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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Disputations writes of the feast for the archangels in the new calendar:

" Happy MichaelGabrielandRaphaelmas!

Of the three, who has lost the most?

St. Michael has to share his feast day, and they dumped his after-Mass prayer.

St. Gabriel lost his feast day, had to move in with St. Michael, and they've higher criticized his visits to Mary and Joseph into stylized theological representation.

St. Raphael lost his feast day, had to move in with Sts. Michael and Gabriel, and they've higher criticized his trip with Tobiah [Tobias?] into a novel, and they've textually criticized his appearance in the Gospel of John clean out of the Bible.

Good thing they all enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord, or you might start feeling sorry for them. "

My wife is annoyed that St Raphael lost his own feast day. Of course in the traditional calendar, still used by the Latin Mass community, the three archangels retain their own feast days. And St Michael's prayer is still used after low mass celebrated in the traditional rite. In fact, we recited it after mass in the traditional way on Sunday at the John XXIII College Chapel at the Australian National University. This is one of two Latin masses held every Sunday in Canberra by the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) - Southern Cross Region (Australia).

Here is lots of stuff on angels.



Julian


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Monday, September 29, 2003

Not sure how I feel about this.

Title is " Overcoming 'Cafeteria Traditionalism' " by Ronald J Colombo.

Julian




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More electronic taxonomy: "Australia's Virtual Herbarium".


Julian

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This is "Oriens", a journal of Catholic opinion, with a particular emphasis on the traditional Latin Mass or "Classical Roman Rite".

These are two articles of mine that have appeared therein:

"The Barbarian Latins."

"Liturgical Language: Reaching Beyond Vernacularism into God's Realm."


Julian




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Andrew Sullivan's Thought for the Day suggests he was having a bad day:

" THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "The Church has got it wrong in the past - there's no doubt about it. For most of Christian history, for instance, it was assumed that Jews had no place in the providence of God. I think you can take the view that, just as the Church eventually abolished slavery, so they ended up in favour of votes for women, so they voted for the ordination of women, and this is just one more issue where the Church has got it wrong," - Anglican bishop, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, on the question of how Christianity will eventually see gay and lesbian human beings. "

The short response is: Dream on.

The longer response is that the Catholic Church at least has no tradition of teaching in favour of slavery; nor has it a tradition of formal (doctrinal) teaching in favour of persecuting Jews. Popes have been condemning slavery since at least the eighteenth century. Some popes issued disciplinary decrees against the Jews, but others, even in mediaeval times, Pope Innocent III for example, issued statements aimed at protecting them.

I doubt that there is a firm tradition of formed doctrine on the place of the Jewish religion in providence. Opinions of theologians, yes. But a definitive understanding - not that I am aware. I think it is debateable.

On the other hand, there is a long tradition of teaching on woman's role in church and family, and it does not include the priestly function. There is also a tradition militating against active homosexuality.

Votes for women is a prudential matter, largely in the area of the civil authority - like votes for men.


Julian



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More on cousin marriage at Marginal Revolution, one of my favorite blogs. There is the claim that the Catholic Church had a longstanding campaign against cousin marriage. It is certainly interesting that some of the areas with the greatest levels of consanguineous marriages are those outside what used to be known as Christendom: East Asia and the Muslim world. As for the claim that first cousin marriages are not much more likely to lead to genetic problems, there are studies showing depressed IQ in children from Japanese cousin marriages. This site has references to the work.

A quote:

" Inbreeding depression occurs when harmful recessive genes combine, an event more likely in offspring of closely related parents. Estimates of inbreeding depression had been calculated from 1,854 cousin marriages in Japan by Schull and Neel (1965) and shown to be related to the g factor by Jensen (1983). "

The Neel referred to is the late JV Neel, recently accused by some of various misdeeds while performing fieldwork in the Amazon. Also accused was Napoleon Chagnon, author of the famous ethnography "Yanomamo: the Fierce People". As far as I can tell, the criticisms were proven entirely false in the case of Neel and mostly false in the case of Chagnon. Some people say that the whole attack on Neel and Chagnon was motivated by political correctness.

I wish I could say that I had read "Yanomamo: the Fierce People", but I suspect it was one of the ethnographies I should have read but didn't when I did Anthropology I.

Here is a referendum proposal currently before the American Anthropological Association.

A quote:

" Therefore Be it Resolved:

The American Anthropological Association repudiates the accusations or insinuations of starting or abetting a lethal measles epidemic by vaccination among the Yanomami made against the late James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon, and recognizes the harmfulness of false accusations regarding vaccine safety. "



Julian


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The Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) is in meltdown over the appointment of an active homosexual as a bishop.

I note this quote from one Celinda Scott:

"However painful our divisions, we believe that a split of the Episcopal Church over them would be more painful still, and would not advance God's kingdom."

The problem has been attempts to advance God's queendom.

BTW, I like the name "Celinda". It seems to have several names in it, all struggling to get out.

Julian


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I went to a remainder bookshop at the Belconnen Markets here in Canberra yesterday. I picked up a book on Rosalind Franklin, the woman scientist involved in the discovery of the structure of DNA. This is by Brenda Maddox. On first impressions, it seems a balanced inquiry into Franklin's true role. If nothing else, it should cast further light on a fascinating time in 20th Century biology.

I also acquired a work by Rupert Butler on the SS Wiking Division during World War II. I have a paperback on the SS by this author that is one of the worst-written books in my library. However this book on the Wiking Division seems better. There seems to be a rash of books on the Waffen SS of late; perhaps people do not feel as constrained by the requirements of good taste now that the war is receding further into history.

The third book was a work on the diamond industry by an industry insider: "Diamond: A Cold-Blooded Love Story" by Matthew Hart. A recent article in the Financial Review concluded that even the "successful" diamond mining companies in Australia were struggling. But some people obviously make money. It looks like a good read.

Julian


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African Lips

Here is a paper that I have yet to publish elsewhere:


A Note On Everted African Lips As A Signal of Hematological Status


J.D. O’Dea, Visiting Fellow, School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


Human lips vary in the extent to which they are rolled up to expose the pink membranous portion, a phenomenon known as lip eversion.

Krantz (1980, p. 125) discussed lip eversion as particularly a trait of Africans, involving outrolling and exposure of the mucus membrane of the mouth and thickening of the lips making them stand forward from the teeth. The preponderance of the trait in Africa had not been explained. Krantz stated that he was unaware of any serious suggestions as to a possible function for such eversion although he did note that lip eversion is a warm and/or moist climate trait. In line with this observation, Fischer (n.d.) has suggested that everted lips may have some cooling capacity because capillaries run very close to their surface and the slight moistness of the lips could help in cooling by evaporation. However any cooling effect seems likely to be minimal.

The question of why Africans have everted lips with visible pink mucus membranes could also be approached from a sexual signalling perspective. To a degree Morris (1967, p.67) has touched on this possibility in his general discussion of the evolution of human lips. His suggestion was that the pink lips of the human female mimic the pink labia of her vulva. He pointed out that “ … during intense sexual arousal, both the lips of the mouth and the genital labia become swollen and deeper in colour, so that they not only look alike, but also change in the same way in sexual excitement.” It might accordingly be argued - although Morris (1967) does not in fact do so - that the eversion of African lips to reveal some pink surface would be necessary to achieve this resemblance. On the other hand, Morris’ basic hypothesis does not explain why supposedly labia-mimicking lips are found in men as well as women, as well as in children (Zahavi and Zahavi, p. 214).

Some anatomical features are thought to have evolved as fitness indicators that signal freedom from parasites (Hamilton and Zuk, 1982). For example, an uakari monkey’s bright red face may have evolved to indicate that it is not infected by blood parasites, such as malaria, that would cause anemic pallor (Miller, 2001, p.118).

Zahavi and Zahavi (1997, p.50) have noted that (in lighter-skinned humans) cheeks and lips vary in color depending on the amount of blood they receive, turning pale or bluish when the blood vessels narrow in reaction to cold, ill health, or other stresses, thereby serving as potential signals of health and fitness. These authors compare this situation to what they believe are similar indicators of healthy blood flow in other species such as the rooster’s comb, the turkey’s featherless head and the small patch of bare skin on the forehead of the chick of the great crested grebe.

