Tuesday, 21 November 2017

More Jolly Japes with Health & Safety

Keith Lard. Health & Safety Guru
As my gentle reader is no doubt aware, I am blessed with the designation: ‘Health & Safety Officer’. I confess that I’m not the best man for the job as I’m often spotted in the lab area with my lab coat inside out. However, as no bugger wants to take on the onerous task, the department gets the health and safety officer, it deserves. I have been likened to a cruise ship physician- ‘one step away from a malpractice suit’.

One of my tasks is to ensure that staff complete the annual ‘Health and Safety Questionnaire’: a series of 20 questions on the riveting topic of health and safety. During the 11 years of my tenure, the questions have not changed. At a meeting 7 years ago I pointed this out and suggested that the whole exercise was a complete waste of time. O horror of horrors. I had spoken ill about ‘Health and Safety’ and the health and safety gods were muchly (not a real word) displeased. I settled for a compromise. Every year I would formulate new questions to ensure that the exercise was not completely pointless. The gods who take note of this sort of thing were appeased and the palpable tension in the meeting dispersed like a dispersy thing.  

Since that fateful meeting, I have been diligently revising the questionnaire format. I also check everyone’s answers to make sure they are 100% correct. I reckon that at least half of the questionnaires (12) are error infested and therefore I’m obliged to return the erroneous forms to the errant staff members for correction. I did this as I was under the impression that someone in the Occupational Health Department actually scrutinised the forms for error. In fact, we had been informed that if the questionnaires contained errors they would be returned for revision. I had a sneaking suspicion that the whole affair was a paper exercise only and that no one actually checked the forms. In the spirit of quality control, I decided to send the questionnaires ‘unedited’. I had a quick glance through the submissions to confirm that they were error prone as usual. I did a similar thing last year and mentioned the whole sorry episode in a previous post entitled, ‘Health & Safety’. This year I thought I would perform a ‘Gold Audit’ and being of a mischievous twist of mind, I also decided to submit a questionnaire from a fictitious staff member, with the implausible name: Shagger ‘The Ferret’ Mugumbo. As Shagger does not have opposable thumbs he found it difficult to hold a pen and therefore his answers were dictated and loving transcribed by your genial and rather fetching, host.

Shagger is not a particularly smart ferret and his answers skirted along the lines: “I like shitting in corners; Fuck with me and I’ll bite your nose off; polystyrene makes my poo stringy”. All the answers had a ferret inspired theme. With trepidation, I submitted Shagger’s contribution with all the other questionnaires.

I awaited the dreaded email: “Dr Saxon, On review of this year’s Health and Safety questionnaire submissions, I noticed that you have acquired a new staff member to wit:- Shagger ‘The Ferret’ Mugumbo. Said staff member has not attended the obligatory Health & Safety induction day. Please contact Occupational Health to arrange attendance”.   

Instead, I received the following in bright bold type:

“Thank-you for your 100% compliance. The outstanding quality of your department's response has been noted and you have been selected and recommended for commendation”. ARSE.

As I recall, I received the exact same email last year. As for the commendation thingy; tis a complete mystery to me as nothing subsequently happened last year when I received this email and I suspect that my exemplary achievement will go unrecognised, again. At least I expected to be called upon the stage at a prestigious corporate event and handed a gold embossed plaque from our exalted CEO. A standing ovation would ensue and someone suitably primed, no doubt by higher management would shout at the top of their voice: “Surely, he is more god than man”.

Could it possibly be that the higher management folk are blowing smoke up my pert and impeccably coiffured, arse? (arse, big pert arse)-  perhaps.   

At the forthcoming Health and Safety meeting, I will take great pleasure in informing senior management about the sorry episode concerning Shagger’s valuable contribution to ‘Health and Safety’. I’m sure they will all be agog. Mayhap they will give him a commendation? 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Full of meaty goodness

Should have brought salt and pepper and not myrrh
Some stories insinuate and invite derision. Greggs, the pie manufacturer, has produced an advent calendar presumably to promote their fancy pastry inspired comestibles. One of the panels depicts the classic nativity scene with one striking difference. Three wise men are clustered adoringly around the crib containing a delicious looking and steaming sausage roll. Traditionalists have rightly pointed out that the general interpretation of the nativity does not involve fancy pastry and the sausage roll should be substituted with the baby Jesus.

Fair enough, you say, our Saviour should not be Savioury. And it is hard to pay homage and devotion to an oversized sausie roll. Predictably, the usual suspects were outraged and protested vehemently. One religious fruit 'n' nut stated: "it obscures the real meaning of Christmas and may confuse people concerning the true message". Yea, or course we are all mentally deficient and can't distinguish between the baby Jesus and a pastry.

Sadly Greggs issued the following apology:  "We're really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention."  However, the pastry chain has refused to take the advent calendar off the market and it will be available in all good stores from Monday. I'm certain with all the furore surrounding the event/advent the calendar will be a great success and fly off the shelves like 'hot sausie rolls'.

Clearly, some folk make a career of getting offended. My advice: Fuck off and attend to your own business and if they right eye offends thee then stop watching the news. Arse.  

