Saturday, 22 October 2016

Coulrophobia: The quickening

O woe is us
Breaking news from the inter-webby type thing. In response to the wave of suspicious clowns sweeping the nation, MacDonald's, purveyors of tasty comestibles (?surely some mistake), have decided at an historic/histrionic board meeting to place their iconic mascot, 'Ronald MacDonald' on hold. No longer will the breathtakingly inane clown take to the highways and byways promoting the company's extensive repertoire of succulent sweetmeats.

Amid concerns
People who talk loudly in restaurants predict that this momentous event precedes the much sort after apocalypse. Soon the earth will gape asunder and the dead, and not very well, will walk the earth looking for succour in a world groaning under an unrelenting miasma.

Shagger waits for the call
If MacDonald's had used a vicious ferret rather than a dozy clown none of this calamity would have occurred. And the good folk of the civilised nations would not be labouring under the indignity of a world bereft of its favourite fast food buffoon. I even suggested a name for the talisman ferret, 'Shagger'. O foolish CEO!    

Guess who forgot to pick up his prescription from the pharmacy?
The event was predicted by the 16th century seer, Nostradamus. Read the following quatrain and all will become manifest and clear. It will be as if two well grilled patties (onion rings, optional) have been lifted from your eyes.

When clowns walk the earth
Ronald MacDonald will take a break
Lo the fast food giant will be led by a ferret called, Shagger (possibly)
The burgers will still taste crap though

See, I told you it would work- "Go Shagger"

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Monkey Business?

Prostitution has been described as the oldest profession. You could argue that sex is a commodity just like any other. There is nothing 'concrete' given by the prostitute, he/she clearly gains monetary reward for services rendered, which for the purpose of this post will be deemed pleasure. Pleasure means different things to different folk, but most of us can experience the sublime pleasure of sexual experience, fleeting though it may be. Although it is to be acknowledged that a small minority of the population are denied the sexual impulse and therefore these individuals are unlikely to procure the services of a hooker.
For humans, and most animal species, sex is the great motivator driving their existence. Without sex there is no continuation of the species. Thus sexual pleasure ensures that individuals indulge in sexual activity thus producing generations ad infinitum.
Researchers at Yale conducted an experiment where they attempted to teach capuchin monkeys the concept of money. Shiny aluminium discs were distributed amongst the troop and after some effort the researchers managed to train the monkeys to exchange the tokens for food from the handlers. Could this behaviour demonstrate the monkey's ability to understand the basic concept of barter using an item of no intrinsic value, money? If so, it would demonstrate that the capuchin have the capacity to assimilate and understand abstract constructs, at least at some fundamental level. A facility, usually denied our animal brethren. Chimpanzees and Dolphins are possible exceptions.
So what has all this got to do with prostitution? Is it possible that your gracious and perfectly formed host (third nipple included) has lost his tenuous grasp on reality and slithered arse first into the gaping bottomless pit that is frank insanity-wibble bottom? Money is a versatile tool and wouldn't it be great if the researchers could show the capuchins using the tokens in a more human like way, for instance purchasing a service.
On one occasion the researchers noticed a male monkey offering a female capuchin a token after which she allowed the male to copulate with her. Immediately afterward and without waiting to say goodbye to her erstwhile paramour, the female approached the handler and exchanged the token for a piece of fruit. The researchers were triumphant and concluded that the monkeys were engaged in the exchange of ‘money’ for sex. Perhaps the oldest profession is older than we originally thought. Maybe eons ago a hominid ancestor exchanged coloured pebbles for ‘services rendered’. The researchers suggested that perhaps this behaviour was fairly normal and widespread in wild capuchin troops. Of course, in the wild, hard currency is hard to come by, but ripe fruit is a potent aphrodisiac, especially bananas. Or are the researchers exploiting some other form of behaviour? Are we really observing monkey behaviour analogous to human prostitution? Before we all go ape, here are a just few points to reflect upon:
The situation described appears to be a single instance. In science it is unwise to establish conclusions on a limited data set. For the observation to be valid it should be observed many times and in many individuals. Furthermore, for the observation to progress from hypothesis to conjecture to theory, independent verification is required. That is, other researchers should be able to replicate the initial results. As far as I’m aware this has not occurred; cold fusion illusion, anyone? Of note, the two prominent researchers in the study are not scientists: Keith Chen is an economist and Laurie Santos a psychologist. Perhaps they are not familiar with the usual experimental rigour required when handling empirical data?
The capuchin 'troop' under investigation was far from the natural social dynamic favoured by these monkeys. The experiment consisted of seven unrelated individuals. Capuchins normally live in groups of about fifty and the females in the group exhibit some degree of genetic kinship. The mature males are interlopers and therefore usually unrelated. Thus these domesticated animals were living under artificial conditions and any attempt to explain and extrapolate their behaviour in terms of ‘wild behaviour’ has to be tempered accordingly. The point: it is virtually impossible to draw conclusions about normal capuchin behaviour under these contrived conditions.
Capuchins in the wild and in captivity use sex and mounting as a means of cementing social dominance, diffusing tension and promoting trust between troop members. Not all sex is motivated by procreation. About 50% of all sexual mounting is between individuals of the same sex.
As humans we like to uncover motivations which reaffirm or are in accord with our preconceived notions and prejudices. Why not impose human like qualities on our intelligent and nearest evolutionary animal cousins? It is very tempting to see complex human patterns and repertoires of behaviour in intelligent animals. I suspect the so called economic activity observed in capuchins is nothing more than an extension of tool use in this species. If you watch long enough you can mould the monkey into whatever you like. An economist will see innate monkey behaviour through the lens of an economist; observer beware.
This research was first published in 2005 and sadly to the chagrin of economists and psychologists everywhere, the initial findings have not been replicated. Therefore it is unlikely that a monkey 'Red Light' district will be appearing anywhere soon.
There goes the neighbourhood.

