Friday, 23 October 2020

God for Trump

I was scouring the medium called YouTube the other day, as is my wont, and for sundry reasons that remain unfathomable and mayhap, unaccountable, even unto myself. During my sojourn, I was proffered, unbidden, topics akimbo concerning Angels (the celestial ones), Heaven, and Hell, but not necessarily in that order. More specifically the vids were about folk who claim to have experienced, Angels/Heaven/Hell and were keen to share, nay unyoke their burden, on an agog and unassuming populace. Interestingly, a subset of authors claimed to have spoken with Angels/God/Jesus who collectively prophesied a Trump win in the upcoming US elections - how quaint. The implication, of course, is that the heavenly residents are staunch supporters of Trump and his overarching policy to make America great, again. Has anyone bothered to solicit/elicit the political opinion of God's arch-nemesis, The Devil/Satan?  A quick glance at the comment section showed that the majority of the commentators accepted the video's content as verity itself. Perhaps God, in all his wisdom, is trying to influence the election? Of course, he could just wave a magic wand and not bother with the electoral process at all: memo to God.

God and his minion's concern for worldly, mundane matters is somewhat surprising. I also noticed that the content creators had attracted a large number of views- mostly in the millions. Far be it for the flaxen-haired one to suggest that the whole drive of the enterprise is a crass and unwholesome exercise to garner much gelt from the advertisers. Tis a pretty penny when you attract 3 million views. But then I've always been a cynical and suspicious old scrote. Nuff said.      

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Viruses: Dead or Alive?

Viruses challenge our concept of what qualifies as life. Biologists consider living organisms, as opposed to inanimate objects, as having a defined set of attributes. I'll not list them here, my readers will know what they are. Since their discovery in the late 19th century, viruses have presented biologists with a dilemma that continues to vex to this day: do they constitute life or something else? The consensus has changed several times in the intervening years. Today, many virologists think viruses more akin to chemistry than biology. That said, not all virologists agree with the 'non-life' conclusion.

Viruses evolved from existing life. At some time in early (very early) evolutionary history, a piece RNA/DNA escaped a cell, acquired a protein coat, and the parasitic virus become into being. The sticking point for most biologists is that the only real attribute of 'life' that viruses seem to have is the ability to reproduce and that can only be achieved inside a cell from a living creature. Whether that cell is singular, as is the case of an amoeba, or whether from a complex multicellular entity that is humans, you can bet that there is a multitude of viruses that have evolved to exploit those cells. Viruses' have proved very successful and of course, have shaped the development of human evolution and society not only due to their importance as harbingers of disease but also by altering our genetic material. What is not well known by lay folk, is that a class of viruses called retroviruses (cool name for a punk band) link into host DNA. When they leave they often sneak off with a portion of the cell's DNA. The converse is also true and pieces of foreign DNA are often left behind. Thus it is easy to see how viruses can play a role in the evolution of organisms. Quite an achievement for something that is non-living.  Not all viruses are parasitic in the sense they cause disease. For every one virus that causes harm, there are ten that are benign. They sit in their host cell quietly hijacking the cell's resources and reproducing undetected. 

The argument for and against viruses being alive can get a bit technical and border on the philosophical. A piece of DNA without any metabolic apparatus would not be considered as a living entity and viruses are no more than chunks of DNA. Another argument revolves around the lack of metabolic machinery that seems to be a ubiquitous feature of living organisms. Undoubtedly, viruses were derived from living organisms in the deep dank evolutionary past, albeit extremely primitive single-celled proto-prokaryotes. Is it possible for non-life to spring from life? We are now entering the territory of philosophical thought that transcends the realms of science and instead of adding clarity further muddies the intellectual waters. That's bloody philosophy for you. The paradigm of 'non-life' has been challenged in the main due to the discovery in 2003 of a class of viruses which we will call 'Giant Viruses' for the sake of simplicity. These viruses often infect amoebae and as the name suggests they are on the big size and unlike other viruses, can be seen with the light microscope. Their genomes and hence gene content are concomitantly large hinting at something more than mere chemistry. Moreover, some of the genes contained are autonomous from the host for transcription and DNA translation suggesting an entity verging on the threshold of life, perhaps. 

