Saturday, April 29, 2006

A show of intelligence

Someone translated the American national anthem into Spanish, so that Spanish-speaking immigrants would feel more at home.

You can read George Bush's response here .

For possibly the first time, I agree with a politician.

If I moved to Spain I'd expect to have to learn Spanish. If I moved to France, French. If I moved to America I'd have to learn their corrupted version of English. In the UK, foreigners congregate into ghettoes, miniature versions of the countries they've fled. I believe the same thing happens in America. If a country is so bad you run from it, why try to recreate it in another place?

Learn the language and customs of the country that's accepted you as a national, or go home. If you don't like the way things are done, leave.

That's what I'd do.

Friday, April 28, 2006

One flu over the cuckoo's nest

And so it begins.

In Norfolk, a little north of London, thousands of chickens have just been condemned to death.

Oh, they tell us, it's not the deadly bird flu. It's another kind. We're just killing all these hens to be on the safe side.

Excuse my language but - bollocks.

This comes from the government that told us foot-and-mouth was an 'isolated incident'. They told us there was nothing to worry about from beef, there was no link between CJD and cattle. The government that said Madman Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and threatened us. Lies upon lies, the mark of the politician struggling to explain what he doesn't understand, and can't be bothered finding out about.

Bird flu has reached the UK. I am convinced of this, precisely because the government denies it so strenuously.

Don't stock up with tamiflu, and don't visit the doctor's surgery. There's no point in either. Tamiflu works when symptoms first appear, no later. Since it takes about a week to get an appointment at the doctor's, tamiflu will have no effect at all. If you visit the surgery, you stand a good chance of catching something you didn't have when you came in.

Watch for more of these 'precautionary culls' over the next few weeks. They'll come.

What makes me laugh is the hysteria. The H5N1 flu has not, as yet, mutated into a human flu. It might well do that but so far, it hasn't. The humans who have caught it are those who live and work in close proximity to poultry.

People are handing in pet birds in case they catch bird flu from them. Listen, people, you are mindless idiots. Your budgie is in a cage in your house. The only way it's going to catch anything is from you.

Maybe it's for the best. People that stupid shouldn't be caring for animals.

Bird flu is potentially serious, there's no sense in pretending otherwise. The 1918 flu started in birds, and it was a phenomenal killer.

However, look at the timing. The UK is just starting to warm up. Flu season is over. An infestation with bird flu now would be far less devastating than an infestation starting in December. There's no reason to panic.

On the other hand, there's no reason to tell us lies either.

Monday, April 24, 2006

1984, or a little later.

In George Orwell's awful vision, he described a world where people were afraid to say what they thought. If they spoke out they would be arrested. A world where imaginary wars were fought overseas for spurious reasons. Where words in common use were systematically removed from the language, and their use became a crime. Where 'terrorist' attacks were a daily reality. To speak against the government was treason, punishable by death - or at least by extended incarceration without trial.

Aren't we lucky that didn't happen?

In case you missed the sarcasm, I suggest you read the book.

The only thing he was wrong about was the date.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Biting back.

I think Elaine just likes to waste my time. She insisted I take another of those ridiculous Internet tests. Says they give important psychological insights and claims she wants me to act as a 'control' to test their accuracy. Ludicrous, but she won't shut up until I do them. Fortunately they only take a few minutes.

This time it was this one here

The result I got was 'snake' which made no sense to me. Elaine looked as smug as she always does and nodded to herself.

She'd better not be writing a paper on me. Imogen tried that once, and it led to a furious row.

Naturally, I won.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Quantum remote viewing

If you mention 'remote viewing' to any serious scientist, be ready to be scoffed at. Oh, I've scoffed at it myself.

It's not telepathy. It involves viewing a scene at a distance, perhaps even on the other side of the world, but not through the eyes of another. Impossible, obviously.

Quantum physics says not.

Apparently, every photon emitted travels not just in a direct line, but simultaneously along every possible pathway. That means, when you look at something, the photons travelling from that object to your eyes travel in a straight line but simultaneously travel along every other possible route - including bouncing off every point in the universe at the same time. The act of seeing - analogous to the act of measuring the photon - fixes its path as the one you see. Don't worry, even I haven't fully grasped this concept yet.

So if you could filter, and select the pathways, you could 'see' absolutely anything, anywhere. You could gaze over the surface of Mars, admire the clouds of Jupiter, delve into the acidic world of Venus, even skim the surface of the sun.

All you need to do is learn how to determine which pathway you want to see. It sounds difficult. It might be impossible.

I say it's worth investigating.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The gullible healthy

Have you heard of probiotics? If not, where have you been?

