Wednesday 26 September 2018


Thales: Note the noble brow
Oddly enough, the birth of philosophy can be accurately dated to 585 BC. Twas in this year that the Greek philosopher, Thales, predicted an eclipse using mathematics and astronomy. No mean feat for the 6th century BC. 
What had been happening in the world and particularly Greece, prior to this event? Surely Thales did not emerge from an intellectual void. Sadly, much has been lost to time and conjecture is our only comfort. Other civilisations existed, many with an ancient pedigree, however, their speculations never veered beyond explanations ascribed to gods. Although the Egyptians had developed ‘rule of thumb’ geometric techniques for their monumental building projects they never seemed to be able to shift from the practical to the abstract. Thus, we turn to the Ancient Greeks for the development of abstract concepts and true mathematics. And indeed, the well-travelled Thales is considered to have brought geometry to the Greeks by way of Egypt.  
Thales hailed from Miletus in Asia Minor and therefore was part of the Hellenic diaspora.  All philosophy is said to have begun with this man. If his antecedents thought in the abstract as he did, we will never know as history has left us no record. I’m inclined to think that Thales was an innovator in thought because his faltering beginnings seem to us moderns as banal and rather silly. I’ll need to qualify this remark later in this post.  
It can seem rather worrying to the new student of philosophy that the founder of Greek philosophy and hence Western thought, considered that all was composed of water.  Actually, as a hypothesis, this is a reasonable start.  There is nothing wrong in stating a ridiculous hypothesis, especially if we don’t recognise it as such; from a thousand ideas, only one is destined to be great. 
We are apt to forget that we are the product of 2,500 years of intellectual endeavour, admittedly subject to fits and starts which attend all progress. If we are diligent in our studies and not thick, there is the potential, if we so desire, to progress in intellectual thought and drench thoroughly in the wisdom of those great men who preceded us. The shortcut to true knowledge is the legacy of our ancestors, if only if we can be bothered to take heed. Inquisitive Thales had no store of great knowledge or wisdom to guide his intellect. His originality was to seek non-miraculous causal mechanisms to describe nature. Ultimately this was Thales’s insight and fundamental genius. His predecessors and contemporaries could not make this intellectual leap and divorce themselves from explanations based on supernatural agencies. 
Let us track back to Thales’s original notion that ‘all is water’ and examine it for intrinsic merit. This is not to be judged by modern epistemological standards. Instead, to be fair, we must erase our current knowledge base and knowledge accretion and imagine that we are at the dawn of rational enquiry. Thales observed that life is dependant upon water and Aristotle thought that Thales came up with this revolutionary idea ‘from seeing that the nutrient of all things is moist’. We have no clue as to why he thought this way. What’s important, I think, is that Thales’s idea was not arbitrary and required effort and contemplation. His attempt to understand and unify the complex with a simple construct is sound. However, parsimony in thought is not necessarily the root of all wisdom and clearly, in this regard, Thales was completely and irrevocably wrong. However, for a first attempt to rationalise the natural world, it was a bold and imaginative effort.
Are you convinced of Thales’s wisdom? Of course not. It is virtually impossible to free our minds of the ‘modern scientific paradigm’ unless you are a fundamentalist Christian from the Deep South of the US or a Catholic theologian. 
Finally, I will finish with an anecdote ascribed to Thales. Whether it is true or not, I have no idea. It is said that Thales attended a dinner party. After a while, and probably after imbibing much wine, Thales decided to wander into the garden to stargaze whereupon he promptly fell into a ditch. An elderly woman present was heard to comment: “how could someone who cannot see what is under his own feet presume to understand and see the heavens’’.  Quite so.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Ted and Rowan

Dead Cute
Brief and very boring post……. 
Last Saturday on a glorious Wairarapa afternoon, our ‘neighbours’ dropped off our new livestock, Ted and Rowan, the Alpacas. They were led by halter to the ‘South Field’ where they quickly settled in but not before a little mock fighting. Within 15 minutes they had sorted out any dominance issues and began to graze on our lush pasture. Alpacas are hardy creatures and low maintenance. They require no specialised shelter and by preference are happy to brave the elements. Our only concern is the Wairarapa Summer which is notoriously hot and dry. Temperatures in the high 30s are not uncommon. Luckily, we have an extensive tree line of tall Aussie Gum trees to provide shelter from the heat of the day. Also, we shall have them sheared of their fine fleece. Apparently, Alpaca wool is of high quality and much sort after. So far, our new additions appear content to stay in their allotted field although the top end is not fenced off from the rest of the property. I suspect they will prefer their pasture due to the thick grass cover. All other grassy areas are kept short and manageable. If they do decide to go ‘walkabout’ they will not be able to vacate the property because of an unbroken perimeter fence. However, we are not sure whether the little buggers will take a culinary fancy to our extensive and well-groomed flower beds. More importantly, I’m a little worried that they might graze our veggie gardens. If it becomes a problem I’ll have to get off my lazy arse and secure the field at the Eastern end.
So, there we have it. Livestock at last with the option to add another Alpaca. I suspect we will take on the third critter as they appear easy to maintain. Next on the list is a brace of chucks. Just need to clear out the hen house prior to introducing chickens. I reckon four will keep the two of us awash in eggs for a lifetime. The intention is to become self-sufficient in vegetables, fruit and salad with the odd rabbit or two to fulfil our craving for free meat. Well, that’s the plan unless I completely screw it all up- let’s wait and see.    

