Sunday, January 31, 2010

Man-o-Pause and Bicycle Clips

I recently came across a quirky blog called Cycle Chick from Copenhagen, dedicated to an advocacy of all things bicycle but particularly extolling the virtues of girls in high heels pedalling along the boulevards of cities around the world. What about men?

Over the past 15 years or so I’ve noticed a trend, where the cohorts of my male medical colleagues who are reaching the age of 45 or 46 suddenly turn to bicycles for their physical outlet both as individuals but also as part of a group dynamic. The bike is bought after much thought about construction, gear ratios, and brake specifications. The riding gear, for dry or wet conditions, with or with out Tour de France logos, are carefully chosen and as a final flourish, with the selection of a moulded racing helmet, man becomes gladiator.

Is this decision on the part of many of my male colleagues to return to the saddle a symptom of what is perceived to be a mid-life crisis? A return to the carefree days of their youth, when the bicycle took them away at speed from the watchful eyes of their parents, to meet up, race and be with their mates. Only now it is an acceptable escape from their spouses and partners, promoting the concept of cycling as an aerodynamic sporting pursuit as being excellent for their long-term health – and a diversion safer than other forms of male ‘man-o-pausal’ expression!

In the quiet moments however individual thoughts turn to Lance Armstrong’s testicular cancer, their own prostates and a choice of saddle. Do they go for the padded seat without the traditional perineal pressurising (a.k.a. crotch-crushing) protruding nose or decide to pad up. They will know that some urologists have blamed the traditional hard-saddle nose with cycling-related erectile dysfunction and impotence (see References below).

Now I have to say I never went around inspecting my colleagues bikes to see who was a ‘hard’ man but possibly impotent. Or who were those who were ‘padded’ but still performing. But I do wonder on occasions; on those rare days when I have nothing else to wonder about or sometimes, as a flash of spokes and lycra go whizzing by, I momentarily question 'Should I again?' (Truth be told about three summers ago I did get back on the bike on a glorious day and cycled to Spiddal and back. The next time I ventured out it rained for the entire journey and thus my phase lasted about two days.)

This intense mid-life cycling ‘perineal pressure’ phase for the majority of my colleagues appears to last for about two to three years and then fades out (or is washed out by Irish rain and terrible secondary roads) with a return to running, golf, tennis, drinking, normal function.

For some individuals however mid-life cycling becomes a way of existing. A way of believing in themselves: the lower the gear ratio the greater the penetration of being. Forget padded seats. These boyos have bicycle clips as body art adornments for greater satisfaction.


HERSHFIELD, N. B. Pedaller’s penis. Can. Med. Assoc. J. 128:366 – 367, 1983.
JEONG, S. J., K. PARK, J. D. MOON, and S. B. RYU. Bicycle saddle shape affects penile blood flow. Int. J. Impot. Res. 14:513–517, 2002.
MARCEAU, L., K. KLEINMAN, I. GOLDSTEIN, and J. MCKINLAY. Does bicycling contribute to the risk of erectile dysfunction? Results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS). Int. J. Impot. Res. 13:298 –302, 2001.
SCHWARZER, U., W. WIEGAND, A. BIN-SALEH, et al. Genital numbness and impotence rate in long distance cyclists. J. Urol. 161(Suppl.):178, 1999.
SCHWARZER, U., F. SOMMER, T. KLOTZ, C. CREMER, and U. EN- GELMANN. Cycling and penile oxygen pressure: the type of saddle matters. Eur. Urol. 41:139 – 43, 2002.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Alphabetic Philosoup – C

An occasional blog;
an alphabetical abracadabra of language musings.

Chomsky’s Cartesians contend,
conjuring Canaanite culture’s concise cuneiform conversion,
‘Cant columns cannot cope carrying capitals.’


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Random Events –The Devil's Number

I do not get to the gym as often as I’d like and because there are significant ‘epochs’ between my attendances it is like a dead man walking as I approach the Lifefitness.Inc Elliptical cross-trainer. I aim for a 45 minute session (40 active and 5 cool down period), type in my weight while looking away, select the intensity level – basing this decision on the time of day, the lunar cycle, the colour of the leotard the ‘young one’ on the next machine is wearing, anything but a reality – and then press the random button.

