Monday, 25 August 2008

Parental responsibility, self destruct buttons and Alzheimer's.

Do you ever think that life sometimes seems to be made up of little vignettes, like little windows into someone else's life, all endlessly different but somehow the same? It's another reason why I don't read the newspapers. All those sad or happy little stories about people you don't, can't ever know, seen through a kind of fuzzy haze. It's very different however when one of those very gently reaches out and gives you a little nudge. For a few moments, contact gets made and they are real. No longer just a story in a newspaper or a statistic in a Government chart.

Came across one of those yesterday. An oft repeated scenario. No money, no insurance, new born baby, single parent, father gone walkabout and not sending the cheques. It happens every day. Coming so soon after the responsibility rant the other day it got me thinking. I spend 3 months of the year stuck down here, arse glued to the ice, -60C, 250kph winds, snow, starving, just so I can raise my chick. Even when Fricka gets back, it's endless trips of 60km to the sea on legs not made for walking, 2 days in the water fishing and then another 60km to get back, just to give the chick a chance and please note, it's just a chance. No certainties down here! And what does he do.......walks out! I just don't understand it!

There's not much I can do from down here but I'm pushing a few buttons. It won't be much, bit like Havelock really I suppose. Still anything's better than nothing, don't you think?

What makes people seemingly hit the self destruct button? You know, they dig themselves into a hole so deep that there's no apparent way out. They know better but still they just keep on digging. Why?

They'll also make the hole wider just so they have more room to swing a pick and shovel, which of course just means more people fall in it. Seems strange to me. Not that I'm immune from my 'stupid moments' - witness the orca's tea party recently. I suppose I could have got myself killed and then where would little Fricka be? But that's more like an insane 'second', an impulse that you quickly draw back from, not some sustained programme to ruin everything.

It's just I've been racking what passes for my brain for a few days now trying to conjure up ways of pulling someone out of a very deep hole (not the first they've dug) and I just don't seem to be getting anywhere. My brain does back flips, corkscrews even the occasional triple axle but nothing is gelling at all. I just don't see any of it working. Oh well, I'm a little older (and wiser :) than Fricka so I'll not start despairing quite yet. After all, Sparky didn't, I got the flares, didn't I, little Fricka's doing fine and big Fricka came back almost intact. We need to keep hold of our tiny hopes! Come to think of it, maybe that's why people dig holes. Not enough tiny hopes to bar the door and keep the shovel in the shed where it belongs.

I found it quite strange today. Margaret Thatcher's daughter (MT - right wing British Prime Minister) admits her mother has Alzheimer's. Now we all knew that in the 80's when she declared war on Argentina over the Falklands but what I find odd is that the two leading politicans in the west during the eighties end up 'away with the fairies'. Might there be some connection between the 'barking' policies of the US and UK during the 80s and the long, slow, inexorable descent into Gagaland. Is this the first indication of 'early onset Alzheimer's' hitherto unrecorded?

And I am not insensible to the real pain caused to family, friends etc by the degeneration, merely a curious observer.

A very rambling blog today, must be the stress.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Responsibility and the orcas' tea party

Oh boy, was that scary or what?

Now I'm normally alert but about two days ago, I'm finishing off getting 'little' Fricka's dinner when suddenly I am partially surrounded by Orca tails. An entire pod of orcas 'standing' upright in the water looking above the waves . I popped up for a quick 'look see' and for all the world it looked orca's tea party! I immediately swam away but one of them must have sighted me. It was a fairly hairy ten minutes! Just as well we can turn tighter!

Now I hope that you have noticed a singular lack of mention of a certain big event in Beijing, well except for the two female athletes a couple of posts ago, and that's the way it stays. It's not that I'm not interested, although I'm not much, it's just EVERYONE else on the planet is writing about it and I always like to be different!

I will however offer my deepest sympathy to the Danish 4 man pursuit team in the cycling. To be so comprehensively 'creamed' (or do you say 'owned' now?) by the Brits must have been so depressing :-) It just never used to happen at that level, catching the other team!

I was redirected back to an earlier blog today by a comment left on it. As I quickly reread it, I started thinking about responsibility. (Blame Sartre!) Now I'm not talking about the responsibility you might have for a child or a parent, another member of your species, this is about taking responsibility for your own actions.

Now, as far as I can gather, you lot mostly don't want people to take responsibility, you want to take it away from them. Confused? Think about it. Imagine I'm human. I subject my child to a regime of systematic deprivation such that she dies of starvation. Now, what have I done? In effect, I've said that since I've done it, I condone it and as a result I've now condoned systematic deprivation for anyone. Not just another adult to a child, but also another adult to an adult. I don't think the 'defenceless' nature of the child makes much difference here. So what do you do? You deprive that person of their liberty, you put them in prison. That takes the responsibility away from them. They no longer have the opportunity of seeing the logical extension of their actions which is that someone may do the same thing to them, or someone they care about, one day.

