Friday, June 29, 2018

Red in tooth and claw

The problem with nature is that it's out to get you!

Living things are governed by unseen laws of selection far more potent than Liberal rhetoric and Conservative propaganda, these laws mean that every possible opportunity and weakness is exploited and exploited ruthlessly without prejudice or favoritism. Take the recent serious outbreak of Measles in Bristol (see photo above) for example, here we have "nature" as represented by the Measles virus coming up against a weakness in Human nature. The weakness is arrogance and stupidity, which, when combined leads to well meaning people thinking that their opinions and fears trump statistics and proven medical science. It leads them to think that because they have the "right" to choose which breakfast cereal they buy in Waitrose that they can also freely choose not to have their children vaccinated against this sometimes fatal disease. 

This anti-social behaviour leads to the weakest members of our society, i.e. the very young and the very old becoming unprotected by the herd immunity that mass vaccination offers, and outbreaks spread like wild-fire through vulnerable communities. The bottom line is that people die, and they die regardless of what the latest trendy liberal view on vaccination and "big-pharma" might be.

Friday Smirk

How true..

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Three simple facts...

Ever wanted to shut-up one of those conservative/closet UKIP dinner party bores who constantly bang on how everything is going to "hell in a hand-basket" and no matter what happens everything was "better in the past"...?

Just remember these three facts and reel them out every time you want to inject a little reality into a boring monologue on Brexit/Immigration/Empire/Urban decay/Price of fish etc..

Fact #1. Since 1960, child deaths have plummeted from 20 million a year to ~6 million a year.

Just imagine that! It must be awful to watch your child die but every single minute somewhere on this planet 11 children (on average) under the age of 5 die. Eleven a minute, 15,500 a day, 5.6 million a year, far too many. But now consider that only 50 years ago (i.e. easily within living memory) the number was nearly four times this amount, not 11 a minute but touching 40. We're still not out of the woods yet, 11 is still too many but no point in looking to the past, back then it was far, far worse.

Fact #2. Since 1960, the fertility rate has fallen by half.

From decades worth of demographic data we can see that when Women are freed from the bonds of animal-like reproductive cycles the conditions of Women, children and populations gradually improves. Fewer children means better access to education, better opportunities in job markets and less pressure on precious resources. When child mortality falls, families don't fear that their children will die young and consequently they decide to have less children in the first place.

Fact #3 137,000 people escaped extreme poverty every day between 1990 and 2015.

Extreme poverty mean less than $2 dollars a day, many people still believe that things are getting worse but the opposite is true. In 1990 1.9 billion people were in extreme poverty, twenty-five years later and that number has more than halved to 700 million, every tenth person.

This is a massive transformation it means that every day around 140,000 people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. 700 million is still a very large number and there is much work to be done but we should all acknowledge that fixing things like extreme poverty is possible and is going on around the world every single day.

Clearly complacency is not yet warranted but the next time some blow-hard starts lecturing on how things were much "better in my-day" just remind them of these three simple facts and make a case for continued progress over rear-view-mirror gazing..

For more amazing facts and figures on Human progress since the Enlightenment check out Stephen Pinker's new book "Enlightenment Now", read it and you start to realise just how fallacious the Daily Mail and Fox news actually are..

Jinn and tonic

Excellent new J&M today, exploring the assertion that it's never good to be so open-minded that your brains fall out!

Mid-week mirth

Seems to be what a lot of people are talking about this week ... :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Here's an interesting question. 

Assuming this woman attending the World Cup in Russia is Iranian and that in her home country she is required (by law) to wear certain clothing, then why isn't she wearing the same kind of garb (i.e. a Hijab) as she is in her Id photo (see below)?

There are a number of possibilities I suppose...

1. She isn't in her home country and feels secure enough to wear what she prefers or wants to wear, i.e. not a hijab.

2. This is an elaborate conspiracy by the Iranian government  to seed the Iranian fans with pretty women wearing normal Western clothing in order to throw us off the scent in terms of pointing out the obvious misogyny involved in forcing 50% of your population to wear bin-bags by law.

3. The whole photo is being staged by some western agitator who wishes to embarrass the Iranian government and it's her ID photo that's actually fake.

I'm pretty sure that I know which of these is more likely, which the right-wing commentators would say and which the Iranian government would say, I wonder which is true?


Just in case there was any confusion..

