Tis the magical time of year when all strife ceases and goodwill over flows from the chalice of human kindness. Regardless of creed or religious affiliation folk come together as one and peace reverberates through a land, fecund and verdant. No dissention is heard. Generosity is manifest and smiles are on the lips of everyone as they dance in unmitigated joy. Hark and hear the laughter of small children as they hold hands and frolic with joyous abandon.
Friday, 25 December 2020
Wednesday, 23 December 2020
Tis always good to start off with a definition of the topic under investigation, as it aids clarity of thought and purpose. And today's topic concerning the vexed issue of 'manspreading' needs all the help that can be mustered to promote, not only clarity, but comprehension.
Manspreading definition: the act or practice by a man of sitting with the legs spread wide apart (as in a public seating area) in a way that intrudes on the space of others.
Note: the definition applies solely to men, women for some reason appear to be exempt. In my mind, someone intruding onto another chair is a selfish twat, regardless of gender.
But feminists are not really concerned with the supposed issue of taking up space. They are more concerned with men ostensibly exposing their genital area as a signal of toxic masculinity. It doesn't matter if the wretch is not intruding on another's seat, the agenda is clearly centred on man bashing and a means to berate the male gender into some sort of submission.
It will not go unnoticed that men's genital bits and pieces are external and therefore an impediment to the seated male. Therefore, we spread our legs as an act of comfort. The 'boys' hate to be constricted/restricted in a cramped domain. Only by unleashing the 'beast' within are we able to garner peace and tranquility in a world gone awry.
A student from Brighton University, England was so moved by the 'problem of man spreading' that she found it necessary to invent a chair, so cunningly designed, that it prevents the incumbent from splaying akimbo.
The academic institution was so impressed that Mizzzz Fanny Whistle (makes a change from Mugumbo) was awarded the princely sum of £1,000. I'm not an entrepreneur, but I suspect the chair suitably fashioned with a wooden wedge is unlikely to be a commercial success. This is an instrument of torture and I want my twinkle, and the boys, to bask in the heady perfume that is freedom. They demand space to bathe and breathe in the cooling fresh air/hair. They will never be subject to tyranny and subjugation. Let my bits run free, unfettered and wild!
I espied a photo of Mizzzzzzzz Funny Fanny, and I must admit her appearance fulfils the ugly, fat, rabid anti-man, dyke paradigm. No shit, Flaxen.
Irrespective of the above observations, the other problem I have with the 'anti-man spreading chair' is that it is supposed to represent the culmination project for a bachelor's degree. Nailing a piece of wood to a chair does not smack of cutting edge technology and hardly represents the pinnacle of academic achievement. Awarding the design with a cash prize is an insult and affront to folks who genuinely design stuff that make our everyday life a little bit easier. Arse Bucket.
Rant over, I'm off to burn down the local 'Old Folk's Home' to assuage the beast within.
Monday, 21 December 2020
Jupiter and Saturn's Conjunction
Tonight will see the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky. They will appear just a hairs breath from each other. This is the closest conjunction for 800 years. The last time, Genghis Khan and the lads were laying waste to vast regions of the known world punctuated with the occasional mound of skulls.
For simple folk, significant planet alignments have been viewed as harbingers of bad portent. Even today, the 'Doomsday Squad' are predicting unpleasant side effects accompanying this outré cosmic phenomenon. Some enterprising souls have found the following Nostradamus quatrain strangely prescient:
'And when the flaxen haired man of the Isles (no relation) doth contend with the plague,
A bright star will appear in the West and cast a baleful light/blight upon the land.
The peasantry will be confined to their council houses (sic),
And tarry not to the local pub and Harvester for unlimited salad and two steaks for one, Monday only (before 8pm)'.
I'm astonished that any sane person can see any parallels with Nostradamus' scribblings and today's momentous events. Nuff said.
Thursday, 3 December 2020
Special Lock Down Rules for the Black Country
⚠️ AREA LOCKDOWN PROTOCOL⚠️
DUDLEY - Burgling homes in your local area is still permitted providing you sanitise before and after the offence. Track and trace technology must also be used.
DARLASTON - You can only visit your dealer when collecting your children from school. The dealer should wear a face visor and make sure all bags are sanitised.
WALSALL - Having sex with your sister is still permitted but you must be home before 10pm and use approved lubricant.
WOLVERHAMPTON - Vigilante groups of no more than six allowed outdoors and socially distancing between the hours of 10pm - 2am only. You must wear suitable PPE for any physical contact.
BILSTON - Prostitute services are still permitted to remain open, this is now classed as essential services for fear of the economic collapse of the town. Entry from the rear only
WEST BROM - Now declared a NO GO ZONE (in 1984), if you must travel to this area please follow all diversions, traffic cones and signals, remain in your car, do not abandon your car, masks are not required as nothing is open
WEDNESBURY - Everyone must remain at home and self isolate until manufacturers can distribute gloves with 6 fingers. Please do not go to A&E for digit removal as they are a tad busy.
TIPTON - Do as you want, even Covid wouldn’t go to TIPTON, Shithole!
Stick to these guidelines and we'll get through it together
Translation on request
Sunday, 29 November 2020
Information Paradox and Black Holes
Are black holes sexy? No, of course not, that would be simply silly and the raging of a man teetering on the edge (nay cusp) of (in )sanity: mayhap with erotic tendencies. So, no more will be said on this aspect of black holes.
