Tuesday 30 April 2019

BEER- Update

The tankard, in repose

As my regular readers will recall I undertook a unique brewing experience with my son. We brewed and bottled about 40 litres of a New Zealand IPA. I have patiently waited with a certain amount of trepidation as to the outcome. The beer, as instructed, was left in the garage to undergo secondary fermentation. Last Saturday marked three weeks after the bottling process and thus the beer was ready for consumption. 

The beer was placed in the fridge to cool. It is a common misconception that the English enjoy warm beer; this is not the case. After the cooling process, I carefully decanted a litre bottle of the beer into a jug. The frothy head and the heady aroma was reassuring. The beer was then poured into two awaiting bronze flagons embossed mightily with the family motto: 'Strength through pain'. With rising excitement, I placed the larger flagon to my lips and quaffed deep into the amber brew. My son watched on with quivering countenance. His bright blue eyes showed emotions unknown to man and he shook in sweet anticipation.

As the patriarchal head of the family (this is tautology) I reserved and exploited the privilege to take precedence in sampling the roiling brew. The cooling beer hit my tongue with force and unleashed a thousand furies each eliciting deep stabbing tones. Twas as if Shagger, the ferret, had partaken of a quart of sweet ambrosia and Angel tears and had then proceeded to lick my tongue. The Ale bespoke of bitter tannins and was surprisingly unbalanced morphing from tart to sweet as it meandered across the fissures of my trembling tongue. Delicate notes of citrus buttressed with soft elegant tendrils of aged pickled onions made their presence known. The beer was exquisite and I almost became overwhelmed in the presence and embrace of this seductive concoction. My son watched on barely able to contain his heaving and expectant breast. I gave the nod of access/assent and my son raised the brass vessel to his lips and drank heartedly. The gurgling sound seemed to last an eternity, but eventually, he placed the tankard down and gave forth an impressive and productive belch. The smile on his face matched mine. Nothing more was said as I filled our cups anew with the elixir of the gods.

The time passed, as if in a thrice, as we drank with accelerated gusto throughout the night. Nuff said.            

Saturday 27 April 2019

Antibiotic Resistance of Doom

How many microbes can be fitted on a ferret's nostril?
The ‘Golden Age’ of antibiotic use has passed. Alas, the ‘sweet spot’ lasted but 30 years before the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria began to manifest. Antibiotic resistance is a wonderful example of evolution in action. Bacteria have the ability to multiply rapidly and a single cell can become a billion within a relatively short period. A mutation in a single cell that confers immunity to an antibiotic is all that is required to render the antibiotic ineffective. The myriad of non-resistant bacteria will succumb but the single resistant bacterium will thrive and prosper producing billions of antibiotic resistant offspring. And this process can occur sequentially. Thus, bacteria can become immune to a succession of antibiotic drugs resulting in ‘superbugs’. Imprudent dispensing of antibiotics and the addition of antibiotics to animal feed has exacerbated the problem enabling disease causing bacterial species to become multi-resistant within a relatively short period.

The discovery of penicillin in the 1920s was hailed as a wonder drug, and indeed, antibiotics have saved millions of lives. Prior to 1928, there was little in the way of effective treatment for bacterial infections and a patient’s survival was mainly dependant on how their immune system responded to a microbial insult. Often a person’s immune system was overwhelmed by an infection considered trivial by today’s standards. Between 1935 and 1960 20 new classes of antibiotics were introduced however, in the past 60 years only 6 new antibiotic drugs have been added to the therapeutic repertoire. Our ingenuity in producing new drugs has been exhausted, at least for now. Unfortunately, bacteria are capable of evolving faster than our ability to produce new effective drugs; we are truly entering a post-antibiotic era.  

A world without effective antibiotics is going to be a scary place, or is it? Although the scenario appears grim there are viable alternatives. The vaccination of populations against bacterial disease is one possible prophylactic option. As is the case with viral vaccination, an attenuated non-viable form of the pathogenic microbe is given. The patient then develops antibodies which will effectively deal with the bacterial disease if encountered thereafter. Sounds like a plan but there are limitations with this approach. Some bacterial diseases cannot be cultured in the laboratory setting, a necessary precursor to vaccine development. Other species exhibit antigenic variability making an all-encompassing vaccine bothersome or impossible. Another problem concerns the action of the immune system in dealing with bacterial infections. Invariably there is a delay in action allowing initial bacterial growth with the concomitant production of toxins. These toxins may result in organ damage even after the disease organism is contained.

