Friday, April 30, 2004


The Idea Shop purveys this:

" So the main causes of falling birthrates are urbanization, rising wealth, and the improved status of women. As I’ve written before, all these are good things. And if these factors are the cause, the only long-term way to boost birthrates is to reverse these positive trends.

If there ever was a cure worse than the disease, a policy that encouraged more babies at the expense of making women less equal—and all of us poorer—is definitely it. "

A couple of objections:

1) The idea that "making women less equal" has to be associated with making "all of us poorer" is not really true either financially or emotionally. The West in general did fine economically even before women "worked" and Japan still does. Also women at home don't spend all day eating chocolates and doing their nails - if they have children and husbands they care for and support them. Well-mothered children contribute to society.

2) The whole world will not be in lockstep on this issue. Some groups will keep higher fertility by keeping women "unequal". They will do better demographically.


Economists in Love

She's really very sweet; she struggles with calculus; she wants to be an economist; she wants a man.

But this from her "10 Tips for Men Responding to Online Personal Ads" made me laugh:

" Give her adequate information in the first email for her to assess your potential as a mate. You want to know what she looks like -- most of you won't respond to an ad unless there's a picture or physical description, right? Well, she wants to know about your access to resources. Mention your career, educational background, where you live, if you own your own home, etc. Women tend to date and marry up, so you're more likely to succeed with women of a lower income, educational level, or class than you. (Most online personal ad services profiles include fields for occupation, income, education level, etc. so you can filter for women at your level or lower in these areas.) "

How like an economist.

More from the Dagny Taggart Meets Hank Rearden Book of Love:

" During the coffee date, if it's going well and you think this is a woman you would like to pursue further, you should disclose any information that might be a problem for her. For example, criminal record, past or current drug use, major medical problems (including any incurable STDs), marital history and number of children, etc. She's going to find out eventually and be pissed that you concealed this information from her, so tell her now. Better to find out now if it's a deal breaker than after you've invested time and money into several dates. Also, volunteering this type of information up front will impress her with your honesty and forthrightness. "

A little bit of game theory; some "sunk costs" issues; full disclosure; tipping points. This dame has it all covered.

(Actually, she's bright and pretty, which is great. It's just that she's so earnest.)


What can you say?

There is quite a nifty little program on ABC TV on Friday nights called "Strictly Dancing". It is a dancing contest involving three couples who compete for the chance to go on to the semi-finals. Presumably there will be a big prize for the eventual winners.

The dancers compete in a range of styles, from Hip Hop to Latin.

Tonight one couple consisted of two men.

And they won.

I suppose the next step is Lesbians.

I don't imagine they'd win though.


Thanks to ...

Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor for quoting my little gag. I don't try to be funny as much as I used to in print. But occasionally I write something that makes me smile to myself. There is something magical about being able to pass on that smile to others.

Sorry if that sounds soppy.


Erie, Pennsylvania. Like Buffalo, only smaller

I lived for a few months in Buffalo, in upstate New York. Cold, of course, rustbelt, lakeside, a bit depressing really. Here is a blog on life in Erie, which is rather similar by the sound of it. Not the chirpiest of blogs, but what can one expect?

I tried hard, when I was living in Buffalo, to experience its limited charm. An ice hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres, and Buffalo's "wings", a tasty snack based on chicken wings, were two good things about the place.

PS I've read a bit more of his blog. Other things that remind me of Buffalo - local Catholic colleges - obviously a fairly Catholic part of America, like Buffalo. Also, references to local manufacturing industry - old brands. One of those muscular industrial towns, obviously.

" Heard that Plastek is laying off a large number of people. Don't know if they lost a product line. They make deodorant stick containers and a number of other plastic containers that you have in your bathroom, medicine chest or on your dresser. "

" Uniflow is in the process of being sold but should stay in Erie. They still make great ice machines. They are like tanks. Hard to walk into a bar and not see a Uniflow ice machine. They use to make kick-butt coolers too. Hope they make it work. "

" Maxpro Technologies, a distributor of Maximator components including liquid pumps, air amplifiers and gas boosters which also offers repair and refurbishing services, is growing. Partners Paul Bowser and Ron Hyziewicz want to add 2,000 square feet for production to their Fairview plant. "

That's how Americans think - very practical, businesslike people - of course.