Saturday 15 September 2018

The End is Nigh.....Again

Dis ain't da one
Yea, and so it came to pass……

"Speak unto the, children of Israel that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke". (Numbers 19:2)

 Apparently, a Jewish sect has been awaiting the birth of a ritually pure ‘Red Heifer’. The appearance of said heifer heralds the reinstating of Biblical purity to the world (no shit). If that wasn’t enough, the event will initiate the building of the Third Temple inaugurating the end of the world (bugger, I’ve just retired!). The Messiah will also turn up and unrepentant sinners will be judged. Now some may say that the Messiah turned up some 2,000 years ago, but the Jews have never recognised Jesus Christ as such. Regardless, if the prophesy holds truth then the likes of me and ilk are in for a bad time. Now I’m not saying I’m unredeemable, it is just that I’ve never lived an exemplary existence and on occasion have been a bit naughty. Hopefully, this ‘Red Heifer’ will turn into a ‘Red Herring’ and not live up to the rigid criteria demanded. Previous candidates have not fulfilled their initial promise as the presence of only two black hairs results in disqualification. Only after a stringent physical examination will the pronouncement be announced on the current heifer. I’m holding my breath that the ‘miraculous beast’ will have too many of the non-red variety of hairs.

Now here is the rub. It seems as if the Jewish brethren have been giving nature and prophecy
a bit of a nudge. For several years past the sect have utilised embryos transferred from Red Angus cattle into the native Israeli cattle. What can I say? Orthodox religious Jews embracing science to force a doomsday prophecy- O, the irony!    



Thursday 13 September 2018

Japanese Sniper Convention

This is for my Uncle Charlie. May he rest in pieces

Welcome to the 75th annual West Midland Japanese Sniper Convention. This year’s prestigious event is held in the beautiful picturesque town of ‘Tipton on Detritus’. Tipton, the ‘Beirut of the North’, moistly suppurates in the vale of the ‘Birmingham to Dudley’ Canal’. How appropriate then that this illustrious event should transpire in the town which remained a hub of Japanese sniper activity throughout the Second World War 

Opening Address 11.30pm – 12.30pm
The proceedings will be kicked off by an inaugural address by Emperor Hirohito’s grandson, Kendo Nagasaki. Kendo will reflect upon his grandfather’s love of ukiyo-e art and pride of being a war criminal. This will be followed by a light-hearted whimsical re-enactment, in mime, of the ‘Rape of Nanking – Special Bayonet Edition’. 
Lunch 12.30pm - 1.30pm In the Bushido Lounge
Following lunch, sponsored by Mr Khan of Mr Khan’s, botulism free burgers, the conference will veer courageously into developing practical skills. The following inventory will be scrupulously followed:
Day 1.
1.30pm – 2.30pm  The correct technique for be-heading captured Allied soldiers
3.30pm – 4.00pm  Why were Japanese tanks totally shite?
4.00pm – 4.30pm  Tea break Sticky pastries and assorted lard fancies supplied by Tipton’s premier lard rendering and glue factory
4.30pm – 5.00pm  How to overcome extreme myopia in the Japanese sniper
5.00pm – 5.30pm  How to hone your bayoneting skills prior to bayoneting Chinese babies.

Day 2.
9.00am – 12.00pm 
Sgt First Class Udon Noodle and Lt Shinto Karate will perform a practical demonstration of the sniper’s art from the rooftop of the Tipton Convention Centre. The populous of Tipton will be the lucky recipients for the sniper’s ministrations. Casualties are expected to be light due to extremely poor marksmanship/eyesight. The newly formed, ‘Kamikaze Japanese Suicide Squad’ will then perform a demonstration of their skills by leaping off the 12-story building. 