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Development of Religion in the West: Part I

This post is the first in a series exploring the importance and the evolution of religion in Western society. This is a vast and convoluted topic and it is impossible to do it justice in one of my: 'Trilogies in four parts' series. What follows is not even a synopsis but a fine skip across the surface that barely wets the reader’s toes. And for this, I make no apologies.

Don't expect finely researched scholarship. I am not an academic historian and have never made claims toward this end. What remains is an intensely subjective view based on my amateur interest in the topic spanning over 30 years. What spews on the page is my personal opinion, only. History, as a topic, is about interpretation and generally not subject to scientific rigour (science as I understand it, anyway) except in the realm of 'archaeology'. Anyway, gentle reader, read on and if not enlightened, at least be enchanted.

It is a rare society indeed that doesn't have its early development rooted in religion and a belief in gods. I say, gods, because primordial, developing societies invariably have a concept of god in the plural. The development of monotheism is a later, but not an inevitable societal progression. Even the devoutly monotheist Jews were originally polytheist. Thus, a belief in supernatural beings seems a basic drive and need for pre-scientific societies. And this, of course, is thoroughly understandable. Without a conception of natural law and causality, natural phenomenon such as storms, wind and the presence of the sun, the moon and stars must have elicited grave wonder and consternation. Primitive, but intelligent humans could only gape in awe. Life as they understood it was brutal, short and capricious. How could there be meaning in their unpredictable existence? Enter gods, stage left. 

To the unsophisticated, the ‘deity concept’ fulfilled an epistemological void. To say that supernatural beings were responsible for natural causation enabled primitive societies to ‘explain’ their inexplicable world. Early gods were anthropomorphic and inventive minds soon filled in their biography with layers of character and intention. The gods became fleshed out and became fathers and lovers and were often destructive. Rarely were gods assigned moral and ethic values; they were beyond mortal strictures. They morphed into man writ large. Men would act as the gods if only they could. And with a pantheon followed a priesthood, usually an expensive and well-heeled priesthood.

How were the gods to interact with the mortal world? Surely intercession was required. A special caste emerged, often heredity, that could interpret the ‘signs’ and act as mediators between gods and men. Sacrifices were required to appease and please the gods to prevent plague, hunger and war. Arcane rites became established to further divorce the priestly class from the common and uninitiated folk. Power structures became established and religion became deeply intertwined within societies. Rulers embraced the theocracy and worked with the priest to maintain the social status quo. In times of political weakness, the priestly class became thrust into the political arena and exercised tangible secular as well as ‘other world’ power. All the most successful religions are firmly rooted in this world especially when it comes to obtaining land and money. In some societies, such as ancient Egypt (beyond my remit), the ruler became embedded into the theological system. Pharaohs were the embodiment of god manifest on earth.

Two thousand years ago the fierce rollicking and hard living gods of the West were typified by the theology of the barbarian Teuton and supposedly civilised Greek and Roman. A pantheon of jealous warrior and fertility gods had been spawned; a god for all seasons. This was not a sophisticated theology and in the Greek world at least, far-seeing thinkers criticised the prevailing theology. The Greeks were the first people, of which we know, who strayed from strict adherence to mythical explanations for the natural world. The initial Greek steps into the world of rationalism were faltering but at least it was a start. With Socrates, Plato and Aristotle it reached a zenith of intellectual endeavour which would not be matched for nearly 2,000 years. The writings of Plato suggest a belief in gods. I think with regard to Plato the sentiment was genuine as he was always prone to lapse into the transcendent and ridiculous even when he approached the most rational and sublime. What other Greek philosophers thought of the gods is another matter. Impiety or atheism could result in the ultimate penalty. I find it inconceivable that men of culture, high education and high intelligence could not perceive the inherent absurdity of the Greek pantheon and stodgy Greek theology. From there tis a single step to consider all religious systems absurd. The charge of impiety was a constant reality for upper-class Greek men. It covered a multitude of sins and was motivated mainly by partisan politics. If convicted the death penalty was a real threat. It is remembered that Socrates was charged with impiety, which from our lofty perspective of 2,400 years is patently ridiculous. His real crime lay in the realm of politics. He offended the existing power structure in Athens. Although not a political threat in any conventional sense, he did exercise a certain influence amongst the citizens, especially the young. Conservatism is always the default mode in society and major change comes only after the shedding of much blood.  

To what extent educated Greeks believed in the ‘Classical Pantheon’ is difficult to divine. It is not inconceivable that many adhered to theism as a matter of practical form, cultural conformity and political policy. Performing rites and religious abeyance are not the same as theistic belief. 

Brave principled Greeks did explicitly espouse a disbelief in gods. Diagoras of Melos (5th century BC) is credited with being the ‘first atheist’. This, of course, is not the case. Others before him espoused views which could be construed as atheistic. Two hundred years later, Theodorus wrote a book outlining his atheistic ideals.  