Another approach utilises a specific type of virus called, bacteriophages. Bacteriophages prey on bacteria and have several attractive advantages as an anti-bacterial therapy. Bacteriophages are highly species-specific and therefore other bacterial species are spared including the ‘good’ bacteria normally present in the human body. Conventional antibiotics are not so selective and cause a bacterial wasteland in the body resulting in negative consequences not related to the invading pathogen. Unlike some antibiotics, phage therapy is non-toxic and does not cause the development of life-threatening allergies. A downside to this form of therapy is that bacterial species have evolved mechanisms to mitigate phage infection by the development of an immune system of their own. Interestingly, one of the defence systems (CRSIPR) is being developed by geneticists in the controversial area of genetic engineering. I have posted on this very topic recently. You may want to read about this exciting and potentially troublesome technology, here. One way around the problem may be in the use of bacteriophage derived enzymes rather than the use of the viral particle itself. 

Lunar Lander

There are a number of plant extracts with known antimicrobial properties. They are particularly effective when applied directly to a wound; consider the use of honey in preventing bacterial growth. Currently, the antibacterial properties of essential oils are utilised in a diverse range of commercial products including pesticides, food preservatives, and cosmetics. A mixture of thymol/cinnamaldehyde exerts anti-bacterial properties against disease causing bacteria such as E.coli but spares beneficial bacteria present in the gut of the host animal.

Although our current crop of agents will eventually become ineffective this should not prevent research into the elucidation of novel antibiotic compounds. Reverse genetic engineering of bacterial genomes may help in the identification of vulnerable and essential metabolic pathways to be exploited by designing antagonistic molecules. To be fair, antibiotics are a tough act to follow and it unlikely there will be a single agent or strategy to fully replace antibiotic therapy. A multi-disciplinary approach will be essential, utilising prophylaxis, asepsis, disinfection and the judicious application of biological and manufactured agencies. Or failing this……….. don’t become infected. This brings me swiftly to my own story. Recently, Mrs Saxon received a spider’s bite while attending to the roses. Within a couple of days, my wife developed a life-threatening infection and sepsis necessitating a week in hospital on an antibiotic drip. Initially, the antibiotics used were ineffective and eventually a cocktail of drugs had to be employed to keep the staph infection at bay. Once released from the hospital, a further month of mega antibiotic therapy was required. The infection caused an ulcer requiring surgery to remove skin and bone with subsequent immobilisation of the limb in a cast. All this mayhem caused by an organism a million times smaller than a ferret’s nostril. 
"Both the great and the humble are laid low by fever's cold caress" 
Mrs Saxon on the mend

Sunday 14 April 2019


What a silly Isy
I suspect that not many of my readers in the northern hemisphere are aware of Israel Folau. Down here in the Antipodes, Israel, is somewhat a celeb especially in Australia. Mr Folau plays rugby for the ‘NSW Waratahs’ and is apparently rather good. Consequently, for chucking a funny shaped ball down a muddy field he gets squiddles of lovely, cash. Well, he did until he got the sack. Did  Waratahs' finest rage rampant down Brisbane high street in a drunken stupour assaulting passersby and smearing their still vibrant blood across shop front windows? Did poor Israel eat a live ferret on live tele while defecating on the Australian flag? No, Mr Folau did not engage in the aforementioned activities. However, he did post on Instagram. The following image appeared together with a disjointed comment and quotes from the Bible.

A quick look at the list makes me realise that none shall be spared. Mr Folau is festooned with tattoos. I’m sure there is an injunction somewhere in the ‘good book’ about the desecration of God’s living temple. What about the bit about casting the first ferret?     

The ‘fallout’ was not slow in coming and the airways were incandescent with indignation. The Australian rugby associations were a tad slow in their condemnation (Israel is rather good at rugby)  until prodded by an SJW stick……. And so, eventually, Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union announced: “Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts. We have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action — in the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it’s our intention to terminate his contract.”

Bugger! I bet this ex-rugby player must be kicking his own arse mightily with both legs and with gusto. His rant has cost him a lucrative contract and it is doubtful that he will be re-employed, soon. Perhaps when the dust dies down?

