Thursday 30 December 2021

Endosymbiotic Theory in all its Glory

This is the last post for this year of 2021. And let's face it, twas shit (the year, not the post). Moving on.....

In this post I would like to bring forth for contemplation the, 'Endosymbiotic Theory' first brought to light in the 1960s by a biologist, Lynn Margulis. But before considering the theory in a more depth, I'm required to delve into a little background information for the edification of the soul.

It has been estimated that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old and life appeared perhaps as early as 4.3 billion years ago. First life on Earth would have been very simple, single-celled organisms. Evolution for the next 2.3 billion years would result in a vast array of these relatively primitive, single cells. The bacteria we see today are the direct descendants of these simple cells and are classified as prokaryotes. It would seem that life would have continued along this rather happy-go-lucky, primitive pathway but something wonderful happened which kick-started evolution on a new and exciting trajectory......... 

Consider our primitive earth 2 billion years ago. Within the oceans lurked life, but not life as we know it today. Evolution occurred, albeit slowly, and as always modified form and structure; a process in perpetual motion. As previously mentioned, life at this time in our evolutionary history consisted of unicellular organisms without the power to construct complex multicellular structures. Power is the key, or more importantly energy. Energy expenditure is what defines life and distinguishes the world of 'life' from 'non-life'. These simple bacterial forms produced energy by a means known as glycolysis. I'll not go into the cycle itself (many years ago I had to memorise this cycle, and many more. Arse). Suffice to say, that this energy-generating pathway is responsible for keeping entropy at bay. Entropy is a fascinating subject in itself. Energy, if left to its own devices, is always winding down to a lower, less organised state incapable of performing further useful 'work'. Remember, energy can never be destroyed only changed. Energy is the life giving chameleon of our world, and indeed for the entire universe. Have I digressed?

Sometime 2 billion years ago a single bacterial cell engulfed a much smaller bacterium. Tis a bacteria, bacteria eat world. Normally the larger organism would digest the engulfed bacteria thus extracting life-giving nutrients. But for some reason, lost in the eons of time, on this occasion something unique and singular occurred. Instead of destroying the hapless bacterium, the larger cousin, by means and mutations unknown encouraged the reproduction of the organism within its cell. The larger cell then began to nourish and nurture its much smaller brethren. The benefit for the larger cell is that it began to feed on the surplus energy provided by the inclusion. The larger 'host cell', in turn, provided a protective environment for its tenant. The smaller of the two bacteria would eventually evolve into the ubiquitous organelle, mitochondria; also known as 'The Powerhouse of the Cell'. This situation, where both organisms obtain benefit from their intimate association is known in biology as, mutualism. The first 'complex cell' (eukaryote) was formed. The fact that this event happened, only once in life's complex evolutionary history is attested and elaborated by modern genetic analysis. The surfeit of energy enabled the evolutionary development of more complex, interacting/cooperating, multicellular organisms.  It is sobering to reflect that all complex life, including humans, owe an evolutionary debt to this rather aberrant mutated 'mother cell'. This event may have implications for the formation of complex life elsewhere in the universe. Could it be that our inability to contact other intergalactic civilisations is because they don't exist due to this fundamental hurdle on the pathway to complex life?

There is another point to be made. Bacteria reproduce by asexual means. Therefore genetic diversity in these organisms relies on the production of mutations. In contrast, multicellular organisms reproduce sexually. This allows for an increase in genetic variability- the fodder for evolution to digest and work on. Therefore, evolution occurred quite rapidly in these first eukaryotic cells eventually resulting in the plethora of multicellular creatures we see today. It is interesting to note that for 2.3 billion years, life remained single-celled and primitive. Thereafter, with the formation of eukaryotic cells, it took only 2 billion years to produce the vast array of complex life we see today, thus is the evolutionary power of sexual reproduction. Consider the fact that for the majority of the time that life has existed on Earth, the only organisms alive were bacteria.

It seems that in addition to this initial endosymbiotic event, sometime later in evolutionary history, a second engulfing occurred in a cell already playing host to mitochondria (can you actually have two unique events- only on this blog?). Therefore, mitochondria were not the only organelle to make this jump to existence within another cell. These cells would eventually become part of the great, 'plant kingdom' and the inclusion would evolve into the organelle, called chloroplasts. Chloroplasts contain the necessary chemical apparatus for photosynthesis a feature associated with all living plants, with the exception of the parasitic forms.

Both mitochondria and chloroplasts still contain certain primitive elements characteristic of their bacterial ancestors. They retain their own DNA, which is organised in a circular form, just like modern bacteria, and produce their own proteins. Both organelles have also retained the ability to reproduce independently within the 'host' cell in an asexual manner, again this is a trait shared by bacteria.

These incredibly rare evolutionary events are responsible for the rich complexity of life we observe on Earth today. Without these critical associations, life today would be no more complex than a smear on a rock, in the ocean. Makes you thunk, dun it?


Friday 24 December 2021

Flaxen's Christmas Felicitations

Shagger says: "Buy me a pressie or I'll bite your bollocks clean awf

Tis Christmastide in the Flaxen abode. All is well with the world. Peace and harmony have descended throughout like a descendy thing. The snow lies deep, crisp, and even. The sparrow forages in the hoar frost for a tasty tidbit. The wolves in the hill howl a cry of hope. The sleeping child lies upon the crib, moist, warm and free of care. The log fire crackles and throws a warm glow throughout our humble abode. Choristers sing out in harmony upon our doorstep. The light from their multitude of candles cast a guttering glow that alights their ruddy cheeks in rubicund delight. The eggnog flows free and the mistletoe hangs in expectation above the incandescent hearth.....

Is it Bollocks!

The cosy/rosy picture painted above, of course, bears no exactitude to reality. In truth, the weather is a balmy 30 degrees, thus negating the log fire. No rosy-cheeked cherubs bestrew our deck with song; no wolves either. Fuck eggnog, it tastes like shit.

Let's be frank, the past year has been particularly shit and one that mankind will gladly see its demise with gleeful abandon. COVID has ravaged mankind. The economic cost has been incalculable, and still, the infection continues unabated.

At the personal level, fortune has been mixed. My health remains indifferent as I contemplate the fact that over the past 12 months I have become an opiate addict. On the other hand, the archery business I started with number one son continues to grow and our intention is to expand into the large Australian market.

The family will gather today. My son and girlfriend will arrive from the windy city. My mother will be joining the throng this year if her health holds. Presently she resides in the local 'granny farm' which caters to her multiple health issues. My daughter, and her family, already live with us and hopefully in the near future will move out to start a new life living on an old school bus. Four people crammed into a single-decker 1980s bus- surely, nothing could go wrong, could it?

Christmas day will be predictable. Hearty morning breakfast followed by the opening of the pressies. Later in the day, we will partake of a conventional Christmas dinner of turkey, lamb, and ham followed by Christmas pud and custard.

Anyway folks, I wish you a good hearty Christmas festival and I will pick up my mighty pen in the New Year and write anew. Let us hope that 2022 is a whole lot better than the year we are leaving behind- good riddance say I!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Flaxen Family.      

