Saturday, 31 October 2015

Ground Zero

Christchurch February 2011

I've just returned from a scientific conference in Christchurch (NZ). It has been at least 10 years since I last visited this delightful city. Things have changed a bit since then. In February 2011, a massive earthquake hit Christchurch resulting in total devastation of the central city with the loss of 185 lives. At the time, the incumbent government promised a total rebuild within 5 years...... Of course, this hasn't happened. To be fair, finding 40 billion dollars was never going to be easy with a population of 4.5 million souls. It would have been more honest if they had stated that the rebuild would take decades- but it was election year.

Driving in by taxi from the airport: On the edge of the city everything appeared pristine, but the closer we approached ground zero the greater the frequency of houses undergoing renovation and work. However, nothing could prepare me for the city centre. Great swathes of the central city had disappeared and replaced by seemingly never ending car parks. Large numbers of buildings awaited to be demolished; rebuilding seemed almost non-existent. The whole area was, eerily, people free. But good old Kiwi ingenuity has intervened and modified shipping containers have appeared along the streets and fashioned into shops. Shame that there was no one about to take advantage of this unique shopping experience.

I like attending conferences. I get to meet old friends and colleagues and we usually indulge in a lively conference dinner. If you think scientists are a lot of fusty, head in the clouds, and tedious wankers, you need to think anew; I've got the photos (and scars) to prove otherwise. The science is pretty important also. I'm privileged/cursed to belong to a profession in flux. Things are changing rapidly and the technology underpinning genetic knowledge advances at an increasingly, dizzying pace. The content, as usual, was great (especially my oral paper) and so I thought I'd share some of the scary highlights.

Salvage kids coming to a neonatal unit near you 
I wrote a few weeks ago about non-invasive prenatal diagnosis and how chromosome abnormalities in the foetus can now be diagnosed by a simple maternal blood test. Pre-implantation diagnosis has been around for a while and involves fertilising the egg in a 'test tube'. Cells from the developing embryo can be removed and tested for genetic disorders. This technique is very useful where the parents carry a genetic condition and where conventional prenatal genetic testing is not an option for whatever reason. If the embryo proves positive for the disorder it can be discarded (ultimate consumer society). Multiple embryos are tested and those testing negative can be introduced into the mother's womb and the pregnancy can continue as normal. Nothing very controversial about the technique or the ethics involved, or at least the debate has fizzled out and a rough consensus has been reached, but not in this world. But what about the situation where a couple has an existing child with a genetic disease and would like a second child, not only disease free, but also a genetic match to provide a curative stem cell transplant for the ailing sibling?  This is not a hypothetical scenario. There are couples willing to discard  embryos, although free of genetic disease, but do not have the required genetic profile compatible with the diseased child. The ethical issues are legion and were vigorously debated at the meeting. Of course, I don't have space to consider the fascinating and complex issues raised.....       

Design me a baby: here is da list
If you consider the previous discussion (no discussion, tis a fucking Flaxen monologue) slightly gnarly, keep tuned, 'cause it's gonna get worse and never better. Clever geneticists can now manipulate embryos in the 'test tube' and remove genes or add genes at will. I think I mentioned the designer baby angle in my previous post, but the implications of this new technology are far reaching. We are now at the stage where we can design a babies' traits according to the whim of the parents. And when I say parents, I mean the wretched rich and not the wretched poor; there is a difference not always measured by wealth. There be ethics committees and everyone knows that committees in the enlightened West work for the greater good. Not all countries have committees but seem to achieve science and results, nonetheless. China does well on science but not so great on the 'hand-wringing' aspect. Thus, if you have a hundred thousand dollars and want a six-foot blond(e) haired, blue eyed child, look East.  Alas, some of us can achieve it naturally. Recipes are diverse but in the end what people really want is conformity to an unnatural norm. Don't shoot the geneticist, biology makes us this way and it makes us bad, given the right financial incentive. In the end the folk, who can, will get exactly what they want because they can and because they have always had that privilege; dicephalic monsters come with a price- if that is what you want.

 I just heard that Chinese scientists can produce a 'micro-pig' by knocking out a growth factor gene. The result is a cute tiny pig. Tis going to be the next big thing on the pet market. Frankly, I don't trust those incurable Chinese; call me Occidental. Pigs make great pets because they are very smart; smarter than hounds, perhaps. Also, small pigs are easier to get on the BBQ. I suspect the Chinese will appreciate this last attribute more than those in the silly decadent West. Angel of Death, take me now.

Unfortunately, due to the conference programme I didn't get much time to see the city. What I did see made me sad. I came across a simple memorial to the fallen. It consisted of 185 plastic chairs laid in rows on a wasteland. Symbolism rarely imposes on this simple soul, but frankly I was moved by this sparse, poignant monument. The wind was blowing from the south which dislodged a contact lens thus provoking a single tear. Luckily, for me, no one noticed.

Caption not necessary




               

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Great Wheel of Life

Go, Shagger!

The wheel is a ubiquitous tool in the human world and it is inconceivable to imagine how the modern world could function in their absence. Wheels are an efficient means of locomotion and given a power supply allow puny bipedal humans to travel faster than the fleetest of animals. All this raises the question- why haven't animals evolved wheels rather than the preposterous gangly appendages called legs? Good question Flaxen, and well stated.