Elephants will be flying next, ya big dumbo

Friday, 14 October 2016


Don't shoot, tis your uncle Reggie

Lately there seems a lot of fuss about clowns. Throughout the United States there has been a rash of solitary clowns, clowns in twos, threes and a veritable clutch of clowns appearing here and roundabout, looking rather sinister and in situations not usually associated with clowns or clown like activity. Most perplexing.  
The rash of clowns has crossed the Atlantic to Europe and apparently is responsible for a rash of mayhem, accordingly. All this talk of rashes makes me want to scratch, to the bone.   

So, this is how this thing is working out according to the hysteria: weirdo clowns are preying on kids; professional clowns are taking advantage of the hype and using it as an excuse to stray outside the norms of clown based activity, whatever that might mean; the media has nought to offer on a dog day afternoon (?).  
All this insanity has resulted in American police forces advising citizens not to shoot (on sight/site) nefarious clowns or everyday 'normal' clowns- how can you tell the difference? You know one day this is gonna go bad. Bubba is going to give both barrels of good 'ol' buck shot to poor 'Bubba the Clown' as he leaves his pickup to entertain the kiddies at an 8th year birthday party. A job he has done for 40 years. Wrong clown, wrong gun toting non High-School graduating psychopath with a hangover who has just broken up with his non High School graduating (pregnant) Sweet Heart, Peggy Sue. Tis an accident waiting to happen.   

Mayhap all this nonsense is hoax inspired. 
And of course we are approaching Halloween.   

Are clowns funny? That is a subjective question and open to personal interpretation. On this matter the debate remains closed. 

Coulrophobia anyone?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Ancient Greek Mathematics


