Friday, October 31, 2003

Derbyshire also writes:

" Airline travel is a nightmare — does anybody like it? Airports are terrible blights, making the terrain uninhabitable for miles around. "

I like it. As for airports, I agree with JG Ballard's views.


Normally John Derbyshire talks sense. But I think he is off-beam when he writes:


A report by a British government agency says that the teaching of history to schoolchildren over there is dominated by Hitler's Germany. Apparently graduates of British high schools can identify quite obscure members of the Hitler regime, while being unable to name a single prime minister or U.S. president, or to tell you which century the Wars of the Roses occurred in.

One cannot help but suspect that this has something to do with the fact that the British educational establishment, like our own, is dominated by Lefties, who all hold the peculiar conceit that Hitler was "right-wing," and therefore an ideological ancestor of, say, George W. Bush. Important to show the kiddies where these modern conservatives have their roots, you see. Important to impress on their receptive little minds the fathomless wickedness of the Right. "

No. The reason the little tykes know all about the Nazi hierarchy and very little about the English leadership is that the Nazis were really interesting and the English leadership (apart from Winston Churchill) pretty dull. It's part of the general principle that evil is more fascinating than good. Hence Satan gets top billing in Milton's "Paradise Lost". I also suspect that there are many people like me who have read Dante's "Hell" volume but not the "Heaven" part of his poem. I saw the "Purgatory" section recently, which might be next on my list.

I think it was Spike Milligan who pointed out that the German soldiers dressed better than the English. More style, more panache (is there a German word for panache?) It's the "glamour of evil". And, I ask you, whose costume was more memorable in "Star Wars" - Luke Skywalker's or Darth Vader's?


Swans supporters more fickle before the war?

As I have blogged before, I am doing some statistical analysis of the behaviour of supporters of various Australian Football teams in Melbourne. For example, I have found the expected positive correlation between the success of the South Melbourne Swans football team in a given year [measured as their scoring percentage, available here] and the level of attendance in the same year at their home games played at the Lake Oval [available here]. The figure I got for the period 1921 to 1981 was r = 0.62. The higher the figure, the more the supporters were affected by the team's success level. A very high figure would show that the supporters were fickle. A lower figure would suggest a greater level of loyalty, with supporters attending games even when times were tough.

There is an interesting difference between the figures for the "r" statistic for the Swans before and after World War II. Before WWII the figure was a high 0.79. After the war it was only 0.50. What this seems to show is that Swans fans were more loyal after the war.

Why would they be more loyal after the war? I wonder if it was not that the South Melbourne Swans never had the level of success after WWII as they did before (in the mid-1930s for example). So perhaps the team never attracted the kind of "fair-weather-only" supporters that successful teams tend to attract.

Of course these remarks only apply up to the end of the period of analysis, that is to 1981. The Swans, as the Sydney Swans, have had more success of late and their supporters' attendance behaviour may have changed again.

I'll keep working on other teams as well. I am analysing the Essendon Bombers data at the moment. One problem is that they were very successful during the war itself, a time when attendance at all matches fell. This tends to produce anomalous results. I may end up excluding the 1939-45 years from my analyses.



Thursday, October 30, 2003

The United States has a new 20 dollar note that features more colour and other anti-counterfeiting features. We've had such banknotes in Australia for years now; but it is still heartwarming to see how clever and imitative those Americans can be.



Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I was amused to see that Canberra's planning people have produced a document on the suburb of Turner. We lived there for three or four years when I was young. It was a liminal suburb, in the sense that it was so close to the city centre of Civic that it had a marginal character.

I find this whole genre of writing rather odd. It is not that I don't like Turner, or understand the need for people to feel at home, or the need to conserve things. It is just the way in which a funky little suburb of no particular interest in a young city like Canberra is treated as if it were Montmartre. It's a nice suburb in a nice city, not the Heavenly Jerusalem. I sometimes think that all this emphasis on the unique value of every local environment is a little excessive.

Turner didn't have its own shopping centre: we used to visit Civic or the O'Connor Shops. And now we live in Aranda, which must have the smallest, least busy shopping centre of any in Canberra.



Monday, October 27, 2003

I finally found that desire and opportunity met and I managed to get rid of a few books from my library. We are selling books at a fete being run by one of my daughter's schools - Black Mountain School, O'Connor, ACT - this Saturday the 1st of November.

I was not surprised to be able to get rid of quite a few books from my entertainment section - old biographies of Hollywood stars, that kind of thing. I threw out my copies of Joe Queenan's humorous movie criticism. They'll give someone else more pleasure on a first read than they'll give me on a second read. I also threw out a fat paperback biography of Prokofiev. To be honest, I've gone off his music - and him. I find it all a bit self-conscious and bogus. But perhaps I am being unfair.

I wanted to provide those buying the second-hand books with some really interesting stuff - not just dross. I threw out some quite good fiction and several books about computing, including books on hackers. I was surprised at how few religion books I wanted to discard. I had thought I had a lot of stuff I would clearly never refer to, but most of it still looks like material I - or my children - might one day read. I tossed out my two collections of Camille Paglia's essays - simply because I have read them all so many times that there is nothing left to discover - and someone else will enjoy them.

I collect books for reference, not as a bibliophile, and I mainly hope that my children eventually ransack my collection for their own uses - as I did my parents' library.

Two books were so bad that I decided to simply burn them: a rubbishy book on the Roswell UFO case, by a Lt Col. Corso, which is more-or-less known to be a bogus account; and a book by one Fr De Mello called "Awareness" that I really think is tripe.


I gave my daughter my copy of "Sophie's World", a young person's introduction to philosophy. I thought it might be a bit old for her - she's only nine - but she seems to be making progress with it. It has a protagonist, Sophie, who is a teenager, and a rather unduly complicated narrative apparatus. It's set in Norway, but it covers in summary most of the history of Western philosophy.

The book was a huge international success and it is certainly readable, although it makes all the usual liberal and "whig" assumptions.



Friday, October 24, 2003

We went to mass at St Mary's, Braddon at lunchtime. At least that is what I have always known it as - I think it may now actually be St Patrick's within St Mary's Parish of Inner Canberra. My wife wanted to honour the feast day, in the traditional calendar, of St Raphael the Archangel - 24 October. There was quite a good turnout, some of whom would be workers from "Civic" (the city centre).

We then went to the Catholic Bookshop at Favier House in the same precinct. I don't go there very often, which may be just as well as I spent about 90 dollars. This was for three books: on the rhetoric of John Henry Newman; a scholarly work on St Bernardette of Lourdes; and an Ignatius Press work by Carl E Olson, "Will Catholics Be 'Left Behind'? - A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers." The last of these looks a bit lurid, but quite interesting. I have hopes that it may join my short list of very scholarly books on very weird subjects: such as Moshe Idel's "Golem"; Frances Yates' "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition"; and Joscelyn Godwin's "Arktos: the Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival".