Now this is not the same thing as 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' because that is still just punishment. It's just revenge.

What you don't seem to see is that if you gave people back the responsibility for what they do, they might think differently. Not just weigh up the consequences for themselves. Will I get caught? If I do, can I get off? Might I get a lighter sentence? Might society punish me less than they could? Might they actually start to think that what they do could be done to them or someone they care about? And, as a result, think a little more carefully about their proposed actions?

I don't know if it would make any difference or not but if you are of a mind not to get your morality from an external source, God, the State etc, thinking like that might make you a person that your fellows would have less trouble with, wouldn't it?

In the wake of 150+ dead in the Spanish air crash for which I offer my sympathies to the families of the dead and disfigured and especially to the families of the pilots who in true media fashion have already been made the scapegoats.............
a small funny to lighten the heart:

1. It's important to have a woman/man, who helps at home, who cooks from time to time, cleans up sometimes and has a job.
2. It's important to have a woman/man, who can make you laugh.
3. It's important to have a woman/man, who you can trust and who doesn't lie to you.
4. It's important to have a woman/man, who is good in bed and who likes to be with you.
5. It's very, very important that these four women/men do not EVER meet.

There you have it! Problems sorted.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Disbelief, despair and transcendence

Hi Fricka here (again). I wasn't going to post again before he came back but I have seen things today which have taken me from disbelief to despair to a sense that sometimes humans transcend the penguin-like.

Disbelief? I cannot believe that anyone would even mouth what Russia actually said aloud to Poland yesterday. What is it with your politicians? Poland is now a target for Russian nuclear missiles because it puts in defensive missiles from the US? You can scarcely blame them, especially with Poland's history of less than successful relations with Russia/the Soviet Union (I've been reading his posts on the Davies book) and Russia's less than transparent behaviour in Georgia. But what threat are anti-missile missiles? It's just like two little boys squaring up to each with 'my dad is bigger than your dad and he's going to kick the sh*t out of him'. Why can't the adults (male, that is) behave like adults and not like truculent little boys. One day, you will go too far and we will all be in the brown squishy stuff, right up to our eyebrows! It's also interesting to see the Russian army command turning the 'Nelson eye' to the behaviour of some of the 'non official troops', just like East Prussia, no?

Despair? I read that a coastguard crew are up for 'discipline' because they took a boat out to rescue a teenage swimmer that they had been advised not to take to sea because there were 'doubts' about its safety. Now three men had tried to swim out and rescue the teenage woman but two had had to give up because they couldn't 'stay with her' in the rough seas. One man was managing to keep her afloat but one assumes he too would have been forced to quit when his own life became endangered. What do the coastguard expect their crews to do? Stand by and watch someone die because maybe, but only maybe, the boat might start taking in water? Sometimes, taking orders from some bureaucrat isn't what it's about, is it? And even if the boat had gone down, wouldn't the crew have been in a better position to save her, not having swum the 100 or so metres to get to her, in rough seas? Sometimes, I wonder how some of you can be so callous! The men should get medals, the bureaucrat.......the sack!

And transcendence? From the Beijing Olympics (not the Paralympics) this. Natalia Partyka of Poland

That and Natalie du Toit, the one and a half legged swimmer, also at Beijing for the proper Olympics. Now they would make me proud to be human, I think.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Sat navs, guns and macho posturing

Hi, Fricka here. Just filling in :-)

He got an email from the 'real Malcolm Goodson' this morning. Among the usual funnies, and unusually for him, he was lamenting the increasingly sad state of the place where he lives. An increase in knife crime among teenagers is starting to make the place just a little more dangerous. They even had a drive by shooting last week!

Now the UK has never really had a 'gun' problem. True, armed robbery takes place and criminals still carry guns but most of the police don't and generally there aren't too many shootings, unlike in the US. Perhaps this reflects a more sedate pace of life, even in inner cities? Or maybe that the Brits are just plain scared of anything that goes 'bang'! (See Gunpowder Plot 1605, Blitz 1940, V1s, V2s 1944, IRA, 1969-2000, London Tube 7/7)

However it did get me thinking about the US's perenniel problem. The second amendment. Now just so you don't think I'm misinterpreting, here's the second amendement:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

Now this was, I think, slightly modified by Johnson in the sixties which meant that a few categories of individuals, certain criminals, the mentally unstable etc did not have the right, although it's unfortunate that in most cases the individual is only found to be mentally unstable after they have got a gun and shot half a dozen of their classmates.

Now the second amendment is vehemently defended not just by the NRA but by the Supreme Court. Why?

