  Let me tinker a synopsis that will fit both films (beware the dread spoiler): aliens appear, begin to destroy things shortly thereafter, prove human military technology is helpless against them, and resist nuclear bombardment; some captured technology proves to be of limited value in discovering a means of defeating the invaders, but an infection turns the tide at the last moment.  Sounds about right?  It was the near shot-for-shot similarity of the nuclear attack in Independence Day that made me realize what I was looking at, and once the realization was there, I was even sadder about watching the damn thing.

El Santo castigates it properly for having a very small percentage of the running time given over to the actual blowing up of stuff, but there are some pretty long stretches of square-dancing, running to and fro, and slightly unlikely science chatter in War of the Worlds too.  I suspect if one examined in percent terms the alien on-screen time of the two films, Independence Day wouldn’t lag that far behind… but it’s a much longer film, so the relative similarity is overtaken by the absolute yawning immensity of Independence Day‘s empty bits.

For all the bad science and protracted dullness Independence Day offers, though, I think the concluding deus ex machina is the stake in its heart.  I join not only El Santo but legions of like-minded SF buffs in deriding the whole computer virus solution to the problem the aliens present, demanding as it does the deeply unlikely combination of humans piloting an alien vessel (and the aliens seem to have a lot of prehensile somethings when Will Smith punches one out), alien operating systems accepting any code from an earth computer, alien ATC not realizing they’re admitting a Trojan horse, and the crew of said horse getting out alive, but I add an extra note to that polyphony of raspberry.  Independence Day‘s greatest sin is to entirely reverse the conclusion of War of the Worlds— Wells and his sensible followers showed the helplessness of human ingenuity in the face of such a foe, but Independence Day proclaims that human ingenuity is quite sufficient to defeat a force which can cross interstellar gulfs, built artificial objects the size of moderate moons, decline the demands of gravity, generate forcefields which are impenetrable in one direction, and generally do feats of engineering we’re all but forced to call magic.  Since all of the preceding had been, as in the other two films, an excellent case against human ingenuity’s chances, it’s eventual triumph is less a come-from-behind win than a poke in the audience’s eye.  “You believed all that stuff we were saying? Chumps!”

Looking at box office success, we find that the little green gremlin which afflicts so many real-world efforts to visit Mars may also have a brief in the sabotaging of films about the red planet.  War of the Worlds is one of three films of the 1950s which El Santo credits with slamming the door on big budget sci-fi films until Stanley Kubrick pried it open at the end of the ’60s, and Mars Attacks grossed more than it cost but not the multiples of its cost that Hollywood seems to think is required to count as a success.  I wasn’t around to see how War of the Worlds was received in the theatres, but I did get to Mars Attacks in its first run and of the three dozen people in the showing my wife and I attended, only ten of us seemed to get the jokes; this does nothing to encourage my view of humanity as a whole.  I could say the same about the relative success of Independence Day at the box office, since it did make back several times its cost, but I seem to recall that it did most of its business in the first week or two, before disappointed word of mouth had a chance to circulate.  Alas, unlike War of the Worlds’s effect on A-list sci-fi in the 1950s, there is no sign of Independence Day having done any harm to the notion of gigantic brainless blockbusters.

Creepy, inhumanly shaped, and it made horrid noises too!.

Creepy, inhumanly shaped, and it made horrid noises too!.

How the hell did they get Edith Head to stand still for this picture?

How the hell did they get Edith Head to stand still for this picture?

To wrap up, I want to take issue with El Santo himself, who says “the creature costumes {in War of the Worlds} are not nearly as good as the model war machines or the optical effects associated with them….”  I beg your pardon, sir!  While the behind-the-scenes interviews on the DVD suggest that the Martians had a very limited ability to hold together under the influences found on a film set, it was still a profoundly alien piece of work.  We’ve done better since, of course, but for the time, I think the creature stands up to what scrutiny the film provides every bit as well at the machines.  After all, they could have gone a much different route….

Today’s pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink: Rohrer & Klingner Verdigris
Pens spotted in the films: Nothing I could readily identify, although I want to have another look at the lab scene in War of the Worlds when Forrester brings in the captured technology.

