Thursday, 24 September 2020

A Plea from the Fart

Hello gentle readers. I would like a little advice concerning financial matters. Interest rates the world over are at a historical/hysterical low. New Zealand, my country of choice for exile, is no exception. There is even talk of negative interest rates, which might appeal to those with a mortgage and other debt, but for those with a few pennies salted away in the bank/wank it bodes ill.  Consequently, I'm thinking of shifting considerable amounts of cash into other investment areas. I'm not so keen on the stock market. It appears way too volatile in these uncertain times and I don't want to get wiped out in a crash........

I've seriously looked at buying bullion, mostly gold and silver not only as an investment but as a hedge against possible hikes in inflation. I'm not interested in the ethereal kind, the stuff kept in the air, on paper, or some other intangible way of investing. I want to hear the jingle of precious metal and to bask in the empyrean (Flaxen, stop being a poncy twat) glow of tactile metal. I've checked various reviews from so-called expert pundits only to receive conflicting advice. Therefore, I'm uncertain as to whether the purchase of substantial amounts of bullion is a wise investment choice. Please note: I would be in for the longterm and I'm not interested in short term gain.  In addition, if I do go down this particular investment highway, would it be better just to buy bullion bars or coins and bullion? I think I need to be told.  

Anyway, folks, I would be grateful for any snippets of information and also any sage advice and comments from my erudite and intelligent readership. Ta very much.

On an unrelated note: As a treat I've just bought a trilaminated English lonbow at 43lbs. It has been a difficult time of late. Mrs S is still recovering from 12 hours of surgery and I've been in indifferent health. Luckily I have a sensible and enlightened GP who has prescribed effective painkillers, and I'm not talking about parcetamol, brufen or even Tramadol. With the pain under control I'm able to enjoy my indulgence in physical activities such as archery. Wuff bucket, arse.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Life on Venus?


Is there life in the universe apart from life on our humble, green planet? The SETI program was designed to answer this very question and powerful receivers have been searching our corner of the universe looking for signals transmitted by intelligent life for the past 40 years, as yet, to no avail.

Our solar system may also contain life however, in this case, we are looking for primitive, unicellular life, or evidence that life existed in the distant past. Mars has always been a prime contender. It seems it was much wetter in the past and even today ice patches can be observed at the poles. Of all the planets, Mars appears to be the most hospitable for simple unicellular life. The planet Venus has never been viewed with the same optimism. The surface of Venus is a balmy/barmy 500 degrees Celsius and the thick inhospitable atmosphere broils and seethes in a corrosive hydro-sulphuric and carbon dioxide envelope. It seems that the surface of Venus, at least, is totally inimical to even the most robust primitive life of which we could conceive. But what about the upper atmosphere of the planet? Fifty-five kilometers from the surface the pressure is similar to that on Earth and the ambient temperature is within tolerable limits as far as life is concerned. Indeed, it has long been hypothesised that life could exist within a narrow cloud band. Although the atmosphere is highly acidic it is conceivable that microbes, termed acidophiles, could thrive in such an environment. But without any supporting evidence, the hypothesis could in no way be substantiated, until now.

A recent report in Nature Astronomy has claimed that a biomolecule marker of life, phosphine, has been detected in the clouds of Venus. Detection is due to the interrogation of the atmosphere using highly sensitive telescopes tuned to the spectral signature of the Venusian atmosphere. By analysing these spectra the undeniable absorption band of phosphine was detected at levels unlikely to be caused by non-living chemistry alone. This is an intriguing finding but it is important not to get carried away at this early stage of the investigation. Additional painstaking research is required.

First off, the study needs to be verified by an independent research team. Also, there may be other biomarker chemicals present. Their presence would add weight to the ‘life-hypothesis’. Also, an exhaustive search for abiotic mechanisms of phosphine generation needs to be undertaken to see if they could account for the relatively high levels of phosphine observed. The only way to obtain definitive proof for ‘life on Venus’ would involve sending a probe to sample the Venusian atmosphere. Let’s appeal to Elon Musk, and ask him to dust off one of his probes to be routed to Venus forthwith. Forget about Mars, Venus is the hot destination for spacecraft this season.