The second amendment has a real historical context. Having won independence from a country which imposed its will on the colonies by force of arms, the argument goes that the new republicans were not going to allow circumstances to arise where their own Government might decide to try strong arm tactics against the population using a 'standing army' or 'standing militia'. (Such things are actually a fairly recent invention, 19th century). That's why such emphasis is placed on a well regulated militia (of ordinary people) being necessary to a free state.

However that isn't really the case any more. The US now has a standing army. It could be used against the civilian population. Is anyone seriously trying to argue that the American military would not be deployed against its own population solely because that population has the right to arm itself? With the kind of weaponry available to the army, airforce? Do you need another amendment to enshrine the right of the population to wear body armour in public. After all, the average US citizen isn't going to last long against the kind of assault rifles used by the military if everything they shoot back bounces off a few layers of kevlar. I don't see the argument about the militia being credible at all.

Of course one can read the second amendment in quite another way, which is that the right of people to bear arms (their own) was necessary in order to be able to put together a militia quickly in defence of the US homeland, ie raise an army quickly against an invader. Since the formation of the 'standing army' that is no longer the case. However that is another quite different argument about another question, perhaps.

The question that's often posed, especially by the anti gun lobby, is whether the availability of guns in general affects the rate at which shootings occur in the US. I think it's safe to assume they think it does.

Now I think it might increase the number of people shot in, say, domestic arguments. The gun's there, you might be tempted to use it but then the same could be said for the kitchen knife or the baseball bat in the den. I don't think that anyone would seriously think about trying to limit those.

To me, the real issue is, if you do not have a criminal record, and lots of criminals don't, especially at the beginning, you can legally obtain a gun, or two, or three. Just as importantly, given the large numbers of firearms in circulation, it must perforce be easier to acquire a gun illegally if you have to, there are so many more people you can steal one from.

So why this obsession? Can it really be about 'essential' freedoms or is it just macho posturing?

On a lighter note, do we really need all this technology? A couple of years ago, sat navs in the UK were directing traffic across a ford in (I think) South West England which was frequently under 2 metres of water. Even worse, there is now some poor woman living on a tiny rural lane which is being listed as a 'short cut' in sat navs. Only trouble is, her house has now been hit 10 times by lorries/trucks unable to navigate the lane! Now I know it's not the technology really, merely the humans inputting the information but.........

Ah well, as Frank Zappa said, "Never underestimate the stupidity of the human race!" How true, how very true!

PS - found this as someone's signature on a forum "Don`t steal - the Government doesn`t like the competition".I am starting to like this computer access to the internet :-)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Tangential thinking and the human condition

Hello Fricka here.

I am not long back and as 'little' Fricka has had her fill, I thought I would come in quickly and see what madness the blithering idiot has managed to conjure up while I was away. The usual! I do sometimes wonder what I let myself in for on that fateful day when he fell over me! How can anyone link Beethoven and isotopic decay? He says he can't help it, it's just the way his mind works. Say one thing and his brain goes off on some wild tangential trajectory as though the only thing that matters is that some neurons fire, not necesssarily relevant or appropriate ones!

Little Fricka is doing very well. She is really starting to put on weight now and it won't be long before she will join the creche and he and I will get to spend a little more time in the sea, fishing together. It's not so pressing that one us of be here once the creche is established. Other penguins are more than capable of defending our chick against the bonxies! We'll take our own turns in a couple of weeks or so.

He's off 'advising' Cozy on the rig. It does look spectacular. There are now three chutes. There is a central one and two side chutes coming off the main one about a quarter of the way down, curving away from the middle but steeper and longer. He says that this will allow the somersaulting penguins to get up more speed, launch later and that they will then land in the right place. They just have to make sure they take the 'right' turn and get in the right chute. I caught Aslan practising while I was feeding Fricka and I must say, I think the chicks are going to be very impressed when the performance actually takes place. I have no idea what the 'newbies' will make of it! We're going to site the creche well away to the other side of the bluff so the chicks don't get a sneaky preview, not that I suppose it will stop them if they get wind of it. It wouldn't have stopped me!

Managed also to get 'little' Fricka to recognise my call today and also I recognised her, almost immediately. It's so important to get that bit right. There are so many chicks that we cannot afford not to recognise her and perhaps feed another's chick. If we don't know her, she dies! He's so right, we are on a knife edge down here and sometimes you have to think that there has to be a miracle worker somewhere for us to survive. I take solace in his belief that there's called life!

I honestly don't know if I should do this or not but I fear that he won't, despite what he said. He will no doubt kill me but... Just glad I could find it.

