A First Letter

I recently sponsored a child in the developing world. Yesterday, I got a letter back from him.

————————

Dear Mr Craig,

I am writing to thank you for generously donating two pounds a month or whatever you could to me, and to introduce myself. My name is Jalab, I am 12 years old and I am the president of my country, Kualatumba.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about my country, Kualatumba. We are a small, central African nation, near the centre of Africa. We possibly have a population of several thousand, but from official figures based on those registered to vote, there are nine people living in my country, Kualatumba. Our capital is a lively and exciting hut, which is a beehive for culture as well as for some actual bees in the early summer months.

The two pounds you donated to me helped pay for a moderately successful election campaign for the first democratic elections of my country, Kualatumba, and as a result I was voted in by a margin of seven votes to two against a local pig who was standing on a pro-vegetarian ticket, because the pro-vegetarian who should have been running had dropped it on the floor and he couldn’t move the pig to get it back.

Kualatumba is not a country without problems. We currently have half of our labour force unemployed. The unemployed man, whose name is Laco, has been trying to find a job for several months now, but the employed man, Riki, is proving to be very valuable as an Employed Man. I believe that by encouraging growth we may one day be able to claim that both members of our entire workforce are in work.

I am very ambitious with regards to Kualatumba’s immediate future. I think it is important we open up our borders to the rest of the world and let others see how we do things here. To do this, we first need to establish exactly where our borders are. I have recently approved plans to improve communications between the more densely populated areas of Kualatumba, and as soon as Riki has finished with the chickens, work on the first road in Kualatumba will begin.

Many thanks for you time

Jalab Rumadumanana
President of Kualatumba

Adult, Content. Number 2: Cat

The room I was waiting in was very comfy, though the seats were not: the proportions were all wrong so that I really had to stretch to rest my arms on the armrests. There was a gentle hum of the air-conditioning coming from a man who was repairing it. “Why are you humming like the air-conditioning?” I asked. He explained that if people could hear the cool air, they would assume that the room was cool, and so nobody would complain. I was about to argue that this would never work, but I had suddenly started sweating and was glad when he turned his humming back on.

There was a lady sat behind a desk filing her nails. She was just closing the drawer for her nails when the telephone on her desk rang, and she answered it. After a few quick words that I could not hear, she put the phone down and spoke to me with some that I could. “You can go in now”, she said.

As I entered my lawyer’s office, I was immediately shocked to see the man removing his wig. The wig was short and black, with a slight bald spot at the back. As he removed it, the long white hair of a court barrister was revealed. “You can’t walk around outside of work with hair like this,” he explained, “people come up to you as you walk along the road and ask for advice. I don’t want to get in trouble for solicitoring on street corners”. I sat down opposite him at his desk, and read the certificates on the wall: the first showed that the man was fully qualified, the second showed that he could swim 1.6 kilometres. I was glad I had found a man who was willing to go that extra mile.

“What can I do for you today?” he asked me as I sat down opposite him.

“I’d like to be legally separated from my cat,” I said.

“I see,” he replied. “Can I ask why?”

“The relationship is very destructive,” I answered, “For instance, last night I’m convinced I caught it messing with the dials on my oven, trying to undercook my dinner. I responded by overcooking his cat food until it had all evaporated.”

“This is highly unusual, you understand,” my lawyer said, “have you considered trying to go your separate ways without going through the courts?”

“I can’t seem to get rid of him.” I answered, “I tried moving home, but he hid in the medicine cabinet all the way there. The morning after the move, I went to the bathroom for a shave, and I found him covered in Elastoplast, trying to get his paws around a child safety cap to replace my aspirins with a packet of extra strong mints”.

“That seems very intelligent for a cat,” the lawyer commented.

“I didn’t think so,” I said, “he’s not a child anymore.”

“Very well”, my lawyer said, “I’ll take your case.”

For the court date, I wore my favourite suit: spades. The cat and I had originally agreed to come separately, so we booked two different taxis. The day before the trial, the two taxis merged together when one rear-ended the other at a T-junction, so we ended up sharing that. I almost took the train, but it was delayed because the new driver had previously worked for an airline company and was currently circling the train-station until someone gave him permission to come up to the platform. The cat and I had stopped speaking after he had received his summons by fax: the shared journey was distinctly frosty, as the heater was playing up. As I walked up the stairs into the old building, my lawyer covered my head with his coat to stop the press taking too many photographs. On that day, there were no press about, though a Japanese family on holiday in the area did get a couple of quick snaps of me wandering slowly in the wrong direction, completely unable to see while my lawyer went to buy the cat a cup of coffee.

