There’s a really nice piece in the Telegraph about the Isle of Man TT Races and specifically the dangers that the riders face when doing 200mph + through the villages. The comments of regular rider (and winner) John McGuinness are particularly good:

No one is pointing a gun at your head. Everyone knows the risks and they are happy to race on that basis.

Two more deaths this year have focused more attention on safety at the races, but as Tom Cary reiterates:

As long as the riders are not endangering anyone else – and there have been deaths to spectators and officials down the years, of course – then who is to say they cannot put their bodies on the line on closed roads?

Anyway, it’s worth a read, and the film it is loosely promoting – Road – looks interesting, too.

Coincidental killers

This piece by Ed Yong in aeon magazine is beautifully written and will make you think about how we, as humans, view our world in an arrogantly anthropocentric manner.

Humans tend to believe that the bacteria that cause us illness and disease do so because that is their sole aim in life. But actually, that’s not how it works. Ed rightly points out that the mechanisms these “germs” employ in order to infect us are actually the results of a process of evolutionary coincidence, rather than any specific design to aid their selection of Homo sapiens as a target organism.

The adaptations that allow bacteria, fungi and other pathogens to cause us harm can easily evolve outside the context of human disease. They are part of a microbial narrative that affects us, and can even kill us, but that isn’t about us. This concept is known as the coincidental evolution hypothesis or, as the Emory University microbiologist Bruce Levin described it in 2008, the ‘shit happens’ hypothesis.

Yes, that fact that these bugs can cause us infection actually has nothing to do with them actually causing us infection. It’s simply that evolution has coincidentally given them the tools to infect us. Take humans out of the equation completely, and these bacteria would remain the same genetically; it’s not we that are influencing them, it’s just our anthropocentric thinking that makes us believe we must be the driving force at play.

Its virulence – its ability to cause disease – is not an adaptation against its host. It is a side effect, a fluke. It kills through coincidence.

This theory also extends to antibiotic resistance. It’s important to remember that most antibiotics were not invented, rather they were discovered. And microorganisms have been using them against each other for hundreds of thousands of years already. The genes which allow bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics aren’t anything new. They’ve been there all along. Our overuse of the drugs is merely propagating the (more rapid) spread of these genes, something which is going to cause us all sorts of problems in the very near future.

In fact, most bacteria wouldn’t even notice if we weren’t around. They’d get on with their daily lives, simply interacting with everything and anything around them:

The most important parts of a microbe’s world are, after all, other microbes. They’ve been dealing with each other for billions of years before we came along.

So actually, we’d do well to note that we’re nowhere near as important as we might imagine.
As Ed says:

We’re not central actors in the dramas that affect our lives. We’re not even bit players. We are just passers-by, walking outside the theatre and getting hit by flying props.


Minority Sports Night

Last night, I ended up watching a whole evening-ful of minority sports, quite by accident. I’m not sure I could watch any of them for any longer period of time, but it was different enough to entertain me for a once off. In case you want to try something similar, here’s my guide to what I saw and what I thought.

You will need: Some red wine, a couch and some minority sports.

It started accidentally with the second half of some women’s World Cup hockey. New Zealand’s Black Sticks (you’d never get away with that here) versus hosts and world number one team in hitting a ball with an inverted walking stick, the Netherlands. Given that I was making bacon sandwiches before I started flicking through the channels, I missed the first half and with it, the only goals of the game. But it was fairly entertaining still, with New Zealand giving it a bit of a go and some exciting counter-attacking by the ladies in orange.
The rules are a bit difficult to work out if you are watching it for the first time and the commentators were – reasonably enough – assuming that the viewers had watched some hockey before. I have, but it was on ice and the players were bigger and wore more padding. So I was a little confused from time to time, but I gathered that the aim was either to score goals (obviously) or to hit the ball at your opponents’ legs (less obvious). If you manage the latter, you get a free hit of the ball, at which point you either to score a goal (obviously) or to hit the ball at your opponents’ legs (now more obvious).

Final score 2-0 to the Netherlands.

Over then (accidentally again) to the EFC fight between Cape Town’s Don “The Magic Man” Madge and Joburg’s Boyd “I’ve Got No Nickname” Allen. It was at the Grand West Arena and I’m guessing that Parow was completely empty last night.

Crickets. Tumbleweeds. A solitary tolling bell, perhaps.

Again, I don’t know a lot about EFCing, but apparently, this was a big fight and there were a number of EFCing people who were talking it up beforehand. Of course, they would do that. No self respecting sports channel sticks up soundbites of experts saying stuff like:

No mate – this is going to be rubbish. Save your time and go and do the washing up instead. Yeah, I know there’s a lot of it and the kitchen is freezing, but believe me, you’ll die of boredom if you sit down and watch this. Save yourself: go and soak that bacon pan.

Now, my experience is also that these things can be over-hyped in the extreme, but given that there was only the washing up to do and the kitchen was wholly unheated, I decided to sit through it.