My Concluding Remarks

So, what are my views on this fascinating topic? I  confess I've changed my mind on this question on more than a few occasions, thus denoting the complexity of the matter. My thoughts these days have become more nuanced. As scientists, we like to classify 'things' and concepts into discrete packages. We seek order and express disquiet when we cannot place our thoughts, hypothesises, and theories within tight, neat, and orderly mental boxes. The physical sciences, chemistry, and physics, lend themselves to this approach rather well. The life sciences are not so disposed and often defy particulate classification, but that doesn't stop biologists from trying. I am not trying to imply that taxonomic and other life systems are arbitrarily derived, for this would be the musings of a madman. What I would like to convey is a continuum where adjacent margins become blurry and indistinguishable. Consider the dawn of 'proto-life' when chemical replicators, in a warm soupy pond, competed for resources. This world would be more representative of chemistry than life. Eventually, however, after millions of years of selection, a true biological organism would come forth. But could we define exactly when the transition from chemistry to true life actually occurred? Not at all. The boundary would be indistinct and only has meaning at the philosophical level, or in over words, no meaning at all. I would argue that viruses are so configured. The physically large, genetically complex viruses are endowed with more genes than the simplest bacteria. Could it be that these mega-viruses have crossed the fuzzy boundary unto the domain of life? A distinction, mayhap, denied to their more simple brethren (viral particles). Tis all a bit messy and unpleasant to contemplate to an orderly scientific mind. Anyway, enough pontificating for now. What do my readers think?   


Sunday, 11 October 2020

Life Detected on the Planet Tipton

 A concerned reader writes:

Dearest Flaxen,

I write to express my strident, trenchant, and irrepressible viewpoint. It has not gone unnoticed that your posts of late have become unrepentantly sensible. No longer do we hear the forthright adventures of 'Shagger the Wonder Ferret'; the rollicking peregrinations and antics of George Formby and his grilling ukelele (the lard just rolls away). There is nary a reference to Tipton, errant Japanese snipers, filthy thieving gypo bastards, or Arthur Askey's shenanigans prior to and after losing his legs and cock in a sequential series of increasingly contrived and barely credible accidents. No mention of the hackneyed Prof/Dr/Mr. Mugumbo or of lugless Douglas- he of bereft/sans pinna fame. No incendiary inspired tales of woe or increasing bizarre ruminations of a man teetering precariously on the edge of the abyss that is insanity/inanity. Has your medication finally put paid to the cascade of aberrant thought processes that once flowed unceasingly from your mental vault of derangement?

Dear Concerned Reader,

Thank you for your concern. I confess I detect a degree of weariness in your tone. But despair no more! Due to a pharmacological oversight, I haven't received the correct drug dosage that damps down my more lurid and florid thoughts for quite a while. Therefore, my aberrant synaptic electrical impulses have become unleashed and are no longer burdened or labour under the rein/reign of the brain's executive control. Whoop, whoop.




Breaking news from our science correspondent concerning news of our closet neighbour in the cosdross, Tipton. For today it can be revealed that convincing and intangible evidence has been unearthed that life apparent may exist on Tipton after all. Tipton, of all the boroughs, was considered the least likely to support life due to its complete and utter feculence. Even Netherton, North West, was considered a more likely candidate due to its abundance of Alehouses.

From his observatory, somewhere in Dudley castle, Professor Ipod Mugumbo, opines thusly: “Whilst looking through a lens darkly, I espied Mrs Winifred Plumpbutton, naked through her bedroom window. Afterward, once satiated, I trained my optical organ to the neighbouring borough of Tipton. I put the olfactory sensors on to maximum and was promptly rewarded with the distinct ordure of faggots and mushy peas with a hint of brown ale. Could it be that I had detected the unmistakable scent signature of primitive life? It has long been speculated, by folk with a tenuous grasp on insanity, that Tipton could be the repository for life. Not complex life, or life as we know it but a vile and low form of existence. However, the exhortations have been cast adrift by others who fart loudly in supermarket aisles adjacent to the exotic lard counter."

