Thursday, November 27, 2003
The ABC does do some good things. I thought their recent little "promo" - or whatever you call it - for "Dr Who" was marvellous - with the Daleks deliberating on what to buy Dr Who for a Xmas present. A delicious and unforgettable sequence.
And I think it was the ABC who recently showed a new version of Conan Doyle's "The Lost World". (It had Edward Fox as Professor Summerlee and that chap who used to play Siegfried in "It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet" playing a Professor Illingworth.) The scene towards the end when the baby pterodactyl took flight in the lecture hall was one of the most delightful I have seen. Magical.
is the version I am talking about. They seem to have used the same technology as used in "Walking With Dinosaurs" to create the images of the creatures, including presumably the baby pterodactyl that so enthralled me.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
" Yesterday was the feast of Christ the King. "On the last Sunday of the annual cycle of the liturgy, the church desires to pronounce this truth in a solemn manner: Christ reigns over the universe, which he created. He is King because he is Creator" (Pope John Paul II). "
"Indeed, even before He was raised up on the Cross, He told Pilate quite frankly, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36)."
In the Traditional Calendar, which we follow at the church I usually attend, this feast occurs before
the end of the liturgical year. Archbishop Lefebvre [We are not Lefebvrists - I'm just citing his argument] accused the post-Conciliar church of moving the feast to the end of the year to weaken the point that Christ reigns over the world now, already, not just at the end of time. Christ did say "My kingdom is not of this world" but the traditional understanding is that Christ is
king over all this world, not just the world to come. He is "King of Kings".
asks in a segment called "Please Explain" why Rugby Union teams don't simply employ lots of excellent kickers and go for the goals, since they seem to be easier to score than tries.
I think his question is an excellent one. I wonder if the answer is not historical. Rugby is "the running game". The players don't kick much (except specialists like full backs "kicking for touch") and they don't "mark" much (although I believe it is part of the game). I suspect that it simply doesn't occur to them to load up their teams with good kickers. Traditionally one is considered to be enough. This English chap who kicked so well against Australia in the Final was an Inside Centre, I think. It's been a while since I took much notice, but it used to be most often the Full Back who had the kicking expertise and who tended to try for the goals.
Conversely, I have often wondered if AFL teams could do better if they hired some rugby players to run around the opposition.
In short, I think it's partly cultural.
However Quiggin writes:
" As soon as the attacking side got to within, say, 30 metres, they could pass it back to a randomly chosen kicker for a set shot at goal. "
But it must be remembered that getting to within 30 metres might require a high level of running skills. So you would need plenty of runners to get you to where you could use your kickers.
Reading Quiggin is always good gymnastics for the brain. He makes me wonder if my historical statistical analysis of home game crowds vs team performance in the old VFL might be flawed by bogus correlations. But I can't think of any other factors that are likely to explain a correlation between good team performance and higher home ground attendance. Still, I'll have to think of any possible confounding factors. Also, I'll have to do some more analysis, including that for Collingwood after WWII, to see if the supporters were as loyal after the war as they were before it.
[Later] Another reason why rugby teams might not bother having a lot of specialist kickers is that you really only need one. When a team is close enough to kick it is usually possible for a player to get a kick away. So there is no need for more than one kicker, to whom the ball can always be supplied to let him have a kicking attempt. One excellent kicker is enough; any more would be superfluous, except maybe a backup in case the top kicker has an "off" day.
A further point is that once a team has had an attempt at a goal the game reverts to the centre of the field (I think that's the rule). So the team loses all its positional advantage. Finally, there may be circumstances when three points for a goal is not enough to surpass the other team - five points from a converted try is essential.
I have really been pleased by my purchase of Popper's "The Poverty of Historicism". I think it's one of the all-time great titles for a book too. Popper explains that he adapted the title from Marx, who apparently wrote something called "The Poverty of Philosophy". Popper also says that this book is one of his least well-written. Well, it is heavy-going but worthwhile.
Bryan Magee wrote in his philosophical autobiography
that he would take months off to read major philosophers, Schopenhauer for example. I can't imagine that (although I have done and plan again to take week-long breaks from work to read biological literature). However, I can imagine taking some real time over a book like "The Poverty of Historicism". It is amazing how much thought revolves around questions of historical "laws", which are the subject of Popper's critique. These issues pop up everywhere in political, social and religious debates. I actually wrote a review article on Arthur Herman's book on "The Idea of Decline in Western History
" recently. So I have a particular interest in philosophy of history. I can't give an URL for my article because it is not on the Internet yet.