This is the little piece that he wrote after Myfanwy didn't come back and the chick died. Although it doesn't appear to be about that, it is, believe me. He finds it very strange that it came out in French but if I remember correctly, he'd just finished 'Le ton beau de Marot' ('Marot's beautiful sound') which is about translation and the primary piece for the translation 'exercises', there are 88 different translations of the same poem into English, is in French so maybe that's why. The reason it's so odd is that he has tried to translate it into English but he says he can't. His e-pal Malcolm Goodson says nothing he sends him seems to work. It's almost as if the 'sounds' are part of what is being said, maybe like music. Using such simple words, French has the 'sound', English doesn't, MG says. His French isn't that wonderful so even if you don't speak the language, it shouldn't be too difficult with a dictionary to get the gist. Oh and I should mention that a French novelist, Andre Malraux, wrote a book called 'La condition humaine', usually translated into English as 'Man's Fate' .

Homage a Andre Malraux

Tu l'aimes
Il te trompe
Tu souffres

En silence
Toute seule
Tu pleures

Tu l'aimes
Il te quitte
En silence

Tu sanglotes


C'est la condition

I don't know if he's going to post again before he goes back for more food for little Fricka. I hope he doesn't, this might stay up a little longer if he doesn't see it until he gets back :-).

Monday, 11 August 2008

Bach, God and Mark Hollis (Talk Talk)

Talking of Beethoven (and his liver) recently got me thinking. And no I'm not going to turn this into a 'great composers I adore' blog but.........Johann Sebastian (Bach) is often derided for being mathematical, formulaic, just a little bit soulless. Now I love Bach and it occurs to me that there may be lots of people out there who don't know one salient fact, Bach had twenty, yes that's right, twenty children! Seven with his first wife (who died) and thirteen with his second. It isn't too difficult to guess what Bach was doing when he wasn't composing, now, is it? If you don't get that from the music, go listen again! Perhaps if he'd called the 'art of fugue', the 'art of sex', he'd have a better profile!

Enough of music. I suppose it's time to come clean and confess that I made bits of March and April up, mostly! It wasn't a deliberate attempt to mislead, it was only that I thought you'd be be a bit more sympathetic to an egg brooding penguin. It's just that bit more cutesy, isn't it? It being the males that do the brooding. The truth is, the blog would have largely consisted of "shagged the fragrant Fricka 5 times, 6 times, 7 times, 14 times today" and I thought starting out like that would have been a little off-putting. Especially if things weren't too hot on the 'how's your father' front at your end. So, sorry!

"So, you see, there is more than one way to play the god-game."

Oh yes indeed! If by the 'God Game' one means "If I were God, what would I have done/would I do?" There are many ways to play but all must suffer the same constraint. Whatever it is that you would have done however many years ago and now do must produce the current universe, no? Now it seems to me that however you play, they reduce down to essentially two different kinds of god. (I think you can apply this to polytheistic religions too)

First there is what we'll call 'the watchmaker god'. He starts off with a bundle of things, particles, energy stuff like that. He writes a few rules that apply to the things he's created and winds up the clock. He then sits back and watches what happens when all this stuff interacts in ever more myriad and complex ways. (If you've never played the Game of Life, play it! Find a few good starting points on the internet and see just how complexity can be generated from a few simple atoms and a few very simple rules). He may take time out to repeat the performance elsewhere just to observe the differences. This is a god with really grand plans! This is a universe creating god not a world making god.

It seems to me that this is the kind of god that 'religiously minded' scientists, especially physical scientists, use to reconcile their god with their scientific theories and pursuits. However I don't see that this is awfully more fulfilling than in just believing that the big bang happened. It seems to me to be just a slightly more human-centric way of explaining what appears to be 'something' from 'nothing'. However you're still left with where god comes from and HIS ability to create something from nothing. It is also extremely deist and in my view doesn't sit comfortably with religion, which I'll come to later.

The second kind of god, we'll call 'the interventionist god'. Now this god does all that the first god does but he's not content with just watching, no, he can't stop fiddling about. So forever after he 'interferes' and usually does things things that affect the ways in which the universe develops. Now it seems to me that this is the kind of god that religions are made of.

Now as a paid up member of the Atheists' League I don't subscribe to any religion's particular credo. (I'm also in the Anarchists' League, by the way, but I'm thinking of leaving. It's getting far too organised for my liking. I mean they want to hold a conference?) But like all sentient beings must, I have an interest in what makes people or penguins (or dolphins, even orcas) think the way they do. So I know a little about some of the major religions. I must confess a preference for the Norse and Greek pantheons, so much more oomph, Zeus shagging everything in sight, Wotan carving notches on his staff, Ragnarok! However I suppose the one I know the best is christianity.