The greatest engineers are animals; many of our inventions were first anticipated in animals. Wings for flight and echolocation in bats; night vision in cats; electric fields in eels and SONAR in dolphins, but not an axle or rotating wheel in sight/site. There is one exception, I suppose, but it occurs in bacteria, so not an animal at all, but certainly a living creature. Many bacteria propel themselves in water by means of a whip-like appendage called flagella. Flagella rotate freely on an axle which passes through the cell wall. The fact that multi-cellular organisms have not evolved larger versions of the unicellular 'wheel' is revealing. Biologically speaking it would be difficult to develop a free moving wheel. All limbs and organs require a blood supply for oxygen, nutrients and energy. This necessitates an attached, continuous circulation with conduits (veins and arteries). How could this occur in a wheel like object without severing the life line every time the wheel moved? The same thing would apply to nerves and other support structures.

Is the wheel really the most efficient means of travel? It certainly allows speedy perambulation, but it is not on all terrain solution. Wheels require smooth surfaced roads. Wheels don't work too well on rocky, swampy and rough land. But legs do. Legs are remarkably efficient at negotiating all types of terrain. Some animals are incredibly efficient at traversing rough ground- enter the mountain goat, stage left. So, if the wheel could evolve, which I suspect it can’t for reasons outlined above, it would have to be preceded by the evolution and adoption/adaptation of the road. Not as daft as you might think. Animals can be very adept at making quite sophisticated structures. Behold the ant-hill and the beaver’s dam. From an engineering perspective, road building is relatively simple and I'm sure, technically,  within evolution's grasp, if it could be bothered. As outlined by Richard Dawkins, a trait can only become established by evolution if it confers an advantage (ultimately a reproductive advantage), to an organism, at the individual level. Evolution should never be viewed at the level of the species as originally espoused by Darwin, it can only occur at the level of the individual and to be evolutionary successful individuals need to be selfish and deny resources (whatever they may be) to competitors of the same species. This is why territories, nests and dams work- they are defensible and therefore, work for the maximum good of the builder. Roads are not defensible and can be used by any lazy individual who comes along. Road building is an evolutionary dead end. Any creature deciding to build a road would have to put a great deal of energy and resource into the enterprise, this is only worth it if it confers a reproductive fitness advantage. The strategy is exploitable by the lazy parasitical opportunist and it is impossible for the builder to deny access to its competitors. The opportunist need not apply any energy and resource into building and would reap the reward of the industrious builder and consequently would have more time and energy for reproductive success thus outcompeting the dedicated and exhausted road maker. Therefore, the evolution of road building and consequently wheel making, even if it was biologically feasible, could not occur, because from an evolutionary standpoint, it is an exploitable strategy. Selfish strategies are always rewarded by evolution until a counterstrategy, by selfish evolution, prevails.

And thus the wheel of evolution continues to turn with aplomb……… (Flaxen, for god's sake start taking the blue pills, as directed). Arse.
                             'There's a green one and a blue one and one with a bit of poo on, and they all taste just the same.'


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Verity, all is verity



Sitting in a bar having drinks with a friend, I casually pointed to two old drunks sitting across the bar from us and said: "That's us in ten years".


He said:"That's a mirror you dozy twat". 


Monday, 26 October 2015

Flaxen The Estate Agent: A Trilogy in Four Parts

Flaxen in a moment of clarity- but only in the right eye

For continuity and sanity, you are recommended to read this and this and this before you read this. Otherwise, you will be bewildered and think me a madman. Arse.

Flaxen sat replete at the faux Formica dining table in the bijou but perfectly appointed kitchenette type dining area. His hand rested on his double headed Danish war axe, 'Twat Cruncher' as the other set of digits shovelled a variety of dainty, delicate, delicious pastries into his gaping, pitiless maw. Loki/Bubbles, half wolf, half Maltese terrier rested supine, his coal black, limpid orbs forever restlessly resting on his master as he continued to consume sundry comestibles (?Flaxen or the halfling). The only sound to be heard was the jingling and jangling of Flaxen's chain mail. Flaxen's mastication was suddenly aroused and interrupted by the appearance of Flaxen's house mate, Roger, the flamboyant homosexual replete with a comb-over, pink bouffant. "Good morning dear heart, you scrummy northern generic barbarian type personage." Flaxen slowly regarded Roger's countenance with his bright blue, unblinking eye. A low growl hissed between tightened lips and an involuntary blast of flatus escaped from Flaxen's sphincter. Loki/Bubbles momentarily choked before rolling on his back, legs writhing akimbo as low whimpers left his poor writhing body. Small flecks of foam and blood be-speckled  the snow white fur of his muzzle. Flaxen growled: "Hrogar, you test me sorely. If it was not for the fact that you make a divine Paella to die for, I would remove your turbulent bonce and place it on a stake for my future rumination and delight." Roger stood respondent/resplendent in a gold spandex 'onsie' bestrewn with cunningly fashioned peep holes and sequins. "O, Flaxen you do make me chortle and judging from the pungent effusion emanating from your posterior you have not been eating up your golden, wheaty oaty bran flakes, have you". Loki/Bubbles stirred and let out a low gasp before collapsing anew. "No viewings today, Flaxen. No dream homes to be inspected by an ever stream of rose cheeked couples looking for a place to call their own."  Flaxen pursed his pastry encrusted lips and narrowed his one good eye, before replying. "I have been suspended on full pay pending an investigation into why an alarming percentage of prospective home owners seem to disappear under my watch. My explanation that they have been taken by a wandering war band of Jutish reavers did not go down well. I did myself a disservice by shouting out: 'I will brook no dissent from wastrels and knaves!' Thereafter it all got a bit sketchy. A dark mist descended upon my soul and when I awoke several middle managers had entered Valhalla before their appointed time".

"O my, seems a bit of a to do. I'd better make some Paella, that'll fix it." 