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Posted in Armchair Quarterslack | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

King Me!

Posted by Dirck on 19 February, 2013

H.G. Wells has already quite brilliantly exploded the old saw which runs, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king,” and I’m tempted to stop immediately after urging you to go and read his story.  However, the saw retains some teeth, and while I did not spend the weekend in the kingdom of the blind, I did spend it largely in the grip of a migraine which left me with one functioning eye.  It’s not that the other stops working, really, but if I try to use it, it wanders around like Homer Simpson’s when he’s posed a question of high-energy physics and then starts trying to bite its way free of the socket.  Not a lot of fun.

It also reduces productivity immensely.  I managed, before the problem descended, to get some fresh stuff published on my site, and then as incapacity grew I turned to getting client pens squared away before the multiplicity of them becomes an authentic backlog.  Some success there, hoorah, including some interesting forays into parts making which I’ll report on when the exercise proves successful.  However, what I couldn’t apply myself to, since migraines render me almost incapable of speech as well as enjoyment of life, was InCoWriMo.  Can I catch up?  I have some serious doubts.  Since my son has come down with a case of Gargling Awfuls, the next couple of evenings don’t look too hopeful.

I’ll finish my whine by noting that the fine weather has broken, and February has remembered it’s duty to be as cold and miserable as possible.  Good thing it was a long weekend, eh?  Anyway, I’m going to try getting some letter-writing accomplished to convince myself there’s potential for recovery.

Today’s pen: Italix Parson’s Essential (in part because it’s heavy, and I need extra ballast in the face of the gales of wind)
Today’s ink: Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue (which does actually cheer a guy up– such a jolly blue!)

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Field Trip!

Posted by Dirck on 23 November, 2012

Does everyone have the permission slip?  Yes? Good.  Now, then… who wants to go to Heidelberg?  Lamy offers a tour of their production facilities, complete with exactly the sort of soundtrack one expects in an industrial/educational film.  Those of about my age will find nostalgia rising up to slap them on the back of the head like a whimsical zombie.

Off we go!  Play sanitary!

My fellow H.G. Wells fanciers can mull the implications of the appearance of Morlocks at about the four minute mark (they do not look like the ones in the Rod Taylor film).

Today’s pen: Parker 95
Today’s ink: Herbin Pousièrre de Lune

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

TMI! (Terribly Manly Index)

Posted by Dirck on 19 November, 2010

As opposed to my usual Friday squib, I spent some free time yesterday responding to an article found on the Esquire website, regarding what a “real man” should know.  While I’m not particularly worried about my masculine qualifications, one does occasionally like to beat his chest and make grunting noises.  I’ll also mention that I’m not given to perusing Esquire, but was directed to this article by someone else’s blog.

Two quick comments about it before I start, or rather questions.  First, is the role of the male in modern culture so ill-defined that we need a constant parade of things like this?  I suppose it is, since the “advice” is so frequently at odds from one to another, if not in direct opposition.  This one, at least, I can mainly support in its criteria.

The other question is, what possesses me to pull back my Great and Powerful Oz curtain?  I’ve laboured somewhat to remain semi-mysterious, made elusive references rather than frank admissions, all the stuff that one of my generation does in the mistaken belief that it’s a safer way to conduct oneself on the lawless lanes of the internet.  What possesses me to respond to something that isn’t actually asking for responses, and show various actualities of the human that lurks behind this electronic mask I’ve composed?  That’s one I don’t have an adequate answer for, apart from an apprehended urge to show off and a foolish certainty that, really, I’m not giving away anything important.  Not until the bit at the bottom about credit card numbers, at least.

So, here we go.  I’d suggest having a look at the original article first, as the author sometimes provides useful context.

The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master

1. Give advice that matters in one sentence.

Well… sometimes.  Taciturnity is not necessarily a virtue.

2. Tell if someone is lying.

Yep.

3. Take a photo.

Despite the evidence of the pictures on my site, I will claim this skill.  I’m just rather better at landscapes.

