Monday, 28 February 2011

Welcome to Chicago

No 33 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century
July 1933  Chicago needed good news. With Roosevelt's New Deal the end of the Great Depression seemed to be in sight and the final death of Prohibition was only months away. With Al Capone in prison and many mobsters dead times were quieter and 22 million people came to this racy fair, here announced in suitable style for the world's jazz capital. Even the pose of the bathing belle is as angular as a swastika.
Evelyn and Valentine write to the Mellons in Guildford NY: We went to the stock yards yesterday. You should see them cut ham off & pork loins. Just 2 cuts for ham and 1 for a loin.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Acupuncture’s dubious past

KSJ Tracker is a service for science journalists, created and funded by the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last year they published this note reviewing an article in a German newspaper about the background of acupuncture. I was attracted to it by the amazing diagram, which tells you everything you need to know about this ancient Chinese art, if you are an ancient Chinese quack.

It was George Soulié de Morant, a Frenchman (1878-1955), who is considered to be the “father” of western style acupuncture. His descriptions in his books of how and where to put the needles into the skin of patients guided all his followers. Unfortunately he was a fabulist, according to an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The author (Hanjo Lehmann) is a physician and head of the German Institute for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), whose aim it is to research the scientific basis of TCM. He seems to be the first ever who really looked into the roots of the western style acupuncture and the ridiculous theories of Soulié de Morant. The article explains his fraud in detail, starting with his name – he himself added the aristocratic “de Morant”. Although he writes that he spoke Chinese, when he arrived in China in 1901 (only 23 years old!) there is no hint, that he ever studied Chinese or lived with Chinese people. Also, his rank as vice-consul and judge seems implausible, because he never visited any university or diplomatic school.

Regarding acupuncture, Soulié de Morant describes how he first saw and practised the technique himself during a cholera outbreak in Bejing in 1901. Unfortunately, no records of such an outbreak at that time exist. These and dozens of more inconsistencies are interesting, but what consequences do they have for “modern” acupuncture therapies? Well, Soulié de Morant’s fiction and misconceptions not only found their way into but are the very basis of current acupuncture. The whole philosophy of western acupuncture, with energy streams and stuff like that, is based on sloppy translations, misconceptions or even blank fantasy. As an example, the “Qi” in Chinese acupuncture tradition meant a fine substance; Soulié translated it into the disembodied, current-like “energy”, a whole different concept. One might say,  “Who cares? In most cases, acupuncture doesn’t work, anyway.”

In Germany, to get official approval to offer acupuncture German physicians must pay for an expensive course, based on Soulié de Morant’s quackery. So patients are having needles stuck into them based on the fantasies of a fraud.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

And bring your good lady

A couple of years ago I published a post about the invitations which I occasionally receive from my old school. It would be hypocritical to express my regrets that I cannot attend, and ungracious to explain that that the functions they refer to are usually of a kind which are less attractive to me than the prospect of being thrown, naked, into a vat of boiling pitch. So I do not reply.

But they have not given up on me. Presumably they have a mouldering database of email addresses of old boys, many of whom have been dead for thirty years, which still includes mine. Anyway, they are still trying, and the invitation I had the other day was much more intriguing that the usual ones. It announced:
Prostate Awareness Roadshow and Social Evening the Rugger Clubhouse, "...not just a venue for sportsmen: it is the spiritual home of the Old Boys and has 6 changing rooms for simultaneous blood tests". I had no idea!

Besides a talk from a consultant urological surgeon, "...the evening will also be a social affair and a chance to meet old friends over a pint and and gastronomic delights". The blood test is optional.

Difficult to turn down such an entrancing offer. But I shall, I shall. 

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Milestones in the history of Egypt

In a couple of earlier posts I described the major events in Egypt in 1952 and 1953, in particular my arrival in Ismailia in February 1952, my move to Fayid in July that year and my return to England in January 1953. I am now able to add a note about contemporaneous happenings there and subsequent developments.

On 23rd July 1952 King Farouk was deposed by the Free Officers movement led by Gamel Abdel Nasser and Mohamed Naguib Yousef Qotp (Qotp?) Elkashlan, and the latter became Egypt's first Prime Minister. Eleven months later the Republic of Egypt was established and Naguib was sworn in as President. He had often been censured and as a child sometimes even whipped by his British tutors for criticizing Britain's occupation of Egypt and Sudan, but I had always felt he was a reasonable chap as army officers go and although I never actually met him I was ready to give him my full support had he asked me.

In November 1954, however, he was ousted by Nasser. By that time I was working in England as Export Manager for an American firm of proprietary medicine manufacturers, so I could play no part in what happened later: in fact, my influence on Middle Eastern affairs generally had declined for ever; Suez, the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein and the departure of the Shah all took place without my involvement, though over the years I had some happy times in Amman, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Damascus, Luxor and many other hot noisy places where people try to sell you things.

And I never gave a thought to Hosni Mubarak, or he to me, during his thirty years of brutal dictatorship, until the last eighteen days and the immensely satisfying dénouement yesterday.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Flavour of the Month

Here's an extract from The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit:   

Avocado and Lime: Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra singing ‘Some Velvet Morning'.  At once beautiful together and distinctly separate, Lee the velvety note of avocado, Nancy the high-pitched lime that that cuts through the smoothness just when you’re getting too comfortable.

The association may largely be down to my having played the song over and over again, driving down Highway 1 in California on honeymoon. While others toast their future together over lightly grilled fish and flutes of champagne served on a lapping pontoon in the Indian Ocean, we stopped at striplit taquerías and ate burritos the size of shotputters’ forearms. Tender strips of grilled steak come rolled in a floury, slightly crisp tortillas packed with rice, beans, soured cream, mouth-watering, lime-laced guacamole and salsa so fiery you have to grab the sides of the little plastic service basket till your eyes stop streaming tears.

On the subject of guacamole, some say that leaving the avocado stone in will prevent discoloration. My view is that if the guacamole’s around long enough to find out, you’re not making it right.

Her rapturous description of a jumbo burrito reminds me how disgusting Tex-Mex food is. But isn't she fun to read?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Letting the French back in

Here is a picture of the British landing from their boats before the battle of Quebec, on September 17th, 1759. The leaders on both sides, Wolfe and Montcalm, were killed. (There was another Battle of Quebec in December 1775, when the British and Canadian garrison drove off an American attack and ended the threat to the British control of Canada.)

But Canadians know all this, of course, and possibly a few Englishmen as well; that is not what this post is about.

In the English county of Kent there is a small town called Westerham (town square shown below). Winston Churchill and I used to live not far from there, though not in the same house or at the same time.

It was the birthplace of General Wolfe, so naturally local pubs, tea-rooms and, for all I know, public conveniences, proudly bear his name.

On the outskirts of the town there is a large house, converted some years ago into a very good restaurant. It was run by a large and fierce francophone Egyptian called Zarb. I like to think that it was not from chauvinism or to thumb his nose at the locals but in a spirit of respect and reconciliation that he called it Le Marquis de Montcalm.