Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Ship of Theseus

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrus Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question as to things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending it was not the same.
(Plutarch 1880, 7-8)

Consider this: A wooden ship of old is exalted beyond all other seafaring vessels and the proud townsfolk decide to maintain the ship in the harbour in pristine condition. Every year a plank of wood is replaced. This continues for many long year until every original plank, the rigging and every bronze nail has been supplanted. The ship looks exactly the same as the day it was commissioned, with all pomp and ceremony and much  blustering by self important officials culminating with the then incumbent Mayoress, Dame Lilly Magumbo, shattering a bottle of ‘Blue Nun’ on its glistening newly commissioned hull. I’m staring to digress. The ship even displays the same name plate, ‘Salty Ferret’ and conforms to all the original dimensions in every regard. The point is: Although every piece of the original ship has been changed we end up with a structure that looks the same as the original ship and bears the same name. Would you consider this to be the same ship that slid off the slipway all those eons ago? 

Consider a second scenario: During the protracted restoration process a long line of boat yard enthusiasts decide to collect all the old pieces of the original ship and lovingly preserve the discarded bits. You know the type. The sort of folk who  hang around train stations with a notebook, pencil, single lens reflex camera and a hope in their heart that they will catch a glimpse of the 2.13pm Dudley to Tipton express. Invariably they work as office clerks and share a slovenly house with an elderly widowed mother with a penchant for cats.    

Said enthusiasts decide, after a very long collection period, to rebuild the original ship in all its majestic glory. After toil, lovingly given, a new/old ship is completely restored and floats resplendent next to the ‘Salty Ferret’. The enthusiasts ponder mightily, and after much deliberation and consideration, unanimously decide to call the ‘new’ ship, ‘Salty Ferret’. The townsfolk are nonplussed and discombobulated and berate the enthusiasts, thusly: “Hold hard Sir, we already have the original ‘Salty Ferret’ here in the harbour. Tis imperative that you name this impostor ship by another moniker- why not call it ‘Salty Ferret II’. But the upstarts (for it is they) retort: “Surely, our ship is the true ‘Salty Ferret’ as it contains all the original wood and rigging. Your ship, Sir, is the impostor”.

So which ship is the correct ‘Salty Ferret’? Those who hold dear in their heart the version that endured eons of despoliation and repair or those who hold true to the version lavishly constructed from the original material? What we can agree upon is that both ships cannot be the original ‘Salty Ferret’- or can they?

This is not a trivial question as it may first seem. It carries grave metaphysical consequences which have engaged clever minds for well over two thousand years and questions our fundamental conception of what is ‘identity through time'. We know that the human body changes all its cells over a period of approximately seven years. During this time interval our cells are gradually replaced and from the perspective of physical composition we are not the same organism that existed seven years ago, nevertheless we are still considered the same person. In simple terms we consider the object more than the some of the parts. And from this viewpoint both ships can lay legitimate claim to be the original 'Salty Ferret' albeit separated by material and construction. Confusing, ain't it?

Stretching the concept to the human condition, once again: What happens at the time of death? Surely the body is just a vessel and once life has ceased the person no longer remains even though, initially at least, the material composition is virtually identical to the state of life just prior to biological death. Our human existence and identity is clearly more than the accumulation of cells and even biological activity. Does our essence lie exclusively within the neurons and tissue of the brain? Is what makes us an individual- consciousness? What is consciousness anyway and how is it related to the myriad of interconnected neurons and electrical activity? Those of a religious inclination would suggest that continuity is maintained through the conception of the soul. This is, to me, a highly unsatisfactory explanation. And I would argue that it offers no new rational information to an already dense and opaque problem. After all, are we not simply layering an unintelligible concept onto an already complex and obscure problem?

I've strayed from our mythical ship and extended the metaphor into dark, murky philosophical territory. A deceptively simple problem, at least on first appraisal, has become intellectually abstruse and probably unsolvable by mortal minds. Contemplation of this and similar questions deepens our understanding of existence (maybe) even though we seem no closer to any firm and intellectually satisfying solution. All the best questions in life, the ones that enrich our intellectual existence, are invariably elusive and ultimately unanswerable.      

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Macrocephaly and other jolly japes........

Shit on a stick!

Make-up on: check. Ragged skirt: check. Stylish purple bag: check. Tits hanging out of top: double check. Have you noticed the cellulite?  Frankly I can't see anything else.

Dat man's got a big head. I suspect this felon/melon resisted arrest and received a little light attention around the noggin with assorted cudgels. Otherwise we have to assume that his head is always this shape- reminiscent of a light bulb. Should we chortle at this man's lamentable predicament? Yes, except on the planet Kroton where it is deemed to be bad taste.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Woe unto the Tiptonites!

Woden sees all

Lo, in the land of the Tiptonites, the High Priestess went forth unto the land and declared a census of all the people. I come with tidings of great felicity and declare that on the eighth day of the sixth month there shall be a tally of great import.

And the populace did roll their eyes and whispered thusly, O bugger.

