Saturday, 30 September 2023

Scaphism or Death by Boats

Scaphism- Greek for boat

The ancients were very adept at concocting particularly unwholesome means of dispatch for their malcontents and criminals. Crucifixion, a form of torture associated with the Romans, was actually devised elsewhere. Centuries before the Roman Empire, the Persians and Carthaginians were perfecting this method of extreme torture. Indeed, crucifixion was a very efficient way of extracting pain for an extended period of time. First off, the nails were not placed through the hand but through the wrists next to the radial nerve. During the act, the crucified individual had to continually raise his body, placing pressure on the wrists and nerves, causing searing pain. Levitation/elevation was a necessary recourse in order to relieve the constraining pressure upon the chest due to the slumped posture hinting at asphyxiation. However, once the body was raised and the victim caught a breath, the pain due to the nail impingement upon the radial nerve would cause collapse. Thereafter, the dreadful cycle would continue anew. Merciful death would intervene once the prisoner became exhausted, as suffocation would ensue. For a fit young man, the agony could last several days. The Carthaginians were well-versed and adept at this form of torture and would often crucify their own generals if they lost a battle.

Terrible as crucifixion was, there existed a form of punishment allegedly practiced by the ancient Persians that made crucifixion seem like a bad day in Tipton.

I suspect you had to be a very naughty boy indeed to suffer the horror that is scaphism. First, you would be secured to a small boat. The prisoner was then force-fed milk and honey, and then honey would be lathered liberally upon the wretches' naked body. 

A second boat would be secured over the first with openings allowing for the exposure of the head, feet, and arms. The boat would then be pushed out into a lake to bake under the hot Iranian sun. The diet of milk and honey would quickly induce diarrhoea, and the prisoner would be left to wallow in their own filth. The local flies and other insects would be attracted to the floating morass and feast upon the sweet/sweat fetid goodness, and thereafter lay eggs akimbo, possibly with aplomb. Soon maggots would issue forth to feast upon the prisoner's marinated flesh. It is impossible to imagine a worse horror than being slowly eaten alive by a host of god's goodly creatures. 

What follows is an account of scaphism as performed on a gentleman named Mithridates for the slaying of the king's (Artaxerxes II) brother Cyrus the Younger (c400 BC).

'[The king] decreed that Mithridates should be put to death in boats; which execution is after the following manner: Taking two boats framed exactly to fit and answer each other, they lie down in one of them the malefactor that suffers, upon his back; then, covering it with the other, and so setting them together that the head, hands, and feet of him are left outside, and the rest of his body lies shut up within, they offer him food, and if he refuse to eat it, they force him to do it by pricking his eyes; then, after he has eaten, they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, pouring it not only into his mouth, but all over his face. They then keep his face continually turned towards the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the multitude of flies that settle on it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat and drink must needs do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed. When the man is manifestly dead, the uppermost boat being taken off, they find his flesh devoured, and swarms of such noisome creatures preying upon and, as it were, growing to his inwards. In this way Mithridates, after suffering for seventeen days, at last expired.'

— PlutarchLife of Artaxerxes[

Just a point of interest before continuing with the theme: Plutarch was clearly a conventionally educated man of his time and no doubt Aristotelian in his thinking. This should be of no surprise. Aristotle had a profound and baleful influence on intellectual thought for nearly 2,000 years. Few would criticise this great man until the coming of the 'Scientific Enlightenment'. Interestingly, almost all that he taught was in error, except for his work on the syllogism. Thus, Aristotle informed those who could read, at least, that flies did not beget flies. Flies spontaneously became manifest from corruption. Surely Aristotle was not an experimental scientist. Tis such a shame that a man of such a great and manifest intellect should have neglected the enormous power of simple induction.

Did the barbarous Persians actually perform this horrendous form of execution, or was it the conjuring of an overactive imagination of the Greek biographer? Sadly, we will never know for sure, as Plutarch's account is the only independent source we have for the practice. Plutarch was writing 450 years after the reign of Artaxerxes, and it is likely that he was relying on a now lost source called 'Persika' written by another Greek, aptly named, Ktesias, in the 5th century BC. Ktesias was not a credible historian. In fact, from his writings, it can be discerned that Ktesias was as mad as a 'bucket of frogs in vinegar'. He had the misfortune of being endowed with the art of 'over elaboration'. Thus, apparently, from the same pen, we hear of lands where folk have dog's heads. Others have the sad affliction of being bereft of bonce and eyes that are strategically positioned upon the torso.......

Serious historians are the happiest when they have access to multiple independent sources describing a supposed historical event. That said, just because someone has the gift of writing absolute bollocks doesn't mean that they always write absolute bollocks. Sometimes, perhaps, true verity drips from their pen like a drippy thing. Nuff said.

A Denizen of Tipton No Less

Thursday, 28 September 2023

Quid Est Veritas?

Enough of the esoteric bollocks of philosophical thought, science, mathematics, and total unadulterated/unmitigated ferret's plop. Let us return to history and ponder one of history's most enigmatic characters.

"Pontius Pilate is not the governor of Judea he is a very naughty boy"

Beware, what follows is a bit 'rambly' (not a real word)

Jesus' Trial

Poor Pilate was just a humble administrator of Rome enduring his job in a far-flung portion of the Empire. He had the unenviable task of ruling the intractable and fractious Jewish population. One day, during his tenure, the High Priest and his minions brought forth a poor, itinerant/illiterate Rabbi from Galilee. They said he had caused a minor disturbance in the temple courtyard and for his naughtiness, he was deserved of death. Pontius was a fair man and after interrogating the prisoner he could find no fault that would warrant a sentence of death. And so, he sent the man to be questioned by the nominal/puppet Jewish ruler of Galilee, Agrippa. Again, no infraction of the law could be found that decreed the death penalty. Thus, he was returned to Pilate unmolested. And Pilate cried out: "I find no fault in this man". But the priests did mutter darkly of insurrection if he was released and hinted that great Tiberius Caesar himself would be displeased. Pilate got the message and although deep down he was a good man he had the prisoner before him flogged and beaten. For Pilate was a weak, vacillating man and wanted to appease the roiling mob (ecce homo). The piteous sight of a man so handled by his soldiery shocked Pilate but the Priests were implacable in their hate and the mob became frenzied and screamed: ''Nail him to a piece of wood". Poor Pilate could do no more and did as the Jews demanded.     

Basically, the above narrative is one we glean from the New Testament. Is that how the scene went down? First off, the gospels are not historical narratives in any modern sense. The motives of the various gospel writers were essentially theological. Primarily this diverse set of books is a testament to faith and any 'factual history' embodied/embedded is happenchance. We know this because the gospel narratives are disparate and contradictory and also, how could the apostles have known the proceedings emanating from Pilate's chambers or Agrippa's palace? It is not as if they were allowed to enter these hallowed enclaves and take dictation. Furthermore, the gospel accounts are not firsthand. The earliest gospel, Mark, was composed about 40 years after Jesus' death. John's Gospel, the last to be written, was put to word as late as 90-100 AD. Initially, the gospels were part of oral tradition passed on to believers throughout the vast Roman Empire. The apostles were illiterate peasants and could not have composed the narrative in the elegant Greek we find in the gospels. The gospel writers were not of the poorest strata of the Empire. They were well-educated and likely native Greek speakers and ignorant of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and his band of brothers.