(I don't like the title of Herman's book. Does it mean "The Idea of Decline
in Western History" or "The Idea of Decline in Western History
"? It's not altogether clear.)
The other great thing about Popper's book is that he doesn't mind liberally citing a range of thinkers - everyone from Thomas Huxley to Spinoza (I am trying to read Deleuze on Spinoza at present).
Another book I am making some progress with is "Predestination
" by Rev. Garrigou-Lagrange (Tan Books). This is a book by a Dominican on Catholic thinking on predestination. I thought that it might throw some light on the problem of free will. Like Popper's book, it is difficult but worthwhile. He refers to the "Vatican council" in places, which is a bit tricky because he actually means Vatican I. The book was written in the 1930s.
Some books are difficult and the result of all one's efforts is paltry. They resemble one of those puzzles from magazines that my wife often asks me to help her with: a lot of cerebration goes on; words are painstakingly filled in; and the result of one's efforts is a final word like "artichoke". That's your reward.
Postnasal Drip; Shooting Wild Pigs
I found a new Catholic blogger called Scattershot Direct
. She mentions having "postnasal drip". This seems to be something only Americans get. I have never heard an Australian say "I have postnasal drip". I used to see this referred to in "Mad" magazine, but I thought it was joke, made-up symptom.
I saw the tail-end of a fascinating "Australian Story" on the ABC last night. It was about a hunter and it concerned a documentary they did on him about 25 years ago and a more recent "return" documentary. He is now showing visitors to Australia how to shoot. There was this rather well-preserved lady, from America I think, who had come to shoot feral goats and pigs. She planned to mount their heads back home, it seems. Apparently quite a lot of people come to Australia to shoot feral pigs. I had a long discussion with a knowledgeable bloke once at a conference on controlling feral pigs held at Orange, New South Wales: "big, bombastic Germans and Americans" was his description of typical pig shooters. Still, they sounded like they were prepared to - temporarily - endure the ugly side of nature to bag their targets.
I can't imagine hunting myself, but I don't object to other people doing it. And the stories make good reading. Where would we be without "hunting literature"? I bought a book titled "Lion Hunting in Somaliland" a while back, mainly because it was such a great title. I forget the name of the chap who wrote it, but he really was very brave. I researched him, and found that he eventually won the Victoria Cross in the Ashanti War.
[Later]: his name was Captain CJ Melliss. The book is in the Capstick collection. Capstick wrote an Introduction, which is the worst I have ever read, without exaggeration. Still, the book is a gem, with interesting illustrations. Hunting illustrations are another "lost art". I have some facsimile books on keeping and hunting pheasants and on hunting hares in England. The illustrations are classic.
are some details on Melliss' book. I notice that the full title is Lion-Hunting in Somali-Land: Also, an Account of "Pigsticking" the African Wart Hog
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Three year old uses inductive logic
A couple of times recently, when my three-year-old son has hurt himself slightly, he has rushed off to his room to get a small towel and then rubbed it on the sore spot. I have just worked out the likely reason. He knows that when he gets soap in his eyes in the bath the cure for the pain is to rub his eyes with a towel. So he has theorised that towels cure all
Ring of Unicorns
is a website which has a suite of fantasy books available for perusal online and purchase in hard copy. Great illustrations! Gothic or Romanesque - not sure which.
Sunday, November 23, 2003
Joseph Wright of Derby seems to be popular lately as an atmospheric artist for book covers. I have a copy of Hume's "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion" with Wright's "The Orrery" on the cover - a Penguin Classics edition - which makes some sense since the orrery was used to demonstrate celestial mechanics. This naturally suggests the question of how and by whom the Universe was designed - the theme of the book. However I recently noticed a copy of a Penguin edition
of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", which had Joseph Wright's "Experiment with an Air Pump" on the cover. I really wonder about the relevance of that. OK, it shows a sort of physiological experiment, but there is nothing bizarre or sophisticated about it that would suggest Dr Frankenstein.
Well, we did indeed have Benediction at Ss Peter and Paul, Garran, here in Canberra today after the 11.30am mass. Very fine. The most dramatic moment came, perhaps, as the priest displayed the Host in the monstrance with slow, dignified movements; and I thought of how Hemingway had compared the action of a favoured bullfighter to the deliberate movements of a priest at Benediction.