They're in yoghourts, cheeses, milk drinks - all over the place. A related phenomenon, prebiotics, are in most cereal-based products.

These things have been added to animal feed for a long time, and they do improve health. Will they work in humans?

Absolutely. Or at least, the statistics will prove they do.

These health-enhancers will only ever be consumed by the health-conscious. Those who run when nobody is chasing them, and lift heavy weights that don't need to be moved. Those whose primary diet is leaves and roots. In short, those who have no need of probiotics or prebiotics.

The string-vested builder with his pie and chips is not going to look twice at these products. The teenager, with his plastic tray bearing an equally synthetic meal, won't touch them. The couch potato with his microwaved curry and six-pack of lager won't even acknowledge their existence.

These are the people who could benefit from these products, but they're placed in foods these people won't eat. The reason is simple economics. Adding these health benefits costs money. You can charge more for a health food, and the health-conscious will pay. The health-unconscious won't.

So it doesn't actually matter whether your probiotic works. Only the already-healthy people will try it.

In twenty years, these companies will crow about how those who used their product lived longer than those who didn't. They'll be right, but for the wrong reasons.

If only health-consciousness didn't go hand in hand with gullible.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The inadvertent imbecile

I forgot to mention - Orson's pal fancies himself as a parapsychologist. Orson wants him to be the chairman for the orb conference, since I won't be here when it happens. I'm supposed to brief him on what's involved.

Oh, I'll do that all right. I'll instruct him so that this will be a conference to remember.

I don't think the man is deliberately deceitful. I think he genuinely believes he knows what he's talking about.


Another pointless tirade from Orson today.

He was miffed that I didn't wear a tie to a meeting with one of his important pals. He wagged his finger a lot and insisted I wear one in future.

I am not employed as a fashion model. I am employed to think. I fail to see how tying a strip of cloth around my neck will improve my ability to do that.

I could have told him this. I could have told him that, since I have already tendered my resignation, his threats have no meaning. Not that they ever did. I was tempted to demonstrate the risks inherent in wearing such a ridiculous garment with an improvisation of the 'Hangman' game.

However, I considered it more fun to let him win this one.

At lunchtime I wandered into the Marchway Emporium and bought a tie. I'll wear it to the next meeting.

It's a tartan bow-tie, with blue and white lights that flash in time to 'Flower of Scotland'.

I'm sure he'll be impressed by my compliance with his wishes.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Who made God?

A tactical question, one without an answer, and one used often by the scientist in their battle against religion.. The standard response 'God is eternal' is beyond human comprehension. I have given up asking this question of religious people because, firstly, they cannot give an answer that can be tested, and secondly, there is no way for me to argue with their answer. It is a truly unanswerable question.

So where did the universe come from? Science is divided on this, although the 'big bang' theory is currently prevalent. That requires the entire universe to be compressed into an extraordinarily small space. This, not unreasonably, exploded and eventually formed the expanding universe we see today. It's a theory borne out by observation on many levels, but it has, at its heart, the same unanswerable question.

Where did this massively compressed ball of matter come from?

The oscillating universe model says that the universe will expand, then contract, eventually ending up as the compressed matter-ball again. Then it explodes and the whole process restarts.

That solves nothing. It only moves the question back a step. So our universe came from a previous universe that collapsed. Where did that one come from?

To hold such a belief - for belief it is - is no different to believing in a religious creation story. If there was a definitive answer to the beginning of time, then there would be one theory to cover it. There are dozens. New Scientist recently ran a story on a new one - that our universe is actually the inside of a black hole in a bigger universe. That does not answer the question. That makes it harder to answer.

Human beings need beginnings and ends to things. Infinity is beyond our grasp. We cannot accept the Always There, we cannot accept the Never Ends.

Science is often guilty of forcing answers to unanswerable questions. Religion is guilty of answering them with untestable answers.

We should accept that, for some questions, there is no answer available to us. It's not just that we don't know, it's that we cannot know. Perhaps we will never know.

Where the universe came from is one of these questions. There is currently no way to provide a definitive answer. There might never be.

Science tries, fails, and refuses to acknowledge its failure. That's bad.

Religion makes up an answer and calls it success. That's worse.

There is only one truthful, realistic answer to the question 'Where did it all come from?'

Repeat after me: 'I don't know'.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The bones of the Nephilim

Genesis 6:4 'There were giants in the Earth in those days...'

To those who know me, even a little, it must be surprising to hear me quote scripture.

Well, I had the whole book drummed into me from an early age. So forcefully that I ended up rejecting its teachings. Now I doubt everything, believe nothing.