It may be worthwhile to consider the characteristic eversion of the lips in African humans in this context – with the visible pink mucus membrane signalling health. In the African context, the most probable form of health and fitness being indicated would be the absence of anemia or jaundice due to diseases, including parasitic diseases such as malaria. In such disease states the exposed mucus membrane would not have its normal pink color. The capillaries running close to the surface of the lips, alluded to above, would therefore generate a good clear indication of hematological health.

In summary, the characteristic eversion of African lips may have evolved to permit the display of a pink surface on the face, providing a conspicuous signal of hematological health. Non-Africans would not require everted lips, either because they have relatively fair skin on the entire face (especially on the cheeks in many Europeans) that would clearly signal hematological health or because of the lesser incidence outside Africa of diseases likely to cause jaundice and anemia.

Krantz (1980, p. 125) notes that the lip eversion trait is not found in every part of Africa. If the proposal in this note is correct, it might be expected that the trait would be most common in areas where diseases likely to lead to anemia, such as malaria, have been most prevalent.

References:

Fischer, M. (n.d) Foundations of Human Culture – Human Morphological Variation.
http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/Courses/SE302/humanmorpohvar.html

Hamilton, W. D., and Zuk, M. (1982). Heritable true fitness and bright birds: A role for parasites? Science, 218: 384-387.

Krantz, G. S. (1980). Climatic Races and Descent Groups. Massachusetts: The Christopher Publishing House.

Miller, G. (2001). The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. London: Vintage, Random House.

Morris, D. (1967). The Naked Ape. London: Corgi Books.

Zahavi, A., and Zahavi, A. (1997). The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.


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Saturday, September 27, 2003

I wrote below on the possible advantages of private work on archaeological collectibles like coins. Scholars affiliated with institutions may not have the wherewithal to do all the work necessitated by the abundance of finds. Sometimes they "bite off more than they can chew" or set personal standards that are unreasonably high. Both these things probably contributed to the notoriously slow publication of work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Too few scholars had access to the documents.

In a time of decreasing government support for such areas as pure research and nature conservation, we may see more private and amateur work. This would be - in many cases - simply a return to the way things used to be.

One apparent case of private success after public failure I heard of tonight is the regrowth of the numbers of white rhinos in southern Africa. Apparently the numbers have grown from about a thousand in the wild to several thousand now, through the work of private nature reserves.

Julian


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Wattlebirds have made a nest in a eucalypt on our nature strip. They are feeding in the grevilleas in our garden. I know that birds feed and breed, but it alway intriguing to see it happening up close.

Here is a picture with their scientific name:

One of my daughters has asked if she can have the nest once the birds are finished with it (she doesn't want to disturb them). I assume this is OK. I could almost reach up and grab it without a ladder, when the time comes.

I suppose a purist might object, but it is not as if it is in a nature reserve.

It is quite a small nest given the size of the parent birds. I can hear the young chirping if I stand under the nest. I notice that the baby birds chirp even when the parents do not seem to be around. Here is an excellent article that discusses this phenomenon in context.

My daughter asked if the wattlebirds defend their nest. Not against humans the way that magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) do. But it is not as if they are small birds, so there is no obvious reason why they don't. In fact, magpies are the only birds I know that do that in Australia. Even currawongs (Strepera sp.), which are bigger and very aggressive towards other species, don't bother humans; whereas magpies are a seasonal terror. I understand too that currawongs are quite closely related to magpies. It is a bit surprising that they don't defend their nests aggressively as well.

Julian


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I was thinking some more about the amount of second-hand children's clothing that gets passed around middle class homes in Canberra among friends and acquaintances. I don't remember this happening in my parents' home in Melbourne and Canberra in the 60s and 70s. I wonder if the real cost of clothing has risen or perhaps mums don't make clothes as much as they used to. Another factor may be that people don't have as many children these days and make firmer decisions not to have any more - "We're stopping at two". So there is less need to keep clothes for younger - or future - children.

I suppose it is to be expected that the tariffs on clothing and footwear have kept the costs of these items relatively high. This is despite the immense change in general attitudes to tariffs and other competitive distortions in the economy: one of the biggest changes in public policy in recent years. I have been reading my Father's Day present, "Allan Fels: A Portrait of Power", by Fred Brenchley. I had no idea that the ACCC's work against anti-competitive behaviour had extended so far, even to attacking collusion among medical specialists. No cosy pockets of corruption are safe. The biography is very friendly, and the attitude contrasts strikingly with that in another book I have been reading lately, published in 1966, "Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe: Men and Machines in Rural Australia", by Frances Wheelhouse. This author writes approvingly of tariffs on overseas agricultural machinery in earlier times and the supposed way in which they helped encourage Australian inventions. In fact, most economists would argue these days that tariffs would tend to discourage inventiveness. I am not sure what I would conclude; I am no expert; but I suspect that Australian conditions were just so different that inventiveness of the kind that gave Australia the "stump jump plough" was essential, tariffs or not.

I notice that my copy of "Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe" bears what look like my mother's annotations in pencil. I suspect that this was one of the books on science and technology that she reviewed for the Canberra Times in the 1960s (as Marjory O'Dea).


Julian


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Friday, September 26, 2003

Interesting argument on privatising (some) archaeology from this site:


" [Tyler Cowen, 2:28 PM]
Free markets and antiquities, continued: A Mr. Aaron Kendal sent me such an excellent post, arguing for a market in antiquities, that I decided to reproduce it whole:

"After reading your column on the Volokh Conspiracy, I thought I'd offer a few thoughts on the antiquities market. As I am an amateur ancient coin collector, my thoughts are somewhat focused on the numismatic area of the antiquities market, but I believe the analysis can cover other antiquarian items:

A few good arguments for an unrestricted American Market in Antiquities are 1. Scholarship and 2. Preservation of the Antiquities 3. Numerosity

1. Scholarship: Collectors often provide the impetuous for research in the field and gifted amateurs have made real contributions to the body of knowledge surrounding the Ancient World as they publish their collections or study their holdings, or collaborate with one another in research and studies.

In the field of ancient numismatics, collectors have made real and significant contributions to the literature in terms of articles, die studies, and by their publishing and cataloging of collections. For example, Mr. Richard Hazzard has written a seminal work on Ptolemaic Coinage, and he is not affiliated with any University or Museum. Indeed, if one waited for professionals to do the research it may never be done. The Royal Ontario Museum for example, has a collection of around 24,000 Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms, that to the best of my knowledge, still have not been studied or cataloged, and I am sure many other museums are in the same state. Many ancient coin dealer's sale catalogs offer pictures of coins and often offer important research and new finds. Museums on the other hand, typically cannot afford the cost of the full color plates and descriptions to display their holdings in printed form, but here the free market can produce these lasting publications of very rare and historically valuable objects.

2. Preservation and Display - many museums around the world are in dreadful shape in terms of their cataloging of their contents (see Cairo Museum as an example). Many artifacts are never shown to the public but merely hoarded by the museums or only offered for view to a few favored donors of the institution. Collectors have an interest in preserving their holdings and will take better care of them than many museums, and often display them publicly at conventions and such. In addition, a free market can help fund additional archaeological digs and studies and thus further enhance our knowledge, rather than the current sorry state where digs are chronically under funded, volunteers pay for the privilege of attending, and the artifacts are boxed away for years out of sight of the public and unobtainable by collectors.

3. Numerosity - To put it simply, there is simply so MUCH material available from the ancient world, that museums could not hold all of it, nor should they have sole claim to it, after all, these goods once belonged to private individuals who are long dead and buried, and there has been no continuous government that could lay claim to the items as their national property, as the nations involved have all been changed over time in terms of peoples, borders and cultures. Go to any of the Ancient Antiquity dealers' sites such as www.harlanjberk.com , or http://www.cngcoins.com/ , or www.amphoracoins.com to name a few and you'll find that many items of the ancient world are surprisingly both common in terms of numbers and affordable. You can get an ancient oil lamp for about $75 or so, or a multitude Egyptian scarabs and Roman Fibulae for even less, or coins of the ancient world from $20 and up. To claim that antiquities are so rare that all must be owned by a governmental entity and warehoused in museums flies in the face of the literally millions of artifacts that exist and have survived, and the millions more still waiting beneath the earth for a free-market solution to uncover, study and distribute them."