The side-effects of economic effort:

" Two Gannon University researchers, Assistant Professors Michelle Homan and Weslene Tallmadge, Received a $145,000 grant to find the source of carcinogenic chemicals found in sediment in Presque Isle Bay. The grant from the Great Lakes Commission is to study polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Erie's air and precipitation. Other studies have suggested the hydrocarbons may be responsible for tumors found in brown bullheads, bottom-feeding fish. "

Gannon University: "Northwestern Pennsylvania's Premier Catholic University."

Dog fighting:

" Kudos to Erie County Court of Common Pleas Judge Ernest J. DiSantis Jr who threw out the plea bargain with three defendants that were set to pled guilty to reduced charges of cruelty to animals or conspiracy to commit cruelty to animals from a dogfight. Instead of looking at under 2 years they are looking at over five years in a cozy jail cell. State police charged ten people and seized pit bulls, a beagle, a Samoyed mix and her litter of puppies, a cat and chickens, roosters and geese in the raid last August. (Geese ?) "

We have a samoyed. I can't imagine them doing much fighting. The geese might have been used to "blood" the dogs and encourage them, maybe. We have dogfighting people in Australia. You can get videos of fights from Asia, I think. All illegal or unethical of course. This man's books cover dogfighting by the American pit bull terrier. I remember picking up one of his books on the breed in a shop and being surprised to find a section on dog fighting, with discussions on "hypovolemic shock" (due to loss of blood). Good grief.

" For the company looking for travel distances from Erie for shipping purposes, below are the cities of more than 50,000 people that are less than 350 miles away -
Akron, OH Albany, NY Alexandria, VA Allentown, PA Altoona, PA Anderson, IN Ann Arbor, MI Arlington, VA Atlantic City, NJ Baltimore, MD Battle Creek, MI Bayonne, NJ Benton Harbor, MI Bethlehem, PA Binghamton, NY Bowie, MD Buffalo, NY Camden, NJ Canton, OH Charleston, WV Charlottesville, VA Cincinnati, OH Cleveland, OH Clifton, NJ Columbus, OH Cumberland, MD Danbury, CT Dayton, OH Dearborn, MI Dearborn Heights, MI Detroit, MI Dover, DE East Orange, NJ Elizabeth, NJ Elkhart, IN Elmira, NY Elyria, OH Euclid, OH Farmington Hills, MI Flint, MI Fort Wayne, IN Frederick, MD Gaithersburg, MD Glens Falls, NY Grand Rapids, MI Hagerstown, MD Hamilton, OH Harrisburg, PA Hempstead, NY Huntington, WV Jackson, MI Jamestown, NY Jersey City, NJ Johnstown, PA Kalamazoo, MI Kettering, OH Kokomo, IN Lakewood, OH Lancaster, PA Lansing, MI Lima, OH Livonia, MI Long Branch, NJ Lorain, OH Lynchburg, VA Mansfield, OH Mentor, OH Middletown, OH Mount Vernon, NY Muncie, IN New Rochelle, NY New York, NY Newark, NJ Newburgh, NY Niagara Falls, NY Norwalk, CT Parkersburg, WV Parma, OH Passaic, NJ Paterson, NJ Perth Amboy, NJ Philadelphia, PA Pittsburgh, PA Pontiac, MI Poughkeepsie, NY Reading, PA Richmond, VA Roanoke, VA Rochester, NY Rochester Hills, MI Royal Oak, MI Saginaw, MI Schenectady, NY Scranton, PA Sharon, PA South Bend, IN Southfield, MI Springfield, OH St. Clair Shores, MI Stamford, CT State College, PA Sterling Heights, MI Steubenville, OH Syracuse, NY Taylor, MI Toledo, OH Trenton, NJ Troy, MI Union City, NJ Utica, NY Vineland, NJ Warren, MI Washington, DC Westland, MI Wheeling, WV White Plains, NY Williamsport, PA Wilmington, DE Wyoming, MI Yonkers, NY York, PA Youngstown, OH. "

Very populous area.


The way shopping malls feel

Particularly in a government town like Canberra, with its masses of civil servants, communal shopping in a mall can feel very socialist. I used to call the Woden Plaza shopping mall, "the People's Palace of Culture and Rest". So, I am not altogether surprised that shopping malls did have their origin in socialist thought. See "Cultural Imperialism Watch".

