Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ice bugs

Here's a picture of a bacterial cell found in a lake under the Antarctic ice cap, the environment there is described as aphotic (with little or no light), anoxic (without oxygen), and slightly acidic brine with a temperature of -13C. Carbon dating has indicated that the inhospitable-sounding brine has been isolated for more than 2,800 years, and yet there is still life there. It kind of suggests that life is significantly more durable than we thought, as I ponder this amazing fact, I'm beginning to think my Mother-in-law might be from there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chromosomal discrimination

I read with interest tonight that the Church of England (the state religion in my country) has voted "no" to a proposal to allow Women to become Bishops even though they may be perfectly able and willing.

Next week they'll be voting on the thorny issues of people with ginger pubes becoming grave diggers and allowing lactose intolerant people to ring bells; in fact many traditionalists insist that anyone with a genetic difference greater than 0.001% from the DNA extracted from molar teeth of the late Thomas Becket shouldn't be allowed to join the Church in the first place, apparently it makes their God very cross!

In other news Nick Clegg is relieved that there's now at last at least one major UK institution less popular than the Liberal Democrat party.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Its all about the kids

Lots of focus on children in the news this week, first we had the depressing story about a couple in Ireland who lost their baby due to a miscarriage, however it was reported that the hospital refused to abort the foetus until there was no trace of a heartbeat, this took days during which time the mother developed blood poisoning and died. The reason given for not performing the required medical procedure much earlier was, yes you guessed it, "Ireland is a Catholic country".. In more depressing news we have innocents suffering as a result of escalating violence in Gaza and of course they continue to suffer in Syria too. In the UK we have "children in need" weekend where people up and down the country do daft things in a good pro-child cause this is in stark contrast to the continuing story about the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by a much less enlightened anti-child segment of her society just because she wants to go to school. Fortunately Malala seems to be doing well in hospital in the UK at the moment.

As always the excellent cartoon series Jesus and Mo (above) sums up how certain sections of our various societies feel about children, for me, I'm just looking forward to the weekend and finally spending some quality time with my own.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pool rules

Time for something less serious and more light-hearted...

Here's a pool that could use a few more rules, like, no dive bombing and no heavy petting (whatever that means - I was never entirely sure...)


Its that time of year again here in the UK when we remember the sacrifices of our ancestors in the (far too many) wars and battles that have been fought in the name of our little island and its ideas and interests over the years. Some of these engagements have been much more noble than others but I don't believe that fact diminishes the struggles and bravery of the people involved at the cutting edge. I'm very keen that we force ourselves to think about the past, to think about the people and what they endured but we also need to understand why it's a good idea to focus on people (like us!) and not facile symbols like flags or poppies. The only worthy reason I can think of to dredge this unpleasantness up again every year is so that we re-double our resolve that the horrors of the Somme, Dunkirk and Auschwitz must be avoided in the future.

Whilst I believe it's really important to think about our history and to teach the next generation about it (warts and all) I would not agree that everyone has to reach the same conclusion nor think in some uniform "state-sanctified" way. If anything, I'd have said that diversity of thought and free speech is one of the most valuable jewels to be salvaged from the blood of the 20th century. But, even today I read of some bloke in Kent who has been arrested by the Police there because he posted a picture of a burning poppy on Twitter, really? arrested? What the hell did all those people die for if not to protect a tolerant, rational society where diversity of opinion is allowed if not encouraged, sticks and stones people, sticks and stones.

Herd mentality

I was watching the final part of Andrew Marr's "History of the World" last night, its been an interesting series tracking the progress of Homo-sapiens from when we first emerged from Africa to the present day. In many ways I agree with his final commentary which (summarised) was that our scientific and technological progress has been amazing (once the crippling retardants of religion and superstition were marginalised) but our political progress has been much less impressive.

I was thinking about why this might be, it seems to me that we invariably go astray when we put too much faith in people (and their delusions) over evidence. The programme last night focused on the 20th century and posed the question "how and why did a loser like Hitler manage to create such a cult of personality and achieve absolute power over millions?" I'm sure the answer to that question is complex, but I think there's value in examining our inherited social primate instincts; these behaviours are still very powerful and clearly we haven't travelled the long road out of Eden fully yet, even though many might think we have. We all know what it feels like to do something stupid against our better judgement and innate morality just so that we can feel part of the in-group. It must have happened on a grand scale in Germany in the 30s but we can see it going on around us all the time. Take the current storm in the BBC, I still can't quite figure out how the mishandling of a particular story by one programme team could amount to such a crisis and why there seems to be a lemming like wave of people falling on their swords right now? Has some internal spell been broken has the fog of delusion cleared exposing the blade edge of reality. Just like the fate of every other in-group there has ever been, has the cult of "Auntie" reached its inevitable end?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Drilling for souls

I read with interest today that the new Archbishop of Canterbury is to be ex-oilman Justin Welby; I'm wondering if this means the Anglican Church will now be introducing loyalty cards and selling charcoal and flowers from naves up and down the country? Seriously though, I wish him luck and hope that his "real-world" experience will help him to speak more rationally than his predecessor on topics of privilege and secularism from his albeit privileged position in our country.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Best election photo..