All of these points are excellent, but I still am not willing to privatize all sites, more on this shortly. "

I have occasionally dipped into a magazine called "Biblical Archaeology Review". It is truly fascinating but I haven't seen a copy in Canberra newsagents for a while. The editors used to complain about the slowness of publication of reports on digs by professional archaeologists. So the remarks above about slow cataloguing of ancient numismatic finds are interesting.


Julian


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The darker side of data-mining? This is yet another project associated with the accident-prone Admiral Poindexter.


Julian



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Daniel Drezner discusses the political science work on suicide terrorism, which I have referred to in the past. He defends the value of political science in general and in this particular case.

Julian


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Newsflash - people prefer cute young things


Gweilo writes on trolly-dollies. Sorry - hosties. Sorry - stewardesses. Sorry - air hostesses. Sorry - flight attendants.

A quote:

" Those Enlightened Malaysians

A Malaysia Airlines executive denied that the company's policy grounding female flight attendants at age 40 -- 15 years younger than their male counterparts -- was sexist or disciminatory. General Manager Mohammadon Abdullah defended the rule as a safety precaution:


"We need frontliners who are mentally and physically alert, young, pretty and quick to respond to emergencies as safety and security of passengers is our priority," Mr Mohammadon said.

But, in a moment of candor, Mohammadon seemed to concede he was talking obvious rubbish:


"Let's face reality. Customers prefer to be served by young, demure and pretty stewardesses, especially Asian ladies."

He proceeded to suggest that women over 40:


had domestic problems, which interfered with their jobs, especially if they were married with children.

This policy is an outrage and I advocate that it be terminated immediately. Especially since I don't fly Malaysia Airlines and therefore won't personally encounter the haggard old crones who'll thereafter be pushing its drink carts. "

What a cheeky chappy! I have written on this matter previously. My view is that businesses should be allowed to hire whomever they please. Call me a wild-eyed radical.

Julian






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Socionomics - the science of history and social prediction.

This looks interesting, even if it does remind me of Hari Seldon's "Psychohistory" from Isaac Asimov's Foundation science fiction novels. If you want to see the imaginary Hari Seldon's legacy, go here.


Julian



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Here is the ABC on Peter Akinola, the African Anglican prelate I have already mentioned:

"Africa's Anglican Council Elects Anti-Gay Head"

I would say that the wave of the future in the Anglican church is a conservative tsunami from Africa.

Julian




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Can this be true? Rumours are heard that the Vatican may cut back on its approval for altar girls:

" VATICAN CITY, Sept. 23 -- Under new rules being drafted by the Vatican to crack down on "abuses" in the Roman Catholic Mass, altar boys will be given preference over altar girls, who should serve during the rites only in special cases, Vatican officials said today. "

No sociologist would be surprised at what transpired. Girls took over the job. Once girls move into a role, boys move out. That seems to be human nature.

Now the geniuses at the Vatican may have noticed this and be having second thoughts. Church feminists were nuts to imagine that altar girls would lead inexorably to women priests. And the Vatican was nuts to think that allowing altar girls would assuage feminists. Talk about folie a deux!

Like many compromises this has turned out to satisfy no-one. It has probably pleased some little girls; but this would be balanced by the frustration of little boys. And some vocations to the priesthood have probably been lost.

I refused my daughter permission to be an altar girl. Feedback I received indirectly was divided: some people wondered why I was being so retrograde; but a couple of women reportedly expressed the view that altar girls were a mistake anyway.

Julian


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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Will Europe go Muslim? This article claims that it won't because Muslim birth rates are dropping almost as quickly as European birth rates, and because of the likelihood of cultural mixing.

On the other hand, there is this commentary:

" the author makes the case for the emergence of a "mélange" civilization. It would be Islamo-Christian, with antecedants in the early Ottomon polity. The problem I have is that such cultures have always existed within the Dar-al-Islam, but they tend to be anterior to the eventual development of a more thoroughly Muslim polity that reduces the non-Muslim population into dhimmitude. Of course, we are not slaves to history, Westen Islam could spark a Reformation in the faith, but I simply want to remind everyone that the rising Muslim elites have a long history of initial cooperation with the non-Muslim powers that be until the time when the dhimmi become disposable. Also, let me note that many of the dhimmi families that allied themselves with the early Muslim powers later converted to Islam and became part of the Muslim elite. The assumption is that the 75% of Europeans that are predominantly post-Christian will remain so and not convert to Islam in the presence of a vigorous religious tradition-but history teaches us that active organized religious minorities can transform societies that have no alternatives. "



Julian



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Andrew Sullivan still has his knickers in a knot about the Catholic Church's attitude to sex. He is happy that Ronald Reagan made the discovery that sex is about companionship (See "Reagan and Sex"). Sullivan therefore concludes that it is not about procreation. The real answer is that it is about intimacy and procreation. That is, marital sex should be both unitive and procreative. That is why both in vitro fertilisation and contraceptive sex are wrong. One leaves out the unitive; the other leaves out the procreative. One of the reasons that homosexual sex is wrong is because, while unitive, it is not procreative.

It's not that difficult really.

I like what I have read of Ronald Reagan: he is a good egg. And I am glad he became less conflicted about sex. But he was an excellent American President; not a theologian.

It seems to me that two homosexuals who were in love could live together and remain practising Catholics. No "hanky-panky" though. (I think this would be OK doctrinally - I'm not sure). The no "hanky-panky" would be difficult, but that is what grace - and confession when necessary - are for.

There is a group for orthodox Catholics who are also homosexuals here in Canberra called "Courage". There is a website with details.


Julian


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Speaking of data-mining, here is another reported example from what looks like a really good site, tubagooba.

Here is the relevant quote:

" I was impressed when I found out that some guy had identified new comets by downloading satellite images from the internet. It represented the first time that anyone had discovered new celestial bodies without using a telescope. He must have felt great - all I've discovered is the fact that a couple of local parks were once rubbish tips which were once big pugholes, and I'm pretty chuffed. "

I can't speak for the absolute accuracy of the astronomy, but the rest of his piece is certainly entertaining.

Julian

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Midwest Conservative Journal guy writes about another Hollywood celebrity poodle-bothering pervert here.

He also quotes a conservative African Anglican on why active homosexuality is not acceptable:

" How correct are you dear brother Archbishop Ndungane in judging the cloud of witnesses to biblical truth through the ages whose stand on biblical ethics is only being upheld by those of us who are now branded as arrogant and intolerant? Is there anything in our pronouncements that constitutes a departure from the standard of morality held out in the Bible? "

I like the phrase used by Peter Akinola (the Anglican Primate of Nigeria): "cloud of witnesses". It is an excellent way of describing tradition - a "cloud of witnesses". I must use that one.

Julian




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An example of what can be done with "data-mining" in the biological literature.

Julian


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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Alice von Hildebrand writes authoritatively on how we are missing all the Catholic traditions thoughtlessly dumped in recent years.

From the Introduction:

" This article discusses whether the abolition of certain customs and traditions serves the good of the Church. Individual traditions discussed in this document include: abstaining from meat on Fridays, kneeling while receiving Holy Communion, the wearing of veils by women, and the use of altar girls. "

This is rather poorly expressed because of course altar girls are not a tradition.

Mrs von Hildebrand thinks that the Church has made a series of mistakes in abandoning traditions like kneeling while receiving Communion. And she thinks, rightly in my view, that altar girls are a mistake.

Julian


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I have mentioned the problems with taxonomy of animals - that is, their systematic description, naming and classification. There are not enough human resources for the work. Some people hold out the hope that this kind of Internet based approach may help.

In this case, it is ants.

This seems to be part of an "open access" movement in scientific publishing.

And here. Is it true that "Really good work doesn't need the prestige of a journal to be recognized"?

Here is some material on data-mining in the scientific literature.

I have thought for quite a while that there may be a role for people to simply read and analyse the scientific literature, looking for unnoticed patterns and correlations. I have published a review article on animal physiology that attempted to correlate and explain some observations made on a range of mammals. However if "open access" publishing takes off, this kind of reviewing of the literature may become easier, in the way that electronic and computing methods often are.