The trial began when we were asked to rise for the Judge. I think I did best, making it a good six inches off the floor. “This court is now in session, and will begin with Man versus Cat,” said the court clerk over the PA system.

“Why does he do it over the PA system?” I whispered to my lawyer. “He gets nervous in front of a audience,” he replied. “Isn’t that a bit of a problem for his job?” I asked. “It’s even worse for his West End musical career,” he pointed out.

The proceedings opened with my lawyer going through the case: I was claiming that the cat had caused me significant emotional and mental distress, and loss of earnings. “Loss of earnings?” the judge asked. “Yes, your honour,” I replied, “and he wouldn’t tell me where he put them.” The judge asked if I hoped for punitative damages. I said I was fairly optimistic I could get more than that. Halfway through, the judge ordered something be stricken from the record. I have no idea what it was.

To finish my case, I was asked to give testimony to the court. I said I hadn’t brought enough for everyone. “Order!” said the clerk over the tannoy, so I ordered six extra testimonies, which came within thirty minutes, so I had to pay.

After we had concluded our argument, I was sure the cat would come to me on all fours. After all, he was a cat. However, the creature remained remarkably cool. He finished posing for the court artist who had given up on the usual pastels and was experimenting with bright vibrant colours and sweeping strokes, and slowly padded across to the witness stand. The cat stood on top of the stand and looked out over the courtroom with large puppy-dog eyes. Puppy-dog eyes! Where had he found those? In his defence, he succinctly argued: “Maowww”, before falling off the stand, and landing on his back and his feet.

“This cat is ill,” pronounced the judge, “he’s under-fed and dehydrated and suffering from acute exhaustion”. “There’s nothing cute about exhaustion. Anyway, how can you can tell that just from looking?” I asked. “I am an excellent judge,” said the judge. “He’s not ill, he just winked,” I said. “Cats don’t wink,” the judge said.

“It’s all for show. Look, now he’s got up and has gone for a walk,” I said.

“That doesn’t sound like a show I’d be interested in watching,” replied the judge. “What is more, I find Man guilty of mistreating Cat, and I will issue a restraining order. You are not permitted to go more than 200 metres away from this cat at any time.”

“Move to object!” I cried.

“Denied,” he responded.

“Move to reconsider!” I called out.

“Denied,” he informed me.

“Move for retrial!” I argued.

“I feel you are just going through the motions at this point. Court is adjourned.”

The house was warm when I let us in, and before I made the cat some dinner, I turned the humming right up.

The World… Explained #3: Chemistry

Here at Project Brainstorm, we would like to believe we’re not only providing quality entertainment, we’re also contributing something useful to the world. This is hard, of course, because as yet we have done no such thing. That is, ironically enough, until now. If there remains a hunger for knowledge, then we will broaden, if not horizons, then at least waistbands. Today, class, we present Chemistry… Explained.

Chemistry, if we are going to be exact, is a sort of science. It is the study of what things are made of. Many centuries ago, chemistry was called alchemy, and was only taught in grammar schools. Alchemists, famously, tried to turn lead into gold. No-one was successful and they all died poor and from lead poisoning. A smaller group attempted to turn water into wine, with similar consequences, casting doubt on the validity of a similar experiment documented in a early, now defunct, scientific journal, called the Gospel of St. Luke (Monthly). They also died poor of dehydration, but completely sober.

Knowing what things are made of is very important. Knowing what things the things that everything is made of is made of is also very important. The things that everything is made of are called elements. All of the everything in the Universe is made up of bits of elements. There are just over one hundred elements, though some of the latter ones are highly suspicious. It seems unlikely that someone would discover an element that just happened to have the same name as an eminent scientist of the time. Mendelevium, for instance, has the exact same properties of tin, it just happens to be coated in red dots.