That's an ideal mindset for a scientist. It's a pity there are so few who adopt it.

Nevertheless, I remember, and I will not hesitate to use whatever information I have at my disposal. That, after all, is what information is for.

So, why quote this one? Because of the neanderthals.

Science tells us that there was once a race of humans, or human-like creatures, called neanderthals. Bigger than us, stronger, potentially able to beat us in a fight although that sort of information cannot be gleaned accurately from a few bones. Besides, they died out, we didn't.

What can be gleaned accurately from these bones is that the neanderthals were not our ancestors. We are not related to them. They are not the 'missing link'. It's still missing.

So who were they? Does any religious text mention them? They did, after all, coexist with early humans.

The King James bible refers to 'giants' in the quote above. The Revised Standard Version refers to 'nephilim'. They are considered to be fallen angels, or the half-human product of those fallen who mated with human women. Although, having met a few, I find it hard to believe any woman would willingly go with any of them.

So, were neanderthals and nephilim one and the same? Does the biblical text refer to a race memory, perhaps, of these larger, stronger 'giants' of men who were not genetically human at all? Science can't prove they aren't, I'll bet, although I'm sure science is willing to try. Or at least deny, which is unscientific behaviour at its worst.

Science goes to extraordinary lengths to discredit religion. I, for one, would find it intensely amusing to hear that the neanderthal specimens in our haughty museums were in fact the bones of the nephilim, and that some scribe, thousands of years ago, recorded their existence.

By the way, they crop up again in Numbers 13:33, so they survived the Flood. A Devil's Ark, perhaps?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Christians and science

Don't put all Christians together. Evolution and creation go together okay if you stop reading parables like they aren't parables. A christian and a scientist can be the same person.

I realise not all Christians, nor all those of other religions, are vehement anti-evolutionists. Also, there are scientists who are also followers of religion. I can think of several of my own acquaintance.

However, I have limited space and limited spare time to type, so I work with the majority views of those groups. Or at least, what I perceive to be the majority view.

There are Christians who agree with, or are at least open to, the possibility that both creation and evolution could have happened. There are scientists, even some evolutionists, who now believe that evolution is not as random as first thought.

I am neither creationist or evolutionist. I support neither side. I am merely Devil's advocate (or at least, devil's subordinate's advocate) on this issue.

IF creation is correct, it does not preclude a longer timescale than six thousand years, it does not preclude dinosaurs, it does not preclude evolution. You can have both. The six thousand years thing is the result of a human calculation, not of divine inspiration.

In the end, where we came from doesn't matter a jot. Where we're going is far more important.

The second sentence in the comment makes no sense to me. The third I've already agreed with.

Creation and evolution

Now this is a topic that causes enormous trouble. The only reason I can see for the huge fights is that both sides are immovable. If you try to discuss evolution with the religious, as I did the other day when the Jehovah's Witnesses called, they become somewhat heated.

If you try to point out flaws in evolution to the evolutionists, many of them overheat too.

Note that I didn't say 'try to tell the religious about evolution' nor did I say 'mention creationism to evolutionists'. Just try discussing, and pointing out flaws in their cherised beliefs. The friction between the two is now so great that they will assume you're attacking them when you're not.

I have no religion. I am a scientist, but not an evolutionist. I am neither creationist nor evolutionist. I am entirely neutral in the matter. I simply enjoy the reaction this subject causes.

So I'm going to pick on both sides. I didn't start this fight, but I can't leave it alone.

First of all, let's hit the issue of dates. Christians believe the world was created six thousand years ago and that man arrived on day one. Sorry, day six. Science puts the figure at several billion years ago, and man grew out of the monkey-stock a couple of million years ago.

There are flaws with both of these dates.

Science first.

New Scienist recently covered the contentious issue of the fossilised human footprints in Mexico. I'm not going to get into the issue of whether these are footprints or not. I'm not qualified to judge. What's interesting is the argument over how old they are.

Some say they are 40,000 years old, and they have scientific proof based on a system of dating the rock. Others say they are only a few thousand years old. They also have proof based on a different system of dating the rock. The argument has degenerated into 'Oh, but we tested the black bits in the rock. They're a different age from the orange bits.'

Sometimes I think there should be a 'slap the scientist' day. So some bits of rock are older than others. This says nothing about the footprints, but it does highlight one thing. All geological dating systems are flawed. We still have no idea which is right, when we get such huge discrepancies between samples from the same place. Any scientist who disagrees is a blinkered fundamentalist, because we all know our science isn't perfect.

Religion next.

