Thursday, 11 January 2018

Bouncy Bouncy

A2Z in repose

Breaking news from the humble/ tumble town of Tipton as it lies sweltering under an unseasonably hot meandering sun. For it can be revealed that the town’s married celeb couple, A2Z and Bouncy-Bouncy Big Fat, Arse (ARSE) have squeezed out twins.

The famed couple are renowned for their clog dancing renditions whilst juggling a brace of burning whippets- no mean feat, I can tell you. The highly talented pair have caused consternation and public furore after they decided to call ‘the fruits of their loins’ sensible names, to wit, Robert Cartier and Enid Cartier. Pundits and the public alike are notably and justifiably outraged. Leading impresario and chanteuse, Telescope Mugumbo, had this to say at a recent press conference: “Tis a bleeding liberty, innit. Why couldn’t they call their kids stupid names like Babylon Twinkle Juice the 3rd, or Fibble-Basket, Ptang, Ptang, Olay, Biscuit Barrel Cartier, like any other bleeding celeb? Makes my piss boil it surely does. Now every plebeian punter in a shell suit and sporting a mullet will be calling their snotty brats normal names. We can’t be having it and make no mistake"

A random citizen leaving the local hostelry, 'The Felching Ferret’ at closing time had this to say: “Ya fuckin bastid. I’ll bite ya nose orwf. Guv’ner, can ya spare 20 quid for a packet of fags and a brace of ‘Special Brew’? You are me bestest mate and I love ya, hic.”  

The town of Tipton, which spawned the golden couple, is languishing in a state of shock and rampant/stagnant despair. A well-known psychologist from the Tipton Institute of Difficult Thinking and Stuff, Dr Nipple Nose (wot, no Mugumbo?)  related/berated thusly: “I think from a deep psychological perspective we are seeing celebs digging deep into their pit of self-worth and re-examining, nay redefining, their role and paradigm in a post-modern society. The common folk will always ape and follow those deemed their superior thus fulfilling their atavistic need to feel inclusive and part of the tribe to which they are affiliated……”. The good doctor droned on in this manner for 50 minutes; the above represents the edited lowlights.  

A spokesman for the celebrity magazine, ‘Panty Hair’ gushed predictably. “Isn’t A2Z and Bouncy-Bouncy Big Fat, Arse just perfect and wonderful? I love every atom of their being as do the readership. However, I’m a little bemused and nonplussed that they seem fit to name their offspring with rather conventional monikers at the risk of losing their celeb royalty status”.

The rapper, Arnold Postlethwaite, expressed further concern: “I’m at a total loss to comprehend this grave phenomenon. I can only surmise that A2Z and Bouncy-Bouncy Big Fat, Arse, are suffering a temporary malady and fever of the brain. I pronounce a nostrum for what ails them: Take three parts laudanum; a ladle of bismuth and a tincture of aqua fortis. It is with great expectation that this concoction if imbibed daily, will offer restorative vigour and respite from this cardinal infraction and sin."

Already, the twins have their own perfume line and 40% shares in the Tipton fat rendering factory. I see a great future for these siblings, despite their sensible names. Indeed, their first album, the critically acclaimed: ‘Slap dat bitch, upside da head’ is due out next Tuesday. Wibble bollocks.

Bouncy Bouncy

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Random Tuesday Whimsy

Here are just a few random images off the netty to keep me amused on this dreary Tuesday morn




Gary always gets a rise with this one. You are a very naughty boy, Gary



Us men are wretched creatures and due to the biological imperative, sex is never too far from our mind. My wife reckons that my mind can only hold three concepts at any one time: Katy Perry; jelly wrestling and Katy Perry jelly wrestling



I'm a dog man myself

Bloody fidget spinners! This kid obviously slipped in the school playground



Clearly the acolyte has not quite reached enlightenment and eschewed the pleasures of the flesh. Nirvana will have to wait  