Holy orders

Monks in Belgium and Holland have long held the tradition of brewing beer and there are eleven official "Trappist breweries" remaining to this day. Names like "Rochefort", "Chimay", "Westmalle" and "Orval" conjure up images of strong, flavoursome and distinctive ales served in chalice-like stemware. I've tried a few over the years (they're widely available in UK supermarkets) and, although they vary quite a lot these days, I broadly like them. Here's a post I did about Orval, a lighter style, that I tried at Christmas time last year in London, tasty stuff!

Now there's a twelfth member of this select group, and they're English! Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Coalville, Leicestershire has started producing their own interpretation of this ancient style using English ingredients and a whole lot of help and advice from their colleagues across the water. The beer they make and now sell to the public (from July 9th 2018) is described as follows,

"Tynt Meadow is mahogany-coloured, with a subtle, warm red hue, and a lasting beige head. Its aroma carries hints of dark chocolate, liquorice, and rich fruit flavours. The beer is full-bodied, gently balancing the taste of dark chocolate, pepper, and fig. It leaves a warm and dry finish on the palate."

It's a 7-8% ABV Trappist style beer and sounds great, I'll have to look out for it on my travels!

Shiny trains

I had to do a meeting in the City yesterday (Monday) and caught the train from Reading to Paddington. I must say the new Hitachi electric trains now operating on that line are a huge improvement. Clean, smooth ride, high-tech modern interiors with really comfortable seats, feels like Japan! (apart from being 15 minutes late and until you look out the window and catch a glimpse of Slough of course)..

This is what they look like from the outside..

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Sign of the times

Sometimes when you're out and about you do have to wonder what the fascination is for many people?

Cracking evening

Since it was a cracking evening yesterday (weather-wise) we couldn't resist popping into the Fox & Hounds in Caversham for a swift half before picking up one of the kids from school and heading into Reading for an Honest Burger (new'ish burger-chain in town that I previously posted about here) The food was v. good again and the Siren beer was à point as usual! The beer in the photo (taken at the pub) is from a brewery called Magic Rock based ooop North (Huddersfield I think) and is a 6% hazy IPA called "The Fabulist", a very dank and resin filled little number with a lingering sweetness on the finish, most agreeable on a sunny Friday evening.

Walking back to the car park through the town centre we saw a hot-air balloon flying overhead, it looked v. cool framed by a perfectly deep-blue sky. At one point earlier in the walk it lined up exactly with the moon which would have made a great photo - unfortunately my photo-opportunity senses are nowhere near fine-tuned enough and I only thought about it after the moment had passed. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Taking offence

The excellent Crispian Jago with some humble suggestions for what (some) Christians (indeed many different stripes of religious people) should be getting offended about rather than the things they often seem to be offended about. Good to see Crispian posting again, his cancer blog is well worth a read if you haven't seen it already.

Friday Smirk

Apparently this cartoon was recently widely circulated on Chinese social media, clearly some Human behavioural observations carry across cultures unaltered.

Planning rationally

I see that Airbus is making noises about abandoning the UK after Brexit - I hope this will make the politicians sit up and take notice, especially Labour! It won't be particularly good for UK jobs if this world-leading manufacturer ups sticks and leaves the UK, many talented engineers around the country will become out of work and it's difficult to see where they could go, the home-spun aircraft design and manufacturing industry being practically non-existent. No doubt the Airbus company will be criticised by the likes of Fox and Johnson in the media "project fear" they will call it. They are simply waffle merchants, their life experience is that rhetoric carries the argument and the day, unfortunately for all the workers in the UK, engineers don't factor rhetoric into their planning.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

No they don't...

1) No they don’t.
2) No they don’t.
3) Yes they can.
4) No, they reduce SIDS by 50%.
5) No they don’t.
6) No they fucking don’t.
7) No they don’t except for fleetingly rare anaphylaxis.
8) No they don’t.
9) No they don’t.

I love it when real doctors critique ignorant medical memes.. 
The only thing vaccines cause in children is adulthood..

Wednesday wit

This contradiction must be a real problem for Christian Conservatives... but then again, they're very well used to deluding themselves..

Militant secularists

Excellent new J&M, illustrating perfectly why a secular approach to matters of public and state policy is the ONLY fair way of dealing with things in a modern pluralistic society.


I noticed the other day that the US has quietly overtaken China in the supercomputer arms-race. China has held the record for the most powerful computer for a couple of years now, their "TaihuLight" machine weighed in at an astonishing 93 Peta-FLOPS. "Peta" means 10 raised to the power of 15 or a thousand million, million and FLOPS stands for "Floating Point Operations per Second". That's a lot of calculations! If a single Human attempted to do the same number of arithmetic operations that this machine does in one second, it would take a length of time equivalent to the remaining life of our solar system. The Sun would have swelled into a red-giant and destroyed the Earth long before the Human calculator had finished, and I thought scoring a darts match was challenging!

