Tuesday 29 January 2019

The Forgotten Soldier

Sir William Robertson, in repose

Sir William Robertson is a remarkable man of history and yet no one remembers him, a few military historians aside. William was born in 1860, in Lincolnshire, England to good burgher folk of limited means. Or to put it another way, he came ‘beneath the salt’, or another way, he was brought into this world by good hard-working lower middle-class folk. An epithet which would ‘dog’ him the rest of his illustrious career in a society obsessed by Class and social standing.     

At the tender age of 17 (just a shy of his 18th birthday), good William enrolled in the British army as a Private soldier in the 16th Lancers. His mother was not pleased and wrote sweet William a hard letter of admonishment. William was so traumatised by his first night in a British barracks that he contemplated desertion. However, he was thwarted in his precipitate career change after discovering that his civilian clothes had been stolen. Intriguing, isn’t it, that the most mundane of events can have great consequences to a man’s life? 
So why am I writing about a lowly Private in the Victorian Imperial British Army? Well, it transpires that William, or ‘Wully’ as he was known, turned out to be a most phenomenal and singular man and has the distinction of being the only soldier in the British Army to have risen from a humble Private to Field Marshal. It is worth digesting this fact for just a second. In a Victorian society drenched with Class distinction and static notions of status, this is truly an astonishing prospect.     
After 11 years of service as an enlisted soldier, William received an officer’s commission in the Dragoon Guards and served in India until 1896. He was promoted to Captain on the 3rd April 1895. During his time on the sub-continent, he applied himself diligently to learning Urdu, Hindi, Pashto, Punjabi and Persian. Later he would add Gurkhali, French and German to his repertoire of accomplished languages. With his linguistic ability established, Wully supplemented his Officer’s pay as an interpreter.  Wully’s intellect was noted and in later life, he was described as the ‘Cleverest man in the British Army’. On the outside, at least, the British Army of the time was considered anti-intellectual. Being smart was not considered an important quality in an Officer. It was more important that an Officer was brave to the extent of being suicidal and smart in the sartorial sense. Of course, this is nought but soldiery bravado and nonsense. The Victorian British Army did recognise and appreciate intelligence in its soldiers and consequently, Wully received an appointment to the Intelligence Department during the Boer war of 1899 to 1902. In 1910, and in recognition of his intellect, he was appointed Commandant at Staff College. His appointment was not without controversy and one detractor, the Chief of the General Imperial Staff, initially opposed his appointment ‘due to want of breeding’. Nonetheless, and in spite of want of breeding, he was knighted by the King in 1913 and his rise through the ranks continued, a pace. By the time of the Great War in August of 1914 Robertson had achieved the accolade of Quartermaster General of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and subsequently, he was promoted Chief of Staff of the BEF in January 1915.
During the war, Robertson, together with General Haig, was a staunch advocate for concentrating military effort on the Western Front. In essence, he argued that the war could only be won on the stage of the Western theatre and subsidiary military actions, elsewhere, could only detract from the main intent. In contrast, the Prime Minister, Lloyd-George and Churchill, were firm adherents of alternative ‘Eastern pursuits’ culminating in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. In this respect, Robertson was right. Even if the Gallipoli affair had proved successful in knocking Turkey out of the war, this in no way would affect German fighting ability on the Western Front. The harsh reality for the Allies was that the war could only be won on the Western Front and this could only be achieved by defeating the formidable German army in the field. The prospect of winning the war on ‘the cheap’ was superficially attractive, but an illusory dream of armchair Generals. Churchill’s mercurial intellect never got to grips with this stark military reality.
Robertson, with others, played a pivotal role in the resignation of the commander of the BEF, Sir John French, in December 1915 and in the promoting of Sir Douglas Haig as his replacement. In the same month, Robertson became Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Toward the end of the war (February 1918), Robertson resigned his post and received a paltry command in England (1919-1920). In 1919 he became a Baronet and in the following year, a Field Marshal. Strangely enough, Robertson never led a body of troops in action. Unfairly, some of his critics would describe Robertson, as a ‘mere clerk’. 
In manner,  he was considered brusque and maintained a crude barrack room persona. Although aware of his social impediment of being ‘low born’, he made little attempt to acquire a patina of cultured refinement. A quality which strangely endeared him to King George. He was not a subtle man and his direct uncompromising attitude alienated politicians and fellow soldiers alike. His later years were relatively uneventful and he died from a thrombosis on 12th February 1933, aged 73.
In the final analysis, Sir William Robertson’s contribution and legacy have largely been forgotten. Tis a sorry state of affairs, as Wully deserves to be considered a ‘Great Man’ of his time. This is particularly pertinent considering his achievements and especially in view of his background and the prevailing view of a highly restrictive society. And in this regard, his rise through the degrees in rank should be considered as bordering on the miraculous.
Sir William Robertson is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, London                                 