Some folk have questionable hygiene practices


 No comment



And finally and predictably: Arse, big fat, ARSE

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Bentham's Corpse

Bentham, in repose


In this essay, I’m going to delve deep and without anaesthetic into the vagaries of ethics. Tis a dark place full of furies. I don’t usually enter into this territory as I find it completely unsatisfying from an intellectual point of view. The questions are often simple but the conclusions please no one, mainly because there are no concrete answers to be found. Of course, you could argue that this the case for most philosophical speculation and I would agree to some extent. However, there are philosophical questions to which sensible conclusions can be made, albeit not embraced by all. The main difference, say, between debates concerning what constitutes knowledge and what constitutes ethics, is that there is something intellectually tangible to be gained by reflecting on what constitutes knowledge, but ethics is like trying to keep a grasp on a very slippery eel whilst your hands have been ‘lubed up’ with an expensive dermatological cream.   

The ideals of ‘Utilitarianism’ were first articulated, in any depth anyways, by the 18th-century savant, Jeremy Bentham and further enhanced by John Mills in the 19th century. As a digression, Bentham's corpse has been preserved and resides in a glass case, on show, at University College London. To be fair his head is made of wax and the skeleton has been stuffed with hay and then covered with his best Sunday attire. What a macabre gift to mankind.

Bentham's basic tenet is easy to state: In society, we should strive for the maximum good.

I'll leave the Great Man himself to outline the cardinal principle: 'Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do… By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government. Arse, big fat, arse'.

Very clear, isn't it?

This philosophy does not absolve us from evil. Evil is allowed and some will suffer if the maximum benefit is accrued to the most. Let us illustrate this philosophy with a thought experiment, outlined below.

Consider a man dying of kidney failure, for convenience sake, we shall refer to him as Mr Mugumbo. Unfortunately, a suitable donor cannot be found and the poor fellow will die in the next few days.  A tenured philosopher has a fantastic idea and states it thusly: “Let us initiate a lottery amongst our populace.  But instead of giving the ‘winner’ squiddoodles of free cash (no such thing), let us condemn the elected/selected to death and harvest their ripe organs in such a way that we save five people, including the wretched, Mr Mugumbo”. All the philosophers around the table agree as one. We have to accept, according to this scenario, that philosophers hold absolute political power- may Woden preserve us.

Tis true, according to the principles, outlined above, that this represents the optimal outcome. The sacrifice of one life for the many accrues the greater good. The High Priest, Caiaphas expressed the same when condemning Jesus to death: “It is better this man dies so the nation shall live”. This is expediency at its rawest. It looks like Bentham’s thesis had already been anticipated nearly two thousand years before; there is truly nothing new under the sun. Of the healthy fifty million adults (for sake of argument) one is be picked at complete random each week. Does this system appear fair?.

An important assumption in this line of reasoning is that each individual has equal, value, merit and worth. I would state that this is not the case and to accept this premise is to invite a form of communism; an anathema to right thinking folk, almost anywhere, North Korea included.

After stating our cardinal principle, what mischief/havoc can we make? This reflection raises a few interesting questions (no shit, Flaxen). 

1. What if the person chosen for harvest happened to be a renowned neurosurgeon who saves many from brain maladies throughout the year and the lucky organ recipients happen to be estate agents. If our surgeon saves ten folk a year would it be ethical to kill him to save five?

2. A billionaire philanthropist is chosen. This gentleman gives largesse in huge quantities to immunise millions against a deadly disease.

3. The man responsible for choosing the donor also came up with the idea of selective harvesting for the 'greater good'. By chance, he chooses his daughter. Would we castigate him he decides to choose another?

There are other scenarios we can posit, but I think we have enough information to base our critique.

