Reality, Of A Sort

I don’t watch “reality” TV shows.  They all seem so contrived, with their deliberate plot lines and forced conflicts, all occurring while the cameras roll.  It seems to be about as far from true reality as you can get.

But a British “reality” show called Eden may actually have unwittingly exposed the contestants on a show to reality, of a sort.  The typically silly, wholly contrived plot sent 23 people out into the wilds of Scotland, to a desolate area called the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.  There, they were supposed to be totally cut off from the outside world, so they would have to use their survival skills, live for a year on food they trapped and caught, and create a new community from nothing.

eden-lead-xlarge_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqv30ccb2vduhjw47nmzf9bznxedyfs9ixtxv7dtwrcjuUnbeknownst to the contestants, however, the show was cancelled and taken off the TV schedule after only four episodes, months ago.  But the show’s producers kept the cameras rolling, apparently without telling the contestants that no one was watching.

Now that the year in the wilderness is ending, the truth about the show apparently has begun to emerge.  Ten of the 23 people quit, with one contestant who threw in the towel calling the show “a load of rubbish.”  And according to a Scottish newspaper, at least some of the other participants “resorted to smuggling in junk food and booze.”  According to one resident quoted in the newspaper, “[s]ome of the participants were even seen in the dentist at Fort William needing treatment after eating chicken feed grit.”  The paper also reported that the show’s failure was due to “sexual jealousy, hunger and feuds.”

There’s something richly satisfying about this.   Contestants on “reality” shows seem to be stunningly self-absorbed and convinced that everyone will be keenly interested in their thoughts and feelings and plans as they talk to the cameras.  From their carefully crafted poses in the publicity photo above, the Eden contestants seem to be as phony, calculated and absurdly self-conscious as the rest of reality show “stars.”   It’s not hard to imagine them spending time during their year in the “wilderness” wondering which of them was really connecting with the audience back home, and whose antics were making them the sentimental favorite or the hated villain — when in reality no one was watching and no one cared.  I think you could say that they’ve been exposed to reality of a sort.

The producers say that a show about what happened will be broadcast later.  Who knows?  Maybe the news stories about the wilderness reality show that was cancelled without telling the contestants are all part of an elaborate plan by the producers to drum up viewers for a show that was a ludicrous dud, so they can recover some of their losses, and the rest of us are being played.  I guess that would be reality of a sort, too.

Pontius Pilate Probably Did It Wrong, Too

Scientists have determined that we’ve all been washing our hands the wrong way.  They say the simple soap up, vigorously rub until lather forms, then rinse method that we’ve been using isn’t very effective at killing the bacteria that collects on our hands.

handwashing-banner1A study conducted by a university in Scotland concluded that the common three-step method only reduced the “average bacterial count”on hands from “3.08 colony-forming units per milliliter to 2.88.”  The study advocates, instead, for a six-step method that involves the initial soap-up step followed by scrubbing the backs of hands, the backs of fingers, between fingers, then rotational rubbing of your thumbs, and finally the fingers on your opposite hand.  If it sounds complicated, it is:  the study confesses that only 65 percent of people who were given an instruction sheet did it correctly.  The average time to correctly complete the six-step procedure, incidentally, was 42.5 seconds.

But here’s the rub:  after doing the six-step hand fandango, there were still an average of 2.58 colony-forming units of bacteria per milliliter on the study participants’ hands.  In other words, even after you’ve vigorously scrubbed away and performed the “rotational rubbing of your thumbs” for a full 42.5 seconds, more than half of those bacteria that had been on your hands are still there, ready to form a “colony.”

And that’s not even the worst part.  Standing in front of the sink in a public restroom washing your hands for 42.5 seconds is the functional equivalent of an eternity.  Nobody spends that much time washing their hands — not even Howard Hughes.  If you stood at a sink in a public bathroom for 42.5 seconds aggressively scouring your hands in a lathery storm, any other person who happened to be in the bathroom at the same time would conclude that you are either trying to eliminate DNA evidence after committing murder or on the verge of being committed for raging hypochondria.

So I don’t think I’m going to be spending 42.5 seconds enduring the over-the-top fragrances of hand soaps and giving my thumbs a workout in order to marginally reduce, but not come close to eliminate altogether, the bacteria hanging out on my hands.  I’ll stick with the three-step method, get out of the bathroom within a reasonable time, and just let those hardy surviving bacteria go about their colony-forming business.

The Known Versus The Unknown

On Thursday the people of Scotland will vote on whether to dissolve their ties with England and become an independent nation.  After an early history of bloody wars, Scotland and England settled their differences and have been part of the United Kingdom for 307 years.  All of that could end on Thursday if the Scots vote yes, and emotions are running high on both sides of the referendum campaign.

As part of the United Kingdom, the Scots have experienced the glory of being part of the world’s most powerful nation and won two world wars, but many of them are chafing under the restrictions that come from the current arrangement, where Scottish aspirations might be subjugated to the votes of the English.  Independence, and a sovereign nation that will consider only Scottish interests, therefore is a tantalizing prospect.

But there are risks in independence — and opponents of a yes vote are describing those risks in gory detail.  Major players in the Scottish financial industry, like RBS, have indicated that they will relocate in the event of a yes vote, and supporters of a continued United Kingdom argue that a yes vote will hurt Scottish universities and — horrors! — the Scottish whiskey industry.