With the Romans, we see nothing new and everything stated about the Greeks apply here. Some educated Romans stated theistic scepticism, but most kept their counsel strictly private. Seneca famously stated: ‘Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful’. Does this constitute a form of atheism? I would say, nay. But it does convey a world-weary, cynical and critical standpoint. We gain insight when we consider the Roman habit of deifying  Roman Emperors. If men can become gods, what does this say about the concept of divinity? Surely it becomes devalued and loses its original supernatural connotation. Gods are no longer unique and become a mere abstract cypher for the state thus losing any believable content, at least amongst the educated classes.

Roman religion had plunged into a decadence which mirrored Roman society in general. The pagan religion lay prostrate and vulnerable to change. That change would come in the simple garb and unassuming raiment of Christianity. The development and influence of Christianity on the Western world will form the next two instalments of this gripping and succulent saga.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Lies, damned lies and,,,,,,,

Many years ago as a snot nose student I undertook a course in statistics. It was a compulsory course designed to help in my further research as a professional biologist. I'm sure you have heard the expression: 'lies, damned lies, and statistics. But statistics is just a tool and can be used for good or ill. Where patterns need to be divined from large complex data sets or whether the significance of a particular finding is relevant or just random 'noise', then stats can be a wonderful, nay beautiful tool.

During the whole of my professional career, I have never had to calculate any statistical method. I simply input my data into a stats programme and press a couple of buttons. If I need advice concerning the statistical tool required in any given situation then I consult the department's statistician for expert guidance. As an aside, our statistician is a strange old cove. He sports long hair and a beard and wanders about the building barefoot. What his designated health and safety officer has to say about the matter, I have no idea. In essence, the statistician is an ageing hippie and a caricature. He has a Che Guevara poster on the wall next to a 'ban the bomb' sign.

The point I'm trying to make in my characteristic and rambling way is that I don't have to be a statistical 'wunderkind' to apply stats. Although, perhaps I should have been more assiduous in my studies. My son's girlfriend has a stats degree and now works in a big bank crunching numbers for investment portfolios. At 28 she earns twice as much as the Flaxen Haired One and receives an annual bonus. I'm starting to digress.

This rather lengthy introduction is just a means to set the background for today's topic: Bayesian theorem. Bayesian statistics has applications in a wide set of disciplines and is even intuitively used, by everyone, in everyday decisions.

Prosaically stated: Baye's theorem enumerates how risk/probability starts with a base knowledge/data status and then enables the layering of new information which mitigates or increases risk. From a prior premise, additional information can be added sequentially thus altering the odds or final outcome. In a way, this is how we make decisions in real life scenarios, although not as mathematically precise. For those of a mathematical inclination, I've placed the Baye's formula below.

a prior
Bayes' theorem is stated mathematically as the following equation:[2]
where  and  are events and .
  •  and  are the probabilities of observing  and  without regard to each other.
  • , a conditional probability, is the probability of observing event  given that  is true.
  •  is the probability of observing event  given that  is true.

I'll just outline a practical example which has relevance to my line of work.
The carrier status of the disorder, cystic fibrosis (CF) is 1 in 20 in the North Western European population. Carriers are just that and are free from the disease. The chance of two carriers coming together to produce issue is 1/20 x 1/20 which equals 1 in 400. As CF is a recessive condition, the chances of them having a CF-affected child is 1/4 x 400 which equals 1 in 1,600. This is a risk-based solely on population data. How could this risk be modified? Perhaps in a particular instance, we ascertain that a relative, say a grandparent was affected by CF. Now we can factor this information to produce a modified risk structure for this individual. If we do the maths we will see that the risk will be higher than population risk. I will not reveal the mathematical reasoning here, however, it will be interesting to see if any of my readers can be arsed to work it out. As my audience demographic leans toward (sometimes totters) to the smarter end of the spectrum it will be interesting to see whether someone will rise to the challenge.

In our everyday life, we use Bayesian stats to further refine our judgement, as previously stated, not in any precise mathematical way, but in a subliminal and perhaps invisible way. But still, it is there. If we are prudent in our decisions we base it on incoming data. We then modify our response, accordingly. This is the essence of Baye's theorem. If we are logical in our thought processes, which consistently we are not, then maybe we can make sense, sometimes at least, in our insistent and chaotic world.  Please do not hold your breath.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017


Total insanity is not a pleasure in which I can fully indulge, at present. Society punishes the mad and I cannot afford to be castigated by an uncomprehending society, just yet. I have a responsible and professional persona to protect. Ultimately I  must provide for my family. Although on occasion my aberrant thought processes cascade into speech discombobulating colleagues and the random passerby, equally.  Only the exceedingly rich can afford to be totally insane. But under these circumstances, they are merely rendered  'eccentric'. 

I hope to retire soon. Once unleashed from conventional conforming and fettered society I'll hunker down in a rural idyll and ride out my dotage in unrestrained lunacy. Released from the prison of conventional societal mores I will soar into the yonder and slake my fill in a fetish of delirium.

Then again I could decide to take my medication.   

Arse bucket ago,go

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Another Celebrity Scandal

Sir Arse, in repose
Shock breaking news as the sleepy, soporific and moribund twee hamlet of Tipton nestling cosy warm in the enveloping greasy folds of the West Midlands comes to terms with the vile allegation that  Sir Archibald Spacecadet has been involved in a bit of ‘hanky panky'.