I add these to three books I bought at BookLovers at the Belconnen Markets recently - on the history of eel-fishing, on the underside of international business consulting, and a volume of Joe Queenan's film criticism. Queenan is very funny at times, but he makes me realise how much time I must have wasted watching rather bad movies. All too many of the films he mocks I have actually seen.

One book I didn't buy today was a book of excerpts from a famous diary in Gaelic from the early nineteenth century in Ireland; written by one Humphrey O'Sullivan, if I remember correctly. The problem with this book was what I find with too many modern publications - not enough actual material. What is the good of a few excerpts packaged as a slender volume? For goodness' sake publish the whole thing ... dull passages as well! Gems look best in their setting.

It is not as if the book was cheap either - well over thirty dollars. I feel a bit the same way about books as I do about meals in restaurants - I don't mind paying a bit, provided the servings are generous.


Aranda Bushland is a nature reserve that abuts on our suburb of Aranda. In a sense, Aranda itself is merely a part of Aranda Bushland with some houses in it, as we Arandans discover when the termites mistake our houses for dead gum trees.

I have a booklet "Our Patch", produced by the Friends of the Aranda Bushland, which contains a popular guide and some maps of the area. I wanted to find a frog habitat for the Frogwatch study in which we are participating. I tried a watercourse named Andrew Creek but it was largely dry. I then tried the only other creek marked in the Aranda Bushland area, Carne Creek, and this had more water in it - though it was only standing in pools. I think I heard a frog calling, although it was only about 5.00 pm - perhaps Crinia signifera. So, we'll probably use this as our Frogwatch listening point.

The "Our Patch" booklet is mainly a guide to the flora of the Aranda Bushland area, an area that is probably roughly as big as the suburb of Aranda itself. It was very good to be able to identify some pea plants (fabaceae); what I think was a native "yam daisy"; and some fine orchids. The most enjoyable to find were the tiger orchids. Years ago I bought a book on Australian native orchids, which I rather regretted because it was expensive and I have not used it much; but now I can use it as a reference to find out more about the orchids I spotted yesterday while searching for frog habitat.



Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Time Magazine missed the chance to call him Dr Weevil.


Cardinal George of Chicago supports the Traditional Latin Mass.

The article calls him Cardinal Francis George. To be traditional, they should call him "Francis Cardinal George."


Here is an article on the theory of fashion from the Marginal Revolution blog. See "Understanding Fashion".

Here is another "take" on a similar topic from Robin Hanson. (Robin Hanson gave me a footnote at his site on an idea he calls "Charity Angels".)

Both are by economists and both use the jargon of animal behaviour. When I have time I'll try to compare the two approaches to the question and maybe blog some thoughts - if I have any.

I do have one comment right now. One of the most fascinating things I have seen on the intellectual landscape in recent years is the convergence of economists and evolutionary biologists in their thinking and approach to problems. For example, here is a list of the participants in a recent conference on self-deception. There are economists, but there are also people like Robert Trivers, famous for his work on parent-offspring conflict in animals and humans.

One of the most intriguing applications of economic theory to animal behaviour I ever saw was a comparison between niche-finding by fish species on a coral reef and the auctioning of radio bandwidth. Unfortunately I lost my copy of the paper so I can't give a reference.



Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A currawong (Strepera graculina) just flew up to the window here and saw a group of moths (bogong moths, I think) in a nook under the eaves. It poked at them so that four moths fell out onto the concrete ledge below. It then gobbled three of them up in turn. One escaped by being still in a corner.

Aboriginal people used to travel into the high country to feast on the bogong moths aestivating there during summer. I think I once read that early European settlers made a sort of relish or sauce out of them too. I don't think anyone eats them now. Clearly birds like the currawong do though.


For South Melbourne Swans supporters, r=0.6215

I've done my first correlation coefficient for supporter interest vs team success in Australian Rules football. I tabulated the average percentage score for the South Melbourne Swans (now the Sydney Swans) for each year between 1921 and 1981. I compared this with the number of people attending the average home game (at Lake Oval, South Melbourne) for the same years. I expected that in years when the Swans performed well (with a higher percentage score) they would attract larger crowds to their home games at Lake Oval. I expected a positive correlation. I have now obtained a correlation coefficient, r = 0.6215.

This looks like a strong positive correlation. That is, when the team peformed better, they attracted larger crowds. Hardly suprising. But now I can move on to see what the correlation coefficients were for other clubs. It will be interesting to see if some clubs had a lower correlation coefficient. If my logic is correct, this would imply they had more loyal supporters - less influenced by success and more willing to attend games anyway.

I have made some assumptions in all this, of course. For example I am using attendance at local (home) grounds as a proxy for supporter interest.


A lot of medium-sized dark moths are flying around at the moment in the Barton area here in Canberra. I suspect that these are the bogong moths on their annual migration to the high country. I should check my copy of Jacqueline Flood's "The Moth Hunters" to see if she gives migration dates.



Saturday, October 18, 2003

We were watching a "Discovery Channel" program on the Highland Scots as warriors on a DVD today. The point was made that the clans fought among themselves because the rule of law was weak in the Highlands. This is the standard explanation given for the prevalence of feuding. Another case in point is the feuding between the "families" (clans sharing a surname) of the English/Scots border in early modern times. As in the Highlands a lot of it centred around cattle stealing and weak government. As George MacDonald Fraser writes in "The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers": "But frequently feud followed on a raid in which a man was killed defending his goods, or a raider was cut down 'red-hand'. Traditionally, feud seems to have been regarded as outside the law ..."

Recently there have been reports of two extended families "feuding" in Sydney. Perhaps these people have "taken the law into their own hands" because they don't believe the authorities can help them or protect them. It is not hard to imagine that a loss of belief in the community that the law will protect and punish adequately could lead to more such feud-like behaviour. I note that the Premier, Bob Carr, said that the feuding families should "obey the law of the land, or leave us."

I have never been an apologist for Ned Kelly, who seems to have been a lout, but his family's lack of faith in the honesty and fairness of the police clearly made a bad situation worse. There are families living in Melbourne right now who are like modern-day Kellys: clannish, living outside the law, and with a deadly hatred of the police.


I have started dipping into "Darwin and the Barnacle" by Rebecca Stott. It's a good read because it a) tells us about Darwin's "missing years" during which he is conventionally supposed to have marked time writing a huge taxonomic work on barnacles and b) is an insight into the work of a taxonomist in the 19th century.

At one point, Rebecca Stott mentions that Darwin ended up with some stinging tissue from a Portugese man-of-war "jellyfish" in his mouth, and how he compared the sensation to that of biting into a poisonous arum lily. Stott remarks that it was typical of the curious Darwin to have bitten into this plant at some stage in his life. Darwin seems to have had a habit of using his mouth in his biological explorations. There is the famous story of how he was collecting beetles in England once and had his hands full with his specimens. Another fine specimen appeared, which he popped into his mouth for safe-keeping, only to have it secrete something nasty so that he had to spit it out.

