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: saxonarchery.co.nz 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.