I came to like shopping malls a lot though, and I have shares in the Westfield company that owns them around the world. I only have a chance to see how people look and act en masse in malls. Also, they share some of the "fun of the fair". There is more than a touch of the old bazaar or market town about a mall.


Below is a new version of an earlier draft paper on African lips. I store these kinds of articles at the link on the right titled "My biology articles".

African Lips As Health Signals

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

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

Lip eversion has been described as particularly a trait of Africans, involving outrolling and exposure of the mucus membrane of the mouth and thickening of the lips making them stand forward from the teeth (1). The preponderance of the trait in Africa has not been explained, although it has been noted that lip eversion is a warm and/or moist climate trait (1). In line with this observation, it has been suggested (2) that everted lips may have some cooling capacity because capillaries run very close to their surface and the slight moistness of the lips could help in cooling by evaporation. However any cooling effect seems likely to be minimal.

The question of why many Africans have everted lips with visible pink mucus membranes could also be approached from a sexual signalling perspective. It has been suggested (3) that the pink lips of the human female mimic the pink labia of her vulva, and noted that “…during intense sexual arousal, both the lips of the mouth and the genital labia become swollen and deeper in colour, so that they not only look alike, but also change in the same way in sexual excitement.” It might therefore be argued that the eversion of African lips to reveal some pink surface would be necessary to achieve this resemblance. On the other hand, such an hypothesis would not explain why supposedly labia-mimicking lips occur in men and children (4).

Some anatomical features are thought to have evolved as fitness indicators that signal freedom from parasites (5). For example, the uakari monkey’s bright red face may have evolved to indicate that it is not infected by blood parasites, such as malaria, that would cause anemic pallor (6).

In lighter-skinned humans, cheeks and lips vary in color depending on the amount of blood they receive, turning pale or bluish when the blood vessels narrow in reaction to cold, ill health, or other stresses, thereby serving as potential signals of health and fitness. This situation has been compared (4) to what are believed to be similar indicators of healthy blood flow in other species such as the rooster’s comb, the turkey’s featherless head and the small patch of bare skin on the forehead of the chick of the great crested grebe.

In the darker-skinned Africans, the outer areas of the lips are dark but eversion of the lips very often reveals the inner pink mucus membrane. The vertical dimensions of the lips (the “vermilion”) vary in different ethnicities; for example, African-American males and females have 13.3 and 13.6 mm upper lip and 13.2 and 13.8 mm lower lip, respectively. North American Caucasian vermilion height norms of upper and lower lip for males and females are 8.0 and 8.7 mm and 9.3 and 9.4 mm, respectively (7). The greater height of African lips is associated with lip eversion and visibility of pink mucus membrane despite the otherwise dark skin color.

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

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

It has been noted (1) that the lip eversion trait is not found in every part of Africa. If the proposal in this note is correct, it might be expected that the trait would be most common in areas where diseases likely to lead to anemia, such as malaria, have been most prevalent.


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

(2) Fischer, M. (n.d.) Foundations of human culture – human morphological variation.

(3) Morris, D. 1967. The naked ape. Corgi Books, London.

(4) Zahavi, A. and A. Zahavi. 1997. The handicap principle: a missing piece of Darwin’s puzzle. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York.

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

(6) Miller, G. 2001. The mating mind: how sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Vintage, Random House, London.

(7) Farkas, L.G. 1981. Anthopometry of the head and face in medicine. Elsevier Science, New York.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Some discussion on the latest Vatican instruction on the eucharist: Redemptionis Sacramentum

One Fr Wilson comments here.

Here is a quote:

" The "liturgical reform" of the Second Vatican Council produced nothing like the renewal of the Church hoped for, and predicted, by the scholars of the Liturgical Movement of the early twentieth century. In the United States, we have had a Mass attendance decline of more than sixty percent in thirty years. In my Diocese of Brooklyn, Mass attendance was at 18% a couple of years ago; in New York, 19%; in Chicago, 16% -- and these figures were recorded before the clerical sex abuse crisis. The collapse of the Church in her previous bastions of the Netherlands and Quebec, the situation in Western Europe: all of this is well known. Yet we are determinedly told that this is an age of renewal -- an age of MORE active, fruitful liturgical participation. "

A sixty percent decline in thirty years.