We tend to think of Darwin as the Sage of Down, the ultimate Scientific Gentleman of his time. But reading Stott corrects that image and portrays him as a true risk-taker, at least in his youth. It is easy to see how he could have ended up being bitten by the *Rhodnius* bugs in South America that may have given him Chaga's disease and caused his mysterious ailments in later life. Or at least that was the theory a few years back. Perhaps the thinking has changed since then.


We had the teaching session for the ACT Frogwatch last night at Giralang Primary School Hall (one poor bloke went looking for the Giralang Primary School at the village of Hall, by mistake).

I won a "lucky door prize", which was a jewelled metal frog attached to a cork for a wine bottle. Very pretty.

We saw pictures of the local frogs and heard their calls on a tape recorder. Later we went to Giralang Pond, to hear a few of the species we are likely to encounter on our own survey - frogs with sounds like a "machine gun", a "ratchet" and the distinctive low, hollow sound of the "pobblebonk" frog.

I ummed and ahhed about what site to select, in the end deciding that I would try to find some likely water (pond, rivulet, whatever) in the Aranda Bushland behind our suburb of Aranda. Failing this, we could try the marshy area in Bruce Ridge near Calvary Hospital. Some people are doing their surveys around suburban Canberra, others further afield in the ACT.

The survey is only five to ten minutes after dark, using a tape recorder.

Should be fun.

One of the organisers asked me about my interest. I said that I had seen Frogwatch announced on the public noticeboard at the Jamison Centre, Macquarie. I said too that I "just like frogs", and that I had done my Zoology Honours thesis on the South African clawed toad, *Xenopus laevis*. Ironically, it is the movement of this species around the world for laboratory work, in particular human pregnancy testing, that is thought to have spread the chytrid fungus, now the chief suspect for the factor that is wiping out frog species around the world, particularly in higher, colder regions.



Friday, October 17, 2003

I've started doing more work on my statistical analysis of historical attendance at various Aussie Rules home grounds in Melbourne vs the success of the teams.

My working hypothesis is that attendance at home games is a rough measure of supporter interest in the team, and that this will vary positively with the team's success in any given year. I also expect to see that some teams have more loyal supporters. That is, the correlation between success and attendance will be less strong; because supporters would attend home games anyway, even if their team was not doing well.

Fitzroy supporters were the archetypal tenacious supporters, at least according to the stories, many of which centre around diehards in the stands barracking hard even as their team registered yet another loss in its twilight years. If I am right, I should be able to test this image objectively - did Fitzroy supporters really keep going to their Brunswick Street Oval home ground even in the team's worst years? Were the team's supporters especially loyal?

I've started with yearly attendances at the Lake Oval (the old South Melbourne Swans ground) compared with the Swans' performance and I hope to be able to get a figure for the "correlation coefficient" soon. Then I'll do other teams.

I used to own a pocket calculator that would work out correlation coefficients, but I can't find it now. I don't know how people usually derive them, but it must be fairly simple because this must be just about the most commonly used statistic of them all.

All this might lead to some interesting sports sociology - with hard data to back it up.


I mentioned a while back that the white-winged choughs in our front garden only seem to attend the flowers of our grevillea to get nectar. However I saw a chough fly up to my window at work yesterday, apparently hunting for insects.



Thursday, October 16, 2003

Reading through my recently-acquired seven volumes of the collected partwork "Family of Man" discloses some interesting apparent anomalies. As far as I can tell, it was produced in the 1970s. It is not perhaps surprising then to find an article on Czechs but nothing on Slovaks. However why is there an article on Hebrideans but no article on the Manx or on the Cornish? Even in terms of sheer numbers, either of the latter groups would outweigh the former. Perhaps the Hebrideans are simply more interesting, living a marginal life in all respects. The Manx are less distinctive I suppose: more mainstream: no more interesting than people from the Isle of Wight. In fact, their only recent distinction was their eccentric desire to keep corporal punishment in their criminal code.

I do suspect though that, if such a work were being produced today, the recent rise in awareness of the Celts would have necessitated articles on both the Manx and the Cornish.

The article on the Hebrideans contains an interesting example of the common claim that "the people there are dark because some dark people were shipwrecked there once". Darker peoples in Ireland are often claimed to have arisen from shipwrecked Spaniards from the Armada. A variation of this story is repeated in the partwork's treatment of some people on Raasay, one of the Hebridean islands, who are supposed to have "negroid" features because a slave ship was wrecked there once.



Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I was watching David Attenborough dilating on TV tonight about the way in which some animals are favoured by the human built environment of cities. That reminded me of how I saw several white-winged choughs on the way home today, just outside the National Archives of Australia building, not far from Old Parliament House. Their preferred feeding style is to turn over leaf litter, looking for insects. These particular choughs were in a small artificial patch of tanbark, a chipped bark product used as a surface cover in landscape gardening. It must have felt just right to the birds - the ideal material for turning over. But whether it contained much in the way of insects for food is another matter.


One of the worst things you can call an older male is a "dirty old man". A long-time trendsetter, Germaine Greer has recently achieved fresh notoriety by her obsessing over the bodies of young men. Perhaps she is the first "dirty old woman".


At "Running Off At The Keyboard", a blog I mentioned in my previous post, Carrie Tomko asks:

" Male absence. I see too much of it. Where are the men at church? Why does the faith no longer appeal to them? Why are so many of our priests homosexual?

Questions that nag. And the answer seems to be that the women have taken over...have taken up the male role, edging out fathers in families and male priests in religion. Are we moving toward matriarchy? Or perhaps I should ask if it is already here. "

Firstly, I don't think there is any need for the hand-wringing. (Later she quotes some pop science critical of the Y chromosome!) We aren't at a matriarchy or anywhere near it. If we have faith in God and His plan for man, woman and marriage, we should be confident that the system will correct itself. This is because men and women aren't interchangeable.

What do I mean by the system "correcting itself"? I mean that badly balanced marriages fail; that women who refuse to have children fail to pass on their heritage; and that churches that promote "priestly" roles for women lose members. Men (and women) vote with their feet.



Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Conspiracy Theory

Mel Gibson's "Conspiracy Theory" did not really do justice to the topic or the mindset although it contained some entertaining and insightful moments.

The full flavour of the paranoid approach can best be sampled through reading such magazines as "Fortean Times", "Nexus" and "New Dawn". The last of these is almost purely Gnostic. The "X Files", with its theme that "The Truth is Out There", also had many gnostic overtones among the general paranoia.

These themes receive expert attention at the following excellent blog, Running Off At The Keyboard. It appears to be written by someone like Agent Scully - that is, a Catholic woman.


Here is an anthropology blog. There is some discussion of everted African lips on a comments page. This is a topic that I have discussed previously on this blog, with an attempt at an explanation for the evolution among many Africans of lips that display visible pink mucous membranes.


In an earlier post I mentioned a brave vulcanologist, who later died in an eruption, who had been so devoted to collecting gases from volcano craters that he had made himself ill during his doctoral studies from breathing too much fluorine. Fluorine is notoriously dangerous. So is organic mercury, as this sad story shows:

" Dartmouth researcher Karen Wetterhahn spilled a few drops of dimethyl mercury onto her hands, with fatal consequences (see below). Dimethyl mercury is an extremely toxic compound that attacks the central nervous system. The preliminary investigation indicates she was wearing the wrong type of gloves. "

I found this story at this excellent site on organic chemistry, which gives many insights into the life of a researcher in the synthesis of drugs.