As for publishing on the Internet instead of on paper, I have published one paper in an Internet journal and have another submitted to a different journal (on evolutionary psychology). I am not sure that the Internet will ever replace paper journals but I am certainly impressed so far.


Julian


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Many days I walk past a small group of white-winged choughs. In the morning they seem to roam about poking around in the leaf litter looking for food. But in the evenings I sometimes see them having dust baths together. Do they work all day and only then bathe? Or do they bathe during the day and I just haven't seen them do it?

The choughs live in the area near Constitution Park near Old Parliament House here in Canberra. When they bathe in dust they gather together and dig small holes in the dirt near the base of some introduced conifers at the edge of the park. I suppose this soil is the right consistency for their purpose. They place the dirt in their feathers with their beaks.

Here is a paper (a pdf) on some of the other tricks choughs get up to.

I notice that one of the authors is Rob Heinsohn. He gave a course on bird behaviour that I took over a decade ago.

Julian




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Dennis Prager writes that "women's nature yearns for male protection".

He writes that women will either marry a man or marry the government.

Julian


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An intelligent reader responds to some of Amitai Etzioni's uninformed remarks.

Etzioni also writes:

" Danger Ahead: Anti-Semites at Work

Mel Gibson is completing a movie called Passion in which he shows, in gruesome detail and at great length, how Christ was abused by the Jews. The Pope has laid to rest this old canard, but Gibson, the son of a Holocaust denier, does not accept the Pope’s ruling. The movie, those who have seen it report, is sure to stir up antisemitism in the U.S. and overseas. "

There are a number of problems with this. It begs the question and it blames Mel Gibson for his father's views. And Etzioni does not say he has actually seen the film.

Etzioni should cite the "ruling" by "the Pope" to which he refers, and explain why Gibson's film is in breach. (The very fact that he writes in such terms suggests that he doesn't understand how the Church teaches.)

Julian





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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Just not a "bright" idea.

More a case study in the lack of common sense of some otherwise very intelligent people.

Richard Dawkins invented the word "meme" and now he wants to create one. But I don't think it is that easy.

Julian




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Amy Welborn writes about what has driven people out of the Anglican/Episcopalian Church. She mentions the dropping of the Book of Common Prayer as one issue.

As I suggested in an earlier post, the abandonment of traditional liturgy can be almost as bad as the abandonment of traditional theology in driving the faithful away. And the problem is the same - modishness.

Julian


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Ultrasound vs The Abortionists.

Michelle Malkin reports.


Julian


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I finished "Surviving Galeras" in one session last night, a book from the local library. Stanley Williams, a vulcanologist, is the author of the book, claimed in the blurb to be in the tradition of such works as Peter Junger's "The Perfect Storm".

It's not a bad book at all. I think I detect the influence of "The Perfect Storm" in the detail in the descriptions of the injuries suffered by Williams and his colleagues at the crater of Galeras - the Colombian volcano - when it erupted.

However the book stands perfectly well on its own, and it is as much a "scientific romance" of a slightly old-fashioned type as it is a study of man vs nature like "The Perfect Storm." The emphasis is on the dedication of the vulcanologists and their love of their work.

I was particularly struck by the images of the scientists studying volcanoes with little concern for their own safety, including the Russian scientist patiently collecting gases emanating from Galeras' crater. There is a photo of him doing this, two hours before the volcano erupted, "vaporising him over the Andes" as the author writes.

The same scientist made himself ill during his doctoral studies from the fluorine he breathed in as he collected gas samples at a Russian volcano.

To me, that is the true scientific spirit - patiently, bravely collecting the data, no matter what the consequences.


Julian





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Chicago Boyz has an array of pictures of prominent economists, including one in the top row who looks a lot like Larry from The Three Stooges.

Julian




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Interesting article on would-be American "First Ladies". Worth reading if only for the marvellous phrase "condiment heir" to describe Mr Heinz.

Lucy Van Pelt, of "Peanuts" fame, once said that she wanted to become First Lady, because "after that, it is only one step to - Queen!"

But I suspect Lucy grew up to be a liberal Democrat in the Hillary Clinton mould. Be that as it may, it's a problem for American Democrat presidential hopefuls these days - how to keep both the social conservatives and the social progressives happy with the behaviour of one's wife.

Julian


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Monday, September 22, 2003

Where does inbreeding occur? Here is a map.

Note the relatively high level of inbreeding in Japan and China. Could this be a sort of proxy for "family-mindedness"? The main point of cousin marriage is often thought to be keeping wealth within the extended family. A downside is that cousin marriage can have ill-effects. I have seen one study that suggests that cousin marriage in Japan is associated with lower IQ children.


Julian



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Some interesting recent posts on Marginal Revolution. I have written on this blog about Elwood Zimmerman and his taxonomic work on Australian weevils. He spent a lot of his own money on his taxonomic work.

A quote from Marginal Revolution:

" Today the world has about 10,000 active taxonomists. It takes eight to ten years to train a good taxonomist ... As of 2002, there were no full-time taxonomists in Africa. "

That last point is amazing. I have a book entitled "Mosquito Safari" at home, about a mosquito taxonomist who was seconded to working on a project in Africa fighting disease. (I found it in the African big game hunting section of the bookshop, because of the title I suppose.) Taxonomy is axiomatic (keeping those "x"es coming!) for so much biological and medical work. But it is not sexy, and it has suffered a decline in funding.

Julian

PS On thinking about it, I really doubt the claim that there are no full-time taxonomists in Africa. Surely in South Africa?



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The guy at Midwest Conservative Journal is struggling to come to terms with his church's decision to appoint a practising homosexual as a bishop. This is the Episcopal Church in America, the US branch of the Anglican Church.

He is not sure where to go. He has mentioned the Catholic Church but he may go in another direction. What he is missing is the certainty of a tradition. The good thing about the tradition of the Catholic Church is that no one man, not even a pope, can undo it. As well as traditional liturgy and customs, it includes traditional understanding of the Bible.

What is destroying the poor man's church is that there will always be someone who will argue that texts in the Bible don't mean what they have traditionally been held to mean; someone who will ignore or twist scripture to suit his own agenda. The Anglican - including the Episcopalian - Church has already done this, with women priests for example. After you do it once, there is no end to it.

Some Anglicans emphasise tradition, but they lack a central voice (the papacy).

Once you set up a new church you disenfranchise your ancestors. Their views can be conveniently forgotten. You lose the tradition of meditation by man, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on the meaning of scripture. Eventually a temporary majority of opinion chooses to ignore the wisdom of the ages and follow its own fashionable notions. The temptation is too great.


Julian



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Somebody found this blog by searching on "Germaine Greer oz nude".

I suppose there is no accounting for tastes.

Julian


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This is a new website on traditional Catholicism, featuring some pictures illustrating the way of life of the Catholics of Campos in Brazil. This group was recently reconciled with Rome.

Check out the nuns in their habits and the young women in their mantillas at Mass. Check out the earnest young seminarians. They remind me of something - Catholics.


Julian




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Saturday, September 20, 2003

This from Popular Science (US), October (sic) 2003, is both true and honest:

" Sure, some Ph.D.s do enriching work in their postdoc "year" (this limbo between earning the doctorate and getting a real job has in fact grown to a more typical two, three or four years)but in an obscene number of cases, it's just drudgery leading to dashed dreams, for the simple reason that we produce many more science and engineering Ph.D.s in this country than we have professorships to fill. The academy line is that, overall, the postdoc is a beneficial "winnowing-out time": The fittest scientists are selected, while the rest flee to lesser callings (like - picking randomly here - science journalism). But, to extend the Darwinian metaphor, overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that the postdoc limbo selects not for intellectual fitness to be a scientist but for sheer endurance to put up with 80-hour weeks of, say, sticking electrodes in rat brains and getting bitten. People with interests in family, art or recreation are the most likely to bail. As well-rounded minds, they're also potentially the best scientists. "

I was rather lucky in my Ph.D. environment and unlucky in my postdoc. But the above certainly rings true.

Julian



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I found a comment on another blog along the lines that Muslims need to go through an Enlightenment like the rest of us. The blogger drew a comparison with the Jewish religion and claimed that by reforming their religion they had made themselves more influential. He didn't say "relevant" but that is what he was getting at. He bagged the Orthodox Jews for supposedly being a small, irrelevant rump group.