Wednesday, April 28, 2004

JG Ballard's "The Terminal Beach"

This is the short story collection of Ballard's that I picked up recently in a second-hand bookshop. Mine has the second cover illustrated, the one with the red atom bomb. That cover simply reeks of the '60s.


Sociology of the Internet

This piece by Virginia Postrel articulates a point that I have discussed with friends at times:

" By giving unsual people an easy way to find one another, the Internet has also enabled them to pool rare talents, resources, and voices, then push their case into public consciousness ... The Internet, we're told, is a place of scary hate groups, strange religions, bizarre sex, and way too little editing. "

The description of the Internet - "a place of scary hate groups, strange religions, bizarre sex, and way too little editing" - sounds like the image people outside it have of America. I have always felt that the sheer number of Americans and their capacity to interact and communicate enables even the most extreme groups to maintain a critical mass. Shortly after the 9/11 disaster, I read an online tribute to the Fire Department of New York from a woman's firefighting society in New Jersey. A woman's firefighting group in New Jersey? Now, that's esoteric.


Dads and Cads: Mats and Slats

A popular "sociobiological" idea in recent years has been that of the "dad" vs "cad" dichotomy in men. The idea is that men fall into two broad classes - those who stick with one woman and have children with her ("Dads") and those who "play the field" and maybe father children by a few women and don't settle down ("Cads"). "Dads" would put more effort into their children, be more concerned to ensure paternity and probably prefer their wives to concentrate on motherhood duties. "Cads" would care less about paternity, support their women less, and be less concerned about the mothering skills of their various women. (John F Kennedy was a "Cad" pretending to be a "Dad" for political reasons.}

The "Dad" type of man would probably find conservative women more appealing, the sort who say things like the women I have quoted below: "As for barefoot and pregnant - i'm all for it." Such a woman would appeal to a conservative "Dad" type because she would be a good mother. What kind of man would go for a pro-abortion feminist, for example? Perhaps the "Cad" kind of man, who would be less concerned about the viability of his offspring, before or after birth, because his reproductive strategy depends less on staying with one woman. Such a man would also be likely to support - and practice - divorce.

Perhaps women fall into two equivalent classes - "Mats' (maternals) and "Slats" (slatterns). "Mats" would want to get maximum reliable input from one man and would likely prefer or at least tolerate a traditional home relationship. She would be anti-abortion because it would never be part of her gameplan. "Slats" on the other hand would not rely so heavily on one man, would chose to contracept and abort freely in response to the unpredictable course of her life, and would favour - and use - government support for any children she had out of wedlock.

Obviously, "Dads" and "Mats" would tend to live together and "Cads" and "Slats" would tend to feel a mutual attraction.


Fish fall mysteriously from the sky

Blennies from Heaven

A common "Fortean" phenomenon, fish falling from the sky pose a mystery. I have always felt that they might be regurgitated by overflying birds, but experts say there is more to the mystery than that.

OK. This was partly just an excuse to make the "blennies" pun.


Roger Scruton can write after all

I have been rude on this blog about the writing style of Roger Scruton, the political philosopher. I still think his "The Meaning of Conservatism" is a tedious book. But this article on catching and eating game is quite enjoyable.

" However, you must hang a pheasant for 10 days before plucking it. You must remove the feathers carefully, without breaking the skin. And you must snap the shanks of the legs and tear off the feet, so pulling out the tendons, whose toughness bears witness to a happy life in the woods and hedgerows. All this means that you won't find a proper pheasant at your local butchers - certainly not one with that tempting grass-green tint that signifies the ripe stage of putrefaction. "

Food and hunting are natural subjects for enjoyable writing; and this article combines the two.


More gender discrimination in religion: Aboriginal women not permitted to "point the bone"

Story here.

" He said a woman did not have the ceremonial powers and that the act would backfire on the woman and it would be she who was cursed. "


Why do Americans ...?

... want women in combat?

This article includes the following:

" Dressing women in battle dress uniforms does not make them soldiers. Calling them soldiers does not mean they possess the requisite skills required of warriors. "

My theory is that the reason Americans think that dressing women in battle dress uniforms makes them soldiers is partly the power of Hollywood. I have read otherwise intelligent Americans who argue that women must be good in combat because of films like "GI Jane". Many Americans apparently look to movies and TV for role models and life guidance. It is not surprising that so many of them confuse fantasy and reality, such as imagining that women belong in combat.


