Pipe smoking – the more acceptable alternative?

February seems to be a month of addictions, or at least potentially addictive substances – we’ve already dealt with mathematical addiction and wine, and today we have International Pipe Smoking Day.

On 20 February each year, pipe smokers the world over unite to celebrate what they like to consider ‘the art of pipe smoking’. Linking back to the traditions of ancient cultures like the Native Americans, who engaged in peace pipe ceremonies, International Pipe Smoking Day promotes the socialising and relaxing aspects of the ritual of pipe smoking. The great Albert Einstein, himself a pipe smoker, once said “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs”, no doubt referring more to the ritual of pipe smoking than to the smoking itself.

Is pipe smoking making a comeback?(© All Rights Reserved)
Is pipe smoking making a comeback?
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The oldest traditional form of smoking, pipe smoking has in modern times lost ground to cigarettes, yet the ‘dying breed’ of pipe smokers appear to be making somewhat of a comeback, with water pipes, also known as a ‘hookah’ or ‘shisha’, becoming particularly popular. Pipe smoking is promoted as a less dangerous and more socially acceptable form of tobacco smoking.

I’m in no way pro-smoking, and tend to feel that saying pipe smoking is less dangerous than cigarette smoking is a bit like saying being shot by a 9mm bullet is less dangerous than being shot by a .45. In defence of pipe smoking, however, I guess one can at least make the point that there are ‘social pipe smokers’ who perhaps smoke only once or twice a day, while cigarette smokers tend to be much heavier smokers, resulting in correspondingly higher health risks.

As far as socially acceptable goes – while the pipe smoker may believe he looks more sophisticated than the cigarette smoker next to him, his habit is equally frowned upon anywhere cigarette smoking is prohibited.

To all pipe smokers – happy International Pipe Smoking Day. I leave you with a popular story about the French historian and statesman Francois Guizot. When he was an advanced age, a woman saw him smoking a pipe. “What! You smoke, and yet have arrived at so great an age?” she gasped. “Ah, madame,” he replied, “if I had not smoked, I should have been dead 10 years ago.”

Showing some appreciation for the many wonders of Bubble Wrap

Today is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. And what a weird, wacky and fun invention it is!

With cushioning provided by hundreds of regularly spaced, air-filled plastic bubbles, it not only provides a really clever and practical solution for keeping packaged products safe and secure, but I’m sure if a survey had to be done on the most addictive toys ever, bubble wrap should no doubt rank quite high on the list. I’ve never met anyone who, when left alone with a piece of bubble wrap for a few minutes, did not start popping away at the hundreds of individual little plastic-encased air bubbles. Which is weird, when you think about it, because you’re effectively rendering the bubble wrap useless, destroying the very thing that makes it useful. But it’s such fun that you cannot stop!

Bubble wrap addiction
It’s addictive! Doesn’t this just make you want to go and find a piece of bubble wrap and start popping?
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Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 when two inventors, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, set out to develop 3-dimensional plastic wall-paper (by sealing two shower curtains together, capturing various different shaped air bubbles between the sheets). The concept failed, but their design proved to be a perfect packaging solution. Pursuing this business opportunity, Fielding founded the Sealed Air Corporation and started marketing the Bubble Wrap® brand.

Acknowledging the compulsion of bubble wrap popping, the Sealed Air Corporation’s corporate offices is said to have ‘stress relief boxes’ – containers filled with Bubble Wrap® for employees to pop. Another cute initiative from Sealed Air is their Annual Bubble Wrap® Competition for Young Inventors, where kids are encouraged to come up with new inventions using Bubble Wrap® in novel ways outside of packaging. Some amazing inventions from these competitions have included a floating garden (floating on water with the aid of bubble wrap), a disposable, low cost cell phone holder, a wrist cushion for people suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, and “Petri Bubbles”, an inexpensive alternative to petri dishes in labs. (I told you kids make great inventors!)

An interesting fact (not verified) that I came across is that more than 250 Facebook pages are dedicated to Bubble Wrap® and its generic derivatives – more proof of the addictive appeal of this amazing product.

So go ahead, grab some bubble wrap and start popping – you know you want to!

Commemorating the end of shoe rationing

Today is a good day to celebrate shoes – leather and rubber shoes in particular. Because today we commemorate the day in 1945 when the US government announced the end of shoe rationing.

In the Second World War, many things were rationed in various parts of the world, due to production delays, lack of raw materials, etc. As it happens, one of these was shoes (here’s a nice story about the WWII shoe rationing in the US). Apparently, serious rubber shortages at the time meant that rubber shoes were in very short supply, and the military’s leather requirements (for boots, jackets and more) resulted in limitations also being placed on leather shoes.

Having more than one pair of rubber work boots in the home must have been quite a luxury in the early 1940s.
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From 1942, rubber boots and rubber work shoes were rationed – you had to apply for a new pair at a rationing board, and if your application was approved, you had to turn in your old pair. And only work shoes were allowed – no sports sneakers could be purchased. Similarly, rationing of leather shoes started in 1943. Each person (adult and child) was allowed up to 3 pairs of new leather shoes per year, bought using special rationing stamps.

And then, on 30 October 1945 – a happy day for shoe lovers! – the rationing was lifted. Men were again able to buy as many pairs of work boots as they liked. Shoe addicts were no longer bound by the painful limit of three pairs of new must-have’s a year. Children could get all the shoes they needed to accommodate their growing feet. And athletes could burn through as many pairs of sneakers as they wanted.