Saturday, November 22, 2003
I recently acquired two classic works - Sir Karl Popper's "The Poverty of Historicism" and Dante's "The Divine Comedy".
Popper's topic fits in with my ongoing interest in philosophy of history. I used to be on a discussion group on the Internet known as Phil-Lit. One of its most prolific contributors before its untimely end (it was a minor casualty of the 9/11 event, in a way) was one John Landon. Landon was very interested in philosophy of history and turned me onto some new ideas and philosophers. He has written a controversial book, "World History and the Eonic Effect."
Popper claims that there is no pattern discernable in history - or at least I think that's what he claims. Landon thinks he has found one. Whether he has or not, he's an interesting guy.
The edition of Dante's "Divine Comedy", which is complete, is from Oxford World Classics. [Incidentally, I'd love to know why David Hume is referred to in their list of their other publications as "John Hume".] Here is a quote from the Paradiso XXIX section that I thought was apposite:
Christ did not say to his first companions:
" Go and preach rubbish to the world";
But gave them truths that they could build upon.
And these sounded so loudly in their mouths
That in their fight to start the fire of faith
They used the gospel as both shield and lance.
Now they go out with idiotic jokes
To preach, and if people roar with laughter
The hood inflates with pride, and all are satisfied.
The translator is one Charles Sisson. He seems to me to do a fine, workmanlike job.
Giant Squid Accumulating Ammonium Ions
One of the best-known facts about giant squid, apart from their size, is that they have ammonium chloride in their tissues rather than the sodium chloride that most animals have.
The usual explanation given
is that the ammonium ions are lighter than sodium ions and that this makes the giant squid buoyant. A neat trick.
I wonder if another factor in replacing sodium chloride with ammonium chloride was the difficulty in ridding the tissues of such a large animal of the excretory product ammonia.
Some other squid
use ammonium chloride to improve their buoyancy. Giant squid simply seem to be the most famous example. It is possible that the precursors of giant squid already used ammonium ions for buoyancy and this was a "pre-adaptation" enabling the squid to solve the problem of getting rid of ammonia despite their large body size. Ammonium ions are less poisonous
than ammonia itself.
There is a new edition
of "Fortescue", the standard text detailing the ceremonies of the Classical Roman Rite (Traditional Latin Mass).
" 'The old Roman rite preserves its right of citizenship in the Church and cannot be considered extinguished', Dario Castrillon Cardinal Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, declared in the Basilica of St Maria Maggiore in Rome on 24th May 2003.
Today, as the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite enjoys its resurgence amongst Catholics, young and old, the need for an up to date ceremonial manual for the celebration of the traditional liturgy according to the liturgical books in use in 1962 is greater than ever in the past forty years.
This volume, a new, revised, corrected and expanded edition of Adrian Fortescue and J.B. O'Connell's classic work, is published to guide and to assist those celebrating the traditional liturgy today.
As Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos states in his preface, 'Dom Alcuin Reid OSB has continued the work of these distinguished experts on liturgical ceremonies by bringing this useful manual into line with the specific requirements of the liturgical books in use in 1962.'
Ceremonies covered in this manual include pontifical, solemn and low Mass, Vespers, Holy Week and the liturgical year, the sacraments, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, funerals, episcopal visitation and more. "
I understand that Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated after the Latin Mass here in Canberra this Sunday, which Mass takes place as usual at 11.30am at Ss Peter and Paul Church, Boake Place, Garran. If I get to this, it will be the first traditional Benediction that I have been to in about forty years.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
A friend of mine, Dr Trevor Hawkeswood, tells me that his book, "Spiders of Australia"
has just been published.
Trevor is a very active biologist who has managed to publish numerous papers and three books while being self-employed as a biological consultant.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Why were Collingwood fans so loyal?
As I have blogged before, I am studying the way in which attendance at home games varied with success on the field for the Melbourne-based Australian Rules Football teams.
I derive correlation coefficients (the "r" statistic) with the x variable being the percentage score in a given year for the team (the higher the better, of course) and the y variable being the average attendance at home games.
I have checked the figures I previously gave for South Melbourne Swans fans and confirmed that the value for "r" was 0.79 for the years 1921 to 1938. After the war, from 1947 to 1981, the figure was lower, 0.50.