What followed was rather incredible. Two guys, very evenly matched in every single statistic, both 70kg of pure muscle, kicked seven bells out of each other with amazing power, energy and determination for 25 minutes. I don’t mind telling you that I was transfixed. I even missed all the sponsors’ names. You know, the one who sponsored the fighters’ gloves, their shorts, their walk into the ring (sorry – “the hexagon” – as if a boxing “ring” isn’t actually “a square”), the actual sponsors of “the hexagon”, the company that sponsored the replays, the company that sponsored the company that sponsored the replays, the company that sponsored the ring girls (OMG – no-one tell the feminists!), the company that sponsored the energy drinks in the break between rounds, the one that sponsored the third LED globe from the left on the overhead lighting gantry and, of course, the betting company that sponsored the whole fight… so – you know – go and bet. Or something.

The aim of EFCing is to hurt your opponent as much as possible, but you’re not allowed to hit a hockey ball into their legs. However, you can just hit them or kick them, or shoot them (can we check that last one is right before publishing, please? – Ed.).

The fight went the distance, amazingly, with one guy having a big cut on his head and the other nursing a bloodied nose (who knew?) and was then declared as a draw, which seemed fair enough. However, by all accounts, including the breathless and sycophantic wonderment of commentator Sias du Plessis, I feel that I may have inadvertently ruined my future watching of EFC by starting with the best fight ever. This tweet, from regular commenter, biobot, summed it up nicely:

Looks like it’s all downhill from here.

Final score: A draw.

I avoided the (heavily sponsored) post-event press conference and switched onto the Isle of Man TT Races.

My links with the Isle of Man mean that I usually watch the TT for the flashing glimpses of scenery, rather than the actual motorbike racing. And to be fair, while I have a passing interest in the zoomy bikes and the nutters who sit on them, this was pretty much the case this time around too. It’s a difficult thing to watch in any other way, given that the course is nearly 38 miles long and there are only so many cameras to go around, so a lot of the incident, such as it is, happens away from where you’re actually looking.

Technology though, is making a bit of a impact, as you can now stick smaller, better cameras in more places – namely on helicopters and on the actual bikes. The latter works better, as the bikes now go so fast that the helicopters can struggle to keep up with them. That said, there’s still an awful lot you (sometimes thankfully) don’t get to see, like the fatal accident of Sheffield rider Karl Harris during the race I was watching.

The commentary is great, with just enough information to let you know what’s going on, but not so much that it drowns out the noise of bikes. It’s presented with good humour by ex-riders too, so it’s down to earth, honest and insightful. And behind it all, there’s still the glorious Isle of Man scenery in HD. There’s more TT programming on Supersport tonight and over the weekend, so delve in and have a look at my beautiful island.

Final score: Michael Dunlop won. Again.

None of these things will ever come close to replacing football in my list of great sports I like to watch, but I actually enjoyed a quick trip outside my sporting comfort zone last night, and I’ll certainly be giving it a go again soon – I believe there’s some international egg-chasing this weekend, so I might give that a go.

Always The Sun

Here’s a good go-to song for when things get a bit too much. Today has already been one of those days. It’s wet, it’s grey, it’s cold and several businesses have decided that it would be far too much for them to be helpful or offer any sort of decent service to me this morning.

Scream, cry or gooi on some Stranglers.

Aside from the reminder in the title, this song also wins extra points for using the word “apportion” in the second line and also managing to get the 19-syllables worth of lyrics “that’s the sort of responsibility you draw straws for if you’re mad enough” into a space where surely only half of them should have fitted.

In fact, things only begin to fall apart again when you realise that this song is actually 28 (twenty-eight) years old.

I saw The Stranglers headlining a free music bash in Gateshead in 1993. My memories, such as they are, of that day are that it was incredibly hot, a bit rough, there was a lot – a lot – of free beer (I think it was sponsored by Heineken) and there were no other decent bands playing that day.

Tell Us The Truth…

Good people unearth these evil truths, but the church always survives.

This astonishing column by Emer O’Toole in the Guardian raises far more questions than it gives answers, but – perhaps even more so because of that fact – it’s well worth a read.

For those of you unfamiliar with how, until the 1990s, Ireland dealt with unmarried mothers and their children, here it is: the women were incarcerated in state-funded, church-run institutions called mother and baby homes or Magdalene asylums, where they worked to atone for their sins. Their children were taken from them.

The power that Catholicism held (holds?) over the Irish people and Government is evident from the horrific atrocities that the church was able to get away with in Ireland for so long.

Ireland knows all this. We know about the abuse women and children suffered at the hands of the clergy, abuse funded by a theocratic Irish state. What we didn’t know is that they threw dead children into unmarked mass graves. But we’re inured to these revelations by now.

When I saw the headlines about the mass grave, I was intrigued, but I figured it must be a Stone Age or Medieval thing. When I discovered that some of these children died as recently as 1961, I was incredulous. The story is horrendous, yet makes for compelling reading.
The situation screams out for answers and demands explanations, but given the lack of visible public outrage and the Catholic church’s apathetic response to the discovery of 796 children’s bodies in a mass grave within disused septic tank, perhaps unsurprisingly, it seems that nothing has changed.