Lunch 12.00pm – 1.00pm In the Katana Lounge
Delegates will partake in the local delicacy, ‘Faggots and Peas’. The faggots will be provided courtesy of Mr Khan’s rat rescue and resort for Tipton’s large displaced rodent community. 
1.00pm – 2.00pm ‘Beheading Extravaganza’  Continuing with the practical demonstration theme, two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda will compete to see who can kill (with a sword) one hundred people first. 
The bold headline reads, "'Incredible Record' (in the Contest to Decapitate 100 People)—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings"

2.00pm – 3.00pm  The Death March in Historical Perspective- did it really happen?
3.00pm – 4.00pm  How to Escape from War Crime Prosecution. Emperor Hirohito as an Exemplar
4.00pm – 5.00pm  The Esoteric Art of Bamboo Shoot Torture

Conference Dinner 7.00pm  To be held in the Shogun Suite
 Entertainment provided by the ‘Rhotacism Dancers’. They perform the ever popular: We velly velly solly fol wal climes- not lealy. 
Fugi fish to be supplied by Mr Khan’s ‘fish el a canal’ suppository range. Subsequent survivors will be treated to a low yield nuclear device el a Nagasaki. Nuff said.

Saturday 8 September 2018

I was a Gaucho on the Pampas

Life is replete with opportunities, mostly long past. I remember the time I could have dated one of two pretty girls, but I prevaricated and lost both (truly I was Buridan's Ass. arse). If I had my time over again I would have gone out with both and developed impeccable time keeping and stamina. What has this story got to do with today’s post? Absolutely nothing at all, I happen to be in a wistful mood.
Last weekend we had a visit from an ex-colleague. The trip from where we used to live to our new place is about 2 hours so it is not unusual to have visitations from old friends and colleagues. Dr Mugumbo (for it is she) mentioned that an old neighbour of hers was ensconced but not 6 leagues away and owned a small holding containing a coterie of farm animals. Nothing particularly remarkable in that, you say. After all Flaxen you are a resident of rural New Zealand and no doubt a shining pillock of the community. It transpires that said neighbour has a neutered male Alpaca on the property which is surplus to requirements and is available free to a good new home. Would I be interested in taking on said Alpaca? My forehead creased in thoughtful appraisal. A rivulet of sweat emerged upon my well-formed brow and meandered with senseless abandon across a forehead lined with age, humour and wisdom. Before you ask, I was performing a head stand at the time.
To be honest, I know very little about these animals apart from the fact that they are originally from South America and that they are related to Camels. In thoughtful repose I entered my well-appointed study and searched for the relevant tome on my bookshelf. And there it was in resplendent glory: ‘All you need to know about Alpacas but were too Drunk to Comprehend’. Instead after much fruitless contemplation I decided to Gogle the subject instead. Here is the profit of my labour, in no particular order:
1.  Alpacas spit when pissed off, just like their cousins, Llamas. Generally, this is reserved for their own kind, just keep out the line of fire.

2. They tend to poo in the same place, thus making a huge steaming shit mound.

3.  Alpacas were domesticated by the Incas more than 6,000 years ago and raised for their exquisite fleece. Due to its quality, alpaca fibre was reserved exclusively for the elite and nobility.

4. Alpacas were not reared for their carrying abilities, unlike Llamas, due to their gracile habitus, but prized for their fine exquisite fleece. 

5. They were introduced into Tipton in 1900 during the great pig pud and ferret wobbling depression. No shit, Flaxen.

6. These critters are tough and can survive in extreme habitats.

7. They eat grass and shrubberies, dats it.

8. Did I mention that they are tough? Anyway, they require little shelter regardless of ambient conditions.

9. They are dead cute.

10. They get fleeced once a year. Everyone else gets fleeced by the gov’nent all the time…    

We decided to visit the Alpaca on a cold, windy, wet Spring day. Ted seemed curious when we approached his paddock although he maintained a wary and respectful distance. I was struck by his air of melancholy undoubtedly due to his solitude. Alpacas require company with their own kind and therefore I would need to look for another Alpaca to keep him content. Luckily, a neighbour has a neutered female which she would also give up for the esteemed fee of nowt, including delivery. Why should I be festooned by such beneficence?  Perhaps fate, in all its majesty, has determined my future? And my future looks very Alpacy (not a real word). 

Ted and friend are to be delivered next Wednesday. Both animals are on a 2-week approval. Seems like a plan. If it all goes tits up I can harvest the buggers for their meat. Only kidding, I’m an animal lover at heart, except dem pesky rabbits. Wat’s up Doc? 