Elements are made up of atoms. An element has only one sort of atom. Anything that has more than one sort of atom is not an element. Atoms used to resemble a plum pudding, but nowadays they resemble an onion. At the centre of the onion is a nucleus, made up of protons and neutrons, which are very, very small positively charge and neutrally charged particles. Around the nucleus are electrons, which orbit in a circle. There are different layers of orbits, very much like an onion, if an onion were actually an atom. To imagine what size these things are, imagine you are at a football stadium. If the atom is the size of the average supporter’s head, the electrons are like his tiny, tiny brain, rattling away inside, unable to do anything but direct imaginative swearwords at the referee. The plum pudding image was a very lazy way of imagining atoms. It is likely someone one day who was researching this decided that it probably didn’t matter what an atom looked like, so we might as well just stick all the bits in there and call it a breakthrough.

We reckon that the bits that make up an atom are actually made up of smaller bits, which are, likely as not, made up of even smaller bits. At this point, of course, it all gets a bit silly.

All of the elements, even the dubious ones, are arranged in the Periodic Table, in order of the amount of electrons they have, and in case of disagreement, their height. Strangely, all elements in one column have very similar properties. For example, in column one, called Group I by some radical thinkers, they all explode in water. Lithium will only explode you a little bit, potassium will explode you a fair amount, and caesium will blow you out of your fucking trainers. At the other end of the table are the Inert Gases, which is a word. They are very unreactive. They do not react to heat, light, sound, or mild racial slurring. Hydrogen is traditionally depicted separate from the table, not really having any of the properties of any other group. In that respect, it is very much like the boy with Tourette’s: you think someone should spend some time with him, but you’d rather it was someone else. Hydrogen, however, is found in even the most remote part of the universe, whereas the boy with Tourette’s will die alone.

We are also interested in the properties of a material, be it an element or a compound of elements. One of the most simple is the melting point and the boiling point. There is also a freezing point, a condensation point, a vanishing point, a viewpoint, a good point (which shares similar characteristics of a point well made), and some pockets of academia argue there may be hardly any point. Many other properties of materials rely on the way the atoms form combine together. Metals, which are often hard and shiny, form together by donating their electrons to a “sea” of electrons that “flows” all the way “around” the “metal”. Donations are made weekly or monthly. This arrangement gives metals their distinct properties: the electron sea allows a metal to conduct electricity. Of course, so can carbon, which is not a metal, but nobody really knows why. It also makes metals hard, solid and unforgiving in a combat environment. Except, of course, mercury, which is a metal, but is not a solid, though still makes a reasonable weapon a close range.

There is not enough time, space or inclination in the article to discuss, at great length, chemical reactions, but some words can be shared. The particular words are Always, Wear, and Safety Goggles. If you do not, you simply do not look the part, and nothing you say will ever be taken seriously. A chemical reaction is one where two or more or less chemical substances are forced to collide in such a way that the bonds that hold them together break down and new bonds form, creating a new chemical, or several new chemicals. As an example, consider the famous example of the reaction between sodium trioxidicalciate and carbon phosphordynitrate, two useless and entirely real chemical compounds. However, when heated together, the particles become excited by the prospect of the change. The outcome is the white powdery carbon nitroxiate, used by vegans to poison farmyard animals so they can not be slaughtered for meat, and clear pink liquid sodium calcidyphosphate, found in plastic cups by the side of a dentist’s chair. Any keen chemist may want to have the previous experiment written out in letters. They will note, after, that that is exactly what has already happened.

Chemistry is a much broader subject than I could possibly fit into one article, and once inside, it is deceptively spacious. If you want to find out more, there are a number of textbooks and websites, but very few of them are actually about chemistry.

News 04/02/05

The time is the fourth of February, the headlines are imminent.

Police Arrest “Shoebox Stuffing” Suspect

Decriminalisation Protest in London

Man Bores Neighbours to Death

Police believe they may finally have caught the man thought responsible for a lengthy campaign of putting paper tissue in new shoes. Steven Wainwright, who can not be named for legal reasons, has be remanded in custody while police await forensic results matching paper samples from the man’s house to samples from crime scenes.

A dawn raid on the suspect’s house revealed a massive stash of crumpled up toilet paper, with a street value of £1.2 million, in the upstairs bedrooms. Despite this, police still had nothing to go on, until an anonymous tip-off from the manager of the Clark’s in Evesham, where until recently the suspect had worked.