The Ancient Greeks contributed so much to rational thought and in so many diverse disciplines such as, natural science, engineering, philosophy and mathematics; tis enough to make your head swim. In many areas their contribution would not be equalled or excelled for nearly two thousand years. And indeed it was the rediscovery of ancient Greek treatises in the late middle ages which would act as an intellectual goad to stimulate the explosion of Western thought which would define the renaissance and scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries.
What is even more surprising is that the Greeks made important advances in pure mathematics with a mathematical notion not particularly conducive to even the most basic arithmetical manipulation. Consider trying to multiply 36 by 42, quickly, using Roman numerals; the Greek system was similar to this. Therefore, even simple algebra (as we understand it) was unknown to the Greeks and in fact nearly their entire mathematics was based on geometry. All that they achieved was achieved with a straight edge, a compass and a lot of contemplation. And what they achieved was astonishing. From the ancient Greeks we obtain Pythagoras’ famous theorem concerning right angled triangles; 2D geometry of various many sided figures; conic solids; Pi; pesky irrational numbers and much more. We also obtain the concept of 'proofs' based on logical reasoning ultimately derived from self evident and impeachable axioms.
Pythagoras was probably one of the most intellectually gifted men who have ever lived. He flourished on earth about 532 BC (born ?570 BC) and he lived most of his later life in the Greek colony of Croton in southern Italy. It was here that he founded a school and attracted the greatest scholars of the day. I said a school, but perhaps I should have said an 'aesthetic community'. The Pythagoreans immersed themselves in pure mathematics to a fanatical degree. They believed all was 'number' and that mathematics had a beautiful unifying existence which underpinned and transcended everything (mathematics=God). This was not to last. Pythagoras for all his lust for rigorous/vigorous proofs was also a mystic. It is interesting to speculate why a man of such prodigious intellectual gifts should be drawn to the irrational and esoteric. Isaac Newton was also of this ilk. I could name others, but fundamentally, I'm an intellectually lazy man. His community famously eschewed beans and women. Nor were adherents allowed to pluck a garland, not allowed to sit on a quart measure and never look in a mirror beside a light. All very sound advice, I'm sure. I would never have been admitted to the hallowed halls of the Pythagoreans due to my fondness/weakness for women and beans, although on a good day I could probably give up the beans. Thus Pythagoras comes across as a mixture of Einstein and the Dali Llama on acid- go figure.
Any group espousing absolute and fanatical beliefs is heading for a fall. Sadly, or gladly, the world is not made that way. The Pythagorean love affair with simple, unsullied and sublime number came a cropper due to the discovery of 'irrational numbers'. Up to this time Pythagoras viewed numbers as perfect. The square root of 100 has a beautiful symmetry. On the basis of pure number theory, the author can indulge in rapture which is denied most mortal men. Sometimes mathematics is the only solace I can find for a turbulent mind; I'm starting to digress. But one dark day a Pythagorean student discovered the square root of 2, or at least the geometrical equivalent. For his diligence and contribution to pure thought he was drowned at sea. For his sake, I will expose the mathematical heresy here and try not to get wet: The square root of 2= 1.4142135623746....... It goes on forever with no elegant repeating sequence. As an aside, NASA has calculated the square root of 2 to over 10 million digits. You would think they would be better employed using their computing power sending ferrets to Mars or at least developing cold fusion/illusion. This simple mathematical truth dealt the death knell to the fundamentalist dogma of the Pythagoreans and therefore innocence was lost. Their philosophy would never be the same again. They emerged chastened and mayhap students developed a taste for the delights of beans and women. As the sect soon died out I suspect they indulged in the former only.
Archimedes (287 BC - 212 BC), a savant of Syracuse in Sicily, was another great intellectual of the ancient world. His contribution to knowledge was prodigious. He is mainly remembered for his 'Eureka moment' and a few of his engineering feats combating the fierce besieging Romans, to which he ultimately succumbed. However, in his day he also made substantial advances in mathematics, again using very simple geometric techniques. His most interesting contribution relates to the calculation of the area of a circle using many sided polygons. It is possible to calculate the area of a circle, to within very narrow defining limits, using inscribed and circumscribed polygons to the point of exhaustion. Fascinatingly, this methodology anticipated infinitesimal calculus which would be independently developed by Newton and Leibnitz in the 17th century. As many are aware, calculus 'is' the tool which formulates all fluid and dynamic functions of higher mathematics and therefore is essential for understanding our world in motion.
So there we have it: a brief foray into the exciting world of ancient Greek mathematics. They achieved much considering the limitations under which they laboured. I wonder how their mathematics would have evolved if they had had access to a flexible and powerful notation which, we today, take for granted. Greek genius halted when the Romans became Lords of the Mediterranean. The Romans had no interest in abstract mathematics and applied themselves wholeheartedly to war and politics, which for the Romans, was one of the same thing.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Tempus Incognito

"How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?"

Our lives are governed by our 'sense' of time. We awaken to alarm clocks, we attend 10 o'clock meetings and leave the office to go home at 5. Unless we are totally anarchic and chaotic we all march to the steady beat of time. But what is time? What is it, exactly? What is its deep essence? We all have a subjective but never an absolute notion of time. We reference our understanding of time to events. However, you could contend that time is a mere artefact of a string of events, happening. Is time independent of a causal universe? If we could cool the universe down to absolute zero (-273 C) so that all atoms 'freeze' and all motion ceases, would time still exist? In this scenario even light (photons) and other electromagnetic radiation would eventually cease to be after being absorbed by matter. However, you would have to wait an almost impossibly long time for this to occur. And then you have the confounding problem that matter at absolute zero absorbing electromagnetic radiation would heat up. In this case you would have to cool the universe down all over again, which can be bothersome. Incidentally, this thought experiment is not possible in the 'real universe' (no shit). Absolute zero is unobtainable as it violates several physical laws including Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The point I'm trying to make is that if everything ceased would the passage of time have any real independent existence? Isaac Newton said yes; time is an independent entity which can be divorced from causal events. Whether Newton thought this way because of his scientific understanding of nature or whether he thought this way as a consequence of his deep religious views and interest in mysticism is impossible for us to decide.  