Let us return to Pilate and his jesting remark: "What is truth?" Luckily, we have other contemporaries who wrote about this period and the man. We have a brief mention in the works of Tacitus and a more extensive narrative by two Jewish writers, Philo of Alexandria and most notably, Josephus. Josephus was a very interesting character indeed. I'll come back to him in a thrice, but first a little about Pontius Pilate, after all, he is the main/man character of the plot.

Pilate was of Equestrian rank (knight) and at the time of his appointment, by Tiberius, as Prefect of Judea in 26 AD, he was already a seasoned administrator and military man. His position was a junior one and he was subservient to the governor of Syria.  He ruled in Judea for 10 years, however, due to mounting complaints from the populace, he was recalled to Rome by Tiberius, for investigation. During his 10-year tenure, he proved to be insensitive to Jewish religious sensibilities resulting in unrest, rioting, and on at least one occasion a substantial loss of life. However, the Jewish population, and specifically the Jewish leaders (High Priest and Sanhedrin), had an ace up their sleeve. They were not totally helpless when confronted by a harsh ruler. They had the right to appeal to Tiberius himself.  Ultimately, the threat of redress was a means to prevent extreme depredation by a particularly rapacious governor. 

Josephus relates several stories concerning Pilates' insensitive and vicious nature. It seems that Pilate was not particularly receptive to Jewish religious norms. In fact, he deliberately and knowingly provoked the Jews, directly challenging their strict and exquisite obeyance to the rigid laws of the one true god, Yahweh.  

Tiberius died during Pilate's journey home and before he reached Rome the lovable rogue, Caligula had ascended the 'throne'. This is where Pilate disappears from the annals of history, although this did not stop Christians of later centuries from concocting fictitious accounts of his life after returning to Rome. I think it is probable that Caligula treated Pilate with leniency. During the early stages of his reign, the new Imperator was magnanimous and forgiving, bestowing benevolence with abundance and rampant abandon; this would change during the latter half of his divine rule- not the rampant abandon bit, though.      

Josephus was an aristocratic Jew who took part (a general, no less) in the ill-advised and doomed Jewish rebellion against Roman rule (66-70AD). Initially, the revolt achieved great success, and Romans throughout Judea were slaughtered. At that time, very few Roman troops were garrisoned in Judea, probably no more than 3,000, and in the event of serious trouble, the Romans relied on the two legions stationed in nearby Syria. I don't really want to go into detail concerning the 'Jewish War' although I will say this: the Roman response was swift and brutal. The war ended after the successful siege of Jerusalem, although the stronghold of Masada continued to hold out, for a little while afterward. During the war, Josephus was captured and was destined for a painful end. However, luckily fate intervened and he managed to ingratiate himself with the Roman general, Vespasian, soon to be Emperor. 

We also have the account of Pilate by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria. His description of Pilate is illuminating: "A man of inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition". This brief summation of Pilate's character seems very much at odds with the man described in the bible So, what are we to make of these discordant accounts? The gospel accounts containing the Pilate 'scenes' were composed after the Jewish revolt, perhaps with the exception of Mark. The gospel writers had an agenda. They were keen not to include material that in any way could be construed as 'Anti-Roman'. For obvious reasons, Jewish-Roman relationships following the war were a tad strained. Therefore, Christians were keen to distance themselves from Jews in general and to foster an air of acceptance of just Roman rule. From what we can discern from Pilate's character it is likely that he gave scant regard to saving Jesus' life and signed the death warrant without a second thought. In other words, the gospel accounts are fictitious screes of propaganda wantonly placing the blame for Jesus' death strictly on the Jews. A narrative that would have severe consequences for the diaspora culminating in the horror perpetuated by the Nazi regime in the 20th century.    

Pilates' position was unenviable and precarious. His remit from Tiberius was to maintain order and to ensure the efficient collection of tax revenue. Unlike most Roman provinces, Judea remained volatile after subjugation. A fine and delicate hand was required: don't upset the locals whilst maintaining the majesty and prestige of Rome and the Emperor- and don't forget the taxes. In addition, it was in Pilates' vested interest to maintain a viable working partnership with the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Ultimately Jews and Romans were fundamentally and mutually incomprehensible. Their cultures were so inherently divergent and incompatible that large-scale conflict was inevitable. Thus, Pilates' prefecture was doomed before he set foot in Judea. 


Thursday, 21 September 2023

Death but not as we know it?

Into the Light? 

Just a little commentary concerning 'Near Death Experiences (NDEs).' This is a fascinating and controversial topic for consideration. For those not familiar with the phenomenon, here is an outline: This phenomenon relates to the situation where a patient experiences cardiac death but is consequently resuscitated. The patient upon regaining their senses is able to render a vivid recollection of experiences occurring during the unconscious interval.  At this stage, it is necessary to qualify or redefine/redeem what has been stated in the previous sentences. Thus, the patient is obviously not dead. These cases describe an event where the patient's heart has stopped beating however, generally through medical intervention, the heart is reactivated, and the patient is saved from certain and ultimate brain death. Clinical death is said to occur when the brain dies, this occurs about eight minutes post cardiac arrest and is a consequence of oxygen deprivation. Once this occurs there has been no documented revival, regardless of what you may read in the Bible. NDEs, when they occur, generally have a vivid, profound quality about them and there appears a remarkable degree of consistency in certain aspects of the experience that transcends culture and religious affiliation. Thus, a common feature involves a bright white light, often associated with a tunnel. In addition, those afflicted oft describe the appearance of a significant religious character relevant to their religious background. Thus, a Christian may encounter Jesus, while a Hindu may have a predilection for Shiva. They may also experience the manifestation of deceased loved ones and/or a reiteration of their life in vivid but truncated form. Sometimes, patients describe an out-of-body experience. 

All this is compelling stuff and for some patient's life-changing. Committed atheists have turned to Christianity after an encounter with the living Christ and so on. So, what is actually going on? Are dying patients actually peeking behind the veil separating life and death? Are they actually obtaining a glimpse of the afterlife, or is something else going on?

First off, I must state the obvious. In all these instances we are dealing with a brain deprived of oxygen. And before we start looking for supernatural explanations for this phenomenon, it is well worth seeking a naturalistic explanation, devoid of hocus pocus and wand waving. As in all cases where the solution is not obvious, let us apply the rule of parsimony (Occam's razor), and let us not posit beyond what is necessary. Tis often the case that the simplest solution is the most plausible without a need for a gaudy display and descent into silliness. An abundance, nay a plethora of explanations, is not the rational man's friend. So, having stated the problem, let us delve into this most perplexing conundrum without descending into irrational bollocks.

A Bit of Science (with emphasis on the bit)

It is important to note that personal testament is essentially poor evidence and is certainly non-scientific. Anecdotal reports are not verifiable data and therefore should be dealt with scant regard. A study into the phenomenon of NDEs consisting of 197 cardiac arrest patients found that only 9% of patients had an experience that could be classified as an NDE. Interestingly, Dr. Olaf Blanke of the University Hospital of Geneva (remember him?) was able to reproduce the classical NDE experience in experimental subjects by inserting probes into their cortex. In addition, it has been noted that fighter pilots whilst undergoing training in G force-inducing centrifuges, may on occasion be subject to an NDE- this is due to hypoxia impinging upon the brain under these extreme conditions.   

