Oh. I understand.

I suspect this is what you say to children who insist that they have been playing with their invisible friends at the bottom of the garden. (If they say they have been playing with fairies, the response might be “oh, that is nice” before you give them a thorough beating.)

It follows then, that this is the appropriate response when a guy declares that “Arsene Wenger is GOD” (sic on the caps). The conversation on Facebook went a little like this:

Alan: on top of the world with The Arsenal!

Michael: Here we go, here we go. Please God dont let Cesc get injured or sold do Barcelona

Betty: Michael you know 1) there is no god and 2) if there was, she’d never interfere with the trading of soccer players… right?

Michael: Arsene Wenger is GOD

…to which, of course, I replied: “Oh. I understand.”

So now I know that Arsene Wenger is a French football manager who has managed Arsenal for the past 14-odd years. I know quite a few Arsenal supporters, but did not guess the religious fervour of their support for, well, a football team.

As one does, I googled pictures of Arsene and I thought they were very amusing. I can see why he be god. He really has a good face for the part.

Que diable sont-ils là-bas?

Things I don’t understand on Friday

I am thinking about renaming the blog “things I don’t understand”. There are so many of these, and I find them mostly very interesting. Like Royal Canin donating 1.6 million tons of dog food and 1.2 million tons of cat food to a shelter that feeds 750 cats and 17 dogs. I understand that calculation so little it borders on WTF.

Currently my experience of the world vacillates mostly between bafflement and outrage, with bafflement tipping the scale. This is good, of course. Between the two there are moments of wonder, like this evening when the early moon hovered like a huge, mutant orange between the dark shapes of the Johburg skyline as I left Mint Road, and rose slowly as I drove home on the thawing city streets. Fordsburg itself is a joy on a temperate Friday evening. The streets buzz with families and cool guys punching each other on the shoulder, and informal commerce, and cooking food. I wished for a moment that I could just hang around, but then I got in my car and around the corner I caught the moon. So that wasn’t bad either.   

I edited a wellness manual for soccer players this week. There was a lot of information in there that I found very interesting. I did not know, for example, that women are born with about a million  immature eggs (protected by hollow balls of cells in the ovarian follicles) tucked in their ovaries. About half of the ovarian follicles (and their eggs) are absorbed by the body before puberty, at which point 10-20 ova start maturing on a monthly basis. Only one mature egg is usually released by the ovaries during ovulation. I knew that last bit about the one-montly-egg, of course, but to complete the story, the mature (free!) egg then swans its way down the fallopian tubes in the hope of being accosted within 24 hours by millions of quivering sperm swimming in the opposite direction, all wanting to get in there.

Not all of this was in the manual. I found most of  it on some website. The manual’s writers chose/had to simplify the whole thing, of course. Their target audience is soccer players, and a soccer player with even “vagina” in his vocab must be a rare enough  gem (with the exception of Roger, of course. I am quite sure that he is well-versed in female anatomy), so maybe they thought that “ovarian follicle” would be pushing things a bit.

So. Discovering something about one’s body is not baffling. But the body’s sums, just like Royal Canin’s, seem so… inexplicable. Let’s say a woman ovulates for about 40 years (a very generous and old-fashioned estimate, which assumes that puberty starts at 12 and menopause at 52). That means she ovulates 520-odd times. In that period, about 10 400  (generous estimate, again) eggs will start the process of maturation, and only 520 will be released. (Although in biology, a one-in-twenty survival rate seems great, actually.)

Let’s say (to make the calculation easy, but not necessarily out-of-the-ballpark) that by the beginning of puberty, a woman has about half a million immature eggs tucked away in her ovaries. It means, ultimately, that out of every 900-ish eggs, one makes it down the tubes. So to speak. And ULTIMATELY, only 2-3 of the whole lot turn into human beings. Those are terrible odds – one in 250 000, average – it sucks, really. Tadpoles have a better survival rate where on average, five frog eggs out of every 2000 become adult frogs. Human sperm, on the other hand, do much worse. Perhaps this is where we should start with redefining biological determinism.

Another thing that puzzled me today was the Mail and Guardian’s apparent determination to fuel hysteria about swine flu. I know two people have died, including one strong, healthy 20-something Stellenbosch rugby player, but more people die of regular flu every year. I tried to find general stats on flu deaths on the net, but failed again. There is no site at the moment that marries “death” and “flu” without throwing in “swine” as a qualifier.

Generally, I had a good week in terms of work, but a more frustrating time in terms of the things that make life puzzling, and interesting.