This six thousand years is based on a calculation by a mediaeval monk, who added up the ages of everyone in the Bible and then added the time since the death of Christ. It is not in the Bible. It was not revealed to some great prophet. It was calculated by a man.

He forgot something. Men do that.

Adam, the first man, is credited with living 800 years. But, and it's a big but, so I'll write it again. BUT Adam didn't start to age until he left the Garden of Eden. Inside, he was immortal, like everything else. Only when he got shown the door, and told to 'Go forth and procreate' (if that's the correct translation), did he start to age.

Right. So if that monk's calculations were correct, then Adam was turfed out of Eden six thousand years ago.

How long was he in there? He wouldn't have recorded the passage of time. Why would an immortal do that? He could have been in there for millions of years. Genesis records only a few events in Eden, not every minute. Outside Eden, what was happening? Dinosaurs? Extinctions? Did that asteroid hit the Earth by accident, or did someone throw it to clear the big reptiles out of the way before letting the human race loose?

That's my thoughts on the date issue. Scientific dating is unreliable. Biblical dating works only back to the point where Adam lost his cushy job.

Neither science nor religion can give an exact date for the age of the planet. So stop fighting over it.

You should both spend your energy working out how much time we have left.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A kindred spirit.

Someone sent me one of those lists of 'true comments'. This one claimed to be transcriptions of real courtroom cross-examinations.

I have no idea whether there's any truth at all in any such list, but this entry caught my eye:

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

A retort to treasure, there. Now that's a doctor I'd trust.

The small, hairy demons in the walls.

I watched one of those media-hype-filled so-called investigations of allegedly haunted locations last night. It was entertaining, in that I laughed most of the way through.

These people set themselves up as ghost hunters, yet if so much as a stair creaks, they run screaming.

The medium on the show never fails to find a ghost. I'm impressed. Since there are more people alive today than have ever lived, it follows that there are more living people than dead ones on the planet. If we assume, as most religions profess, that most of these dead people have gone to some kind of Heaven or Hell, then there aren't many real ghosts to find. There are more mediums than there are ghosts to talk to them!

There is an article on this very subject at, written by someone calling himself Dr. Dume. A false name, certainly, but a sensible article, even though it deals with fiction.

The highlight of the show was the scratching sounds they recorded in the walls. The medium assured everyone that this was evidence of communication from the Other Side, and proceeded to hold a shallow and meaningless conversation with this scratching entity. I almost fell off my chair.

Now, the scratching in the walls would be familiar to anyone who's lived in the country. It happens a lot there, especially during harvest when field-mice are rendered homeless.

Yes, the demons in the wall are small and furry, and squeak rather than wail in the night.

If that medium could converse with mice, I'd be even more impressed than if he could converse with ghosts.

I don't believe he can do either.

No news is bad news

I read the news today.

I don't usually bother, but someone left a newspaper in the coffee room, so I had a look.

Does nothing important happen in this country any more?

Many, many trivia questions about the Queen. Is there no respect? Why do I care whether she owns the dolphins in British territorial waters? I doubt the dolphins care, so why would I?

Who the hell is Wayne Rooney, and why does the newspaper speculate on whether he's still friends with someone called Michael Owens?

This is the stuff of the glossy magazines so beloved of gossiping women, not what I expect to find in a newspaper. Rooney and Owens might be the best of friends, or they might want to rip each other's heads off, or maybe they've never met.

Who cares?

If you're going to produce a newspaper, put news in it. Leave the gossip to the supermarket glossies.

I won't read the news again.

Monday, April 10, 2006

What's in a name?

There is a place called Waco in Texas.

If you doubt they've accidentally missed out the 'k', read this.

Now, I've no objection to religion, even though I think it's all just the best example of human silliness there could be. If people want to believe someone Up There is looking after them, well that's their choice. I prefer to look after myself.

But when they deny the blatantly obvious, such as the moon reflecting the sun rather than emitting light of its own, then they move from silly to stupid.

That's not religion. That's propaganda.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Incest in Indonesia

Just read the first line of this:

So, if unrelated people kiss for more than five minutes, it's against the law?

So it's okay for a father and daughter, or mother and son, to suck each other's faces off? Brothers, grab your sisters!

Morality is something I approve of completely, but it's possible to take anything too far. This is a perfect example of that. It has the reverse effect of what (I hope) it intends.

Lawmakers need to get off the caffeine, in every country in the world.

Go outside once in a while.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Coasting the 'Net

AOL keep sending me free CD's.

They make excellent coasters.

So this is just a quick 'thank-you' to AOL for helping to protect my oak table from hot tea cups and cold whisky glasses.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Da Vinci thumbs his nose.