There are a few problems with this. There is the assumption that "influence" on the broader society is what matters. There is the way in which the crack-up we are currently witnessing in Enlightenment-influenced society is ignored. What is the characteristic contemporary philosophy of our Enlightenment society? Post-modernism - with its antipathy to truth and common sense. As Chesterton nearly wrote, "pure reason leads to pure madness."

What is also irritating about this kind of diagnosis is the assumption that liberalism in religion is the inevitable future, whereas it is the liberal versions of Christianity at least that are dying, while the more conservative varieties thrive.

It's just the Whig View of History applied to religion.

And the most annoying thing is that, as usual, religious believers are most respected by such commentators when they are least religious.


Julian



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This General Wesley Clark phenomenon is interesting. It looks like the Democrats are trying to beat Bush with a general. Smart politics I suppose, but the draft-a-hero approach doesn't always work. Senator John Glenn seemed to have it all covered when he nominated for the Democrats in 1984: Marine aviator, test pilot, astronaut, senator: but his candidature was a huge flop.

Julian

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Friday, September 19, 2003

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes good sense as usual.

He has done an excellent job of being John Paul II's "minder". If only he could be the next pope. Heaven knows we could do with someone like him.

I hope we don't get some awful American like Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles. I suppose the mess in the American church will mean that they are on the nose for a while though. Some of Mahoney's work may be found here.

Worst. Cardinal. Ever.


Julian


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I thought I was the only one annoyed by Andrew Denton's weak performance when faced with a self-indulgent Helen Caldicott some time back on his interview program on the ABC. It seems not from this quote from a blog called "P&C blog" at:

http://p&c.blogspot.com/


" Ordinary at best would be a generous description of Andrew Denton's efforts at a chat show on the ABC, but Monday night's performance achieved a new nadir in snivelling smarmy sycophancy. His fawning agreement and sage nodding in accompaniment with every idiotic piece of drivel to escape the cat's arse-like lips of Helen Caldicott had me reaching for a bucket or any other handy receptacle to deposit my partially digested evening repast. The wizened old ratbag rambled on with the same poorly researched hysterical gibberish she has been polluting airwaves with for thirty years, and when the old trout spluttered "I'm sick of this- I'm going to fix it all in five years!" the studio full of like-minded flat-earthers stomped and whooped like gibbons. What has stopped her for the last thirty years- the kryptonite that George Bush has been secreting in her voluminous cottontails? How does this dessicated old fruitcake get anyone to take her seriously? "

Yes, that about wraps it up.



Julian



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I have a short list of books that I wish I had bought when I saw them. I greatly regret not having done so. One was a textbook on the radiography of gunshot wounds. Another was a book on the ecology of feather parasites of birds. And another was on the theme of the "mystical marriage" in Western history. It's not a long list, seeing that I have been collecting books for over forty years. But I do have my regrets. Another book that used to be on the list was "Jane's Airport Equipment", but I found another copy of that when on holidays once, at a book remainder shop. I think that was the same place, ironically, where I neglected to buy the book on gunshot wounds.

There was a book on the existence of God in the light of game theory that looked intriguing but I decided not to buy it at the time. Pity. I also once gave away an old volume of material extracted from a young people's magazine of the 1940s that belonged to my mother. It included a wonderful short story about monsters who lived on a vast plain and spent their time philosophising. Gone now; no way of recovering it. The young people's magazine was called "Mine". I wonder how many lost gems there are in forgotten literary magazines like that.


Julian




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Am at home with the little lad, having some downtime. We did pop over to a local Vinnies to see what cheap books and toys they had. He got a police motorcycle toy for ten dollars and I got a few books and a framed picture of Pope St Pius X. The lady explained that such pictures were once commonplace in Catholic homes.

One of the books was William Safire's political novel "Full Disclosure". Safire is famous mainly as a columnist, a sort of "token conservative" on the New York Times. He also worked as a speechwriter in the Nixon White House. Coin a phrase in Washington and you've got it made, it seems. There is David Frum, whose career as an opinion journalist has been helped along by his reputation as the man who wrote part of (!) the phrase "Axis of Evil". His wife is opinion babe, Anne Crittenden.

I have a book "Snapshots from Hell: the Making of an MBA" by one Peter Robinson. One of his main claims to fame is that he wrote the famous line that Reagan delivered about the Berlin Wall, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall". Here is an URL for the story of the speech:

http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/digest/974/robinson.html

I don't think we have celebrity speechwriters in Australia much. Bob Ellis is famous for doing that kind of thing, as well as a lot of other kinds of things, but most of his stuff apparently ends up "on the cutting room floor". I believe that Christopher Pearson writes well-regarded speeches for John Howard. Keating gave some nice speeches - one at the dedication of the tomb of the unknown soldier was really fine. But speechwriters have not been that well-known in Australia. Perhaps Graham Freudenberg, who wrote many of Whitlam's speeches, was one of the better known. He gets some attention in the late Bruce Juddery's book "At the Centre: The Australian Bureaucracy in the 1970s".

Another denizen of government who gets a run in Juddery's book is Peter Wilenski. Wilenski was a onetime medical doctor who worked for Whitlam as a super-bureaucrat on such tasks as establishing his machinery of government. His wife, then Gail Wilenski (later Radford), was a sometime veterinary surgeon and noted feminist. It is strange that such a political power couple should have been trained as a doctor and a vet.

Speaking of doctors at least, I notice that the ABC's offering "MDA", an episode of which I saw for the first time recently, concerns medical law. They must have said to themselves: "People like shows about doctors ... and they like shows about lawyers ... let's have both in the one show."

Shows about bureaucrats aren't that common. I suppose that, taking a broad definition to include people who work in government, there are only such programs as "The West Wing" and "Yes, Minister"; and I suppose that ABC comedy series about local government, "Grass Roots".

Just harking back to Bruce Juddery's book - it was probably published because people had become more aware both of Canberra's role in the nation's life and of the importance of the bureaucracy in setting public policy. And the recently-elected Whitlam government gave every sign of being highly dirigiste.

Juddery was good at spotting trends. He pioneered writing about the public service and, later, writing about academia (the Australian National University at least).

It seemed to take a long time for people to notice and understand the power shift to Canberra that really gathered pace later in the 20th Century. The Sydney-Melbourne axis was slow to "Feel the Power of Canberra" as the car number plates here used to say.

I used to read Santamaria's "News Weekly", in the eighties if I remember correctly. It was full of articles detailing union politics. Very interesting, no doubt, but I couldn't help but think that they were undereporting the bureaucratic movements in Canberra, which were probably more important for the direction that the nation was taking.


Julian

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Normally I don't worry about spam emails. But I got one recently with the subject line "Meeting time changed." I have to open all emails with that kind of title. If this sort of thing continues, it could make for real problems. Perhaps the harsh measures being proposed by the Australian Government are not a bad idea.


Julian

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What is it about small boys and trains?

The little bloke turned three today. He got a Brio train set. He was so excited he wouldn't eat his dinner. Not even the cake.


Julian




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This is weird. Or, as Yoda would say, if he were blogging, weird is this.

" A new anti-GE petition backed by the Green Party allows mothers to sign on behalf of their unborn children, writes Jonathan Milne in the Sunday Star Times. "

I am surprised that a green party is so keen on the rights of unborn children.

Julian





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The "down-under power"

In an earlier post, I referred to the advantages of "white intellectual mercenaries", with an example coming from the recent history of the Ivory Coast.

Now Australia is indulging in a little of this "neo-colonialism" in Papua New Guinea.

What with the Solomon Islands and now PNG, is there a trend here somewhere?


Julian





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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Catholic Adult Education Centre, based in Sydney, recently released a document titled "The Treasure of the Rosary". It leads off with the words: "Pope John Paul II recently expanded the Rosary by adding five new mysteries."

No, he didn't. He made some suggested additions to an ancient, much-loved and much-used prayer, which may or may not become part of the spiritual repertoire of the faithful. Only time will tell.

No pope owns the spiritual treasures of the Church and no pope has a right to change them. If John Paul II suggested that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel could be improved by adding a few extra figures to "expand" it, people would think he had gone nuts.