And they waxed wroth against the High Priestess and said, Didst thou not sware, unto the multitude, that thou wouldst not call an early election?

And the High Priestess said, Yea, I lied. For Brexit descend upon us, and I must contend with the Europeanites and sundry wretched tribes. And I must put on the armour of a strong majority in the people’s house. Therefore go ye out and be counted.

And there came from the temple pollsters, who said, Surely this woman will wax great. For her enemy is chaff and shall be dispersed to the four winds like dispersed things. For the enemy is shite and found wanting. Surely the sword of righteousness will cut them down like ripe corn.

And the High Priestess said, No shit.

And there came from the wastelands a wastrel prophet, whose name was Jeremiah. He came from the political wilderness and his beard was long enough to hide a brace of ferrets. His garments were dishevelled and smelt of pee. And he whispered  in a small voice, Behold, I bring you new taxes.

And suddenly there was a host of young people who harked at his proclamation. And he said unto them, Ye shall study and grow wise in all things, and I shall not ask ye for gold. And the sick shall be made well. And he promised unto them all manner of goodly things with money that belonged to him not at all.

And the young people said unto him, How shall these things be rendered unto us, seeing that thou hast no gold or silver in thy bare coffers?

And he spake unto them in a voice of booming bass and said, Soak the middle-class for the rich evade my wiles and the poor have fuck all except wide screen tellies.

And the young folk said, we like these words muchly. Woe to the 'boomers' for they will be punished until the fourth generation for their folly!

And they hearkened unto the word of Jeremiah, and fell hook line and sinker for his honeyed words. For they said unto themselves, Lo, he bringeth unto us the desire of our hearts. He cometh by bicycle, with a mighty helm strapped to his ragged, lice ridden bonce. And he eateth neither flesh nor fowl, according to the Scriptures. For man cannot live by bread alone, but tofu is quite okay.

And the High Priestess saw all these things and waxed with ire. And she gathered unto her the chief scribes and the Pharisees and said unto them, What the fuck is going on?

And they said unto her, Tis merely an aberration and not reflective of reality; freteth not.

But they sayest unto themselves, When the multitude upheld her Standards, this woman was formidable. But now that she has gone abroad unto every corner of the land, she stumbleth. For surely it is written in the scrolls that ruling multitudes requires a wisdom not given to all.

And the Pharisees spake amongst themselves, saying, Jeremiah’s tongue drippeth with falsehood and spittle. He hides intention within his threadbare cloak. And he means to spend gold that belongs to others.

And nobody paid any attention, because they failed maths at scribe school.

And the Elders rose up and said to the young people, If ye vouch for Jeremiah, he will bring great wailing. And perhaps even gnashing of teeth. Do ye not remember the plague of ferrets in the 1970s?

And the young people said, What the fuck is the 1970s?

And the Elders spake again, and said to the young people, Hark, for he gave solace in olden times to the I.R.A.

And the young people said, The what?

And the young people said, Jeremiah will bring us prosperity by taking money from those who toil greatly. Surely we will not have to lift a finger but profit from the sweat of others. And he will break the engines of war. The Trident shall be blunted and cast to the bottom of the sea. And he showeth respect for all peoples, even unto Gypos and other assorted scum and weirdos.

And the Elders tore the clothes from their breast and lamented sorely.

And it came to pass that the Islamites came into the land, with the sword, and engines of destruction. And many of the heads of the faithful flopped unto the floor. And great was the lamentation.

And the High Priestess waxed exceeding wroth and said to the people, I shall right the transgressions and take sword and fire to the Islamites. And there came again pollsters from the temple, who said, Will the people not vote for her in this hour of need?

And the multitude of the Tiptonites heedeth not at all.

And it came to pass that the potsherds where thrown on the ground to be counted.

And the Elders went up to vote, as did the young people. And the young people were as a mighty host. And in the hours of darkness there was much counting. And there came in the morning news that the High Priestess had vanquished the prophet Jeremiah but only by a ferret's whisker. And the High Priestess was super-pissed. And in her vexation she gnashed her teeth verily.

And there was great carousing amidst the young horde. And they imbibed strong wine, and did feast upon suckling kebabs and the streets did run with urine.
And of the pollsters there was no sign. For as usual, they had fucked up mightily and fucked off.

And the people saw Jeremiah and said, surely this man has won? Doth he not sayeth so?

And there was great murmuring among the Elders. And they said unto themselves, Fear not. For the High Priestess doth but prepare the way for the one who is greater than she.

And they said, Behold, for the hour of the redeemer is upon us. And his name shall be called Bright, the Prince of Light. His hair will shine like spun gold. And they cried in one voice, Boris the Redeemer.

And the young people said, Oh, fuck. And the Pharisees said, Oh fuck.

And the Lord saw the whole thing, laughed and went back to playing golf (three under par).  

And then the people said, Lord, what shall we do regarding Brexit? For henceforth the High Priestess shall be as weak as a newborn ferret with a gammy leg. How shall we hope for continued access to the single market?