Monday, October 13, 2003

Gray Davis terminated in mid-term abortion

Here is some commentary on the recent Californian recall result from a pro-life perspective:

ProLifers Celebrate Recall

" Statement of Brian Johnston, Executive Director of the California ProLife Council

Tom McClintock put it well, "this is a great day for California." Gray Davis was the most ardently pro-abortion elected official to ever hold public office in the United States. The abortion lobby said so, and the facts bear that out. Even the egregiously radical Bill Clinton felt the need to mute his pro-abortion stance by calling for abortion to be 'safe, legal, and rare.' But Davis embraced all abortions at all times, going so far as to threaten the legislature to not even introduce a bill that would give any consideration to the legal rights of the child in the womb.

A sympathetic media covered-up some of the more outrageous aspects of Davis' pro-abortion administration. One of the most glaring examples being that Davis' key lieutenant, the individual credited with running his administration, was Susan Kennedy, his Cabinet Secretary. Because of media approbation of the administration, few people realized that prior to her appointment, Susan Kennedy was one of the principle players in the abortion lobby. She was the Director of the California Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL). Imagine if the director of the California ProLife Council had been appointed to a similar position in a Lungren or Simon administration; the media would have been unrelenting in their criticism. Would the ideology of that administration have been discussed?

Arnold Schwarznegger has self-identified as 'pro-choice.' But in supporting parental notice and opposing partial-birth abortions he has taken a significant break from the monolithic abortion lobby. This has made him public enemy #1 at NOW and NARAL and CARAL. There are quite a few pro-life legislators that have rallied to Arnie's side. They are in a position to advise and influence him. He has said he wants that advice. He has appointed pro-lifers to his transition team. Perhaps most significantly, unlike the unpleasant tenor of the Wilson years, Arnie has said he doesn't want to create the internal Republican wars over abortion. He does not want to make war on the party platform. These are significant distinctions. Arnie's victory is a victory for those who want to move us away from the pro-abortion mentality ardently pursued during the previous six years.

One more observation: Several years ago a local Catholic priest, Msgr. Ed Kavanagh, a sterling man and a pro-life leader, rebuked Davis for his unstinting pro-abortion position. Governor Davis made a point of not only dismissing the comments but then went out of his way to publicly embarrass and humiliate Msgr. Kavanagh on a number of occasions. Last night the world watched Gray Davis being summarily removed from office. At that same moment Msgr. Kavanagh was being publicly honored for his tireless work on behalf of defenseless orphans. Arco Arena exploded in cheers while at center court the Maloof brothers presented him with a check for $100,000. Pro-Lifers have thanked him many times, but it is nice to see him get rewarded in a more substantial manner.

And it's nice to see his pro-abortion nemesis get his reward. It was a great day for California. "

The only thing I would add to this statement is that Gray Davis claimed to be a Catholic!


Pope cheeses off a twit at Notre Dame University.

Speaking of twits, Bishop Spong is coming to the Albert Hall to speak, here in Canberra. Good old Albert Hall: one week a toy show, the next week a fashion show, the next week a washed-up heretic.



Saturday, October 11, 2003

I went to the video shop tonight. I notice that a lot of movies available on VHS seem to be coming out on DVD now. One of them was a new version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", labelled as "Uncut".

When I got home my wife told me about a couple we know who are trying to adopt a baby. The questions they are asked and the whole process is tiresome and intrusive. I said that, with babies, if you can "roll your own" there are no questions to answer but if you want "tailor made" you have to work much harder to prove you are a fit parent.

The Summa Mamas blog ladies, or rather one of them, says that the Vatican has taken the unusual step of sending a message of support to the members of the Episcopalian Church of the USA who have been scandalised by the recent appointment of an actively homosexual bishop. This is indeed unusual as the modern Vatican is usually punctilious to a fault about only communicating with the official heads of other churches. In fact the Vatican has been criticised in more traditional circles for being too solicitous in this regard and for being keener to try to move closer to whole churches through ecumenical diplomacy than to encourage converts and to take in spiritual "refugees".

The Summa Mamas lady says she is an Anglican Use Catholic, which is most interesting. She says that the disaffected Anglicans should, like her, seek the safety and authority of the Catholic Church. In the end, it's all about authority, she says.

Fundamentally, this is true. However it is even better than it seems because one does not simply have the present pope, one has all the past popes as well - the papacy. They form a long, wide river of tradition going all the way back to the first sources and springs of the faith.

Two Sleepy Mommies, another blog, refers to a question that is often asked: if the Church (they refer to their own American Catholic Church specifically) was so healthy prior to Vatican II why did it fall in a wet heap after the Council? Perhaps there is a simple answer that begins and ends in the concept of Original Sin and the tendency of things to get worse given the slightest chance. To ask the above question is a bit like asking: "why, if the tightrope walker was so balanced before he fell, did he plummet to the ground?" It only takes a small slip.


I was up on the roof cleaning leaves out of the gutters when I saw a plump bird sitting in one of the trees in the front garden. One of the adult red wattlebirds was near it. The family consensus is that this is one of the fledglings.

We left our names with the Frogwatch people: it seems that this frog survey is being run by the Ginninderra Catchment Group here in the Belconnen area.

The "Family of Man" partwork that I found complete in an op shop recently was apparently published in the mid to late 1970s. It contains an article on Czechs but not on Slovaks. It also includes a full article on the Tasaday of the Philippines, with conclusions drawn from them about the behaviour of "stone age man". There is no reference to the controversy that later erupted over these people - were they genuinely an untouched primitive tribe or just an elaborate hoax?

There is a book out this year that re-examines the evidence: "Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday" by Robin Hemley.

The band that was found only included 26 people. That's a very small population to survive independently as a viable breeding population. I had thought that there was a sort of rule of thumb that a human population needs about 200 people to be viable. I understand that the Blasket Islanders, off SW Ireland, were not viable at 150 souls. (The Blasket Islanders got a mention in the "Family of Man" article on Ireland.) On the other hand the Pitcairn Islanders (also discussed in the "Family of Man" volumes) were described as only about 80 or 90 people in total and apparently have never been more than 300.

Of course, the Tasaday may have been dying out and therefore have dwindled to a tiny band.

One theory is that the Tasaday were a group of people who had split from a nearby agricultural group fairly recently (maybe in the 19th Century) and become foragers in the rainforest. They had not been as isolated from the surrounding agriculturalists as had been assumed. It may be relevant that some of the rainforest hunter-gatherers of the Amazon are likewise thought by some researchers to have also converted relatively recently from an agricultural way of life. It is interesting that people might be able to "go backwards" from agriculture to foraging in this way.