Firstly, is it true that everyone has the same intrinsic worth? I would say nay. Even if it twas the case how can it be defined? The head of the lottery is not prepared to carry out the principles he helped to define, all but vaguely- but can we blame him? This illustrates the impracticality of utilitarianism. If it could work, or work at all, it could only exist within a society without emotion where everyone is endowed with an implacable will. As we are not so disposed, or unflinching robots, we must reject the philosophy on these grounds alone. Utilitarianism hits a brick wall when sentiment is involved. Also, for an ethical system, I find it morally repugnant. Sacrificing individuals as mere organ repositories is inherently indefensible in a society considering itself above the barbarian.

Finally, I would like to touch on our notion of justice. The adherent of utilitarianism would be happy to kill an innocent man if the greater good of the many was satisfied. How could a civilised justice system prevail under such circumstances?

The whole 'philosophy' reeks of implausibility and is impossible to apply in a just and empathetic society. It could only be fulfilled in a madman's dream (?or nightmare). As you can guess I am no sympathetic commentator on utilitarianism and consider the philosophy, at best, rank sophistry and at its most crass, simply silly.

Bentham's head



Sunday, 31 December 2017

XYY Man



Human cell genetics is a relatively new profession. It wasn't until the 1950s that reliable techniques were developed to visualise the morphology and establish the number of chromosomes in the human genome. What followed was a period of rapid advancement during which the major chromosome aneuploidies were described. One of these conditions, Jacobs syndrome, was characterised in 1959. In humans, the presence of the Y chromosome determines maleness. The 'normal male' is bestowed with a single, meagre Y. In truth, the Y chromosome is a stubby nondescript chromosome with very few expressed genes The ever present SRY gene (testes determining factor) is responsible for driving the embryo down the male developmental pathway. In addition, there are genes determining stature and a gene for hairy ears- the bane of every man over 50.

Men with Jacobs syndrome are blessed with not one, but two, Y chromosomes. Unlike most chromosome disorders, men with an extra Y are clinically unremarkable. Most XYY men remain undiagnosed and lie below the clinical radar. They don't suffer major organ defects or look odd. They do have a tendency to tallness due to a double dose of stature genes and their average IQ, as a collective group, is lower (10 to 15 points) than the general male population. For the most part, the IQs of XYY men lie within the normal or low normal range, whilst some may exhibit a degree of mild mental deficit.

When Jacobs syndrome was first discovered, the presence of the extra chromosome gave rise to the unfortunate designation of 'Super male'. If one Y is required for maleness, then surely two would result in a highly masculinised male. This view became reinforced when it was discovered that XYY males were found to be enriched in the prison system. In the general population, the incidence of the condition is about one in a thousand men. However, when we observe the prison population the incidence rises to one in a hundred. Early speculation centred on the possibility that XYY men were highly aggressive and therefore more likely to be involved in violent crime. However, when further investigated it became apparent that the type of crimes committed by these men was no different from the majority of inmates- low-level crime, mostly theft and damage to property Thus it seems that XYY inmates are not 'Super' in any respect, just petty criminals.

The association of the condition with criminality became enshrined in the British consciousness due to a popular television series of the 70s, called 'XYY Man'. The underlying premise throughout the series centres on the main character who is driven to crime as a consequence of his extra Y chromosome. This raises an interesting side issue not pursued by the series: To wit, if the man has no choice in his actions due to innate programming is he considered morally culpable for his wrong doing? If it can be determined that he is unable to restrain his criminal activity because of the extra chromosome, would it be right to punish him for his transgressions? This highlights an interesting ethical conundrum not easily resolved. Sadly, I don't have space in this article to consider the dilemma, here. Digression endeth.

So why is it we see a greater incarceration rate amongst these men? The ultimate answer is rather mundane. When we sample the IQ amongst prison inmates it tends toward 10 to 15 points lower than the general population. Should we be surprised, that stupid folk make stupid decisions in their life? Tis a simple matter of IQ demographics. Ain't dat the sad truth?