In the 1970s Stephen Hawking showed that black holes leaked thermal radiation (Hawking radiation). This was a puzzle in itself as black holes are notoriously reluctant to return what it hath consumed. But there lurks an even greater problem that could shake the fundamentals of physics to its very core causing this noble science to totter, nay topple, into the chasm of inconsistency and doom.
Tis a fundamental tenet of physics that information in the form of energy and mass cannot be destroyed. Mass can be converted into an equivalent amount of energy and, in theory at least, energy can be become mass, albeit under strange and wonderful conditions as described by mathematics. This is the simple expression of Einstein's famous equation: E=MC2. Also, the informational characteristics of particles cannot be lost. Particles possess a set of physical characteristics i.e. spin, position, parity, charge etc. This is the distinct ‘finger print’ of every particle in the universe. In theory, if every characteristic of every particle in the universe could be known (PhD thesis, perhaps?) then it would be possible to describe the universe, to the most intimate and minute level.
Hawking radiation causes energy and hence mass to be slowly lost from black holes and eventually, after vast eons of time, the black hole will evaporate and be no more. At first sight this is not a problem as it seems that whatever goes in eventually returns to the universal fold. But this is not the case. The relentless loss of thermal radiation, over time, is devoid of information. In simple terms if you throw a ferret (might be Shagger) into a black hole the information contained therein should be retrievable and the ferret (perhaps Shagger) reconstructable. However, as the black hole, very slowly diminishes over time, the information supposedly contained therein emerges not at all. This causes a very worrying paradox as the loss of information is in violation of axiomatic laws of physics. Does this deviation from nature indicate that, physics as we know, is broken or is there a possible explanation using known physical laws? Shagger needs to know.
Clever theoretical physicists have come up with a number of hypotheses to explain this apparent contradiction. The other approach, rewriting physics and rebuilding a stout edifice anew has not proved popular. I’ll outline a couple of possibilities, here, albeit very briefly. In fact, I will list just five explanations; there are numerous others. I will not comment to regard the various merits/demerits of each proposal. For one, I don't have the space and secondly I don't have the relevant expertise. As always with highly technical subjects, I strongly suggest you seek additional information, from experts in the field. True wisdom is but a Google search away....
- The information passes into another universe where it is retained but inaccessible
- Maybe blacks holes don't disappear altogether and a remnant exists until the universe disappears. In this scenario, all information remains plastered to what remains, and unlike the black hole, the paradox, just disappears
- Another hypothesis suggests that information is regurgitated toward the very end of black holes' life
- Perhaps the information slowly leaks out with the Hawking radiation, but we haven't noticed
- The information just 'vanishes'- deconstructs all known physical laws
What all the solutions have in common is that they are all mathematical constructs. Now, physics is essentially an empirical science- this is an obvious truism, as all sciences, by definition, are empirical and science cannot live by mathematics alone. Mathematics is not science and at its core it is a notational kin of logic. While it can bolster and add credence to scientific theoretical postulates it can never prove that postulate. For scientific proof, empirical knowledge is required. In other words, practical data must be obtained and this implies that physical measurement, of some sort, occurs. And in this respect we have a problem. Not only do we not have the relevant data concerning black holes, we also have no way of remedying the situation. Deep thought will ultimately not do. Theoretical physicists do grand work in providing hypotheses and ideas but 'proof'' can only occur when they pass on the fruits of their intellectual labour to their more practical physicist brethren.
Recently, there has been a flurry of interest concerning a new paper purporting to have resolved the problem (?resolved-check here for informed commentary). No such thing. This paper, although very interesting, just adds one more possible solution to an already lengthy list of theoretical solutions. What we can state with certainty: either one of the proposed solutions is the correct one or, none are correct. Mayhap the solution has not been thought up as yet? What we don't possess is the capability to choose between these 'answers' and discern a real solution. We are awash in a sea of ideas but these is no firm empirical land to dry our data bereft shoes (Flaxen waxing, bollocks). Thus, we have no hard data to help us distinguish between the numerous theoretical models that have been proposed.
The real problem is that we are unable to access data to solve this problem. An issue that is unlikely to be reversed and without data the paradox is essentially unsolvable. What do my readers think? Am I being unduly pessimistic? Or is my hard headed empirical approach entirely valid? Let me know in the comments. Perhaps we can stir up a lively debate?
Shagger and his own black hole
Sunday, 22 November 2020
Tis Flaxen in his role of Agony Uncle
I have decided to try my hand at this ‘agony aunt’ thingy. It can’t be too hard, can it? I’m a wise old scrote who has experienced the cup of life to the full. Little has been denied to me in my hard, rollicking, roller coast ride of existence. Thusly, I think I’m fully qualified (I have a grade 4 CSE in wood work & grade 5 in Technical Drawing) to dispense my perspicacity with veritable verve and insouciance (nay torpor). Let us proceed without visible restraint. Or in other words: Flaxen Saxon writing complete and unmitigated, bollocks (as is my wont).
A reader writes……..