I like the uncertainty notion of having to respond to a sequence of random events dictated by an inanimate machine. A series of troughs and peaks spread out over 40 minutes. Yet in time you see patterns. The machine is determined to punish you in the third quarter, the intensity and demand on your fitness at its most stretched.

You pick indices to survive. The 10 minute quarters, the distance in kilometers travelled, the circuits completed. Everybody is different. A colleague at work the other morning, a serious long distance runner, says he spells out in his head the signage that he passes or sees. For me on the elliptical death ride the most important sign that end to my torment is nigh is the approach of the Devil’s Number – 6.66 km. From there it is down hill to an average – for those of you who might be nosey about a 53 year-old’s capabilities – of 7.5km travelled, 1850 meters climbed and 550 calories burnt.

The Devil’s Number originates in John’s Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. Written about 90 C.E. it states:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

In all likelihood the number of the ‘beast’ referred to is probably not the Devil but most likely the perceived devil incarnate of Domitian, the Roman Emperor at the time the Book of Revelation was written, and a man detested by Christians, Jews and Greeks alike for his persecutions. The number 666 is derived by counting the Greek numeral-letter equivalents (The numerology 'science' of gematria) of his coin inscriptions. When Hebrew gematria is applied the number 666 can be derived from the Aramaic version of the Emperor Nero’s name, another ‘beast’ of a man who endeared himself to his subjects!

You would imagine that this type of superstitious politico-religious cryptography would have no impact in the modern world. But it is not the case. About ten years ago Armenia introduced social welfare identity cards. A highly orthodox traditional society the debate about their introduction did not concentrate on the civil liberty aspect but centered on those cards, which might incorporate the Devil’s Number of 666 in the card identity numbers. The debate reached parliament and a solution was reached where those responsible for the introduction had to design computer programmes where the sequence 666 would be edited out.

I remember asking a friend of mine who was involved in the fraught negotiations concerning the cards introduction, when on a visit there in 2001, was there any problem with the sequence 999? He asked me what I meant? Well I said, a bit of 'devilment' rising in me, if when you showed your identity card if it was presented with the orientation to the giver rather than the receiver then the receiver would see the sequence 666 standing out. He said ‘Don’t go there. We have enough issues.’

I always wondered subsequently whether this possibility enforced the development of a distinct transfer etiquette on peoples’ card-handing-over behaviour in Armenia.

Like I said. I like randomness and the potential for chaos. Even if I am gasping for air!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Alphabetic Philosoup – B

An occasional blog,

an alphabetical abracadabra of language musings.

Becalmed beyond Babel's boreal breakwaters Being becomes bellicose.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alphabetic Philosoup – A

An occasional blog ,

an alphabetical abracadabra of language musings.

An ancient anonymous astronomer analysing axial astral
altitudes – apogees, aphelion, azimuths – amongst astrolabes
and almagests announces aphoristically,
‘Aah! Aardvarks abreast annihilate ants after all’.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avatars and Exits

I went with my daughter to see Avatar on Sunday evening. I bought the tickets and she the sweets and ice cream. A fair deal! The movie was worth seeing albeit about a half-an-hour too long.

James Cameron, the director, was determined that every cent he spent on the graphics depicting tame flying reptiles dropping precipitously with their umbilically – called shahaylu, the bond – attached riders from cliff faces would be seen.

Despite the expense about every section of American society from religious fundamentalists to gung-ho neocons will be pissed off at some point by the story. In particular the private security firm employed to be protective for the ‘skypeoples’ mining colony – for the rare mineral Unoptanium sic! – are depicted as becoming aggressively and murderously pro-active and immediately Blackwater USA – now renamed Xe after a year of internal searching it seems – and Iraq spring to mind.