And the Lord sayeth, Looks like you are all well and truly, fucked.

So endeth the lesson......

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Tis National Taser Day

Tipton celebrates national Taser Day! The mayor of Tipton, Mr Enoch ‘Baby Doc’ Vowel proudly encouraged Tipton denizens to take part in the celebration of Taser inspired festivities and inaugurated Tipton’s free ‘Taser Booth’ in the High Street. Citizens can now receive over 500,000 volts totally gratis in what is described as the ultimate hair-raising experience. Within 15 minutes of the booth becoming live, a queue stretching down the High Street had formed and a carnival-like atmosphere descended upon the populace like a miasma of doom. A lifelong resident of the soporific  town, Mrs Edna O’Mugumbo, had this to say as she snaked through the grime and vermin infested street: “Oooh yes, it reminds me of the war when we had to queue for a thimbleful of eggs and rat droppings as that nice Mr Hitler rained down incendiaries,  high explosive and Rudolph Hess upon our scrofula encrusted heads".

Bring out your dad
Later today, gangs of Taser laden thugs will roam the begrimed streets looking for the hapless elderly with heart conditions. Mr Vowel proudly announced, “It will do the old folk a power of good to receive a high voltage jolt across the chest”. When asked about the possibility of deaths as a consequence of Taser-related japes, Vowel exposited thusly: “This time of year is always a bumper period for elderly demise and we see no reason why this shouldn’t continue. This initiative is in no way connected with the council led plan to reduce the spending on old age benefits by 90%. This will be achieved by natural wastage”.

Mr Khan, of Mr Khan’s Cheap, Crap, Emporium of Total Shit, was delighted and enthused at the prospect of dumping loads of cheap, tacky, Chi damaged, but highly effective Tasers, on the general public.

Little Tommy Atkins (of no fixed abode) had already converted his latest widget/fidget spinner- ‘Malcolm the Magnificent’ into a deadly Taser of ultimate destruction. “Yea it’s great, innit. I can chuck it into a crowd and watch as it causes a vast swathe of writhing twitching bodies, innit. I haven’t had this much fun since Kim un-Jong (no relation) visited the Principality and personally bestowed unto me the ultimate accolade: 'Medal for not dying of malnutrition in a totalitarian state".

Nuff Said.

Tiny Tim at the 'Medal Cemetery'

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Operation Snowflake

There is a part of society, mostly young, but not exclusively so, that are self centred, self seeking,  unrepentant and entitled. They criticise the older generation: we have destroyed economic security; we have robbed the wealth so the young will remain poor; we are smug hypocrites that secretly control the world! Haha, haha haha, haha (that's supposedly diabolical laughter). They seem to forget that the vast majority of us older folk are entirely powerless to affect and influence wider economic forces. If we have economic security it's because we worked bloody hard for it.  We, as a collective, have not conspired to ensure that younger generations are economically shafted. Destiny lies within the hands of the individual. The world is indeed a tough place, but it has always been so. No one profits from whining. Endeavour and hard work are no guarantee to success, but sitting on your arse whingeing and moaning achieves nowt but frustration and inaction. Go do shit.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tuesday's Bollocks

The above abstract snatched from a 'research paper' is clearly a spoof and penned by two philosophy professors under assumed names. They claim no expertise in the area of 'gender studies' and made no effort to research the topic in hand, whatsoever. The difference between my particular brand of madness and the above is that the above was published in a supposed academically respectable, open access, journal. A journal which operates a peer review process. Peer review is the Gold Standard for weeding out poor quality papers and downright fraud. Or indeed pranks carried out by academics with a wicked sense of humour.

The paper managed to get published in a journal which operates the pay to publish model. In this case, the cost of publishing an article is met by the author(s). For the privilege, you should expect to pay about US$600. The viewing public, just a small clutch of academics, can access the journal article for free. Compare this to the established publishing method where the author pays nothing.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the pay to publish model if it operates correctly and abides by rigorous academic review standards. I wrote an article a while back about the pay to view publishing method where I illustrated a few of its pitfalls. You can access it here.

If the abstract cited is a foretaste of what is to come, the main body of the article should be a hoot and a masterpiece of derision and quiet absurdity. And frankly, we are not disappointed. Consider these choice snippets. The opening sentence.......
The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

And this....
The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.

Manspreading — a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide — is akin to raping the empty space around him.

Burn me now, for surely I am a sinner.

The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.

Climate change and gender studies- of course, there must be a coherent connection. Why didn't I notice it before? 

The paper continues with 3,000 words of unmitigated drivel and nonsense, all in a similar vein. And so it goes on. The paper is patently ridiculous and ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that the penis shouldn’t be thought of as the male genital organ but as damaging social construction. The authors place a lot of jargon-laced crap that is consistent with this kind of ‘gender studies' insanity/inanity, such as: 'post-structuralist discursive gender theory’ and ‘gender-performative, highly fluid social construct’.

