Are pigeons the answer to internet speed and safety from spying? An intriguing suggestion from the Internet Monitor suggests so. A snippet:

In 2009, a South African marketing company targeted South Africa’s largest Internet Service provider, Telkom, for its slow ADSL speeds by racing a pigeon carrying a 4 GB memory stick against the upload of the same amount of data using Telkom’s service. After six minutes and 57 seconds, the pigeon arrived, easily beating Telkcom, which had only transferred 4 percent of the data in the same amount of time. In 2010, another person hoping to shame their ISP in Yorkshire, England raced a five-minute video on a memory card to a BBC correspondent 75 miles away using a carrier pigeon while simultaneously attempting to upload the same clip to YouTube. The pigeon made it in 90 minutes, well ahead of the YouTube video—which failed once during the race.

Suggesting that pigeons might be faster than Internet connections might seem ridiculous, but as the information density of storage media has increased, and continues to increase, many times faster than the Internet bandwidth available to move it, IPoAC (IP over Avian Carriers) might not be so far-fetched. Over the last 20 years, the available storage space of hard disks of the same physical size has increased roughly 100 percent per year, while the capacity of Internet connections has only increase by 30-40 percent each year. As storage capacity increases—along with our need to fill those capacities—pigeon-powered networks may become a practical alternative to existing networks.

Even if the increasing gap between storage and mobility doesn’t become a problem, Internet censorship or privacy issues might spur the development of a Pigeonet. Earlier this month Anthony Judge, who worked from the 1960s until 2007 for the UN’s Union of International Associations and is known for developing the most extensive databases on global civil society, published a detailed proposal titled “Circumventing Invasive Internet Surveillance with Carrier Pigeons.” In the proposal, Judge discusses the proven competence of carrier pigeons for delivering messages, their non-military and military messaging capacity, and the history of using pigeons to transfer digital data. Judge acknowledges that pigeon networks have their own susceptibilities (such as disease or being lured off course by an attractive decoy), but argues we should not be so quick to dismiss the idea. As governments, and compliant corporations, increasingly block or filter access to the Internet, data capacities and data production increase beyond bandwidth limitations, and we begin to realize the environmental costs of running the Internet, sneakernets and pigeonets may become increasingly attractive options for transmitting data.

Following on my last post about silly questions people ask about Australia, here is a list of items my grandparents brought with them when immigrating to Australia in the late 1950s (from the Netherlands). They believed that these items were not available in a wild and prehistoric country:

- Lounge and dining furniture, made of heavy Dutch oak

- Bedroom furniture for a family of nine

- Linen and curtains

- New crockery and dinner set

- Cutlery, especially a large meat and vegetable cutter

- Several sets of thick Dutch clothing for the whole family

- Nylon stockings

- Large wooden washing machine

- Lamp shades

- A whole chest of Omo (washing powder) and a vast supply of pot scrubbers.

The whole country was of course deeply indebted to my grandparents for bringing these items of civilisation, for until then people had lived in the trees. (ht cb)

Recently the Australian Tourism Board posted a sample of the questions potential visitors ask before coming to Australia, along with answer from the tourism board (copied below). However, I have one to add that may possibly trump them:

Q: Where does the sun rise in Australia?

A: In the west – the world spins the other way here.


Original list:

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia ? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (UK).

A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.


Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)

A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.


Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)

A: Sure, it’s only three thousand miles, take lots of water.


Q: Are there any ATMs in Australia ? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane , Cairns , Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)

A: What did your last slave die of?


Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)

A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not … oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.


Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.


Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)

A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do…


Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)

A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is … oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.


Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)

A: You are a British politician, right?

____________________________ ______________________

Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)

A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.


Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)

A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.


Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia , but I forget its name. It’s a kind of bear and lives in trees. (USA)

A: It’s called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.


Q: Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)

A: Yes, gay night clubs.


Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)

A: Only at Christmas.


Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)

A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.

Nice to be home, even after a great session at the Society of Biblical Literature on my book, The Sacred Economy (more on that soon). Above all, it is wonderful to greet our pet spider, who dwells in a corner by the dining table.



It is a treat to introduce her to guests, who are usually not aware that they are sitting centimeters away from this beautiful arachnid. But she was looking a little thin after a couple of weeks of being on her own, so I caught a moth and dropped it into her web.



Usually she runs and hides when my hand looms above the web, but when the coast is clear, she comes out to enjoy some dinner with us:

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We’ve just completed three days by train across the strangest country in the world, the USA. The Southwest Chief runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then the Capitol Limited runs onto Washington (and a local train takes you to Baltimore). Three days in all, through deserts, prairies, forests and mountains. On a train such as this, you get the best, worst, and weirdest of the USA. Amtrak is a great network, and thankfully more people hereabouts have begun to realise that. It’s cheap, efficient and pretty comprehensive. When Americans set their mind to something, they can do a bloody good job. The problem is that they rarely put their minds to anything worthwhile.