It is my contention that Mr Folau has been ‘guilty’ of stupidity and gross fuckwittedness of the first order. But what do expect when part of your job description requires you to be bashed repeatably about the head by other large men. The whole process is not conducive to concentrated mental thought. Tis a wonder he can tie up his own rugby boots. That said, Mr Folau has committed no crime and he is entitled to express his opinion as befits a society proud of its freedom of speech. Now, I’m of the opinion that Israel’s comments were rather stupid considering the likely adverse impact on his income following the predictable indignation from the vocal ‘snowflake’ brigade. His comments were also rather silly from the perspective of intrinsic merit. But he should have a public platform to state his inane bollocks without losing his job.  

Shame on the Australian rugby authorities for pandering to this strident minority ‘voice’.

The story was picked up by an ‘Athiest Commentator’. He was of the opinion that Mr Folau was rightly sacked. I placed a polite comment in dissent. Strangely, my comment seemed to disappear into the aether. Fearing the worst I followed up with: “Oops my comment has disappeared. I'm hoping this was an admin glitch and not due to my comment disagreeing with the author and general 'thrust' of the comments here. Anyway, I stated that Israel should not have been sacked for his meanderings. He said nothing illegal and, although I think his comments misguided, they fall under the banner of free speech. I think to sack Israel is pandering to an SJW agenda which seems hellbent on closing down opinion and debate, not in tune with its narrow viewpoint. As atheists, all we have to agree upon is a lack of belief in supernatural deities- nothing else, and why should we?   

It will be intriguing to see if my comment remains upstanding.

Update: my original comment has mysteriously returned and my second comment has also been published and has flourished. Whoopy do………….Free speech has been sustained (nay, nourished) and vindicated with veritable aplomb. Arse.  


Thursday 11 April 2019



Throughout history, there have been a few defining battles that have changed the course of Western civilisation. Consider Alexander the Great’s success at the battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC which destroyed the Persian empire. The battle of Tours in 732 AD ensured that Europe, apart from Spain, would remain Christian. There are other battles to contemplate. But in my opinion, the battle of Zama (202BC), as far as Western civilisation is concerned, is THE defining battle, the battle that determined that Western civilisation would be based upon Roman culture and values.

To understand this pivotal event in history it is important to understand the crucial events which led up to this famous battle enacted on the north African plain. What follows is a brief sketch of those cardinal events.

In 400 BC the Mediterranean was ruled by the superpowers of the age, the Greeks and Carthaginians. The Greeks were a loose ‘confederation’ of independent city-states, although often at war with each other, the states were bound together by culture, language and an abiding sense of superiority. With the rise of Macedonian power under Philip II (359-336 BC), the privilege of Greek independence was curtailed. The fragmentation of Alexander the Great’s Empire after his death in 323 BC resulted in political chaos and civil war within the Macedonian Empire. By the time of the First Punic war, in 264 BC, Macedonian power in Greece had waned and had been replaced by the Aetolian and Achaean leagues. Although to be fair it is difficult to chart the shifting alliances and wars in the region, at this time.   

To the west on the north coast of Africa, Carthage dominated the scatter of Punic city-states. Although the cities were nominally independent, the great city of Carthage welded the greatest power ensured by a large fleet and a mercenary army. The Greeks and Carthaginians squabbled mightily and often (580-264 BC). Most of the fighting occurred on the island of Sicily where both powers had colonial offshoots. Into the mix came Rome. In 270 BC, after a series of bitter conflicts, Rome had taken control of the Italian peninsula. In 264 BC the city of Taranto on the coast of Sicily appealed to Rome for help in a conflict with the city of Syracuse. Rome accepted the challenge and removed the Carthaginian garrison by force (tis a long story, go read). Inevitably, this led to a war between these powers. The war continued for 23 years with many shifts and turns of fortune. In the end, Carthage was totally defeated and as a consequence lost her possessions in Sicily and was required to pay a hefty indemnity to Rome. An uneasy peace existed between these nations but further conflict was inevitable (compare with the First and Second World Wars two thousand years later- the parallels are uncanny).