Now, the christian god is an interventionist god. The question is: how interventionist? At the very least once. He intervened 2,000 odd years ago when he decided to offer all of you lot a life jacket. Funny how it didn't extend to everyone else, ay?. The question is, did he intervene before (the old testament says he did, lots of times) and does he intervene now? The catholic church says he does, otherwise why pray? Where do miracles ascribed to saints come from?

The trouble is that even christianity can't agree who or what god is! Every christian believes in the 'divinity' of christ. Trouble is they can't agree the identity of the father! Catholicism preaches, as I understand it, a fairly uniform view of god, the 'authorised version'. But....the 'heresies' had started by the 11th/12th centuries, 'big time'! By the time of the Lutheran schism, you have a real problem. God starts to become personal! Until in the end, you're left with an 'individual god'. All things to all men or women! Which does kind of equate to nothing to nobody.

If god is only the total of what every individual perceives him/her to be where does that leave god? Out on a limb, subject to the vagaries of human perception. I can't buy into one, what's the point? I can't buy into two, it's too fluid, it's even more fuzzy than quantum mechanics.

We'd all like to be god (I could get rid of you lot for a start and maybe WE'd have a future) but in the end all there is life and in the words of Talk Talk, life is what you make it!

As a postscript, a not very well known fact. The English word cretin (that's idiot for the educationally challenged) comes from the French, chretien, which means..........................christian!

I'd be derogatory about the muslims too but unfortunately they (still) have a habit of resorting to violence if they get offended and I don't have much of a defense against a loaded Kalashnikov or a suicide bomber on the underground/metro. It's a very sad world you (and God) have made for yourselves.........and (unfortunately) us.

In the words of Ian Anderson, "In the beginning, man created God. And in his image did he create him". Or in the words of a more notable thinker, Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, "Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer"

I'll leave it with Voltaire.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Brass Monkeys, Balls, Star Wars & Orcas

Can penguins stand heat? Well, with no kitchen to get out of, we'd have to, wouldn't we?

At first it seemed an odd question. I mean of course we can, we get summer in the southern oceans just like everyone else. We just need to able to get into water every now and again. No different to you then, with your holidays in Miami or St Tropez. But then I thought that we are so emblematic of penguins in general and the only time you see us is when we're all huddled down bleating our pathetic little defiance to the elements, in weather cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, that perhaps it's not so strange. Having said that, we are at the extreme edge of penguin survival. Most penguins breed much closer to the ocean or on southern atlantic islands so have nothing like the conditions to face that we experience.

In any event most zoos around the world have a little colony of penguins usually gentoos, macaronis, chinstraps, rockhoppers, the smaller ones, though you occasionally see the odd king. Only Sea World in America (land of the free, unless you happen to be a dolphin or an orca..... or a penguin) has emperors, we need that much more space if we are to breed in captivity.

Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against zoos per se and their claimed programmes of captive breeding to preserve 'nature' but in a lot of cases it must surely be simply putting off the inevitable. The chances are that in 50-100 years time the only place we will be breeding is Sea World but then even if you keep the species alive, you'll create such a genetic bottleneck that even if we could ever be realeased back into wild, most of the diversity will be gone and we'll still go the way of the dinosaurs, won't we? Mostly I think you keep up this pretence for purely selfish reasons. You want your children and their children to be able to see what you see, as though we were bits of architecture or toys!

And Sea World? How you can possibly think that taking some of the most wide ranging and intelligent animals on the planet, putting them in the equivalent of a large box and teaching them to perform tricks to get fed is a good idea just demonstrates your arrogance, yet again. "Oh but they love it, they really look like they're having fun." Yeah, right! They just take what little pleasure they can wherever they can find it! Not much else they can do without opposable thumbs and no way back to the sea.

Now orcas and dolphins are hardly what I'd call my friends but even I find it hard to credit that you can get away with this. Oh, and remember the film 'Free Willy', the orca that the little boy rescued from captivity? That lovely shot at the end as he clears the barrier? And what did they use? Yep! A captive orca! Oh such irony amongst the cutesy! And I doubt most of you even began to get it!

OK, rant over. I just have to let off steam sometimes. Maybe ET will come and put you all in boxes and ask you to perform differential calculus before you can get fed. Only fair, I think, but then God does not exist so miracles, I guess, are off the menu. Always.... such tiny, tiny hopes.

Oh George, George, what have you done? The Clone Wars? Animation? Why didn't you listen? We told you the second three weren't as good as the first three. We told you you shouldn't have made them if you were going to be so reliant on CGI. So why now ALL CGI? Oh George, you have ruined everything. For what? More money? You surely don't need it? That's the great thing about artists. They always know when to stop. Ah well, perhaps was it too much to expect that George had more in him than the genre defining opening shot of Stars Wars.