So, in conclusion, currently, we have no evidence that withstands scientific scrutiny of NDEs somehow providing a preview of the 'afterlife'. Proponents who are convinced that NDEs are a foreboding, furtive glance unto the infinite will continue believing so. However, we have no data, to date, that is supportive of their conclusion. Some folk will believe regardless, because they want to even in the absence of supportive data. From my perspective, I find no evidence to support any form of life's continuance once we are pronounced brain dead. Therefore, take pleasure in our brief sojourn on this bittersweet journey that is 'life'. Enjoy, quaff deep, read well, and make love. Converse with the wise and eschew the fool. All else is but commentary, clutter, and noise. Arse.


Thursday, 7 September 2023

O Shit There's Two Of Them!

Sadly, They Both Escaped from Toyland

Time for a bit of titillation for the senses and time off from my usual bollocks. First off, I must apologise to my non-UK readers, as this post will make no sense at all. Anyway, I was browsing the omniscient/omnipresent app, YouTube when I espied a video that captivated my interest. I'm sure my readers are well aware of this video platform. Like most stuff on the netty, the content of YouTube is not worth a view. That said there are nuggets of gold if you are prepared to dig. The video to which I'm referring is not a golden feast/fest for the optic organs. Nevertheless, it did capture my jaded attention.

The subject of the video concerned the life of two British 'comedians', Mike and Bernie Winters. The brothers were born in 1926 and 1930 respectively to working-class Jewish parents, in London. From an early age, they became interested in the 'Performing Arse' (surely sum mistake?). Sadly, they decided to form a comedy duo and during the 1950s they managed to obtain exposure on the new-fangled tele thingy. Alas, they became a feature on the tele throughout the 1960s and well up into the 70s. At that stage, the brothers had a falling out, and the less 'funny' one of the pair fucked off to the US leaving behind the goofy one. Said goofy one then managed to 'star' in a tele show costarring with a large dog. This televisual debacle lasted but two years.

The video droned on for eight minutes and was narrated by a gentleman with a mid-Western American accent. The video praised the duo for their long and (un?) funny career and interspersed within the video there were relevant photos and video clips. The narrator gushed about how the pair was iconic and beloved by the British audience. This is not how I remember the double act - they were even less funny than others of their ilk. Remember, 'Little and Large' and 'Cannon and Ball'?    

Unfortunately, I grew up in an age when these two unfunny prats minced upon the screen and after viewing this misleading video, I felt an urgent need to comment. Here goes: 'Absolutely awful. Useless pair of old hacks. Hackneyed unfunny routines. How they managed to become mainstream is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. A drain on legitimate humor everywhere'.  

I decided to check other comments placed on this very video. Here are a few snippets:

'There was a joke doing the rounds, years ago.... Which were the two worst winters of the past 50 years?' Ans....Mike and Bernie....they were about as funny as toothache.'

'You cannot have the word comedy associated with these two. Out of 10 for comedy, they would be the only duo to get a minus score. They were awful.' 

'I remember Mike & Bernie Winters. The lobotomy didn't help erase the memories.'

'I never understood how they got on TV there was nothing funny going on - ever.'

'As funny as cholera!' 

And so, it goes on in a similar vein. As said it was inexplicable to why they were such a success. And then it came to me in a flash. They were good mates of Lew Grade. Nuff said..........

After this touch of whimsy, I promise to put forth material with a little more substance and dare I say it, gravitas. Watch this space (cadet?). Arse.


Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Lacey Doolittle Does a Bit of Investigating

"Something should be done"

There is a series on UK tele where a rather pretty redhead lass does a bit of investigating about a variety of gnarly topics. Our flame-headed temptress, er I mean journalist, lopes across the world looking for stories of injustice that cast a dim shimmering light upon society and human nature. First off, I confess I don't watch the 'show'. Little Racey wears way too much clothing to entice a sad old fart with a mild 'Red Head' complex. However, Mrs. Flaxen is an avid fan. On occasion she regales me with the latest topic under scrutiny while I try to look interested and, at the same time, make a valiant attempt to shuffle orf to my beloved barn containing a well-stocked beer fridge. Anyway, one conversation struck a chord with my penchant for the moribund state of humanity, and in this instance, I actually listened to Mrs. Saxon's generally inane babblings. Apparently, Pasty had crossed to the US to 'investigate' a particularly unpleasant circumstance of innocent folk getting caught up in the crossfire between rival gangs. I forget the name of the city under investigation; however, you can tick off from the following list according to your personal want: Detroit; Chicago; Philidelphia; Oakland; Los Angeles; etc., etc..... The problem: Gang members going about their usual nefarious activities often bump into rival gang members. Instead of exchanging friendly 'how de dos' they instead shoot at each other with no regard for accuracy. So bad is the marksmanship that they have a tendency to shoot casual passerby folk going about their own ignoble business. 

Vapid, then goes on to interview families affected by this gang-fueled phenomenon as well as community leaders, various. The upshot: Everyone interviewed agrees that something needs to be done. Intrepid Tracey looks at the camera and says: "Something needs to be done to stop these senseless shootings''. Then the director shouts that's a rap and the whole production team, including Dacey, bugger off to an out-of-suburb 'Arsefucks' for large frapparunis all around.

On pertinent reflection, it seems to me that there are a number of simple solutions to this mindless violence. Here are Flaxen Saxon's well-considered solutions to this most profound problem.

Number 1.

At the heart of the problem lies the woeful lack of shooting acumen of the protagonists involved. The lack of marksmanship cannot be ascribed to congenital defects. The gangsters are invariably 'swart folk' and it is well known, at least for those that can see, that our brown/black brethren are endowed with impeccable vision. In contrast, Japanese snipers are inherently myopic. Even with thick pebble glasses Japanese snipers are painfully inadequate for the task at hand.  After stating these indelible facts, the solution is obviously manifest. I humbly suggest that the various protagonists receive training in the gentle art of marksmanship officially sanctioned and paid for by the requisite local government agency. Within short order, hordes of violent coloured folk will have attained full proficiency in the use of small arms. From now on, and henceforth, during an exchange of gunplay, the greater accuracy afforded by the aforementioned impeccable, nay dedicated, training will pay dividends, and the gangster-to-innocent bystander 'kill' quotient will fall to socially acceptable levels. Arse bucket, akimbo!

Number 2.

In this scenario, 'salted' ammunition will be willfully and with forethought leaked upon the black market. This ammunition will look like normal handgun ammunition, and in appearance be indistinguishable. However, on discharge, the bullets will explode thus denying the shooter of several of his digits. It is hoped, that over time, said 'shooters' will desist from their villainous activities. 

Number 3.

Admittedly, this proposed solution is highly controversial. I envisage that the municipal authorities reverse the policy of defunding law enforcement and increase spending to secure a surfeit of officers. Thus endowed, the local police department will have sufficient staff and powers to enforce law and order. Local miscreants, if found engaging in antisocial behaviour will be shot, out of hand and the survivors will be swept from the streets and incarcerated for a goodly time.