Although the paper is obviously absurd it did hit the necessary trigger points for publication in a ‘gender studies’ journal. The main thrust of the learned piece is easy understood despite the impenetrable jargon: maleness is bad and the penis even more so. The penis is a nasty phallocentric hegemonic cudgel berating wimmin everywhere and doubly so in malaria infested Congo. From there we can earnestly argue that the penis is irrevocably linked to global warming through mechanisms involving the rape of the ozone layer as the member thrusts skywards, glistening and moist on a rampant rampage of sticky tumescence (steady Flaxen). Here is the relevant passage in the paper relating penises and global warming. Concerning the penis: an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalised groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and the conceptual driver behind much of climate change.

One of the esteemed reviewers raved thusly: “It capturs [sic] the issue of hypermasculinity through a nonlinear process”. Makes perfect sense especially after drinking 15 pints of Auld Ferret, superior ale.

The fact that this piece was published underscores how ridiculous ‘gender studies’ has become. A field driven by ideology and hate propagated by fanatical feminists of both genders. Hang on a second. A correction is required as Facebook recognises at least 50 distinct genders. Don’t want to offend those who consider themselves, gender fluid. The paper is so farcical and caricatured it beggars belief how anything of such poor academic standing could have passed through the peer review and editorial filters and manage to achieve publication in a ‘serious academic journal’.     

Now, gentle readers, you know why I like burning stuff, and occasionally, people. Arse.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Black Dog

Churchill is a difficult subject to write about. On the one hand, the written material relating to Churchill is voluminous in the extreme- much of it written by the man himself. On the other hand, at least in the English-speaking realm, Churchill has acquired an almost god-like status. A man of such prodigious gifts and achievements, that to criticise the man is to commit the gravest of heresies. And of course, there is an equal and opposite reaction from the 'left'. Criticism from this direction is generally farcical and so deeply rooted in socialist dogma and knee jerk rhetoric that the man transforms into a warmongering one-dimensional Imperialist monster.

It is the fate of Great Men to attract strong reaction. This does not detract from their status but reinforces and enhances their greatness. I have no intention of entering into the debate with regard to Churchill's moral status or innate qualities that could be construed as 'good' or 'evil'. Suffice it to say that I consider Churchill deservedly belongs to the pantheon of 'Great Men', with all the trappings that the designation entails; 'Great Men' are either saints or sinners depending on perspective and prejudice. They elicit extremes, especially amongst folk who have not read widely or wisely. No one as complex, indefatigable and talented as Churchill could be described as 'good' or 'bad', in any conventional sense. Remember Churchill's contemporary, Stanley Baldwin? No. Neither does anyone else- he was not a Great Man.

Today, I would like to briefly consider just a single piece of the psychological mosaic comprising the man: Churchill's well documented, 'Black Dog'. Churchill, throughout his life, experienced protracted bouts of melancholia during which he became mentally and physically inert. During these periods Churchill's fertile rampaging mind became stilled and his relentless energy deserted him. It has been suggested, from respectable and eminent psychiatrists/psychologists, that Churchill suffered from a serious mental illness such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Considering how difficult it is to make a diagnosis of the 'mind' when the subject is available for first-hand analysis on the couch, I suspect any retrospective and accurate psychiatric diagnosis is beyond retrieval. Churchill's personal physician, Lord Moran, noted Churchill's 'Black Dog' but refrained from labelling the man as frankly mad. And indeed would it have been scarcely credible for Churchill to have achieved his astonishing accomplishments over his long life if he had been seriously mentally ill?

It is noteworthy that Churchill's darkest melancholic episodes were linked to great political and personal upheavals (often one of the same) during his career. In the aftermath of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915, Churchill was dismissed, and rightly so, from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty. At this time Churchill suffered a deep melancholic episode. Not only did he suffer from a major political reverse, he also endured grave responsibility for sending many good men to their death on an ill-conceived, ill-planned and ill-executed campaign. A campaign nurtured by Churchill himself. Is it a testament to Churchill's humanity that he suffered an extreme reaction in the aftermath of Gallipoli? The reader must decide whether this is a valid viewpoint, or not. Consider the reaction of modern politicians under similar circumstances, especially in light of the fact that Western politicians invariably escape censure and punishment and prosper regardless. Tis also a testament to the resilience of Churchill, as a man, that he eventually recovered and went on to have a major influence on world events- the rest is history, go read.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Alternative Bollocks

Fed up with conventional medicine and have more money than sense? You consider four hundred years of scientific and medical development a load of fanny batter? Why not allow some shaman to wave a few bones/crystals/pop tarts about your head to align your vital body energy force. Put your life in the hands of someone too stupid to attend a prestigious medical school for six years but instead obtained a certificate from the online school of 'Trantic Healing and Flower Arranging'.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?  