Wednesday 5 September 2018

The Madness of Crowds

So here it is at last. After a creative hiatus I’ve managed to find the inspiration and energy to write. Periodic enervation is a curse upon my soul and a sad interlude of dejection which denudes hope. 
In my previous post I alluded to a sequel where I would advance a few mustered thoughts concerning the underlining psychology and motivation, at least according to the musings of my fevered and disjointed neural connections, as to why certain people are drawn to conspiracies and pseudoscience.
Previously I introduced the concept of why people believe in a flat Earth in spite of the evidence. I suggested that this was not a simple question but I didn’t go into detail with regard to my reasoning. The flat Earth delusion is an extreme example. Other delusions appear more popular, such as deniers of the moon landings and antivaccer advocates. Again, the evidence in favour of man going to the moon and vaccinations not causing autism is overwhelming. So why do people refuse to accept good empirical evidence and continue to believe in madness? And then there is the attraction of pseudoscientific theories and practices such as alternative medicine and astrology- why? Answers to any complex human motivation is going to involve intricate and multi-layered explanations.
There are undoubtedly uneducated folk out there without the mental wherewithall to process information in a critical coherent manner and thus are prone to whims and disinformation (aka fuck wits). That said, there is a reasonable core of folk who appear remarkably lucid, in spite of their weird beliefs, at least on the superficial level. And reading through the various ‘alternative forums’ I certainly gained an impression that a substantial number of contributors were able to engage in logical thought processes.
I’m going to backtrack somewhat (a digression perhaps?). Even the most critical of us have to invoke an element of intellectual ‘trust’. We cannot fully apply our critical facility and spend time independently reviewing available evidence to all novel propositions. As we are not immortal we indulge in an intellectual short cut which for want of a better phrase I’ll call epistemological trust. However, the prudent seeker of knowledge does not indulge his/her trust in everyone or everything. If I want to examine the world of plumbing I would approach an experienced plumber and if I want to learn about Cosmology I would solicit a Professor of Cosmology. What I would not do is take heed of the pontifications of a Hollywood celebrity concerning the dangers of vaccination. To do so would represent the height of intellectual folly. We need to exercise wisdom in choosing our spokesperson. Furthermore, it is important to integrate our newfound knowledge into our existing background of knowledge. Is our new knowledge consistent with what we already know? If not, a critical review of our knowledge base and/or our newfound knowledge is warranted. Sounds sensible doesn’t? I’ve outlined a process that many sensible folk use, often without conscious effort, in their everyday education. I’m using this rather lengthy introduction to support the thrust of my thesis of why rational people believe irrational concepts. 
There are people drawn to alternative propositions and pseudoscience due to a lack of trust in authority and mainstream science. While I think a degree of mistrust is healthy when we consider Government proclamations and intentions, mainstream respectable science should not be approached in this way (I would say that, wouldn’t I?). And why would I say such a thing? Science is a process, a process with checks and balances. If something cannot be independently repeated then it is not worthy of inclusion into the canon of scientific knowledge. This an important distinction to be considered when we contrast science and non-scientific topics such as politics. Scientists can lie but unlike politicians they are always found out, eventually. Healthy scepticism is good in all realms of our endeavour but excessive or total scepticism leads to paranoia and unhappiness. 
Pseudoscience wallows in the hypotheses of true science however, unlike science the hypotheses are not subject to scientific rigour. Thus, pseudoscientists gather data, often ‘cherry picked’ to fulfil their expected notion, but they do not apply the scientific methodology to test their hypotheses- if they did they would be found wanting. In a way it is similar to theology where the answer is already ‘known’ and data is only considered if it fits preconceived dogma. Pseudoscientists are then happy to pass on their findings to a population already primed by their psychological makeup to accept non-mainstream ideas. The so-called facts put forth can seem convincing to someone not formally versed in the scientific process. They are happy to bask in intellectual dissonance and steep themselves in indulgent crapulence with total unmitigated aplomb (steady Flaxen).  
And then there is the internet. We live in unprecedented times when it comes to information. We can access multiple, nay thousands, of interpretations of phenomena, just take your pick. However, information is not of equal quality and this is where we need to engage our critical faculty. This is clearly beyond some folk and some appear to be happy to be led by the nose without too much contemplation or appreciation. Science works and provides answers but often those answers are counter-intuitive or down right repellent. But fear not, because ‘out there’ there will be a crack pot theory that is bound to fit in with all your heart felt convictions.  
I’m going to finish here, not because I’ve exhausted the topic. Indeed, I could witter on in this refrain for another 10,000 words. I’m finishing because people don’t want to read a thesis on a blog, and rightly so, and I’m aware that if I continue too long I’ll lose the few readers I already have. Perhaps a mini-series is in order. Let’s see. 
Too many projects, not enough inclination to finish them.