4. Score a baseball game.

We have here the first indication that this was meant for a US reader, which will become more obvious later.  That aside, I have to let this point go—while I can certainly say, “Well, that fella got all around the bases, so one point for his team,” that’s not what the author of the piece means.  What he means is all the pointless trivia that keeps people from destroying themselves through ennui when trapped at a baseball game.

5. Name a book that matters.

“Matters” is a tricky, subjective thing.  Let’s try a shot-gun approach:

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton; The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture; 1984, George Orwell; The Value of Nothing, Raj Patel; First and Last Things, H.G. Wells; A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright; The Geography of Hope, Chris Turner; War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy… I think that covers enough bases.  Actually, I’m going to toss Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) in as well.  Bible, Koran, Talmud and Torah are all rather too obvious.

6. Know at least one musical group as well as is possible.

No.  I know some interesting Rolling Stones trivia, but my wife knows enough about HIM to cover the whole family, so I don’t try too hard.

7. Cook meat somewhere other than the grill.

Does a Salmon Mousse count?  I’ve not tried Beef Wellington yet, as it looks like a pretty low hassle/reward ratio.

8. Not monopolize the conversation.

Except where pens come up, and I can still reign myself in.

9. Write a letter.

I chortle.  I triumph.  Next, please.

10. Buy a suit.

Yes, in the “know how” department.  “Afford to” is elusive, given my current criteria, which sort of demand a some bespoke tailoring (52 tall, and high arm-holes in the vintage style—not to be found on racks).  I’m still counting it.

11. Swim three different strokes.

Yep.

12. Show respect without being a suck-up.

Of course, but not blindly—an old veteran who saved a box of kittens from a burning building can still run through his credit if he tries hard enough.

13. Throw a punch.

I never quite got the chi-curdling taiji “no-inch punch” sorted, but that aside, you betcha.

14. Chop down a tree.

Only once, and the theory of the under-cut proved sound.

15. Calculate square footage.

This should be rather further up the list.  How do you get out of grade-school without knowing this?

16. Tie a bow tie.

Not since my wedding, but I’m sure it would come back to me.

17. Make one drink, in large batches, very well.

Egg nog, which is hard to make in less than gallon batches, and a modified Manhattan (replacing the fruit with a liqueur I decline to mention in public) which I seem incapable of making at a rate of less than a pint per person.  I doubt the fellow that put this list together meant zymurgy as such, which leaves out my meads and ciders.

18. Speak a foreign language.

As the originator writes, Pas beaucoup. Mais faites un effort. I can follow simple conversation in Dutch and almost in French, I can tell when the subtitles are missing something the Germans said in a film, and I can explain to a Korean that I’m a Canadian rather than an American.  I can also say “I do not speak your language” in several, including Latin and Japanese.

19. Approach a woman out of his league.

I cheat at this—I’m happily married, and when speaking to a woman the id and/or spinal reflexes are not allowed near the controls.  The secret for you lads who are still looking is: do not let the id or spinal reflexes near the controls, no matter how they screech.  Treat her like a person, and all will resolve itself well.

20. Sew a button.

Yes, when the kid’s asleep.  Needles and toddlers don’t mix.  Don’t forget to wrap the shank!

21. Argue with a European without getting xenophobic or insulting soccer.

Ah, here’s where the US origin of the list comes clear—read the content that originally followed this point:

Once, in our lifetime, much of Europe was approaching cultural and political irrelevance. Then they made like us and banded together into a union of confederated states. So you can always assume that they were simply copying the United States as they now push us to the verge of cultural and political irrelevance.

Silly bugger.  Given that my dad’s a European and we’ve had the odd contretemp, I think I get to score this one.  I am left wondering why so many internet users in the US think no one outside the US can see what they’re up to.

22. Give a woman an orgasm so that he doesn’t have to ask after it.

Good heavens, man.  Where’s your propriety? Oh, right, it’s Esquire.  Well, my own propriety is intact, or as much as it can be from just posting the thing (which is strangely obscure for a professionally-written sentence), so I decline to answer.

23. Be loyal.

As with respect, yes, but not blindly.   