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A Day at the Doctors

I rarely go to the doctor willingly and have always lived by the dictum: 'First sign of death and I'm off to the doctor'. In that regard I'm no different to most men. Although I also live by the motto: 'Strength through pain'. So perhaps it might not be prudent to solicit life advice from the golden haired one. You decide gentle reader. Anyway, the point is I don't like going to the doctors especially after the episode when the GP shoved his digit up my arse (arse) and forgot to wash his hands, before and after the procedure. It has got so bad that my wife books the appointment, without consultation, and simply drops me off at the surgery with a wink and a shove. Tis a pity, because my doctor is really a great bloke. Not only is he a good clinician but he is funny, personable and a reservoir of sage wisdom. I went to see him for a 15-minute consultation today and spent 45 minutes in his office. Of that time only 5 minutes dealt with what ails me. The rest of the time was spent discussing peer reviewed double blind drug trials, the state of the human condition in the face of a disconsolate insouciant universe and why my testicles moved about independently after a hot bath- apparently it is due to the uneven distribution of deep thermal currents and the resultant attempts of heat distribution and heat loss to a crevassed skin surface. Go check it out in a medical textbook. But most of all I like his willingness to prescribe those little blue pills that make my head go all woozy after a couple of belts of vodka. Good man that doctor. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Random Friday Whimsy

Actually this a valid scientific question. Consider the many environment variables involved here: humidity; ambient temperature; restrictive underwear (or otherwise); absorption powers of said underwear and let's not forget the indigenous flora and fauna. I'd take swabs for microbiological testing, 'cuttings' from the pubic hair and skin scrapings for microscopical examination. Then again, he could just have a girlfriend who is free and easy with her sexual favours. We'll await further enlightenment and the lab tests.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

More Pretentious Bollocks

I thought I'd do a brief post about fallacies. We all know about fallacies in the everyday humdrum sense, but in the rarefied academic world of logic, it is well defined. So, let me start off with a formal definition: A fallacy is: 'An error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid'. There are many types of logical fallacy as outlined below- please note this is not an exhaustive list, just a small catalogue of fallacies encountered in the everyday life of a logician. Also note logicians, as a breed, like to classify ‘fallacies’ into distinct groups (goes with the job). For instance, fallacies can be broadly distinguished into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ fallacies. A formal fallacy is a pattern of reasoning that is always wrong. This is due to a flaw in the logical structure of the argument which renders the argument invalid. In contrast, an informal fallacy may present in a valid logical form but is false due to the characteristics of its premises, or its justification structure. To date, I have managed to identify 56 separate informal fallacies. There is much ‘splitting of the hair’ and more than a few of these definitions can be combined without losing meaning and knowledge; all is nuance and shade. For the sake of brevity and sanity, I’ve only included a few fallacies which are commonly encountered, verbally, and in the written word:
Ad Hominem: ‘Attack the man’. This is a very popular device. If you can’t tackle the argument, why not besmirch the character of the person holding the contrary view? Only persuasive to the unsophisticated and the fool. In the final analysis, the character of the individual has no bearing on a logical argument.
Tu quoque: ‘You also’ or pot calling the kettle black- again, totally irrelevant. It may well be true that you are a hypocrite however, this has no logical bearing on the original argument. 
Argument from incredulity: “I can’t see how this argument can be true, therefore it must be false”. Also known as the argument from ignorance- or is that a separate and distinct category?
Circulus in demonstrando: Circular reasoning. No explanation necessary.
Petitio principia: Begging the question. A fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. Very common amongst unsophisticated theologians and religious apologists. 
Argumentum ex silentio: Argument from silence. A conclusion that is based on the lack of evidence in preference to the presence of evidence. A particularly daft form of reasoning that is easily demolished with a deft riposte augmented with a swift punch to the throat.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Correlation proves causation. An assumption that a particular action is responsible for causing an effect. Shown conclusively to be false by the British Empiricist philosopher, David Hume, in the 18th century. Nonetheless, an argument beloved by politicians and adherents of pseudoscience.

I think I’ve made my case and don’t see the need to belabour the concept. If you would like to read more about ‘informal fallacies’, I recommend the following book by, Carney & Sheer: 'Fundamentals of Logic, ch 2'. This is not a recent text however, it gives a clear and concise exposition of the problems. 

In our writing and verbal exchanges should we knowingly avoid the usage of fallacious expressions and phrases? This is not a simple question. Those of a pedantic disposition would unerringly answer, “yes”. But you should never ask a pedant a question as the answer is always known. If I'm involved in formal scientific writing I would argue that it is important to get a clear coherent message across without ambiguity and distraction. Of course, this is the counsel of perfection. I am quick to deride inconsistencies in other author’s scribbling but blind and oblivious to my own. This is why I always pass my formal work to a colleague for critique. It can be a painful, but necessary, lesson to learn that I’m writing complete bollocks, consequently, thoughtful editing is a prerequisite for cogency. It may come as a surprise to my regular readers that I’m capable of succinct, simple and clipped prose considering some of the rambling 'verbiage' penned for this blog.