Sir Archibald, the much acclaimed but fey Tipton actor, has been the focus of sundry sex allegations from a coterie of washed up ‘celebs’ of yesteryear. It is claimed that Enoch Vowel Jnr was inappropriately molested by Sir Archie (call me Mavis) at a party hosted by the same. It is averred that in a moment of madness, Archie got out his twinkle and started to wave it about in an intimidating manner knocking porcelain poodles off shelves numerous while shouting: “come and get here, big boy.”  In a characteristic lull in the proceedings, Enoch managed to rush out the room and escaped unscathed except for a little ‘twinkle juice’ on his pubescent thigh.  

Notorious Heterosexual
After the allegations, a host of luvvies has come out of the pub to accuse Sir Archie of sexual molestation, various. As a desperate move toward damage control, Sir Archie was prodded to issue the following statement: “I am a howling wooftah, a knob jockey of the first water prone to lifting shirt, nefarious. A big girl’s blouse of a man who likes it up the chuff. If I inadvertently allowed my love rocket to burst through Enoch’s sound barrier I offer serene apologies. In mitigation, the event occurred 30 years ago when, I was very, very, drunk and may not have been at the venue as stated.

Leaves More Totty for us Real Men
The entertainment industry has been swift to act/react and the producers of the critically acclaimed political satire: ‘Politics is a load of bollocks replete with fat old men acting on their own self-interest and lining their pockets with large amounts of largesse, abundant’. Had this to say: “We always knew that this very private man was a penis pirate; a bum inspector; a rampant poof who sniffed men’s undergarments, however, this shock revelation has forced us to retract Sir Archibald’s contract on the hit televisual show: Politics is a load of bollocks replete with fat old men acting on their own self-interest and lining their pockets with large amounts of largesse, abundant".

Big Fat Arrrrrsssse
Due to fates fickle dance of doom, Sir Arsiebollocks will no longer be eligible for this year’s prestigious actor’s award for lunchtime achievement: 'Best closet homosexual and bugger of boys accolade’.

Ms Actor, a lifelong friend of Archie, gushed with rampant abandon: "I always knew he had a penchant for whipping out his tumescent member at every available opportunity and inserting his erect gristle in orifices meant for faecal excretion".     

The man on the street is understandably stunned: Mrs Enid Mugumbo (of no fixed undergarments) had this to say after being accosted in Tipton High Street after closing time: “Oooooh, a lovely man with a radiant ebullient acting talent. I particularly liked him as the dark brooding, moist and incontinent detective in: The raving homosexual detective with slack anal sphincter control after taking it up da arse, times numerous (arse)". When asked what the future may hold for this well reamed pooftah, Mrs Mugumbo waxed, languid: “Hanging is too good for him. He should be hung upside down from a lamppost and repeatedly shot in the manner that befitted Mussolini at Giulino di Mezzegra in 1945”.

Wise words indeed Mrs Mugumbo………..  

Mussolini in repose
Follow the link to reveal Archie's fine acting prowess and buggering proclivities


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Where are the little green men?

Feeling a bit off colour today
This post is the first in a series of posts concerning our universe. I've always had a deep abiding fascination for the cosmos, probably because it is impossible to grasp with a mere mortal brain. A select few of mankind, such as Einstein, Feynman, Hawkins, and Newton have been allowed to peek behind the veil. They can only convey what they see in a maelstrom of mathematic formulae; sadly, formulae, only they can understand.   

In 1961 an astronomer, Dr. Frank Drake, deduced a formula for calculating the existence of intelligent life in our own galaxy. The formula is very basic just a succession of simple terms. I don’t intend to consider the equation here as it will be dealt with in a future post. It makes a lot of assumptions, but even on a conservative estimate, it calculates that there should be 50,000,000 technological civilisations ‘out there’unless of course, the equation is not an accurate reflection of how the universe runs. Recent revisions of the formula suggest that this figure is a gross underestimate.

If we take a lower limit of 50,000,000 technological civilisations as a reasonable estimate we are left with the question, where are they? Or more to the point, why haven’t we detected their presence? I know some would argue that we already have and that UFO sightings are proof of alien life. I’m not convinced. The evidence to date for  UFOs being non-terrestrial is not compelling.

It is not as if we haven’t tried. The SETI Institute has been actively searching for intelligent life with detectors reaching out into the deepest regions of space and have come up blank. It is likely that a technological civilisation would give off electromagnetic radiation as a by-product of civilisation, even if they are not intentionally beaming their presence to other civilisations. The earth has been emitting radio waves into the cosmos for about 100 years. Those signals travelling at the speed of light could conceivably be monitored by a civilisation within that 100 light year radius (1 light year =8.9 trillion miles ). Another possibility is that we are in fact all alone in a cold, almost lifeless, universe? And if we are alone, why? The seeming paradox of the Drake equation and the absence of evidence of advanced life is known as the Fermi paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi. Here are a few postulates as to why we may be alone and adrift in an uncaring universe……

No intelligent life
Biologists have concluded that the formation of life on a suitably primed planet with the right conditions is virtually inevitable. Remember life comes in many forms and does not necessarily equate to advanced intelligent life. Taking our own earth as an example: Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years. The first simple life emerged at about 3.5 billion years ago. For 2.5 billion years life remained very basic and mono-cellular. A single event in evolution produced a cell with a fundamental advantage. A primitive cell engulfed another cell for nutrition, but the cell resisted digestion and became incorporated within that cell and contributed to the cell’s metabolism. Today we can still see that primitive ingested cell within all advanced cells today- they are called mitochondria and act as the ‘power generator’ for the organism. Perhaps this chance event in evolution is exceedingly unlikely and without such an event advanced life cannot evolve. Thus the universe may well be teeming with life but not advanced life as we know it Jim. Is it conceivable that we are the only technological advanced species in the whole of the universe?