In 218 BC the mighty Hannibal Barca provoked a war with Rome and crossed the Alps to bring battle to the Romans on Italian soil. This was a bold strategic move by Hannibal, a move with grave risks. While on Italian soil Hannibal was able to maintain a tactical advantage and exploit his position throughout the 16 years he remained on Roman soil. Hannibal was a captain of immense genius and resilience and although he inflicted several major defeats on the Romans he was unable to break up the Roman confederation from which Rome gained her political and military strength. After 16 years, Hannibal was recalled by Carthage as Roman forces had invaded North Africa. On Carthaginian soil, the Romans had already inflicted two defeats on the Carthaginians before Hannibal’s arrival and were about to invest Carthage. After 16 years of war, Hannibal’s army was in a poor state. Carthage had failed their greatest general by keeping him chronically short of men and supplies. Before his return to Africa, Hannibal due to lack of transportation had to leave his horses behind, a resource, whose loss he would rue in the battle to come. And so, on a day in October 202 BC, Hannibal’s makeshift army of 40,000 came across Rome’s veteran army of 35,000 commanded by Rome’s greatest general, Scipio Africanus. Although Hannibal had the larger army he lacked a large cavalry arm and his troops were of uneven quality. In contrast, Scipio commanded infantry well seasoned in war and he was endowed with the finest cavalry of the day. The battle was lost before it began and Hannibal and Carthage were forced into a humiliating peace. Fifty-five years later the city of Carthage was burned to the ground by the Romans and only one great power remained supreme in the Mediterranean.

So why is the battle of Zama the most important battle in history for Western civilisation? Well, that is a good question, I’m glad you asked (wibble nuts). The destruction of Carthaginian power had enormous ramifications for Western culture. It has been estimated that Hannibal was responsible for the death of 250,000 Roman soldiers; only Rome could sustain such losses and win. With the destruction of Carthage, Western Civilisation and its subsequent development would be based on rugged Indo-European Rome and not lush, Semitic Carthage. Hannibal’s enterprise was doomed before it started and the battle of Zama had been lost centuries before it was fought.       

Do my readers agree with my analysis? I would welcome opinions as a basis for subsequent discussion.

Scipio Africanus in realistic repose 






Friday 5 April 2019


I do enjoy my beer and although I’m no connoisseur or beer snob, I’m particularly fond of traditional English Ales, especially those well endowed with hops. Hoppy IPA beers are the ‘brew of the gods’ but it’s an acquired taste which many find too aromatic, too astringent and too harsh on the palate. Tis not for the fainthearted and it is definitely not a subtle brew especially as it's high in alcohol content. Anyway, you can imagine my delight when my son’s girlfriend purchased a ticket for a ‘brewing experience’ to be shared between my son and myself as a Christmastide present.

We dutifully turned up at the brewery at the appointed date and time. The brewery offers an extensive list of beer for consumption and brewing. So, in order to decide which fine beer should be brewed, it was necessary to sample a gaggle of the beers on offer. The brewery provides a sampling tray and we decided to purchase a tray of eight beers a piece. Each glass contains about 125ml of fine beer. After quaffing our collection we decided to select an IPA with an alcohol percentage of about 5.8%. Just to reinforce our decision we ordered a couple of pints of the IPA to consolidate our selection (hic).

And so to the brewing. There were several groups and we congregated around a series of brewing kettles and implements. Our supervisor explained the process but because of custom and excise regulations, he was not allowed to touch or operate the equipment himself. Sounds crazy, I know- but dems the regulations. Once the correct temperature in the primary kettle had been reached we added the grain and cooked it according to the instructions. The final process involved adding the resultant solution to two large buckets mixed together with a yeast solution.

The main brewing process takes between 10 to 14 days however, after 7 days my son returned to add the hops. Last Sunday I travelled back to the brewery for the bottling. I provided most of the bottles from my previous home brewing attempts. The vigilant supervisor checked my bottles to ensure that I’d bothered to sterilise them all. All very necessary to prevent the inclusion of any wild yeast which might spoil the brew. With the floor awash with beer we finally bottled about 40 litres.

The beer should be left for at least 14 days to allow secondary fermentation, after which, the beer is ready for consumption. This works well as we have a gaggle of friends visiting for Easter. I’m hoping that the Ale lives up to its promise. I am sure my readers are all agog to hear how the brew turns out. Perhaps I’ll post an update? By the way, Shagger is particularly fond of good beer.      


Tuesday 2 April 2019


Trofim Lysenko, in repose- seems harmless enough? 
Dogma and science have never made good bedfellows. In the West, science became stifled for over a thousand years by a Catholic church driven by religious dogma; a dogma enforced by violence. It was only with the coming of the Renascence and the Scientific Revolution that the West managed to escape the shackles of Catholic ideology. Martin Luther’s rebellion (see previous post) resulted in the birth of the Protestant church in northern Europe. Christian belief became splintered and the Pope’s hegemony and authority were no more. Effectively, the Catholic church’s secular power waned allowing the growth of new nonecclesiastical thought. Today, I would like to consider another form of dogma equally stultifying as its religious counterpart.  