24. Know his poison, without standing there, pondering like a dope.

 Brand, amount, style, fast, like so: Booker’s, double, neat.

Oh, so there’s no room for a moment of mood nor location?  Pint of Palliser Porter at the local, a Manhattan at my parent’s house, wine at the in-laws… it’s variable.  What kinds of single malt do you have?

25. Drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it.

I like to think a little where my thumbs are on the line.  But definitely don’t over-think it.

26. Cast a fishing rod without shrieking or sighing or otherwise admitting defeat.

When it comes up, I cast the lure.  Casting the rod seems an admission in itself.  Fishing leads to having a fish with a facial injury in your boat, though, and I’ve pretty much given it up.

27. Play gin with an old guy.

Gah.  Card games.  I don’t get this one.

28. Play go fish with a kid.

…nor this one.  I may make an effort when my son is of an age.

29. Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped.

I get into a lot of trouble when I start actually picturing the dimension that’s at right angles to the common three without sitting down first, and I get a lot of comedy mileage out of Heisenberg.  The quarter will not pass through the table if you’re looking at it.

30. Feign interest.

At The Regular Job, it sometimes is the only alternative to flinging a stapler.

31. Make a bed.

Oh, come on.  Yes.

32. Describe a glass of wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oaky, finish, or kick.

Yep.  Sadly, the word fungoid sometimes offers itself.  I would suggest the same requirement stand regarding beer, which if you’re not stupid about selection can have some interesting complexities.

33. Hit a jump shot in pool.

I respect the table and its owner too much.  Pass.

34. Dress a wound.

Yes.  But not recently, hoorah.

35. Jump-start a car (without any drama). Change a flat tire (safely). Change the oil (once).

These are a bit diverse to count as one point, but in order: far too often, spring and fall for the rotation, and yes, just once.

36. Make three different bets at a craps table.

No.  Mainly because I don’t feel like handing my money to a casino.

37. Shuffle a deck of cards.

Yes.

38. Tell a joke.

Yes, although I tend to prefer shaggy dogs or subtle bon mots.  The middle ground tends to be little childish.

39. Know when to split his cards in blackjack.

No.  See #36.

40. Speak to an eight-year-old so he will hear. Concentrate instead on seeing the child as a person of his own.

This seems obvious to me.

41. Speak to a waiter so he will hear.

Ditto.  Waiter = person, and never mind that they and your food will at some point be together where you can’t see them.

42. Talk to a dog so it will hear.

Not a lot of dog experience.  I’ll lose a point here.

43. Install: a disposal, an electronic thermostat, or a lighting fixture without asking for help.  

This does make one feel very manly, or at least capable.  I was puffed up like a toad for days after installing a ceiling fan unassisted this spring.

44. Ask for help.

I have mentioned time and again the need to know your limitations—just like Harry Callahan says!  The original author states the position well: Guys who refuse to ask for help are the most cursed men of all. The stubborn, the self-possessed, and the distant. The hell with them.

45. Break another man’s grip on his wrist.

Well, yes, but if you’re a subtle taiji guy, you don’t want to break that grip.  Stare into the abyss and it may stare back; grab the wrong guy’s wrist, and you’ve given him a handle made out of your fingers.

46. Tell a woman’s dress size.

I will admit defeat on this one, as it seems a good deal more arcane than quantum physics.  How, exactly, do you have a size 0?

47. Recite one poem from memory.

Ah, the failing of the literate memory—I know where it’s written down, so why recall it?  There is one, by a Canadian author, which sticks because it’s deeply uncomfortable, and I’m not going to inflict it upon you.  Read it if you must, but don’t blame me.

48. Remove a stain.

Ink from shirt, wine from carpet.  Check.

49. Say no.

Very useful with a 2 year old about.

50. Fry an egg sunny-side up.

The best thing I ever heard about frying an egg was that it was best thought of a poaching in oil—you’ll get a better result if you use lots of oil (or butter—admit its superiority in flavour) and have a spoon by you to ladle it onto the top of the egg.

