Thursday, 18 May 2017

A Day at the Doctors



I rarely go to the doctor willingly and have always lived by the dictum: 'First sign of death and I'm off to the doctor'. In that regard I'm no different to most men. Although I also live by the motto: 'Strength through pain'. So perhaps it might not be prudent to solicit life advice from the golden haired one. You decide gentle reader. Anyway, the point is I don't like going to the doctors especially after the episode when the GP shoved his digit up my arse (arse) and forgot to wash his hands, before and after the procedure. It has got so bad that my wife books the appointment, without consultation, and simply drops me off at the surgery with a wink and a shove. Tis a pity, because my doctor is really a great bloke. Not only is he a good clinician but he is funny, personable and a reservoir of sage wisdom. I went to see him for a 15-minute consultation today and spent 45 minutes in his office. Of that time only 5 minutes dealt with what ails me. The rest of the time was spent discussing peer reviewed double blind drug trials, the state of the human condition in the face of a disconsolate insouciant universe and why my testicles moved about independently after a hot bath- apparently it is due to the uneven distribution of deep thermal currents and the resultant attempts of heat distribution and heat loss to a crevassed skin surface. Go check it out in a medical textbook. But most of all I like his willingness to prescribe those little blue pills that make my head go all woozy after a couple of belts of vodka. Good man that doctor. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Random Friday Whimsy



Actually this a valid scientific question. Consider the many environment variables involved here: humidity; ambient temperature; restrictive underwear (or otherwise); absorption powers of said underwear and let's not forget the indigenous flora and fauna. I'd take swabs for microbiological testing, 'cuttings' from the pubic hair and skin scrapings for microscopical examination. Then again, he could just have a girlfriend who is free and easy with her sexual favours. We'll await further enlightenment and the lab tests.



Wednesday, 10 May 2017

More Pretentious Bollocks



I thought I'd do a brief post about fallacies. We all know about fallacies in the everyday humdrum sense, but in the rarefied academic world of logic, it is well defined. So, let me start off with a formal definition: A fallacy is: 'An error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid'. There are many types of logical fallacy as outlined below- please note this is not an exhaustive list, just a small catalogue of fallacies encountered in the everyday life of a logician. Also note logicians, as a breed, like to classify ‘fallacies’ into distinct groups (goes with the job). For instance, fallacies can be broadly distinguished into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ fallacies. A formal fallacy is a pattern of reasoning that is always wrong. This is due to a flaw in the logical structure of the argument which renders the argument invalid. In contrast, an informal fallacy may present in a valid logical form but is false due to the characteristics of its premises, or its justification structure. To date, I have managed to identify 56 separate informal fallacies. There is much ‘splitting of the hair’ and more than a few of these definitions can be combined without losing meaning and knowledge; all is nuance and shade. For the sake of brevity and sanity, I’ve only included a few fallacies which are commonly encountered, verbally, and in the written word:
Ad Hominem: ‘Attack the man’. This is a very popular device. If you can’t tackle the argument, why not besmirch the character of the person holding the contrary view? Only persuasive to the unsophisticated and the fool. In the final analysis, the character of the individual has no bearing on a logical argument.
Tu quoque: ‘You also’ or pot calling the kettle black- again, totally irrelevant. It may well be true that you are a hypocrite however, this has no logical bearing on the original argument. 
Argument from incredulity: “I can’t see how this argument can be true, therefore it must be false”. Also known as the argument from ignorance- or is that a separate and distinct category?
Circulus in demonstrando: Circular reasoning. No explanation necessary.
Petitio principia: Begging the question. A fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. Very common amongst unsophisticated theologians and religious apologists. 
Argumentum ex silentio: Argument from silence. A conclusion that is based on the lack of evidence in preference to the presence of evidence. A particularly daft form of reasoning that is easily demolished with a deft riposte augmented with a swift punch to the throat.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Correlation proves causation. An assumption that a particular action is responsible for causing an effect. Shown conclusively to be false by the British Empiricist philosopher, David Hume, in the 18th century. Nonetheless, an argument beloved by politicians and adherents of pseudoscience.

I think I’ve made my case and don’t see the need to belabour the concept. If you would like to read more about ‘informal fallacies’, I recommend the following book by, Carney & Sheer: 'Fundamentals of Logic, ch 2'. This is not a recent text however, it gives a clear and concise exposition of the problems. 