Dan Brown, author of the bestselling bundle of words called the Da Vinci code, has won his copyright case. It's on Yahoo news here

While I haven't read the book, since I have no time for such popularist drivel, I applaud the decision in this case.

Fiction writers have been concerned that a win for Brown's accusers would mean they would be unable to use reference material in their work.

Scientists, like myself, make extensive use of reference material in everything we publish. If this case had been proven, we would have to seek copyright permission for every single source we quoted. There might be thirty or more in a single scientific paper. Hundreds in a book.

Scientists depend on citations as much as on publication. However, if every citation required written permission, few would ever be named in future work. No matter how important the paper by Bloggs and Bloggs might be, if you don't have the signed form, you can't include it in your reference list. It would make tracking of research through the literature record impossible.

So a quick nose-thumbing is in order at the opportunists who tried to steal this writer's money. If they had won, fiction publication might have been more difficult.

Scientific publication would have been impossible.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Xylophones in drag.

Wonderful to read about J.K. Rowling's tirade against those skeletons that parade the catwalks. It's long been my belief that designers use these anorexic wenches because they can use less material in their clothes. It's not fashion, it's pure meanness.

Why do women want to look like that? The clothes these models wear often show more flesh than is decent - at least they would if those women possessed a decent amount of flesh. Imagine those clothes stretched over a more naturally-sized woman. They're designed to make you feel overweight. Perhaps the fashion industry is hand-in-skeletal-paw with the diet industry? Why does it cost more to eat diet food than normal food? I'll consider that another time.

I know I've berated Orson, the flesh-mound, in the past, and I can assure you all I'll do it again. I have not yet referred to him as Orson the Hut, but it's coming. He's one extreme. These catwalk beanpoles are the other.

I expect I'll get asked whether I'd ever go out with one of these ribcage-flashing freaks, so I'll answer now.

No. Not unless I suddenly develop an unhealthy attraction to a xylophone. Although I admit it'd be a cheap date, because they don't eat much.

I prefer women who are woman-shaped. With one exception, naturally. Imogen is woman-shaped, but with the mind of a mediaeval politician.

I consider what's inside just as important, if not more so, than what's outside.

If only I could find one with intelligence, but without deviousness.

I doubt such a creature exists.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The rat that left the race.

Today is my birthday. Yes, in 1972, the Chinese year of the rat, Romulus Crowe first graced the earth with his presence.

As it's such a momentous occasion, I have made a decision. I have tendered my resignation. Stuff Orson. Admittedly, that would take an awful lot of sage and onion, but I say do it anyway.

I felt a little sorry for Chesterton, the head of psychology here at Marchway. The feeling passed though, as it always does. All this nonsense is no fault of his, but his department will suffer. Unfortunate, but it only puts him back to where he was before I arrived.

Due to the ridiculous clauses in the contract I signed, I cannot leave during term time. I really should read those things sometimes. So I am stuck here for a few months yet. Until the end of June, when the current students complete their exams, in fact.

No matter. It gives me time to rearrange things at home. That won't take too long since I know a particularly efficient builder. Someone out of this world, you might say.

By the end of June, the Romulus Crowe Institute will be a reality. The location is perfect. No neighbours.

The only real contender for the post I am vacating is Imogen LeFevre. Good luck Orson, you'll need it. It'll put Chesterton's research rating up somewhere near to where I left it, so he'll be happy. Hell, give the man some crayons and a blank page and he's happy. It doesn't take much.

Imogen will no doubt take this as a sign of her success. She'll think she succeeded in ousting me. Well, let her imagination run riot. Let her head swell until it bursts. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Wait until Orson blocks her first research paper, and watch the swelling go down.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Racing the rats.

The more I think about it, the more enticing self-employment becomes.

I would lose the kudos of a university position, but I hardly think I need that any more. When I win a grant, I win it on my own merits, not those of the university. When I operate as a consultant, the university charges enormous amounts of money for my time, but my pay stays the same.

Worst of all, my work is overseen by Orson. Without him, there would be no restrictions on what I study, nor on what I publish. My last two investigations were blocked by Orson, so I've had them fictionalised by a ghost writer. The events are real, but if it's published as fiction then Orson can't do anything about it. They don't even have my name on the cover.

So I'm thinking, why not operate as an independent researcher and consultant? I can charge less than the university and still make a tidy profit.

Yes, Imogen will get this job if I leave, but so what? She won't be my problem.

What I need to do is to work out how to tell Elaine. I'll still need an assistant. This time she won't have to move house though.

All she'll have to do is resign when I do.