If there is life, it almost certainly involves a form of anaerobic respiration. The first life on Earth was anaerobic and did not rely on the presence of oxygen. The primitive Earth had very little free oxygen and therefore, initially, was unable to support an aerobic lifestyle. Aerobic bacteria evolved from their anaerobic cousins and by harnessing the power of sunlight they pumped out large amounts of free oxygen to the atmosphere. Oxygen is highly corrosive to anaerobes and most species became extinct. Today, anaerobic bacterial forms are exclusively found in specialist environments such as oxygen-free peat beds.

The phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere was detected at levels of 20 parts per billion. This might not seem much but it is difficult to account for these levels on the basis of chemistry alone. In addition, phosphine is rapidly broken down by UV light which is in abundance in the upper reaches of the Venusian atmosphere. The implication is that to maintain these relatively high levels of phosphine a mechanism of rapid replenishment is required. This renewal would be consistent with known biology, but is it the exclusive prerogative of life?

Although these results are exciting we must take on board a degree of caution. I remember the debacle in the 1990s when President Clinton when he wasn’t playing with his cigar, announced that a meteorite had been found originating from Mars and that it showed distinct markings associated with past life. However, further work revealed that the observed morphology was completely consistent with mundane chemical processes totally divorced from life. Man’s hubris was shockingly revealed in this instance! Although, we can’t conceive how terrestrial chemistry could produce phosphine in the amounts observed in the Venusian context, perhaps under the extremes of temperature and pressure experienced on Venus novel forms of chemistry, independent of a biotic cause, could occur.

For the sake of this post let’s assume that simple life exists within the Venusian atmosphere. The implications would be profound and far-reaching. For instance, did the Earth ‘seed’ Venus with life in the unimaginable past via a meteorite? Could it be that life on Earth originally came from Venus? The so-called Panspermia hypothesis could be easily tested by examining the respective genomes and looking for DNA sequences associated with a common source. Of course, if it could be determined that life originated independently on Earth and Venus, this would be a more exciting prospect. It would show that life is probably not rare and given the right conditions and enough time is virtually inevitable. The formation of life at two distinct places in our solar system would suggest that life is likely to be present elsewhere in our system, such as on Jupiter’s moons and possibly in the atmosphere of the other gas giant planets. It would also suggest that life is present in other stars systems throughout the universe. Imagine a universe teeming with life? It has to be stressed that intelligent or even complex life, is probably very rare. Perhaps complex life is exceedingly rare for reasons previously discussed in this blog. Not so much ‘Little Green Men’, but more likely ‘Little Green Slime’. Let’s wait and see.......

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

I'm Not Dead, Just Rusting

Don't worry folks, the rumours of my demise are misleading. It has been noted by all my eight followers that I have not submitted an erudite post since the 28th of August. I hear screams of woe and lamentations/lamingtons. I have received emails imploring the Flaxen-haired one to return to the blogosphere with alacrity. It has been suggested that my prolonged absence is a sign of worldwide impending doom. I say: "Take heart, the dearth of posts will not last forever, unlike the Crony virus". The lack of posting is not a sign of the second coming or of the Raptor. Let it be known before panic sets in and rioting, looting, and burning sweeps across the United States: I am alive and well although my usually luscious locks are a little 'lifeless', currently- note to self- must use more conditioner.

I have been a tad busy preparing a lecture for this Thursday. Once this venture is completed I will be able to give my undivided and rapt attention to my prestigious/prodigious organ of dissemination.

Take heed O mortals and despaireth not. A new post is but a thrice away. I beseech patience, all will be fulfilled in the fullness of time. Crinkly Arse Bucket.


Friday, 28 August 2020

Benny Hill

BBC - Benny Hill saluted by the south

I wrote a piece some time ago about an African preacher who supposedly raised a man from 'the dead', on stage, in front of a large credulous audience. Looking at the faces of the parishioners it seemed clear that at least some, did not take the alleged miracle on the matter of faith and were of the silent opinion that the Pastor spake bollox. 

My last but one post was about an American televangelist, Ken (the kon) Copeland. I mistakenly stated that he was a multi-millionaire when he is, in fact, a billionaire. Money, no doubt, skimmed from his loyal, often poor, but without doubt, adoring adherents.

Let me introduce you to Benny Hinn, another 'charismatic', American prosperity preacher. Old uncle Hinn has actually been exposed as a conman and fraud, but you can't keep a good old Christian charlatan down for long. His specialty is 'spiritual healing' and he claims that he is a simple conduit for healing powers provided by God. The afflicted line up on stage and approach Hinn whereupon he places his sticky mitts upon the diseased and tells them they are healed (he, of course, is well-heeled).  An investigative team in 2004, with hidden cameras, demonstrated apparent misappropriation of funds, his ability to be economical with the truth, and the highly selective way the sick are chosen to line up for his miracle, healing ministrations. For some unaccountable reason, those with obvious and severe infirmities are never chosen and if they attempt to approach the stage they are intercepted by lackeys and asked to return to their seat.