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Dark Forrest

I've considered the Fermi Paradox before on this blog. A simple search will expose the post in all its magnificent glory. For those that can't be bothered I will outline the main details: We have now determined that, in our Milky Way galaxy alone, there are billions of planets (some 7 billion earth-like) orbiting other suns capable of supporting life. Given that the universe has existed for 13.8 billion years we would expect that life has evolved many times on many of these exoplanets. It is reasonable to expect that conceivably (highly likely?) there will be alien life forms more technically advanced than ourselves. In fact, it is not inconceivable to consider our galaxy, and by extension the universe, to be teeming with intelligent life. But even though we have been actively 'looking' for intelligent life for 70 years or so, we have found absolutely no evidence to suggest intelligent life is 'out there'. In essence, this is the Fermi Paradox in stark simplicity.

Various solutions have been proposed to explain this most vexed of paradoxies. The Great Filter: Mayhap there is a 'barrier' preventing the formation of advanced civilisations. There are several possibilities. Life on Earth can be divided into two domains, prokaryotic and eukaryotic. Bacteria are good examples of prokaryotic cells and all multicellular organisms are eukaryotic. Bacteria are less biologically complex than eukaryotic cells. It has been hypothesised that the evolution from prokaryotic life to eukaryotic occurred only once in evolutionary history. The evidence for this hypothesis is very convincing and in the near future, I'll generate an article outlining its importance and significance for higher life. The biological complexity of eukaryotic cells allows the formation of multi-cellular organisms ultimately evolving to intelligent life. It has been argued that this original mutation is incredibly rare (?almost impossible). Could this be a valid explanation of the paradox? Or maybe there is a more sinister explanation. Perhaps civilisations in the cosmos are very like us and have destroyed themselves by war or by the exhaustion of essential resources. Regardless, it is possible to theorise a number of 'filters/barriers' preventing the formation of highly advanced extraterrestrial life forms capable of intergalactic travel.

Another theory for consideration is the so-called, 'Dark Forrest. Perhaps the universe is teeming with intelligent life, but the sensible civilisations are lying low and quiet. Consider the following scenario: We know that an essential element faced by all life on earth is competition. There is a limit to the number of useful resources in a given environment, this fosters competition, not only within species but between species as well. This competition for resources is an important driver of evolution. Humans are here because our ancestors were aggressively competitive and modern humans continue to be so. It is known that modern humans coexisted with other humanid species, Neathandels being the most prominent and well known. However, all these human-like species eventually became extinct and by 10,000 years ago Homo Sapiens was the only species left in the great arena of life. It is likely that Homo Sapiens out-competed their brethren either indirectly, or directly, or more likely, both. There was only one niche available and the more aggressive, and perhaps the more intelligent species prevailed. Competition within our species is a constant. History is replete with instances of more advanced civilisations coming into contact with lesser developed societies. The outcome is inevitably catastrophic for the 'lesser breeds'. It is innately ingrained in the human soul to take advantage of others to their ultimate detriment. Anthropologists used to have a rose-tinted view of our pre-history ancestors as pacific individuals living in peaceful harmony with others. Recent archeological data has shattered this rather naive picture of ancient man. Evidence has become available showing mass graves with individual skeletons exhibiting obvious marks of violence. Inter-human violence is a ubiquitous quality of mankind- ain't dat the sad truth.

There is no reason to expect that alien civilisations have not been driven by similar aggressive principles. This assumption is crucial to understanding all life at the fundamental level. Evolution is driven by selective forces acting on individual organisms. In fact, tis inevitable. These selective forces, all other things being equal, will result in the 'most fit' organism passing on its genes. It is conceptually useful to consider living organisms as vehicles for the storing and passing of genetic information. Ultimately it comes down to genetic transfer to future generations. Success or failure is dependant upon how well the genetic storage system is at reacting to the myriad of external elements impinging upon the system. Some folk take exception to this extreme reductionist viewpoint as it takes all the romance out of life. Nonetheless, DNA cares not a jot for our pathetic emotional debris and detritus. Success is only achievable and sustainable over the corpses of others. Therefore assimilating and taking these fundamental principles into account perhaps it is best, for humanity, to lie low and not attract attention from potentially hostile, expansionist, and predatory alien species.

Of course, because evolution favours the development of base aggressive instincts, it does not necessarily mean that aliens will react negatively to others in the great wide cosmos. Humans pride themselves on their ability to control their atavistic, primitive impulses/instincts and to formulate a humane and empathetic demeanour. These qualities set us apart from all living things, with a possible couple of exceptions. Is it fair to suggest that a highly advanced technical alien species would be so disposed? Would you be willing to bet your life on it? Perhaps the alien life form would be so advanced that our feeble attempts at technology could be conceived as unrepresentative of life worthy of their contemplation? Why not bat us aside as we do a fly?

This brings us back to the Dark Forest theory. There are only two types of technically advanced alien civilisations 'out there': the quick and the dead. The universe might be teeming with life, but no one is advertising their existence, just in case....... But what happens if we do detect an alien civilisation? In reality communication with an alien civilisation would be the speed of light. The cosmos is a vast arena and it is likely the aliens would be many light-years distant. Perhaps they have advanced enough to warp space and time. In theory, after the initial communication, they would be able to travel to our system almost immediately, if they so chose. In that case, we might expect benign, friendly contact, or an invasion fleet. Imagine the panic engendered as the world leaders contemplate their options. Certainly one of those options might be a preemptive strike as they materialise within our solar system. Come out blasting and damn the consequences.

Seriously, in such an eventuality, there is much to contemplate. We may be worrying unduly. Am I being unduly pessimistic and/or simplistic? Perhaps we are the only intelligent species in our big wide universe and that this is the best outcome for our species. What do you think?

Tuesday 14 December 2021


                                                 The measure of man?

In 1901 an American Christian physician, Dr. Duncan MacDougal, set out to prove the existence of the soul, experimentally, by weighing patients at the time of death. His rationale revolved around the possibility that the soul had a finite weight that could be measured. At the time of death, the soul would depart and the loss of weight could be recorded.

There is much that can be said about this experiment and none of it is good. To enlightened folk 120 years later, the experiment appears naive and misguided. We need to remember that at this time in history, even well-educated folk, were likely to believe in God. Atheism, as a concept, would only take hold, in the West, after the Great War. What I find particularly strange is the concept of the soul as envisaged by the good doctor. The notion of the soul, in the West, has undergone much change over the past 2,500 + years. It can be traced from its early beginnings in Greek thought (Homeric-pre-Socratic) to a thorough exposition by the great Greek ancient philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Their concept of the soul heavily influenced philosophers to come ultimately becoming incorporated into  Christianity by the early Church Fathers. Thus our modern idealisation of the soul is essentially 'Ancient Greek' with a modicum of Christian garnish/varnish. Curiously, the theology of the soul as outlined by the ancient Jews did not overly influence the Christian concept. I find this interesting, as of course, much of what we consider 'Christian' has been taken from Judaism (?discuss). I think it would be worthwhile to write on the topic of: 'The Concept of the Soul, in the Western Tradition', at a later juncture. Anyway, for the purpose of this post, it is sufficient to note that the Western concept of the soul has, to the best of my knowledge, always been considered as an ethereal incorporate entity and therefore devoid of mass. As such, it would not be expected to exhibit 'weight' as a constituent property. Therefore, conceptually, MacDougal's experiment was very much at odds with 'theological thought' of the time; very curious indeed.

Clearly, the logistical problems involved were formidable. But this did not deter the doughty, indomitable Dr. Duncan MacDougal as he embarked on designing a foolproof protocol.

Dr. MacDougal managed to obtain six patients on the point of death. He persuaded his moribund patients to lie on a modified bed containing a sensitive scale. At the time of death, Dr. MacDougal noted any change in the patient's weight. His conclusion: the weight of the soul is equivalent to 21gms. However, this result was obtained from only four of his dying patients and the data obtained was inconsistent.