Roger and fiends, resplendent


Next week Roger dies of AIDS and Flaxen arranges the funeral. 


To be continued........              

Saturday, 24 October 2015

IF



1865-1936. A man who served the Empire. Good man, that Kipling.

Back in 1995 Rudyard Kipling was voted Britain's favourite poet and the favourite poem was Kipling's, 'IF'. No doubt voted for by people who have not read his work, apart from 'IF'. Fast forward to 2015 and the nation's favourite poet morphs into TS Elliot. Quite a change in subjective taste- go figure. 

Kipling, in my opinion, was a poor poet prone to pomposity and moralising and yet all the same had the knack of juxtaposing platitudes in a pleasing manner. Perhaps I'm being unfair, some of his prose ascends to the sublime although much of his work is simply silly, especially to the modern mind. Read the following and tell me if I'm wrong: "I heard the knives behind me, but I durns't face my man, Nor I don't know where I went to, cause I didn't stop to see, Till I heard a beggar squealing out for quarter as he ran, And I thought I knew the voice and- it was me." Kipling had the annoying habit of dropping haitches and the ending, 'g' when portraying the working class soldiery. Tis a condescending and distracting trait which adds nothing to the composition, so in the quoted version I have erred on the side of correct English usage.

It is interesting to note that Kipling has remained 'popular' with non-literary folk and despised by those with literary pretension- quite a legacy. Those on the 'left' hate him for his jingoist imperialism irrespective of any intrinsic poetic merit. The views of Kipling are well portrayed in his verse and reflect a 'Kipling' who was very much a man of his time: A Victorian. Not only a Victorian, but also a member of the ascendant race which ruled the world; heady stuff. This was too good to last and the man's poetry changed as the world changed. But like the true Victorian he was, he failed to comprehend that change and was left adrift in a Modern World where certainty had perished on Flanders field.  Indeed, his poetry undergoes a modification after the Great War. Before that time, it is bold, sure-footed and on the side of god, king and country. Kipling's god is a good god and punishes hubris and his king never strays from his queen's bed chamber. The war changed him. Idealism was lost and he was smart enough to realise that 'right' was no longer enough to prevail, the only thing that really mattered was 'might'. This has always been the case and yet is not always appreciated, especially in times of prolonged peace. After the war, a strain of cynicism and bitterness enters his work. Gone is the certainty of the privileged middle-class man living in an Anglo-centric world. What enters is bewilderment and incomprehension. Although the British Empire had prevailed in the greatest war ever known, it had inexplicably become weakened and superseded by 'lesser breeds'. Kipling acknowledged the reality but failed to understand it. Anyway, here is the poem, 'IF', in its entirety. In my opinion, it is cloying and 'preachy' although some of the couplets are very seductive at the emotional level. Please judge and let me know what you think.

IF

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Religion, statistics and damn lies