Great letter writers

As noted in my previous post, Horace Walpole was a great letter writer. He made something of an avocation out of it. He did it like a pro, as the Americans would say. He had a regular group of correspondents, and when one became unavailable for some reason, he would choose a new person to be the fortunate recipient of his missives, someone who would fill the same epistolary niche.

I only became aware of the "letter writer" as a species of literary man a few years ago. Lytton Strachey, not my favourite writer, did have the good taste to write a sort of student essay on "English Letter Writers". He discussed such writers as William Cowper. A few of Cowper's letters are included in a thin paperback I have, "English Letters of the XVIII Century", edited by James Aitken. Some of Horace Walpole's are also included. I borrowed a copy of a volume of Cowper's correspondence, but found that his quality was highly variable.

Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford were both fine correspondents of the twentieth century, and some of their "set" were supposed to be even better, at least according to a piece by Paul Johnson in The Spectator (UK) of 17 February 2001. Society ladies with brains used to write excellent letters apparently. I suppose they had means, motive and opportunity. Of Lady Pamela Berry, Paul Johnson wrote "I think she was probably the best letter-writer in English of the mid-20th century, better even than Evelyn Waugh". As far as I know, her letters have not been published.

Some have claimed that e-mail will give rise to a new era of brilliant correspondence, and I have seen an e-mail included in a book of representative Australian letters. It would be nice to think there is a future for the brilliant, witty letter. I have seen some fine examples of quality "posts" to Internet discussion groups. Perhaps one day some of them will appear in a book with a title like "The Collected Best E-Mails of the Late Twentieth Century".



The story of the coining of the word "serendipity" or "happy accident" is given here in some detail. Apparently Horace Walpole coined the word, basing it on an old story "The Three Princes of Serendip". Here is a quote from the website:

" On the morning of January 28, 1754, an exceptional Englishman sat down at his desk in the library of his gothic mansion, Strawberry Hill, to attend to his correspondence. It was a daily ritual, for the man in question was probably the greatest letter writer of his era, or of any other for that matter. On that winter’s morning in Twickenham, London, he composed a letter in which he committed to paper for the first time a word that has contributed much to the English language. As a consequence, he resurrected a strange Oriental tale that would otherwise have been condemned to obscurity. "

Anyway, my example of serendipity is that the book I bought recently, while on a country jaunt, Newman's "Tracts ..." (see below) has an essay on why the Arian heretics arose and had such temporary success. Since I am currently writing a book review on the reasons why early heresies such as Arianism rose and fell in the Christian Church in North Africa, this may prove to be a fine example of "serendipity". Or at least of how "serendipity" is usually understood. The situation is, as so often, more complicated than that. The above cited article covers the issue in interesting detail.



Tuesday, April 27, 2004

What academics are for: to strenuously maintain illusions

An article from America, which makes me glad for the thousandth time that I am not in the crossfire of the culture wars there.

Here is a quote:

" I now ask you to consider the stifling of opinions on our campuses. When did you last hear of anyone defending fundamentalist Christianity or the superiority of Western civilization? Who has been allowed to express the opinion on our campuses that homosexuality is a perversion, that there exist racial differences in intelligence, that women's place is in the home, that the Holocaust is a fiction, or that America is a force for the good in a corrupt world? "

I suspect that most people suspect that many of these opinions are really true. The role of those in the academy, and those who often retail their ideas in the media, is to deny what everybody really suspects or fears.

I think it was the late David Stove, the Australian philosopher, who compared some academic departments at universities to religious cults. The comparison could be pushed a fair way. I used to discuss anthropology on an Internet discussion list, and it was clear that many of those involved, including students, had been taught how to deny the obvious about human nature. A great deal of intellectual energy and religious fervour was being used - misused - in ritual assertions of the highly dubious.

The high priests of Academe regularly deliver earnest homilies and hurl ritual anathemas against certain opinions.

"Should anyone say that races exist, let him be anathema!"

"Should anyone say that women make good mothers, let him be anathema!"