Sir William Robertson, in repose

Thursday 24 January 2019

And Jack makes three

Jack in repose
We have a new addition to our Alpaca family. Last week we received a neutered male, Jack. It was hoped that another neutered male would alter the ‘social dynamic’. Previously, the unneutered male, Ted, would occasionally harass, neutered Rowan. A spat would ensue with much spitting and neck fighting. That said, after 15 minutes of casual violence the two would settle down and continue browsing. It was obvious that the aggression was not a big deal between the two as they would always stay close together throughout the day. But the fighting used to upset Mrs S and so she sourced a neutered Alpaca to leaven out the negative interaction- that was her reasoning, not mine. 
Once Jack was released into the field, the other two Alpacas galloped over to check out the interloper. Ted, forever hopeful, thought perhaps the addition was a ‘lady’ and attempted to mount Jack. As was to be expected, Jack was none too pleased and expressed dissatisfaction with the turn of events by spitting and baying. However, within a short time, harmonious accord descended and the three boys trotted off together toward the south paddock. 
So, my wife’s intuition turned out correct and the Alpacas have formed a peaceful, coherent pack. All three Alpacas had been treated as farm animals, in the past, and not pets. Ted had been used as an active stud as had Rowen until his testicles disappeared in a freak mysterious bollock ablation incident. I’m unsure as to Jack’s provenance. 
Curious by nature, the boys are always interested by what is going on and I receive frequent visitations, especially from Rowen, when I’m working in the barn of enlightenment. We have got to the stage where we can hand feed Ted and Rowen with meadow hay and nuts. Jack’s not there yet but tis a matter of time and effort.
Within the next few weeks, they will need to be shorn. Alpaca wool is much sort after as it is of a particularly fine and silky texture. Thus, I’m hoping the sale of the fleece will cover the costs of the shearing.  
I think our pack will grow no more. Although Alpacas are hardy critters and require little in the way of maintenance there are a few challenges. The other day I spent 90 minutes collecting their shit from the fields. Luckily, they poo in the same spots making life a little easier. Anyone requiring nutritious Alpaca shit should get in touch. They have a rather nutty taste with a refreshing overlay of fruity fresh tones. Anyway, the dogs seem to like them, just ask my vet after he charged $500 for pumping Loki’s stomach.


Friday 18 January 2019

Gypo Progress

March of Shame

They destroy the world simply by walking through it

It appears that the ‘filthy gypos’ laying siege to New Zealand has captured the Kiwi imagination, so much so that I decided to post a brief update on the feral band as they descend down the North Island leaving havoc and consternation in their wake. Refer to my previous post for information.
There is a sign of hope. The government have served a deportation order, however, as one of my astute readers pointed out, the gypos have 28 days of grace in which to appeal. More than enough time to complete their plan of laying waste to great swathes of this beautiful country. 
The Irish Consulate have expressed concern that the ‘travellers’ are assumed to be Irish when in fact they hail from England. Erm, methinks they protest too much. The Irish accent is particularly strong and highly characteristic of Pikey folk. The Consulate also bemoaned the stereotypical labelling and cried racism- so they do know they are Irish tinkers then! If any group deserves to receive stereotypical branding it is these folks. Interestingly, even the national Irish press is referring to the predatory mob as ‘Irish travellers’: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck……..   
The ‘Scourge of God’ left Auckland to continue their merry travels/travails south. On arriving at a Hamilton petrol station they were pounced upon by the diligent plod. One of the party was promptly arrested; a 26-year-old woman was charged with theft. She appeared in the magistrate’s court next day where she was fined the majestic sum of $55.  
Gypo spotting has become a popular sport in NZ and a Facebook page has been set up to chart the progress of these travelling folk as they rollick south. 
Yesterday, the unruly group appeared in Wellington (getting too close for comfort) and tried to convince the manager that they had made a prior booking for ten. This certainly was not the case and anyway, the Motel was fully booked. By their motto, they live: Lie, Cheat and Steal.
The Kiwis seem to have found the measure of the ‘tourists’ and are reacting as any decent folk would; they are treating the interloping wretches with disdain