Dear Flaxen Saxon, I have a teensy whitsie issue with my next door neighbour (tis Mr Lighthouse Mugumbo). Over the garden fence, one day, we discussed, theological issues, akimbo, which have brought forth ire and hysterical dissent. Anyway, my neighbour is of the opinion that Jesus was born of woman and therefore mortal, but also partakes of the divinity of God. Jesus, whilst on earth, was fully human and only reverted to divinity once he was transported to heaven where his essence merged with God’s essence and the essence of the Holy Ghost to become One Godhead. I do not agree, according to my mind, Jesus’ entity and essence was always fully divine. His human, mortal guise was a pretense and his appearance merely mimicked that of a living, breathing man. His apparent mortality was a façade; an apparition; a phantasm and a trick of the light.
Flaxen responds with aplomb.
The question of Jesus’s nature, although controversial during the first 3 centuries, after our Lord’s ascension, was finally settled at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Your manifest and steadfast viewpoint is in accord with the Nicene Creed, fully ratified at the council of Trent, in the 16th century. Therefore your neighbour’s conception, perception and deception of Jesus’s full nature is heretical and consequently, therefore, your neighbour descends into the abyss that is apostasy. Of all the sins, the sin of heresy is the most heinous. The sin of heresy sins against the God’s majesty and is a direct challenge, and grave affront, to his divine dominion; incendiary redress is demanded, forthwith!
So how are we to deal with your neighbour and his grave and cardinal sin? There are those, no doubt moved by pity and false compassion, who would countenance any means possible to mitigate the sin. Renouncing heterodoxy will not do on this occasion. Through their willful attentiveness and their willingness to appease they also descend into grave heresy, themselves. Do not vex your Lord, for his wrath is like your winky being gnawed upon, and consumed, by a divine host of ferrets- consisting of Shagger and his rather large, extended family of Muscidae.
Regardless of misguided sympathies, the only true way of dealing with a heretic after committing the unpardonable, is a swift and severe burning. Forget the ‘light singeing’ option beloved by our less committed brethren. Compassion, in regard to heresy, is also a graven/craven heresy in itself.
You must gather a gaggle of stout, stalwart yeoman (and a couple of ferrets, Shagger included), collect faggots (not the winky up da bum kind, Arse) and wend to your neighbour’s domicile. You must bind your neighbour’s wrist with sisal and soon thereafter, administer a sound scourging with a yew rod flecked with slivers of iron. Thereafter, place a stave unto the ground and hammer until firm and non-compliant and waverth not in a stout bluster, intermittent or otherwise. The heretic must be soundly swaddled with strong hemp. If the heretic screams for quarter, the tongue must be binded, otherwise the occasional passersby may be discombobulated by the discordant and disconsolate vocalisation.
Liberally apply tallow and pitch to the heretical wretch with a lavering stick. Apply lard, spare no crook or rugosity. Ensure that the genital area, which is the source of all sin, is well anointed with camphor. Place the flaming brand unto the base of the brushwood. Allow the flames to consume the heretic. The ensuring cries from the sinful sinner (tautology, no less) should be seen as a song, foreboding and alluding to the eternity of hell, where the flames quencheth, not at all.
Once consumed by the cleansing inferno (hand of God?), remove the charred remains and cast unto the local midden pit
(32A Cherry Street) to be scarfed by the local hounds and swine.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter” (Mark 3:28), but then He gives one exception: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (verse 29).
I hope this instruction/injunction helps. Now, go forth and free the heretic’s soul from this life and let Shagger and his heavenly host do their worst. Arse
Saint Shagger contemplating gnawing orf a heretic's twinkle
Thursday, 19 November 2020
Bloody Photons and the Passage of Time
Since Einstein we have come to appreciate that time and space are irrevocably intertwined and relative to the observer. The full ramifications of the theories of special and general relativity can be difficult for us to assimilate. Luckily, for the most part, the effects of time dilation and the warping of space is negligible for the majority of our earthly activities and can be explained very well using simple Newtonian mechanics. A good example of when the effects of time dilation are important concerns the movement of satellites. Even at their modest orbiting speed of 14,000 kilometres per hour, GPS satellites experience time dilation relative to our pedestrian earthly stance. These effects have to be considered and allowed for otherwise instead of driving to 12 Acacia Avenue, you would, no doubt, end up at 14 Acacia Avenue.
When we observe a photon travelling the cosmos we perceive that photon to be travelling at 186,000 miles per second over well defined points in space. This is our viewpoint of how light travels. We should note that the speed of light remains constant no matter the frame of reference. But how do mass less photons experience their plight/flight? According to Einstein's postulate, photons travelling at the speed of light are not constrained by space or time. Einstein’s equations predict that photons transcend reality. Photons don’t travel and their clock ticketh not at all. From their conception to destination arrival is instant. This is why I don’t sleep too well. If the universe is infinite the ramifications boggle our feeble minds. Is space and time just a beautiful illusion? I will admit that my conception of the universe at the very large, very small, and the very fast is beyond my feeble comprehension. I’m lost in a sea of contradictions. I know that I will go to my grave as ignorant as a new born babe.
Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Is God a Democrat?
Jesus, stop bleeding on my colouring book
As reported in this blog a little while ago, it appears that God had taken a special interest in the recent American elections. Indeed, it also appears that God is a conservative (but read on) with profound partisan views and declared his stalwart support for Donald Trump. Not only has God endorsed the incumbent but has predicted that Trump would be re-elected for a second wondrous term. How do we know all this? Although god, on occasion, works in mysterious ways, in this instance he put forth his views via a series of human conduits. Interestingly, in these modern technological times, God eschewed the modalities of Twatter and Arsebook (arse). How quaint.