This experiment has been cited by Christian groups as scientifically proving the existence of a soul even though the experiment assumes and implies that the soul has a physical manifestation, counter to mainstream Christian doctrine. The good doc repeated his experiment on fifteen dogs. In this instance, there was no loss in weight at the time of death. Dr. MacDougal considered this result in accord with current Christian doctrine. Only humans were exalted enough to be worthy of a soul. All other living organisms, and inanimate objects, were bereft. There is no mention of how the canines expired. I can only surmise that the 'good doc' helped the dogs to relinquish their grasp on existence with a little morphia.

There is so much wrong with MacDougal's experiment that it is difficult to know where to start, although he did manage to get his findings published in a respectable medical Journal (American Medicine 1907). Criticism was leveled soon after publication and very few scientists and physicians considered MacDougal's findings valid. Ultamately only four patents provided data in this study. This is a ridiculously small sample set to base such wide-sweeping conclusions and it is impossible to perform any credible statistical analysis. On this basis alone the experiment can be disregarded. It is only recently that we have developed techniques to define and measure the precise time of death. The criteria used by MacDougal to determine the exact time of death was considered flawed and imprecise. It has also been argued that the means to weigh the patients was not accurate and only precise to 5gms. At the time of publication a prominent American physician, Dr Augustus Clarke, proferred a more probable cause of weight loss following death. He stated that at the time of death there is usually a sudden rise in body temperature causing an increase in sweating resulting in water loss. As dogs have no sweat glands they would not exhibit a corresponding loss in fluid at death.

I see no need to belabour the point. Although a small group of fundamentalists might be convinced, the vast majority of serious scientists, and lay folk alike, remain unconvinced. As far as I'm aware there has been no subsequent attempt to repeat the experiment, on human subjects at least. Given the immense logistical (and ethical?) hurdles involved, it will come as no surprise. And frankly, serious physicians, and scientists, have better things to occupy their research time and budget. 

As a passing sentiment, I will leave my faithful readership with the following prose.

      My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;

Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,

Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,

Upon the breathless starlit air,

Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;

Fix every wandering thought upon

That quarter where all thought is done:

Who can distinguish darkness from the soul?

Saturday 11 December 2021

Flaxen Saxon having a bit of a Ramble......


What is science? This is a real, meaningful question for today. Although most folk claim they understand 'science' at its base level a quick chat with the average citizen will reveal very little meaningful comprehension. Science literacy is important, even for none scientists, and should, in my opinion, be emphasised at an early stage in our education. Perhaps the science curricular could acquire time slots allotted to ridiculous topics such as 'Gender Studies'. I will send a quick missive to the 'National Education Dept of New Zealand.' I'm sure they will be receptive to my erudite recommendations. Arse.

Even scientists can become confused with the base core that is 'Science'. This is not because, at the fundamental level at least, the principles are overly complex. The problem lies in the fact that the underlying principles of science are never put forth in a coherent way. Even at the university level, there is a deplorable lack of teaching directed to imparting the basic essence of scientific endeavour and practice. It is assumed that these underlying principles will be miraculously absorbed by an undefined method of 'intellectual osmosis'. However, it is well worth the time to formally teach the importance of scientific endeavour, the underpinning principles of science, and methodology at an early stage in a pupil's education.

There has always been folk in society that have eschewed science and scientific principles. A host of reasons can be put forth. Science is often at odds with accepted religious practice and doctrine. Those whose religious will and austerity are unyielding will oft side with their particular brand of religious doctrine/indoctrination to the detriment of their scientific understanding. As a good example, it is worth considering the teaching and societal status of 'Evolutionary Theory' in the United States. The theory of evolution has been around for 170 years and is still considered the best explanation for change and variation within and between species, Nonetheless, fundamentalist Christians dismiss the principle as 'just theory' and incompatible with their religious teachings. Sadly, and according to the latest polls, 40% of the American public believes in creation. This statistic is shocking. This level of scientific ignorance should not belong to a modern industrialised country in the 21st century- but there it stands. Arguments put forth by fundamentalists are laughable and ludicrous. Tis clear that many have not performed their due diligence in reading the primary evolutionary literature. Their comprehension of the topic is obtained from the pulpit and literature from other religious apologists. Their arguments are easy to refute and rebuff thereby exposing their underlying ignorance.

It has to be acknowledged that our paltry human brains have not evolved to deal with the complexity of the natural world. Our brains evolved in a particular environment. An environment full of atavistic danger. We needed to contend with the presence of large predators physically stronger and more adept than us. Disease via microbes assailed our fragile bodies and natural selection favoured a sophisticated and effective immune system. The selective pressures we encountered as a species were not geared to produce a mind capable of comprehending the complexities of our world at the fundamental level, and this shows when we attempt to deduce valid descriptors of reality. Science, by necessity, works with models that approximate or imitate reality. We seek reality but that reality is elusive. Our understanding lurches on as we discover new knowledge that is in accord with our current model of reality. If the observable data doesn't fit, or frankly contradicts our model, then the model requires modification or abandonment. Generally, science progression comes slowly in small packets. It is only rarely that we observe a seismic shift in our understanding. Einstein's theories of relativity supplanted the Newtonian model of reality and today is considered the best model we have to explain time and motion. However, lately, there have been some worrying contradictions suggesting that Einstein's Model is not quite correct. Mayhap will have to await the arrival of another prodigal genius to put forth a more accurate theory.

It is also acknowledged that science doesn't have the answer to all our questions. As stated we can only approximate. This is, of course, manna to the religious. They deal with absolutes. There are no doubts. At least no doubts religious leaders wish to impart to the 'simple believer'. Thus the Iman and the Bishop preach absolutes; there is no room for doubt. Leave doubt to the scientists. The charlatan likewise plays the same game of certainty. Notice that the snake oil peddler is oft to present their product as a 'miracle cure'. In contrast, legitimate medicine rarely makes 'cure-all' claims. For instance, there is no one treatment that is effective against all the cancers that assail our wretched bodies. Yet many will be taken in by chicanery of emotive words, such as 'Natural Products' or 'Lost Ancient Wisdom'. These buzz words fool millions and even the highly intelligent are not immune to such blandishments. Consider the case of Steve Jobs: he was diagnosed with cancer eminently treatable, and with a high cure rate, by conventional medicine alone. Modern Western medicine is based on hundreds of years of accumulated scientific data and knowledge. No arcane wisdom is needed. Anyone can pronounce they have found a cure (insert any disease you desire) on the basis of sound marketing. No empirical clinical trials or painstaking clinical research is necessary. It is often considered a virtue if the elixir of life does not conform to conventional wisdom and contains no synthetic compounds. It is as if the simple mantra, 'natural' is always good and synthetic is always 'bad' is actually meaningful and true. Jobs thought that alternative, so-called 'natural treatment', was the pathway to a cure. He was wrong and he suffered the ultimate penalty as a consequence. Many find these absolutes attractive and comforting. Science can do no such thing. Science raises doubts, not absolutes. Religion and charlatans offer an endpoint; science contemplates a journey. A journey where the destination is largely unknown. Consider the extent of the scientific journey that has been traveled over just the last 200 years. We have come far.