Tuesday 15 January 2019

My Big Fat Gypsy Holiday

I’m not a fan of Irish tinkers, Didicoys, Pikeys or as I like to call them: ‘filthy, thieving gypo bastards’. I have had the delectable experience of interacting with this delightfully ‘rustic’ and culturally charming group of people, in the past, in the UK. I now reside in New Zealand, a land remarkably free from these loathsome, wretched folk. The average Kiwi is blithely unaware of the unwashed antics of this socially repellent and unrestrained group of savages- until now. For it appears a group of gypos is causing havoc and consternation in the sleepy suburbs of north Auckland. The itinerant gypo tourists first caused alarm on the flight to NZ. According to fellow passengers, the mob demanded larger seats because of their gross obesity, begged for copious amounts of booze and generally intimidated others by their general demeanour and socially nauseating behaviour. Characteristically, this charmless band left soiled baby clothing in the overhead compartment; how delightful.
Soon after the mob turned up on Auckland’s North Shore at the fashionable and picturesque beach of Takapuna. Here they engaged in general mayhem leaving behind a mound of beer bottles and crap. Enraged locals engaged these rascals/rapscallions only to be subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical violence. A video of the incident has gone viral: refer below. The family later ordered food at a nearby Nandos restaurant, before demanding a refund. There are reports of unpaid bills at other food outlets
The local police are aware of the problem and will be confronting the group when they catch up with them. Surely, this shouldn’t take too long, just follow the wake of destruction and pandemonium as they devastate the North Shore. 
 Genteel and respectable North Shore residents are completely unprepared for this sort of social and environmental dislocation. The local plod is normally used to dealing with the odd lost cat and helping befuddled pensioners find their way home and are unequipped to deal with a rampaging mob akin to Genghis Khan and his horde. Inspector Kevin McNaughton, spake thusly concerning the problem: “Police will be speaking with those involved and will be referring them to Auckland Council with regard to their behaviour around the littering of rubbish. Police would like to remind the public that offenders caught illegally dumping rubbish may be issued with a fine of up to $400. We pride ourselves in our clean, green image as a country and thank the members of the public who reported this behaviour on this occasion”. The poor bugger hasn’t got a clue.  Considering the ‘law-abiding’ nature of the average feral gypo, I’m sure they will see the error of their ways, repent and express genuine contrition for their grievous transgressions. Forthwith and with alacrity, this happy band of travellers will stump up the fine and subsequently refrain from any further anti-social activity……….Wank bubble. 
May I respectfully request and submit that the NZ army is assembled to round up this herd of animals and place survivors in gaol until they can be shipped back to whence, they came. There really is no point in trying to reason with these people or expect them to conform to the mores of a civilised society.   

Here endeth the rant        
Watch and weep


Thursday 10 January 2019

Party Time

Since moving to our current property we haven't hosted a 'house warming' party. So I sent the following invitation to erstwhile colleagues..........  

The Flaxen household and Estate would like to extend a cordial invitation to attend:
‘An Archery Experience Extravaganza and BBQ’

Saturday 23rd February
                           Commencement at noonish

Tis touted as the greatest cultural experience since the sack of Rome by ‘Alaric the Visigoth’ in 410AD. This invitation extends to all lab and clinical staff, inclusive of acolytes, concubines and ‘fruits of the loins’ (bastard and legitimate seed deemed acceptable).