In some instances, God related his preference, directly, while to others he utilised intermediary Angels. To complicate matters, there have been messages from Jesus himself. As I understand my Nicene Creed, Jesus is but one manifestation of the Godhead, the other being the Holy Ghost. All this can be rather confusing for a simple Tipton lad. I understand the need for delegation, running the entire universe can be no easy matter, and this would explain the need for Angel intercession. What I find confusing is that Jesus and god, although one, seem to be content to manifest as separate entities- tis enough to make your head spin. Furthermore, Trump emphatically lost. How can God be wrong? What happened to this omniscient thingy? In some testimonies, it seemed apparent that god was influencing the vote in Trump’s favour. This would be a prime example of ‘Divine Intervention’. How could this be achieved? There are two schools of thought: a host of Angels, suitably attired in mortal raiment, could present themselves at the polling stations and make their mark to benefit the Trumpster. Hopefully, their various visages would not be too radiant as to scare away the non-divine populace. I suspect the wings would have to be discretely folded and tucked away, otherwise folks will conclude that they were being mobbed by a host of hunchbacks- most off-putting. Mayhap god decided to wave a ‘magic wand’ to miraculously influence the election. This would be easy for a deity capable of parting the Dead sea, turning women into salty towering bints, and setting the occasional bush on fire while on high.
Inexplicably, it did not come to pass and Trump lost. How could the will of God be thwarted? Had the Angels been sleeping on the job? Could he have changed his mind at the last minute and hankered for moribund Joe Biden?
Of course, there is another more mundane possibility- the pundits, various, are madder than a bucket of frogs in vinegar- I think we should be told.
In support of my thesis watch the following and weep.
Saturday, 14 November 2020
Einstein's Greatest Mistake
I would consider myself a rational being, but that does not mean I’m immune from beliefs and concepts counter to the evidence. We all hold ideas, and beliefs, which upon rational inspection/introspection and scrutiny, are not tenable, however, for some folk, their whole belief system is an irrational mass of internal contradictions and sheer nonsense.
In part, we can blame our evolutionary past. The human brain evolved to make snap decisions on the flimsiest of evidence. In the remote past, our ancestors had to make instant life and death reckoning without the luxury of reflection or rigorous analysis. Is the rustle in the savannah a deadly predator or just the whispering whimsy of the wind? They had to act decisively. If they made the wrong call they would not survive to pass on their genes; procrastination is anathema to natural selection. This is why we need rules concerning the correct way to analyse data, ideas, and concepts in order to weed out weak and unsubstantiated ‘knowledge’. The scientific method is one way this is achieved, but it is not the only way. The rules of epistemology and logic have stood us in good stead in this regard. However, we don’t have the time, or the inclination to apply rational rules to the cacophony of competing beliefs we all hold. Even the smartest and most rational of folk can fall prey to sloppy thinking, prejudice, custom, expectation, prior experience, and out of date knowledge; no one is immune. We should not delude ourselves that we are free from beliefs that have no basis in reality. It is to be expected that some of our most cherished beliefs are simply irrational and have no basis according to sound knowledge systems. The problem arises when sloppy, irrational thinking overwhelms the mind and pushes aside rationality in its entirety. It can become a way of life. It is of no surprise that those who hold a major irrational belief, in spite of the contrary evidence, tend to adhere to other strange notions. Thus, folk who aver that the Earth is flat often hold views of a related and similar ilk. Their compiled belief system is one great mish-mash of strange unsubstantiated and fringe beliefs. The law of science does not abide in them and they take great solace and pride in the rejection of long-standing and scientifically attested principals. But enough of the crazies.
As said, smart people can hold erroneous beliefs, as long as they don’t make it habitual, it is not a problem. Often, a wrong belief may occur due to an incomplete possession of the facts. This is not a problem of irrationality if the belief is made on the available and known evidence and is consistent with the knowledge base of the time. A less forgiving problem arises when the latest evidence indicates that an existing knowledge system is in error but the individual fails to adjust their belief to the new data. This may be due to an excessive reverence for the ‘old system’ and a failure to press forth with the new evidence to its logical conclusion: a problem otherwise known as ‘intellectual inertia’. This is why plasticity in our thinking is so important. No knowledge system is to be so revered that it cannot be reviewed, adapted, or discarded when confronted by new knowledge. The following tale belongs to this latter category and involves one of the smartest individuals of the 20th century, Albert Einstein.
So, what follows is to be taken in the spirit of a cautionary tale. Take heed, note, and wobble a brace of ferrets..........
When Einstein formulated his theories of relativity at the beginning of the 20th century the accepted model of the universe was very different from what is considered ‘true’ today. For instance, the size of the universe was greatly underestimated. The smudgy patches of light observed through large telescopes were thought to be incandescent gas clouds present within our own milky way galaxy. Indeed, all celestial bodies were considered to be contained within our galaxy. In addition, the universe was considered to be static and eternal. This was the intellectual milieu that underpinned Einstein’s prodigious theoretical insights. Thus when he formulated his classic field equations for general relativity he found that his mathematics predicted a dynamic cosmos. To shoehorn his equations into the notion of a static universe he had to introduce a fudge factor, the cosmological constant, to one of the terms. This mysterious and unsubstantiated force was thought necessary to counteract the implications of universal expansion his equations predicted.