What do my readers think?  

Friday, 18 August 2023

Mathematical Infalibility

What a Naughty Boy

Is there anything more beautiful than a well-crafted mathematical proof? If you answer yes to this question, you are indeed a very sad and troubled soul. 

On occasion, I have posted with regard to mathematical topics and concepts. My own level of comprehension of the subject is limited, although I do have an honest interest. My peak of mathematical knowledge occurred during my first year of University when I undertook and passed a foundation course in calculus. Recently, I was reorganising my study and came across my old notes on the course. A wave of nostalgia overcame me, and I decided to flick through the pages full of calculus notation. I confess none of what I had written was intelligible to me. I had understood the mathematics at the time, but after the passage of 45 years, the symbols and the concepts were complete gibberish. I digress.....  

At the beginning of the 20th century, two eminent intellectuals came together to formulate a logical footing for mathematics: Bertrand Russell (for it was he) was primarily a logician, while his associate, Alfred North Whitehead, was an established academic and mathematician.

There was a time, sometime in the 19th century when haughty mathematicians proposed that mathematics was applicable to all human endeavour. But not only to endeavour but also to the inner workings of the human psyche- a bold thesis indeed. It was honestly conceived that mathematical theory had a role in the understanding of music (beyond harmony), theology, philosophy, ethics, and, god forbid, meteorology. Now we know better, apart from meteorology.    

After 4,500 years of development, mathematics evolved into a myriad of systems. Here are just a few, in no particular order: arithmetic; geometry; calculus; set theory; non-Euclidean geometry and algebra. These represent the most important branches of mathematics, but there are many others. Indeed, today, founding a new mathematical system remains the province of math. PhD students. These systems, once acknowledged by doctoral review professors, are promptly forgotten. It needs to be admitted that most of what we call mathematics has no discernible practical value but nevertheless remains an intellectual monument formulated by very clever people and only understood by a very select group of very clever people.    

Our Heroes (c1900) were perplexed that the 'so-called edifice' of mathematics was but a ramshackle affair built up over centuries upon shifting sands. Each 'advance' had been erected upon systems where the premises were taken as unequivocally true. For how long could this continue before it was discovered that a core tenet of a pivotal system was found to be false. In such a scenario, the whole of mathematics subsequent to the error would come tumbling down. At a stroke, the life's work of sages, current and past, would lie crushed to gather dust and scorn of the ages.

My reader may look askance at the previous paragraph and gape with wonder: surely we have learned that of all the sciences, mathematics is the only subject, along with logical deduction, that provides the means for the generation of true and absolute knowledge. Certainly, this is the case if all the premises in the line of mathematical deduction remain solid and true, that said, if an error is introduced into the chain of reasoning, then what follows is mere ferret shit on a stick. They decided that the best approach was to utilise the principles embodied in formal logic. From a given set of sparse logical axioms that are irrefutable, it should be possible to establish all mathematics on sound principles. If the preceding premises are true, and by maintaining logical rigour, what follows should also be true and irrefutable. A noble course/cause, no doubt. 

It was with this problem in mind that Russell and the other fella decided to undertake the daunting intellectual process of providing a firm base from which to build all of mathematics. Twas a bold endeavour, nay adventure. They were about to embark on an intellectual journey full of hardship and drama, both personal and intellectual. Initially, it was thought that the project would take a year; however, the task would take a decade to attain fruition. And even then, they had doubts about whether the work was actually complete. What followed became the 'Principia Mathematica' eventually published in three volumes (1910, 1912 and 1913). I direct my readers to look up said tomes and inwardly digest. And therein lies the problem. Even folk well-versed in logical nomenclature will struggle to follow the reasoning of these two great men. When it came to publishing this seminal work, Russell et al. quickly found out that no publisher was forthcoming. In fairness, the books were never going to be best sellers. Thus, Russell and Whitehead had no recourse but to self-publish. It has been hypothesised that at the time of release, only six individuals read the three volumes from beginning to end; it was never going to be an easy read. So now, after such immense intellectual attainment, the authors could bathe in the self-satisfaction that can only come from pure cerebral achievement- and there was also the adulation from fellow savants. Let's not forget that within the sacrosanct pages of the first volume of  Principia, it had been proved absolutely, nay conclusively, that 1 + 1 = 2; it only took 362 pages. And then, along came the German mathematician Kurt Godel.

In 1930, Godel published his 'Incompleteness Theorem'. In essence, Godel completely undermined the logical reasoning used by Russell and North Whitehead, and Russell was plunged into a deep depression. It seemed his years of concentrated work had been in vain. Godel's theorem is highly technical, complex and specialised and completely outside my understanding. However, in layman's terms, it appears that there can be no axiomatic form of arithmetic that achieves both consistency and completeness. Even the so-far infallible logic inherent in the axiomatic-deductive method proved to be flawed. Did 1 + 1 really = 2? The genius, Ludwig Wittgenstein, suggested a return to commonsense reality.  But most mathematicians thought that this was going too far.

O, the calamity/humanity! Mathematics has never really recovered from this 'basic truth' - go ask the man in the street. 


Friday, 4 August 2023

The Wisdom of the Ages/Sages....

Whilst contemplating my life over a pint of 'Ol HMS Plop Plop, the Third', a fine ale brewed locally in the trendy micro-brewing district of the Royal Municipal town of Tipton, I espied the approach of a young man intent on gaining my attention. He hovered tentatively within my orbit and asked if he could buy me a drink. I regarded my innocuous assailant with a steely blue eye. The other eye wandered upon the well-appointed frame of the hostelry's serving wench with frank approval- I digress. I scanned the expansive/expensive drink menu and finely decided to sample a pint of 'Ol Fanny Fart, Legs Akimbo'. Allegedly, a brew of boundless fruity proportions. My newly acquainted imbibing associate ambled off to the walnut-appointed bar to obtain our beverages, thus, providing a natural hiatus to the unfolding proceedings.

On return, my guest, after taking a halting drink of his ale- 'Ol Knee Wobbler, Wokey Pokey', ejaculated accordingly: "O wise Flaxen, a man of renown throughout the black country, a man gifted with rare prescience and sagacity. I seek to tap the wisdom that courses through your veins, like a ferret in a drain pipe, and wallow and absorb/adsorb your perspicacity. Tell me, wise one, what are the fundamental secrets to living the best life. Flaxen, I beseech you''   My visage became misty as I entered an ethanol-fueled reverie........ What follows is a phantasm of a mind, a figment of a scarcely and rarely divined consciousness.

The Rules of Life as Related by the Flaxen-Haired One. Please note: what follows is in no particular order of importance and is from the perspective of a heterosexual male.