It would be wrong to label XYY men as criminals or potential criminals, unless incarcerated. The majority lead uneventful lives and remain, unrecognised by the public, doctors, and the judiciary system. That aside, if one of these 'unremarkable males' appeared in my home, brandishing a pointed stick, or even a bunch of sundry fruit, I would gun him down like a dog and move the corpse to my son in law's pig farm where the unclean and besmirched corpse would become an integral part of the porcine faecal environment. Nuff said.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Flaxen's Annual Christmas Address



Tis Christmastide once again. A wondrous time of year when all wars cease, strife is no more and men of all nations come together as one, in harmonious accord.

Families assemble and embark on jolly festivities. Laughter will resonate throughout the abode. Crackers will be pulled and choral harmonies will spontaneously erupt. All will partake of Christmas fayre and no one will drink to excess, limiting their imbibing to a small eggnog and a sweet sherry.

The family will gather around the tree (50 quid from Aldis) and receive gifts according to intrinsic merit. Said gifts will be ornately wrapped in the finest apparel and quaintly tied with ribbons of finest spun gold- no underpants or cheap aftershave shall besmirch the happy occasion.


For myself, I will spend the day with my family, sweltering in the New Zealand summer heat. So gentle readers have fun, be well acquainted, and don't burn down your neighbour's house in a fit of misplaced pique (Arse).  


Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Raven Paradox


The scientific process is based on the condition of induction. For the uninitiated, this is a fancy term for 'observation' and any initial scientific hypothesis is always based on input from our senses. Consider the hypothesis: 'All Ravens are black'. After many observations of seeing only black ravens, let us say 2,000, it would be reasonable to accept the prior hypothesis. The more black ravens we encounter, the more our hypothesis stands firm and eventually moves from the status of hypothesis into the realm of 'law'. There are two points to be made here: One, it is impossible to sample all ravens, past and present. Most ravens that have existed are no more, and therefore beyond mortal tally. Other ravens remain beyond scrutiny due to their location in remote, or difficult to access geographic environments. The second point is self-evident. The observation of one non-black raven is all that is required to tumble our 'law' and destroy its scientific credibility. From a practical point, our hypothesis was never really on sound ground. Indeed, it is known that about 1 in 10,000 ravens are born albino. Very few of these mutant birds make it to adulthood as they are sickly and because of their lack of pigment, prone to predation. A dedicated bird watcher might spend a lifetime 'twitching' and not see a single albino Raven, and yet they exist.

This simple scenario undermines one of the great tenets of science- the notion of falsifcation. True scientists should not only be gathering data to reinforce their beloved theory but also, if he/she is scrupulously honest, be actively seeking evidence to undermine the theory. This, of course, is the counsel of perfection. The concept of 'falsification' was made famous due to the work of the great science commentator, Karl Popper. You can view my commentary on his propositions, hereThis simple mind game exposes a fundamental flaw in the design of the scientific method. Although the falsification of a hypothesis, or theory, is technically feasible, in practical terms, the necessary data may not be readily accessible.

The second part of the paradox is more interesting and instructive and concerns the deductive aspect of the scientific method. In logic when we posit: ‘All ravens are black’ we must accept the contrapositive statement: ‘Everything that is not black is not a raven’.  Seems fair enough, don’t you think? So, any non-black object is denied the possibility of being a raven- in logic this is irrefutable, given the original premise. Thus, any non-black object supports our hypothesis, even a green  apple. Surely the data set in this instance is bordering on the infinite and the trivial at the same time, but the underlying logical principle is sound. Here we illustrate a basic dichotomy between induction and deduction. In this instance, induction is responsible for our logical posit. But as we have seen previously, 'All ravens are black' is a false hypothesis and logic based on a falsehood will give an incorrect answer even though the logical process is impeccably valid.  

Does all this sophistry destroy the scientific method as a means of obtaining knowledge? Of course not, it would be stupid to propose or advance such a notion. The scientific method clearly works or our technological civilisation would and could not exist. Science must be getting something right. Remember, science does not give infallible knowledge and is bound by the principle of improvement.