Scientific advancement and the acquisition of meaningful knowledge is a matter of approximating gradations. For instance, the model of the atom we learn at school is not the model contemplated by the professional physicist. Atoms can't be balls of matter and strings of energy at the same time. String theory is perhaps our most complex and intricate model of reality. But scientists, if they are intellectually honest, accept that the model is incorrect. While it unites much of what we know at the quantum and macro level it is becoming clear that it is not consistent with all our observations. Scientists are human after all and like everyone can become irrationally attached to an idea or notion; hubris is universal.

There is much incomprehension and ignorance, by lay-folk, concerning the methodology of the scientific method, its power, and limitations, that I'm tempted to undertake a series of posts, hopefully illustrating and illuminating these important issues. Let me know in the comments whether you think it would be fruitful for the flaxen-haired one to pursue such a course.

Tuesday 30 November 2021


                                                             The Donut of Doom 

Twas last Wednesday at about 10.00am. I was ensconced in bed breaking my fast with oaty, frosty, wheaty flakes. The next I remember is being fussed over by two paramedics attaching various electrodes to my confused form. Apparently, I had suffered a seizure and during the process managed to bite a chunk out of my tongue. I was still confused and couldn't answer the simple questions posed. Of course, I needed to be ferried to the nearest hospital but for some reason, I was reluctant to leave my cozy warm bed. Sanity prevailed and I ended up in the Emergency Department of Wairarapa hospital.

I was fixed up to various instruments monitoring my heart. Blood samples were taken and sent off for biochemistry and haematology testing. The docs were worried that I had suffered a stroke but I managed to pass the physical exam and there was no evidence of a 'cerebral incident'. To be sure I was sent to the Imaging Department for a CT scan. Again, there was no evidence of a brain mishap.

The doctor explained that they could find nothing wrong but they would like to perform further brain imaging (MRI). Unfortunately, this requires a referral to the main Wellington Hospital and the appointment should hopefully transpire within the next week or so.

As there was no explanation for my temporary fugue the docs decided to send me home. However, my driver's license has been suspended until further notice. I was told that even if I have no further episodes, it is likely that I won't be able to drive for a year. This will leave my travel at the mercy of my wife and daughter. A prospect that pleases me, not at all. There appears not a lot I can do to remedy the situation and I understand why the medical profession is not too keen on me driving the highways and byways of New Zealand. Arse and double, Arse. I will keep my fan base updated as information about my medical condition comes to fruition. 

Friday 26 November 2021

Archery Business Update

    The Saxon Helm from Sutton Hoo

I thought I would update my readership with regard to my ongoing/online business. I've posted before when the business was first set up.

Together, with my son, we decided to set up an archery business, predictably named, 'Saxon Archery.' We sell a range of archery equipment including bows of various types. My son set up the website and to be honest I'm impressed with his expertise. For those interested, the website can be accessed here: When the business was first conceived, I envisaged a rather small enterprise. More of a hobby than a business. However, I underestimated my son's energetic promotion. He is currently working as a 'Project Manager' and his background education consists of a degree in Business and I.T. Therefore, he is perfectly positioned to handle the promotion and technical aspects of our business. How he can manage the business and work full time is a mystery to me, especially as he runs a subsidiary and independent business at weekends. Our success is a testament to my son's dedication and technical prowess- I'm in awe.

And indeed the business is thriving. I handle the dispatch of the items to the customers, which is starting to take up a considerable amount of my time. Currently, we are only selling our goods within New Zealand however, we have plans to expand the business to encompass Australia. As said, we sell a range of bow types, from modern take-down recurves to raw primitive bows such as the redoubtable English longbow and various Asian 'horse bows'. Also, we have an extensive inventory of archery accessories including arrows, arm guards, and quivers.  

Contrary to expectation, our top sellers are the primitive bows. We sell five primitive bows to every modern recurve. With Christmas on the horizon, we are expecting a rush especially as our prices are very keen and competitive.

Tomorrow, I have someone coming to collect an English longbow. He will probably require arrows, and armguards as well. A very tidy sale. I've arranged for him to shoot his new bow on site. Here he can safely dispatch arrows without inconveniencing the neighbours and sundry passerbys.

I think this will do for now. I'll keep my readership updated as the business progresses. It has turned out to be a nice little earner to supplement my meagre state pension.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Nature in its Raw Majesty

The Best of Times......

Several weeks ago I came across an unusual opportunity on our property. In the field where we keep our alpacas, I noticed a tree stump about four feet in height, next to a stand of gum trees and adjacent to a 'lean to' that I had constructed for the alpacas to shelter from the worst of the weather. To be honest, the little buggers don't access the fruits of my labours. As they hail from the Andes in South America they are genetically programmed to withstand harsh environments and rain and wind bother them, not a jot.

Anyway, upon the stump, I espied a bird's nest in resplendent glory and contained therein was three eggs. While I am not an ornithologist I did recognise the dappled powder blue eggs as belonging to the Starling species. As I understand it, the common Starling is an introduced species and not native to New Zealand. As I had unprecedented access to the nest I thought it would be a great photographic project for my 11-year-old granddaughter. As mentioned previously, my daughter, her partner, and two kids are living with us at present and have been with us for the past two years- tis a long story. Currently, my daughter's partner is converting an old school bus for them to live in. Once the project is completed, around Christmastide, they hope to move the bus to the local caravan park where they will reside in idyllic seclusion. While this is not an ideal living situation it does solve an urgent problem. When we retired three years ago, it was hoped that we would live alone with occasional visits from our two kids. Circumstances have dictated otherwise. It is virtually impossible for my daughter and family to access affordable accommodation within New Zealand. House prices preclude the possibility of buying a home. House prices in New Zealand have increased incredibly over the past few years making homeownership virtually impossible for the average Kiwi. In addition, average house rental prices in New Zealand are about $450 per week for a modest three property. This excludes the Auckland area where the average rental is about $650 per week. The government bemoans these facts, but of course, are at the mercy of economic factors beyond their control. The truth is that there is a dearth of both rental and affordable homes for sale.

I've digressed (no shit Flaxen), as is my wont. The plan was for my grandfruit to take a succession of photos documenting the development of the nestlings and indeed a couple of days later our patience was rewarded when two of the eggs hatched. From then on we took a photo per day being careful to cause minimum disruption. Now, the situation was interesting for two reasons: Firstly, the site of the nest was not optimal. Due to its position, it could easily be accessed by the huge rats that inhabit the region. Luckily, the canopy of the nearby trees prevented detection from ariel predators. We have a hawk that actively patrols our land and the baby Starlings would be a tasty titbit for the ever-vigilant sky-borne predator. Secondly, this occurred in mid-October which equates to early spring in New Zealand. Spring in this region is notoriously unsettled. While Summers are very hot and dry, Spring weather tends to be wet and the temperature can vary markedly from being relatively cold to temperatures in the low 20s (Celcius). The unpredictable temperature combined with the exposed position lends for a risky situation for the nest. It appeared, to me, as a biologist, that the adult birds were first-time parents and therefore inexperienced and naive. More on this latter.