Oh dear the rant didn't quite stop earlier. Sorry. Must be anxious about Fricka, I guess. I will therefore lighten the tone with another copyright breach but only a very short one. Now I love Roger McGough. He's an English poet/performer whose work is so deceptively simple and yet captures the very essence of what it is he is writing about that I live in awe of his talent. So a very brief poem by Mr McGough about the perils of being human. (And if you've ever been there, I think you'll know exactly what he's talking about. If you haven't I bet you know someone else who has!)

Out of work
Usually pissed
He aimed low in life
And missed

And brass monkeys? Well, the balls seem to have been added in the US in the last century. It seems likely that originally it was the tail that fell off. And if I tell you that a monkey is also an early ship borne cannon and it was aimed by pulling a lever called a tail, well it would be a bummer to have had that happen just before you were going to engage an enemy, especially if it was cold! Funny though, there's actually a site called which repeats the 'pyramid stacked cannonball' hypothesis for which there is absolutely no evidence (and would have been VERY dangerous on a rolling ship).

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

More booze and just a little bum biting

I hope that you will accept my apologies for the little artistic licence in the last post. I wasn't trying to imply I was a drunk, nor that I shop at Sainbury's (a bit far to go, England). Merely that I'm a genius! Hopefully you all got that anyway!

Talking about Beethoven got me thinking. Now we don't drink alcohol. Why would we? I do remember once taking a very small sip of some wine (Nuits St Georges, I think) after they'd had some binge of a 'leaving do' in the station one year. It was nice, but I wouldn't go out of my way to spend £30 ($60) to repeat the experience but you lot......All you ever think about is getting 'off your face'!

Now I can understand the Beethoven argument. I can understand that you might seek solace in alcohol if, say, your long term partner's left you, your mother's died, you're really stressed out at work etc. Drink to forget. Drink to sleep. But you only put off dealing with it. The pain, anguish, stress doesn't disappear. At some point, you have to come out of it and deal with it. Perhaps you just need some breathing space. OK, that I can handle.

But humans as a species have this insatiable desire to 'get off their face', 'out of their heads', 'bombed'. Every culture has got its drug of choice. They say either beer or bread came first when you first settled and started cultivating wild grasses, wheat, barley, corn, hops(?) 12,000 years ago. It was probably beer! You have found (and not in the last fifty years either) just about every psychotropic drug there is! Why?

Is this the price you pay for your consciousness? Now I know of course that lots of humans don't spend their time away on planet Pluto every two minutes but I think that has a lot to do with (a) fear and (b) social upbringing. There is a conscious choice not to engage on the part of that individual. But it doesn't explain why there appears to have been this driving force in humans to 'experiment' with just about everything on the planet in order to give you the opportunity to get wazzed whenever you feel like it!

Now, from a penguin's point of view, your behaviour all seems a little counter-productive but, more importantly, evoloutionary suicide. Can you imagine how long we'd last, here or in the sea, if we were snorting coke every half an hour? Dropping acid, boozing it up? The seals would think Christmas had come early! So it must have something to do with a lack of natural predators but also I think, this concept you have of 'somewhere else'. Somewhere you can go that's not here. Heaven? Nirvana? Dreamtime? The kind of place you sort of remember from your dreams when you wake up but that's then accessible through 'drugs' even when you're awake. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, what you lot need is a couple of predators on your tail. You'd find getting off your head a lot less attractive if it meant you got your bum bitten off when you did.

Talking of bum biting don't you just love it when 'cutesy' goes just a little awry? Cute little (well big, actually) dog below, ay? Pyrenean Mountain Dog, quite popular pets among westerners who can afford them, I understand.

Well, French shepherds are using them to guard their flocks from wolves which have recently re-entered France. Trouble is the dogs are attacking tourists!

Now I suppose I shouldn't find that funny, but I do, enormously! Some poor hapless tourist decides to go stroke the big, cuddly fur ball and gets his bum bitten off! Absolutely priceless!

Had a long chat with Havelock yesterday and he agrees with me. It definitely isn't taking as long to get back to the sea this year.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Beethoven, drunks and isotopic decay

Fricka went off to the sea yesterday. Another week agonising about whether she'll make it back. Oh well, you kind of get used to it and writing this blog takes my mind off the thought of.........

I was reminded yesterday of something which I read a few years back (it was actually written in the 1970s). It was a paper in the Journal of Alcoholism (I think) about Beethoven's liver. Now the JoA is a learned journal written by doctors/scientists not a manual about how to get drunk written by to be members of AA. It described Ludwig's liver as being shrunken and covered with bean sized nodules, ie Beethoven liked to hit the sauce...... A lot! However the thrust of the article was really saying how much might Beethoven have achieved if he wasn't always hitting the bottle. (Actually LvB was once picked up at night by the police for being drunk and disorderly in the street and it was only the following day when they realised that they had picked up the [now seriously hungover] maestro!)