Intelligent life is exceedingly rare
Maybe intelligent life has existed in the universe, but currently, we are the only example. The universe has been around for 14 billion years. During this period civilisations may have come and gone. Maybe, most technological civilisations fizzle out because of nuclear war and/or over utilisation of resources. The universe can be a dangerous place. Planets can be sterilised or destroyed by cosmic events such as supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts and large object impacts. A star going supernovae within 1,000 light years of the earth would be sufficient to destroy all higher life on earth. 

Broaden our horizons
Mayhap we are not looking in the right place or using the right search frequency. Our search parameters are very restricted and the universe is very large, perhaps infinitely so. Even if we are looking in the right part of the sky the detectors may not be tuned to the correct incoming frequency. Or maybe the signals have not reached us yet. The speed of light appears to be the fundamental speed limit of the universe. Even though electromagnetic wave propagation is blisteringly fast it would take information 100,000 years to cross our galaxy. A signal from our nearest galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, would take at least 2.5 million years to reach us.       

Prime directive
Could it be that aliens are deliberately masking their presence? Perhaps they are operating a ‘Star Trek Prime Directive’. They could be leaving us alone and watching our development. The problem I think with this hypothesis is that communication is still restricted to light speed. To watch us they would have to be close. It is not inconceivable, I suppose, that highly advanced aliens have developed a means of communication and travel much faster than the speed of light, even though it would violate all known laws of the physical universe.   

Some argue, including Professor Steven Hawking, that it is a good thing that we haven’t established contact with alien beings. There is no reason to assume that they would be benign. They may be so advanced that they may view us as we view microbes. They might just ignore us or simply swat us as a minor irritation or impediment. They could be predatory and exploit our planet for resources and despoil all with impunity. If this proved to be the case then it is probably a good idea that we haven’t established contact. When humans groups come into contact with cultures less technology savvy than themselves, the ‘developing folk’ invariably suffer.   

One day, if we haven't destroyed our civilisation, we may be able to traverse vast interstellar distances and actually seek out other civilisations. Hopefully, we will be more technologically advanced in order that we may rob them of their precious commodities, enslave the population and make better lives for the dominant life form in the universe, US. 

That's more like it

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Flaxen's Thursday Rant

Celebrity endorsements really tick me orrrf. The tele is swamped by 'D' rated celebs of yesteryear or ex-sportsmen gone to seed berating us to buy some bloody product or service on their gainsay. They drone on how bloody wonderful this item/service is and how they would purchase no other and how it has changed their lives.

You have got to ask why an ex-boxer or ‘star’ from a 70s soap opera should know anything about carpets, building homes or insurance. But there they are with toothy smiles that don’t quite reach their eyes and paunches and thinning hair, barely concealed. They exhort (nay hector) us to buy their favoured product and explain how it's superior to the competitor’s product, also, strangely enough, promoted by an ex ‘reality show celeb’, called Candice Marie. Remember her? NO. I have a vague recollection of a young vivacious Candice, whipping out her thruppnees in episode two of: I’m in a gypo encampment- get me out of here before they nick my gold fillings’. I’m starting to digress. 

One thing you have got to ask: why are ‘D listers’ waxing lyrical about a lacklustre product? Mayhap, they are so impressed that they decided to contact the company and beseech the CEO to help promote their product/service, for nowt. Or more likely they are being paid squidoogles of cash for cavorting 'on air' for our televisual delight. And who ultimately pays the endorsement fee?

I suppose the advertising model works, otherwise, companies wouldn’t bother with celebrity branding. Clearly, the association of a product with a barely literate boxer of yore works for some mug punters. For me, however, tis a reminder to look elsewhere and find a competitor who doesn’t employ 'celebrity endorsement' in order to secure the lowest priced, but equally serviceable, product.  Arrrrrrrssse.   

Monday, 23 October 2017

Bow III: A Trilogy in Four Parts

Flagella Dei English Longbow in all its spirited glory

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when my two bows ordered from Flagella Dei, Hungary turned up. I was hosting a Sunday BBQ at the time and have only just managed to have a close look at the bows.

As I recall, I ordered two self-bows in Osage Orange: an Old English longbow and a primitive, rustic, flat bow. I did indeed receive the longbow. The other bow, although a flat bow is not what I ordered. Instead, I received a tri-laminated, flat, longbow. Perhaps it was my mistake. Anyway, I can't complain. Both bows are stunningly beautiful to behold (beauty is in the eye of the bow holder) and look very well made.