In our writing and verbal exchanges should we knowingly avoid the usage of fallacious expressions and phrases? This is not a simple question. Those of a pedantic disposition would unerringly answer, “yes”. But you should never ask a pedant a question as the answer is always known. If I'm involved in formal scientific writing I would argue that it is important to get a clear coherent message across without ambiguity and distraction. Of course, this is the counsel of perfection. I am quick to deride inconsistencies in other author’s scribbling but blind and oblivious to my own. This is why I always pass my formal work to a colleague for critique. It can be a painful, but necessary, lesson to learn that I’m writing complete bollocks, consequently, thoughtful editing is a prerequisite for cogency. It may come as a surprise to my regular readers that I’m capable of succinct, simple and clipped prose considering some of the rambling 'verbiage' penned for this blog.

Politicians and Legal Advocates are overly fond of logical fallacies. The barrister is at his/her best when not involved in legal minutiae and forensics. True oratory plays on the senses and has little to do with legal or logical precedent. Watch an accomplished politician and observe the skilled use of words divorced from facts and reality. Oratory tricks and illusions have great power to beguile and cloud the mind.

It would be a poor world if all literature conformed to rigid logical strictures/structures. The lack of rigour is a must for lyrical composition and great masterpieces of literature utilise illogical literary devices, diverse and various for artistic effect. Poor poetry is written by those lacking in imagination and pathos. Tragic poetry is at its finest when divorced from logical reality and the most engaging prose, both intellectually and emotionally, attacks and up-ends our reason. Lie to me in print as long as it is done with zeal, wit and passion.

Just a word to the wise. If in a debate with others, at a party, don't disparage their answers with an appeal to logical form. You will only humiliate folk and piss them off mightily; they will hate you for it. Sometimes tis best to keep your wisdom closeted and unexposed. And of course, no one likes a smart arse (arse).


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Wednesday Rant

ARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH

If there is one thing I hate more than meetings it's the impenetrable jargon it fosters/festers. Weird gobbledygook speak designed to obscure and complicate simple ideas. Devoid of content, these phrases strangle the English language turning it into an abomination of mangled words. My particular pet hate is: 'moving forward'. My boss and friend, who used to be a scientist, has moved forward to 'Administrative Management' and interjects into every meeting the phrase, 'moving forward', when he should be saying, 'from now on'. It grates and grinds on my sensibilities with its stultifying banality; sadly, he should know better- he's a very intelligent man. 

While I'm at it: I'm not a fan of 'team leader' instead of boss. Although not exactly jargon speak, it is one of those phrases that has insinuated itself into the English language about the same time the 'Personnel Department' became 'Human Resources' and heavy truck haulage became 'Logistics'. And while I'm ranting off topic I must mention the word, 'Workshop'. Whenever I attend a scientific conference there is always a 'Workshop'. A word for a meeting within a meeting. Frankly, if you are a not carpenter or a worker in light engineering you have no fucking right to call a meeting, a 'Workshop'. Digression over- back to the main rant.   

Here are a few particularly good/bad examples of business speak gathered randomly from the net:

“telephonic culturally competent disease management program can improve the health of African American members with hypertension”

“a leading global provider of integrated financial governance, transaction risk management, and compliance solutions”

"look for a paradigm shift in your KPIs, you need to benchmark your organisation against best practice in generating marketing messaging statements"



Now my readers (is there anyone there?), can feel my pain.

I challenge anyone out there to interpret these insane sentences into anything vaguely intelligible or coherent. Imaginative, witty or humorous contributions will win Flaxen’s Award for Rhetorical Sane English,  or A.R.S.E, for short. Don't disappoint the Flaxen haired one.

I'm so incandescent and discombobulated I'm off to burn down an orphanage.   


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Alexander and the Professor




 The man who changed the world
Looks like someone we know?
As you probably know, the Ancient Greek philosopher of great renown, Aristotle, taught the greatest General of the ancient world, bar one, Alexander the Great. The interaction of these two 'Great Men' has posed a fertile source of speculation for academics for well over two thousand years. How did Aristotle's teaching: exact, ponderous, surefooted and fantastic affect the developing mind of the eventual conqueror of the Persian Empire? Did the astonishing conquests of his erstwhile pupil influence the development of Aristotle's political theories? I would contend that the mutual interaction, intellectual and political, of these two Great Men was virtually nil.

Alexander had a certain respect and snobbish sentiment for high Greek culture, perhaps from the realisation that the Macedonians were just a generation away from barbarians and many Greeks still referred to the Highland upstarts as barbars.

Irrespective of fine Greek manners and a first class education delivered by one of the most formidable intellects ever to grace the human race, Alexander remained, for the most part, a barbarous man albeit moderately varnished with a coating of Greek culture. Scratch a little too hard and the passionate uncouth soul could be unleashed. A man who could recite Homer from memory and still thrust a spear through a friend in a single drunken evening.