Anyone reading my mixture will no doubt be aware of my stance when it comes to religion. I detest all religions with a passion and consider human kind would be better served without the unctuous, simpering cleric, the mad frothing Imam and the sanctimonious bejewelled, Pope. Even peaceful Buddhism does not escape censure. The doctrine of reincarnation is ludicrous and based on nothing more than wishful thinking and esoteric Eastern mysticism. And yet Buddhism attracts respect and kind comment from folk who understand its doctrines, not at all- also, that Dalai Lama is a bit of a cunt and not just because he looks a bit like my uncle Reggie.
Atheism is arguably the most misunderstood of all the philosophies and is mistakenly associated with a host of negative connotations including immorality, pessimism, nihilism and downright wickedness. Although to be fair, none of these characteristics are incompatible with atheism, but neither do they necessarily follow from religious non-belief. Reactions to atheism/atheists vary, even amongst the enlightened, Western nations (read: enlightened, sub-population). North Western Europe is generally kind to atheists and the atheistic principle, as is Australia and New Zealand. The United States, especially the midwest and the southern states, is the least tolerant of the Western nations. However, even in the States, atheism is on the rise, although only about 5% of the population openly state they are atheistic (?an underestimate). To place this statistic in perspective, it should be compared to the 25% of the population professing atheism/agnosticism in my adopted country of New Zealand. If you include those of 'no religion' this percentage rises to nearly half of the population, at least according to the 2013 census. Admittedly, the 'no religion' group is a very mixed bag indeed, ranging from frank atheists, to believers in a deity but not allied to a formal religious group, all through to 'new age' types (fucking hippies) who believe in some form of guiding spirit which may, or may not, be equated with the conventional conception of god. Sweden comes out as the most atheistic nation on earth with 46% to 85% of the population declaring atheism/agnosticism. It will come as no surprise that levels of atheism are higher in the young and the well educated; the greater the level of academic achievement, the greater the level of atheism. There are claims that over 90% of US scientists are atheists. I am not uncritical of the figures presented here, although all are garnered from respectable studies. Getting the right answer is difficult and reliant upon asking the right question. We also need to  take into account the 'unreliability factor' when trying to extract data from fickle humans. Nonetheless, I think the trend, over time and overall, show an expanding percentage of atheists and agnostics in the West, even amongst the relatively 'religious and conservative’, Americans.
It has just occurred to me that I have been blithely wittering on about atheism and agnosticism without defining what these terms actually mean. Foolish Flaxen, may the gods send a thousand furies to torment your heretical soul! For if we have no formal definition and appreciation of a concept how can we even consider starting a discussion? Intelligibility is the handmaiden of epistemological rationality (Flaxen waxing lyrical and teetering on the exposition of bollocks, once again).
Theism is a belief in god or gods. Adding the prefix ‘a’ denotes a non-belief in gods. This is the most basic definition and in logic represents the proposition: ‘God exists’ as being false. Strictly speaking, atheism is not a belief, rather it is the absence of belief; a term of negation. Agnosticism, as I understand it, prevents us from asking the question: 'Does god exist?', within the framework of achievable knowledge (epistemology). Therefore, the only ‘logical’ approach is to suspend judgement and confine the concept not just to the unknown, but to the unknowable. Thus, agnosticism is often considered a valid alternative to atheism and theism, ‘a third way’. I would argue that agnosticism is not a third way but a representation of either theism or atheism, but I don’t have the space to consider my reasoning here- perhaps, another article? Before leaving ‘agnosticism’, for now, I would like to state that, in my opinion, the concept has acquired an intellectual patina which it does not deserve; nuff said.
Theists often assert that the burden of proof should lie with the atheist. That is, atheists are honour bound to provide arguments for the disproof of deitie(s). However, this is not the case. The burden of proof always lies with the believer. They should supply valid propositions and arguments for their belief. If there are no valid propositions or if the reasoning is false, then the belief, should on rational grounds, be discarded. Atheism is not a positive belief and consequently there is no obligation to provide proof. The onus of proof weighs upon the head of the believer no matter what that belief actually is. In the same way, a believer in unicorns should be able to support their contention that 'unicorns exist' with cogent, rational arguments. As a non-believer of unicorns, I am under no obligation to provide evidence for their non-existence.
As mentioned earlier, atheism is often attached to a whole raft of assumptions and atheists are automatically shoe-horned into other belief systems, by religious believers. For instance, communism is famously atheistic and therefore, to be an atheist is also to be a communist. Whilst it is true many card carrying communists are atheists, it does not follow that atheists are necessary communists. I, for instance, bestraddle the 'right wing' of the political spectrum. Atheism is compatible with all political beliefs or non-beliefs for that matter, such as anarchy. The same can be said for morality, happiness and mental health. Atheists are not necessarily, mad, bad and dangerous to know, although it helps.
The point of the above discussion is to illustrate a simple and often neglected truth: When someone tells you they are an atheist, that statement alone tells you nothing about that person's core beliefs apart from their lack of religious beliefs. Atheism is not a way of life and does not entail a set of common core values and beliefs necessarily shared by other atheists. Nor does it tell you why a person is an atheist. People become atheists for a variety of reasons. I'm a critical atheist who considers the concept of the deity irrational, philosophically unsubstantiated and absurd. Others may become atheists as a reaction against their strict fundamental religious upbringing or because a belief in god is incompatible with an insouciant, futile and insentient universe.
My stance as a critical atheist does not mean I have to be intellectually passive when confronted with arguments for the existence of god. When a theist tells me that ‘god exists’, I don't ask him or her for evidence, instead I ask them to define their god; what are its attributes? How will I know this supernatural being if I have the misfortune of bumping into one? Some theists think that this is a subsidiary issue that can be worked out at some later date or at leisure. I would argue that this 'definition' needs to be tackled even before the preliminary debate can commence. If we don't have a fundamental intellectual grasp of the topic in hand how can we talk about it in any rational sense? When someone suggests we talk about dining tables, I already have a sound grasp of the subject. I know what dining tables look like and I'm sure, if pushed, could come up with a very acceptable definition for a generic dining table. But when someone mentions an invisible supernatural god which can interact with the visible natural world I am at a loss to conceive such an entity. This is why the believer in god, or gods, need to take  time and intellectual energy to define the subject matter in a rational coherent sense, otherwise we are not actually talking about anything, are we? Many believers have a problem with this approach and consider the concept of god as self-evident. Few things are self-evident in this life except axioms of mathematics and fundamental laws of logic and the concept of god is no exception.

To be continued..........  




Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, perhaps......



I had hoped to post something sensible today, but 'real life' and events intervened and made me relinquish my steady, fixed grip, on my laptop/lap dancer. Therefore, you will have to do with the pseudo-clever crap placed below. Not profound, but mildly amusing. However, it does have a modicum of truth about it.
I don't get number 7.

At age 4, success is not peeing in your pants.
At age 12, success is having friends.
At age 16, success is having a drivers licence.
At age 20, success is having sex.
At age 35, success is having money.
At age 50, success is having money.
At age 60, success is having sex.
At age 70, success is having a drivers licence.
At age 75, success is having friends.
At age 80, success is not peeing in your pants.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Weird Science


The world of acadaemia and research can be a funny old place and is not part of real life. I once spent three idyllic years researching dandelions. Endless summer afternoons spent on the Sussex Downs looking for and collecting various sub-species of Taraxicum Officinale. Dandelions are fascinating plants and incredibly diverse. As a distraction I used to take specimens to my Professor for classification. He was the acknowledged expert in the field of Dandelion research and a very wise old fella. Anyway, I would hand over my specimen and he would promptly state the sub-species to which it belonged. I was mightily impressed and decided to test my mentor's powers and sanity level. Later that day I handed over the same specimen and without a moments delay he pontificated anew, but this time assigned my specimen to a completely different sub-species- mad as a bucket of frogs in vinegar, but very smart. Once, as an undergrad, I turned up to his office for a tutorial and was told that he couldn't take the tutorial today as he was very drunk; only in the hallowed halls of acadaemia!