I've only managed to string up the flat bow, as yet. I tried it out this morning and once I got used to the bow I was able to repeatedly hit a 20cm square target at 20 metres. The bow is 74 inches long with a draw weight of 46 pounds at 29 inches. The bow shoots smooth and there is virtually no hand shock. I'm comfortable with a 46-pound draw weight as this is roughly comparable to my compound bow. Also, I'm used to shooting an Asiatic bow at 55 pounds so I'm hoping that the English longbow, at 64 pounds, will not be too much of a challenge.

I've not had a chance to string up the English longbow. The string supplied has only one loop and I need to learn how to tie a 'bowyer's hitch' on the un-looped end before I string up this bow.

So first impressions: I'm very impressed. Both bows appear to be well made, quality products. I paid $NZ480 for the bows and paid an additional $NZ100 for import charges. So altogether, I've paid $NZ580 for two traditional type bows. Could I have bought a superior quality product, elsewhere? Well, yes. If I were prepared to pay $NZ1,200 for a bespoke longbow made by a master craftsman. While I would love to own an English longbow, fashioned in Yew and made by master bowyer, there is no way I could justify paying this sort of money on a bow. I can afford it but my wife thinks it a waste of money and she doesn't grasp the inherent beauty in a well-made bow. As I own ten bows currently, she may have a point. I'm an obsessive and highly focussed man by nature and require reigning in on the odd occasion. If left to my own devices my world would quickly spin into unrestrained chaos and madness. My wife is the sensible one and prevents me from leaving the real world of mundane inanity to one of hectic insanity. Ain't dat the sad truth?   

Final words: At this price point you would find it hard, nay impossible, to find a similar quality product. I would certainly order from the company, again. Next time I would like an Asiatic war bow in the Hun or Scythian style. And yes, I still hanker after the rustic, self-bow in Osage Orange. Psst, don't tell the missus.       

Nice looking bow and well shooting bow
The one that got away. Self bow, Osage Orange, primitive flat bow 

Friday, 20 October 2017

Tis all about YOU

What are the chances of YOU being born? This is not just a speculative question, but an empirical question which can be answered, albeit roughly, with simple analytical mathematics. Before I start I need to make an important assumption: everyone born, past and present, have a unique consciousness based on their genetic makeup. I don’t want to get sidetracked by a discussion of what is, or how we define human consciousness, fascinating as the topic may be.

It is not unreasonable to consider each human to have a particular unique consciousness. We know that identical twins are ‘genetically identical’ and yet each twin has its own conscious identity and reality. This is not strictly true as identical twins will differ in the realm of gene expression due to the mechanism of epigenetics. Again, I don’t have the space to consider the fascinating world of epigenetics- perhaps in a future post?

Firstly, let us consider the probability of say, your mother and father actually meeting. I’m going to have to fudge this a little as every case will differ with regards to probability. I’ll, for the sake of gross simplicity, assume that the odds of your father and mother actually meeting are 1 in 20,000 and say the chances of them liking each other and producing issue (ie you) is 1 in 2,000. You can argue that this is pure guesswork and you would be right. This part of the equation is the most inaccurate, but as you will see, it will have only a small bearing on the rest of the calculation.
Thus far we have a probability of 20,000 x 2,000 = 40,000,000 (forty million). But this is only the beginning.

For you to be you, a specific egg melding with a specific sperm is required. Each sperm and egg is genetically unique due to a biological process called meiosis. A normal man will produce about 12 trillion sperm in his reproductive lifetime and a fertile woman harbours 100,000 eggs or ova. We need to take into account that men are fertile throughout post-pubertal life while a woman stops ovulating when she hits the menopause. For the sake of this calculation, I'm going to say that a third of the sperm will be available during his partner's fertile period. Thus we can calculate the odds of you coming into existence due to one unique sperm meeting one unique egg as: 4 trillion x 100,000 = 400 quadrillion. But we have to take into account the rare union of two people coming together in sexual congress, as previously calculated as 40,000,000 (forty million). Therefore, the odds of you coming into existence are: 40 million multiplied by 400 quadrillion, which equals 16 septillions. Before continuing a slight digression is required (no shit, Flaxen). When dealing with large numbers it is convenient to apply the concept and notation of ‘the power of 10'. If you are unfamiliar with this mathematical notation, a quick gogle search will help you understand this convenient and practical mathematical shorthand. In fact, it is impossible to formulate the mathematics of 'big' numbers without the power of 10 notations. Therefore, our previous calculation can be rendered thusly:
406  x 40015  = 1624.

Hold onto your hat, this is where it starts to get a bit weird

Tis not all about YOU. Next, you have to consider the preceding generations. The fact that you have been born at all means that all your ancestors made it to reproduce. Any break in the chain results in your non-existence (?!). And at each generational stage the same probability previously and lovingly worked out will apply.  So how far shall we go back? Perhaps to the first human? However, this is not a discrete event in time. To gain a realistic figure we should continue back in time to your very first ancestor hanging around in the primordial soup/slime- a single-celled organism 4 billion years ago, called Ralph. To stop the numbers from getting REALLY BIG I’m going to consider just our humanoid lineage. I’m making the assumption that human/humanoid like organisms (I’m not including ‘Tipton Man’) have been around for 3 million years (36 years). This would represent about 150,000 generations (1503). After applying the mathematics previously given we have a probability of 1 in 102,640,000 (10 followed by 2,640,000 zeros). I’m not going to put forth my mathematical reasoning here, otherwise, this post will be way too long…….. Of course, you could have a go yourself in the comfort of your own home.