Another thing that makes me suspect that the Tasaday were not primal hunter-gatherers of the rainforest is that most such people in Asia, especially in the Philippines, are of the "Negrito" type (small and dark) whereas the Tasaday appear to have been of a lighter-skinned, more typically "mongoloid" appearance.


My daughter says she wants to go with me if we get involved in Frogwatch, which is apparently a study on local frog populations in relation to the recent bushfires. There is supposed to be training. I imagine they will teach us to recognise the calls and then get us to walk a set route listening for frogs.

The telephone number for Frogwatch is Canberra 6278 3309.

I seem to remember that Pseudophryne corroboree, the corroboree frog, has become rarer since the recent bushfires. It has been in trouble for quite a while. They are not big frogs but they are real gems, with their yellow and black striping (more green and black in the population of nearby Namadgi Park, I think).

The corroboree frog features on the spine of the dust cover of Michael J Tyler's "Frogs" (Australian Naturalist Library).

I did my honours thesis on the physiology of a frog, Xenopus laevis, the African clawed toad. Frogs are some of my favourite animals. I have a frog calendar at present. This month's frog is a dendrobatid or arrow poison frog, Phyllobates bicolor. Arrow poison frogs are just fascinating. I was surprised at how small they are too, when I first saw some at the Taronga Park Zoo.


Of course it is not just birdwatchers who are funny. I once went on a marine biology field trip and there was an enthusiastic chap there whom I remember thumping a thick book and exclaiming:

"This book is state-of-the-art on pipefishes. State-of-the-art!"

A more cynical young naturalist I knew once remarked, as we tried to identify some insects in the field, that they really should have labels on them. I quite agree - it is frustrating not to know quite what one is looking at. The nearest thing is a Botanic Gardens - the organisms stay put and they are all named. I was at the Canberra Botanic Gardens today. What a joy to know exactly what one is looking at.


Both parent birds (the red wattlebirds) are flying into our grevillea bush to feed. Grevilleas are known to be popular with this species both for their nectar and for the insects they attract. These individuals seem to be feeding mainly on nectar and yet they are supposed to feed their young on insects.

One of the funniest things I discovered about birdwatchers is that they use their binoculars not just for spotting birds hundreds of metres away, but also for intimate peeks at birds in nearby bushes. It looks so funny. But there is nothing like a really good close-up. I got a good close look at one of the wattlebirds today. I could see not only the red wattles on its cheeks but also the tinge of yellow on its underside, looking like it had rubbed against some yellow blackboard chalk.



Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I have discovered a new respect for some American Anglicans. This is a critique of Bishop Griswold's views on the acceptability of homosexual acts.

Apparently the dioceses that disapprove of the recent decision by the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church of the United States to appoint an active homosexual as a bishop are those that are growing. God always seems to reward (comparative) orthodoxy. Here are the statistics.



Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I have just heard of Harvey Pekar and his "American Splendor" comic and, now, movie. Apparently he founded the "dull autobiography" style of comic book writing. There is a blog that bills itself as the dullest blog in the world. Perhaps the blogger got his inspiration from Pekar, who worked as a hospital file clerk and drew comics based on his mundane experiences. (Actually, the hospital file clerks in "ER" seem to have an interesting time, even if they are often played for comic relief.)

I hate to say it, but I think academia got there first though. The Journal of Mundane Studies was founded several years back. It has published articles on such topics as how people behave in lifts and on mundane sex.

Pekar is from Cleveland, Ohio, which is a sort of capital of American mundaneness. I thought that The Drew Carey Show, also set there, was a pretty good mundane show. The main character worked as a clerk in a department store. Very mundane. But they spoiled it by introducing more and more improbable characters and impossible situations. (This was on top of that most irritating of TV conventions: the incredibly attractive woman who can't get dates - yeah, sure. Two other ridiculous examples of this phenomenon are the woman who runs the coffee shop in "Becker" and Tea Leone's character in "The Naked Truth". Those women would only have trouble attracting men in parts of San Francisco.)

A boring nerd character, who was really enjoyable, was the goth geek girl in the "X-Files" rip-off/hommage "Mysterious Ways". But they had to spoil her too by making her more human as the series wore on.

One could christen this "the Dr Smith effect", after the anti-hero in "Lost in Space". The Effect or Law could be stated as follows: Any character with a bad personality who stays on a show for a significant amount of time eventually develops a more pleasing personality. Although perhaps the young Major in "Lost in Space" was an exception.

Hollywood can't even leave The Plain People plain. In "For Richer or Poorer" Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley are a married couple who join an Amish community to hide from the police. And she just has to get the Amish women to wear more colourful dresses. And this is portrayed as a step forward.


This afternoon we hit the St Vincent de Paul Op Shop at Mitchell, a northern "industrial" suburb of Canberra. We found some cheap paintings and a chest of drawers. I bought several books. In fact I had a marvellous stroke of luck. On occasion I have found the odd issue of a partwork entitled "Family of Man", which covers the world's ethnic groups in alphabetical order and in some detail. Only yesterday I was thinking that one lucky day I might find a complete bound set in an op shop. And today I did. Seven volumes for only five dollars. I would have paid fifty.

When I was a kid I got the complete partwork "Purnell's Encyclopaedia of Animal Life". At times I still find it a useful resource; in fact, it once helped me develop the argument for a paper I had published in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. I suspect "Family of Man" dates from a similar period as the "Animal Life" partwork. However at the time I wasn't that interested in human social behaviour - that only came later.

I also picked up a book titled "Halifax: Warden of the North" by Thomas H Raddall, which I simply had to have because it was in The Romance of Canadian Cities Series. I must confess that the said romance had not occurred to me before.

I also found three more books of "X Files" trivia. There was a fourth "X Files" volume, a quiz book, which I passed up. Which shows that I can draw the line somewhere.



Monday, October 06, 2003

I used to read The Weekend Australian. It was a good read but too much information. I simply don't have the time now. I once read the National Times - it was the only publication that seemed to recognise that people such as graduate students (which I was then) actually existed. Its politics were a bit hard to take though.

Lately I have found that the Financial Review is not a bad weekend read. I feel that it reflects the real world - it is like being given a glimpse behind a clock face to see the real mechanism. But, as well, there is just enough cultural news to leaven it: a little on art, a little on science, and so on.

This weekend (Oct 4-5, p.33) there is an article by Stan Sesser in Bangkok entitled "Asia: heaven for men, hell for women". The basic point is that Western women can't compete for the Western men in places like Hong Kong and Bangkok because the men take up with the local Asian girls. I could make the obvious remark along the lines: "Gee: beautiful, feminine, devoted Asian girl vs Western career-woman: tough call", but I won't go too far along those lines. See the Gweilo Diaries blogger bloke for more in that respect (can't set links from this address: sorry).

However, there is an interesting connection with the online writings of biosocial commentator Steve Sailer. He has his own website, but as I said I can't provide links from this address at the moment. Sailer points out that the common cross-racial pairings in America are Black man with White woman and White man with Yellow woman. A biologically-inclined sociologist (like Sailer) would say that men generally like signs of femininity and women generally like signs of masculinity in their partners or spouses. So black men like white women, who are regarded as more feminine than black women; and white women often like black men, who seem more masculine than white men. The same thing applies when white men come into contact with yellow women, as in Bangkok and as the Financial Review article discusses. Faced with a choice, white men take up with the yellow women. Result: frustration for white women in Asia: and an article in the Financial Review.