Actually my research wasn't as daft as you might think. I was trying to isolate a gene in Dandelions that imparts the trait of asexuality. If transferred into crop species it could prove useful in fixing desirable traits and enabling the crop to be sex free. Like us, all plants desire to be unchained from the sexual prerogative. Not all research projects have an obvious application. In fact much of research advances the lot of humanity not a jot. You could argue that research should not only be about making the everlasting light bulb or finding the elixir of immortality. Knowledge is something we should revel in for its own sake. Much of mathematics is like this and confers no discernable benefit to humankind. Once in a while though, we come across a research topic so bizarre and weird that it provokes derision and negative comment even amongst acadaemics. Here is a short selection for you Sunday afternoon distraction.

Flatulence- A self defence mechanism
In 1996, Mara Sidoli explored the role of excessive flatulence as a defence strategy. In “Farting as a defence against unspeakable dread,” Sidoli outlined the sad case of an orphan who used farting to envelope himself in a protective miasma of smell, in what Sidoli described as a 'defensive olfactive container'. The technique proved very effective and the poor boy was unable to forge relationships and remained friendless.


This would work as well

Sore Winky
Actually this paper has a very practical application as it concerns the best way to untangle the foreskin trapped in a zipper. Most men, at least those in a possession of a prepuce, have trapped their tender parts in a zipper at some time. The experience can be best described as being transported to another world- a world of pain. It probably comes as no surprise, that Dr Chandra Mishra et al, in their ground breaking research paper: 'Safe and painless manipulation of penile zipper entrapment ', concluded that the best technique involves the judicious application of a wire cutter. The flamethrower method was completely ruled out. This should provide comfort for the poor unfortunates who end up at their local A&E.  


Ouch!

I Love My Robot
'Intimate Relationships With Artificial Partners'. Dr Levy gained his PhD researching the vexed relationship between humans and robots. He reckons, that by 2050, we will all be having casual sex with robots. At least you wont have to worry about contraception and the robot should have plenty of lube.


This may chafe a little


Suicide and Country Music
Country music is a very popular music genre in the Southern states of America. In, 'The Effect of Country Music on Suicide' the authors explore the link between suicide and country music. They found a positive correlation between country music and suicide rates. Be careful when it comes to correlation. Correlation does not necessary relate to causation- go tell it to the Great British Empiricist, David Hume. Although in this case I'm inclined to concur with the author's conclusion.  




Unicorns
'The Possibility of Unicorns: Kripke v Dummett'. This research extends previous research in this very important area. The conclusion? Unicorns do not exist in reality, although the author admits that they may exist in an alternative reality. This alternative reality is not explained and will forever remained veiled in mystery and irrational bollocks.......


No unicorns- just Kelly LeBrock


Ain't the world a funny place. 

Honourable mentions goes to:

Fruit bat fellatio

The effects of cocaine on bees

The nature of navel lint

The rectal route to curing hiccups

Mosquitoes like cheese



Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Arse.             

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Crap tele for da masses

My good mate and fellow blogger, Dioclese,  ran a piece about the dire state of the televisual fare on offer these days. Frankly, I rarely watch tele, although I pay for Sky at the behest of other family members. My daughter and granddaughter are resident at the moment and I'm an indulgent father and grandfather. The Disney channel is transcendent during the day and the 'Cooking Channel' rules at night. There is at least a 100 channels and generally you would be hard pressed to find anything worth watching. Also, New Zealand programming has the endearing habit of introducing adverts every six minutes. Therefore we have dross being perpetually interrupted with shite. If there is something I particularly want to see I record it and watch when no one else is around. The occasions are becoming rare. I had the misfortune of being forced to watch a programme of unimaginable banality and inanity that it goaded me to burn Buddhist monks. My karma had become almost non-existent that only propelling a religious, shaven headed, saffron be-cloaked man into the next reincarnation would suffice to resurrect my soul and humanity. You may well ask why didn't I simply leave the room and ensconce myself in a place of contemplation and quietude. This is why I stayed: it was evening meal time and probably the only time the whole family congregates together in one place to ignore each other. So I spent an agonising and self soul hammering twenty minutes watching an abomination called: 'RuPaul's All Stars Drag Race'. RuPaul is a famous American drag queen and definitely looks better as a woman than a man. I don't care how people express themselves, it is of no interest to me and I'm not one to cast moral censure. Believe me when I say I have lived a very full life and have lived by the maxim: 'Try everything once, except incest and country dancing'. To be honest, there are quite a few things I haven't done but I didn't want to break the flow of a pithy and witty utterance. The thrust of the concept is about RuPaul mentoring and judging a collection of 'Drag Queens' as they undertake a series of tasks and challenges. They compete amongst themselves and every week one is eliminated to a chorus of histrionics. We have seen this crap in a thousand guises and it is standard reality show fare. It is the natural culmination of the 'Reality Tele Trend' and it is difficult to imagine how the genre will be able to continue, as surely all reality options have been used. Mayhap we will be exposed to single mother midgets, pole dancing. Don't forget you heard it hear first. To be honest, I wouldn't mind if they were fit...... I quickly finished my meal and abruptly retreated to my inner sanctum where I could commune with the only friends I have, books and the internet. The Western world has entered its last cycle of societal decay. Reality television is the hand maiden of decadence. My fervent hope is that I'll be dead before the full culmination of Western crapulence comes to pass.  Anyway, I've decided to take up arson as a hobby, although those in the fraternity like to call adherents, 'Thermally Enabled'. Go tell it to 'The Grauniad'. So to soothe a troubled brow and mind, watch this. I'm married to the one in the middle, honestly.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Of Rats and Ferrets


Bad Ferret!



I'm sure it has not gone unnoticed by my regular readers that the mention of ferrets and things ferrety have come to a standstill. I blame my new medication. So before the mere mention of the word, 'ferret', causes toe curling derision from the author, here is my last ferrety gasp. Of course, I could stop taking my meds: things could become very ferrety after a short interval- Isn't that right, Mr Mugumbo? Please note, I have posed answers to common ferrety conundrums, followed by commentary.