Tis time to gain perspective and provide comparisons.

The number of stars in the observable universe: 7 x 1022

The total number of fundamental particles in the observable universe (diameter 93 billion light years): 3 × 1080

The smallest possible length is called a Planck length which equals 1.6 x10-35 m and the number of Planck lengths present in the volume of the observable universe: volume in “Planck cubes” ≈ 2.2×10183.

The point I'm trying to make is that the odds of you existing are so infinitesimally low that your existence is impossible- but there you are, glancing at this page (hopefully in wonder) whilst drinking beer and scratching your gonads. And this analysis only takes us back to the first humanoid, before that there are another 4 billion years to take into account. This probability, if I could be arsed to work out, would take us into the world of hyper-maths.  

There are other probabilities we could layer on, such as, the probability that the Earth is able to sustain life and the probability that life actually got started and evolved. And of course, we could delve back further............

So, all said and done, the fact that anyone exits at all is an extremely strange phenomenon indeed and provides contemplative types with the stuff that induces nightmares and migraines. Anyway, I'm off to the pub to squander this good fortune. Cheers!  

Monday, 16 October 2017

Passchendaele Revisited

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the battle of Passchendaele (3rd Ypres). Ostensibly, the objective of the battle was to reach the Belgium coast. But it soon became apparent to  British generals that this objective was beyond reach. From then on the battle would become one of attrition.

For the British: A terrible and largely pointless battle that achieved little, apart from killing Germans. A relentlessly grim conflict that defines the concept of attrition; fighting for the sole purpose of killing enemy soldiers and hoping that your losses do not outstrip theirs. Is there anything more terrible than the doctrine of attrition? Seeing men as mere counters to be erased from the board. Predictably, the generals who devised such a strategy were divorced from the terrors and tragedy of battle.

To mark this anniversary I’ve decided to rehash an old post.    

Read and weep

The Third Battle of Ypres in the summer of 1917 (Passchendaele), together with the battle of the Somme is synonymous, at least in British eyes, with the futility and mass slaughter of the First World War, and in my opinion, rightly so.

General Haig, the commander of the British forces had formed a picture in his mind. He envisioned a German army close to defeat, battered by the Somme offensive of the preceding summer. One last push to the Belgium coast and the German army would be rolled up from the north. To achieve this end he planned a grand summer offensive in 1917 and chose Flanders as the field of operation. On the map Flanders seemed the ideal place for a major British offensive. A gain of just 30 miles would take the British to the Belgium ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. The problem was that his viewpoint was not rooted in military reality. Perhaps it was possible to reach the coast if the German army was no longer a coherent entity. But this was certainly not the case in 1917. Indeed, during the battle the Germans felt confident enough to transfer troops from the front line for operations elsewhere.

Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, was against the offensive from the first and predicted another 'slaughter fest' without any tangible result. Haig was adamant that Ostend and other channel ports could be reached in the first wave of the offensive. He emphasised the parlous state of a Germany army in disarray and imminent collapse. When Lloyd George visited the Western Front during the battle, Haig removed all the robust looking Germans from the prisoner of war cages to give the impression that the Germans were drawing on their last reserves of man power. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The French allies did not support an offensive here, nor did any of the other British Generals. As one French General so presciently (not a real word) stated: "You can't fight both Boche and boue" (Germans and mud). In fact it was the French army that was close to collapse. The German attack on Verdun in 1916 and General Nivelle's disastrous offensive in early 1917 had brought the French army to mutiny. The army would hold the line but further offensive action was denied to them. The last thing the French wanted was the British army to be ground down in the same way. It would be better to stand on the defensive in 1917 and await for the Americans and tanks for an offensive in 1918.

As predicted, the battlefield became a morass fuelled by summer and autumn rains. All that was needed was the ever present artillery fire to plough and churn the land into a mud/blood bath. Furthermore, in the north the Belgians had destroyed the dykes thus letting in the sea. On this flank the Germans were secure. They had also built strong defences in depth in front of the British trenches. The high water table in the area ensured that the forth coming battle would turn into a duck-walk rather than Haig's imaginary cake-walk.

The offensive was heralded by the obligatory drum fire of artillery extended over several days. The battle began on the 31st July 1917. By the end of the first day it was clear to the British High Command that the offensive had failed. With advances of no more than half a mile the main German line was nowhere breached. Men, tanks and artillery simply sank and disappeared in the deep cloying mud. With no breakthrough in sight, Haig changed his objectives. No longer would the offensive result in the capture of Ostend and Zeebrugge. Instead the battle would become one of attrition with the only purpose of killing Germans. It should be remembered that the concept of attrition is always a two way process. The battle rumbled on for a further three months before being called off.