Julian


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Political scientists are useful after all

The strategic logic of suicide terrorism.

It's not just a religious phenomenon.

Julian




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Catholic Analysis writes:

" It is time to hang up on the aging liberals of the post-Vatican II era. They have done enough damage to last a lifetime. "

Not just a lifetime, several lifetimes.


Julian


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Another article from The Wanderer, this time about the future of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and its possible reconciliation with Rome.

I wonder though if the SSPX is not doing some good being outside the system. Sort of like that old Australian Democrats slogan about "keeping the bastards honest."

On the other hand, the high profile of the SSPX means that people assume that all Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass are like the SSPX people, outside the mainstream church. Which we aren't.



Julian


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Another piece on the new Mel Gibson film from America's conservative Catholic magazine, The Wanderer.

I notice that this is by Joseph Sobran, who has been accused of anti-semitism.


Julian


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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Quite a good documentary on "hikikomori" tonight on SBS. This is the phenomenon of Japanese teenagers and young adults, mostly boys, retreating to their rooms and refusing to come out ever.

I thought the documentary maker came across as a bit of a phoney. He reminded me of those joke documentaries that came out of England a couple of years ago, mocking the pieties of the format. There were the usual elements of a beat-up: cultural experts solemnly stating the obvious; visits to "shock-horror" cram schools that looked comfortable and effective, actually; and a bookshop interview with a bestselling psychiatrist. There was also the ex-sufferer from hikikomori who was making a career out of consulting with parents of sufferers.

Why would a teenage boy want to lock himself away in his room and play video games all day, do no school work and have all his meals supplied by his devoted mother? Why the heck not? Apart from that obvious caveat, the other possibilities are that it is a natural response to a particular social situation that has become "medicalised", as do many socially deviant behaviours. Dr Bob Bartholomew has written a great deal on this topic, for example on the "latah" condition among elderly Malay women, which he says is basically a form of acting, not a true psychological abnormality.

Two features of traditional Japanese society might also provide a model for the hikikomori behaviour. One, as touched on by the TV documentary, might be the honourable tradition of the solitary or hermit. The other is that of suicide to expiate shame on behalf of the family. It is interesting that some cases of hikikomori began after a failure of some kind, such as in examinations. Is hikikomori a kind of bloodless suicide?


Julian




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My son is about to turn 3. He is still not properly toilet-trained.

I told him this morning that he simply must get his shit together.

Julian




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Kit Pedler was a gifted man. Few science fiction writers have been good scientists as well, but he was both. As well as inventing the second-best known of Dr Who's enemies - the cybermen - he created "Doomwatch", a TV series of the 1970s.

"Doomwatch" was one of the first TV programs to address issues such as ecological awareness and genetic engineering. One memorable moment showed some chickens that had been given human genes - they had faces like people.

We are closer to that vision now than ever. Human-cow and human-monkey hybrids are discussed here.

Julian





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Monday, September 15, 2003

I mentioned that jewel beetles (Family Buprestidae) are popular with scientists, being beautiful. They even have their own fanzine.

Julian



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Somebody viewed this blog because he or she searched on "women under hairdryers", a phrase I happened to use in one of my blog posts!

Julian


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A fair article about abortion. And in The Age, of all places. Based on evidence that unborn babies smile.

Public opinion will be swayed by this kind of scientific information, and public opinion will defeat abortion eventually.

Julian


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Another lady bishop - Bishop Dezderia of the Mariavite Old Catholic Church of Poland.

What is that behind her - incense or ectoplasm?

Julian




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What do you get when you cross the New Age with the Catholic Church?

This.

Bishop Sharon belongs to this church. There is a strong flavour of fashionable Celtic sensibility about this.


Julian


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Some kind soul has spent nearly ten minutes today reading this blog. He or she found it by googling on "Bob Hope and Latin Mass". When I did the same thing, I found this. One good gag and an exchange of views.


Julian


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Here is the article that I mentioned below on Elwood Zimmerman's work on Australian weevils. It's from Time Magazine. I found it charming.


Julian


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I've started analysing the data for match attendances at home grounds of Melbourne footy clubs vs the teams' performances. I must say that the trends I expected are not always that clear. I have, however, found some of the expected trends. For example, the South Melbourne Swans had average crowds at games at their home ground, Lake Oval, of over 20,000 in the 1932-35 period. They were doing well in this period, topping the ladder in 1935. In 1936 they also topped the ladder, but average attendance at their oval had dropped to about 16,200. Why the fall? Were other teams' supporters not bothering to attend games against the Swans, thinking they would only be beaten?

In 1937-9, South Melbourne was much less successful, and attendances at the Lake Oval declined to a little over 11,000 by the end of this period. The low attendance in 1939 was not due to wartime conditions, since attendances did not fall that year at Arden St (North Melbourne's ground) or Victoria Park (Collingwood's ground).

More analysis needed.


Julian

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Sunday, September 14, 2003

Somebody at a blog site called "The Volokh Conspiracy" has written that:

" The best defense I ever heard of communism (not saying much!) is the following: it was easy to live under. If (when) you failed, you always knew it was not your fault. A true meritocracy is tougher in this regard ... "

The same argument has been made in favour of the old class systems of aristocracies and peasants; or the establishment and the working class. That is, that it was easier for people to blame "the system" for their own lack of success; whereas a meritocracy creates losers with no excuses but their own personal failings. ( Not that this is an argument against a meritocracy.)

Of course some freedoms do not have to be actually used. It may be that women, for example, will increasingly realise that having children younger is a better move than attempting to have them later. They will learn this from the sad experiences of some contemporary women - a new, wise tradition will have been formed. A woman who may not listen to her mother may listen to her childless aunt.

Julian


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Blogging was what I was waiting for. I have often come home from a public event and wanted to write about it, just trivial things perhaps. I once wrote an article on a disabled children's Xmas Party that I attended, but it didn't get published by the local paper. Another time, I went to the National Folk Festival here in Canberra and would have loved to have made a few random social observations. Sometimes I'd send things to discussion lists on the Internet, but that can be a bit intrusive and pointless. There was simply no way to make a few semi-formal observations - but perhaps blogging is the answer.

Anyway, today we went to a school fete. It was pretty cold weather and not terribly well-attended. There wasn't a large selection of books and records, but there were a few worthwhile items. I picked up a copy of Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus", a philosophical work. Also, a book of the works of MC Escher, which are very familiar from such places as the covers of philosophy books and from posters. Also, a book on the old TV scifi show "Lost in Space". All of these represent things that were "hot" in the sixties and seventies, and seem to be typically thrown out these days and end up in second-hand book sales. Many of them were big hits at the time - "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is a book I keep seeing on sale in second-hand bookshops. A huge hit when it came out, but I haven't been bothered to try to discover why.

Another book I bought is "People Together", "An evolutionary guide to styles of communal living." As the blurb has it: "Now, well into the 1970s, the commune could look like yet another failed utopia ... Disillusion seems almost complete." Nevertheless "In the decaying, shabbier parts of our cities and in impoverished agricultural areas, groups of people with a collective idealism tough enough to cope with reality are developing new and satisfying lifestyles." Should be an interesting read.

I also bought a 1977 biography of the poet Dylan Thomas. He was also a bit of a fixation of the time, along with Gerard Manley Hopkins, another lyrical poet.

Another purchase has a much more contemporary feel, mainly because of its subject matter - mood disorders. Peter C Whybrow's "A Mood Apart: A Thinker's Guide to Emotion and Its Disorder" was published only a few years ago. As we moved from the sixties and seventies to the nineties, mental confusion was replaced by emotional confusion.


Julian

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Saturday, September 13, 2003

My daughter has been asking me about ladybirds (ladybeetles) all day. It appears there has been a fad at her school for collecting them to serve as pets. It sounds like she wants to do some experiments on them, keeping groups of them in jars. I have ransacked my library for any references to ladybirds (Family Coccinelidae).

I found a guide to American beetles; a coffee table book translated from the German, on beetles, with some marvellous illustrations; my friend Trevor Hawkeswood's guide to Australian beetles; and, since my daughter is especially interested in whether they eat each other, a monograph entitled "Cannibalism". I may also have something in my Dictionary of Superstitions on them. I am fairly sure that they have been important in folklore.