I for one would have easily been able to carry on as normal during the great WWII shoe rationing – shoes are practical things, after all, and surely don’t need replacing until they fall apart, do they? And, in most cases, they’re not even good for you – as I’ve mentioned before, you’re definitely better off going barefoot when possible. So the whole shoe addiction thing is a bit of a mystery to me.

After 1945, those who cannot say no to a pretty shoe could again shop to their heart’s content.
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In trying to add a bit of science to this post, I thought I might be able to find some research on the topic of shoe addiction, but alas, that seems to be a field of study that’s still wide open for psychologists and cognitive scientists. And it’s not as if there’s a lack of outspoken test subjects out there – just Google “shoe addiction” and you will be swamped in millions of blog-posts and other articles from self-confessed shoe addicts. From the average girl next door who would happily forego food for a week to afford another special pair of shoes, to Danielle Steele, who apparently owns in excess of 6000 pairs (quite an interesting addiction, by the way, for a writer who, one would assume, should be spending a significant amount of her time in front of a keyboard…).

So, where do you stand on the shoe debate – are they an undeniable passion or a necessary evil?

Savouring your favourite brew on International Coffee Day

Today is International Coffee Day. So after yesterday’s post on Arthur Guinness’ stout, this is my second post in a row discussing a dark brew loved the world over. And in a way the similarities between a pint of Guinness and a cup of coffee doesn’t end there – both contain antioxidants that are good for you. Yet like the alcohol in beer, the caffeine in coffee is addictive, and taken in excess is decidedly not good for you.

This, however, is not going to be a sober analysis of the medical risks and benefits of coffee and caffeine. I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of a coffee-holic. There are few things I like more than a well-made Americano in a quaint coffee shop rich with the smell of of freshly ground coffee, on a bustling city street corner. And if that coffee comes with a slice of lemon meringue (the perfect compliment to a good cuppa, if you ask me), even better.

So I am a tad biased. (And honestly, in moderation coffee can be good for you!)

Black or white, selecting your preferred style of coffee is a very personal choice.
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International Coffee Day is the day coffee lovers can celebrate their shared love of their favourite brew. Americano, cafe au lait, espresso, caffe latte, capuccino, affogato, cafe mocha… the list of formats you can choose to enjoy a cup of coffee is long, decadent and rather daunting. And if that’s not enough, there’s regional names, like our New Zealand ‘long blacks’ and ‘flat whites’. Enough to make your head spin, even before your caffeine fix! But most coffee lovers will quickly settle on their personal favourite, depending on their preference of strength of the brew, inclusion (or not) of milk/foam/cream, etc. And don’t try to come between the coffee lover and his brew of choice!

Beyond celebrating coffee, today is also an opportunity to promote ‘Fair Trade certified’ coffee, purchased from growers who ensure decent conditions for their workers. It is a chance to raise awareness for the plight of those who work in poorer countries and environments where there may be few, if any, restrictions on labour conditions, and where the opportunities for exploitation is rife. When choosing your brew, make sure it’s Fair Trade certified.

In a positive worldwide trend, the popularity of Fair Trade coffee has increased consistently over the last decade, with the percentage of coffee sourced from Fair Trade producers increasing annually.

Kick-start your day with a Fair Trade certified cuppa at breakfast.
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While choosing Fair Trade coffee rightly makes you feel better about your cuppa, there has been criticism about the ethics of it all, with cynics claiming Fair Trade certification to be little more than a marketing ploy to increase the price of the product, with only a small margin of this filtering through to the growers.

While this may sadly be true, my personal opinion is that opting to buy Fair Trade remains pretty much the only option to consumers wanting to buy from a non-exploitative source – surely that must be better than not supporting fair trade principles at all?

Black or white, sweet or bitter, whatever you prefer, join me in celebrating Coffee Day – here’s hoping you find a memorable brew today. And that a decent portion of the money you spend on it reaches the source!

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.”
(Neil Young, The Needle and the Damage Done)

Every year, more than 200 million people use illicit drugs. Of these, more than 200 000 die. Every year. Many many more end up in a downward spiral of crime and abuse, with young people today being exposed to drugs earlier than ever before.

The illegal drug trade feeding this global cancer causes thousands more deaths annually, directly through gang violence and indirectly as a result of socio-economic instability.

Drug abuse – it is everyone’s problem.
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Today is International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.  The theme this year is “Global Action for Healthy Communities without Drugs”.

I cannot add anything new to the drug debate without merely repeating what has been said many times over by people who are closer to the problem and who have a better understanding of it. The issues feeding this social disease – peer pressure, glamorising of drug use, targeting of people on the fringes of the community, social insecurities – can only be addressed at community level, by each and every one of us.

This is not a hypothetical problem. In all likelihood, you know someone who is or has been affected by drugs, directly or indirectly. You can do something about it.

World No Tobacco Day

The aim of World No Tobacco Day is to encourage 24 hours of abstinence from tobacco use internationally. This day also draws attention to the detrimental health effects and widespread damage caused by the consumption of tobacco, which currently plays a role in more than 5 million deaths worldwide each year.

World No Tobacco Day, and what it aims to achieve, resonates with me at a particularly personal level, having lost a father on this day 12 years ago to cancer most likely related to a lifetime of smoking.

The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco industry interference”. The campaign is focused on the need to highlight and fight the tobacco industry’s continued attempts to undermine global efforts to control the use of tobacco.
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