We faithfully photographed the development of the nestlings over the next few days and the babies were developing well and had started to develop feathers. Sadly, the inevitable cold front hit the region and the temperature plummeted to low single figures. The next day I went to check the nest and both chicks had succumbed to the rigours of New Zealand's unpredictable spring climate. My poor grandfruit was considerably upset however, I hope she learned a few valuable lessons about the vicissitudes of Nature. It cannot be denied that Nature is a harsh and cruel mistress. It is also prodigiously wasteful. Of all the 'creatures' conceived or set seed, very few will reach maturity. The degree of wastage is clearly dependant upon a host of factors and variables too numerous to count and related to the species under consideration. With reference to our starlings: they made a grave mistake when it came to the furtherance of their species. The cost-benefit equation is worth a visit. As a biologist, I can analyse the scenario with a dispassionate, and critical eye. Reproduction and the raising of chicks to a stage compatible with independent existence are costly in terms of energy expenditure. It places a considerable strain on the parents, often to the detriment of their health. It is unlikely that the parents will be able to muster the resources for a second attempt of parenthood during the current season. In the great game of natural selection, they have failed to propagate their genes into the next generation. In terms of evolution, tis a numbers game. Reproductive fitness is to be measured as the total number of offspring delivered for the furtherance of the gene pool. Failure to do so will result in the reduction or loss of 'parental traits' not conducive to the survival of the organism in a given environment milieu. Nuff said.                         

Friday 12 November 2021

Commentary on Previous Post

A Cast of Thousands


I received a very informative comment concerning my previous post, 'Francis Bacon' from 'Discovered Joys'. He cited a survey pertaining to professional, academic philosophers. The academics were balloted with regard to who, in their professional opinion, was the most influential 'Historic Philosopher' with respect to their own philosophical ethos and viewpoint. Surprisingly, the most popular answer: 'Aristotle'; second place was occupied by the great British empirical philosopher, 'David Hume'.

I found this statistic highly illuminating. Philosophy should be an active and forward-thinking intellectual discipline- however, this is the counsel of perfection. Clearly, an emphasis on a long-dead philosopher is not going to uncover new knowledge. I suspect there are two issues at play here. Firstly, the topics available to 'Modern Philosophy' have shrunk in tune with the rise of science. This is a relatively modern phenomenon and has taken place, by degrees, over the past four hundred years as science has developed and become prominent in academic society, all to the detriment of classical philosophy. Subjects, left as morsels, for the modern philosopher to masticate and digest, mainly relate to the realm of ethics, morals, and religion. These topics are rather open-ended and subject to opinion. Unfortunately for modern philosophers, these subjects have been mulled/mauled upon for over 2,000 years and therefore there is very little that can be said that is truly novel. What Socrates had to say on ethics is still valid 2,400 years later. Therefore, philosophy as an academic discipline, in my opinion, has atrophied and is little more than a historical survey of past thought. My second issue concerns the philosopher known as Aristotle. Aristotle had a great deal to say on virtually everything and what he had to say, on virtually everything, except in matters of opinion and logic, has been subsequently shown to be incorrect. It can be stated, with confidence, that Aristotle formulated and bequeathed the world with formal logic in the form of the assertoric syllogism. This achievement alone, to my mind, cements Aristotle as one of the greatest thinkers to have graced our intellectual firmament, ancient and modern. And indeed, Aristotle's system dominated logical theory for the following 2,000 years. In fact, Immanuel Kant, in the 1740s, considered the Aristotelian syllogism the culmination and endpoint of formal logic. Of course, Kant was wrong, and 'logic theory' would go forth and develop into new and exciting forms. If any of my readers are unfamiliar with syllogistic logic a simple Google search will provide adequate sustenance to be devoured by the intellect with gusto.

As a digression, during the 19th century, a theory arose that the works of Shakspeare had been written by someone else. The theory of 'Alternative Authorship' was based upon an observation that surely an unsophisticated country bucolic would not have had the breadth of worldly knowledge and sophistication to have penned the rich prose repertoire of Shakespearian sonnets and plays. Supporters point out that Shakespeare did not have a university education and could not have had the broad knowledge of Elizabethian politics, alluded to in Shakespeare's works. I'll not enter into the debate, but say that modern scholars give little credence to this theory. Anyway, several alternative authors were seriously considered including the playwright, Christopher Marlow and of course, Francis Bacon. I can see a degree of stylistic overlap between the writings of Shakespeare and Bacon. Both have a majestic grasp of the English language and appear to wring every nuance and cadence out of the rich Elizabethian prose of the time. Nuff said

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Francis Bacon

                                                   Behold the Baconater

I'm back after a hiatus. Who was it who said old age is a ship wreck? Anyway, my health has not been of the best lately and I've been prone to melancholy. My 'Black Dog' is always lurking in the depths of my psyche and sometimes comes forth to bite. It robs me of my muse and I find it difficult to put pen to paper. The dog on my shoulder has decided to tarry no more and has retreated to his den deep within my soul. But he will be back baying, howling and slavering upon my very core.  

Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650), is considered the founder of 'Modern Philosophy', and in my opinion, quite rightly. He was one of the first great scholars to relinquish the hitherto reliance on 'Scholastic Philosophy' which had dominated and stifled the advancement of knowledge for over a 1,000 years. A system heavily reliant upon the philosophy of Aristotle that had become the stale mainstay of philosophic thought. It took a bold mind indeed to break with this tradition, such was the reputation of the Stagirite.

Descartes  great contribution to thought progression was to strip the subject of philosophy to its fundamental base and then proceed to build upon this solid intellectual bed rock, layer by layer, to complete a novel philosophical edifice. However, this post is not about Descartes, (I've covered Descartes previously; check the post here) but concerns a contemporary, Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626). Sadly, most folk know little about this Great Man even though, in terms of original thought and ultimate influence, he has had a more far reaching and lasting impact than Descartes. Bacon was perhaps the first great thinker to emphasise the importance of the scientific inductive method and to formally put forth in writing, its underlying principles. Again, like Descartes, he departed from the Scholasticism to break new ground in the acquisition of knowledge, however, they differed upon ultimate methodology and philosophical emphasis.

Unlike Descartes, who managed to embed the Christian deity firmly into his philosophical model, Bacon insisted that science (it is to be remembered that the concepts of science and philosophy were interchangeable at this time) and religion should occupy separate knowledge domains, without overlap. This innovative idea was enough for Bacon to be labelled as an atheist, during his time. But a close reading of his work reveals Bacon as a genuine and devout believer, although his views were certainly unorthodox. If born a generation earlier he would undoubtedly have suffered the indignity of his corporeal quintessence being placed upon a stake and subjected to a profound and terminal thermal insult; crispy Bacon.

Bacon did not take the bible literally, but appreciated the bible's use of metaphor and literary devices, sundry. He considered biblical miracles and 'wonders' as lying outside natural law and consequently discounted their historical occurrence. The mysteries, of revelation, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, were not subject to scientific scrutiny and therefore belonged to the province of 'faith', not science. This was quite revolutionary for its time but this timbre of thought, much to the disquiet of the church, would become more prevalent amongst thoughtful men as the 'secular revolution' developed. Bacon's thoroughly secular thinking, although not in itself opposed to theological dogma and tenets, opened novel avenues of thought, which over time, would prove perniciously corrosive to religious thought. Wise heads soon came to realise that Christian theology, if carefully scrutinised, had no role to play except in the realm of 'faith'. However, even this limited domain would come under attack from thorough going rationalists. It is as if a slight crack in the dam of theology had produced a breach that no religious finger could stem.