Trevor's book has a lot of pictures of jewel beetles (Buprestidae). This is both because they are beautiful and because Trevor is particularly interested in studying them. They have long attracted interest among amateur and professional entomologists because of their beauty. Some animals are just more appealing than others, even to scientists. I was reading Elwood Zimmerman's surprisingly chatty commentary in his monumental systematic work on Australian weevils, in which he complains that some of the more bizarre types have attracted the attention of dilettante entomologists, resulting in poor-quality taxonomy. Zimmerman really lets fly in places: all the frustrations and irritations that must plague the pure scholar are given full vent.

I can't provide links from the place I am currently blogging from, but a search on Zimmerman and weevils should bring up a great article on his work that appeared in Time magazine not long ago. I still remember reading it in the chiropractic clinic while waiting to be called:

" As one of only two weevil experts in Australia, Zimmerman has lost count of how many new species he has recorded. But he never tires of them. "Every time I look at something under the microscope I see something I have never seen before," he says. "My work is so interesting I can barely keep away from it." "

I wonder who the other weevil expert is.

It is usually stated that weevils (Curculionidae) are the most numerous of the beetle families, in terms of species; however not long ago I read the claim that Carabidae (ground beetles) are the most speciose family.

One of the most interesting books from a human and scientific point of view that I have come across in a long time is something I found in the Hancock library at the ANU, the same place I found Zimmerman's volumes on Australian weevils. This was a scientific autobiography by one Osten-Sacken, an aristocratic nineteenth-century German dipterist (student of flies). A lot of it details the personal foibles and scientific efforts of noted dipterists such as Loew.

I also found a volume on the taxonomy of Australian ants, which I know from a history of the Australian National Insect Collection was not at all well-regarded scientifically. A bit of an embarrassment apparently.


Julian



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Friday, September 12, 2003

One of John Howard's more endearing traits is the unselfconscious way he uses old-fashioned expressions. I was very amused once when he spoke of the threat of North Korea. We could not allow North Korea to get away with its rogue nuclear weapons program, John Howard explained, otherwise " other countries will say 'whacko, we can do the same thing' ".

"Whacko"!

More recently, he referred to the hunt for an Islamic terrorist as looking for "this bloke".


Julian

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At Chicago Boyz, there is a piece on how to improve matters in Africa and Latin America:

" First, Peters tells us, policy-makers give up too easily on Africa and South America, because they are too Eurocentric, even racist, and set in their ways. He then proposes a new Atlantic entity, whose outlines remain blurry even on repeated re-reading: ... "

etc. etc. etc.

Maybe an interim solution for Africa at least is a system of "white intellectual mercenaries", like those who used to help in the Ivory Coast:

" Houphouët-Boigny's ability to maintain stability lay in his belief in strong management and organization, which led him from independence to building an administration based on the solid, bureaucratic institutions left by the French. In fact, the large number of French bureaucrats and entrepreneurs remaining in Côte d'Ivoire supported Houphouët-Boigny's monopoly on political power and thereby contributed to the perceived effectiveness of the public and private sectors of the Ivoirian economy. In November 1975, he was reelected president, claiming nearly 100 percent of the vote. "


Julian






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On the last post, the "Dyspeptic Mutterings" guy has some valid points.


Julian

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See under "Undiscerning a Vocation".

I have a few problems with this. Number one is that there really is a crisis in the Catholic Church, with its node in the American branch of the Church. It is not as if the American bishops have done a good job and can safely be trusted. The "Disputations" blogger seems to be saying that the laity should not be offering advice and critique, and what would they know anyway? He has a particular beef with "traditionalists". How - he seems to be saying - can we mere laymen judge whether bishops are truly teaching and promoting the Catholic faith or not? But for any Catholic with a traditional mind the answer is not hard to find - just ask if the bishops are broadly in line with tradition. Are they recognisably Catholic? Are they, as they say in Hollywood, "in the tradition of ..." Pardon me, but I don't think it's that hard.

It is not as if lay quietism has been a successful strategy. Certainly we are called upon to pray, but also to act. I find it strange that this criticism of pestering the bishops should be made now that conservatives and traditionalists have become active. Where were the admonitions to silence when liberal members of the laity were pushing their agenda in recent years?


Julian


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Thursday, September 11, 2003

Conservative American Catholics are starting to nag their bishops. It's about time.


Julian

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Over at the blog with the wonderful name, Die, Fluffy Wuffy, Die!, is a report on Keith Windschuttle's success in a debate with Stuart MacIntyre on the subject of aboriginal history. Windschuttle seems to have scored some telling blows in the general debate. However, I feel he did not get the better of the debate in "Quadrant" about the alleged suppression of the facts on the "Negritos" of the North Queensland rainforest. These people have been a bone of contention in the culture wars for some time. I got a mention myself in a Radio National talk by Professor Colin Groves of the ANU on the matter. Here is the text of this Ockham's Razor program as given in the Australian Humanities Review.


Julian


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Here is a site that gives attendances at AFL games since the 1920s.

I have toyed with the idea of testing statistically how attendances reflect club performances. Do some clubs attract more consistent support, or at least interest? Does failure one year lead to less attendance at a club's games the next? And so on.

These data might help address the question. Maybe some interesting sports sociology.

Julian

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Tuesday, September 09, 2003

To add to an earlier post, I do think it is quite possible that a pope may, in the near future, purport to permit women priests. Maybe Cardinal Danneels, "seen as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II".

Should this happen, Catholic Tradition would have been broken. However the Church has wobbled at times on doctrinal and disciplinary matters. In time, I suspect the practice would cease in the way that poor teaching and practice always seem to. In the interim, there would be Catholic groups that would maintain traditional teaching and practice, as there have been throughout the Church's history.


Julian

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Conservative Catholic homosexual blogger and opinion guy Andrew Sullivan is still unhappy with the Church's recent reminder about its traditional stance against active homosexuality.

He is criticising the Church quite a bit lately. He is now referring to harsh practices in the past in Ireland relating to the treatment of "at-risk" girls. There is always going to be a difficult balancing act - does one treat an undesirable behaviour (such as unwed motherhood) gently (thereby tending to facilitate it) or harshly. It is not an easy question.

Apparently there is a film on the issue, "The Magdalene Sisters", which Andrew Sullivan is focusing on. But the issue is also personal for Sullivan as his later reference to "objectively disordered" indicates. He is referring to the Vatican's description of homosexual acts.

Sullivan says he has been naive; that growing up post-Vatican II has led him falsely to imagine that the Church was more malleable, less sure of itself. Was he naive? Perhaps. The Catholic Church lives by Tradition, which is not the possession of any one time (or any one pope). It is not infinitely malleable. American Catholics like Sullivan, nurtured in the hothouse of post-Vatican II thinking, don't always understand that very clearly.

There is no way that the Church will ever approve of active homosexuality. The whole of tradition militates against it.

(The same applies to the ordination of women. It is simply impossible.)

Even the pope can't make it up as he goes along; he can't change Tradition. Nor can American Catholics.

Humanly speaking, I feel sorry for Andrew Sullivan. He faces a crossroads.


Julian

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"Sexing up Science"

Sometimes ideas in science get attention because they are too cute not to be true. Also, they get funding. But, as Professor Adrian Wenner has pointed out, despite decades of research into the supposed honeybee dance "language", nothing of economic value has emerged. And yet, most people still believe implicitly in the "language". Another example was provided by an article in a recent issue of the Financial Review, which discussed work by an Australian geologist that militates against fashionable ideas that Mars has been watery and conducive to life in the past. His view is that most of the so-called signs of past water were really caused by carbon dioxide.

I once heard a plant scientist explain in a seminar that he could drum up extra funding by claiming that his studies on a biochemical pathway could lead to improved plant growth, although, as he explained to us, in fact there was another pathway that meant this was actually impossible. Naughty.

Another interesting example of something we were all told turning out to be incorrect was the supposed link between stress and ulcers. It was later found that ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection. Stress was apparently not the cause after all. And yet we all believed that for years and years.