 Let's get started........

Ferrets make excellent pets for people who have the time for them, and who bond well with animals. Ferrets are naturally quiet, inquisitive, intelligent, and companionable. At certain points in the day, they are also exceedingly active and capable of getting themselves into trouble unless they are supervised. Their intelligence makes them interesting companions, and they are able to amuse themselves when you are not around. But they do require attention and interaction with their owners; their mental and physical health depends on it.


Yep, what that doesn't tell you is that ferrets can be extremely mischievous. I once fell dead drunk over my snooker table to awake next day with the little toe of my left foot completely gnawed off. Bad ferret! Luckily the passage of the resultant bones took no more than 6 hours. I now have a newsworthy memento of my folly. The upside is I got a free anatomy lesson- 'Go Shagger'. The little toe is vastly overrated especially when it comes to gait. I think I compensate rather well and only an expert in bio-mechanics, would ever notice.


Legalities
City
, county, state, or military regulations can all dictate whether or not it is legal for you to own, breed, or sell a ferret where you live. The regulations can be quite involved. California, for example, allows only neutered males to be kept; and in Carson City, Nevada, it is illegal to own a ferret if you have a small child in your household. To determine the regulations in your area, check with your local Wildlife or Fish and Game department, with the Humane Society, or with your local veterinarian. These organizations should also be able to advise you on license and permit requirements. Depending on where you live, you may need a license or permit for your ferret.


Or you could tell the nosy state to fuck off. Probably a good idea not to tell them at all. As for nosy neighbours: Tell em that its your pet rat that got caught in the washing mangle. This works especially well where ferrets are verboten, as they have no idea what a ferret looks like or what a 'mangle' actually is. Also folk, are generally, very stupid. Any intrepid official types turning up at your door should be killed forthwith and slowly fed to your ferret(s). They are unlikely to be missed. In my experience, 'Officials' are sad lonely creatures who get off on the minutiae of regulations and sniffing their neighbour's underwear placed salaciously and enticingly on the washing line.  Admittedly, disposing of a whole carcass can be wearisome unless you own a coterie of ferrets. If you don't, get acquainted with your local pig farmer.
     


Compatibility
Many prospective ferret owners are naturally concerned about how well a ferret would get along with their children or other pets. A ferret is a demanding pet for a child, requiring careful adult supervision and the maturity of the child. The child must be able to recognize that a ferret behaves differently from a dog, cat, or other pet. The child must also be old enough to handle the responsibility of caring for the ferret. Ferrets are not recommended for a household with children younger than 6 or 7 years, and especially close supervision would be required around infants or babies.

Because they are natural hunters, ferrets usually can't be trained to get along with birds, fish, rabbits, rodents, or lizards. If you have these animals in your home, you will need to provide vigilant supervision at all times. But ferrets can generally be trained to get along with cats and dogs. Note, however, that terriers and similar dogs were originally bred to hunt.



Here is the news: Don't mix small children with ferrets. If you do, you will have a perpetually howling brat covered in sticking plasters. As for the presence of other animals: Tis true that terriers will kill a ferret with a flick and toss of the head. Other dogs are usually dominated by ferrets. If in doubt, dig a pit and toss in ferret and dog and let them work it out. Don't forget to video the 'social kinetics' with your latest i phone. If you own unconventional pets such as lizards and snakes and frogs you should be fucking ashamed. Put aforementioned thingys in a blender and feed resultant mush to your adorable ferret. Ferrets are particularly fond of hamsters.


Aggressiveness
Ferrets must be taught not to nip or bite, much the same way that kittens and puppies are taught what behaviour is appropriate. A domestically bred ferret will usually not be vicious or aggressive, but it is in its nature to enjoy games that simulate hunting, tug-of-war, chasing, or mock combat. A young ferret will not understand what hurts you and what doesn't hurt you until you communicate the boundaries. It will be up to you to establish those boundaries appropriately, without hurting your ferret or teaching it to fear or mistrust you.

Some ferrets do respond to fear, pain, or to certain noises or actions by biting. The key to altering that behaviour is to understand and eliminate the underlying reason.



Ferrets are nasty little buggers and unpredictable; that's why I love em. Generally ferrets respond to any stimuli by attacking and biting. Play with your ferret but always count your digits after every encounter. My hands are bedecked with a tracery of scars which become particularly apparent after a tan. Always discipline your ferret if you think their behaviour becomes too extreme. Hold them firmly by the scruff of the neck and flick vigorously with the fingers of the other hand at the base of the nostril. Once you see a fleck of blood you have made your point and your ferret will respect you, until they forget. Repeat as often as is required.  


Here endeth the ferret lesson.

Normal posting will resume once the new meds kick in.

Go one, treat the nasty little bastard











Thursday, 15 October 2015

Toilet Brush

 
I usually put toothpaste on mine
Apparently, some researchers at a mere slip of a university have discovered that most tooth brushes in communal bathrooms are contaminated with faeces. Now some time ago I remember reading an 'Urban Myth' about a biker gang/burglars who shoved the toothbrushes of a family, who had transgressed the 'unwritten law', up their arses. Those of a sensitive disposition can read it here.

Due to the 'aerosol effect' a cloud of fine water particles are propelled throughout the bathroom each time we flush. Each particle is a tiny receptacle for a minute piece of poo. Eventually the droplets, with hitchhikers, are distributed over the entire area. Thus your bathroom is a seething mass of shit. And where there's shit there's bacteria, especially faecal coliform bacteria. Ingesting these bacteria will do you no harm as they are present as commensals in the normal gut flora. This doesn't exclude the possibility that nasty pathogenic bacteria are also hitching a ride......