Be born between 1955 and 1961          

Be white and aesthetically pleasing to the beholder           

Born in a Western country                       

A recipient of inherited wealth                                                         

Be tall                                                   

Be kind to animals                               

Treat folk with courtesy and respect  unless they show you otherwise             

Be smart                                      

Own a ferret and name it Shagger                                

Everything is fleeting       

Fret not about those things you can't change      

Enjoy all the fruits that the senses demand    

Obtain an education according to your want

Escew religion in all its guises

Have no more friends than fingers on your left hand after a chainsaw accident

Have no truck with politics and politicians 

Associate not with fools (see above)

Be content; happiness is fleeting

Try everything once except incest and country dancing

Imbibe deeply but never appear drunk

Induction is supreme

Use sanity sparingly

Do not posit above what is necessary

Without evidence, you have nothing 

Morality is subjective except for the 'Golden Rule.'

Strength through pain

Marry wise, if not at all

Enjoy solitude 

Be bereft of neighbours

Love mathematics

Pyrophillia is not arson

Thirst for knowledge

Take heed of smart folk

From wealth comes leisure for contemplation. 

Do not add sugar to homemade pickles

"The above is mere commentary. Go forth and live a life worthwhile." My guest recoiled and said: "Sir, this is undoubtedly stern counsel and sound advice as far as it goes. But where is a consideration of the inner psyche, the very soul of man. How am I to find inner peace". I drank deeply of my ale and responded thusly: "Attend to what I have said, and what you seek will follow. I have no more to say".   

Tuesday, 25 July 2023

"Someday my fat gendered THEM will come"

Most Hollywood productions seem to have gone woke these days with inevitable consequences. We see the debacle that is the latest addition to the Indiana Jones franchise (Dial of Destiny). Typical woke agenda peddled with a pedestrian, addled, befuddled, aged, incompetent Prof Jones being outsmarted by a sassy, smart, strong independent woman. With total production costs reckoned at a smooth $400 million and total box office returns predicted, as of date, to be around $310 million, the film is unlikely to turn a profit. But it gets much worse from a financial standpoint. For the film to enter the true 'profit zone', the production company, Lucas Films, needs to turn in box office receipts in excess of $600 million. This is due to all the subsidiary costs of filmmaking, such as marketing and advertising, etc. 

While I'm mid-rant, why not throw in a couple other cinematic disasters. Disney appears to revel in altering classic, timeless stories for the sake of inclusivity and the promulgation of diversity. Thus it has been revealed that the redoing of the Disney masterpiece, 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' from 1937, is to feature a brown-visaged Hispanic actress (Hola!) and a coterie of associated mystical forest denizens (wot no Dwarves?). In fact, the new title of the extravaganza is just 'Snow White', and although the production is still a year away, a leaked photo illustrates the characters involved in the screenplay. To be fair, there does appear to be one dwarf lurking among the forest critters. The other companions fulfil the gamut expected from the 'Diversity Checklist'. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words: see below. I would like to suggest an alternative title for this extravaganza: 'Off White and the Seven Gypos'.  Apparently, the producers are running free and wild with this classic 19th-century German tale, and our intrepid/tepid heroine will not be saved by a handsome prince this time.

Shit on a fucking Stick 

"Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to a Safe Place We Go"

And to conclude. The 'Little Mermaid' film of 2023 is shite, but it does have the saving grace of sporting a black Ariel. Here is my rendition of a mermaid-themed story, as related by a renowned West Midland journalist with a silly name.

Breaking news from the beautiful and majestic spa town of Tipton West, incorporating North Dudley and the environs thereabout. This reporter can conclusively report a confirmed sighting of the legendary aquatic mammal, ‘The Mermaid', frolicking in the Tipton canal at closing time. Mr Eli Mugumbo (who else?) relates the story with habitual poise: I had just left the ‘Felching Ferret’ hostelry after a particularly heavy session of imbibing alcoholic beverages. On this particular occasion, I had consumed 15 pints of Tipton Best bitter, 12 malt whiskies, sweet sherry and a magnum of baby sham. As I lurched down the towpath of the Tipton canal, wending my way home precariously after imbibing large amounts of alcoholic beverages which comprised………I digress. Although the light was poor and my vision befouled and bespeckled, I discerned out of the corner of my good eye a splishing and a splashing emanating from the said canal. On further inspection, I distinctly saw a mermaid reclining on a partly submerged fiat uno. It had the lower body of a fish and the upper body of a ferret (surely some mistake). As I approached, it transfixed my visage with steely blue eyes and rasped. “Fancy a good time, sailor?” Although taken aback, I recovered my composure and retorted with fortitude born of extreme inebriation: “Yer my bessie mate, I love ya, can ya lend me 20 quid for a case of Special Brew Extra, burrrrrrrrp".  Afterwards, as if in a dream, I distinctly remember being assailed by a large dorsal flipper which robbed me of my sensibility, and I fell arse (arse) akimbo into the broiling morass. I wrestled with the watery fiend fighting for my life. Luckily at that very moment, I emitted a vast fart, and the bubbles engendered propelled me forthwith upon the very towpath I had recently vacated, nay relinquished.
 Although later, the rubicund and abashed Mr Mugumbo stated that he may have tripped over a dead itinerant, and the flipping flipper may have been a figment of his frenzied imagination. After all, at the time, he was as pissed as a Rhino's arse (Arssssssssse. arse).
Piss Artists Impression of the Watery Tart

Afterwards, whilst encapsulated in a brief moment of sobriety, Mr Mugumbo admitted that he might have seen half a bloater cunningly nailed to a rusty perambulator.
Are merferrets a product of our atavistic and overwrought imagination? A mere fevered wraith of fancy. Or are there creatures lurking in our canals (dead tramps excepted) unknown to science waiting to be flung flapping into the light of day by brave and intrepid researchers, boldly ferreting (steady Shagger) into the dark, dank, slimy, ordure at the bottom of the recesses of our………. (Arse).   

Monday, 24 July 2023


Tarrare, bum te a, tareare bum te a...... Arse!

This rendering/rending is a little different to my usual bollocks. Today's offering is about a human prodigy of a very singular and peculiar type. An individual so unusual that his equal has never been observed before or since. A man imbued with a unique talent of prodigious, nay preposterous, proportions.

Tarrare was born in rural France circa 1772 to a poor peasant family. As a child, it was soon noted that Tarrare had a phenomenally abnormal appetite. Unfortunately, his poor family could not continue to support his gluttony, and he was asked to leave some time in his teenage years. Alas, he initially joined a group of thieves, prostitutes and vagabonds but soon teamed up with a travelling charlatan. Prior to the 'salesman's' pitch, Tarrare would 'warm up' the crowd by devouring various inedible items such as rocks and corks as well as live, viable critters. After a while, he moved to Paris, where he became a successful street performer reprising his disgusting act. It was noted that Tarrare stank. A rank miasma seemed to emanate from every pore, and it was stated that the stench was more profound after a feed. 

Tarrare lived in restless/desperate times. A time when France was revolting. As Tarrare was also revolting, he joined the Revolutionary Army. However, the army rations, although quadrupled, were insufficient to satisfy the new recruit's appetite, and Tarrare resorted to foraging rubbish heaps. His unusual food-acquiring activities attracted the attention of the army medical authorities, and thus he became a willing subject to 'scientific' experimentation. 