Julian

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Monday, September 08, 2003

There is an interesting blog titled "Church of the Masses". The writer seems to belong to a set of Hollywood Catholics:

" So, yesterday our usual group of young L.A. Catholic Hollywood people met at our beloved St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood for the 10am Mass as usual. The choir was all geared up for Corpus Christi and sang a fabulous high Latin Mass and then Panis Angelicus and Ave Verum. Our choir director used to head up the L.A. Master Chorale, so we have like, the most incredible music on the planet every week. But then we had the sad news that the choir is taking the summer off, so no more fabulous music to make the lukewarm preaching bearable. "

The writer has actually seen Mel Gibson's new film "The Passion" and she raves about how good it is.


Julian

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Librarian doll draws protests.

My wife's a librarian and it doesn't worry her.

A few years ago the Australian Library Association issued a pinup calendar. Miss November posed in a book trolley, while Miss January had a sort of Goth look going, in a kind of Morticia Addams style. The only actual nude was Miss March, Ann "Whoopi" Ritchie, who was in a bath covered in books and magazines, including a copy of the Australian Academic and Research Libraries journal.

The calendar was titled "Librarians in Focus". Perhaps "The Girls of Shush!" would have been better.

This brave attempt to "sex up" librarianship has clearly had no effect.


Julian


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John Quiggin complains about the Quadrant view of the world. I have a current subscription, which I got so I could receive a free book (David Stove's pungent collection of philosophical essays, "Cricket versus Republicanism"). I hate to say it, but this mag has become a bit of a bore. I certainly won't be renewing my subscription. I can't say what the problem is exactly. The issues just seem interchangeable, with similar articles with a similar tone every month, sort of like Cleo magazine.

Also, much as I enjoy PP McGuinness' mordant, dry economic writing, I am not sure that his heart is really in providing any kind of socially conservative alternative. He seems better at pulling down than in putting up. It reminds me of the American "National Review Online" - not so much Right as "right-thinking".


Julian

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While fiddling around in the fuse box, looking for small-gauge wire with which to fix my daughter's broken rosary beads, I noticed that the brand name of the fuse wire is "Phoenix", as in "rising from the ashes".

Cute.


Julian

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I sent my paper arguing that the so-called dance language of honeybees is no such thing to a prominent woman bee scientist. She then wrote to a bee discussion list bagging me by name for being misguided. I have had to write to the list and the lady, gently pointing out that I actually agree with her on the matter.

Morals:

1) People don't read properly
2) Even your mates sometimes aren't your mates.


Julian

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Sunday, September 07, 2003

My daughter has just drawn my attention - as they say - to an advertisement that runs in "New Scientist" (UK). It shows four women under hairdryers at the hairdressers. They are all reading magazines. The woman reading the copy of "New Scientist" is shown with a larger hairdryer on her head - to indicate that she has a larger brain.

What is not so immediately obvious is that the "New Scientist" reader also has the most shapely - and the most exposed - legs.

I don't suppose they could be angling for male readers at all?

No, perish the thought.

Julian



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OK. I've changed the dateline so that my posts will be dated and timed correctly (with local, Canberra, time) from now on.

My wife has just bagged up a large bundle of children's clothes for a friend of hers who has a son a few months younger than ours. I am constantly amazed at the amount of children's clothing that gets circulated among ordinary families here in Canberra.


Julian

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My daughter and I watched the American cheerleading film, "Bring it On", for about the third time last night; this time on TV. It's a really nice, happy, harmless film. I think of it as one of those films they make in America that have a readymade audience. Every girl in America the least bit interested in cheerleading, and her family, will feel they have to watch or even own the film. It's like "Backdraft", about firefighters. As they say at the end of the film, there are tens of thousands of firefighters in America. A readymade audience. Such films push all the right buttons too - "Backdraft" has a plot based on evil bureaucrats who try to close down fire stations with "phoney manpower studies".

I also watched part of "High Fidelity" with John Cusack yesterday - a film I own. It is amusing to see John Cusack and his real-life sister Joan arguing in the film like, well, a brother and a sister. I tried closing my eyes and just listening to her voice, the voice of the cowgirl doll in "Toy Story II".

Julian

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Father's Day was memorable in a number of ways. I got a speeding fine (77kph in a 60kph zone). The reason for this was pure thoughtlessness. It happened a bit before noon. The woman police officer was really very nice about it, so I am glad I didn't say something to her like "Shouldn't you be at home cooking your husband's lunch?"

Julian

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I gather that the West Coast Eagles and the Adelaide Crows are playing some kind of final in the AFL. I simply can't get excited about these out-of-Melbourne teams. They don't mean anything to me. If it was Carlton vs Collingwood, or even the Swans vs the Lions, it might. Growing up in Melbourne in the sixties, I was vaguely aware that they played footy in Adelaide and Perth and even Hobart. The clubs had names like Glenelg, Subiaco and Claremont. Their main function was to provide opposition to be beaten by the conquering Vics.


Julian

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Saturday, September 06, 2003

This is partly a test, to see if I can post from another address. One thing I do know - I can't set links from this address, which is annoying. I suspect this address and PC only support a basic posting style.

Last week I went to the Australian National Gallery, to look for worthwhile books in their bookshop. It was months since I had been there, but there was not a lot of new, interesting stuff. I ended up buying a booklet on a nativity scene from 16th Century Germany, which the Gallery has apparently purchased; a book on the economics of art (to join my small collection on this topic); and a plastic-bound volume entitled "Renoir and Algeria". I was very taken with one particular painting illustrated in the last work - of a field of banana trees.

The iconography of the nativity scene (with saints and donor, an altarpiece) is fascinating as always: St Catherine with a small wheel, St Cecilia with a musical instrument. One female saint had a plump, pink object in a pair of tongs she was holding. It looked like a peach or some other fruit to me. It turned out to be her severed breast (alluding to her martyrdom).

There was a large, sumptuous work at the Gallery bookshop entitled "Heteroptera" [true bugs], which started out as beautiful illustrations of insects, but degenerated (in my opinion) into a series of drawings of deformed, abnormal bugs that the woman artist had found near European atomic power stations. Pity.

I would like to be able permanently to list favourite links here, but I don't know if that facility is available at my level of (free) access to this blogger.

Another weird thing is that I am posting this on Saturday but the dateline says Friday. Perhaps we are on GMT or American time?

Julian

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Friday, September 05, 2003

Why honeybees dance.


Julian

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Bob Hope (and John Wayne) died Catholics.

Here is a good Catholic blog: et cetera.

He defends Bob Hope against Christopher Hitchens charge that Hope wasn't very witty or clever. Of course there are thousands of ways of being funny, and wit is only one of them. Nor is it a bad thing to make ordinary people laugh and smile.

Hope's wife's name was Dolores ("sorrows"), which may have been appropriate at times. Her husband was no saint, but he made people happy and died in the arms of the Church.


Julian

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A site on intellectual property issues refers to the Australian Gutnick case (half-way down).

"Aussie Net Ruling".


Julian




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A chip on her shoulderpad:

"Virgin Blue's Sexist Ways"

What I object to in the tone of the
businesswoman's complaint is that
she won't allow people to be themselves.
The company is not allowed to hire the
most personable female staff (she implies
that the union should object); the
preferences of the businessmen who are
likely to be the major supporters of the
airline are to be ignored as well
(heterosexual males have no legitimate
opinion); and attractive young women
must not be allowed to employ their
most marketable qualities of charm and
appearance. In other words, the whole
world must conform itself to her personal
preferences.

She's kidding herself.


Julian

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Fibre-optic sponge:

Note the claim that this observation will help technologists make better fibre-optic tubes. Maybe, but this sounds like standard researchers' hype to me. Humans will have to learn how marine animals make silica structures first. That would be a start.

Julian


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Here is the Barbara Grizzutti Harrison essay on Joan Didion, from her book of essays "Off Center". Mrs Harrison's book is quite good, if you can find it.

Julian

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Interesting piece on Joan Didion here.

I really admired her "Slouching towards Bethlehem", a book of essays. Her prose, as people always say, has fascinating "cadences". Barbara Grizzutti Harrison referred to these, albeit negatively, in her rather feline critique of Didion's writing.

Didion was not afraid to write like a girl either - with lots of cutesy tricks and self-critical references.

But some of her later stuff disappointed me. Just another silly Leftie, was my impression.

Julian

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Here is a defence of Mel Gibson's new film, which apparently has yet to find a distributor.


Julian

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