Politicians and Legal Advocates are overly fond of logical fallacies. The barrister is at his/her best when not involved in legal minutiae and forensics. True oratory plays on the senses and has little to do with legal or logical precedent. Watch an accomplished politician and observe the skilled use of words divorced from facts and reality. Oratory tricks and illusions have great power to beguile and cloud the mind.

It would be a poor world if all literature conformed to rigid logical strictures/structures. The lack of rigour is a must for lyrical composition and great masterpieces of literature utilise illogical literary devices, diverse and various for artistic effect. Poor poetry is written by those lacking in imagination and pathos. Tragic poetry is at its finest when divorced from logical reality and the most engaging prose, both intellectually and emotionally, attacks and up-ends our reason. Lie to me in print as long as it is done with zeal, wit and passion.

Just a word to the wise. If in a debate with others, at a party, don't disparage their answers with an appeal to logical form. You will only humiliate folk and piss them off mightily; they will hate you for it. Sometimes tis best to keep your wisdom closeted and unexposed. And of course, no one likes a smart arse (arse).

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Wednesday Rant


If there is one thing I hate more than meetings it's the impenetrable jargon it fosters/festers. Weird gobbledygook speak designed to obscure and complicate simple ideas. Devoid of content, these phrases strangle the English language turning it into an abomination of mangled words. My particular pet hate is: 'moving forward'. My boss and friend, who used to be a scientist, has moved forward to 'Administrative Management' and interjects into every meeting the phrase, 'moving forward', when he should be saying, 'from now on'. It grates and grinds on my sensibilities with its stultifying banality; sadly, he should know better- he's a very intelligent man. 

While I'm at it: I'm not a fan of 'team leader' instead of boss. Although not exactly jargon speak, it is one of those phrases that has insinuated itself into the English language about the same time the 'Personnel Department' became 'Human Resources' and heavy truck haulage became 'Logistics'. And while I'm ranting off topic I must mention the word, 'Workshop'. Whenever I attend a scientific conference there is always a 'Workshop'. A word for a meeting within a meeting. Frankly, if you are a not carpenter or a worker in light engineering you have no fucking right to call a meeting, a 'Workshop'. Digression over- back to the main rant.   

Here are a few particularly good/bad examples of business speak gathered randomly from the net:

“telephonic culturally competent disease management program can improve the health of African American members with hypertension”

“a leading global provider of integrated financial governance, transaction risk management, and compliance solutions”

"look for a paradigm shift in your KPIs, you need to benchmark your organisation against best practice in generating marketing messaging statements"

Now my readers (is there anyone there?), can feel my pain.

I challenge anyone out there to interpret these insane sentences into anything vaguely intelligible or coherent. Imaginative, witty or humorous contributions will win Flaxen’s Award for Rhetorical Sane English,  or A.R.S.E, for short. Don't disappoint the Flaxen haired one.

I'm so incandescent and discombobulated I'm off to burn down an orphanage.   

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Alexander and the Professor

 The man who changed the world
Looks like someone we know?
As you probably know, the Ancient Greek philosopher of great renown, Aristotle, taught the greatest General of the ancient world, bar one, Alexander the Great. The interaction of these two 'Great Men' has posed a fertile source of speculation for academics for well over two thousand years. How did Aristotle's teaching: exact, ponderous, surefooted and fantastic affect the developing mind of the eventual conqueror of the Persian Empire? Did the astonishing conquests of his erstwhile pupil influence the development of Aristotle's political theories? I would contend that the mutual interaction, intellectual and political, of these two Great Men was virtually nil.

Alexander had a certain respect and snobbish sentiment for high Greek culture, perhaps from the realisation that the Macedonians were just a generation away from barbarians and many Greeks still referred to the Highland upstarts as barbars.

Irrespective of fine Greek manners and a first class education delivered by one of the most formidable intellects ever to grace the human race, Alexander remained, for the most part, a barbarous man albeit moderately varnished with a coating of Greek culture. Scratch a little too hard and the passionate uncouth soul could be unleashed. A man who could recite Homer from memory and still thrust a spear through a friend in a single drunken evening.

It is interesting to reflect that while Alexander and his father had destroyed the 'City State of Greek Ideal', Aristotle ponderously extolled the virtues of a system ground into the dust by Macedonian military might. It as if Aristotle was living in a kind of intellectual bubble floating far and free from the stark reality pervading the lands of Greece. As an aside, it must have been irksome to educated Greeks to have been subdued by semi-Greeks to the north. Of course, it was going to get worse; the Romans were just getting started. I'm starting to digress.

Penetrating insight into the relationship is provided by the author, A. W. Benn: "It would be unfortunate if philosophy had no better testimonial to show for herself than the character of Alexander. Arrogant, drunken, cruel, vindictive, and grossly superstitious, he united the vices of a Highland chieftain to the frenzy of an Oriental despot." To be honest, I can't fault the analysis and it truly encapsulates Alexander's character in one incandescent sentence.

Clearly, the real world did not matter to an introspective genius such as Aristotle. The man was pure intellect and had enough money garnered through land ownership to divorce himself from the humdrum banality of our futile existence. Good for him. For most of us of a reflective demeanour, we have to earn enough money so we can ponder and reflect. Ain't dat the sad truth?