Love this picture of those nice people at Fox News, maybe they just didn't pray hard enough? (or perhaps to the right God instead of the God of the right?)

Update: Seems like I'm not the only one that thought that ...

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hey Euro weenie's, whatever...

I saw this amusing story in the Telegraph today, it's basically suggesting that people in the US don't give a damn what Europeans think about their election; in fact the grass-roots undercurrent (particularly from Republicans) is more like "f**k off and mind your own business" (does this means they feel they are losing?).

As someone who has spent a decent proportion of my life working for and with Americans and also having lived in the country I would argue that I have an above average interest level compared to most other Europeans but in any case I think its actually quite a healthy thing for anyone to be interested in world affairs, particularly when so much of what we do at work and play these days involves interacting with people from further afield than the next village. So, I'd say to those Americans who don't like the idea of non-Americans expressing their opinions "right back at'cha!" Perhaps if certain Republicans had more of a grasp of world affairs, maybe if they realised there actually was a world outside of 'merica, they may get more sympathy from it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


I spent a very enjoyable weekend in Madrid (see above) recently, we went to pick up my Son who was staying with a friend of his from school and took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring. I made several new discoveries, one of which was a wine that I hadn't tried before and liked a lot. It's called Hacienda Monasterio from the Ribera del Duero region and is made from that standard bearer Spanish grape of Rioja fame, Tempranillo with a splash of more international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The man behind the label is Peter Sisseck who made a name for himself making the iconic "Pingus" which is eye wateringly expensive. This wine it's not cheap (although it's cheaper in Spain than here) but if you're looking for a classy wine that would go well with a special meal (beef or duck etc.) then it will be a great match, I expect it will also improve over the next few years as well; I might even give it a try with the Turkey over Christmas (shock horror, thinking about Christmas in November!).

Friday, November 02, 2012

Can't trust those atheist muslims...

Don't get me wrong, this kind of daftness obviously isn't confined to one political following or another (and clearly the clips are edited to get a particular effect) but some of the views being expressed by the people in these interviews are downright scary. I was particularly interested to hear that Obama is a Muslim and an Atheist and hates America also that Bhuddists are flooding into the USA and stealing freedom of religion, no wonder they're upset... (Oh and just how rough does Meatloaf look!)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Chiroptera excrement crazy

For those following the American presidential elections here's Mitt Romney talking about his "religion", or as the rest of us know it a Victorian scam invented by a convicted con-man called Joseph Smith, it's very enlightening.

Mormonism has everything a good religion should have, angels, demons, magic, elitism, dubious right wing tendencies and most importantly it's all completely unfalsifiable; the only concrete evidence (angelic golden plates) apparently having been spirited up to heaven before they could be examined by anyone other than Smith himself, always handy that. One of the more odd things that Smith invented was a story about one of the lost tribes of Israel ending up in the USA, this is where American Indians came from according to him. Modern science has debunked this already absurdly unlikely claim through examining the DNA of Jews and American Indians, but I suspect like the psychic in my previous post true Mormons just think that those nasty scientists will do anything to spoil a good story. They also believe that Jesus will re-visit the Earth landing in Jerusalem (where else!) and then rule over the Earth for 1000 years (why 1000, maybe Joseph smith didn't know any bigger numbers?) apparently Jesus will rule the entire planet from the two most obvious global centres, Jerusalem (yawn) and Missouri, er, yes that's right Missouri, by a strange twist of fate that's precisely where Smith lived too, what are the odds?

Don't believe me that such an obviously transparent lot of old cobblers could be believed by any serious person, well, listen to Mitt and believe in America...

I could have told them that...

Scientists at the University of London have found that two psychics who volunteered to be subjected to regular scientific testing were unable to show that they had any special powers of cognition. In tests carried out at the University neither of them were able to demonstrate any ability whatsoever to discern anything unusual about a group of volunteer subjects using psychic powers alone. What little they did get right simply corresponded to what would be expected by blind chance alone.

One of the psychic's claimed afterwards that the tests proved nothing and that scientists are "closed minded", I suppose that response could have been predicted.