It is interesting to reflect that while Alexander and his father had destroyed the 'City State of Greek Ideal', Aristotle ponderously extolled the virtues of a system ground into the dust by Macedonian military might. It as if Aristotle was living in a kind of intellectual bubble floating far and free from the stark reality pervading the lands of Greece. As an aside, it must have been irksome to educated Greeks to have been subdued by semi-Greeks to the north. Of course, it was going to get worse; the Romans were just getting started. I'm starting to digress.

Penetrating insight into the relationship is provided by the author, A. W. Benn: "It would be unfortunate if philosophy had no better testimonial to show for herself than the character of Alexander. Arrogant, drunken, cruel, vindictive, and grossly superstitious, he united the vices of a Highland chieftain to the frenzy of an Oriental despot." To be honest, I can't fault the analysis and it truly encapsulates Alexander's character in one incandescent sentence.

Clearly, the real world did not matter to an introspective genius such as Aristotle. The man was pure intellect and had enough money garnered through land ownership to divorce himself from the humdrum banality of our futile existence. Good for him. For most of us of a reflective demeanour, we have to earn enough money so we can ponder and reflect. Ain't dat the sad truth?

The ancient sources reflect an amiable relationship between Alexander and his mentor, at least during the earlier part of Alexander's campaign. Later a petulant note enters Alexander's missives to his old tutor, perhaps due to political developments in Greece. As far as I can discern though, Aristotle refrained from partisan politics- it could be a very dangerous game. Anyway, Aristotle was far too busy with his round of teaching duties and the writing of learned treatises. Here is a supposed letter addressed to Aristotle penned by Alexander whilst he campaigned in the nether regions of the known world as cited by, Plutarch: "Alexander to Aristotle, greetings. You have not done well to write down and publish those doctrines you taught me by word of mouth. What advantage shall I have over other men if these theories in which I have been trained are to be made common property? I would rather excel the rest of mankind in my knowledge of what is best than in the extent of my power. Farewell.”
Apart from the warning, which is hardly veiled, there is a certain petulant snobbishness in the uttering. 'If the Greeks were to remain Great they should deny to other men the things that induced greatness, lest they become as the Greeks and therefore great'. I think Aristotle would have appreciated the logic but not the snub. But of course, we will never be certain.

It is a reflection of mine that men endowed with first-rate minds rarely become successful men of action. And indeed, very smart men should not enter the world of the military and politics, Caesar and Hannibal excepted, of course.

:


 The man who changed the world

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

ANZAC Day, 25th April 2017



Today is ANZAC day when Australians and New Zealanders commemorate their war dead. ANZAC day focuses heavily on the Great War but not to the exclusion of other conflicts. The war to end all wars was nothing of the sort and set the scene for an even greater war. As one French General prophetically remarked at the end of the Great War: "This is not peace but an armistice for twenty years".

The end of the Great War was the beginning of the modern age and the true end of the Victorian era. Men of a thoughtful temperament became changed. In the summer of 1914, concepts such as honour, King, God and Country actually meant something in the hearts and minds of men- at least to the educated classes. Those who endured the horrors of war no longer thought this way. It is no coincidence that the growth of atheism in Britain can be traced back to this time. Before 1918, atheism was virtually non-existent in England except amongst a few foppish, fey intellectuals. In 1914 people actually believed that 'right could defeat might'. Only a madman or an intellectual dullard could hold this belief in 1918. The big battalions would always prevail in the end. It has always been this way even though French strategists of 1914 thought they could win battles by sheer élan alone. Of course, morale and fighting spirit are important components on the battlefield however, they count for nought when you charge into machine gun fire in conspicuous blue uniforms as if on a Sunday parade. Of all the combatants in 1914, the Germans appreciated the most the importance of major force in war. Although the much vaunted German army couldn't resist the occasional showy flash on the battlefield which cost them, dear.

We can chart the war in poetry. The jingoistic simple patriotism of 1914 slowly gives way to a sombre timbre. The poetry of 1914 is rather mundane and lacks emotional depth while the poetry of 1917/18 is red raw with all the nerves of the poet exposed. Bitter as the cud it captures the horror of modern war and encapsulates the helplessness of men exposed to an indifferent mincing machine. Those who survived not only carried physical scars but bore deep emotional gashes that always wept and never healed. My grandfather went to war as a man full of good humour and jest. On return, he was spent, deeply reflective and spent too much time on his own.

I've chosen a piece from 1919. It is a post-war poem by the English poet, Siegfried Sasson. Please read and weep.         

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.