The doctors pandered to Tarrare's obsession and provided mounds of food. Initially, the fare was of a conventional nature. However, the good doctors decided to try unconventional fodder such as nutritious puppies, live cats, lizards and crunchy eels. After consuming huge amounts of 'food', our hero would become somnolent and descend into the deep sleep of the righteous. Soon, the army wanted the patient back in order that he complete his military obligations. Due to his unusual talent, it was decided that he would be best employed as a courier to transport information across enemy lines. He was tasked with swallowing a message encased in a wooden box. As our intrepid chevalier spoke no German, he was promptly caught by the opposing Prussian troops. After a brief imprisonment, Tarrare confessed his mission, and the Prussians decided to hang him as a spy. Inexplicably the general changed his mind, and Tarrare was severely beaten before being set free to return to the French lines.     

Tarrare, chastened by his experience, begged the doctors to find a cure. The good docs tried a variety of treatments, including tobacco pills, vinegar and laudanum, but to no avail. In order to assuage his constant hunger, Tarrare would drink the blood from patients undergoing bloodletting. He also developed an unhealthy habit of hanging around the morgue. One day an infant disappeared from the hospital, and poor Tarrare was suspected. While no evidence could be found to implicate him in the affair, it was decided that his stay at the hospital was at an end, and he was ejected forthwith.  

Four years later, Tarrare turned up at a hospital in Versailles, dying of tuberculosis (age 26). At autopsy, it was noted that his stomach almost filled the entire abdominal cavity. In addition, Tarrare's gullet was found to be abnormally wide, and his stomach was a morass/mass of ulcers. Unfortunately, the autopsy was curtailed mid-through due to the stench emanating from his fetid corpse. Sadly, no definite diagnosis could be arrived at.

It appears that Tarrare's condition is unique in the annals of medicine. So, what was ailing this poor, smelly, gluttony-fueled Frenchman? At first acquaintance, I thought he may have been suffering from a chromosomal disorder known as Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS). This condition is associated with hyperphagia and attendant obesity. However, Tarrare was noticeably skinny and, although described as apathetic, was of normal intellect. The intellect is not to be spared in PWS patients. In addition to the symptoms previously described, Tarrare suffered from lax skin prior to eating, and he was in a state of constant fever and sweated profusely. These symptoms, together with the observation that no matter the amount of food consumed, he absolutely refused to gain weight, indicate a complex physiological series of maladies. Taken together, these diagnostic signs are indicative of a metabolic disorder, perhaps in combination with a disorder of the hypothalamus, which controls satiety.  

Tarrare's case appears bizarre and, as far as I can find, absolutely unique. There is no other recorded instance of an individual with all the features of Tarrare's condition. I suspect poor Tarrare endured an exotic mix of several independent medical ailments. Otherwise, how are we able to explain his singular condition? If Tarrare had been born two hundred years later, our advanced diagnostic tools and enhanced medical knowledge would have certainly enabled a diagnosis and, hopefully, treatment. Mayhap, this strangely driven and tortured soul would have been able to obtain some degree of solace and peace.    

Tarrare ate my baby

Friday, 14 July 2023

The Man with the Golden Nose

                                                    Tycho Brahe Sporting Artificial Appendage 

Tycho Brahe is not a historical character well known outside the rarified halls of astronomy. And yet, in his day, he was a prominent astronomer at a time when the observer relied on his own patience, meticulous record taking and visual acuity. The telescope, as an instrument of macro-inspection, was awaiting to be invented.  

Young Tyche (he was no older than a day) was born to a rich Danish family in 1546. He went on to study law, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Copenhagen. Whilst a student and during a heavy drinking bout, he became embroiled in a heated argument with his cousin over a trifle. The dainty viand in question remained unharmed, however, as the disputants were equipped with side arms, a duel ensued. I have already mentioned elsewhere the noble habit of bearing arms. During the altercation, Tycho received a blow to the nose, and the member promptly fell orf, never to return to its former elevated station. Tycho survived the indignity and soon crafted a nasal prosthesis. There has been much said with regard to the material used in nasal reconstruction. It has been passed down that the nares were craftily fashioned from gold or at least a gold/silver amalgam. Portraits of the man show the prosthesis blending with the wearer's skin tone, which suggests a judicial application of flesh-coloured pigment. Tycho was dug up in 2010, and the nasal bones were examined using the latest technology. Sadly his false nose was absent. This was not the first time Tycho's corpse suffered the indignity of exhumation as he was dug up on the 300 anniversary of his death in 1901. Anyway, the 2010 analysis of the skull fragments strongly suggested that the strap-on was fashioned from brass. Enough about Tycho's wayward, nay fleeting, nossuk.

The man is not just famous for his misplaced allia. Tycho Brahe, in his youth, became enamoured with the heavens after witnessing a total eclipse.  Later, at university, his law studies were curtailed as he concentrated on the majestic nature of the vault above.

In the late 16th century, our intrepid astronomer gained patronage from the incumbent Danish king. The king was exceeding generous and provided Tycho with a lavish observatory on the island of Hven. He was provided with the best scientific instruments of the time, sans telescope and nose. Thus, he was able to exact very precise measurements of the celestial heavens. He was particularly interested in tracking the wandering and inexplicably erratic motions of the planets. At the time, the Ptolemaic model of the solar system reigned supreme and had done so for nearly 2,000 years. According to this system, the sun, moon and planets orbited a static Earth in perfectly circular orbits. In order to account for the apparent haphazard movements of the visible planets, a complex system of epicycles was introduced. The model was extremely cumbersome, but it had the advantage of being approved by the Roman Catholic Church. From his observations, Tycho came up with an alternative model of how the planets moved within the solar system. Although not correct, it was a step in the right direction. According to Tycho, the Sun continued to orbit the Earth while the planets orbited the Sun.

In 1572, Tycho noticed a very bright star suddenly appearing in the night sky in the constellation Cassiopeia. We now know that this rare event documented the throes of a dying star or supernovae. This phenomenon went against the prevailing Aristotlean system, which considered the heavens as static and unchanging. Previously, celestial anomalies would be explained away as atmospheric disturbances. However, Tycho's knowledge of parallax enabled him to determine that the 'Bright Star' was beyond the orbit of the Moon. Therefore, Aristotle's thesis was found to be in error, and as this ancient savant was held in extremely high regard by scholars, this revelation caused a bit of a stir amongst fusty intellectuals of the time. Arse

In 1597, the new king, Christian IV, renounced the royal patronage, and Tycho moved to Prague, where he became the official imperial astronomer. A purpose-built observatory was provided, and he gained Johannes Kepler as an assistant who, after Tychos's death in 1601, used his data to frame his own three laws of planetary motion. His data lived on and was used by subsequent scientists, such as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton, to further their own studies into the universe.  

His Demise

It is said that during a banquet in Prague, our hero drank copious quantities of wine. Apparently, it was considered bad form to move from the table before your host, and so, being a polite Renaissance gentleman, Brahe stuck it out. The most dramatic outcome, so it is said, was that Tycho's bladder burst asunder. Although, it is more likely that he developed a bladder and or kidney infection. Regardless, our intrepid hero died 11 days later. Politeness is a killer.