Ample overnight accommodation is available as evidenced by three spare bedrooms. Extensive floor space is augmented with expansive outdoor grassed areas; tents are eminently acceptable. Be cognisant: If you declare to dorm ‘el fresco’, you must be willing to accept a nocturnal visitation from Rowen, the Alpaca. Don’t be alarmed! To appease Rowen and avoid being spat upon it is advised that you allow him to share your sleeping bag. Don’t be put off by the smell or his moist exuberance.
The proceedings will commence with a fanfare from the local/vocal solipsistic society (only one member is expected to attend). Thereafter a BBQ will proceed accompanied by a surfeit of burnt meat. Please supply requisite comestibles and copious amounts of alcoholic drink (freeloaders will be shot).
Later in the day, the main attraction will commence. Archery butts will be strategically festooned in the ‘East Field’ (aka the field of perdition). All equipment will be supplied by your gracious hosts to wary participants. A range of bows and sundry accessories will be available after intense but brief interrogation. Ornate and fragrant towels will be provided to soak up the blood.
Subsequently, and after a bout of heavy drinking, members of the Saxon household will exhibit archery prowess whilst atop the ride on mower. To follow, ‘Flaxen the Magnificent’ will attempt to shoot an arrow off a child’s head to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ by Herod ‘The Great’. Take heed and heart, ED is but a thrice away by motor vehicle.  Next, a wild rabbit hunt will emerge presided over by the indomitable, ‘Shagger the Ferret’. The highlight of the festivities will be heralded by a blast of a Jericho horn. Thereafter, young children will be encouraged/forced to paint archery targets on the incumbent Alpacas which roam the property with, hitherto, scant regard and impunity.  Participants will be encouraged to shoot at will. Incendiary and explosive tipped arrows will be available, on request. The first archer to draw blood or bone wins a flagon of Flaxen’s homemade Ale, ‘Ol Bowel Blaster and Drain Cleaner’. Please note: It is inadvisable to imbibe said, Ale, as it is likely to strip the enamel off your teeth and turn your faeces white.
Rowan in repose
The culmination of the evening will involve a torch-lit procession to local properties during which, in drunken appreciation, several conflagrations will ensue

There goes the neighbourhood
Here are a few endorsements penned by intimidated neighbours following previous extravaganzas
Mr Mugumbo (Bide a wee nook): “Flaxen has a tenuous grasp on reality and teeters precariously on the brink that is the abyss of frank insanity”.
Mr and Mrs Van der Pump (The Willows): “Mr Saxon has the unbidden disconcerting proclivity to shout out: ‘ARSE’ at the top of his voice at every inopportune opportunity”.
Mr P Evert (Tipton Prison): “Mrs Saxon is often observed, through my high-powered telescope, totally naked in her bathroom”.
Anon:Mr and Mrs Saxon’s son, Athelstan, demonstrated the concept of nuclear fission by placing my hamster in the microwave”.

 Be there or be somewhere else

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Intelligent Design: Part 2 of a Trilogy in Four Parts

Sorry, this is rather a long post, but I feel very strongly about the subject matter. I have tried to be succinct and digressions have been kept to a minimum. 