The Raven paradox is a philosophical tool for the prudent scientist to apply in order to examine each step of the scientific inductive process with intellectual rigour. In many day to day scientific endeavours the raven's paradox will not apply. The paradox should not be viewed as a means to cripple science, but as a hobble, gently applied. A process to limit scientific hubris and to place the inductive method, with its limitations, within the canon of available knowledge. 




Thursday, 14 December 2017

Huntington



Is there a more terrible disease than Huntington disease? Huntington is a neurodegenerative disorder with an incidence of 1 in 20,000 and is inherited as an autosomal dominant. An autosomal dominant condition ensures that if you carry a single mutant gene you inevitably develop the condition- a mutant gene which is passed onto 50% of your offspring. Huntington disease strikes in the prime years of life (30-40) and slowly destroys your motor and cognitive powers resulting in death, typically 15 to 20 years after developing initial symptoms. Consequently, due to the disease's late onset,  you are likely to pass it on to your children before you develop symptoms yourself. 

The culprit is a mutation affecting a gene which manufactures the huntingtin protein. Although the exact biological function of this protein is not fully known, it is likely that it plays a critical role in nerve function and development. The mutant protein undergoes an altered configuration causing chains of protein aggregates. The aberrant 'strings' of protein accumulate within the brain where they progressively destroy nerve tissue. Whole families are ravaged and destroyed by the disease. If you carry the mutant gene you linger under a death sentence without reprieve. It is no wonder that the suicide rate amongst Huntington families is high. 

Imagine being in your 20s watching your mother, or father, falter and decline both physically and mentally and knowing there is no hope of recovery; and that you have a 1 in 2 chance of being affected yourself. Genetic testing is available, however, some potential sufferers choose not to be tested. For those who choose diagnostic testing, a positive result is a hard psychological burden to bear, although reactions differ depending on temperament and circumstance. Even those testing negative are not spared as they must reconcile their good fortune with the knowledge that their siblings may not have faired so well. 

The only treatment to date has been palliative; no more than keeping the patient as comfortable as is possible until demise. However, recent research at University College London has focussed on a drug which blocks the formation of the aberrant protein and initial trials on Huntington patients have been very encouraging. The drug is injected into the spinal cord and interacts with messenger RNA from the damaged gene. This messenger RNA would then go on to direct the formation of the mutant protein. However, in the presence of the experimental drug the RNA molecule is rendered non-functional and therefore the damaged protein can no longer be manufactured. During the first human trial, it was demonstrated that the levels of the abnormal protein were substantially reduced.  

Is this a cure? Probably not. A reduction in the protein would have to be correlated with an improvement in the clinical condition. This will take further trials and many years work. Current work has been undertaken on patients already showing symptoms of the disease. Long term work will be necessary to see if the disease can be stabilised and even reversed. Perhaps the most enticing and exciting prospect will be to treat asymptomatic carriers of Huntington to see if the disease can be prevented from developing later in life. 

The use of drugs to target gene expression in combating genetic disease is not a new approach and has found a particular application in cancer. It is hoped that a similar approach can be adapted to treat other neurodegenerative conditions where a build up of protein is responsible for brain cell death. Alzheimer is one such condition where the deposit of protein plaques result in neural tissue destruction. 

The next wave of genetic research will herald a ‘golden age’ for disease treatment. Unlike many neurodevelopmental conditions, most autosomal disorders manifest at birth. The key, therefore, is to implement drug intervention in the womb, ideally early in embryo development. The goal will be to modify gene expression to prevent or ameliorate the condition. The rub, of course, is that sophisticated genetic therapy will not come cheap and therefore as a society, we may face the real dilemma of withholding effective treatment because of prohibitive cost. Tis indeed a brave new world.   

Just a comment: Astute readers will have noticed that I have not used the possessive apostrophe for Huntington disease. It is no longer considered correct form to refer to the disease as Huntington's disease (Huntington's chorea is right out). In the same way, Down's syndrome is rendered Down syndrome. As for the old tag, 'Mongol', this is deemed totally unacceptable in any polite medical lexicon.