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 among 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.