I wrote a piece on entropy a while back where I raised the notion that time is no more than a measure of increasing disorder in the universe. But it seems to me that this argument is in some sense a cop out. Am I simply adding an arbitrary feature to the already well understood concept of entropy? Surely the concept of entropy has a name, why confuse the issue by calling it something else? Are we not just juggling with semantics and adding another layer of complexity and confusion? 

Since Einstein we have come to realise that everything is relative. Place a clock in a space craft and whisk it away at close to the speed of light and the on board clock would keep different to time to an identical clock placed in my study. Actually the clock in my study hasn't worked for years but I'm too damn idle to change the battery. Thus it seems that time, and everything else for that matter, is simply a problem of perspective; a relationship to a frame of reference. This is not to say that 'time' does not exist. In fact Einstein believed in the concept of time, but a time married to the universe. His concept of time could only exist within the reference of space-time and could not be divorced and act as an independent entity. 

The brain no doubt constructs time as a subjective concept. It imposes a psychological filter in the same way that colour is the brain's interpretation of electromagnetic radiation. It is sobering to consider that an event happening 'now' is already in the past by about a 10th of a second by the time we, as an organism, perceive the event. This is the time taken for the signals of the event to reach our brain and subsequently be processed for us to acknowledge- confusing isn't it?     

Like most of the 'Big Questions' which face humanity there are no easy and ready solutions. Which is a damned shame. Our minds are conditioned to understand the concrete world. When we enter the world of the abstract we enter very shaky intellectual territory. Is the notion of time a question which we can legitimately ask without becoming clogged in inconsistency and frank absurdity? With our level of understanding can it really be a scientific question? Perhaps the realm of time is best left to philosophers who ponder time under the category of metaphysics. Is time a matter for ontology (philosophy of existence) ? Or am I spouting total and unrelenting bollocks? Gentle readers, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dim Carcrashian's bottom has left the building

The bottom in happier times
Horror and disbelief as news of a robbery involving a top celebrity, chanteuse, fashion designer, model, actress and hairdresser is currently surfing the air waves like a greased up ferret, on amphetamines. For none other than Dim Carcrashian has been robbed while visiting the exotic, richly garnished city of dreaming drunks- Tipton. Tipton nestling like a piglet in the folds of a sow replete with cracked nipples and verdant ambrosia (steady Flaxen, you are starting to wax a little too lyrical) was cast into a dark and sombre resonance.  

Dim Carcrashian was poised resplendent and about to feature in 'Tipton's Exotic Lard and Offal Festival' when she was robbed whilst sampling the delights of Tipton's exclusive and premier hotel, 'The Midden Pit'. A hotel famed for its malodorous ambience and scurrilous clientele. Built next to Tipton's iconic and lack lustre adorning feature, 'The Awful Tower'. Anyway, uncharacteristically I'm starting to digress with florid abandon and ostentation.  

At about 3am, Dim Carcrashian was placing her son, East By South West, Turn Left At The Post Office Next To The Lamppost On The Right, in his richly appointed rhinestone bedecked cot, when three men dressed in opulent apparel burst upon the domestic scene, berating and carousing. Dim had no choice but to hand over her fabulously adorned, big, fat arse (arse). The arse fashioned from the finest ivory and damask and encrusted with beer bottle tops from over a dozen breweries was deemed the crown in Dim's extensive repertoire of false body parts. During the robbery, Dim was threatened with an extempore rendition of Arthur Askey's, 'The Bumble Bee Song' sumptuously accompanied by a George Formby impersonator on basinet. Luckily for Dim's nascent sanity she complied fully and even helped to remove the caste iron clamps securing her artificial, arrrrrse.