But the most intriguing part would have to be the dining car. Here is the USA in all its daily glory. Community seating is the rule in the dining car, where the food is included in the very reasonably priced tickets. Over three days we met and talked with 80-something newlyweds with dodgy legs, New Mexico artists, a couple of giggling grandmothers, a disconcertingly in-bred couple who growled about ‘them environmentalists’ and said an elaborate prayer before eating, disciples of Obama with a love of hiking and speaking so loudly our ears were ringing, and – the highlight of the journey – a charming man who told us in detail of Abraham Lincoln’s beginnings as a lawyer when he won a huge case for the new railways. He finished his discourse by peering out of the window and observing simply, ‘I’m looking for bigfoots. They live in these parts’. He was serious.



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The other night, I happened to be on a bicycle at a northerly latitude. Not only had the last light finally faded by 11.30 pm, but the glimmer of dawn began not long after 2.00 am. (Don’t ask why we were out on a bike at those hours). Soon after 2.00 am the birds began chattering, flapping about, doing their thing. I felt really sorry for them, tied as they are to the patterns of night and day. For weeks on end, they have really short nights, barely three hours’ sleep. And their days are incredibly long. With all that sleep deprivation, I wondered: Do they get cranky? Do they make tired mistakes when flying? What about the long term effects – weight gain, heart problems, high blood pressure? Do any birds actually go to bed early and sleep in?

The Germans may have their Würste, in all manner of intriguing formations, as I have noted earlier. But on one thing at least the Danes comprehensively beat the Germans – in the grossness of their sausages. To wit:

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They call this a Fransk Hotdog, but it looks more like a dog’s dick. Note the ring of mayonnaise at the base.

Even more inventive is:


Correct me if I am wrong, but that bun looks remarkably like a pair of bum cheeks.

P.S. Given the popularity of these items and given the obvious fact that they are decidedly bad for you, I am struggling to see how the infamous homo economicus fits into this picture. Isn’t he supposed to determine, rationally, what is to his own benefit?

We have already had the garden variety domestic squabble, in which women regularly crushed their men’s testicles. Some other common features of arguments have also turned. To begin with, there’s biting from the laws of Eshnunna:

If a man bites the nose of another man and thus cuts it off, he shall weigh out and deliver 60 shekels of silver; an eye – 60 shekels; a tooth – 30 shekels; an ear – 30 shekels; a slap to the cheek – he shall weigh out and deliver 10 shekels.

No wonder they wore out their teeth so early. This one is perhaps my favourite, from the Hittite laws:

If anyone steals a door in a quarrel, he shall replace everything that may get lost in the house, and he shall pay 40 shekels of silver.

That is the first thing that comes mind if I’m in a quarrel: I’ll steal his door!

Most law collections are pretty boring reads. Hammurabi is a snore, with grandiose claims to his achievements in bringing justice, peace and well-being to all. Not so the Middle Assyrian Laws. Here we do come up against sheer difference, for the mind can barely get around the reasons for pressing these laws into clay for all eternity to follow.

For instance:

If a woman should crush a man’s testicle during a quarrel, they should cut off one of her fingers. And if the physician should bandage it, but the second testicle then becomes infected along with it …, or if she should crush the second testicle during the quarrel – they shall gouge out both her .. [text curiously broken here]

One can only imagine what Assyrian domestic quarrels were like.

Then there is:

If a man lays a hand upon a woman, attacking her like a rutting bull, and they prove the charges against him and find him guilty, they shall cut off one of his fingers. If he should kiss her, they shall draw his lower lip across the blade of an axe and cut it off.

Perhaps the most intriguing are these two:

If a man furtively spreads rumours about his comrade, saying, ‘Everyone sodomises him,’ or in a quarrel in public says to him, ‘Everyone sodomises you,’ and further, ‘I can prove the charges against you,’ but is unable to prove the charges and does not prove the charges, they shall strike that man 50 blows with rods; he shall perform the king’s service for one full month; they shall cut off his hair; he shall pay 3,600 shekels of lead.

If a man sodomises his comrade and they prove the charges against him and find him guilty, they shall sodomise him and turn him into a eunuch.

That should stamp out sodomy.

We don’t seem to know, for, as Marc van de Mieroop points out: ‘ Archaeological evidence of latrines in houses is lacking, and public toilets do not seem to hаvе existed either’ (The Ancient Mesopotamian City, p. 159). Out in the village-communes that would not have been a great problem, but in what are often called ‘cities’, it was a different matter entirely. In the rivers and canals? But that was also drinking water.

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