The lower the "r" figure, the less correlation there was between the performance of the team and the attendance by fans at home games. That is, the lower the "r" figure, the more loyal the fans were. So, the Swans fans were more loyal after the war.
I have now got an "r" statistic for Collingwood fans for before the war, 1921 to 1938. The figure was very low - only 0.11. I shall have to check this, but it looks like Collingwood fans were very loyal in those years at least. I can think of a couple of possible explanations. One is that Collingwood supporters were just very tenacious. The other is that Collingwood fans simply expected the Magpies to perform well - because they almost always did - and so they didn't worry about relatively mediocre years because they were confident that the team would not go into a longterm slump.
[Later] I suspect that the situation with Collingwood was that the team's performance varied quite widely - but it was from good to very good to extremely good (in 1929, for example, Collingwood's average percentage score was 170% of its opponent's!). Supporters would not have been tempted to abandon a team simply for being good rather than brilliant. In only one year between 1921 and 1938 was Collingwood's percentage below 100% of their opponent's on average (in 1924 it was 96%).
I should say that all this analysis depends on a few assumptions. For example, I am assuming that the size of the ground did not limit attendance - that is, people who wanted to attend could. I think this is a reasonable assumption given the crowds that were recorded at some select games, which were well above average. That is, it seems that the level of attendance at a typical game did not exhaust the available space.
Another assumption I am making is that home attendance (at the Lake Oval for the Swans, at Victoria Park for Collingwood) reflected to a strong degree the support of those who barracked for those teams. Obviously opposition fans would also have attended the Lake Oval or Victoria Park and would have contributed to the attendance figures. But I have assumed that a slump in attendance at games at the Lake Oval, for example, mainly represented a slump in the interest of Swans supporters that was likely to be due to poor peformance at the time by the Swans. This seems reasonable. The question does arise, however - what sort of effect would poor performance by the Swans have on attendance by opposition fans at games at the Lake Oval? On the one hand, one might expect that opposition fans would be more interested in going to the Lake Oval to see their team record a likely win; on the other hand, opposition supporters might not bother going to a game against the Swans if they thought it would be an easy win. Perhaps the two opposite effects would tend to cancel out?
Friday, November 14, 2003
Bernardette and Lourdes
For a very long time a volume titled "Saint Bernardette Soubirous" by Francis Trochu has graced my library shelves, unread. But I recently acquired another biography of the visionary, published this year, by Therese Taylor, "Bernardette of Lourdes". I've dipped into both volumes now.
Taylor's book is a fairly even-handed approach, but less of a hagiography than most other treatments, I imagine. It is a fascinating read, and I can imagine it appealing to people with an interest in folklore, the occult, or what is sometimes called Fortean investigation. The book takes one up all sorts of odd byways, redolent of the now almost unimaginable sacred and mundane landscape that Bernardette inhabited.
Taylor is not a perfect guide. She claims that there were strange sinister aspects of the visions - that Bernardette crossed herself with a crucifix held upside down (a report from one woman of an action that was presumably a simple human error, not a deliberately symbolic act) - and she writes that the vision of Our Lady vanished when it was challenged with holy water (although, in fact, this is not what Taylor's own account indicates).
Nevertheless there were some odd aspects to the whole phenomenon, and questions that arise: what of other visionaries at the time who saw disturbing images, or of visionaries who saw positive things but whose cult has never taken on like Bernardette's?
I suspect that the answer, as with so many Catholic things, is to see the matter in the light of Tradition - of what had happened before and what has happened since. A book I bought today, "Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World", by DA Foley, may help in this respect. The essential question is "what are the fruits?" One can argue endlessly, and probably quite enjoyably, about the validity of details of the Bernardette story, about individual stories of miracles occurring and failing to occur. The basic question is how well the Lourdes events have played out over time. The purpose of Tradition is to test things, to see what lasts, to check the value of a teaching or a custom or an account. What seems to have lasting value should be retained. Lourdes seems to pass that test.
There is an interesting analogy between traditional Christianity and science that I have only ever seen referred to by Paul Feyerabend, the radical philosopher of science. The claim he made was that Catholicism works like science in some ways, with doctrines being argued out over years and centuries. I would say, too, that Catholicism resembles science in that it tests ideas over time, and only what survives the sieve of time endures. The history of faith, like the history of science, is full of false insights, unrepeatable observations, discarded theories, failed approaches. It winnows out the good from the bad. The process is relentless. (I often wonder how many of the "brilliant insights" of contemporary theology will last. Probably very few.)