Sunday, October 05, 2003

Influential bloggers like Andrew Sullivan and "Professor Bunyip" are saying that there is now evidence that weapons of mass destruction were being developed in Iraq. Some of the media are trying to spin the story in the opposite direction, but it is starting to look like the Left were wrong - again. But that's not news - that's what they're for. The Left keeps setting up the tin ducks and reality keeps shooting them down.

I've had to save my archives from last month in one of my links. The automatic archiving doesn't seem to be working properly. It's a "kludge", but it will have to do until I can have the problem sorted out properly.

We went to Low Mass at the John XXIII Chapel at the Australian National University again today - two weeks in a row at an 8.30am service. Very unusual for me to be up at that hour on a Sunday. A very spare and basic old rite (Latin) mass, but with plenty of dignity and a good apposite sermon. The Leonine prayers - the "Hail Holy Queen ..." and the "Holy Michael Archangel ... " - round out the Low Mass so well. It is one of the myriad of oddities in the Catholic Church in the latter part of the 20th century that the Leonine prayers were dumped in the mid-60s. After all, the major point of them was that they were a response to the prophetic vision of Pope Leo XIII, which turned out to be rather accurate, that the 20th century would see unique evil in power (Nazis and Communists).

After Mass, we went to Boorowa, New South Wales, for an Irish country festival. This was quite fun. It was the first time I had seen an Irish pipe band, in their saffron kilts, in real life (I seem to recall an Irish pipe band towards the end of the film about Chicago firefighters, "Backdraft"). I had heard of Italian and German areas of rural Australia but not that the Boorowa area was strongly Irish Catholic.

The lovely church of St Patrick's, Boorowa, was open. Beautiful marble statuary was still in place. The altar had been moved away from the rear wall of the church to accomodate the new mass; but otherwise everything was still in place. The tabernacle was central still. And it was lovely to be able to light a candle for a special intention.

Reading another blog, I found that Hobbes had mocked the Catholic Church in his classic "Leviathan", particularly towards the end. My response to this kind of thing is to say that anything that attracts so much criticism must be a vital force indeed.


One of the fledglings from the nest of red wattlebirds is now dead on the ground not far away. It is surprisingly well-feathered. I wonder what killed it. It looks to have been growing well.



Saturday, October 04, 2003

That issue of Quadrant - now in newsagencies - gets better and better. PP McGuinness has an excellent article on charities and politics. There is a whole article on a book I bought recently second-hand, Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus". But the gem of the issue is a piece by Garth Paltridge, "Science in Trouble". Sometimes one comes across an article that says several things that badly need saying (so does McGuinness' but I think most people suspect that some of the charities are in a false position). Paltridge says that 1) there is too much hype from university media people about alleged scientific breakthroughs, 2) the scientific literature is full of inconsequential crud, 3) there are nowhere near enough jobs for science Ph.D.s and most of them are at risk of being cast into the cold, cold snow of the economy from the warmth of academia at a bad time in their lives (their forties).

On point 3), I read a haunting letter in "New Scientist" recently from a man of my own age (48), who had taken the alternative path to mine. He'd obtained his Ph.D. and stayed as an untenured researcher. Now he was at the end of the road. At least I left academia in my late twenties and was able to build a new career.

On 2), I don't really accept that. Most papers, in my experience, are worthy contributions to the literature. Certainly, if one reads really old literature there is a general feeling that every paper was a classic: perhaps it is just that the real gems were scooped up early, leaving later discoverers to do more sifting for smaller results.

On point 1) above, I didn't realise until recently - such is my naievete - that scientists rely on their institutional media people to puff their discoveries.

I have a feeling that we may be heading back - in science - to the days of the gentleman (and lady) amateur. Pure research is less and less likely to be funded by government. Some "curiosity driven" work will continue at publicly funded universities, but "big, exciting, expensive" science is going to get rarer. Perhaps the Internet and data-mining developments will open up data to more people, but of course people can't live by "taking in each other's washing". Maybe the big prestigious private universities in the US may be left with the major responsibility for funding that kind of glamorous work.



Friday, October 03, 2003

I got my latest copy of "Quadrant" last night. It is "Issue Number 400" in fetching pink stripes. Actually, it's an improvement on the last couple.

There is a long article by Keith Windschuttle basically claiming victory in the "history wars". So - it seems there was no genocide of Tasmanian Aborigines after all. It's a bit late now to be discovering that, since the whole world thinks there was.

I was in a meeting on animal welfare policy once and the subject of Aboriginal hunting rights came up. A (white) Tasmanian representative mentioned "Aboriginal hunting" and one of the other members of the committee interjected that the (white) Tasmanians had given up hunting Aborigines years ago. The poor Tasmanian went pink with embarrassment.

Anyway, it looks like Lyndall Ryan and Henry Reynolds "have some explaining to do". Nevertheless, I predict that it will make not one whit of difference to their careers as academic historians.

Another article by Sophie Masson touches on the touchy subject of Mel Gibson's new film "The Passion". It seems that Sophie's Dad was a mate of Hutton Gibson, Mel's Dad; and that the two older men were early objecters to the "reforms" of Vatican II. As Miss Masson points out, the Vatican has tacitly admitted that trying to abolish the ancient Latin Mass was a bad idea. The sad truth, which is slowly being recognised in Rome, is that the fruits of Vatican II have been few and bitter.

On another note, I found the copy of the Australian Financial Review that contained the article about the work of University of Melbourne geologist Nick Hoffman, who argues that the case that there used to be abundant water on Mars is probably just moonshine, so to speak. It's the issue of 23-24 August 2003 (p. 25). The article is accompanied by a marvellous picture of Mars, looking like the best red marble in the collection.



Thursday, October 02, 2003

There seem to be a lot of rosellas around at the moment: eastern rosellas in particular. I saw one on the walk to work this morning, not far from the Edmund Barton Building here in South Canberra. Such a beautiful bird with its bright crisp colours. Many mornings I look out into the back garden and see introduced Indian mynahs, unfortunately. Good biologists are supposed to appreciate all animals, but I really loathe these things. They even look cheap and nasty, like poorly-painted imitation birds. And to think that we didn't have them at all in Canberra until a relatively few years ago when some genius decided they would be nice and released a few. I used to see them only at Kingston Shops, but they are common in Aranda now, one of the most bush-like suburbs in Canberra.



This woman has an interesting mix of views.