Bacon and Descartes differed not only in their notions of theology, but in their interpretation of knowledge acquisition. Descartes, in tune with the philosophy of the ancients, considered that the application of pure thought, if rendered by the 'wise', and if undertaken correctly, would result in the discovery of infallible knowledge. In contrast, Bacon considered 'natural thought processes' prone to numerous errors. However, Bacon was a severe critic of extreme skepticism; the idea that certainty can never be achieved. An idea that Bacon considered self defeating. While acknowledging that certainty is illusive and difficult to achieve, nevertheless a methodology employing sound principles, strictly adhered to can overcome these difficulties. Truly it was a philosophy of intellectual honesty and optimism. While recognising and accepting that the human intellect was inherently fallible, Bacon stressed that the development of 'cognitive instruments', judicially applied, would enable the acquisition of scientific knowledge, albeit that acquisition would be cumulative and open ended. Progress is a surety as scientists build upon the past achievements of their scientific predecessors. Certainty is achieved, not by the wholesale acquisition of knowledge, but piece by piece by sound inductive processes.

Bacon clearly enumerated the obstacles that stand in the way of the cognitive process, which he termed, 'fallacies in the minds of man', or 'idols'. These 'idols' are clearly defined and classified. They can be summarised as follows: 'Idols of the Tribe'. In this regard he includes distortions naturally inherent within human nature; 'Idols of the Cave'. This includes individual bias and distortions; 'Idols' of the Market'. Concerns the 'idol' formed from associations between men; and finally, 'Idols of the Theatre'. This 'idol' relates to the torpor of the intellect when it comes to formulating and accepting new principles. We are apt to rely on previous dogmas and perhaps accept established philosophies without engaging our critical faculties.

Bacon emphasised the quirks of the human mind which interferes with our judgment. For instance we are prone to accept data which fits our preconceived notion of order, while ignoring counter data that might conflict with our pet theory. We are perhaps happy to accrue affirmative data when in fact we should be looking for data that negates our theory. A single negation, as far as a theory is concerned, is vastly more informative than a 1,000,000 confirmatory data points.

Perhaps Bacon's greatest contribution was the removal of all references of 'divine purpose' or the 'first cause' from science. God was not required and this was a distinct break from the dominant philosophy of the Aristotelian schoolmen of his day. What I admire about Bacon, is his undaunted, sure footed innovative nature. He was breaking new ground and, unlike most scientists, of any era, he had no one to refer back to. In this regard, he was truly alone. It must have taken great courage to 'go it alone' against the entrenched orthodoxy, which had ruled acadaemia for over a 1,000 years.

And, Francis Bacon, of course set the scene for the next great English philosopher of the empiric mold, John Locke.

Wednesday 13 October 2021

British Tanks of the Second World War

                                                  Ask Bob the only pigmented albino

The British were the first to develop the tank during the Great War. At the time they were great lumbering, slow moving beasts and their aim was to support the infantry during the attack and as such  able to cross the standard German trench. When first utilised during the battle of the Somme (1916) they took the Germans completely by surprise and enabled the infantry to make gains hitherto thought impossible. In retrospect, it has been argued that the tank, as a new 'wonder' weapon, should have been used later in the war when sufficient numbers would have been available, thus exploiting their novelty. I'm not going to consider the arguments for and against this view. For in this post I would like to discuss why the British struggled to produce a really effective Second World War tank.

The problem began prior to the war. During the 1920s and 1930s the money available to fund the military was greatly reduced. In the late 1930s, the reemergence  of Germany as a military threat was realised, and belatedly, funding for the British military increased. However, the majority of the funds were allocated to the navy and air force. This funding priority underlined the British strategy of defence. The austerity during these desperate times should not be understated. Britain was only able to prosecute the second conflict by mortgaging the nation to the Americans.

The first tank to see combat during those hectic days of June 1940 was the Matilda Mark II. This was conceived as a heavy tank in keeping with British doctrine of the time. It was thought that two classes of tank were required. A heavy, slow moving tank to support the infantry and a fast moving light tank to act as a break through tank. It was thought that the light tank would infiltrate and rapidly exploit gaps in the enemy line, therefore replacing the role of horsed cavalry. This doctrine was based on First World War concepts and the second war was envisaged as a repeat of the first. As such, it was considered that defense would reign supreme and static trench warfare would prevail after the initial offensive flurries. The British thought they could repeat the successful strategy of the Great War allowing the navy to strangle German sea commerce forcing a German defeat, but only after several years of conflict. The Germans had other ideas. To avoid a long drawn out war the Germans came up with the plan of 'Blitz Krieg' (lightning war). The battle field would be fluid with tanks out striping the infantry causing chaos and disruption behind Allied lines. In a way the main weapon would be one of psychology where the British and particularly the French would be subject to 'battle field' uncertainty. In fact Blitz Krieg, as practiced by the Germans, was deeply flawed. The concept was sound, however, the Germans lacked  effective battle tanks in large numbers. The majority of the force consisted of light tanks and the British and French tanks, of 1940, were qualitatively better than the Mark I, II and III tanks fielded by the Germans.

At the debacle of Dunkirk the British, by necessity, had to leave most of their heavy equipment behind including their tanks. Thus the British, at a stroke, were denuded of their armour. Perhaps it should have been an opportunity for the British to develop innovative and effective tank designs. In reality a series of rushed tank designs, of dubious utility, were hastily produced and all suffered from the same defects. In general they, where under armed, under powered  and under armoured and therefore obsolete before they rattled off the production line. Also they were incapable of sequential modification. Contrast this with the German Mark IV which was continually upgraded in armour and weaponry as the war progressed. This 'work horse' of the German Army was still an effective fighting machine in 1945 and judged by the Russians as a better tank than their much vaunted T34.

It has been argued that the turret ring of British tanks was restricted in size to accommodate constraints imposed by rail transportation. This limitation stifled turret ring size and in turn this limited the size of the turret and hence the size of the gun the turret could contain. For some reason this never seemed a problem faced by the Russian and German tanks.

The British tanks were initially successful during the early battles of the Desert War as they were only facing Italian tanks that were of dubious quality, even when compared to British tanks. Once the Germans intervened the problem was clearly rendered in stark revue and British armour suffered greatly against German armour and anti-tank guns. The American Mark IV Sherman started to appear in 1943 and thereafter became the mainstay of American and British  armour. The Sherman was not a perfect weapon of war and its introduction in late 1942 was considered obsolete by German standards, however it had several fundamental redeeming qualities that would make the tank perhaps the best war time tank the Allies could muster, excluding the late war introduction of the British Comet and American Pershing. Firstly, it could be produced quickly and in large numbers by American industry. When production of this tank ended in 1946 the Americans had produced over 30,000 Sherman's of various types. It was a reliable tank and when first introduced it proved highly popular with British tank crews, notwithstanding its reputation of burning once hit. The Sherman could be and would be improved as the war progressed. Limitations of the Sherman became apparent during the initial Normandy fighting in June/July 1940 when confronted by German Panther and Tiger tanks. The British hastily replaced the ineffective American 75mm gun with the long 76. This was not an easy fit and the gun had to be placed at right angles making reloading a painful process. At least this Sherman variant, the 'Firefly', was able to defeat enemy armour at long range. This variant was never manufactured in large numbers and the modified tank was simply integrated, in small numbers, within the ranks of their shorter gunned brethren. The Germans soon became fearful of the longer gunned Sherman and instructed tank crews, and anti-tank gunners, to prioritise their efforts against this variant. In mitigation, the Allies began to camouflage the gun so it appeared shorter, at least at a distance.

Toward the end of the war the Allies finally constructed a 'modern battle tank' in the guise of the Pershing and Comet. These weapons where more than capable of taking on the German big cats however, they were never present in large numbers. Quixotically the British did not utilise sloped armour on the Comet even though the advantages of a sloped frontal glacis was well recognised by all sides; this remains an enigma wrapped in mystery.