St Dymphna is the patron saint of the mentally ill. I often ask for her intercession on behalf of people I know who are troubled in that way. Sometimes I have said to myself: how can you "pray to" a girl who lived centuries ago, whose personal history is so unclear and whose real nature is probably opaque to you? The answer I think lies in the realisation that she must represent something good because she has lasted in popular memory and piety and she has been the inspiration for so much practical care of the mentally ill over the years. There is a tradition there, including an oral tradition.
It is an error of certain kinds of Christianity to try to purge and purify the faith of its messy history, to want to return to some imagined first principles (often scripture alone). But this ignores the importance of tradition, including oral tradition, in passing on the truths of the faith, as well as devotional practices, through history "from generation to generation". It seems to me that Tradition provides confidence that we have the truth, provided the Holy Spirit is not hindered by the attempts of men to break Tradition by various artificial means.
When I was very young I was taken by my family to Lourdes. There was no dramatic cure of my congenital condition. But we were "lucky" enough to see just the right doctors in the United Kingdom afterwards, and for decades now I have lived quite successfully and with few hindrances from the condition. I have lived a full and balanced life. A minor miracle perhaps.
A last point I would make about apparitions and such phenomena is based on reading both sides of some of these cases: yes, believers can be credulous; but sceptics sometimes suppress facts. Read both sides of each case and don't assume that sceptics are as honest as they think themselves. All humans are capable of self-deception.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
One of the reviewers here
complains about the left-wing bias of Keay Davidson's biography of Carl Sagan:
" I was somewhat put off by the author's wearing of his left-wing politics on his sleeve. Even as a moderate who has as many criticisms of Republicans as Democrats, I was especially offended by Davidson's presumptuous summary dismissal of Ronald Reagan and "the militarists," who, after all, won the Cold War and never let even one nuke fly (Sagan's "nuclear winter"? Maybe, but not this year!). "
I'm not so sure. Davidson's politics are strange. He comes close to saying nice things about "white male careerists" at one point. At the same time he has nothing nice to say about Edward Teller. The fact that Reagan and Teller and the "Star Wars" people actually won the Cold War is simply ignored. And yet he has clearly identified Sagan's tendency to political "hipsterism" and the damage it did to his science at times (e.g the "Nuclear Winter" fiasco).
I tried to read Sagan's "Contact" but lost interest as soon as the gibes at religion began. But on his subject he was simply magical. I really liked Time-Life's "The Planets", a Sagan effort, and I still remember the wonderful speculation about "balloon creatures" in the Jovian atmosphere. This lovely but improbable notion
was also accepted for publication in a mainstream scientific journal. It gives me hope that more of my own speculations about terrestrial
life may find homes in journals. Sagan's stuff makes my speculations seem mundane by comparison.
Here is an abstract
of the "balloon animals of Jupiter" paper: "Jovian photoautotrophs in the upper troposphere satisfy this condition well, even with fast circulation, assuming only biochemical properties of comparable terrestrial organisms. An organism in the form of a thin, gas filled balloon can grow fast enough to replicate if (1) it can survive at the low mesospheric temperatures, or if (2) photosynthesis occurs in the troposphere."
Ordinary people not cooperating with evil
is good - but why isn't there more of it?
There are tongue-in-cheek plans
for a William F Buckley Jr action figure.
The action figure is to hold a copy of "Up From Liberalism
", which seems to be out of print. I still have my copy, acquired by my father in America I suspect. It's still a good read. I've never read Buckley's classic "God and Man at Yale". But I did see him doing a TV debate when I was briefly in America. A good egg - and a funny egg too.
The Golden Yawn?
I have now had a look at RA Gilbert's "Revelations of the Golden Dawn: The rise and fall of a magical order."
I had expected something pretty good, as I had been impressed with the good sense, balance and interest of this author's biography of AE Waite - "magician of many parts". However this book on the Golden Dawn magicians has the look and feel of a potboiler. It is as if Gilbert is tired of his subject, or rather subjects, as much of the book focuses on personalities. It is abundantly clear that the Golden Dawn magicians were mostly people with too much time on their hands and a marked lack of common sense. One wonders why, if they were attracted to ancient ritual and breaking the mould of the English middle classes, they simply didn't become Catholics. This would have been better for their souls too.