Ahhhhh, to hear the term: ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID) is enough to send me into a mouth frothing, eye-popping, rage with a penchant for laying waste to vast swathes of good arable land with copious amounts of DDT and napalm.
The voices in my head state thusly: “But surely Flaxen, ID is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by religious fundamentalists to introduce religious doctrine into the science curricula. There to stand erect and proud, and as equal status as a scientifically respectable alternative to evolutionary theory.  Arse bucket”.
Now, I’m a reasonable man. Some folk would describe me as ‘respectable’ (they don’t really know me) and I’m always ready to listen to rational, internally consistent arguments on an array of topics, various. I will, and have, changed my intellectual stance on a topic if persuaded by logical discourse or evidential data. Normally, ridiculous grandiose religious assertions, doctrine and dogma merely raise a lip-curling sneer of disdain from the flaxen-haired one. So why the extreme reaction to ID? What is it about this particular religious attestation that evokes such ardour/ordure? Surely, ID deserves a mere cursory and dismissive glance?  Read on gentle reader and I’ll explain why I’m moved/motivated to display uncharacteristic emotion, in this instance.
ID would be of no consequence, as a doctrine, if it remained in the rarefied world of religious dogma. However, religion in the West has lost so much intellectual respectability and is viewed as irrelevant to an increasingly secular public that religious fundamentalists are becoming increasingly desperate to force a toehold in the real world of education. And herein lies the problem. Advocates of ID promulgate their ideas as ‘scientific’ to be on par with other scientific discoveries. And let me be frank, this is mainly an issue in the USA. Europe and Australasia are not afflicted with this issue, period.
Over the years, Religious fundamentalists have become more devious and adept at insinuating their irrational views on the American public. To a certain extent, they have been successful. Only 49% of Americans believe in natural selection as an evolutionary process in spite of the overwhelming evidence, from multiple sources, of evolution as a natural force inducing biological change over aeons. I find this statistic shocking for a modern, civilised, Western country. What is particularly disturbing and repellent is that the Vice President of the USA, Mike Pence, is a prime mover for the inclusion of ID in the American State Education System. Let us hope, for the American public’s sake that the present president, elect, Donald Trump is not impeached or dies in office. For the saving grace of the American people, we can take heart in the ‘First Amendment’ which guarantees the separation of the Church and State. In response, the ID advocates have tried to inculcate the notion that intelligent design is ‘Real Science’. But this is a gross misinterpretation of what Science actually is and particularly the scientific method.  I’ve stated this before in my blog, but this so important that it is worthy of reiteration, unto a thousand times, if necessary. So here into the breach, I venture, once again.
Science starts with an empirical observation of a natural phenomenon. A hypothesis is made as a way of explanation of said phenomenon. This is where science exhibits its rational strength. A series of challenges are formulated (experiments) to test the veracity of the original postulation. If the data is not in accord with the hypothesis, the hypothesis undergoes modification or is discarded. Importantly, the hypothesis and subsequent test data are published for independent review. Even if the original researchers are adamant as to their original proposal but independent evidence, from multiple sources, is not forthcoming, then the hypothesis is not worthy of incorporation into the canon of ‘knowledge’.  If the hypothesis is found scientifically worthy it will merit the accolade of a ‘theory’. This is not the end of the scientific process. New and ingenious challenges will emerge to test the theory…. And so, the process continues anew. According to the esteemed philosopher of science, Karl Popper, all good science should be falsifiable. Here is my response to Popper in a previous post.   
Let us now examine the proposal set forth by the proponents of ID. They start off by stating that the world/universe/life is incredibly, mind bogglingly, complex. I have no problem with this assertion. The next bit is crucial: err, God did it. This is not SCIENCE. No hypothesis, no experimentation and no way of peer review and independent affirmation. No mechanism is forthcoming apart from accepting that an invisible, unknowable supernatural entity caused it to happen by means unknown. This is tantamount to magic and should be dismissed accordingly. Perhaps it has a place in religious classes but it has no right of inclusion in biology curricula as a scientific alternative to evolutionary theory. When asked to supply a ‘mechanism’ for ID, its adherents undertake an indirect tack/attack and try to undermine the mechanistic nature of the scientific system as a mean for formulating knowledge. Considering the success (a veritable understatement) of Science with regard to our understanding of the ‘real world’ and the development of technology, ID’s stance is clearly ridiculous. The hypocrisy is there for everyone to see: Proponents of ID try to undermine the scientific method while advocating ID as a form of ‘science’. O da irony! 
Because the ‘ID lobby’ is aggressively pursuing their agenda in an increasingly hysterical manner, this  warrants just cause for rational folk to view ID as a threat to the American Public Education System, especially as ID supporters have allies in high administrative places. Luckily, prominent luminary scientists are well aware of the impending danger and are throwing their substantial influence and intellectual weight into thwarting ID’s nefarious and lubricious tactics.   
I’m optimistic as to the ultimate outcome. Science will triumph again as it always has, eventually, against primitive and soundly illogical concepts. And yea, for this we should be eminently thankful and grateful to the majestic power of Science.       