The ancient sources reflect an amiable relationship between Alexander and his mentor, at least during the earlier part of Alexander's campaign. Later a petulant note enters Alexander's missives to his old tutor, perhaps due to political developments in Greece. As far as I can discern though, Aristotle refrained from partisan politics- it could be a very dangerous game. Anyway, Aristotle was far too busy with his round of teaching duties and the writing of learned treatises. Here is a supposed letter addressed to Aristotle penned by Alexander whilst he campaigned in the nether regions of the known world as cited by, Plutarch: "Alexander to Aristotle, greetings. You have not done well to write down and publish those doctrines you taught me by word of mouth. What advantage shall I have over other men if these theories in which I have been trained are to be made common property? I would rather excel the rest of mankind in my knowledge of what is best than in the extent of my power. Farewell.”
Apart from the warning, which is hardly veiled, there is a certain petulant snobbishness in the uttering. 'If the Greeks were to remain Great they should deny to other men the things that induced greatness, lest they become as the Greeks and therefore great'. I think Aristotle would have appreciated the logic but not the snub. But of course, we will never be certain.

It is a reflection of mine that men endowed with first-rate minds rarely become successful men of action. And indeed, very smart men should not enter the world of the military and politics, Caesar and Hannibal excepted, of course.


 The man who changed the world

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

ANZAC Day, 25th April 2017

Today is ANZAC day when Australians and New Zealanders commemorate their war dead. ANZAC day focuses heavily on the Great War but not to the exclusion of other conflicts. The war to end all wars was nothing of the sort and set the scene for an even greater war. As one French General prophetically remarked at the end of the Great War: "This is not peace but an armistice for twenty years".

The end of the Great War was the beginning of the modern age and the true end of the Victorian era. Men of a thoughtful temperament became changed. In the summer of 1914, concepts such as honour, King, God and Country actually meant something in the hearts and minds of men- at least to the educated classes. Those who endured the horrors of war no longer thought this way. It is no coincidence that the growth of atheism in Britain can be traced back to this time. Before 1918, atheism was virtually non-existent in England except amongst a few foppish, fey intellectuals. In 1914 people actually believed that 'right could defeat might'. Only a madman or an intellectual dullard could hold this belief in 1918. The big battalions would always prevail in the end. It has always been this way even though French strategists of 1914 thought they could win battles by sheer élan alone. Of course, morale and fighting spirit are important components on the battlefield however, they count for nought when you charge into machine gun fire in conspicuous blue uniforms as if on a Sunday parade. Of all the combatants in 1914, the Germans appreciated the most the importance of major force in war. Although the much vaunted German army couldn't resist the occasional showy flash on the battlefield which cost them, dear.

We can chart the war in poetry. The jingoistic simple patriotism of 1914 slowly gives way to a sombre timbre. The poetry of 1914 is rather mundane and lacks emotional depth while the poetry of 1917/18 is red raw with all the nerves of the poet exposed. Bitter as the cud it captures the horror of modern war and encapsulates the helplessness of men exposed to an indifferent mincing machine. Those who survived not only carried physical scars but bore deep emotional gashes that always wept and never healed. My grandfather went to war as a man full of good humour and jest. On return, he was spent, deeply reflective and spent too much time on his own.

I've chosen a piece from 1919. It is a post-war poem by the English poet, Siegfried Sasson. Please read and weep.         

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Belated Easter Post

Watch and weep
Yes, I'm well aware it isn't Easter. I might be mad but strangely enough, I have a very sane conception of the passage of time. I was fervently hoping to post this erudite piece for Eastertide but real life intruded and I had to prepare for a difficult lecture this week. Thus, my readership missed out on my wisdom and had to wait a whole week before this much-anticipated piece came to full fruition. Please forgive me.

A very good friend contacted me the other day, by email. Yes, I do have friends, but as a very wise man once said: “Never have more friends than fingers on your right hand after a chainsaw accident”. I’m starting to digress. My friend is a Christian and considers the Flaxen haired one an unrepentant sinner ripe for conversion to the one true path that leads to the light……… Anyway, at Eastertide, he thought it a good idea to direct my attention to a film entitled, 'The Case for Christ' by a chap called, Lee Strobel. The thrust of the film is to provide absolute proof that Jesus died and rose from the dead after three days.

Before tackling the film, I would like to make a few points about the concept of the resurrection from a rationalist perspective. Most Christians seem happy to accept the resurrection without considering the profound implications of their belief. I, like Paul/Saul of Tarsus, devoutly believe that if Jesus didn’t come back to life after three days then Christianity as a true belief collapses into the dust of woe and despond and therefore, is no more. Out of respect for my friend I decided to watch the film in its entirety. But even without watching a single frame I can put forth a very good argument for the falsehood of the ‘resurrection’. 