51. Build a campfire.

With or without matches?  I’d rather do it with, because making a fire-drill is rather drawn out, and the effort to get a cinder is immense.  I also seldom carry flint, steel and char-cloth with me, although that is a pretty gratifying way of doing it when it works.

52. Step into a job no one wants to do.  

As infrequently as possible.

53. Sometimes, kick some ass.

You know, if you’re doing other stuff right, this never comes up (except if it’s meant to be fun).  Pass.

54. Break up a fight.

See previous.  I don’t hang around with the sort of people or in the sort of places where I’d get a chance.

55. Point to the north at any time.

Except sometimes, in an unfamiliar basement.  Otherwise… well, duh.

56. Create a play-list in which ten seemingly random songs provide a secret message to one person.

I’ll not take a point on this one, since I think I could manage it given a lot of time and effort, but not in a brisk, timely manner.

57. Explain what a light-year is.

If the person I’m explaining it to isn’t a complete idiot.  Still, there are those who think it’s a measure of time, aren’t there?

58. Avoid boredom.

My wife and I marvel at this.  You’ve got enough free time to be bored?  Are you out of books?  Nothing needs a button sewn on?  No letters want writing?  All messes cleaned or tidied as needed?  Well, that sounds like a smashing opportunity to get in some proper meditation.  Bored?  What the hell is that, anyway?

59. Write a thank-you note.

Yep.

60. Be brand loyal to at least one product.

I am disinclined to this sort of thing.  If pressed, I will admit to Lucerne Egg Nog being my choice over other brands, but that’s because they haven’t screwed with their recipe.  I’m not going to use it if I don’t like it.

61. Cook bacon.

The list’s author recommends baking, which works, but if one wants the grease for frying an egg or as a base for Pannekoeken met Spek, there’s still the pan.

62. Hold a baby.

Yep.  Lots.  He’s not a baby any more, and it’s more of a work-out.  That’s balanced by the loss of the apprehended terror of dropping.

63. Deliver a eulogy.

Chances are one day I’ll have to, but I haven’t yet.  No point.

64. Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch.

I have a history degree.  This is sort of an {insert name here} statement.

65-67. Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap. Throw a football with a tight spiral. Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.

Well, there’s three points down the drain.  I’m going to claim one back for using a longbow with a 65-pound draw for target shooting, though.  Ball sports just don’t do it for me.

68. Find his way out of the woods if lost.

Um… do I know for a fact no one is looking for me?  If I’ve blundered my way into the problem, then I believe I can find my way out (I know where north is, right?).  If it’s a plane crash or similar, then you stay with the damned wreckage, and even if you have just blundered your way into trouble, do something to make yourself obvious then stay put.  It’s the continued wandering that gets you into trouble.

69. Tie a knot.

Boy scout, me.  I still remember reef, hitch and hangman’s knot well enough… although I have not actually used the last—it’s just a useful way of remembering how to secure a coil of rope or extension cord, similar to the second method of whipping a rope shown here but using one end to wrap around the coil.

70. Shake hands.

Remembering always that some cultures don’t go for this, and others drag it out amazingly.  I generally let the other person lead.

71. Iron a shirt.

Good lord.  How can you be out in the world and not know this?

72. Stock an emergency bag for the car.

Absolutely.

73. Caress a woman’s neck.

A specific woman, yes.

74. Know some birds.

There’s some unexpected visitors to the feeder in front of the living room window.  Including an unlikely saw-whet owl, but that was only once.

75. Negotiate a better price.

No thanks.  I ran my own little retail enterprise once, put the prices as low as any kind of reason would suggest, and developed a loathing for the kind of person that though that I had room to maneuver and would not pay the sticker price.  Buddy, if you want to buy it at wholesale cost, open a store and order a crate of the things like I did—the cost you’re trying to negotiate away is my next meal.  On a car or a house, perhaps I might, but on common retail items, it’s not worth feeling oily.

-end-

My tally runs to 57, which I’m pretty comfortable with.  Most of the missed items I feel no shame over, as most of them I’ve consciously rejected.  The chap whose blog directed me to the article was pleased with 39.   What’s missing, of course, is tying a non-bow-tie, using a fountain pen, properly shining your own shoes, and using a non-electric razor.  Oh, well.  A real man is supposed not to complain in the face of adversity.