In 1928 the lawyer astronomer, Edwin Hubble, determined that the smudgy patches of nebulae were in fact galaxies in their own right. Also, the galaxies were not static but rushing away from each other at velocities proportional to the distances between them. The static eternal universe was no more and the universe appeared to be in a state of constant flux and change.
Einstein had missed his chance. His equations, unsullied by the cosmological constant, should have alerted Einstein to the nature of the expanding universe. However, he could not relinquish cherished and long-held ‘knowledge’ concerning the universe. Once he removed the constant from his equations the true nature of the universe became clear. Even Einstein’s genius could not overcome deep-seated beliefs.
It is sad to relate that Einstein considered his addition of the ‘cosmological constant’ his greatest mistake. The great intellectual prodigy had been humbled.
Next time you find yourself attached to, a no longer tenable concept or theory, which you struggle to intellectually cauterise from your knowledge base, even at the cost of your intellectual integrity, take note, for you are in esteemed company.
Saturday, 31 October 2020
I confess I’m not a bow snob. There are archers out in the big wide world whose austerity is unbending and declare that traditional barebow shooting is the only type of archery worthy of the name. They have a healthy disregard and disdain for those who adorn their bows with sights, stabilising rods, and other attachments designed to increase accuracy. The greatest venom occurs between the English longbow crowd and shooters of compound bows. I’m always surprised at the degree of hate exchanged between these fellow archers, although, the exchanges between the two camps can be highly amusing. Of course, not all English longbow adherents are so strident in their condemnation. I suspect most archers are none too bothered. However, there is a hardcore cadre who are driven to express their righteous ire at fellow archers. They consider the practice and mastery of primitive archery to represent the purest exposition of the craft.
I’ve always been of the opinion that archery is a recreational sport to be enjoyed by all regardless of the type of bow used. At last count, I have a healthy collection of 25 bows not including the crossbow. Of these, two represent English longbows. I also own a dozen or so Asiatic horse bows; a native American bow and an assortment of modern recurves. And yes, I own a compound bow, much to the chagrin of traditionalist fellow shooters. The adornment with sights, clickers, stabilisers, and other aids to accuracy are considered to detract from the archer’s skill. Archery, at all levels and irrespective of type, requires a high degree of skill if consistency is to be desired. In defense of the compound and modern, ‘Olympic’ style recurves: these bows are designed to shoot with a high degree of accuracy at 70 and even 90 metres. Generally, even with the most skilled exponent of the art, comparable accuracy is only achievable within the range of 40 metres or less with a traditional bow. Each archery form and bow style has its own pleasures and challenges. I can swap my bow and archery technique according to mood and caprice. The true flight of the feathered shaft finds its mark whether my bow is a simple ‘staff’ of wood or a complex amalgam of pulleys, cams, and fibre glass limbs.
Crossbow shooters accrue the collective displeasure from, albeit a minority, of other archery groups. I’m at a loss as to why this animosity exists. While it is true that very little skill is required in crossbow archery and great accuracy is easy to achieve even after minimal acquaintance with the bow. Perhaps this is where the problem lies. Also, amongst English longbow shooters there is a historical enmity, long fostered, and ingrained into the heart of every true Englishman..... But times change and we must embrace the crossbow as if a long lost brother has suddenly returned to the fold. Not a full blood brother and mayhap from the distaff side. You know the half brother with the wonky eye and the limp/gimp. The brother who is none too bright and tends to sport egg stains on his cheap, tacky shirt. Nuff said. Arrrssseee.
Friday, 23 October 2020
God for Trump
God and his minion's concern for worldly, mundane matters is somewhat surprising. I also noticed that the content creators had attracted a large number of views- mostly in the millions. Far be it for the flaxen-haired one to suggest that the whole drive of the enterprise is a crass and unwholesome exercise to garner much gelt from the advertisers. Tis a pretty penny when you attract 3 million views. But then I've always been a cynical and suspicious old scrote. Nuff said.
Thursday, 15 October 2020
Viruses: Dead or Alive?
Viruses challenge our concept of what qualifies as life. Biologists consider living organisms, as opposed to inanimate objects, as having a defined set of attributes. I'll not list them here, my readers will know what they are. Since their discovery in the late 19th century, viruses have presented biologists with a dilemma that continues to vex to this day: do they constitute life or something else? The consensus has changed several times in the intervening years. Today, many virologists think viruses more akin to chemistry than biology. That said, not all virologists agree with the 'non-life' conclusion.
Viruses evolved from existing life. At some time in early (very early) evolutionary history, a piece RNA/DNA escaped a cell, acquired a protein coat, and the parasitic virus become into being. The sticking point for most biologists is that the only real attribute of 'life' that viruses seem to have is the ability to reproduce and that can only be achieved inside a cell from a living creature. Whether that cell is singular, as is the case of an amoeba, or whether from a complex multicellular entity that is humans, you can bet that there is a multitude of viruses that have evolved to exploit those cells. Viruses' have proved very successful and of course, have shaped the development of human evolution and society not only due to their importance as harbingers of disease but also by altering our genetic material. What is not well known by lay folk, is that a class of viruses called retroviruses (cool name for a punk band) link into host DNA. When they leave they often sneak off with a portion of the cell's DNA. The converse is also true and pieces of foreign DNA are often left behind. Thus it is easy to see how viruses can play a role in the evolution of organisms. Quite an achievement for something that is non-living. Not all viruses are parasitic in the sense they cause disease. For every one virus that causes harm, there are ten that are benign. They sit in their host cell quietly hijacking the cell's resources and reproducing undetected.