In the morn I hear you stumble,
grope about and grumble, grumble:
"Let all the sales be jumble, jumble"
In the eve I feel you fumble,
with your plea now e'er so humble:
"Let all the sales be jumble, jumble".
Last night I heard the sky rumble,
in your dreams I heard you mumble:
"Let all the sales be jumble, jumble."
Monday, November 10, 2003
Sade and Abortion
Somebody commented thus:
" The irony is that Sade probably would have burned his books had he known they would have been widely read. He aspired to being a conventional and popular playwright.
Another point about reading Sade -- he seems to appeal to readers/theorists whose orientation toward reading is heavily biased toward ideas -- modern "figure it out" people who primarily seek to construct rules and symbol-systems and tend to undervalue emotion and charm when reading.
Besides the wicked chic Julian mentioned, people who just want ideas from literature can see him pre-Freuding Freud, pre-Nietzsching Nietzsche, pre-Jarrying Alfred Jarry, and so on. They can overlook the boring and the gross because -- oh boy! -- thar's some them thar ideas in there!
Maybe Sade the libertine is popular because, paradoxically, modern readers live too much in their heads. "
I (Julian) responded:
I must plead guilty to being that kind of reader. I read Sade for the ideas. I know this sounds like claiming to read Playboy for the interview, but it is basically true in this case. But to get the ideas it is not really necessary to read the whole of Justine or Sodom. They are mostly to be found quite easily, and usefully summarised, in his "Philosophy in the Bedroom".
A point which has not received much notice is that Sade was clearly a prophet of the abortion movement (not
a point that pro-abortionists like to recall). He seems to have been one of the first people to argue from anthropological evidence to a position of moral relativism. There are also certainly passages that suggest Nietzsche - or maybe Schopenhauer - in the way in which Sade claims that humanity, like nature, is only obeying its own imperatives when it is destructive and cruel. There have been claims that Sade prefigures systematic students of sexual pathology like Krafft-Ebing but I think this kind of precedent-mongering is really a weakness of an approach to the history of ideas that overvalues chance resemblances between thinkers. It is a bit like the way people keep discovering "forerunners of Darwin" or treat Machiavelli as if his main intention was to help found political sociology.
I think every man has an Inner Sade. One must remember that he was a man who would have expected to be able to disport himself sexually with all the freedom that his money and position allowed to men of his class at the time, who was locked away on his own for years and years with nothing to keep him company but endless cakes that his devoted wife sent him. He probably hadn't behaved much worse than the young rakes of England's Hellfire Club but he happened to be a French aristocrat rather than an English one. So they locked him up with pen and paper and his all-too-masculine imagination.
Another thing is that I am on an Archbishops-of-Canterbury jag. I have been reading Hugh Trevor-Roper's biography of Archbishop Laud. I gather that this chap was top cleric to Charles the First. He tried to suppress the Puritan element in the English Church, with a noteworthy lack of success. Trevor-Roper is at least readable, but I was surprised to see him introducing his study with the thesis that people weren't strictly interested in religion per se
in the days of Archbishop Laud. What they were really interested in was its political expression and its significance for who would have power in society. At least I think that was what he was saying. He also seems to think that Laud not only failed in his time, but for all time. But surely it was the Puritans who lost in the long run. The bishops are still there, together with the monarchy the Puritans tried to abolish.
I really wonder why Trevor-Roper, who clearly had so little sympathetic understanding for the religious mind and temperament, should have bothered writing such a book.
The book did lead me to reread Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Robert Runcie, the recent Archbishop of Canterbury. Like Trevor-Roper, Humphrey Carpenter has written a wide range of books, mostly biographies, but he seems to be more in tune with his subjects. Being the son of a Bishop of Oxford probably helps. I rather like the portrait of Runcie that emerges from this book. He was physically brave, tried to entertain, handled a difficult wife, while keeping a demanding mistress (the worldwide Anglican communion) happy at the same time. The worst thing about him, and the scandal that made the book famous, was that he used ghostwriters for some of his speeches. So what? Does anybody still imagine that major figures don't have their speeches drafted?