Today’s slightly Freudian pen:  Sheaffer Legacy I (as close as I come to a Pen For Men)

Today’s mostly masculine ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

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I am not a Martian

Posted by Dirck on 20 October, 2009

I was reading yesterday’s number of Ink Quest, and followed an alarming lnk from there to this review of some triclosan-coated pencils. The review is sensible, but the product itself comes very close to unhinging my sanity. Fortunately, a throat raw from horrified screaming doesn’t prevent one from typing.

I’m astonished that there hasn’t been a general ban on this sort of thing. For those who aren’t hip to the whole terror of anti-bacterial products and their role in the current worry about resistant infections, I’ll explain in terms suited to the meanest understanding (that is to say, my own):

Your skin is and always has been home to a countless multitude of tiny organisms, the vast majority of which are entirely innocuous, swarming about their lives with infinite complacency and unremarked by their wearer. There are a few villains in the crowd, as there are in any crowd, but the very numbers of the non-harmful creatures keep them down.

Picture the back of your hand, or the top of your kitchen counter, as a beach upon which is set a buffet. A few ruffians are amongst the citizens, wearing leather jackets and contemplating acts of aimless destruction (graffiti, arson, that sort of thing). The leather jacket is, metaphorically, what gives these thugs the ability to ignore antibiotics. This is not your standard buffet, though, since all the other guests are variations on Bruce Willis and John Wayne characters– they’re not looking for trouble, but woe to the trouble-makers who tangle with them. When the thugs seek to push their way through to the buffet, we find that they are very small creatures, actually oppressed by the weight of their jackets. Such food as they get is the mere leavings of the upright citizens, who eat well, wax strong, and go to produce more generations of decent and law-abiding folks.

Introduce an antibacterial product to this picture. You suddenly remove everyone except the leather-jacketed thugs from the buffet. They may eat and breed without impediment, and suddenly you’re a-swarm with scofflaws who don’t mind burning down the house they’re living in. You must have noticed, I’m sure, that these products speak of killing 99.99% of bacteria on a surface– which sounds impressive, until you consider how large a number .01% of several billion is.

Where this analogy breaks down is in the leather jacket department. Perhaps I should have spoken in terms of “get out of jail free” cards, as bacteria will swap their genetic material the way kids swap cards. It’s not just the leather-jacketed layabouts that you need to be worried about. There’s some one-celled Charles Mansons that might find themselves immune to things that we’d rather they weren’t.

Like the author of the review, I advocate washing your hands rather than relying on the static defences of triclosan and similar chemicals. The flood washes away the good and the bad alike, and the good are better at rebuilding. An alcohol-based sanitizer is a decent stop-gap measure, but it doesn’t really remove the ick from your hands (also, alcohol is not a friend to many pen-barrel materials). By the way, if you’re worried about catching something from a writing implement, neither a borrower nor a lender be, and take comfort in the notion that most pens don’t provide much of a harbour for germs– there’s not much there for them to live on.

For counter-tops, I’m a fan of vinegar or lemon juice. Kills microflora, removes grease, and contains absolutely no stinky Febreeze.

Those who try too hard to remove all agents of infection from their surroundings face the prospect of not only being left with only very ugly microbes in the house, but also of letting their immune system get out of shape. There’s speculation that the increasing incidence of asthma and allergy in the population is a result of an over-sanitized childhood– the immune system, deprived of play-time, becomes bored and looks for something to do.

H.G. Wells was aiming his pen at colonial attitudes towards the colonized rather than at hyper-sanitization, but the conclusion of War of the Worlds is still worth reading from home health point of view. I’m all in favour of the eradication of smallpox, but there’s some low-key pathogens that it’s probably not that bad an idea to keep around, just to keep our immune systems on their toes. The smallest creatures that the creator put here are not without utility, after all, even if you don’t like wine and cheese.

Today’s slightly musty pen: Parker Vacumatic (a newly-revived Emerald Pearl Major)
Today’s infection-free ink: Herbin’s Lie de Thé

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