Frankly I'm not convinced. If you look hard enough you will find all manner of supposedly nasty things lurking in the shared environment. Perhaps it is better not to look. We seem to live in an increasingly sanitised world- or so we think. Unfortunately not challenging our immune system to all manner of organisms can result in an immature immune system unable to cope with serious assaults. May the watchword be: 'A strong immune system is a tested immune system'. The First World's obsession and susceptibility to allergies and asthma is due to their mewlings not being allowed to play in dirt and eat crap. Apparently, I have a scar on the back of my eye (choroid) which is due to an ingestion of cat faeces whilst a toddler. Now look at me: a fine physical specimen, taut, vibrant and tall as a tree etc. 

I distinctly recall as a child playing in the coal shed and being covered in grime and coal dust from head to toe. I was well known for it the neighbourhood and affectionately known thereabouts as, 'Blond Nigger.'



If you are really bothered by shit in your bathroom you would be well advised to put down the toilet seat after flushing. Maybe my wife has a point after all......       


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Alien Spaceship discovered in Tipton



Artist's impression of the Alien space ship

  
Breaking news from the sleepy hamlet of Tipton
Today, it was announced that an alien space craft had been unearthed in the used car lot of 'Mr Mugumbo’s Used Car Lot Emporium'. In Mr Mugumbo's own words: “I had occasion to be rewinding a particularly recalcitrant speedometer when I espied an extra-terrestrial craft residing on a pile of bricks in the corner of my used car lot. On further inspection I perceived that the object was made of a peculiarly tinted, non-terrestrial, eerily glinting, metal- clearly not of this world. Scorch marks surrounded the craft; bleak testament to its violent pyrotechnic landing. Indeed, as I advanced, with caution, I could make out eldritch markings, no doubt carved by outrĂ© beings from an advanced alien civilisation hailing from a distant galaxy far, far away……(steady, Mugumbo). In the failing light I saw etched in base relief: 'Ford Tipex'. What could these alien preternatural glyphs purport and reveal? It suddenly occurred to my racing, febrile, pyretic imagination: what if the alien being was resident, clutching the controls of this highly advanced interplanetary craft? I peeked within and was startled to observe a hideous alien creature. Not only was the alien present, but he had taken on the rubicund form of the local, itinerant (tis surely an oxymoron), homeless inebriate, ‘Filthy Eric’. Mayhap this transformation was an attempt to allay our mortal fears and to clothe their alien countenance in familiar garb in order not to evoke consternation and loathing (too late). Perhaps their original form was so bizarre, so outlandish, that it would elicit paroxysms of terror in mere earthlings?


A loud Parrrrrp! emanated from the spacecraft and a strange unearthly odour pervaded, prevailed and assailed my nostrils. Could it be that the alien life form was trying to communicate through the medium of olfaction? Sensing my confusion, the advanced being (for it is it) modified its approach and began to speak in a slurred metallic monotone: “Ya me bessie mate, I love ya. Go on gissus 20 quid for a pack of Special Brew and 20 fags.”  What could this mean? I confess I struggled with the alien utterance. The alien then offered up a cunningly fashioned flask and beckoned for me to imbibe the elixir contained therein. Could it confer eternal life? I drank deep of the draught. My head began to spin and my senses began to cloud. Later that day I awoke totally naked draped upon the alien vessel. My head throbbed abominably and my arse ached as if a thousand gypos were ensconced and encamped in my lower colon (arse, big sore arse). I could only infer that I had been ‘anally probed’. The extra-terrestrial creature was nowhere to be seen.  I could only surmise that he had returned to his distant planet many thousands of light years away. Would he ever return one day, with my wallet? Only time will tell………..”        


Alien in the guise of 'Filthy Eric'



Sunday, 11 October 2015

Japanese sniper found on Mars

A slope with his rifle at a slope

Whilst viewing Mars with his 20 inch reflecting telescope, Mr Iphone Mugumbo made a startling discovery. Standing clearly on the Martian landscape was a distinct figure of a Japanese sniper carrying his rifle at a slope. In Mr Mugumbos own words:
"I was completely dumbfounded and disconbobulated. Here, clearly before my eyes, I could see a sniper of his 'Majesties Imperial Army'. Even though the soldier was of small stature, I could easily pick out his buck teeth and thick pebble glasses. Later that day I watched as he re-enacted the 'Rape of Nanking', thereafter he seemed to take great delight in ceremoniously beheading a rock with his Samurai sword."

Speculation has been rife about how a Japanese sniper could have travelled to Mars considering the technology of the 1940s. However, Professor Nintendo of Modern Nip and Slope studies thinks it highly plausible considering the advanced state of wok technology in the Imperial Japan of 1942. "Essentially the technology enabling wok design and building is no different from building a space craft capable of inter-planetary flight"' When asked to expand on his thesis, the good professor feigned a grand mal and bit his tongue clean orf in a fit of pique.   

Conjecture to why the filthy dirty Japs would send a sniper to Mars has revealed a set of highly plausible scenarios as outlined below:
Plausible Scenario 1. The sniper could have been on a routine flight to Tokyo but got lost.
Plausible Scenario 2. It could have been planned as pre-emptive strike to prevent the  Americans from colonising Mars. If and when they arrived they would be confronted with an appropriately armed Japanese sniper ready and willing to dispense mayhem and consternation amongst the colonists.