For the religious the chief scientific antagonist to the military boys is a Dr Grace Augustine. There is nothing north african or confessional about this girl. The forest glade sex scene (aka Braveheart) is abbreviated for the 12A audience yet somehow the whole controversy of avatar sex on the internet, particularly in the gaming Second Life system where teenage kids construct their avatars with detachable and oversized penises, is alluded to. Wow. All bases covered then.

And product placement too. Oh yes even in 3D. The Dick Cheney character, administrator Parker Selfridge, uses Titleist golfballs while plotting the destruction of the forest peoples. Not a Nike in sight then. Where is Tiger when you need him? Into the Woods with the rest of the cat people I suspect!

The feline connection in the construct of the central characters of Avatar, the omaticaya clan, is interesting in that the fourth avatar of Vishnu’s incarnation in the Hindu cosmology is Narasimha, the half lion-half man incarnation known for his ‘divine anger’ and as the great protector.

The movie is finally and indeed entirely an ode to James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, the integrated single organism structure of our planet named after the Greek mother goddess of the earth. (Also it must be noted the name of an internet avatar community) It ends a little too predictably or with the need for an optimistic feelgood goaway now message. Jake the central human character, the ‘dreamwalker’ or ‘avatar driver’ depending on perspective, in one of the last lines of the movie says :

The forest will heal, and so will the
hearts of the People. New life keeps the
energy flowing, like the breath of the

I'm not so sure!

The 3-D effects are reasonable although the glasses distributed allowed in too much glare. We were sitting near the exit and the green box exit sign kept intruding on my peripheral vision. All I could think of was Xe instead of Exit and the how the Iraqi community was exposed to rape, murder and torture by these Blackwater ‘security’ personnel. Blackwater were/are Avatars for the neo-con agenda.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

High Dudgeon and Dungeons in Dubai

Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai,
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp,
Abode his Hour or two and went his way.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khyyám
Translator: Edward Fitzgerald

In my blog of 7 Dec 2009 I mentioned that Abu Dhabi controls most of the oil wealth in the UAE and it was hoped would come to the aid of the economic implosion in Dubai. I also expressed concerns that given the history of disputes between the al-falasi – to which the al Maktoums of Dubai belong – and the al-falahi – to which the al-Nahayn of Abu Dhabi belong – that it was uncertain whether Abu Dhabi would be rushing into help and if they did what would fully satisfy an al-falahi sense of superiority.

(The al-falasi and al-falahi are both sections of the Bani Yas tribe of the Liwa Oasis but who have their origins in Yemen, and who relate their geneology back to ‘Adnan, descendant of Kedar, son of Ishmael, son of Abraham.)

Now we know and it is high dudgeon in Dubai.

The Burj Dubai, the highest building in the world at 828m (2716) was opened this week and unexpectedly Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the al-falasi renamed the tower Burj Khalifa (Pearl of the Successor) in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the al-falahi leader of Abu Dhabi (who possible unaware of this impending honour did not bother to turn up to the opening ceremony) .

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Imagine the joy in al-falahi hearts! The junior al-falasi tribal breakaway group in Dubai, who have been lording it for years, finally put in their places. Every Night and Day, as Omar Khayyam would have it, the al-falasi will see the tallest needle in their world piercing the sky of their hearts. High Dudgeon indeed!

Omar Khayyam's Cubic Equation Solution

As an aside Omar Khayyam was a brilliant mathematician and without his approach to the solution of ‘cubic equations’ the Burj could not possibly have been built.

As another aside no one is quite sure of the origins of the word ‘dudgeon’ which is used to imply a sense of extreme indignation but in a strange twist of sound and circumstance, to me it equates in the Burj’s case to 'dungeon'.

High above the street the multi-millionaire owners of the Armani designed apartments will never have to leave the building.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Rihla (Journey 11): Austria – Salzburg Smoking Settee

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This rihla is about Salzburg, Austria.

Salzburg in the Snow,
Jan 2, 2010

Another blog. Catch up time.

I am a pipe smoker and probably the only non-secretive smoker amongst my medical peer group. When I qualified about 15-20% of medical graduates still smoked but that proportion has decreased with information and occupational exposure to the effects of smoking to about 1%. In continuing to smoke it is not that I lack insight but it is the direct result of an addictive personality and having no desire whatsoever to discontinue.