She writes:

" Few Episcopalians would argue today, for example, that women should cover their heads and keep silent in church, or that slaves should obey their masters, but that is exactly what Paul says we must do. "

I would respond to this, from a Catholic perspective, by saying that one must read the Bible in the light of Tradition. Certainly Paul said that slaves should obey their earthly masters: one could read that now to mean that we should obey our bosses and employers and worldly authority in general. We should not be too quick to dump scripture. Paul also said that children should obey their parents - do we want to dump that too? Clearly not. In terms of women covering their heads and remaining silent, these were Catholic customs until very recently indeed. (And they still are in the most traditional Catholic communities.) In fact, the verses on women keeping silent were used in the recent Vatican document Inter Insigniores, which discussed women and the priesthood.

It seems to me that one must look intelligently to Tradition and Scripture. I am not aware of any Catholic tradition of teaching in favour of slavery as an institution, although the Church has taught that we should obey proper authorities, including what we now call employers. However the Catholic Church has consistently taught that women should, in effect, remain silent in the assembly and, until very recently, cover their heads. This suggests that such practices, unlike slavery, are sound tradition. To make a comparison between women remaining silent in church and slavery is a good debating trick, but it is not good theology.

Fr Manfred Hauke makes the case in this book that the requirement for women to remain silent in the church is a "command of the Lord". If so, what the Episcopalians have already done in having women priests is a serious error.

The fact that the Episcopal Church in America has recently lost its way on the role of women, and is now wandering further into the swamp of support for active homosexuality is sad, but not a problem for the universal church. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Orthodox Church, for example, will be taking a lead from the Episcopal Church into the same swamp.

The woman who wrote the above also wrote this:

" I also prefer Rite I, the more traditional liturgy, from the 1979 Prayer Book because it's more penitential and, truthfully, more like the liturgy I grew up with. My church is the only one in the Diocese of Missouri to use Rite I on Sunday morning, which I find unbelievable. I love the Prayer of Humble Access (BCP, p. 331) and my church has been skipping it for about a year. I don't like to stand when I pray; I prefer to kneel. God is not my peer, if you follow my meaning. "

So she has some excellent traditional tendencies. How odd that she should write the above agitprop.


An honours student at Flinders University is doing a thesis on convict graffiti in New South Wales.


The writer of this article on altar girls shares:

" Frankly, it was the presence of altar girls nearly 25 year ago at St. Mary's in Waukesha that attracted me to this particular house of worship. "

But wouldn't that have been when altar girls were still officially not approved? 25 years ago was 1978. So it was this disobedience to Rome that attracted her?

I believe it was Inaestimabile Donum, the Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, approved and confirmed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II April 17, 1980, that reaffirmed the ban on altar girls.

Am I right? The implication is that the writer of this article was attending masses with illicit use of altar girls. It sounds to me like she will agree with Rome when it suits her, but not otherwise, on this issue.

I don't really understand the logic in the rest of her article but she does refer to the lack of vocations among boys. Could it have something to do with the feminisation at the altar - you know, all those altar girls?

As far as I am concerned, the use of altar girls is completely untraditional and will inevitably disappear like all bad ideas.



Wednesday, October 01, 2003

People having their say about that Nigerian satellite.


It's conservative, it's Jewish, it looks like Buffy and it blogs like an angel. It's Virginia Postrel.

See her intelligent analysis of the market for humanities Ph.D.s (in a section titled "Lonely Voices"). I used to think that science was the key to understanding, but a good grounding in economics is clearly a good key to the universe too.

What is it about America? It is currently producing a whole bevy of right-wing blonde politi-cuties.

BTW, how many is a "bevy"?

Here's a sample:

" When I was in college, my professors advised me against pursuing an academic career, despite my excellent record. They knew nothing of my politics. They knew only that there were no jobs for English Ph.D.s. That was 20 years ago, but the humanities job market hasn't improved much. When supply vastly swamps demand, you get lower wages (all those adjuncts) and, when wages are sticky, you also get non-pecuniary rationing. If a department has hundreds of applicants to choose from, its members will choose the candidate they feel most comfortable with. Humanities departments have those kinds of applicant/job ratios; economics departments and business schools, which face competition from both private sector employers and non-academic government jobs, do not. "


Simplicity Chic

A few years ago I wrote this:

Simplicity Chic - Conspicuous Non-consumption?

Julian O'Dea, Canberra, Australia

"Conspicuous consumption" (Veblen) has been viewed as costly signalling among humans. However the opposite phenomenon should also be considered: conspicuous non-consumption or what I call simplicity chic. Also tied in is what I call "symbolic production".

The point of this strategy is to impress others by one's display of thrift, recycling, growing one's own vegetables, to show what a sensitive and aware person one is. There is often little real economic need for these displays of thrift, gestures at self-sufficiency and so on.

When everybody has plenty (in terms of quantity), people may start to compete on quality. Ultimately one competes on quality of life and how sensitive one is. So one gets reverse gluttonies -centred on how little one eats and how refined one's tastes are (e.g. nouvelle cuisine).

When two households cease to compete on material goods (that is when each has two cars, TV, VCR etc etc) the next thing to compete on might be how good at recycling each household is.

More on selection on quality as well as, or instead of, quantity

"Science News v147, n11 (March 18, 1995):165. ...claims that women in the USA are now selecting for generous mates, rather than just for rich ones, for example: they are looking for father/husband qualities, not just trophies." This ties in nicely with the concept that once people are resource rich they start to compete in terms of quality. Some examples would be:

- Women who once looked for a good earner as husband material expanding their requirements to his being a "nice guy" as well - a "sensitive new age guy" as well as financially adequate [Wendell Farrell, Ph.D. in his book "Why Men are the Way they Are" refers to the "Alan Alda" effect: women like a sensitive man provided he is also successful.]

- Men looking for women who are not only beautiful (the primary requirement) but also successful. Therefore one gets the phenomenon of the "trophy wife" who is beautiful, sophisticated and has her own career (the sort of woman a top Manhattan businessman now marries when he is looking for a second wife).

Herman Kahn on "Thrift" as a "Display"

From "The New Class" in Ten Years of Coevolution Quarterly: News That Stayed News, 1974-1984, eds A. Kleiner and S. Brand, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1986:

Amory Lovins: Where in your taxonomy of values are such traditional virtues as, say, thrift and craftsmanship?

Herman Kahn: They're not particularly American values, anymore. They were left back about fifty-odd years ago. A lot of people still have them but they're not.

Amory Lovins: I think they're enjoying a renaissance.

Herman Kahn: No, they're coming back in the upper middle class, which don't need thrift. Thrift is a game now, not a serious activity. They go to an enormous effort to save aluminium and tin cans, things like that. It's symbolic. They'll buy a $3,000 tape recorder but use a bike. It's not thrift as I would use the term.


This article covers some similar points, including the snob value of inferior products. I liked this passage in particular:

" The crude items of every day use that were the few meager processions of the poor have become the prestige consumption of the affluent. To acquire the "authentic" or "natural" or "real," be it in construction with expensive stone or wood or in foods, eating only the rare or organically grown - these natural lifestyles are expensive because the means for providing them are extremely limited, making it a way of life possible only for a privileged portion of the world's population. Time magazine had a cover story on "The Simple Life." A perceptive correspondent for The New Yorker made an "unofficial tally of Time's ‘expensive, high tech and sophisticated’ stuff, as against the new simplicity's ‘recyclable, cheap, plain and nostalgic’ stuff." The results were:

‘Recyclable, cheap, plain and nostalgic’ goods ... : $459.40.
‘Expensive, high tech and sophisticated’ equivalents: $145.83.