So what might he have achieved if he'd been teetotal? So, 9 symphonies, 1 opera, 5 piano concertos, a couple of suitcases full of quartets and quintets and enough piano pieces to fill your loft are not enough for one man? You want more? Didn't the author realise he was asking the wrong question? The real question is how little would he have produced if he'd laid off the milk of amnesia? He probably wouldn't have written a note! Genius needs something to insulate itself from the mundane world of shopping, cleaning, laundry, feeding the cat, otherwise it atrophies! Beethoven only wrote what he did because he was a drunk. (Ask Dylan Thomas!) How else would he have coped? "Sorry, Ludwig, the baker's here and he wants paying." " Sorry Ludwig, the cat's just done number twos in the your shoes." "Sorry Ludwig, I need to dust that piano." And all Ludwig's trying to do is write the current European Union anthem. Why would you not hit the vino collapso? How could you not? How else would you cope? And still produce the most sublime music since Bach! Drunk or no drunk, if Beethoven only ever wrote just the 9th symphony, he would still be ranked in the top 5, or 2, or 1 (I like LvB, you can tell, ay?)

(And a big thank you to Alan Coren for making me see things in this light. It has helped me enormously! And the booze profits of my local Sainsbury's = Walmart if you're American)

So what has this got to do with isotopic decay? On the surface, not a lot but........I posted an answer on someone else's blog a while back and for some reason, the moderator didn't like it. So I'll repost it here (sort of) because I do like it! It's probably wrong but so is everything else on blogs, so why not?

Now isotopic decay is about neutrons decaying into protons by releasing a beta 'particle', so called beta decay. Somebody was having a problem with the concept of half-lives. Surely if half decays in 8 seconds, the other half will too? 16 seconds later all will have decayed. But that isn't what happens. After 16 seconds only half of the remaining half will have decayed (ie a quarter). So what's going on? Well, in essence, it's all about probabilities and very large numbers.

A neutron, say, will have a 50/50 chance of decaying in, say, 8 seconds. After 8 seconds, you peek at the neutron and it hasn't decayed. OK, let's look again in another 8 seconds. Crucially the chance (probability) of the neutron decaying in the next 8 seconds is still 50/50. It hasn't got an increased chance of decaying, say 70/30 in the second time period just because it failed to do so in the first time period. You lot often have difficulty with that! We have to deal with orcas, seals, the cold. We know that just because you got away the first time, that doesn't increase or decrease your chances next time. It's why we're always 'on our toes'.

So that neutron could 'live' almost forever, never decaying, after all one of them must. But with the vast numbers of neutrons we're looking at, it always ends up with half 'flipping' in any given 8 seconds. It's like coin tossing. If you flip a coin 10 times, it's unlikely you will end up with an exact 50/50 split. Toss the coin a million times or 100 million times and you will get a 50/50 split. Try it! Once you get to the last few neutrons, this all breaks down, but it all happens so fast it doesn't materially affect the result!

That, at root, is why you lot find quantum physic so hard to handle. All you can say is that in a proton/proton collision, say, 70% of the time you'll get 2 kaons of energy level x (a) and 1 pion of energy level y (b). What you can't say is this collision will produce a and b. Feynman's explanation of quantum electrodynamics "QED. The strange theory of light and matter" is a really good place to start if you want to grasp the fuzziness of QM and relate it to the world we perceive, which isn't fuzzy at all!

Havelock has come back too and there is now one more chick that the bonxies won't get! Bertie's gone back for more food and Havelock is looking, as usual, very pleased with himself. 'Charlie' he's called, well I suppose if you were named after 'Burlington' then naming your chick after 'Champagne' is no bad thing. I must go chat later.

I still have a funny kind of warmth from Cyrano. I just hope I do not have to die before someone tells me that they love me!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

MacArthur, sunglasses, heretics and YOU b*st*rds!

In the words of MacArthur, "I have returned!" Sans les lunettes! Well for a while.

Boy, was that good! You have no idea what it feels like to eat, to eat real fish and lots of it, after so long without food! Well, if there's anyone in Africa or India or South America reading this, maybe you do know, but for most, it's out of your ken! Fricka's hanging back for another day, she wants to go to the movies again, even if it's a matinee. Ah well... little Fricka's doing better than I could have ever imagined...........Had a look around earlier, someone's got Cyrano de Bergerac in on DVD, English subtitles, perhaps we'll watch that, if we get the chance. Lovely play, breaks your heart.........If you have a heart to break.......Let's hope Depardieu is up to it!