This startlingly stark observation has nonplussed the scientific community as far away as Merry Hill. A renowned Dudley chemist, Dr. Deepfat Fryer, had this to say: “We must first rule out more mundane and arcane possibilities. For the universe and the West Midland environ is a fickle mistress, full of perfidy and icky poo.”

The next stage in this well-versed farce/arse is to send a probe unto the Tipton miasma to captivate a representative of this putative life form. The probe, code-named, the number 127 bus from Birmingham to Dudley is hoping to arrive next Sunday at approximately 3.30pm depending on the vagaries of the weather, traffic, and last-minute time table alterations. The bus will be driven by Cap'n Jean-Luc Pickarse. He will boldly go into the void where no baldy bastard has gone before. This intrepid escapade is dependant upon the munificence from the prominent Dudley entrepreneur and dedicated wanker, Mr. Earlobe Musky-Bollox. He has promised to invest the full fare from Birmingham to Dudley at the proscribed tariff.

                        Pickarse (Arse) has let himself go a bit

Additional motive force will be provided by the ejection from the rear of the vehicle of several hundred Japanese snipers at frequent and allotted intervals when cresting a hill. Thus thrust will be supplied according to Newton's 4th Law of Motion: Slopes roll down a slope. Dudley, at this time of year, has a glut and surfeit of diminutive, shortsighted, and rhotacism prone adherents to the God/Emporer, Hirohito.

The probe will enter the inhospitable Tipton area after a detour through Smethwick West. Onboard will be the state of the art detection and capture apparatus: some bloke with a net and pointed stick. Prior to entering Tipton, a predictable gaggle of ferrets will be released to reconnoiter the dodgy neighbourhood. The band of ferrets will be led by the inevitable, Shagger, the Wonder Ferret. It will be recalled that Shagger was the first ferret to be placed down Arthur Askey’s (I spank you) voluminous undergarments with hilarious results- I digress.

Dudley, we have a problem

The voyage is not without its incipient dangers. The bus could get lost in the vast reaches of the West Midland environs and end up bereft of purpose somewhere in a canal. Furthermore, a virulent form of life, called the ‘gypo strain’ could inadvertently catch the bus back and be unleashed on an unsuspecting Dudley populous. Imagine hordes of gypos demanding money for lucky heather and wooden pegs. On the upside, everyone has a lucky face.

Renowned Dudley artist (arse) and invert, has produced an impression of what the alien life form could look like. The xenomorph, ‘Stinky Eric’ or aka, the itinerant inebriate, has been rendered in crayon. If captured, Stinky Eric will undergo extreme cauterisation with chlorox and DDT. Afterward, Eric will receive an extensive and prolonged anal probing. This will no doubt celebrate the numerous occasions when Flaxen was callously and extensively anally probed by aliens with uncut fingernails.

                                                   The Xenomorph in his element/milieu

Afterward, the organism aka 'Stinky Eric', will be returned to his natural environment, aka the Tipton Wet Hostel. 

The probe after rear entry

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

The Widow Maker

Excuse the quality of the rendition

O, great joy, for yesterday I was the recipient of an English longbow. This bow is not a strict rendition of the medieval bow but lends its design to the Victorian interpretation.

In the 19th century, there was a strong revival of archery in England, an art that had remained dormant, nay moribund, and almost forgotten after centuries of neglect. Typically the bows were made from a variety of woods to form a laminate. A handle wrap of leather was included together with an arrow pass of mother of pearl inset into the handle. Those of an ostentatious bent replaced the pearl with a sliver of silver. Other than these additions, the bow resembled the medieval bow except that draw weights were modest and in the order of 20lb to 50lbs at a standard draw length of 28 inches.

The resurgent/resplendent sport was very popular amongst the noble and monied classes. The great ladies of the time, in between bouts of the vapours and hysterical interludes, would take up the stave (it did resemble a broom) and release shafts of ash with vigour that belied their gentile status. How they managed to partake when encumbered with bustles and wide flouncy bonnets is a mystery of epic proportions.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

A Plea from the Fart

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Life on Venus?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

I'm Not Dead, Just Rusting

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

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

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