Friday 4 January 2019

Newton + Leibnitz = Calculus

Who has the best mullet?
The great British philosopher, Bertrand Russell was of the opinion that the German savant, Gottfried Leibnitz was the ‘greatest known intellect to have existed’. This is a bold statement considering Leibnitz was a contemporary of Isaac Newton. And let us not forget that the middle of the 17th century to the beginning of the 18th was a prodigious period for scientific and mathematical invention led by continental and British intellectual giants.   

I will not become enmeshed, nay embroiled, in the debate to whom should be ascribed the accolade, ‘greatest genius’. From a purely scientific perspective, Newton appears to have been the more prolific and made great strides in physics and mathematics. Leibnitz was no slouch in the realm of physics/mathematics either and pontificated greatly on philosophy and is famously known for developing his theory of ‘monads’. In contrast, Newton devoted an inordinate amount of his intellect to esoteric and arcane theology. Refer to my post on Newton which delves into Newton’s profound obsession with ‘mystical studies’.

In this post, I would like to touch briefly upon the controversy which erupted between these savants concerning the primacy of developing the mathematics of calculus. Modern calculus is an extremely powerful tool for determining infinitesimals, integrals and rates of change. The application of calculus, over 350 years, has been influential in the development of many scientific discoveries. Unlike many abstract fields of mathematics, calculus has a plethora of practical applications and has insinuated its way into physics, chemistry, biology, and even economics.   

The consensus of modern scholarship is that Newton developed a form of calculus in 1665/1666 but was loathe to share his findings by publication. Leibnitz, independently formulated and published his version of calculus in 1675. Once Newton became aware of Leibnitz’s discovery, he let it be known that he had indeed made important strides in the development of infinitesimals a decade earlier. There followed a bitter debate and dispute, mostly between adherents of these famous men as to the primacy of the discovery. Both men are accredited with huge prickly egos that hindered any rational discourse. At the time, probably due to Newton’s almost ‘god-like’ reputation, Leibnitz was not ascribed the credit he was undoubtedly due, at least in the British Isles.    

As a digression: Of interest to me, is how great revolutionary ideas can be independently formulated at the same time. A parallel example can be seen with the expression of evolutionary theory in the middle of the 19th century. Both Darwin and Wallace produced evolutionary theories within a short time of each other however, there was no bitter dispute between these measured and modest men. At the time, Wallace was given due credit but subsequent history has been unkind to Wallace’s memory and his contribution has all but been forgotten except by professional biologists. In contrast, although Leibnitz was castigated for plagiarism at the time, modern scholarship has acknowledged his independent contribution. Again, however, this is not a stance well known to the general mug punter. Original ideas are not formulated in an intellectual vacuum. Newton and Leibnitz were basing/basting and extending the work of those who had gone before. The dynamism of this intellectually fecund period cannot be overstated.  

 I think it wrong to consider either man as having ‘discovered’ calculus as such. Tis better to think that both men made highly significant contributions to the field and developed their analysis from earlier mathematicians. Thus, Archimedes was the first to find the tangent to a curve other than a circle, in a method akin to differential calculus. A gaggle of seventeenth-century mathematicians (see: Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Pierre de Fermat, John Wallis, Cavalieri) made genuine advances in the field and laid the foundations for Newton’s and Leibnitz’s synthesis. And of course, Newton and Leibnitz’s contribution was not the endpoint. Both systems were plagued with problems allowing those who followed to refine/redefine differential and integral calculus to higher levels of sublimity. Importantly, Newton and Leibniz did not formulate the same calculus and came by their insights by different analytical roots/routes. Newton’s concepts were essentially empirical (he liked to draw lines, circles and tangents), while Leibnitz relied heavily on deep analytical contemplation. 

Today, the notation we use in modern calculus is derived from Leibnitz. Even though modern calculus has been revised, developed and 'perfected' from its original conception(s) this in no way distracts from the genius and astonishing contribution made by these truly, Great Men.