But how could a Japanese sniper subsist on a cold, almost airless, waterless, planet without expiring? Apparently Mars is not as forbidding as originally thought. Water not only exists in the arid polar regions but is also present just under the surface thus allowing our Nip to cultivate a rather hardy variety of rice. Furthermore, an extensive KFC franchise has just opened up in the 'Argyre Basin'.

On hearing that a Japanese sniper was ensconced in number 23, Tharsis Rise, the world leader, Mr Ras Putin, vowed to send a space ship sporting a 40 megaton nuclear warhead to obliterate the nasty nip.   

God speed, Soyuz 97! 


An artist's impression of the Nip's space craft. Note the aerodynamic lines and handles for booster rockets

         



  

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Flaxen Saxon's Inspirational Quote of the Day





 Give a man a match, and he'll be warm for a minute, but set him on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life   

Friday, 9 October 2015

Gravity

Who is the greater, now that's a thought

Gravity, we take it for granted, we really do- but was is it, really? The concept was first given a sound rational and mathematical basis by Sir Isaac Newton in his Magnus Opus, ‘Principia’, 1687. But it was not always this way.

The ancient Greeks had their own ideas of why objects moved. The Greek/Macedonian philosopher, Aristotle of the 4th century BC, had worked out a system based on pure thought and a little empirical observation. Aristotle had some very strange ideas, many of which were not questioned for nearly two thousand years- such was the authority of this Great Man. Aristotle's concept of motion is very odd to the modern mind and follows naturally on from 'Aristotelian metaphysics'. To fully understand the concept of motion in Aristotelian terms requires a thorough drenching in Aristotelian metaphysics, a chore I have no intention of attempting here, so a brief summary concerning Aristotle's 'notions on motions' will have to do. According to Aristotle, motion on earth was due to the application of force- not an unreasonable and a correct supposition. Without an applied force there can be no motion. Why an object continued to move after the applied force was removed bothered the ancient Greeks. The concept of inertia did not occur to them. Aristotle believed that everything was composed of four basic elements: earth, water, air and fire. Amongst these elements like attracted like. Thus if you held out a rock and dropped it, the rock would fall because it was attracted to 'like', the bigger rock, the earth. His next class of explanation concerned the movement of the 'heavenly bodies.' Remember, Aristotle, like most ancients, thought the earth remained stationary and that the sun and other heavenly bodies moved around the earth in perfect circle. The movement of these objects was caused by the 'Prime Mover', the ultimate artificer, which we would equate with a deity. As the 'Prime Mover' was by definition, perfect, the motion was perfect and the perfect geometric conception for the Greeks was a circle. I will not delve into the ancient concept of motion any longer, except to say it was extraordinary wrong but extraordinary influential for many centuries.     

Isaac Newton worked out the laws and concept of motion which lay folk recognise as modern and it was he who proposed gravitational force to explain motion on earth and in the heavens. Newton's concepts did not arise from an intellectual vacuum and his work was influenced by eminent antecedents such as Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo. Simply stated, gravity is an attractive ‘force’ between two bodies dependant on relative mass and the distance between the two bodies. As mass increases so does the gravitational force of that mass. The attractive force between two bodies decreases as the distance between the bodies increases. Newton deduced that the decrease in attraction follows the inverse square rule. Or in other words, doubling the distance decreases the force by a factor of four. Gravity keeps us firmly planted and explains the motions of the moon, planets and even the sun with a high degree of predictability. Gravity is considered one of the four, fundamental physical forces in nature. We feel gravity on earth as a primary force because in relation to us feeble humans, the earth is very large.

Using his concept of gravity, Newton was able to provide an explanation for the motions of the planetary bodies which proved astonishingly accurate. But there was a problem which puzzled Newton and his learned contemporaries. How could two bodies separated by a great distance experience attraction? What was the mechanism involved? How could the sun 'detect' the earth and 'pull' it toward itself? Although Newton was able to describe the effects of gravity, he failed to understand it and never proposed a mechanism of action.

According to Newton, the laws governing motion and gravity were universal and applied to all bodies of mass regardless where they sat in the cosmos. The forces acting on an apple falling from a tree were essentially the same for the moon orbiting the earth. Newton was able to describe motion with the precision of a Swiss watch, or so he thought.

The Newtonian world view was shattered by an unassuming patent office clerk in the 1900s. Einstein's theory, of 'General Relativity' proposes that gravity is not a force at all but the consequence of mass warping space-time. Mass causes space to bend and the 'bent space' determines how mass moves. The greater the mass, the greater space is bent. This is not an intuitive concept, especially as most folk envisage space as not having any discernable  properties. Space is supposedly empty, isn't it? And to make things more interesting, mass also affects time as well. Thus mass, time and space are interrelated phenomena. Space consists of three dimensions and time simply adds a further, fourth dimension. Although, difficult to contemplate, Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity' has proven the best model we have to explain reality. The best analogy is represented in the 'rubber sheet' model represented below. As you can see, a large round object is placed in the centre of a tethered rubber sheet. This object causes the sheet to bend. Another object placed on the sheet will fall toward the dip in the sheet and therefore be 'attracted' to the large object.

a
Is this reality? Not really
Of course this simple illustration only utilises two dimensions. In the real situation we have to factor in at least two further dimensions and perhaps more. An explanation of why mass causes space-time to warp requires a consideration of the concept of 'stress-energy tensor'. A discussion of the physics and sadly, mathematics, is beyond the remit of a simple blog post. For those endowed with an adventurous intellectual spirit, I advise a Google search.

So there you have it, gravity is both subtle and weird, just like this blog.