Monday, 29 June 2009

To Kill a Mocking Bird

I've reproduced a blog here from my bookgroup blogsite. I wouldn't normally do that but I felt that this time I wanted to. There was a discussion at the end that troubled me and this blog is in some respects my response. I'm not going to say anymore because this is a public blog and I haven't been overly direct in what I have said. But for those that were there it's pretty plain...

It was a good book group meet excellently hosted by my Jan and Elsa. Most of the regulars were present and most everybody had finished the book which is always good for discussion. Several of us had read the book in our teens and it was interesting how different the impact, looking at it with a few more years tucked under our belts.

Lee uses the unclouded eyes of a child to pull apart the prejudice that swamps the characters of the story. Lee herself would have been that age at that time in the thirties and we can imagine that she was writing from experience. When very young, innocence can shield you from the truth as you don't know how to recognise the injustices that surround you. Once you lose that innocence though your choices are either to challenge or accept and ignore. One group of people lose their freedoms while the other set lose their humanity.

The book was written some twenty odd years after the time it was depicting, but the issues were just as current in the early 60's. Reading it now, in the next century it is still current. There may be laws set out to protect rights but society isn't balanced and possibly it never will be.

I had totally forgotten the part where Scout puzzles over how the teacher that deplores the actions of Hitler towards the Jews could dehumanise people just for being black. Scout never used the word dehumanise, though I am sure she could. She never uses the word racist either but then, as the saying goes, fish probably have no word for water.

The people of the book are just people and they are still with us. We are them in our own times. The Atticuses, Scouts, Miss Stephanies and even the Ewells. For me I think that is the point of the book. There will always be those who find what they consider to be reasonable justification for their prejudices. The question is do we challenge them or accept and ignore?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Vespula Vulgaris RIP

Today I felt guilty and sad. I was personally responsible for the killing of thousands of individuals. I didn't take the decision lightly but after weighing up the arguments I put the well-being of my own kind before that of another species. Beneath our feet, buried beneath the floorboards of our house are the decomposing remains of a queen and all her offspring. Rotting in and around the papier mache tomb of their own construction.

A few days ago I noticed wasps entering an airbrick that leads to the space beneath our dining room. Then I noticed some coming out, then in, then out and so on... you get the picture. I concluded that there was a nest and so headed straight to Google to see what I should do about it.

Opinion was, of course, divided. If the nest could be left and the wasps were causing no trouble then all we had to do was wait. In the autumn the queen lays the eggs for more queens and males. After insemination the newly fertilised queens fly off whilst all the poor labourers, males and old queen die. The nest is then left empty and never used again. Whilst not being the ideal model of a modern socialist society it at least offered some hope.

Unfortunately the location of the nest entrance couldn't have been worse. Right beneath the doors that are left open on sunny days where the children dash barefooted in and out of the garden. There would be inevitable wasps in the house and potential stingings. Furthermore, this is still quite early in the season and the frequent ingress and egress of these small wasps would only become more frequent and the wasps larger.

What's the problem then? On a philosophical level the bioegalitarians would argue that the wasps have as much right to flourish as do I and that they should be left. If I thought that it would have been safe I would have done. I love insects and find them fascinating, espicially social insects. Ants, bees, termites and wasps are wonderful. As individuals they are incredibly well adapted to their roles, but as a collective they are an intricate society of builders, hunters, feeders, nurses and more. For a little while beneath our feet was a growing colony of life. An expanding ball of complexity that unfortunately contained a potential for pain.

At about 9.30 the van pulled up outside of my house. Unable to do the deed myself I had called in Sandwell's finest. In came the council exterminater bereft of any protective clothing or scary looking materials. He was a rather droll man and I think his job must have given him a sardonic look on life. Whilst being no palace I think our house and situation was a little better than some of the rat, flea, cockroach, bed bug infested places that he usually has to attend.

He looked at the nest entrance and said that by August we would be having real trouble if we didn't sort it. He then put some magic powder into a device that looked like it had been stolen from Heath Robinson and squirted it into the hole. That was it, deed done. In a matter of minutes their sentence had been agreed and executed for the sum of £44.50. Entomological genocide at bargain prices.

Wasps returning to the nest would no longer enter as they could smell the poison. A few totally white powder covered wasps flew out. Although not yet dead they were like vespal ghosts banging against the window. He said that the wasps inside the hole would soon carry the powder into the nest. They would then take their contamination to the queen committing inadvertant regicide. The wasps left outside would then have a problem as their home would be gone. They could not start their own nest and if they enter another they would be killed as invaders. They would instead wander off with no purpose and die.

Wasps are sometimes mistakenly cited as evidence that there is no God. I don't mean mistaken in the sense that there is a God, but that the basis of the argument is wrong. Nature in itself is not anthropocentric and just because a bee produces honey that we can use makes it no more likey to be the product of a deity than an earwig underneath a rock. Wasps are a fine example of evolution but in this particular inter-species battle for survival, they didn't stand much of a chance.