Feed on Piranhas
Sports metaphors are so lame that we decided to run one to the ground. So this isn’t about great rivalries such as Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier, or duels, like Rafael Nadal beating Roger Federer, or whether the World Series should actually involve world teams.
Instead, we’ll take a few disputes, dislikes and grievances for a spin, that may tell us more about the human folly and the world we live in than the punches exchanged by legendary brawlers.
It may be the only approach possible if we need to accommodate side by side, petty intrigues between academic disciplines, for example, such as psychiatry and psychology (who cares?), and the disgust writer Raymond Chandler felt about director Alfred Hitchcock (who knew?).
It could be a fitting device, for instance, to wonder about the baffling 1980s dominance of the VHS tape over superior format Beta, only to both be buried by the digital technology. Or whether Macs are better than PCs because they employ child labor. But we’re not getting into neither of that.
Instead, we’ll look at how Thomas Edison himself buried his competition. How Petrobras of Brazil may further damage the Amazon. And why your use of toilet paper may help the extinction of Sumatran tigers.
You may say, what a mixed bag we got ourselves in, but we’re game if there’s something to be learned. Plus, we couldn’t come up with anything else of note, today. And besides, who says sports metaphors are the only thing we’re allowed to run to the ground?
MY THERAPIST IS BETTER THAN YOURS
The habit of having someone to help you deal with personal issues has seen better days. During Freud years, in the 1800s, psychoanalysis was the new imperative. To discuss dreams and anxieties became a way for society to cope with the radical changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the political upheaval of the times.
Today, even though therapy is regularly covered by any insurance plan, the concept is indistinguishable from mental health, almost as in, needing help. As such, most people keep it to themselves, lest not let it jeopardize one’s professional and even romantic prospects.
But jobs, the economy, relationships are all constant sources of stress and of feeling inadequate, if you pardon our own psychobabble here. And certain conversations are just too damned difficult to be had with friends and family. Therapists are akin to bartenders: everybody has one they talk to, but few are upfront about it.
TALK? WE’RE IN FOR THE DRUGS
There are many historical reasons as to why psychologists have not much respect for psychiatrists, and vice versa. Academically, both disciplines overlap. Professionally, though, there’s a fundamental difference between the two: only psychiatrists can prescribe medicine.
Since the drug industry has grown exponentially, and spending and resources employed in research and development of new drugs by laboratories are on the increase, so has expanded the role of medical professionals, specially those who can dispense medicines. In terms of advertising money, for example, big pharma is second only to the food industry.
Apart from that, psychologists have also to compete with alternative therapies and a new class of professionals, also tapping into their once exclusive marketplace: social workers. Today, it’s very likely that when a couple seeks help with relationship issues, they will hire one of them, a ‘mediator.’
Degree-holding psychologists, of course, are still very much a part of the universe of health care. But in a world of ‘life coaches’ and ‘career advisers’ and ‘body trainers,’ along with traditional priests and rabbis, and the hundreds of people one comes across who’re always eager to dispense advice, you may say that society has already picked a winner in this battle.
TWO STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
Hollywood is littered with stories of directors throwing their screenwriters under the bus, and finishing production on their own, rather than having the author bugging them and everybody else around the set. With Raymond Chandler, it was no different. It probably helped too that he chose to clash with another inflated ego of his time, director Alfred Hitchcock.
A recently uncovered letter that the author of The Big Sleep sent to the director of The Birds revealed in detail what was already public knowledge at the time of the filming of Strangers on a Train: they hated each other. Chandler didn’t agree with the direction the movie was heading and walked away. But Hitchcock probably didn’t even noticed it. The movie was a success, as usual.
The story of two strangers meeting casually on a train and planning a double murder, and the complications that followed one of them having changed his mind, is a setup more in line with Hitchcock’s themes, than with the hard-boiled pulp Chandler became known for.
That is usually irrelevant anyway, and to this day, the importance of the writer usually ends way before pre-production starts. There’s an almost ingrained derision towards the figure of the author, when in movies, as we all know, there’s just one person to be called as such: the director. That is, if you want to ever work on this town again.
Chandler was still credited in the movie, which has some memorable shots of New York City and the old tennis courts of Flushing Meadows, in Queens. But his script was reworked by another writer.
WHEN AC-DC CAME TO TOWN
Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, and over a hundred years later, many of his contraptions are still around. He was also a ruthless competitor who’d do anything possible to rid his rivals from the face of the earth. He not always succeeded.
When he created the first soon-to-be-outdated-but-not-quite-done-yet light bulb, he used his own direct current electrical system, which was far from practical to transmit power through long distances. He then hired young Serbian Nikolas Tesla, who developed the alternate current system.
Stunningly, Edison failed to realize that AC was a better way. Instead, he dismissed Tesla, who quickly sold his idea to millionaire George Westinghouse.
What followed was years of bitter rivalry between the two. While Edison cornered the city markets with DC power, Westinghouse began dangerously expanding Tesla’s system in the countryside.
COULD YOU PLEASE, SIT DOWN
Edison counterattacked by spreading the rumor that AC was more dangerous than his own DC and even killed an elephant in Coney Island to demonstrate it.
Wanting to create an aura of danger and lawlessness associated with Tesla’s system, Edison had a hand in outfitting a new invention with it: the electric chair. But all he managed to do was to call attention to the feasibility of adopting the AC system.
As the chair became the preferred choice for killing criminals, people saw that AC could be as safe as DC, and the dispute was all but over. The last nail on the coffin was when Westinghouse was awarded in 1893 the contract to power the Chicago World’s Fair.
Edison must’ve recognized the reality: the light bulb will be forever his. But the system to light it would belong to somebody else.
TISSUE AND PAPER TIGERS
There have been many dangers threatening the Amazon Rainforest throughout the ages, but they’ve had always something in common: they’re all man made. Add another one that, at least up to very recently in Brazil, was not part of this catalog of damages done to the forest: digging for oil.
That changed and state-run company Petrobras, one of the worlds biggest, said that it had struck “good-quality light oil” in the Solimões Basin, in Amazonas state. Now, for a country that has massive subsalt deposits off its southeastern coast, the discovery should be immediately put on hold.
Its extraction won’t add much to Brazil’s reserves, and the environmental impact is potentially catastrophic. Besides, as we all know, we should all be searching for alternatives to oil, not for more oil.
Now, go and tell that to the Brazilian government, and you may be laughed out of jungle. Let’s see who’ll be laughing in the end. Oh, never mind that.
In Sumatra, another rainforest is being in danger of being destroyed by a couple of brands of toilet paper you may have used today or last week. Take a note of their names: Paseo and Livi.
Tissue and paper are manufactured from pulp plantations claimed from over five million acres of ancient forest of the Indonesian island. The area is also the habitat of Sumatran tigers, a magnificent but vulnerable endangered species.
As the trees recede, so do the animals and, since it’s an island, they can’t escape. Although many efforts are being made to stop illegal logging and tree processing in the region, anyone can help to protect those tigers.
All that organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and others are asking is simple: please, don’t use these brands of toilet paper.
But, for the sake of clarification and public hygiene, we must add: no one is advocating skipping the use of toilet paper today or for as long as it’s still possible. Just check the brand before you sit down.