And so for the butcher’s bill: British casualties- 300,000; German casualties- 200,000. Haig argued that the Germans had suffered severely and planned a further offensive in the spring of 1918 which would bring the Germans to their knees. Again Haig was wrong. The Germans had more than enough men left to launch their own formidable spring offensive of 1918.

The effect on the British army was more subtle. As one British army Sergeant sensibly put it: “We will beat them but not before they break our hearts”. If innocence had been lost on the Somme, so enthusiasm had been lost at Passchendaele. It was replaced by grim determination and a stark professionalism to get the job done, but at what cost?

There is nothing glorious about war except the men in it

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Tats out for the lads

Dick Head

I thought I'd do another 'silly post' before I slip into another serious one. I'm not sure what the sensible post will be about, yet. But be assured, it will be very sensible.

When young and drunk tis very tempting to get a tattoo. Sadly, you will likely regret the decision in the cold harsh light of day. I'm not festooned with tats, myself- a couple of small motifs, tastefully done. However, back in the 60s and 70s, tattoos, especially on the hands, neck, and face marked you out as a lesser breed; an outcast from normal polite society. A distinction reserved for sailors and bar room brawlers. 
Today, things have changed. Respectable individuals are adorned, nay festooned with permanent ink; although the sanction and restriction with regard to the hands, neck and especially the face, remain. Even my daughter has a couple of small tattoos: one on her ankle, t'other on her shoulder. 

Not everyone possesses poise, grace, taste or even a spell checker. Anyways, check out this motley crew of misfits and fuckwits. Some folk really do need to be strangled at birth.    

Now, this looks like a salty dude. How more menacing can you get? Not content at desecrating his features he goes on to have one eyeball tattooed black. Predictably enough he appears to be wearing prison garb. Let's hope he's doing 50 to life. 

I'm guessing this fella ain't no Chartered Accountant. With such a provocative tattoo I'm thinking this man finds it difficult to obtain gainful employment, especially in the service industry: "Would like fucking fries with that, you cunt?" Another poor lost soul destined to remain on the margins of a just and judging society. An angry young man who finds the legit world baffling and unfriendly. For such a character, gaol is really his only fiend.

Hey, this man is ice cool, 'Da Iceman'. Guess how I know? Cos tis displayed on the canvas of his torso with gay abandon. The adornment of the skulls is telling. Skulls are super cool and this man displays at least five, so by implication, he must be super cool. Either that or he's an inadequate twat with a knuckle dragging low IQ and possessing  a need to show off his mind numbing stupidity. I bet he takes his shirt off at every available opportunity. If you have to broadcast that you are cool, then you ain't.

I have to agree with the sentiment but not the spelling. Is this supposed to be irony or is the recipient mind bogglingly dim? I suspect the latter.

Michael Jackson never looked so good. 'He's bad, he's bad'......The tattoo 'artist' ain't too good at this drawing thingy, either. Perhaps Michael Jackson did actually look like this at the end- one too many facelifts/nose jobs/skin whitening (sorry, no skin whitening. He suffered from a medical condition called vitiligo, allegedly).

Take a look at this fine specimen of manhood/humanity? As we can see he's a rampant ladies man. All those fine hos and bitches will be lining up to date this fine, sensitive and profoundly stupid young man. Could these be prison tattoos? I think so. I'd like to think that no legit tattoo salon would be responsible for this insanity. Putting on my all-seeing psychic hat on: I prophesise a life of petty crime and long spells of incarceration. No bitches there my fiend, just Bubba from C wing. Take care and don't slip in the shower.

Care and attention combined with a modicum of due diligence would have saved this girl from a lifelong of embarrassment and attention from men with a preoccupation with anal proclivities. Ana, take my advice and be generous with the lube. Although I suspect she will be wearing her hair down and flowing in order to protect her modesty and virtue.

This tattoo reminds me of a story, perhaps apocryphal, I was once told many years ago. Apparently, a young fella was holidaying in Hong Kong and thought it a good idea to get a tattoo on his arm in Chinese script. He chose a suitably uplifting Chinese proverb and had said tattoo proclaimed in bold Cantonese on his arm. Months later back in England he had occasion to visit the local Chinese restaurant with a few of his mates. As he was tucking into his sweet and sour pork balls he couldn't help but notice that the Chinese waitress could hardly suppress a giggle when she passed his table. Intrigued, our intrepid fella asked the young girl what the hilarity was about. The girl seemed reluctant to reveal the nature of her mirth. But our hero pressed on and eventually, she told him that his tattoo, in Cantonese read: 'At the end of the day, this is a very ugly boy'.

And finally. At the end of the day, these are very ugly babies. And very dysmorphic as well. We shouldn't be too surprised when we peruse the kid's names: Talanne, Janner, Alli and Teeganne. No shit, say I. Expect a visit from the child protection department and hefty gaol sentences for the parents for violating the universal law of good taste and for committing crass asinine stupidity. Furthermore, Prof Mugumbo and I found a clear and profound correlation between IQ and shite names. Check out this fundamental groundbreaking research, here and here.

Enough for now. A sane man can only take so much. And I have a tenuous grip on sanity at the best of times.