The argument for and against viruses being alive can get a bit technical and border on the philosophical. A piece of DNA without any metabolic apparatus would not be considered as a living entity and viruses are no more than chunks of DNA. Another argument revolves around the lack of metabolic machinery that seems to be a ubiquitous feature of living organisms. Undoubtedly, viruses were derived from living organisms in the deep dank evolutionary past, albeit extremely primitive single-celled proto-prokaryotes. Is it possible for non-life to spring from life? We are now entering the territory of philosophical thought that transcends the realms of science and instead of adding clarity further muddies the intellectual waters. That's bloody philosophy for you. The paradigm of 'non-life' has been challenged in the main due to the discovery in 2003 of a class of viruses which we will call 'Giant Viruses' for the sake of simplicity. These viruses often infect amoebae and as the name suggests they are on the big size and unlike other viruses, can be seen with the light microscope. Their genomes and hence gene content are concomitantly large hinting at something more than mere chemistry. Moreover, some of the genes contained are autonomous from the host for transcription and DNA translation suggesting an entity verging on the threshold of life, perhaps.
My Concluding Remarks
So, what are my views on this fascinating topic? I confess I've changed my mind on this question on more than a few occasions, thus denoting the complexity of the matter. My thoughts these days have become more nuanced. As scientists, we like to classify 'things' and concepts into discrete packages. We seek order and express disquiet when we cannot place our thoughts, hypothesises, and theories within tight, neat, and orderly mental boxes. The physical sciences, chemistry, and physics, lend themselves to this approach rather well. The life sciences are not so disposed and often defy particulate classification, but that doesn't stop biologists from trying. I am not trying to imply that taxonomic and other life systems are arbitrarily derived, for this would be the musings of a madman. What I would like to convey is a continuum where adjacent margins become blurry and indistinguishable. Consider the dawn of 'proto-life' when chemical replicators, in a warm soupy pond, competed for resources. This world would be more representative of chemistry than life. Eventually, however, after millions of years of selection, a true biological organism would come forth. But could we define exactly when the transition from chemistry to true life actually occurred? Not at all. The boundary would be indistinct and only has meaning at the philosophical level, or in over words, no meaning at all. I would argue that viruses are so configured. The physically large, genetically complex viruses are endowed with more genes than the simplest bacteria. Could it be that these mega-viruses have crossed the fuzzy boundary unto the domain of life? A distinction, mayhap, denied to their more simple brethren (viral particles). Tis all a bit messy and unpleasant to contemplate to an orderly scientific mind. Anyway, enough pontificating for now. What do my readers think?
Sunday, 11 October 2020
Life Detected on the Planet Tipton
A concerned reader writes:
I write to express my strident, trenchant, and irrepressible viewpoint. It has not gone unnoticed that your posts of late have become unrepentantly sensible. No longer do we hear the forthright adventures of 'Shagger the Wonder Ferret'; the rollicking peregrinations and antics of George Formby and his grilling ukelele (the lard just rolls away). There is nary a reference to Tipton, errant Japanese snipers, filthy thieving gypo bastards, or Arthur Askey's shenanigans prior to and after losing his legs and cock in a sequential series of increasingly contrived and barely credible accidents. No mention of the hackneyed Prof/Dr/Mr. Mugumbo or of lugless Douglas- he of bereft/sans pinna fame. No incendiary inspired tales of woe or increasing bizarre ruminations of a man teetering precariously on the edge of the abyss that is insanity/inanity. Has your medication finally put paid to the cascade of aberrant thought processes that once flowed unceasingly from your mental vault of derangement?
Dear Concerned Reader,
Thank you for your concern. I confess I detect a degree of weariness in your tone. But despair no more! Due to a pharmacological oversight, I haven't received the correct drug dosage that damps down my more lurid and florid thoughts for quite a while. Therefore, my aberrant synaptic electrical impulses have become unleashed and are no longer burdened or labour under the rein/reign of the brain's executive control. Whoop, whoop.
Breaking news from our science correspondent concerning news of our closet neighbour in the cosdross, Tipton. For today it can be revealed that convincing and intangible evidence has been unearthed that life apparent may exist on Tipton after all. Tipton, of all the boroughs, was considered the least likely to support life due to its complete and utter feculence. Even Netherton, North West, was considered a more likely candidate due to its abundance of Alehouses.
From his observatory, somewhere in Dudley castle, Professor Ipod Mugumbo, opines thusly: “Whilst looking through a lens darkly, I espied Mrs Winifred Plumpbutton, naked through her bedroom window. Afterward, once satiated, I trained my optical organ to the neighbouring borough of Tipton. I put the olfactory sensors on to maximum and was promptly rewarded with the distinct ordure of faggots and mushy peas with a hint of brown ale. Could it be that I had detected the unmistakable scent signature of primitive life? It has long been speculated, by folk with a tenuous grasp on insanity, that Tipton could be the repository for life. Not complex life, or life as we know it but a vile and low form of existence. However, the exhortations have been cast adrift by others who fart loudly in supermarket aisles adjacent to the exotic lard counter."