This is my take the on situation as faced by the British with respect to their armoured forces during the great conflict. It is recognised that this brief critique of British armour is an over simplification of the problems faced by the British military during the Second World War and there are certainly other salient factors at play. That said, I can't but help feel that the British could have done a lot better. What do my readers think? Am I overly harsh in my assessment. Anyway let me know of your thoughts, opinions and criticism in the comment field below.

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Yam Daft Soft Aypeth


                Our Aquatic Friend Looking Life a Fish out of Water (He's on the Left)                                                 

I'm sure my readers are aware of the 'Tik Tok' phenomenon. For those, who for some reason, are bereft of knowledge I will add a brief explanation as it is pertinent to this post.

Tik Tik is a video sharing platform owned by a consortium of Japanese snipers (filthy nips). It hosts short videos of various genres of less than 3 minute duration. Most of the vids show folk dancing and/or singing. Tis also a platform for folk to vent their spleen, etc. As you can imagine it brings out the crazies in their droves. There are more than a few unintentionally funny videos on this app and as you would expect more than a gaggle of videos from folk who are clearly unwell. So without further ado....

There are a series of Tik Tok videos showcasing a young fella who claims he can breathe under water. And no he does not have gills, unless they are discretely sequestered up his arse (arse). His avowed technique involves taking water into his mouth while 'clicking his tongue'. He claims that this action breaks the bonds of the water molecules releasing copious amount of breathable oxygen. Now that is a bold claim indeed. He also states that this technique was known to the Atlanteans (remember them?) and has subsequently been lost in the mists of time (how bloody convenient). 

Let us have a look at his claim and see if it is in accord with verified knowledge. 

Fish do indeed extract oxygen from water, but this does not involve a chemical reaction. The gill system, which consists of a large surface area of tissue, highly enriched with blood, extracts dissolved oxygen from water. There is no chemical reaction in this exclusively physical process.

As said, this chappie extracts the oxygen after breaking down water into its constitutive parts. A little basic chemistry is now required. Water contains one atom of oxygen covalently bonded to two atoms of hydrogen, hence the formula, H2O. To break these covalent bonds requires energy and the amount of energy required is not inconsequential. In the chemistry laboratory this is achieved using electrolysis. Generally a suitable electrolyte is added to pure water, to increase electrical conductivity, and a direct current applied between two electrodes placed in the solution. Once the current is turned on, oxygen is liberated at the the anode and hydrogen at the cathode. This reaction can be expressed by the following balanced equation: 2H2O ---> 2H2 + O2

I highly doubt tongue clicking will generate sufficient energy to cause water molecules to disassociate. Mayhap, he has a battery jammed in his mouth and the bi-various amalgam fillings in his teeth are acting as electrodes? 

He claims that we all have this innate, vestigial ability however, it takes special training to unlock the potential within. Have a guess who is willing to unlock this long lost art of water breathing? No structured course has been announced yet, but when it does comes to fruition, you can bet there will be an associated, hefty charge- and I'm not waxing electrical here.

This fella is obviously a conman and we can laugh about the daft gullible buggers who are stupid enough to believe this nonsense and ultimately duped out of their cash. Let's be honest, there are always folk out in the big wide world willing to believe in such gobblygook especially if you add the fable of the lost continent of Atlantis- the loony, ascientific (not a real word) fringe love this sort of shit. More fool them we shout. But there is a serious, sinister and dangerous aspect, that I'm sure my diligent readers have fathomed. One of these silly sods may actually convince themselves that they can actually breathe under water and lumber their aquatic arse (arse) down to the local water way. Thereafter hilarity will ensue tinged with a little light drowning. Nuff said.

As for the meaning of the title, I suggest you ask, our Ted.


Thursday 30 September 2021


The PIAT in all its feral glory

During the early years of the Second World War, the most effective means to deal with an enemy tank was to shoot a heavy solid projectile at the little bugger, at high speed. There were a variety of known factors that influenced a projectile's lethality, which was basically the ability of the solid shot to travel through the total thickness of the armour. The physics involved is extremely simple. The amount of energy imparted to armour is directly correlated to the weight of the solid shot multiplied by the shot's velocity. Of course the final velocity of the projectile would be dependent upon the distance the shot had to travel before impact.  

When it came to an infantry portable 'one man' anti-tank weapon the only effective option at the beginning of the war, for the British Army, was the Boys anti-tank rifle. In essence, the weapon was an upscaled infantry rifle with a large calibre bullet. Although initially effective against German tanks it became less serviceable as the war progressed due to the inevitable increase in thickness of German armour. There is a limit to the size of projectile that can be used, in practice, for a portable one man anti-tank device and by 1941 anti-tank rifles were of no use against the majority of German tanks in service, although they remained useful against soft skinned vehicles.  

Enter the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank), stage left: With the inadequacy of hand held anti-tank rifles duly noted, it became an urgent priority to develop a replacement. Clearly, a new approach was required. The PIAT entered into active service in mid 1943 and made its debut during the Tunisian campaign, to great effect. In essence, the PIAT was a melding of two separate munitions, the spigot mortar and the shaped charge. The shaped charge relied on a principle first observed in the late 19th century. I wont go into detail concerning the development of the shaped charge. It is sufficient to note that the projectile was reliant on chemical, not kinetic energy. The 'bomb' contains a metal lined conical hollow backed with explosive (see diagram for more detail). Detonation causes the metal lining to collapse to form a jet of molten metal. The jet travels at hypersonic speed and when encountering armour cuts through the metal scattering debris and molten armour into the interior of the tank causing catastrophic devastation to man, ferret and material alike. Unlike kinetic energy rounds, shaped charges do not rely on their velocity to cause havoc as all the means of destruction is contained within.

In order for the shaped charge to become a practical weapon it required an instrument of projection. And so the bomb was married to a modified spigot mortar. Again, there is an interesting, nay intriguing story, concerning the development of the 'mortar'. If you are prone to insomnia, I recommend two tinctures of laudanum combined with a midnight read of the salient material. A sterling soporific, indeed.

Thus, the PIAT was an ungainly fusion of the shaped charge and spigot mortar. The composite device worked in the manner of a recoilless rifle. The mechanism of action was extremely simple. A central spigot operated on a spring which was compressed (cocked) by placing the PIAT on the floor. The soldier would grasp the two outer handles and apply force to cock the weapon. The bomb was placed in a open chute on the front of the weapon. When the trigger was pulled the spigot was released and the firing pin on the end of the spigot would engage a small propelling charge at the base of the bomb. The combination of the applied force of the spigot plus the detonation of the charge would propel the bomb toward the target. The recoil of the weapon was sufficient to drive the spigot back and therefore after the first shot the PIAT was automatically cocked, in theory at least. Once the bomb reached the target, the fuse would activate the shaped charge and release the jet of doom which would sear its way through the armour to the detriment of the crew and the tank.  

Although the PIAT was simple in conception and operation, and appeared ad hoc and crude it had several advantages over the contemporary American bazooka. The bomb carried a hefty punch (1.1kg/2.2lbs) of explosive and was capable of penetrating four inches of armour. This was enough to turn any German tank into a pile of rubble and leave the crew mangled beyond repair. The PIAT  was considerably more powerful than the bazooka and unlike the bazooka there was no back blast. Therefore, the PIAT could be fired in enclosed spaces without cooking the operator and anyone standing the vicinity. Also, the back blast of the bazooka gave away the weapon's position encouaraging quick retaliation. Because of the size of the charge the PIAT was also useful in clearing rooms and breaching blockhouses. The PIAT was credited with prodigious range and supposedly was effective as an anti-tank weapon at 150 yards and as an indirect fire weapon, 300 yards. In practice, and according to wartime trials, a skilled operator could hit a tank 60% of the time at 100 yards. In addition, the PIAT was easy to manufacture and relatively simple to use, however, the initial manual cocking was a cumbersome and a risky exercise during combat.