On the matter of his wife, she was one of a string of women married to top establishment men in Britain who proved to be an embarrassment. She really was very silly to drape herself across a piano in a summer frock; could she seriously have not realised how people would take that? She wanted not to be "just somebody's wife". In this she established the trajectory that was followed later by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, Diana, the Princess of Wales and - most recently - Sophie, Countess of Wessex. The pattern is that the woman and the media proclaim that she will be a "modern wife" and "a person in her own right with her own interests and career". This quickly leads to immense public embarrassment for everyone.
Still, I do admire Sarah Ferguson for inventing Budgie the Little Helicopter
, a true and lasting cultural innovation.
Another book I recently aquired, at a remainder shop in Civic, is Keay Davidson's biography of Carl Sagan. This joins the Poundstone biography of Sagan on my shelves. Neither biography is uncritical. Why did Sagan shine so brightly in the firmament of modern scientists? I think it was because he was so much what people imagine scientists should
be like. Handsome, in a geeky way, and supremely confident. It helped as well that he was a planetary astronomer: astronomy is one of the most popular sciences among laymen. I can't imagine Sagan being so popular if he had been, say, an inorganic chemist.
I found a biography of Jung at a second-hand bookshop at the Jamison Centre (Ron's Bookshop) in the suburb of Macquarie here in Canberra. It is translated from the German of one Herr Wehr and seems a workmanlike job. But the book refers to one Miguel Serrano, a Chilean diplomat, simply as a friend of Jung's. That set a bell ringing in my memory. I had heard of him before, perhaps in Joscelyn Godwin's "Arktos". Sure enough, he was there: Serrano the Chilean diplomat; and believer in the greatness of Hitler and his survival after the war. A very strange fellow. Jung was a strange fellow himself. The biography touches on his "channeling" (as we would say now) of the occult and gnostic-sounding "Septem Sermones" early in his life. There was something not quite right about Jung; something fundamentally unhealthy. I sometimes think of him as evil "masquerading as an angel of light."
He seems to have some kind of premonitory ability, or at least a remarkable intuition. He was a leading light in the modern gnostic revival. He also helped invent the whole self-help movement and turned people's minds towards "growth in wholeness", albeit not "growth in holiness."
There seems to be a connection between the modern gnostic movement and the far right. I noticed this when I used to read "New Dawn", the Australian "alternative" magazine. They don't advertise it, but the connection between the occult and extreme right wing is there. There is a great deal about thinkers like Julius Evola and Rene Guenon, for example, in "New Dawn". (I actually saw a lady reading this magazine on Saturday, outside the newsagents. It is one of those magazines that clearly sells, but one wonders who buys it and who would admit to it.)
The paranoid and gnostic leftwing style is fairly familiar - the belief that the powers that be are fundamentally evil and are fooling the people. But a paranoid and gnostic right style
The "X-Files" and "The Matrix" are important recent cultural manifestations of the gnostic worldview. I used to see Agent Scully of the "X-Files" as a clear example of the phenomenon of the soror mystica
, a concept also touched on in the Jung biography I am currently reading. The soror mystica
is the feminine companion on the alchemical quest.
Friday, November 07, 2003
My wife found the carcase of a wattlebird in our garden. It looks like it was fairly thoroughly eaten out. Probably, our old cat got it. It may have been one of the young that left the nest in the gum tree on our nature strip recently. I wonder if there were only two young and if we have now seen both of them dead. My daughter got me to bury the first one and wanted me to say an Our Father over its grave. I wondered about the theology but decided it couldn't hurt.
An adult wattlebird was in our grevillea today.
One nice book I got at a school fete recently was a work on Minsmere
, a famous British waterbird reserve. It should be a good read.
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Somebody asked recently why the Marquis de Sade has suddenly become so fashionable in literary and other circles. This is what I said:
There certainly is a Sade industry at the moment. The Australian Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) was showing a French film titled simply "Sade" recently. I didn't bother. I had a fair idea what it would be like: some subtitled titties; some half-baked philosophy; maybe a soupcon of S & M, done tastefully. A lot of bashing of the "wicked" authorities (Church, State, Law) that repress daring spirits (sic) like Sade. Prophet of liberalism, blah, blah, blah.
Been there; done that; got the blood-soaked t-shirt.
I have three biographies of Sade on my shelves and a couple of volumes of his work. My young daughter is starting to investigate our library (she found a book of smutty rugby jokes that I have had to destroy) so I shall have to decide whether to burn Sade (Cf. "Must We Burn Sade?" - by Simone de Beauvoir, was it?)