He concluded that he didn't think that he could "afford the simple life" ...

It seems that the poor can no longer afford the crudities that were once their lot in life and have to make do with the products of industry when they can afford any consumption at all. Even the poverty of Gandhi was costly, as his trademark goats had to be boarded when he was in urban areas, prompting the often-paraphrased comment of Edgar Snow that Ghandi never realized how much it cost the Indian rich to keep him in his poverty. "


Not just tripe but old tripe

An armadillo writes:

" Nigeria has just launched it's first satellite - from a missile base in Russia.

The Washington Post reports Nigerian space agency spokesman, Solomon Olaniyi, saying that the government plans to use the $13 million satellite to monitor water resources, soil erosion, deforestation - and "disasters." There'll be ample scope, I'm sure.

One might have concluded that the provision of basic necessitities like fresh water etc would have had more priority than the Nigerian space race, but there you go. "

I seem to remember that people said the same thing when India launched a satellite. This is a good news story from a part of the world that doesn't generate very many. Nigeria has the population base and the culture (and all those Anglicans!) to do quite well eventually. It is one of the more hopeful places in sub-Saharan Africa (along with Botswana, Kenya and South Africa), but all we get is carping about fresh water (no piscine pun intended).

Even the bloody US had people living in bad conditions when it landed a man on the moon. If you wait for everyone to catch up you go nowhere.


Problems with the Honeybee Dance Language Hypothesis

Julian O'Dea, Visiting Fellow, Division of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University.

The "dance" of the honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) is one of the most famous of all animal behaviours, but its meaning remains controversial. On returning to the hive after a successful foraging trip, a honeybee may do a "dance," a set of movements that reflects in miniature the details of her trip. The duration and orientation of the movements in the dance depend on the distance from, and the direction of, the bee's latest foraging site relative to the hive. A longstanding debate centres on whether this "dance" is a language, in the sense that it communicates this spatial information to other bees, as famously proposed by Professor von Frisch. An alternative hypothesis is that locality odour alone, not dance movements, is the basis of the communication of the whereabouts of resources (1).

An assumption of the classical von Frisch hypothesis has been that honeybees are good at accurately estimating the distance they have travelled, so that they can represent this in their dances for the information of other bees. It has generally been thought that honeybees rely on the amount of energy used on a trip to estimate the distance travelled (2, 3).

However "dance language" proponents recently obtained some unexpected experimental results (4). They found that the relationship between the distance to resources and dance duration (which is supposed to reflect the distance the bee has travelled) differed depending on the direction to the food. This suggested that the honeybees were not able to make absolute measurements of distance travelled. Esch et al. (4) concluded that bees actually measure distance from the amount of "optic flow" on their trip, that is "the total amount of image motion en route to the food source". Since the amount of optic flow differs depending on the visual features in the honeybee's journey, this would explain why the bee's estimation of distance might vary depending on the direction of her flight. But, at the same time, it implies that honeybees must be poor at measuring distance in an absolute sense.

If Esch et al. (4) are correct, their findings raise problems for the "dance language" hypothesis. As they note themselves, the apparent lack of absolute accuracy in the information about distance - supposedly conveyed in the dance - is a problem for the proposed communicative mechanism. In the absence of accurate distance information, as the authors write, " ... there must be a high selection pressure to ensure that a dance signals the direction of the food source as precisely as possible." However there is evidence that direction information is also not very accurate (5).

The inaccuracy in the supposed means of communication makes it less likely that the dance movements of honeybees have anything to do with communication of the whereabouts of resources. The alternative, locality odour hypothesis (1, 6) therefore gains in credibility.

Further evidence that bee species may show behaviours on returning from a foraging trip that contain information about the trip that is not communicated to the other bees in the hive comes from observations on stingless bees (Meliponini) (6). A study on Melipona quadrifasciata (7) found that there was a correlation between the distance to resources and the duration of the sounds emitted by foraging bees on their return. However, the study also showed that the distance information is probably not used by the other bees in their foraging. For example, although the bees were found to respond to a sound signal that corresponded to a nearby feeding station (0 to 30 m), "the bees did not respond to a signal for a feeding station 300 m away or for a station at any other distance". The authors concluded that " ... smell [locality odour] alone appeared to be a sufficient stimulus for the trained bees to fly to the 300 m feeding station."

More recent studies (8-10) on another Melipona species, Melipona panamica, also indicate that the bees make sounds on returning to the hive with features that correlate with details of their foraging trips. The authors propose that these sounds communicate the position of food localities to other bees. However, little consideration was given to the possible communication of the odour of food localities in providing information on their whereabouts. No experiments were done that would have determined whether the locality odour bees bring back from a desirable foraging site, or the sounds emitted by bees on returning from the site, is the factor that conveys information on the location of resources. It is quite conceivable that - as in the case of Melipona quadrifasciata (7) - the sounds produced by the bees that correlate with details of their foraging flights are not the mode of communication.

In summary, it is conceivable that food locality odour is used by bees in communicating the whereabouts of resources, not the supposed "dance language" and other postulated forms of symbolic communication. Dancing movements and sounds emitted by bees returning from foraging trips may only serve to attract the attention of hivemates so that they can be made aware of the odours associated with desirable food sites (6).


(1) Wenner, A.M. 1971. The bee language controversy: an experience in science. Educational Programs Improvement Corporation, Boulder, Colorado, USA, 109 p.

(2) Goncalves, L.S. 1969. A study of orientation information given by one trained bee by dancing. J. apic. res. 8 (3): 113-132.

(3) Michener, C.D. 1974. The social behavior of the bees: a comparative study. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, USA, 404 p.

(4) Esch, H.E., S. Zhang, M.V. Srinivasan and J. Tautz. 2001. Honeybee dances communicate distances measured by optic flow. Nature 411: 581-583.

(5) Vadas, R.L. 1994. The anatomy of an ecological controversy: honey-bee searching behaviour. Oikos 69: 158-166 and at: http://www.beesource.com/pov/wenner/oikos94.htm

(6) O'Dea, J.D. 2000. Why do honeybees dance? naturalSCIENCE http://naturalscience.com/ns/nshome.html

(7) Esch, H, I.Esch and W.E. Kerr. 1965. Sound: An element common to communication of stingless bees and to dances of the honey bee. Science 149: 320-321.

(8) Nieh, J.C. 1998 The role of a scent beacon in the communication of food location by the stingless bee, Melipona panamica. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 43: 47-58.

(9) Nieh, J.C. 1998. The food recruitment dance of the stingless bee, Melipona panamica. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 43: 133-145.

(10) Nieh, J.C. and D.W. Roubik. 1998. Possible mechanisms for the communication of height and distance by a stingless bee, Melipona panamica. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 43: 387-399.


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