Legacy Akimbo  

Tycho Brahe's role as a pioneer of astronomical observations cannot be overstated. His meticulous and precise documentation of celestial events, along with his innovative use of instruments, established a new scientific paradigm for studying the cosmos. Brahe's work not only challenged prevailing beliefs but also paved the way for future advancements in astronomy. His collaboration with Johannes Kepler and his influence on subsequent astronomers cemented his place in the annals of scientific history. Tycho Brahe's legacy continues to inspire astronomers to this day as they strive for a deeper understanding of the universe.

Friday, 30 June 2023

life II

 Hello Daddy?

How did life first come into being from a dead piece of organic matter?  With this quest in mind, I went forth and reviewed the relevant material and literature from diverse sources. Although serious scientists have applied their scientific and analytical skills for about 70 years now, the results have proved disappointing. From my cursory review, it seems that numerous research groups throughout the world are on the brink of a significant breakthrough. And then I looked back to work conducted in the late 1990s and several research groups working then stated they were on the cusp of a significant breakthrough........

It is to be remembered that conditions on early Earth c3.5 billion years ago were vastly different to today. The atmosphere of that time contained little or no oxygen. This primitive miasma was dominated by the presence of carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane and other trace gasses. Of course, this primitive atmosphere would be noxious and lethal to present-day organisms. The majority of today's creatures, great and small, rely on oxygen for their respiratory metabolism (aerobic). Oxygen levels in our current atmosphere are around 20% and are maintained by organisms utilising the power of photosynthesis. Oxygen is necessary for aerobic respiration, and clearly, the very first life would have had to rely on other means for energy generation.  

The RNA World 

What follows is a highly truncated and simplistic review of how the RNA world is thought to have formed       

All researchers in the field agree that the first life formed in a watery environment. This environment c3.5 billion years ago would be a soup of organic compounds formed from ubiquitous carbon. There are several energetic events that could have been responsible for the synthesis of organic compounds from inorganic molecules. Lightning strikes and thermal energy from volcanoes would have done the trick. At the time of the 'Great Bombardment', meteorites containing organic compounds would have covered the primaeval Earth. It matters not whether the first life appeared in a warm muddy pool or on the ocean floor next to a volcanic vent, there is a fundamental paradox that must be tackled, the ultimate chicken and the egg question. Chains of nucleic acid molecules (RNA and DNA) are required for self-replication, however, this replication can only occur with the help of proteins consisting of amino acids. Both types of molecules are necessary for the propagation of life. What came first, nucleic acids or proteins? Both are required and act in unison for the process of replication. It is hard to imagine that these two exceedingly rare events could happen spontaneously. Perhaps religious folk are correct after all, and a god(s) is/are required to provide the vital spark. One solution relies on the properties of single-stranded RNA molecules. According to this hypothesis, RNA strands act as a template for their own propagation. This process would have to be facilitated by other RNA strands that have folded upon themselves, an innate property of certain RNA strands. These two separate systems would have to spontaneously engage and cooperate to facilitate the replication of single RNA strands with high regard for fidelity. It is to be imagined that open RNA strands would continue to replicate in a milieu of organic chemicals. Competition for free-floating ribonucleotides would then occur. A form of chemical evolution would ensue and ensure that the fastest replicating molecules would dominate and therefore drive the formation of an efficient cooperating replication system. The problem with such a free-floating system is that the replicating RNA strands would be at the mercy of other molecules within the system that might destroy the growing and replicating RNA molecules. Researchers agree that some form of enclosed protective canopy would have had to develop fairly early on to offer some form of protection. Organic lipids in water will spontaneously form spheres. This is due to the molecules having both hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions. That is, one end of the molecule will attract water molecules while the opposite end repels water. The result is that lipids in a watery medium naturally form 'fatty bubbles'. Somehow, the primitive RNA system (I refrain from calling this life) would have had to enter the protective lipid sphere. From there on, the structure would continue to absorb free-floating ribonucleic acids, and the system would continue to replicate. And then, at a suitable time, a portion of the RNA system would bud off and still remain enclosed within a portion of the original fatty domain. And so on, and so on. This model assumes that chemical evolution would drive these primitive systems to become better at replication and at acquiring substrates. Therefore, along the way, most of these competing 'bubbles' would succumb, and at some fine juncture, there would emerge from this chemical deluge a single system that goes on to be refined by natural selection, finally becoming the 'organism' that goes on to beget all life on Earth. If this is the case, then when did the lipid bag of nutrients actually become life. This is moot, I suspect it is analogous to asking when did the first human arise from our ape-like ancestors. Could we actually define a moment and pronounce with absolute rigour/vigour that a particular individual was fully human? And how would we categorise the status of the parents? This proposed continuum presents us with a problem. Could there be a defining moment in the history of our planet when chemical evolution transformed and became life? There is much to ponder here. Of course, all this is pure conjecture, and there are numerous problems with this model. It would be necessary for all the elements to come together almost simultaneously for all this to be feasible. Each step borders on the impossible. The probability that each step in the process could come about and interact stretches probability to unknown realms and, dare I say it, borders on the miraculous. With all that said, it must have happened somehow. The fact that I'm able to sit here and write these words whilst scratching an itch on my twinkle should be testament enough. 

My attempt at explanation is an extremely truncated affair- how could it be otherwise. Also, my limited exposition is only one scenario of how life could have come about. There are alternatives, although many rely on some form of RNA initiation. These alternatives will have to wait another day. 


Thursday, 29 June 2023

An Old Soldier's Tale

Some Folk Collect Stamps....

I've nearly completed part two of my composition about 'How Life Began On Earth', and hopefully, barring a calamity of dynamic proportions, this post will emerge tomorrow unfettered. Therefore, as an interlude, I will regale my loyal readers with an anecdote concerning my dear departed paternal grandfather. This one is for you, Charles Percival, you nasty irascible dead bastard.

I was rummaging through a drawer the other day in my expansive 'Master Study' when I noted a faint cloying odour. I couldn't place it for a second, although it tugged vaguely at some deep-seated memory. I removed the drawer containing the evocative olfactory stimuli (steady Flaxen, ya starting to wax again) and tipped the contents onto the shag pile. I peered intently at the mound of detritus and shiny things...... And there it was coiled provocatively around an empty container of 'Tic Tacs'. A dishevelled/shrivelled collection on a brown string- twas Granddad's old ear collection, which he bequeathed to me in his will. As I recall, it was: item number 6. Not so much grisly as gristly. I hadn't seen them for a few years, but they hadn't changed much. Twenty-seven ears, all pierced dead centre and threaded onto old-fashioned brown waxed string. Time had not been kind to this assorted allotment of grizzled pinna. Over the years, they had folded upon themselves and taken on a distinct, dark amber hue, very reminiscent of a 'pork scratching'.   

When I was young, my father, bless him, when in his cups, would regale me with lurid tales about his father's wartime exploits during the Great War and would hint darkly about a mysterious relic which never left Granddad's waistcoat pocket. So I was aware of the 'Ear Story' but put it down to old soldier's tales. And so the years passed, and old Gramps finally passed away. His meagre collection of goods was distributed amongst the relatives. My cousin inherited my grandfather's gold fob watch on a silver chain, and I got item number 6 secreted inside an old cocoa tin. And who said the old cunt didn't have a sense of humour.