Now, the US has regained the title with their "Summit" machine at Oak Ridge. Built by IBM but using a variety of technologies this new machine ups the ante to 200 Peta-FLOPS, the kind of power needed to do some pretty impossible stuff, like designing fusion-powered reactors or modelling our climate at a planetary scale. In this current era of a renaissance of interest in AI systems it would be fascinating to try out some of the chunkier models on such a machine. I'm sure scientists can't wait to do things like model genes at molecular scale to help predict cancers and then find suitably "shaped" drugs to combat the multitude of different types, anyway, I hope that's what it'll be used for rather than the usual boring old "war-games"..

The race to achieve a machine capable of "Exascale" computing (which is what Human brains achieve at the neuron-level) is most definitely still alive and might even be achieved in the next year or two, bring it on!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers day

My family treated me to a slap up brunch today at a local pub called The Sherlock Inn in a village up the road from us called Sherlock Row, it was fab! We all had different dishes (see menu below) and every one was enjoyed by its recipient and hoovered up completely, 100% empty plates!

I decided to go for the full-English, it was delicious, just the thing for a slightly hung-over Sunday morning (we attended a friend's 50th birthday party yesterday evening) The black velvet made with English sparkling wine and Siren stout (my favourite Berkshire brewery) was also outstanding.

Tee-shirt meme's

Finally a tee-shirt meme I can get-behind... (I love stupid stuff like this!)

Saturday, June 16, 2018


It seems as though Trump has us all trapped inside his delusional game-show, the people of the world have become the camera fodder that fuels his ego and lines his pockets. Talking shite has become the norm, even blatant lying would appear to go unchallenged, or perhaps people in the mainstream media have simply lost interest in this political chav-fest?

I was unfortunate enough to catch part of a recent interview with this orange bloater on his recent meeting with the North Korean dictator, "rocket-man" Kim Jong Un. In it Trump claims that thousands, yes, thousands of parents of fallen soldiers from the Korean was had approached him whilst on his election campaign and asked him to get their children's remains back. A quick back of a fag-packet calculation would show that for someone to have been the parent of a KIA soldier in Korea (1953) they would now be at least 101 years old and more likely between 110 and 120.

Mind you, with MP's in our own UK Parliament lying through their teeth about and presiding over, the biggest act of self-mutilation that any supposedly first-world country has ever inflicted upon itself, we can't really shout too loudly, can we...

Friday, June 15, 2018

"could try harder.."

Stephen Hawking was (ceremonially) buried at Westminster Abbey today. His memorial slab is next to that of Newton and Darwin, which if you ask me, is quite some achievement. Many will debate whether or not his impact on our understanding of our universe will turn out to be as impactful as that of his two co-interns but in many ways that's a fairly irrelevant point. In my view, what matters is that he overcame enormous impediments to achieve fantastic advances in his particular field of study. On the normal-distribution of academic scholarship he was definitely at the extremity of the bell-curve, I can't comment on the substance of his theories as to be perfectly honest I don't understand most of them, my academic record consisted mainly of teachers commenting things like "could be clearer" and "could try harder" in the margins of my (in comparison to Hawking's) pedestrian efforts.

Friday Smirk

Very true, if I were a foreign footballer in Russia at the moment I'd double check my underpants every morning pretty thoroughly!

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Saw this the other day, since Reading is my nearest big town I thought it was neat..

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Still waiting

New J&M today, highlighting the rather obvious point that if God has a plan then his plan looks very much like someone that doesn't have a plan. In the mean-time going down the pub and having a pint and a chat would seem to be a much better solution to most things than religion ever was.

White Tips on a school-night

I had to go up to London yesterday, it was a reasonably uneventful journey and I got to grab a cheeky pint with some work colleagues after a long and fairly intense (in a good way) client meeting in the Holborn area. 

Fortunately when in London, you're usually not more than spitting distance from a decent boozer. In our case this was the Holborn-Whippet (seen on the RHS of the photo above), a fairly plain looking pub but one with with a stellar craft-beer list. I opted for a pint of "White-Tips" from Siren, a hoppy wit-beer style made with orange, lime and grapefruit zest, perfect for quaffing on a warm evening in town before jumping on the tube back to Paddington and then a train into the wilds of Berkshire.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday Mirth

I think Merkel speaks for all of us here...

Friday, June 08, 2018

Anthony Bourdain

Really sad to hear about the death of Anthony Bourdain, he was one of the pioneers of being a "celebrity chef", i.e. before it was naff to be a celebrity chef. He always struck me as the kind of guy that it would be great fun to simply go for a few beers with. Like Christopher Hitchens, I suspect he would have been a wonderful (and endless) source of "living life to the full" stories. 

I greatly enjoyed his "Parts Unknown" travel show and it's still one of my "go-to" shows if I can't find anything interesting on the millions of channels we have available these days, I also loved his cookbook book "Les Halles" which alongside its many recipes recounts his early experiences working in a (French) Manhattan restaurant of the same name, wonderful stuff. 

He was well known as somewhat of a "bon-viveur", although he is also well known for keeping in tip-top physical shape, being seriously involved in several kinds of martial-arts. My favourite quote of his is typically down to earth, "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."

Friday Smirk

This is what happens when you promote your deities in too much of hurry..

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Bakery rules

I wonder where the mean-spirited Christian baker who won't bake cakes for gay people stands on baking cakes for people who break other Biblical commands, like divorcing, working on Sunday or eating prawns? 

I suspect I can guess the answer. When it comes to blatant hypocrisy, and confusing freedom of conscience with an imagined right to discriminate against minorities, much like fruit-cake mix, cafeteria-Christians do take some beating. I'm sure I read something in Romans about not making fruit-cake without marzipan unless it's Lent and you're on your period.

Illiterate authors

New J&M today - pointing out the obvious flaw in Islamic logic, i.e. you can't write a book if you're illiterate. Dictating a mashed-up and plagiarised version of the old-testament to a population at the point of a sword however is much more feasible.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Magic Water

Glad to see that the High Court has upheld a decision that the NHS is no longer obliged to fund Homeopathic treatments in England. No doubt this will prompt lots of whining from the people who think it's the job of taxpayer funded science to "prove" that whatever woo-woo they pull from their butts doesn't work. Fortunately people are starting to wise-up and realise that the onus of proof is on the people making the claim and we don't assume a proposition is true just because someone's granny once got over her rash after drinking some water with an imperceptible amount of poo in it. We require evidence and repeatable double blind-testing, something the vested interests behind this narrative have never managed to reliably provide over and above that expected by pure chance (i.e. the placebo effect).

From now on if people want this stuff then fine, that is their right, but they'll need to buy their own "magic water"...

Education, and perspective

Imagine this circle is the sum of Human knowledge, and when you are born you know nothing.

After 14 or so years at school (and living) the amount you know has increased nicely but it's still small

After another couple of years at school you've taken your GCSE's and your knowledge has increased even more

Assuming you stay on and do A-Levels things get a little bit more specialised, you learn more but in a narrow field.

Having moved onto University and through undergraduate life, your specialisation increases even more and gets even narrower.

Finally you get to the boundary of knowledge, you read lots of research papers, work and push on through.

You do your PhD and make a breakthrough! Congratulations the sum of Human knowledge is now different from when you started.

But it's always useful to keep things in perspective..

What happens after I die?

Boy: Dad, what happens after I die?
Dad: Good question Son, actually, loads of cool and interesting stuff will happen after you die... you just won't be involved in any of it..

Monday, June 04, 2018

Christian "bake-off"..

A sketch by James Felton.

Premature congratulations

I noticed a headline on the BBC website today that read "Saudi flag removed from pubs' World Cup bunting", hurrah I thought, there's a landlord (or Lady) with principals! They're not going to display the flag of a nation with such a terrible record of human-rights abuse, religious fundamentalism, funding of terrorism or state-sponsored misogyny, or downright religious stupidity (see cartoon above) good for them!

Unfortunately my congratulations were premature, having read through the story a bit more, I quickly realised that the reason the flags were removed wasn't some stand against bigotry but a kowtowing to religious sensibilities. Apparently someone complained that it was "inappropriate" to display the Saudi flag in an establishment that sells alcohol and the brewery that owns the pub (Green King) decided to take them all down, wouldn't want to "offend" anyone now would we. Staff are now wasting their lives (and money) cutting out the Saudi flags from bunting at their 3000 odd pubs, restaurants and hotels.

I have a suggestion, why not cut out the middle man and simply ban the flying of the Saudi flag anywhere in the UK, clearly our morality and culture are completely incompatible with theirs, and to put it mildly, we should all be thankful for that!