The key question raised by opponents of independence is whether Scotland’s economy is sufficiently large to hold its own on the world stage, or whether its budget would be out of balance, interests rates would rise, and businesses and academic brainpower would flee the country.  Proponents of independence say that such concerns are simply scare tactics ginned up by the English, who fear how they will fare, economically and politically, if they are forced to go it alone.  Would an independent Scotland struggle — as has been the case in Iceland and Ireland — or would it be a sturdy economic engine like Switzerland?

Of course, it’s impossible to say what the future holds — so the vote boils down to a classic choice between the known and the unknown, comfort and risk, old and new.  Scotland’s great poet, Robert Burns, spoke of fear of the unknown in the first stanza of his poem A Prayer in the Prospect of Death:

O THOU unknown, Almighty Cause
Of all my hope and fear!
In whose dread presence, ere an hour,
Perhaps I must appear!

We’ll find out whether the Scots elect the known, or the unknown, on Thursday.  People throughout the United Kingdom are holding their breath.

Celebrating All Things Scottish

IMG_2909Last night Kish and I went to the lovely home of the Rhyming Scots for a celebration of All Things Scottish.  Mr. Rhyming Scot, who combines the qualities of fierceness and intellectual firepower that you would expect from the son of a country that produced William Wallace and Adam Smith, sported a kilt and other traditional Scottish garb.  Scottish flags were proudly flying, and tartan ruled the day.  A bagpiper was present, skreeling off favorite bagpipe selections.  Scotch, Scottish ale, and Scottish food were to be had in abundance. 

Technically, last night’s festivities commemorated the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a crucial and crushing Scottish victory over the English in the First War of Scottish Independence, but it was also a nice opportunity for friends to get together, listen to the bagpipe refrains floating on the sultry evening air, and nosh on haggis.  And about that haggis:  it’s actually pretty good, kind of like a loose sausage.  I’d definitely eat it again at the next big Bannockburn anniversary. 

Goodbye To Robin

News outlets are reporting that Robin Williams has died, of an apparent suicide.  The actor and comedian, who was only 63, evidently had been battling severe depression.

Williams became a big star on the TV show Mork and Mindy, and over the next four decades he had a busy career in stand-up comedy, in movies, and as the voice for animated characters.  Although many lauded his movie roles, both comic and serious, I always thought that Williams’ true medium was in his stand-up routines — his riff on Scotland and golf, below, is a classic — and he was absolutely brilliant as the voice and motivating spirit behind the manic genie in Disney’s Aladdin.

We tend to idolize Hollywood stars, musicians, and other cultural figures, and think that because they are rich and successful they must have wonderful lives.  Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case — they are human like the rest of us, and they also often wrestle with their inner demons.  It’s tragic that someone like Robin Williams, who brought joy and laughter to millions, had to struggle with his own issues of depression, and it’s sadder still that he apparently lost that battle.  Although we no doubt will hear about how the world has lost a titanic talent over the next few days, the real loss is that experienced by Williams’ family, who now have a gigantic hole in their lives that can never be filled.

Skidmarks On The Bridal Gown

We’ve all heard stories about wedding day disasters involving a vomiting usher, an inept or appalling toast, a fainting groom, a participant left at the altar, split trousers, conga line failures, and other dance floor mishaps, the acting-out bridezilla, drunken, brawling guests, and countless other variations.  However,  this story about a telltale skidmark left when a kilt-wearing groom sat on his bride’s lap, causing the wedding to deteriorate into an alcohol-fueled melee, seems pretty hard to top.

As with so many stories of this type, the article covering the incident raises more questions than it answers.  Wouldn’t the groom have detected, through smell or other senses, the presence of issues below the equator?  Could anyone really be so drunk?  Or was the crass Scottish groom at about the same level of gentility as the face-painting clansman of Braveheart?  And if the groom actually sat down on his new wife’s lap in such a condition, wouldn’t his soiled rear end actually come into contact with his woolen kilt, rather than the white bridal gown?  What, was he wearing some kind of mini-kilt?  (If so, pity the other guests!)  Or did he flounce down on the bride so that his kilt flapped in the breeze like Marilyn Monroe’s dress in The Seven-Year Itch?  In short, could this story actually have happened?

If it did, the bride will want to get her gown cleaned before she stores it as a keepsake.

Lockerbie Bomber: The Fallout Continues

Here’s an update on the Scottish decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the terrorist convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has finally addressed the issue after being quiet for some time, and he has drawn criticism both for his delay in commenting and the substance of his remarks. His statement seems pretty mush-mouthed to me — “I was angered by the welcome the terrorist received, but it was Scotland’s decision, and by the way we are committed to fighting terrorism and pursuing peace” — and probably was carefully designed to try to appeal to people of just about every political persuasion.

I am a fan of the Brits; they have been stalwart allies in the fight against terrorism. You do have to wonder, however, whether their resolve may be wavering. After all, the notion that countries should show compassion for someone like the Lockerbie Bomber is a novel concept. For example, Rudolf Hess spent 41 years in Spandau Prison after being convicted at Nuremberg. Hess died there — even though he had flown to Scotland in 1942 in an effort to negotiate peace and was arrested at that time. Hess was sentenced to life in prison, and in those days life meant life.