I never really knew my wicked old Granddad. I can't recall him ever speaking to me directly or taking the slightest interest in me. Which is just as well as he spoke an archaic form of the 'Black country' dialect, which seemed to use few actual English words. My most vivid memory of him was his eyes, which were piercing and bright china blue.

Of course, it is nothing new for soldiers to take souvenirs from the battlefield. My dad had a couple of cap badges and a bugle with a bullet hole taken during the Korean conflict. But old gramps had an ear collection and had passed them on to me as a dark joke. I have considered burying them, but I confess, the ears hold me in their macabre and ghastly thrall. A legacy is supposed to be something to cherish, and it is the only physical item I have to remind me of the nasty miserable old twat. I did notice that some of the ears were collecting a black speckled mould, which I cleaned off with 70% ethanol. So, after a quick spray with air freshener (mountain dew) and a quick rub down with a chamois cloth, back in the drawer, they went.

Uncannily enough, my own son resembles my Grandfather quite closely, even down to the same shade of blue eyes. Therefore, I thought it only fitting that once my span has run its course, I should pass on the family 'Heirloom' to Flaxen Junior. I will have to put an explanatory note in the old cocoa tin otherwise, he might just throw the ears away. Tis a Flaxen tradition, after all. 

My son has had a prior acquaintance with the lugs. Once when he was but a pup, he managed to find the ears in a cupboard. Foolishly I had forgotten to put them back in their 'coffin' after an inebriated fond fondle. Thus encumbered, my 18-month-old son promptly shoved them into his maw. He was enjoying a good chew and had made a good account of ear number three when his mother showed up. Oh, she did laugh. And that is why, to this very day, I sport a scar across my noble temple.

Wednesday, 21 June 2023


   Don't Ask A Physicist

In today's post, I'm writing about something that I actually know about, and that is biology. I am not saying I'm an expert on all the varied topics that make up this most wonderous of subjects. That would just be silly. But at least I have spent a reasonable amount of time in a formal educational setting studying many of the diverse areas that constitute the condition that is 'Life and all that Entails/Entrails'. And at least in one arena of the subject, Human Genetics, I could be considered an expert- whatever that means. Although, I do confess I'm a tad rusty on the rapidly developing technology these days. The point of this diffuse ramble? In this post, at least, I don't have to pepper my introduction with caveats and limitations as is my wont when dealing with topics outside my sphere of expertise. I'm not saying that this post is error-free. But I am saying that my errors are at the very least, informed errors. With the caveat, so stated, allow me to write anew/askew.         

Life, the great mystery:- I've approached this ultimate puzzle, previously, on this very blog, and from several directions. And indeed, there is much to ponder. In today's post, I'm taking a fresh and wry look at the ultimate question.  

Let us look back to when the primordial Earth came into existence 4.6 billion years ago. At birth, and for at least a billion years into its infancy, our planet was a mass of seething, roiling molten rock. During this time the primal Earth was subject to numerous asteroid impacts making the surface extremely bestrewn and chaotic. The energy imparted by these impacts helped to maintain the molten state. It was during this tumultuous era, that a Mars-sized mass slammed into the Earth sending a lump of molten debris into space. Once cooled that 'debris' would form our only Moon. Eventually, the great bombardment would cease and the Earth's surface would cool sufficiently to a point where life could form without the hindrance of 'Thermal Insult'. This occurred about 3.8 billion years ago.

In the scorching interior of Australia, there can be found mounds of fossil bacteria laid down 3.5 billion years ago. This represents the earliest evidence for the presence of living organisms. Thus, we can state that life was certainly present just 300 million years after our world had become 'quiescent'. Now, this might seem like a long time interval but in terms of geological history, this is but a blink of a ferret's eye. And, when we examine the fossil evidence relating to this early organism it is obvious we are already dealing with a well-evolved bacterium suggesting that life on Earth had formed many million years previously. 

So, how did the first life come about? The quest to uncover how life formed from non-life is a post for another day. Hopefully, I will be able to publish, on this very organ, within the next few days, about the thorny problem of Abiogenesis.

But before I begin to tackle this most vexing, and most fundamental of inquiries I would like to jump forward, a step, and address and be propelled to consider the following question, namely, how do we define life? What are the characteristics of life that distinguish it from non-living stuff? This is a deceptively difficult question and it will be useful to contemplate the problems that arise when we try to grasp this particularly slippery ferret by the tail (Flaxen, steady with the incipient waxing, especially ferret waxing). From first principles and intuition, it is relatively easy to list the properties that life, may, or must have, to 'exist'. Students during middle school biology classes are usually taught the acronym MRSGREN, which represents: Motion, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition. Even from a cursory glance, it is clear that not all living things are so well-endowed. Of all these characteristics, a few stand out as universal. Thus, ALL living organisms, irrespective of phyla, must have a means of propagation, regardless of whether it is asexual or sexual, or both. Also, a means of collecting energy, or manufacturing energy, is a universal feature amongst the living. The other characteristics, so stated, are negotiable and dependent upon the biological complexity of the creature in question. For instance, mammals appear to be endowed with the entire collection of life's dynamic qualities. At the other end of the spectrum, viruses, appear to be equipped with nowt, apart from reproduction. And yes, I'm well aware that not all biologists think that viruses constitute life. I'm not going to squeeze into this particular lagomorphic hole today. And anyway, I've already written (x2) about this subject- go seek and be amazed!

Is life special?- this might appear to be a stupid question, but the answer is elusive on mature reflection. Erwin Schrodinger, he of quantum dynamics fame, reduced life to its ultimate base state and described 'life' in terms of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Simply stated, this law describes the flow of energy in enclosed systems. Inevitably, the flow of energy in any enclosed system has a spontaneous tendency toward disorder (entropy). Thus, Schrodinger explained life as an enclosed system that harnesses energy to reverse the process of entropy. However, the laws of the universe are not to be trifled with, or denied, and once the organism expires, the inexorable process that is entropy proceeds unhindered. Therefore, this decisive and reductionist definition of Life can be explained tersely and as follows: A transitory suspension of the Second Law of Thermodynamics within a closed system. Do you find this definition a valid description of 'Life'? Well, this definition is not an exclusive property of life. There are myriad examples of inanimate objects disobeying the entropic principle, albeit for a little while. Consider the car in your garage, for example. What about a guttering candle? And so the list goes on.  

There are those, often embued with a mystical quality, who think that there is an ethereal spark that induces the inanimate to become animate. This mystical force is synonymous with the concept of the 'soul' (perhaps). A force field that is present but departs upon death to go elsewhere. Religions, various, are rather keen on the idea and have been so for millennia. Christians are supposed to take heed of the eternal soul. It used to be thought that the soul was the sole property of Homo Sapiens and that lesser breeds had to make do without. And yet modern genetics has shown that hubristic humans are not that much different from many of the supposed 'lower species'. Even the humble mollusc, especially those of the class, Cephlopodia, have shown traits that we consider intelligent. The 'Soul Concept' is essentially a philosophical question outside the domain of scientific study. Although, I will say, there is absolutely no scientific empirical data to support this notion. Take it as you will.  As said, my next post will consider the question of how life first came about. This is enough for today.