Monday 2 December 2013

When a female porcupine says 'no', she really means it.

A male goat - do not make love to it.
It began a couple of nights ago as I was washing my garlic crusher.
As I poked the bristles of my washing up brush through the tortuously fine holes of the press, I had the thought, why am I washing the garlic crusher at all when the only thing I use it for is to crush more garlic?
Garlic is supposed to have near miraculous properties for human health, anti-microbial one of them, and so if I never washed it, would it matter?
Would I suffer alarming health effects?
Probably not
Which reminded me of an email that circulated through my inbox some time ago, entitles 'Things That Make you Go hmm'.
One of the 'makes-you-think' along the lines of the 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?', variety was why do we wash towels, if we only use them when we're clean?
A useful one for those who wish to clear their mind of the monkey chatter.
Also in the text however was this truly bizarre piece of legislation from a country in the Mediterranean, I won't name the country as I don't want to bring down howls of racist taunts upon me, but the law says, " In XXXXXXX, If a man is caught having sex with a male animal then the penalty is death - sex with a female animal is ok."The mind truly boggles when one contemplates the country's grey-bearded elders going into
committee to set that one down on parchment.
Did it start as a simple anti-bestiality clause, and the opposition decided to attack the government and so they writers of the bill put in the 'female animals are OK' bit to appease the barnyard lobby?
One can never know.
I did, fleetingly, think of ringing the consulate of the country involved to ask if the statute was still on the books, but I think you can imagine the response from them if someone rang up to ask that question.
A nanny goat, romance allowed
But if one boggles at the need for that law, then one definitely has to wonder what on Earth has been going on down in the southern peninsula of the United States, where we find this law from Florida.
" In Florida having sexual intercourse with a porcupine is illegal."
One can just, JUST, see the way clear for a country to bring in a law stopping one having sex with an animal partner of your choosing, but one definitely has to wonder about the circumstances that lead to the porcupine law being brought in.
Was there an incident?
If so, did the human or the porcupine come off with the most damage?
Even the ancient dad joke gives a perfectly adequate warning: "Q:How do porcupines makes love?
A:Very, very, carefully."
So if a porcupine has to go easy, it beggars belief how a human would achieve the desired outcome.
That then lead me, as a biologist at the very least, and not as a bestial voyeur, to check exactly how porcupines do get down to business, and here it is.
Porcupine love, safe sex means raising her quills.
The picture shows that the female, having decided she is receptive to the male, has raised her quills to allow him to proceed.
Even so the male still has to follow the precepts of the old joke and proceed with extreme caution.
But to be fair every country on Earth has some arcane laws on the books that were justified once upon a time.
Most have been, thankfully, removed once some sense was brought to the argument.
But even then things are not always as clear as they might be, usually once christians get involved.
When I was living in Canada I came across this truly astonishing bit of malarky.
One of my favourite authors whom I encountered whilst there was a Canadian named Paul St Pierre.
Paul wrote wonderful books about life in the backwoods of British Columbia in the middle stages of the twentieth century.
He achieved a unique distinction that I strongly suspect will never be achieved again, which was creating a fictional seat of parliament in one of his stories, then being elected to it.
The electoral commission created a seat in the area he was writing about and called it 'Chilcotin', taking the name that Paul used in his story.
Paul was asked to run for parliament and was elected as the rep for Chilcotin.
Paul was a great rep, as he first and foremost understood how bloody ridiculous the whole thing was.
At one point he showed arithmetically that in his parliament they create some largish numbers of laws each year to continually curtail one activity after another.
At the end of that particular piece of work he pointed out that in his whole time in parliament, they had created something like 2,000 new laws, but had only removed one, the anti-witchcraft law.
And damn right to.
So you can imagine my surprise when a young woman and her partner came to work with me at Greenpeace in Vancouver, and she told me why.
She had previously been a school bus driver, but had been sacked for being a witch.
I reared back in shock.
"You're kidding", I said, disbelief framing my features.
"No, sadly it's true", she replied.
She wasn't a witch, but a pagan, much like the druids of Britain, and some christians got hold of that and started a campaign so that their kids weren't being driven around by a 'satan worshipper'.
So even removing farcical, beyond-belief-ridiculous laws is not simple when the church lobby gets involved.

