Perfect Blue
Kona Macphee
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Commentary: Leprosy

In the popular imagination, leprosy is some kind of flesh-eating disease that causes parts of the body to "fall off". Untreated leprosy sufferers do indeed frequently lose fingers and toes, and even hands and feet; however, this is not inflicted by the disease itself, but rather by the peripheral nerve damage it causes. This nerve damage can eventually make the extremities completely numb; sufferers then repeatedly injure them, because they have lost all the usual pain cues that tell us when we have hurt ourselves, or are about to.

I once saw some TV footage of people in a small boat having a "close encounter" with a whale. The whale was lolling beside the boat, and the people were reaching out and stroking its vast surface with their tiny-looking hands. The commentary assured us that the whale was able to feel and enjoy this; who knows whether it really could, and what it made of the experience if so? It is true, however, that sharks can detect utterly minute proportions of blood spilled in water. They're awesomely effective predators, which is probably why they've been around since before the time of the dinosaurs.

The story of the blind men and the elephant is a traditional Indian tale, with many variants. "Ludwig" is of course Ludwig van Beethoven, who was completely deaf by the time he died - though the "dying fall" comes from Shakespeare ("That strain again! It had a dying fall" - Orsino, Twelfth Night).

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