The PIAT was not without faults. It was a heavy weapon, at 39 pounds, and unwieldly rendering it  unpopular with those tasked to carry the weapon. Although simple to use it had a heavy kick back and the unwary soldier could be left with a badly bruised shoulder, or even worse. When first introduced the weapon suffered from ammunition reliability problems although this issue was solved as the war progressed. In addition, due to the bomb's heavy charge, there was a risk of serious injury to the operator due to metal fragments from the exploding bomb; fire from cover was recommended (no shit, Flaxen). As the war travelled to an inevitable climax (how was the war for you?) the German's, very unsporting of them, began to fit armoured side 'skirts' to their tanks. As a rule of thumb, the molten jet produced could penetrate armour three times the diameter of the cone. As the skirts on the tank detonated the bomb a distance away from the main armour, the piercing potential of the molten jet was drastically reduced rendering the weapon ineffective. However, the skirts only protected the tank's flanks, leaving the front and rear as vulnerable as before.

In conclusion: It could be remarked that the PIAT was a typical British wartime expedient. There is something rather amateurish and eccentric about this weapon. This was not the only weapon to be considered as such, though perhaps the PIAT was arguably the most successful. Its success belied its crude appearance and it remained in active service well into the 1950s. How it would have faired against Soviet tanks, if the behemoth state had decided to roll West in the 1950s is difficult to say. By this time however, NATO had better hand held anti-tank weapons in its arsenal such as the M20 super bazooka. 

Saturday 18 September 2021

Philosophy in a Nut Shell/Bag

Whilst imbibing Ale, according to strict recommended guidelines, (not a drop less, not a drop more) in my local Tavern, 'The Frolicking Mustelid', Tipton (where else?), I was accosted by the local inebriate and impresario, Pissed Pete, he of rubicund and florid countenance/demeanour. Pickled Pete spake thusly: “Flaxen, you are renowned hereabouts, in these environs and locally, as a savant without peer. Mayhap you are able to address a question of major import, a query that has engaged the best minds for over 2 millennium. Flaxen, are you up to the task"?  I replaced the foaming mug of Ale, 'Ole Scrote Blaster', upon the care worn table of a million drunken spills and squinted wistfully, as if in a reverie or lost in a dream of enchantment and regarded my interrogator, with a wistful eye (just the left one). Pete belched, and the wind of a thousand furies assailed my olfactory system with disdain. The 'Plastered One', regarded me with sanguineous, rheumy eyes and continued. “Flaxen, what is the best definition of 'Philosophy', and if you will, how does it differ from Science' and Theology”? I pursed my lips as if in deep contemplation and responded as follows:

'Philosophy', in ancient Greek can be interpreted as 'Love of Knowledge'. Mayhap this is not a definition that would satisfy the modern mind, as it lacks intellectual rigour, but it sufficed for those pesky Hellenes of yore. The ancients did not distinguish between 'philosophy' and 'science' as we do today. All knowledge, regardless of how it was obtained, was considered under the hefty mantel of philosophy. The Ancient Greeks were not great fans, with some exceptions, of the scientific method as we understand it today. Deep thought, on its own, was the premier method for unlocking nature's secrets. They paid scant attention to what we call Empirical Data and its acquisition.   

This post, is exclusively and unashamedly devoted to Western Philosophy. Eastern Philosophy, throughout the ages, although of academic interest, has/had a tendency toward the esoteric and mystical, often adding a hefty dose of mythical elements masquerading as true, enlightened wisdom. This not to say that the Western variety is exclusively rational. For instance, check out the writings of Plato and Kant to name but two. Rational Western philosophers, are not always rational and irrational philosophers are not always irrational; tis extremely difficult to be consistent, all the time. And indeed, Western savants have oft been happy to sprinkle, or sometimes drench their work with theology. Alfred North Whitehead and Schopenhauer acknowledged their debt to Hinduism. While, Aquinas' philosophical system is only comprehensible within a Christian context. Even the great founder of modern Western philosophical thought, Descartes, added theology to his works. That said, too much of a generalisation tends to over simplification and the risk of lapsing into unintelligibility and lack of clarity. Arse.

Western philosophy, at its best, makes a distinction between knowledge that can be accessed by the Scientific Method and knowledge that can obtained by thought alone. I wont delve into the distinction between these distinct modes of knowledge acquisition as I have covered this ground in previous posts- if you are a true seeker of wisdom, then all will be revealed. 

Philosophic discourse, is eminently suited to such conundrums as: what is courage (Laches?); how can we live a moral existence?; what is the mind, can it be separated from matter?; does life have a purpose or are we adrift in an insouciant Universe? This is just a meagre selection of topics amenable to the Philosophic method, whatever that might be..... The answer to these questions cannot be resolved in the lab. Even the most powerful electron microscope will shed no light, or electrons, on the topics under scrutiny. Most of these enquiries are open ended, and therefore there is no precise, definite answer. In contrast, logical analysis and the quest for knowledge (Epistemology) can provide definitive solutions that defy dispute and remain forever true. And it here that we discern an overlap with the domain we identify as Science.  

Imagine a Venn diagram consisting of the spheres of Philosophy and Science. This would reveal a degree of correspondence between these two domains. The overlap would not be great, but the relationship is clearly significant. There are those who would argue that there should be an additional sphere; the sphere of Theology. I find it difficult to imagine any degree of interaction with our neatly arrayed spheres of  Philosophy and Science. Theology, consists of  a series of dogmatic beliefs and doctrine. The answers to life's mysteries are already known with a certainty that revolts the modern mind and remains in stark contrast to the temper of rational thought. Faith, provides solace to those who believe, but faith does reveal true knowledge. On the basis of faith all is possible. Religious certainty provides comforting fairly tales for those seeking assurance in a chaotic world. Theology, as a topic, remains outside the acquisition of knowledge and is best confined to the realm of psychology and sociology. 

A simple definition defies analysis and belittles the enormity of the task. I favour a series of phrases that interact to build a coherent framework. Each phrase should interlock into this framework and each phrase should be internally consistent as well as exhibiting consistency with each other. This is deceptively difficult to achieve in theory and practice as we run the risk of becoming bogged down in a morass of detail. Conversely, the definition may appear too simplistic, rendering it devoid of real meaning and content.

And therefore, finally.     

Definition:  Philosophy is universally defined as the study of the wisdom or knowledge about the general problems, facts, and situations connected with human existence, values, reasons, and general reality.

My Personal Definition:  Speculations on humanity, the 'self', existence, matter and the universe. An understanding, recognition of what constitutes knowledge and how true knowledge is to be distinguished from irrational beliefs. And finally, an understanding of the limitations of knowledge acquisition.

NB: With reference to knowledge, I have taken care not to include, definite knowledge, as determined by empiricism, as this strictly remains with the domain of science, not philosophy. 

As an exercise, I challenge my readers to propose a definition of philosophy, that makes sense to them. Perhaps, if get enough people to participate it could form the basis of a mass-debate.