And all of that leads ever so appositely to the current ridiculous carry-on in Canberra about the Gonski Education Review.
You may have read elsewhere of my life as a teacher and this furore reminded me of something my friend Morsch said during our teacher training.
The Greiner government was in place then, in 1991, and they released their education policy while we were studying, it was called 'Excellence and Equity'.
Almost everyone at the teachers' college, trainee or trainer, began to read it and swoop around wondering what it portended for their new lives in the education sector.
I idly contemplated whether I should do the same, but already had the 'Bart Simpson' attitude to school, which was don't read anything I don't have to.
And this was then affirmed by Morsch whom I asked about this policy, "Should we read this Morsch?", I said.
His response was, "Nah, it'll just be more you've got to forget in a few years when the government changes."
As events turned out, Morsch was dead right, some years later the Carr government came in and everything changed.
So, Gonski.
The Gonski team did an exhaustive study of education in Australia and produced a their document.
The major feature was an increase in funding for disadvantaged schools.
Christopher Pyne the Education Minister then had one of his staffers read it to him, (I'm pretty sure he can't read), and learned what the paper was about.
Then Pyne went in to see Tony Abbott and said in horrified tones, "Gonski wants to give money to girls, indigenous and ethnic students!"
The Abbott government, like the Howard government before, only cares that white boys from Sydney's lower north shore get to go to Sydney Uni, so he, Abbott, was likewise horrified, and so said to Pyne, "Put a stop to this at once."
So Pyne then went out and announced they were 'changing' the policy, 'to be fairer'.
Now normally that would have been the end of it and Syndey's exclusive private schools would have gone on getting the lion's share of government funding.
But then, apparently long after everyone else, Pyne realised that two states, NSW and Victoria, both with Liberal governments, had already signed up for Gonski.
So now the federal government was in a cleft stick, if NSW and Vic had both had labour governments that would have been the end of the matter, but since they were on 'our' side, as Pyne would have it, he then had to add another backflip to his recent acrobatics, and add $1.2 billion to the Gonski bag, to try to keep NSW and Victoria sweet.
The upshot of all this has been that after many sleepless nights of round-the-clock work, Pyne's staffers have produced a new policy that is identical to the original Gonski review.
And all of that occurred because the new federal government don't have any policies, they seem to think that just undoing everything Labor did is a way to govern.
John  Howard for instance famously said, "Our job is to have a go at the Labor party."
No John, you're job was to govern.
Pity you didn't do it.
Make no mistake, John Howard is still pulling the strings, he tells Tony Abbott what to do, and Tony Abbott does it.
So much for democracy.
So to close with a picture series.
Justly venerated Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was in Australia this week and members of the Abbott government used her visit to display a staggering level of hypocrisy.
The Howard and Abbott governments did nothing, that is NOTHING, to help her achieve democracy, or even get out of house arrest, while they were in power, yet the moment she arrives, they took the chance to be photographed with her.
The reason this fries my canoles is to do with the ABC and the Indonesian spy scandal.
Why? Well, it's like this.
The fact that Australia was tapping the Indonesian leaders phone came originally from documents released by arch whistle blower, Edward Snowden.
These documents were capacious, and only the ABC really bothered to sift through them, eventually they discovered the phone tapping story and once researched, released it.
Then Andrew Bolt and a horde of other brain dead right wingers came out accusing the ABC of sitting on the story, and only releasing it after the election to embarrass the Abbott government.
So by the same token, Tony Abbott and the rest of his government, should have allowed the various Labor foreign ministers, and various human rights groups, Amnesty International, among them, to meet her instead.
But then a politician giving up a chance of publicity is about as likely as Chistopher Pyne learning to read.
Aung meets with Tony Abbott and Bronwyn
Bishop, hasn't she suffered enough?


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