In one of his notorious performances, brother Hinn, invites a group of selected pasties Pastors on stage and invites them to touch a manifest, but invisible, Jesus. Once the divine digits are encountered the Pastors are overwhelmed and slowly collapse to the floor. The whole scene is not so much Benny Hinn, but highly reminiscent of Benny Hill- remember him? The audience, of course, laps this stuff up. At one stage, Hinn asks a child to get awf da stage- surely the whole charade is staged (stop it Flaxen and take the meds)? Didn't Jesus once say, maybe, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence". C'mon Hinn at least practice what the Lord preacheth!  

So what are we to make of this poorly choreographed theatre? As for his followers, I have little sympathy. If they can't see through this clearly defined conman in front of them then they deserve no mercy. Not only are these pathetic uneducated wretches poor in monetary terms, but they are also poor in spirit. It is not so much the education system that has failed them, but the converse. It seems perverse that the richest country on earth, full of the benefits (and let us not forget the deficits) that modern Western civilisation can bestow should be subject to this blatant and farcical nonsense. I couldn't imagine any other Western nation giving credence to this type of chicanery. Anyway, see the vid below showing the clip under question and if you can conjure up the soundtrack of 'Benny Hill' in your mind it will be well worth the effort. Actually, I might have a go at writing a post about Benny Hill, in the future.........

Tuesday, 25 August 2020


How to not be disappointed when things do not go smoothly or right ...

Layfolk are oft of the opinion that scientific research is glamerous, cutting edge and exciting. The truth, of course, is different. Most scientists are not in ground breaking research. Their area of research is often not exciting; not particularly profound and most likely frustrating. In fact, my experience of research is that most of it is repepitive and bloody boring. Equipment often fails and data gathering is haphazard. There is not much glamour in the fact that your lab coat contains more life than the petri dish under examination. For every Einstein and Isaac Newton there are 10⁶ scientists who will never make a 'breakthrough', however minor, and most of their published work will be read by no one.

When my son asked whether he should study science at university, I told him to study IT. On this rare ocassion he actually listened to his dad. Arse.    

9 Real Life Mad Scientists | Real life, Life, Mad science

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Talking Bollocks

Insane Televangelist Destroys Coronavirus Using Christian Magic ...
Ken 'Send me Money' Copeland

Apparently, the ability to 'Speak in Tongues' is mentioned in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12) and today is practiced mainly in the southern states of the US amongst so-called fundamental sects and congregations. If you search YouTube for the above at some stage you will come across the delightful, televangelist, Kenneth Copeland. 'Beg Ken' is a multi-millionaire and a great exponent of 'Talking in the Spirit'. At the drop of the collection plate, 'Ten Ken' will lapse into tongues various and nefarious and continue in this vein for a span until his rheumy old eyes explode in an incandescent, putrid mass of incoherence. Of course, the 'language' being spouted is unintelligible to most of us mere mortals. However, there are gifted folk who are able to provide an interpretation of the wondrous magic that is a gift from the Holy Spirit. But imagine the fabulous certitude when two 'tonguers' actually have a conversation- we truly live in remarkable times. I've added a vid, for my viewer's edification, showing 'Zen Ken' having a chat with some other bloke in a language, not of this world. As you can see, 'Den Ken' understands his mate, who is also fluent in bollocks and responds accordingly. A fruitful conversation ensues. Far be it for me to declare that 'Hen Ken' is a fraud (he's a con man) and is making up this shit as a means to fleece his gullible flock. Surely 'Gen Ken' is truly gifted and in touch with God as mediated through the Holy Spirit, who is also God (confusing, innit). This glorious bounty is spewed out in an unknown, ethereal language known only to God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the three combined (I told you it was confusing). We must also add the select few demi-gods/sods i.e. 'Ken Ken' and his partner in mime (surely some mistake?). Arse bucket. 

Let us marvel in this revelation from God (+the other two) and act in gratitude by sending $5 million big ones to 'Kon Ken' so he can buy a jet plane/luxury yacht/mansion/new runway/new face- tythe NOW!


Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Forty Two


So what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Of course, most of my readership will remember the late, great Douglas Adam's answer in his book: 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', in which the greatest computer ever built, after eons of deep thought came up with the profound answer of 42. Brilliant stuff. Today, if you type this question into Google you will be confronted with the same result. But this answer will not do for the religious fraternity. The majority of religions have an answer to this question, and it not 42. Their answer generally evokes some form of eternal reward or punishment after we die based on our morality or lack of it, and most importantly a belief in their specific religion and all that it entails. Different subsets within a religion, consider Christianity for example, will demand adherence to their specific doctrinal stance in order to reap the fruits of eternal bliss or eternal fiery pain. This is particularly so for the fundamental Christian sects. Catholicism, the great bastion of Christianity, no longer believes in a literal hell. For most of its history, Catholicism, according to the infallible Pope, believed in a place of eternal brimstone and fire, however, these days, the infallible Pope no longer holds this view (what a terrible shame). Today's Pope considers hell to be just absence from God- go tell it to the baptists.

These various viewpoints can be subjected to and resolved by simple logic. Only two scenarios can be correct. As most conceptions of the afterlife are mutually exclusive only one can be dripping in verity itself- there can only be one vision of 'heaven & hell' and the means to arrive there. The only other possibility is that none are correct: the only two possibilities, according to logic, are one or nil. If the former proposition is correct, which is the correct one?  Can empirical science categorically answer this most convoluted conundrum? The answer is an emphatic NO. As science is an evidence-based pursuit, and as far as we are aware, according to the strict and rigorous strictures of the scientific method, no one has returned from the afterlife to enable the gathering of evidential data. Therefore, science alone must remain bereft of a theory.  However, this does not mean that science can't help with a possible resolution if allied with logic. From all the empirical data we have, which is extensive, a working organic brain is necessary for consciousness. Heaven and hell must involve some form of consciousness, otherwise what is the point? I should state that the onus is on those religious folk who would posit consciousness without a brain. Some folk state that 'near-death' experiences represent evidence for some form of the afterlife. I would vehemently disagree as in these incidences there is no organic brain death.

An afterlife must be based on a non-organic brain. It is reasonable to ask what is the nature of this awareness during a putative afterlife. Whatever it is, it must involve an energy source of some form. If this is the case, we are in the realm of science. No such energy has been posited or identified. Therefore, the only alternative is to drift into the realm of the supernatural, and you know what I think of the supernatural. Thus a mixture of the supernatural together with simple logic helps to reach a reasonable conclusion. Those favouring an afterlife, of some variety, are generally happy with a  proposed supernatural solution. Indeed, it is considered a virtue to take on board the unexplained as an explanation. After all, religions are based on this other world, supernatural and mysterious principle. This an irrational response and should not be commended. Understandably, this position is an anathaema to science and the scientific method.

This does not answer the question proposed at the beginning of this post. However, suggesting that life and an afterlife initiated and maintained by an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, supernatural deity as an answer to the meaning of life, etc is not one I would support and has no basis in reality and is in no way supported by data or by rational thought. So, that being the case, is there another answer. Many philosophers think that this question is basically unanswerable. However, on this subject, I will boldly posit and put forth an answer that seems appealing at least to myself. 

I contend that there is no meaning to life in any fundamental sense. This is not to say that life is meaningless for living organisms at some other level. I do not think my life worthless unless I’m gripped by my infrequent bouts of despond and deep despair. What I mean to say that there is no guiding artificer, natural or otherwise influencing our existence. In many ways, life is the result of the conditions of the universe at the micro (quantum physics) and macro-level (gravity). As for intelligent life, I will say this: the course of evolution is not directed to any specific end. It is simply a selection process that favours the living unit that has maximal reproductive success in a given environment. This process does not necessarily lead to organisms with high intelligence. Clearly, natural selection leading to intelligence in humans is in many ways a 'happy accident'. The most successful organisms on earth are viruses and bacteria. A none intelligent life strategy is obviously a winning one.   

I know that my conclusion that life is a happenstance of physics and chemistry is not going to be popular. It deflates our ego and despoils our vanity to ponder that life is basically an existence without any underlying meaning or purpose. For those that do not consider my conclusion worthy then perhaps they would be satisfied with the following answer to the ultimate question. The meaning of life, the universe, and everything is forty-two. This answer as good as any other and certainly superior to most.  

About Viktor Frankl and the Meaning of Life.