With the advent of communist controlled Russia following the Great War, almost everything was subsumed to Marxist-Leninist dictate. Anything not in accord with communist ideals was violently discarded.

 At the inception of Russian communism, Russia was a peasant agrarian economy with 80% of the people working the land. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the Czarist regime had made an effort toward peasant reform. The peasants had become emancipated, and in theory, they could buy their own land. In practice, few could afford to do so. In 1928 a massive shortfall in food distribution forced Stalin to requisition grain. The peasants were mightily unimpressed and resorted to hoarding.  In return, the Soviet government introduced collectivisation of the farms. The farmers were seriously unimpressed and refused to work the land, burnt crops and were collectively, very naughty. Predictably this led to famine. At the height of the famine in 1932-33, 8 million people starved to death. Ideology prevented Stalin from appealing for help from the West. Instead, the Russian media released newsreels of happy smiling peasants amid abundant crops for Western consumption. In reality, the peasants consumed very little. As if to save the day, along trots Trofim Lysenko, a horticulturist not over-endowed with academic qualifications or brains. But he offered a fast, cheap and characteristically communist solution to the famine. Lysenko’s plan was to apply a form of Lamarckism (acquired characteristics) to increase grain production by a factor of three. He even stated that he could transmute weeds into food crops. Even the living God could only turn water into wine. I have dealt with Lamarckism elsewhere. Suffice it to say that by the beginning of the twentieth century the notion of ‘acquired characteristics’ was thoroughly discredited by the scientific community. In essence, Lamarck stated that a characteristic acquired by an organism could be passed on to their offspring. An example would be a bodybuilder passing on their muscled physique to their children without the children undergoing rigorous training. Stalin was no biologist but he was attracted to Lysenko’s methodology and theory for several reasons. Firstly, Larmarckism was very much in tune with Marxism. The ideal/idea that all are equal and improvement can be achieved by work is essentially communistic. Sensible folk know better; humans are not made equal, this is patently obvious. Secondly, Lysenko offered rapid and astounding results. In contrast, conventional geneticists offered slow and scientifically measured solutions backed up by lengthy trials.    
Lysenko’s approach was known as acquired vernalisation. Vernalisation is a process whereby seeds are exposed to cold as a necessary requirement for germination. Although the Soviet regime credited Lysenko with the discovery of vernalisation, the process was well known to Russian peasants. 

Ideologically sound Lysenko was showered with a sprinkling of accolades. In 1936 Stalin appointed Lysenko the head of the ‘Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences’; a member of the ‘Presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ in 1938 and the director of the ‘Academy’s Institute of Genetics in 1940’. Under such autocratic patronage, Lysenko prospered and persisted with his worthless and potentially catastrophic ‘research’. Encouraged and endorsed by Stalin, Lysenko continued with his outrageous, unsubstantiated and inflated agricultural claims. He contended that vernalisation could be acquired without prior exposure to cold as long as the parental seeds had been subject to cold. Furthermore, Lysenko stated that crops could be grown without artificial fertilisers. Lysenko did not conduct experiments according to the scientific method and only accepted ‘data’ in accord with his madcap theories.

Under Lysenko’s rule, scientifically proven and practical Mendelian genetics and geneticists were ruled counter to Marxist-Leninist ideology. It was concluded that Mendelian genetics was an ‘alien foreign bourgeois biology’. Lysenko’s predecessor, as the head of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the eminent geneticist, Nikolai Vavilov, was promptly shipped off to prison where he succumbed to malnutrition in 1943. Three thousand mainstream biologists were sacked; some executed; some simply disappeared.

Under Lysenko’s, ‘watch’ grain production in the USSR actually declined. After the death of Stalin in 1953, Mendelian genetics underwent a slow rehabilitation, a few backslides aside. By the mid-1960s Mendelian genetics had quietly become mainstream in Soviet Russia. It had finally dawned upon the Soviet hierarchy that Lysenko was a crank and that his insane theories and methodologies did not work. The upshot, of course, was that numerous people died as a result of Lysenkoism due to famine. Valid biological research stagnated and it is thought that Lysenko was responsible for placing Russian genetic research ‘on hold’ for 30 years.   

Dogma is rarely a good thing regardless of the field of endeavour but especially in science. To shackle the pursuit of knowledge to a fanatical and non-inclusive ideology is always going to end in tears. Human history is littered with such examples- go read and weep.