There’s a Place in France Where the Naked Ladies are Discouraged from Breastfeeding

Every now and then you have that paradoxical experience wherein you realize just how much you don’t know about a particular topic. An article on France in the Guardian drove that home in a big way. Consider just this paragraph:

Breastfeeding – particularly after two or three months – is regarded in France as something akin to drinking your own urine. Strange foreigners may do it, but that is no reason a nation brought up to idolise Liberté in the form of Marianne’s perfect breasts should. As a gynaecologist reminded a friend of mine the day she confirmed her pregnancy: “Your breasts are for your husband, not your baby.”

Apologies to those for whom this is old news, but I was incredulous that a First World, 21st-century nation would hold such ideas — so incredulous that the story’s April 1 pub date had me suspecting that I had been punked. (Those Brits and their, um, dry sense of humor.) I would be relieved if that were the case. Do French anthropologists believe that women evolved breasts as a tool to lure potential males, and that their ability to lactate is just a happy biological accident? For whom are, say, a cow’s udders intended, if not her calf? What if you’re a Frenchman who happens to be an ass man? Is your wife’s bottom likewise assumed to be for your pleasure, rather than an evolutionary adaptation to help her walk upright?

Anyway, I have nothing insightful to say about this. Just read the article and be lightly astonished.

Yeah, this frozen turkey leg would do it.

Let’s say I’m at the mall, browsing through some tchotchke store. The Oriental Trading Company, perhaps, or Pottery Barn. No, actually I hate those places and never go into them. I don’t hate Crate and Barrel, so let’s say I’m in Crate and Barrel, browsing the kitchen shit. (Everyone buys their kitchen shit at Crate.) I pick up a hefty hand-sized object: a vase, a lemonade pitcher, a three-pack of trendy barbecue sauces. (Mango Chipotle?) Invariably, on weighing any handheld object, my mind immediately poses the question:

I wonder if you could kill a guy with this?

Perhaps it’s a guy thing. I just have a peculiar fascination with the inherent deadliness of non-lethal objects. I may be rare, but I know I’m not alone. George Carlin once mused that you could kill someone with the Sunday New York Times, if you were sufficiently motivated. I’m actually not convinced; Jason Bourne may be able to do remarkable things with a rolled-up magazine, but the Sunday Times is too hard to roll up and would be too soft and yielding to deliver a killing blow. Now, a frozen newspaper is a different story. Anyone who’s had a paper delivered to their home in winter knows that a newspaper frozen to your front step is like a slab of rock. Hell, I’d wager you could kill someone with a daily Times if the weather were cold and icy enough. Of course, many objects become deadlier once frozen, particularly food items, so perhaps the point is redundant.

Another way to amplify the deadliness of ordinary things is to put a bunch of them together. A potato, for instance, isn’t much of a threat by itself. Put a dozen or more in a sack, and you could do some serious harm before they all turned to mush. A sack of frozen potatoes would pretty much make you a one-man killing machine.

Some household objects that used to be deadly are now no longer so. Telephones used to be made of bakelite and contained metal bells and wiring and rotary mechanisms; a few swift applications of one of those suckers and you’d have someone on the ground in no time. Now phones are all circuit boards and light plastic, no guts to them at all; it’d be like trying to hit someone with a plastic mug.

Anyway, here is a partial list of single, common, non-frozen benign objects small enough to be easily wielded by hand and which can be turned into lethal weapons with a little determination.

  • A Chia Pet.
  • A laptop computer. (Think of it: you can beat someone to death with technology that, a generation ago, would have taken up an entire room!)
  • A bridal magazine. (Jason Bourne could fight his way out of a Turkish prison with one of these.)
  • A tub of Oxi-Clean.
  • One of those “executive” bookshelf stereos. (Anyone owning one of these, of course, might well deserve to be killed anyway.)
  • A flute. (A clarinet, being made of wood, would probably crack under repeated blows.)
  • A pepper mill.
  • A Lladro figurine. (“Happy anniversary, sweetie.” Thwack.)
  • A child’s car seat. (Pretty intense irony, huh? You know it.)
  • A toilet plunger.
  • A piggy bank. (You’d probably need to kill with the first shot, but at least you’d get some money out of the affair.)
  • A jar candle.
  • A wet-floor sign. (The irony! It’s too much!)

So next time you’re out shopping, and find yourself hefting a particularly large cantaloupe or a nice anniversary clock for someone’s mantel, ask yourself: what would it take? How would I have to grip this thing? Are there any edges or points I could use to my advantage? How many blows could I get in before the job was done or the object itself fell apart?

Makes the time in Pottery Barn or Pier 1 Imports a lot more fun.

Albert Hoffman (and child)

I missed this a few days ago: Albert Hoffman, the chemist who invented (or synthesized or discovered) LSD, died a few days ago. The guy lived to 102. Must be something in the water in Switzerland.

It reminded me of this article I read years ago in Slate, about how a 2000 bust by the DEA basically wiped out LSD as a recreational drug. It is evidently very difficult to make — no bargain-basement LSD labs in the small towns of Middle America à la the ones that grace us with crystal meth — and these two fellows in Kansas were the only ones left with the means and the know-how to do it, at least on such a scale. Not to rhapsodize about an illicit chemical that does some seriously hazardous shit to your head, but the idea of LSD disappearing because it’s too difficult to make can’t help but put me in mind of other products of craft and ingenuity rendered obsolete by quicker, cheaper or baser alternatives.

I am old enough to have actually studied penmanship in school, though not old enough to have retained much of it; I can only recall cursive letters with great effort, and my hand balks at shaping them. I don’t know of any grammar-school age child who studies handwriting the way my classmates and I used to; in today’s world, it would be like teaching a child to shoe a horse. Why spend the time learning to write well when no one writes letters and every other document we touch is created electronically?

So LSD, which some genuinely intelligent people once believed might actually change the way people live, is vanishing; researchers rarely study it, and cheaper, easier and more lucrative substitutes have crowded it off the map. I wonder if Dr. Hoffman imagined he would live long enough to witness it, the slow passing of his “problem child.”

Million Dollar Babies

Remember the Million Dollar Homepage, where some kid managed to sell a million pixels on his home page for a dollar apiece, and got rich?

Can anyone argue convincingly that The Big Word Project is anything different? I wonder who’s buying sucker?

I’m not criticizing, actually. I’d love to come up with a gimmick to get people to pay me for doing no work.