This startlingly stark observation has nonplussed the scientific community as far away as Merry Hill. A renowned Dudley chemist, Dr. Deepfat Fryer, had this to say: “We must first rule out more mundane and arcane possibilities. For the universe and the West Midland environ is a fickle mistress, full of perfidy and icky poo.”
The next stage in this well-versed farce/arse is to send a probe unto the Tipton miasma to captivate a representative of this putative life form. The probe, code-named, the number 127 bus from Birmingham to Dudley is hoping to arrive next Sunday at approximately 3.30pm depending on the vagaries of the weather, traffic, and last-minute time table alterations. The bus will be driven by Cap'n Jean-Luc Pickarse. He will boldly go into the void where no baldy bastard has gone before. This intrepid escapade is dependant upon the munificence from the prominent Dudley entrepreneur and dedicated wanker, Mr. Earlobe Musky-Bollox. He has promised to invest the full fare from Birmingham to Dudley at the proscribed tariff.
Additional motive force will be provided by the ejection from the rear of the vehicle of several hundred Japanese snipers at frequent and allotted intervals when cresting a hill. Thus thrust will be supplied according to Newton's 4th Law of Motion: Slopes roll down a slope. Dudley, at this time of year, has a glut and surfeit of diminutive, shortsighted, and rhotacism prone adherents to the God/Emporer, Hirohito.
The probe will enter the inhospitable Tipton area after a detour through Smethwick West. Onboard will be the state of the art detection and capture apparatus: some bloke with a net and pointed stick. Prior to entering Tipton, a predictable gaggle of ferrets will be released to reconnoiter the dodgy neighbourhood. The band of ferrets will be led by the inevitable, Shagger, the Wonder Ferret. It will be recalled that Shagger was the first ferret to be placed down Arthur Askey’s (I spank you) voluminous undergarments with hilarious results- I digress.
Dudley, we have a problem
The voyage is not without its incipient dangers. The bus could get lost in the vast reaches of the West Midland environs and end up bereft of purpose somewhere in a canal. Furthermore, a virulent form of life, called the ‘gypo strain’ could inadvertently catch the bus back and be unleashed on an unsuspecting Dudley populous. Imagine hordes of gypos demanding money for lucky heather and wooden pegs. On the upside, everyone has a lucky face.
Renowned Dudley artist (arse) and invert, has produced an impression of what the alien life form could look like. The xenomorph, ‘Stinky Eric’ or aka, the itinerant inebriate, has been rendered in crayon. If captured, Stinky Eric will undergo extreme cauterisation with chlorox and DDT. Afterward, Eric will receive an extensive and prolonged anal probing. This will no doubt celebrate the numerous occasions when Flaxen was callously and extensively anally probed by aliens with uncut fingernails.
Afterward, the organism aka 'Stinky Eric', will be returned to his natural environment, aka the Tipton Wet Hostel.
Wednesday, 7 October 2020
The Widow Maker
In the 19th century, there was a strong revival of archery in England, an art that had remained dormant, nay moribund, and almost forgotten after centuries of neglect. Typically the bows were made from a variety of woods to form a laminate. A handle wrap of leather was included together with an arrow pass of mother of pearl inset into the handle. Those of an ostentatious bent replaced the pearl with a sliver of silver. Other than these additions, the bow resembled the medieval bow except that draw weights were modest and in the order of 20lb to 50lbs at a standard draw length of 28 inches.
The resurgent/resplendent sport was very popular amongst the noble and monied classes. The great ladies of the time, in between bouts of the vapours and hysterical interludes, would take up the stave (it did resemble a broom) and release shafts of ash with vigour that belied their gentile status. How they managed to partake when encumbered with bustles and wide flouncy bonnets is a mystery of epic proportions.
Thursday, 24 September 2020
A Plea from the Fart
Hello gentle readers. I would like a little advice concerning financial matters. Interest rates the world over are at a historical/hysterical low. New Zealand, my country of choice for exile, is no exception. There is even talk of negative interest rates, which might appeal to those with a mortgage and other debt, but for those with a few pennies salted away in the bank/wank it bodes ill. Consequently, I'm thinking of shifting considerable amounts of cash into other investment areas. I'm not so keen on the stock market. It appears way too volatile in these uncertain times and I don't want to get wiped out in a crash........
I've seriously looked at buying bullion, mostly gold and silver not only as an investment but as a hedge against possible hikes in inflation. I'm not interested in the ethereal kind, the stuff kept in the air, on paper, or some other intangible way of investing. I want to hear the jingle of precious metal and to bask in the empyrean (Flaxen, stop being a poncy twat) glow of tactile metal. I've checked various reviews from so-called expert pundits only to receive conflicting advice. Therefore, I'm uncertain as to whether the purchase of substantial amounts of bullion is a wise investment choice. Please note: I would be in for the longterm and I'm not interested in short term gain. In addition, if I do go down this particular investment highway, would it be better just to buy bullion bars or coins and bullion? I think I need to be told.
Anyway, folks, I would be grateful for any snippets of information and also any sage advice and comments from my erudite and intelligent readership. Ta very much.