It's funny. Someone left a comment on the 'Is God a beetle' post worrying that they might be a bad christian because they found it funny. Well, as a card carrying, fully paid up member of the Atheists' League, I hoped it would be funny but does finding it funny make you a bad christian? You see I may not believe in God, or the son of God, but anyone who goes around preaching a philosophy of tolerance and love, well he/she can't be all bad. So maybe, tolerating my atheistic ravings enough to smile makes you a good christian, not a bad one. The bad christians are the ones who don't laugh. The ones that believe we have no souls. The ones that believe they have a right to 'lord' it over the planet. The ones that believe that they, and only they, have the 'hot line' to God. No, perhaps the ones who care, the ones who love, the ones who tolerate are the true followers of your Jesus/Yehoshua/Yeshua. If it all turns out to be a fantasy, and he's not the 'son of God', what is lost if the 'true believers' in the fundamental doctrine of the man, not the church, win out? Don't we all gain? Or is that all a little too fantastic? That they will never win? They haven't so far! All there is, all there ever will be, is a tiny hope! But tiny hopes sometimes become real.

It's strange. I whinge about you lot and your less than transparent ways, Fricka (big, not little) whinges about you and all I'm going to do today is whinge about you again. Why do we penguins get so depressed about YOU!

You see I got an email from one of my e-chums about somethig that is happening to her. She got asked to do something for a friend of a friend, yes I know, accident waiting to happen but it was a straight rebuild of a widget. Now the widget has four moving parts. Now a price wasn't agreed but......when the widget turns into a widget with sixteen moving parts and you get get a non widget designer to design the new widget, wouldn't you think 4 times the work might cost a little extra? A little more than you thought? Oh no! You've got the widget, just how you asked for it, or your 'widget designer' did, but of course you don't like it! It costs too much! So you denigrate the widget, make the person feel bad about the widget they've built. Why? Because you want it on the cheap! Why can't you be like us? Honest?

Cozy wanted string, flares, my genius :) He got them! If he wants more, ok ask! But Cozy asked for a penguin length of string. If it turns out he needs more, he surely can't berate me for giving what he asked for, can he? Well this one is! I just don't understand. Why not say, oops I made a mistake. You humans are so duplicitous it amazes me you haven't killed everything on the planet by now. It's how you ususally cover your mistakes. Get rid of the evidence?

I think you should all go and read Satre.............For all the good it will do you!

And yes, Cyrano still breaks my heart, Depardieu notwithstanding! I think Fricka liked it because (a) it breaks her heart too and (b) because it makes me more like she wants me to be....but i'm not. Honest, guys! :)

Attraction, attractions and more attractions

Hello! Fricka here again!

He said to write about what came into my head. And not to be clever! He also said to write about what mattered. Well 'little' Fricka matters but she's not doing much right now, except breaking Cozy's heart (and Sparky's and Stingo's and if truth be known every penguin's in the colony). His little 'heart rending' has done the rounds!

Which got me thinking, uptown, uptempo woman, down town, down beat guy........What attracts you to someone? Or somepenguin? Not when you know them. Not after you've discovered that they have a real sense of humour, are intelligent, creative, good lovers, thoughtful, kind and beneath that brash exterior really quite sensitive. No, when you first meet them. What gives you that little push that makes you want to get to know them better rather than someone else? With us, I suppose, it's how well you do the dance. The sky pointing (definitely daddy's genes there too), the 'stimulus/response' of the courtship ritual. Falling over at the ice edge? But with you?

Are you just as instinctive? Is it all pheromones and body language? Or is there something else at work? It's just that for us, we only have to make a commitment for a few months until the chick is old enough to return to the sea and fend for itself (OK, his lordship and I are a little different, although we will treat little Fricka the same as any other penguin) but you humans? You rear your young for a penguin's lifetime. How do you know that you've made the right decision when you start down that road? Where do you get that certainty from? Your young are so dependent for so long, don't you have to get it right?

And if you believe you do have to get it right, or at least try very hard to, why do you then inflict so much harm, on yourselves, on us, on our fellow inhabitants of this planet, on the planet itself when you obviously care so much about the defenceless, the weak, the impotent? Or perhaps it's because you only care so much for your 'own' that you can inflict so much damage elsewhere. In that way then, you are so like us, except..... we don't have the power to damage anything but ourselves.

I suppose I should learn more about humans (but then I didn't think I was going to be covering a blog to them so....) but you just depress me and I don't want to read about your stupid, selfish, self centred and aggressive attitudes. It makes me sick! Like all girls, I just want to have fun! No, that's not true but he is the down town, down beat guy.

Cozy says his lordship was seen on the ice about 12 hours ago, looking well, and a bulging crop. Hopefully he'll be back tomorrow and I can go and look at Cozy's little pride and joy and HE can write the blog!