Inspector Alphonse Le Mugumbo of the El Tipton Police Department had this to say at an organised impromptu press conference today: "Ello, ello, ello, we can't be having wandering George Formby impersonators and associates swanning into Tipton taking items of artificial adornments from theatrical folk. O no we won’t be having it. Be apprised Tiptonites, and rest securely in your hovels tonight in the knowledge that I'll be placing the Crack Arse Squad on the case. Already the squad have raided the home for down on their luck and dishevelled Arthur Askey impresarios and have to date garnered over a hundred suspects. Sadly, George Formby remains at large". 

Dim's husband, Train Wreck, had this to say when he heard that his wife had been denuded of her bootilicous (not a real word) buttocks: "This ain't real, man, know what I'm saying? Dem buttocks were real man, more real that Dim's real buttocks. You know what I'm saying to you all ? This is real and I'm coming at you with a real plea- come on all you rich people and send me loads of real money. You getting me for real?"

The investigation continues with veritable aplomb........
Watch and weep

Friday, 30 September 2016


No comment necessary

Read and weep

The Third Battle of Ypres in the summer of 1917 (Passchendaele), together with the battle of the Somme is synonymous, at least in British eyes, with the futility and mass slaughter of the First World War, and in my opinion, rightly so.

General Haig, the commander of the British forces had formed a picture in his mind. He envisioned a German army close to defeat, battered by the Somme offensive of the preceding summer. One last push to the Belgium coast and the German army would be rolled up from the north. To achieve this end he planned a grand summer offensive in 1917 and chose Flanders as the field of operation. On the map Flanders seemed the ideal place for a major British offensive. A gain of just 30 miles would take the British to the Belgium ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. The problem was that his viewpoint was not rooted in military reality. Perhaps it was possible to reach the coast if the German army was no longer a coherent entity. But this was certainly not the case in 1917. Indeed, during the battle the Germans felt confident enough to transfer troops from the front line for operations elsewhere.

Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, was against the offensive from the first and predicted another 'slaughter fest' without any tangible result. Haig was adamant that Ostend and other channel ports could be reached in the first wave of the offensive. He emphasised the parlous state of a Germany army in disarray and imminent collapse. When Lloyd George visited the Western Front during the battle, Haig removed all the robust looking Germans from the prisoner of war cages to give the impression that the Germans were drawing on their last reserves of man power. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The French allies did not support an offensive here, nor did any of the other British Generals. As one French General so presciently (not a real word) stated: "You can't fight both Boche and boue" (Germans and mud). In fact it was the French army that was close to collapse. The German attack on Verdun in 1916 and General Nivelle's disastrous offensive in early 1917 had brought the French army close to mutiny. The army would hold the line but further offensive action was denied to them. The last thing the French wanted was the British army to be ground down in the same way. It would be better to stand on the defensive in 1917 and await for the Americans and tanks for an offensive in 1918.

As predicted, the battlefield became a morass fuelled by summer and autumn rains. All that was needed was the ever present artillery fire to plough and churn the land into a mud/blood bath. Furthermore, in the north the Belgians had destroyed the dykes thus letting in the sea. On this flank the Germans were secure. They had also built strong defences in depth in front of the British trenches. The high water table in the area ensured that the forth coming battle would turn into a duck-walk rather than Haig's imaginary cake-walk.

The offensive was heralded by the obligatory drum fire of artillery extended over several days. The battle began on the 31st July 1917. By the end of the first day it was clear to the British High Command that the offensive had failed. With advances of no more than half a mile the main German line was nowhere breached. Men, tanks and artillery simply sank and disappeared in the deep cloying mud. With no breakthrough in sight, Haig changed his objectives. No longer would the offensive result in the capture of Ostend and Zeebrugge. Instead the battle would become one of attrition with the only purpose of killing Germans. It should be remembered that the concept of attrition is always a two way process. The battle rumbled on for a further three months before being called off.

And so for the butcher’s bill: British casualties- 300,000; German casualties- 200,000. Haig argued that the Germans had suffered severely and planned a further offensive in the spring of 1918 which would bring the Germans to their knees. Again Haig was wrong. The Germans had more than enough men left to launch their own formidable spring offensive of 1918.

The effect on the British army was more subtle. As one British army Sergeant sensibly put it: “We will beat them but not before they break our hearts”. If innocence had been lost on the Somme, so enthusiasm had been lost at Passchendaele. It was replaced by grim determination and a stark professionalism to get the job done, but at what cost?

There is nothing glorious about war except the men in it