Something I do understand now is how come Bill has such a roving eye. With Hillary on safari in Mzanzi, it has been possible to scrutinise her very closely. She looks more and more matronly by the day… waving heavily to puzzled crowds and lurching onto podiums and so on. I did some video research on Madiba (the SABC has stopped striking, so it was possible) on Wednesday, and spent a bit of time watching him meet a whole range of absolutely gorgeous women during and after his tour of duty.  He looked like he just loved it. The TV pictures of him and Hillary this week were very… eh… formal, in spite of the close relationship he has with her husband, and I could clearly imagine his next conversation with the other ex-president: “So… Bill… about that Monica girl….”

Sunday papers

August, I think, will have to be Song Title Month. Maybe. It seems to  be working out like that so far. And then I can post music videos from the sixties and seventies at will. (There is a very young Joe Jackson at the end of this post.)

Before I get to the newspapers, I want to thank Herschelian for commenting on the cat people post. She pointed out that all ginger cats are Tom(s). Be this as it may, in this day and age and with our constitution being so progressive and all, it does not mean that they cannot be sluts, and frankly, I think it just makes the heartbreak worse for the Persian doll-face. But I am always happy to learn more about cats. I also want to say that the daughters of a very dear friend go to Herschel and they are just lovely girls – really the kind of kids you should stay away from during your child-bearing years, just in case you are deluded into thinking that all children turn out so well, and become convinced to have some of your own.

The best thing about today’s Sunday Times was of course the picture of Roger de Sa taking off his shirt, whistle in hand, on page 4 of the sports section. Honestly, I might still cut it out and stick it on the wall at my desk right next to the picture of the palm trees on the beach with the caption “you could be here”. I feel a bit like a fourteen-year old with a hot crush when I look at it. In a very insane moment this morning it occurred to me that I am a registered student at Wits and could very easily go and hang around the soccer training sessions, and pretend that I am writing a story or something. In fact, that may not necessarily be a lie…. But of course I won’t. Instead I will act like an adult and just stick the picture on the wall. If I had a metal pencil box I would stick it on the lid and cover it with neat strips of sellotape or Con-tact for longevity.

I never read the sports section, but had to cast an eye on the story about the rugby yesterday and, as I turned the page, I lucked out. I know absolutely nothing about soccer but I think that that is no reason not to, well, appreciate its coaches. Twenty-ten is around the corner, and I think it will be patriotic to, well, get more intimately acquainted with the game.

Hmm. No. Really. (Drifted off there for a second.)

But moving along. The other thing that I thought worth spending some time on with on was the story of a campaign called “Lying in Advertising” waged by a company called Tappening. According to them, advertisers of bottled water lie (Intake of breath… “No!”) and so will they in order to spread the word on the environmental damage caused by plastic bottles. Last year, the article claims, “plastic bottles generated more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.” I have often wondered what these figures mean. Is 2.5 million tons of CO2, like, a lot? I found some comparative figures on a website called Time for change. Each of the following activities add 1kg of CO2 to your personal carbon footprint:

1. Travelling by public transportation (train or bus) a distance of 10 to 12 km. This is clearly not a South African website, and I suspect that one can double that figure if you travel by mini-bus taxi.

2. Driving a distance of 6 km in your car (assuming 7.3 litres petrol per 100 km).

3. Flying by plane a distance of 2.2 km. (So, a one-way trip to Cape Town adds about 850kg of CO2 to your personal carbon footprint – those 2.5 million tons, worldwide, in a whole year, do not seem so much all of a sudden. There are two thoughts here: one, would that be the carbon footprint of every person in the plane, or is that calculated on like, a minimum number of people including the captain, the co-pilot, and, let’s say, twenty passengers? Does your footprint increase if you travel by airbus rather than by light fixed-wing aircraft? And so on. And two: Capetonians could of course just stay in Cape Town, giving them yet another reason to be unbearably smug.)

4. Operating your computer for 32 hours (60 Watt consumption assumed) – this is a little alarming for me. Let’s say that is roughly four days’ usage. In a year, I could add about 80kg of CO2 (give and take a couple of days off here and there) to the atmosphere just through working, and of course, writing the blog.

5. Producing five plastic bags or two plastic bottles.

6. Producing (absolutely amazing) 1/3 of an American cheeseburger. The production of a cheeseburger emits 3.1 kg of CO2.

The fact that I only eat one commercial hamburger roughly every three years must compensate for not being in a position to work fewer hours a day or sacrifice my CO2-generating weblog. My measly 80kgs are the equivalent of only about 26 hamburgers, which translates into a burger every two weeks, so maybe I don’t have to feel too bad. I think the sums speak in my favour.

I have given up drinking bottled water in restaurants. When the situation demands (usually) that I absolutely have to have something that comes in a bottle, a good red is both socially acceptable and environmentally friendly, as it comes, of course, in glass, which is 100% re-usable.

Newspapers are, of course, the other things that easily recycled, and I think I should immediately go and recycle that picture of Roger to a good spot close to my desk. More and more I think that reducing your carbon footprint may be its own reward.