Wainwright is believed to have gained employment at all the major shoe shops in the UK over the past twenty years. He was fired from his last job over allegations of indecent assault, theft, blackmail and battery. Inquiries into these charges were dropped when police received news that a large shipment of tissue paper was expected from South America.

“In cases like this, we have to realise when we have bigger fish to fry”, said DCI Peter Ravenscroft of Scotland Yard, while in Somerfield buying three gallons of extra virgin olive oil.

Wainwright was ambushed and arrested as he waited to receive the delivery. He was charged when forensics proved his fingerprints were found on many things he had touched and all over his hands.

It is currently believed that Wainwright is a member of an international paper stuffing ring with operations in Central Europe and the United States. Wainwright is thought to have operated mainly in England, because most parts of Wales and Scotland are too poor to afford shoes. As a child, a close family member recalled, he used to practice leaving small bits of tissue paper around the family home, in cups, salt cellars, keyholes and on one memorably tragic occasion, their hamster, Howard.

The campaign of terror has left millions of shoe buyers baffled, angry and confused and three dead.

******

Tomorrow, the centre of London will become the location of a peaceful protest by campaigners for the decriminalisation of crime. Speaking exclusively to all the major newspapers at a press conference, the group at the heart of the protest, which has members from many different backgrounds, believes the case for allowing crime is a compelling one.

Mike Richards, a convicted murderer, points out that crime could be a major source of tax revenue for the government if it were legalised. Steve Barton, a serial rapist, is keen to emphasise the medicinal benefits of crime. Eric Forester, still at large for several high-profile bank robberies, concluded by saying, “the law as it currently stands is very out of date. Some crimes have been illegal since Biblical times, some even before. It’s time the government joined the twenty-first century and stopped tried to interfere in the lives of responsible adults”. The men posed for a few press photos, (front and side) holding their Fundraising Hotline Number across their midriffs.

Protesters will be spreading their message in a variety of ways. Many are bringing banners and placards, of which we were lucky enough to get a glimpse. “Get away with Murder”, read one, and in a similar vein, others read “Get away with Tax Fraud”, “Get away with Animal Cruelty” and “Get away with a Plethora of Minor Parking Offences”. Flyers have been left all along the streets around Oxford Street. At the culmination of the day, at 3pm, they will host the First Annual Loot-in. One protestor, former prisoner 345 6756, explained the idea. “We saw other protestors doing a sit-in, which was basically just people sittin’ “, Mr 6756 explained, “and that’s when we thought about doing a loot-in”. Mr 6756 had to go off to deal with some last minute arrangements before he could explain exactly what the loot-in would entail.

The group has some support from other places. The police are believed to be supporting the move. “The modern police force is severely undermanned, and simply does not have the time or resources to deal with cases of crime,” said Chief Superintendent Arnold Parkinson. MP for South West Wigston, Laurence Kerfuffle said in an interview this past weekend, “I didn’t do it, I wasn’t there, she said I could, and any attempts to take the matter to a court of law will simply be incriminating.”

******


What began as a regular dinner ended with two dead and one seriously injured when the host, 36, finally brought the conversation around to his favourite topic, ink jet printers.

Two of the victims, a couple that lived next door, suffered repeated blows of boredom to the skull and upper chest area. Forensics working at the scene believed they might have been hit with over twenty excruciatingly boring statistics. The other victim, the host’s wife, was taken to hospital to be treated for trauma and severe tedium. Doctors have described the woman as “lucky”, saying that she can attribute her survival to the immunity created by fourteen years of marital monotony. She is being treated with mildly entertaining daytime television game shows.

While the perpetrator remains in custody, it is not yet certain whether there are murder charges to be answered to. Some experts have argued that the act of turning up to dinner on that evening was itself an act of suicide.

******

And now, a quick look at the economy.

FTSE is was up early this morning, but has since gone back to bed.

The Euro is up on the pound, the dollar is up against the wall. The Yen was up, and offered to put the kettle on.

The price of oil has doubled per barrel overnight, but then so has the size of the barrel.

And finally, the row over the impending pensions crisis will move onto a new stage today when the Chancellor unveils his newest solution, which mixes fiscal prudence with prime time reality TV. Pensioners will form a queue outside the Post Office. When they leave the queue, they are out of the game. When five remain, they will be given their pension. The others leave … with nothing.

******

That’s all now, stay indoors, and a very good night.