On an unrelated note: As a treat I've just bought a trilaminated English lonbow at 43lbs. It has been a difficult time of late. Mrs S is still recovering from 12 hours of surgery and I've been in indifferent health. Luckily I have a sensible and enlightened GP who has prescribed effective painkillers, and I'm not talking about parcetamol, brufen or even Tramadol. With the pain under control I'm able to enjoy my indulgence in physical activities such as archery. Wuff bucket, arse.
Sunday, 20 September 2020
Life on Venus?
Is there life in the universe apart from life on our humble, green planet? The SETI program was designed to answer this very question and powerful receivers have been searching our corner of the universe looking for signals transmitted by intelligent life for the past 40 years, as yet, to no avail.
Our solar system may also contain life however, in this case, we are looking for primitive, unicellular life, or evidence that life existed in the distant past. Mars has always been a prime contender. It seems it was much wetter in the past and even today ice patches can be observed at the poles. Of all the planets, Mars appears to be the most hospitable for simple unicellular life. The planet Venus has never been viewed with the same optimism. The surface of Venus is a balmy/barmy 500 degrees Celsius and the thick inhospitable atmosphere broils and seethes in a corrosive hydro-sulphuric and carbon dioxide envelope. It seems that the surface of Venus, at least, is totally inimical to even the most robust primitive life of which we could conceive. But what about the upper atmosphere of the planet? Fifty-five kilometers from the surface the pressure is similar to that on Earth and the ambient temperature is within tolerable limits as far as life is concerned. Indeed, it has long been hypothesised that life could exist within a narrow cloud band. Although the atmosphere is highly acidic it is conceivable that microbes, termed acidophiles, could thrive in such an environment. But without any supporting evidence, the hypothesis could in no way be substantiated, until now.
A recent report in Nature Astronomy has claimed that a biomolecule marker of life, phosphine, has been detected in the clouds of Venus. Detection is due to the interrogation of the atmosphere using highly sensitive telescopes tuned to the spectral signature of the Venusian atmosphere. By analysing these spectra the undeniable absorption band of phosphine was detected at levels unlikely to be caused by non-living chemistry alone. This is an intriguing finding but it is important not to get carried away at this early stage of the investigation. Additional painstaking research is required.
First off, the study needs to be verified by an independent research team. Also, there may be other biomarker chemicals present. Their presence would add weight to the ‘life-hypothesis’. Also, an exhaustive search for abiotic mechanisms of phosphine generation needs to be undertaken to see if they could account for the relatively high levels of phosphine observed. The only way to obtain definitive proof for ‘life on Venus’ would involve sending a probe to sample the Venusian atmosphere. Let’s appeal to Elon Musk, and ask him to dust off one of his probes to be routed to Venus forthwith. Forget about Mars, Venus is the hot destination for spacecraft this season.
If there is life, it almost certainly involves a form of anaerobic respiration. The first life on Earth was anaerobic and did not rely on the presence of oxygen. The primitive Earth had very little free oxygen and therefore, initially, was unable to support an aerobic lifestyle. Aerobic bacteria evolved from their anaerobic cousins and by harnessing the power of sunlight they pumped out large amounts of free oxygen to the atmosphere. Oxygen is highly corrosive to anaerobes and most species became extinct. Today, anaerobic bacterial forms are exclusively found in specialist environments such as oxygen-free peat beds.
The phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere was detected at levels of 20 parts per billion. This might not seem much but it is difficult to account for these levels on the basis of chemistry alone. In addition, phosphine is rapidly broken down by UV light which is in abundance in the upper reaches of the Venusian atmosphere. The implication is that to maintain these relatively high levels of phosphine a mechanism of rapid replenishment is required. This renewal would be consistent with known biology, but is it the exclusive prerogative of life?
Although these results are exciting we must take on board a degree of caution. I remember the debacle in the 1990s when President Clinton when he wasn’t playing with his cigar, announced that a meteorite had been found originating from Mars and that it showed distinct markings associated with past life. However, further work revealed that the observed morphology was completely consistent with mundane chemical processes totally divorced from life. Man’s hubris was shockingly revealed in this instance! Although, we can’t conceive how terrestrial chemistry could produce phosphine in the amounts observed in the Venusian context, perhaps under the extremes of temperature and pressure experienced on Venus novel forms of chemistry, independent of a biotic cause, could occur.
For the sake of this post let’s assume that simple life exists within the Venusian atmosphere. The implications would be profound and far-reaching. For instance, did the Earth ‘seed’ Venus with life in the unimaginable past via a meteorite? Could it be that life on Earth originally came from Venus? The so-called Panspermia hypothesis could be easily tested by examining the respective genomes and looking for DNA sequences associated with a common source. Of course, if it could be determined that life originated independently on Earth and Venus, this would be a more exciting prospect. It would show that life is probably not rare and given the right conditions and enough time is virtually inevitable. The formation of life at two distinct places in our solar system would suggest that life is likely to be present elsewhere in our system, such as on Jupiter’s moons and possibly in the atmosphere of the other gas giant planets. It would also suggest that life is present in other stars systems throughout the universe. Imagine a universe teeming with life? It has to be stressed that intelligent or even complex life, is probably very rare. Perhaps complex life is exceedingly rare for reasons previously discussed in this blog. Not so much ‘Little Green Men’, but more likely ‘Little Green Slime’. Let’s wait and see.......