Anyway, marginalised as I am (and probably deserve to be) on social occasions to dark, wet and windy exterior ‘lazaretto’ outposts in the alleyways and sheebeens of this world I now take pleasure – real pleasure – in finding places – restaurants, bars, airports etc – which provide smoking facilities without an overbearing sense of compromise.

A River of Cloud in the Gastein Valley
Salzburg, Austria

Imagine my joy!

It is January 2, twenty ten (according to a BBC missive) I am in Salzburg Airport, down from the mountains in a snowstorm, the plane is running two hours late and I venture outside to smoke. Earlier in the day I had seen the house where Mozart was born between the throngs of shoppers on Getreidegasse, walked through the Mirabelle garden where Maria von Trapp had walked and where the fountain scene from the Sound of Music was filmed, and pondered on the Doppler effect (His seminal paper was beautifully entitled :On the coloured light of the binary stars and some other stars of the heavens) of Christian Doppler, a Salzburger, as I dodged the shoppers. I had also found quietness wandering through the 13th Century Hospital for the poor of Salzburg built into the cliff space, marvelled at the baroque splendour of the roof of the Cathedral and how it reminded me of some of the best of Ottoman roofs, wondered at the power of the city’s medieval Prince-Archbishops and the expulsion of Salzburg’s Jews and Protestants in different eras on winter days such as these and then, while looking at a weird skeleton installation in the crypt below the Cathedral – with its blank wall slabs ready for the headstones of future dead archbishops – getting really annoyed at knowing that a medieval law on blasphemy was being signed into law in Ireland at this very time.

A Skeleton Installation in The Crypt beneath
Salzburg Cathedral!!
(Irish Blasphemy Law sprung to mind)

Back to my smoke. In front of the terminal building there are a series of light-blue ironwork benches with gleaming steel-blue ashtrays attached at either end. It is dark and the snow flurries are blowing in. I sit down.

And …. There are cushions provided!

It is no longer a lounger for the desperate. It has become a settee for the sated.

Have a great twenty ten, whatever that is.

The Speed of Darkness

The picture above is of the two necessities carried in a Toyota landcruiser when traversing the Ramlat as Sab’atyn desert in Yemen in March 2006: the Kalashnikov rifle of our Bedouin driver/guide to dissuade potential kidnappers and the greatest essential, water.

Yemen, unfortunately, is at the forefront of all the news bulletins again … American and British embassies closing down because of fears of a terrorist attack by al-Qaida, despite what the Yemeni government claimed was a ‘successful’ pre-emptive air-strike execution of 30 Al-Qaida operatives at Shebwa on the 24 December.

In Yemen Al-Qaeda has found a fertile ground for its agenda. The establishment of training camps (akin to those established to train IRA and Baader-Meinhof terrorists in Libya and Syria in the 1970’s) in the inaccessible highlands and desert wadis to train willing ‘martyrs’ like the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is possible because of that inaccessibility but also because of tribal sympathy and protection. Most of these tribal groups are already in constant dispute with central government and in particular Al-Qaida has fermented and financially supported the political unrest by Houthi separatists in the north. As a result American financial support, to counteract this threat, for the training and equipping of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed forces has increased exponentially over the past four years from less than $11 million in 2006 to a projected $70 million in 2010.

To what avail?

Unlike the training of IRA and Baader-Meinhof terrorists in the ‘70’s in prosecuting their version of jihad al- Qaida are not willing to indulge any other philosophy or rationale other than their own. Indeed the jihad of al-Qaida has become its own self-contained belief system and radicalisation (martyrdom) its articles of faith. It is prepared, on any slim pretext of support for or by ‘Western’ influences, to exterminate fellow Muslims within the House of Islam.

Al-Qaida has a parasitic essence, weakening an already impoverished host (for now Yemen, but soon Somalia, and most likely Mauritania) and then departing for richer pickings elsewhere once the damage has been done. It knows only of the speed of darkness!

Further Information: