We’re Back!

Apologies to all our readers for being off-line for about 24 hours. We were getting phenomenally high traffic to one particular file from a social media site and in consultation with us, decided to take the site off-line while the problem was investigated.

Your Interesting Links

There’s a lot in this month’s edition so let’s get straight in …

Science & Medicine

Medics are now saying that arthroscopic surgery for degenerative knee problems (ie. essentially arthritis) does not actually do any much good.

[TRIGGER WARNING] Breaking the taboo of talking about miscarriage.

Another new study shows that, against expectation, women who source online and use abortion drugs do so with very little need for emergency medical help.

And yet another on reproductive medicine … It seems the folk contraceptive “Thunder God Vine” (Tripterygium wilfordii, above) really does prevent conception.

On the physics of having a shit.

More new research has found that daily small doses of cannabis can slow brain decline with ageing – at least in mice.

And here’s yet another instance where it seems we’ve had it all wrong … apparently eating cheese does not raise the risk of heart attack or stroke.

It has long been thought that the way we categorise colours is cultural, but surprisingly it appears to be genetic.

Sexuality

Porn is allegedly having a “terrifying impact” on men. Girl on the Net lifts the lid and finds the evidence rather thin and attitudes biased.

Is the “Dildo of Damocles” daunting? What does/will happen when sex toys connect to the internet?

Environment

It is estimated that the Fukushima accident gave everyone on the planet radiation exposure equivalent to a single X-ray – although unsurprisingly those in Fukushima received rather more it was unlikely to be more than two year’s worth of background radiation, so tiny in the overall scheme of things.

Hedges are as important for the environment as trees, at least in cities.

In another non-obvious finding, research is showing that beaver dams keep streams cool.

History, Archaeology & Anthropology

There are some amazing things happening in palaeoanthropology at the moment, not least that researchers have discovered how to extract DNA from the soil around archaeological sites.

Another of those amazing pieces of palaeoanthropology is the number and age of the Homo naledi finds in South Africa.

At the other end of Africa, a 4000-year-old funeral garden has been discovered in Egypt.

In a recent, and rather more modern, find a rare medieval text printed by William Caxton has been discovered lurking in University of Reading archives.

One of our favourite London bloggers, diamond geezer, visits the Parisian Catacombs.

Finally in this section, another of our favourite London bloggers, IanVists, explores an abandoned railway tunnel used by the BBC in WW2.

London

Which brings us nicely to London itself … Londonist suggests some of London’s more secret places to visit.

Meanwhile Time Out tells us nine things we mostly didn’t know about Euston Station.

Lifestyle & Personal Development

The Guardian magazine on Saturday 27 May featured Laura Dodsworth’s upcoming book Manhood: The Bare Reality in which 100 men talk about manhood through the lens of “me and my penis” as well as having their manhood photographed.
This a follow-on to Bare Reality: 100 Women, Their Breasts, Their Stories
Pre-order Manhood: The Bare Reality from the publishers Pinter & Martin or from Amazon.
[Full disclosure: I was interviewed for this book and there’s a little bit of me in the article, although unless you know you’ll never find it.]

Following which here’s Lee Kynaston in the Telegraph on male pubic hair grooming. My only question is “Why?”.

The key to happiness is not knowing oneself, but knowing how others see us.

But then scientists and philosophers also doubt the ancient claim that vigorous self-examination makes you a better person.

Food & Drink

WFT is alkaline water? Oh, I see, it’s no different to what comes out of the tap.

If you like sushi, you might no longer as its popularity has brought rise in parasitic infections.

People

I wasn’t quite sure where to put this next item, but it is one for the railway buffs amongst us … Geoff Marshall (no relation) and Vicki Pipe are doing All the Stations: They’re travelling to every train station in mainland UK, documenting and videoing as they go. Their videos are all on the All the Stations channel on YouTube; watch the introductory video first to see what they’re planning.
[Geoff Marshall has twice held the official record for travelling the whole London Underground in the fastest time, so he had to be up for another challenge!]

Shock, Horror, Humour

And very finally here are some stories of what happens when scientists take research specimens through airport security.

More in a month’s time.

Five Questions, Series 9 #4

With question four we’re getting near the end of this series of Five Questions.

★★★★☆

Question 4: How many even prime numbers are there?

I’m not sure if this is a trick question, mathematically, or not.

First let’s be clear what a prime number actually is. It is a integer number which is divisible only by itself and 1. All even numbers (2, 4, 6, …) are divisible by 2. So 2 itself, is therefore the only even numbered prime number. And given that the technical definition of a prime number is that it has to be greater than 1, the answer is that there is just the one even prime. And there is no trick. (See Wikipedia for a fuller description.)

But why might this have been a trick question? Well I thought it might be a trick, because I did wonder about 0. Is 0 odd or even? Well actually it doesn’t matter because dividing 0 by anything you get 0, not 1, which seems to negate the question, regardless of the technical definition of a prime number.

Five Questions, Series 9 #3

OMG, question 3 of this ninth round of Five Questions is really horrible. Why did I pose this one?

★★★☆☆

Question 3: If you had to be executed but could choose the method, what method would you choose?

Eeeek!!! What a question! What a choice of possible answers!

How can one tell until what one would do until one is in the situation?

However I suspect the answer would probably be the most painless way possible. This seems to me to be a huge overdose of general anaesthetic and/or barbiturates, as we do for out pets when the time comes. That seems to be quick, painless and humane – indeed these are the overriding veterinary requirements for euthanasia. To do anything else would seem to be taking revenge, which is hardly ethical.

Five Questions, Series 9 #2

Here we are at the answer to question 2 of answers to this ninth round of Five Questions.

★★☆☆☆

Question 2: How do we guarantee “this” (whatever it is) never happens again?

Whatever “this” is, you can’t guarantee it never happens again. It doesn’t matter how many laws, procedures, checks, firewalls or storm-troopers you put in the way there will always be a loophole, or a stable door left ajar, somewhere; and they will be exploited, sometime, by someone – if only by some ingenious idiot.

Moreover, anything which the system allows – or more correctly doesn’t prevent – will be taken advantage of by someone. See, for instance, the rows in recent years about MPs’ expenses.

Quotes

Welcome to our monthly collection of quotes which have amused, interested or inspired us over recent weeks.

You bustle around tutting and narrowing your eyes, in the manner of a dog territorially pissing on a lamppost.
[Emma Beddington]

His virtues were so conspicuous that his enemies, unable to overlook them, denied them, and his friends, to whose loose lives they were a rebuke, represented them as vices. They are here commemorated by his family, who shared them.
[Ambrose Bierce, American Writer, 1842-1914]

In those rare cases where states have managed to destroy their opponents by repression, they have often destroyed also the foundations of a healthy and vital body politic, and been consumed by a destructive institutional paranoia. Rational behaviour has little to do with any of this. Reason, after all, so rarely governs politics. This is particularly the case for governments nervously fingering the hair trigger of emergency.
[Stephen Alford; The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I]

A danger to any state is the powerful and often circular logic of conspiracy. It is pronounced when fear translates into a sense or feeling of national vulnerability, something very dangerous when it is institutionalized by any government that possesses the coercive means to make its will felt. This is especially true of countries where a narrow or isolated governing elite puts its own political survival before everything else, and where the instruments of the modern state can be used to subdue opposition at home or even abroad. These elites tend to see as identical their self-interest as a governing group and the welfare of the public body. They invest in propaganda. They promote a fear or hatred of outsiders. They feel beset by their enemies. We see regimes like this governing today. All of this may have been true of Elizabethan England … certainly the Elizabethan state was busily fashioning the tools of modern government in conditions of war and emergency in Reformation Europe.
[Stephen Alford; The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I]

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
[Douglas Adams]

If you go far enough back, all our ancestors were Pagans. They practised religions that had few creeds or dogmas. There were no prophets. There were myths and legends, but no scriptures to be taken literally. These religions were based on the celebration of the seasonal cycles of nature. They were based on what people did, not what people believed.
[Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon]

Hope and wish for it otherwise as we will, there is no evidence of an external grace shining down upon us, no demonstrable destiny or purpose assigned us, no second life vouchsafed us for the end of the present one. We are, it seems, completely alone.
[EO Wilson]

[The] meaning of life … is whatever gives you joy, or consoles you when life has got you down. It is something you believe or do that makes your life worth living. And by “you” I mean not the collective you but the individual you.
[John Horgan at Scientific American blogs]

The meaning of life belongs in the category of beauty, not truth. It is an aesthetic and hence fundamentally subjective phenomenon.
[John Horgan at Scientific American blogs]

And most of the harmful consequences of beliefs stem from the insistence of believers that everyone agree with them … The notion that there is one true meaning of life is not only wrong. It may be the worst idea that humans have ever invented, in terms of how much harm it has caused.
[John Horgan at Scientific American blogs]

Het Zesde Metaal had their fourth album ‘Calais’ coming out last year and we were stunned! Even though they are singing in West-Flemish dialect, which is practically incomprehensible for the biggest part of Belgium and the rest of the world, everyone feels it, that folky music. The electronic elements on the new album are a real enrichment.
[Quoted by Emma Beddinton at Belgian Waffling]

You have only one choice when things aren’t going well: find a way to pay the bills.
[Lord Heseltine]

True love is finding that one person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.
[unknown]

Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s okay. You’re here to live your life, not to make everyone understand.
[unknown]

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.
[Voltaire]

We’ll sooner or later accept that politicians are, even at their best, parasites. We are the host and they will adapt or die as we change.
[Dan Harmon]

Real ale is a balanced diet as long as you have a pint (250 calories) in each hand.
[John Hein]

As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face up to what challenges us. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but everyone who has to undergo hardship, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome what troubles us.
[Dalai Lama]

Personal Ethics and Morals

Almost every individual – excluding perhaps those insane persons who have no sense of right and wrong, but certainly including everyone from religious leaders to gangsters and serial killers – has a set of ethics.
… … …
Each person draws portions, sometimes bits and pieces, of their personal … ethics from an almost random variety of sources, such as their childhood upbringing, a dramatic or otherwise pivotal life experience, religious beliefs, discussions with family, colleagues, and friends, and the ethical teachings of whatever philosophers [they] may have read.
https://www.irmi.com/articles/expert-commentary/where-our-ethics-come-from

I’ve written a number of times before about ethics and morals (see for example here and here). But stimulated by a conversation with one of my friends (yes, somehow I do still have one or two!) some days ago I’ve been moved to return to the subject at a more personal, rather than philosophical, level.
 
What follows is a summary of some of those “bits and pieces” I’ve garnered over the years as my personal ethics and morals. These are the things which I try to live by.

  1. Causality. Things are as they are for a reason which is seldom disclosed to us. There are more things in heaven and earth than we can ever know or understand.
  2. Respect People. Always treat others as you would wish them to treat you – with respect, dignity, kindness, equality, compassion and integrity. Essentially this is the old adage: do as you would be done by. Or in the words of Matthew 7:12, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Or to spin it the other way: if it harm none, do as you will. If you can do this one thing, all the rest pretty much follow.
  3. Respect Nature. We are but a small part of this Earth. It is not ours, it was here long before us and it should be here long after us. We are merely it’s current custodians and as such we should behave as ethically towards the Earth, Nature and all living creatures as we should to other human beings. Do not rape our natural resources or screw the environment. That doesn’t mean being vegetarian, living off-grid or the like – after all eating plants and felling trees can be considered murder just as much as eating animals – but it does mean respecting what you do eat (we almost always raise a glass to the animal we’re eating), recycling as much as possible, and not consuming for the sake of it. Do not play god; there is no reason to suppose we know better than Mother Nature.
  4. Be Honest. Be open, honest and truthful in all things and at all times. Open government and fair dealing. Admit it when you don’t know; don’t guess.
  5. Respect Relationships. Never do anything to unhook or put in jeopardy anyone else’s relationship. This is something I formulated for myself as a teenager: that I would never do anything to harm or unhook another relationship. It didn’t matter how much I fancied the girl (and for me it always has been girls) in question, nor how strongly or loosely committed the relationship; if there was a relationship the parties were strictly off-limits as anything more than friends. It just seemed to me to be ethical, kind and respectful not to meddle while the relationship existed. (This is one reason Noreen and I knew each other for several years before we started dating.) I have continued to live by this, not just as student on the pull, but as an adult where others might have seen/wanted an opportunity for adultery.
  6. Freedom of Speech. Be liberal and relaxed in dealing with other people’s views and beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and is entitled to express those opinions even if I don’t like it. I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death, your right to hold and express your opinion. To do otherwise is but a short step to censorship.
  7. Beliefs. Each of us is entitled to believe whatever we like. Just don’t expect anyone else to share your beliefs. It’s not what you believe that’s the problem, but what you think I should believe.
  8. Use Your Abilities. Do everything to the best of your ability.
  9. Don’t Judge. Don’t be judgemental: you can never know how someone else feels inside, what motivates them, nor how their relationship works, so don’t assume or judge.
  10. No Revenge. Don’t hold grudges or be vengeful – be compassionate and forgiving; understand the other person’s position and move on. It’s OK to be angry; it’s never OK to be cruel.
  11. Admit Errors. If you’re wrong, be strong enough to admit it, apologise and if possible do something to remediate the error. Never blame others for your failings.
  12. Never Regret. Do not regret anything which has happened, even if you now know it was not the best thing to do. If it’s good, that’s great. If it isn’t, it’s experience to learn from and move on. We all do things that with hindsight we wish we hadn’t; but they cannot be undone and rarely properly repaired. Regret is unhelpful and destructive.
  13. Be Responsible. You are responsible for what you do, say and think; accept that responsibility. However you are not responsible for other people’s emotions, beliefs, actions and reactions; nor they for yours.

That’s the high level stuff and I feel sure I’ve left something out. I can’t think any of it is very startling, but it is interesting to put it all together – something I’ve never done in quite this way before – as it really does make one consider whether the whole is self-consistent. Of course, I’ve not yet made any attempt to integrate this with my core constructs (such as I know them).

And below all that are my personal beliefs, like the legalisation of sex work and marijuana; nudity and body acceptance; the scientific method; the absence of deities; etc.

Heavy stuff. I need a gin & tonic.

Wind Turbines

Those who have an interest in energy and the environment might like to look at this article on wind turbines from the Spectator.

If what the article says is correct (and I haven’t checked the assertions) then it supports what I have long maintained: that wind turbines for power generation are a sideshow, and potentially dangerous one at that.

Windmills D1-D4 (Thornton Bank)

The assertion is that globally they produce less than 1% of power consumption – hardly impressive given all the hype. Moreover, and this is what has always worried me most, constructing them uses so much steel, rare earths and cement – all of which have to be mined, refined and transported – that they can effectively never break even environmentally (at least that’s my extrapolation of what the author is saying).

Now the author, Matt Ridley, admits he has an interest in coal, although he’s not proposing coal as a substitute for wind turbines. What he suggests is that we should invest in gas powered energy generation in the immediate term, pending the development and construction of nuclear. I disagree with him on the former as he is advocating fracking. But I agree about nuclear, although that too is hardly immune from the environmental impact of mining, steel smelting etc. And that’s leaving aside the problem of nuclear waste, which I discussed a while back.

As has been obvious for many a long year, there is no good solution except to drastically cut back on power consumption. And I’m as guilty as anyone of failing at that.