I suspect I shall
burn Sade. (But I may keep some of the more philosophical treatments of his work, including "Sade: A Sudden Abyss" by Annie Le Brun, which sits in the philosophy section of my library.)
As to why he is so popular all of a sudden, I think it is partly that we have reached such a stage of permissiveness that even this filthy old devil's works can be sold openly. I got my copies at a newsagent. Also, there is still a teeny frisson of wicked chic about the name "Sade". This makes him fashionable. A literary person can say to himself - "I can't deal with real blood and guts - like a surgeon or a soldier - but I can read about it. Look at me."
Sade is for wimps.
Now JG Ballard
is a genuinely interesting thinker and writer.
Somebody once said to me that the tragedy of repression is that it works. Most Australian Catholics simply accept as a matter of faith that the Latin Mass was boring, retrograde, opaque and that we are "SO past that".
I bought this line for years. My image of a Latin Mass goer was of some hopeless fuddy-duddy with one foot in the grave and one hand clutching a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.
The problem is getting the word out. The current situation of the Latin Mass reminds me of Gray's Elegy:
" Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. "
Most Catholics don't even know there IS a Latin Mass; and the powers-that-be have no intention of letting them find out. Paternalism really.
The other point is that the current Church establishment has bet heavily on the success of the Mass in English. They are not going to tout the benefits of the "other brand".
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
I was recently getting dinner together while my wife was at Mass and I decided to give my autistic daughter hers first. She was clearly hungry and kept dipping into the green beans that were cooking on the stove and eating some. So I gave her chops and potato and some green beans. But she only ate a few green beans and came back with her plate time and again, not having eaten anything else. I kept adding more green beans since that seemed to be what she wanted. But she would only eat a few and come back, leaving most of the green beans on her plate untouched. I eventually worked out that what she really wanted was hot green beans. They had to be hot. Once they got cold, she simply lost interest in them.
Strange, and not like her normally.
Monday, November 03, 2003
is interesting. There is
a problem with a lack of suitable modern books for boys that are not sappy. But I think JK Rowling has helped to fill the gap. And I don't agree that Hermione is a trendy PC character. She is not the central character - Harry is - and she is a tedious swot. To many boys at mixed-sex schools, that is what girls must seem like - tedious swots.
Harry is not a bad role model for boys. He is brave but not foolhardy; he can deal with girls but he is not a sissy; he studies to understand the world but he is not too bookish; and he is learning to handle and understand his own powers and use them for the best.
remarks that they had the coldest October on record in Geelong. Here in Canberra we had the coldest October for seventeen years.
Yes, we have no bandanas
My daughter wore a bandana yesterday, which led to a discussion about who wore them. I suggested peasant women and pirates. Later in the day I found pirate dolls on sale at the Kaleen "Go-Lo" and I bought one for my three-year old son. This pirate wears a bandana and holds a grappling hook in each hand.
This morning I was dressing the little lad and we got to his skivvy. I pointed out that it had a pirate on it, with the legend "The Seven Seas". I pointed out his bandana, his eyepatch and his gold earrings. This led to an instant and total refusal to wear that piece of clothing. We had to put a skivvy on him with a picture of Snoopy instead.
Selling books at the Black Mountain School Fete
The Black Mountain School, which used to be known as Koomari, held its fete last Saturday in the Canberra suburb of O'Connor. It was a cool, rather windy day and it was not as well attended as it might have been. It's fete season too, so it had a lot of competition. Still, we had the Governor-General to open ours.
I sold second-hand books at a stall. I learned a few things - what a "float" is (cash to get you started so you can give change). We had a fair range of stock, from a few fine items to absolute rubbish like books that were give-aways when they were published.
Some people picked the eyes out of the stock, but there were a few nice finds that I bought myself: a copy of "Rip Van Winkle" with Arthur Rackham's marvellous illustrations, including one of a young mother that showed that he could draw a handsome face as well as a grotesque one; a book on German painting; a novel by Yukio Mishima; and a collection of short stories by the Russian Jewish writer Babel. As well as this, there was a coffee table book on European agriculture that has nice photos of subsidised crops.
I suppose one picks up a bit from buying books for decades and I felt strangely confident setting prices on the run, but it did feel odd to be on the other side of the shop counter. One thing about books - the darn things are heavy - and storing away the unsold stock was hard work.