Over the past four hundred years, very clever men have been uncovering, divining (even winnowing) and refining this pesky concept called knowledge and very importantly, determining how we can distinguish between concepts that are worthy of the name and concepts that deserve to be consigned to the mental bin of false belief. When someone says to me that a dead man has come back to life, I am honour bound to ask two salient questions. "Was the man truly dead or just resting? Mayhap he was in a state of suspended animation, coma or had partaken of a drug, such as curare, which temporarily robs him of his sensibilities. Or did the person undergo true biological death?" For me, as a biologist, true death of a human happens at brain death. This occurs when the brain cells are deprived of oxygen and therefore stop metabolising. This process starts about eight minutes after being deprived of oxygen. Once cell death sets in the process is irreversible; enzymes unfettered start to digest the cell turning the insides into a biological soup. Although, cells in the muscle of the deceased may still be viable two days after brain death, the loss of brain cognitive function which necessarily follows brain tissue death, really defines our demise.

If true death is to be reversed then the natural order of causality could/would not apply. What is required is a bona fide miracle formulated by the hand of god. But I ask you, how many miracles do we experience in everyday life? A miracle, by definition, is the suspension of natural order and causality. But, natural order is how things work and it has always been this way. I would contend that miracles never happen. To accept that a single miracle has occurred carries grave epistemological consequences. If we allow one miracle to occur then why not two, or a million. A world with miracles soon becomes a morass of inconsistency- a world where acorns can grow into theologians and where the dead roam the earth. David Hume's sobering take on the problem, although written in the 18th century, is still resonating relevant today. For your edification, I quote in full:

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish".

As for the film: Tis total crap and does not put forth a single coherent argument and consequently is not worthy of contemplation by my prodigious intellect. All the so-called experts are Christian believers/apologists and are convinced of the resurrection anyway, regardless of any purported evidence. Hardly an unbiased panel to assess the verity of the resurrection.

I truly believe that my friend thought I would somehow be convinced by the film. When I told him that I was unimpressed and that the film skirted over the main issues he genuinely looked sad and shook his head and said. "Flaxen, you may be a god amongst men, clothed in mortal guise. A face so fair and radiant that mere mortals can only stare for but a while lest their retinas become seared and their kneecaps move about a bit, but Sir, you are also a rampant rationalist and possess, no soul".  I countered thusly: "Indicted on all accounts. To not think rationally is equivalent to not thinking at all". In mitigation to my poor friend, he's totally ignorant of the ways of science and philosophy and holds a degree in Sociology- may the gods grant him peace for he shall receive none from me.         

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Dat one lazy hound....

Hollerin' hound dog so forlorn,
The laziest dog that ever was born.
He's a hollerin' cos he's laying on a thorn,
But he's just too tired to move over.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Shagger the ferret

Shagger in his prime

I've owned a few ferrets in my time. When young I'd go out on the heath with gramps and Shagger, the ferret, grubbing for rabbits for the pot. Old grampa was a veteran of the Great War and said very little. He seemed to me, a towering giant, although my father attests that he stood a majestic 6 foot 3 inch. As a young boy, I was in awe of my grandfather. He had a certain presence and spoke volumes by being silent. And grandfather was a silent man. However, if I talked out of turn or transgressed in any way I'd receive a swift clip to the head accompanied by a few terse words delivered in his thick black country accent.

Anyways, we would catch a few rabbits and granddad would dispatch the poor buggers with a deft slap to the neck and the struggling would cease. One day, out and about, dad's Staffordshire Bindle Bull Terrier got loose and killed Shagger with a growl and a flick. I was mortified as I truly loved that ferret. Even though the nasty bugger would bite and chew heartedly at my hands when handled. Even today, when my hands get a tan, I can still see the thin tracery scars left by Shagger's tender ministrations; Shagger's legacy.

I've owned a couple of ferrets since then, but none could remotely compare to the original, and best-loved ferret, called Shagger.  

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Flaxen's random, esoteric, bollocks

Nothing is impossible, except impossibility

Conscious living requires exploration. The infinite is electrified with supercharged waveforms. 
This life is nothing short of an unveiling rekindling of zero-point fulfillment.

Who are we? Where on the great quest will we be re-energized? Humankind has nothing to lose. We are at a crossroads of coherence and stagnation. 

We are in the midst of a zero-point invocation of divinity that will let us access the quantum soup itself. Throughout history, humans have been interacting with the quantum matrix via frequencies. Our conversations with other warriors have led to an invocation of pseudo-higher consciousness.

Reality has always been aglow with starseeds whose dreams are opened by love. We can no longer afford to live with selfishness. The complexity of the present time seems to demand an unfolding of our lives if we are going to survive.

You and I are starseeds of the galaxy.
You may be ruled by yearning without realizing it. Do not let it obliterate the birth of your story. Suffering is born in the gap where beauty has been excluded. Only a seeker of the solar system may leverage this wellspring of interconnectedness.

The grid is approaching a tipping point. The vision of starfire is now happening worldwide. It is a sign of things to come.

Normal service will be resumed for the Easter post