"Should anyone support Western civilisation, let him be anathema!"



Monday, April 26, 2004

Did Vatican II lead to abortion on demand?

Read and Discuss.


Trip to Berrima, New South Wales

We got back quite late from a family trip to Berrima, half way between Canberra and Sydney. It was a Latin Mass gathering, with communities from Sydney and Canberra meeting at Berrima for Mass at midday and then a picnic afterwards. We only got to the picnic. We got our mentally disabled older daughter blessed by a priest.

I dropped around to this bookshop. I had heard of this place from a friend. It is certainly quite good. I bought a used copy of JG Ballard's short-story collection, The Terminal Beach. I have all the stories in a "collected short stories" but I wanted the stories as they originally appeared, representing a particular period and perhaps theme. I have a copy of Ballard's "Vermillion Sands" story collection on order too, new not second-hand.

I acquired this as well - Cardinal Newman's "Tracts Theological and Ecclesiastical", the original 1874 edition. It was only $16.50, rather cheap I thought. I wonder if the fact that it is a religious work lowers its value on the market. I bet if it were a work from the same time on, say, astronomy, it would be more expensive. It made me reflect that - although there are masses of religious people still today - the intellectual middle class, the natural market for second-hand books, is probably markedly less interested in Christianity now than it was in 1874.

It is all the stranger in that Newman is sometimes considered to be the greatest English stylist of the Nineteenth Century (Cf. William E Buckler "Prose of the Victorian Period", 1958, Houghton Mifflin Company).

There was one discordant note at the bookshop, a display cabinet on a visit to the place by ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev, with - if I remember correctly - a copy of some of Lenin's writings. Frankly, I thought it lowered the tone.


Amusing Fact about the Catholic Church

Despite all the blather from the world's bishops about reaching out to the world as a church, the two most effective people culturally in decades have been a veiled nun, Mother Angelica, and a Latin Mass layman, Mel Gibson.


That's Miss Austen!

I hate to nitpick the blog of a woman who admits to disappointment that the Vatican has not chosen to ban altar girls in its latest statement, but the novelist's name was Jane Austen, not Austin, and she is traditionally known as Miss (not Ms) Austen. Ms is an anachronism used in this way.

On the altar girl issue: yes, it is disappointing, but let's look at the document:

" [47.] It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension.[119] Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these.[120] Associations for them, including also the participation and assistance of their parents, should be established or promoted, and in such a way greater pastoral care will be provided for the ministers. Whenever such associations are international in nature, it pertains to the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to establish them or to approve and revise their statutes.[121] Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms.[122] "

It says lots of nice things about the tradition of altar boys and then, as an afterthought almost, grudgingly permits female servers "at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop". It's not exactly a keen invitation. If I were a woman or girl, I'd take the hint.


"St Blog's Parish"

I have joined.



Sunday, April 25, 2004

Obscure Melbourne footy teams

(American readers ignore this - it's Australian stuff.)

The Supermercado Project writes about old VFA teams. He used to barrack for Camberwell, but they folded. He also mentions supporting Prahran, which also dropped out of the VFA. As a boy in the 1960s in Melbourne I used to like the VFA because their games were on TV, unlike the main competition (then known as the VFL, now the AFL). My grandparents lived in Coburg and they had a team but I never barracked for them. By rights I should probably have barracked for Prahran, which was local. And Hawthorn in the VFL (we lived quite close to Glenferrie Road). In fact, I only barracked for the Footscray (now Western) Bulldogs.

I was vaguely aware of some even lower leagues than the VFA. I used to see these teams playing on suburban grounds with unfamiliar colours and ask my father what they were. "Bank teams", he would say, meaning teams fielded by commercial banks. I suppose some of them were.

It was good to see that the Bulldogs beat Hawthorn last weekend. Not so good to see that we got flogged by Port Adelaide this weekend. I have never actually seen the Bulldogs play in real life. They are coming here to Canberra to play the Kangaroos at the Manuka Oval soon. Maybe I should bestir myself and go.

PS I have noticed that when you move to a new city there are certain local pronunciations that you have to learn or else the local people laugh at you. In Armidale (NSW) it was how to pronounce "Dumaresq Street". In Canberra, it's things like how to pronounce "Manuka" (mentioned above). In Melbourne, it's things like being able to pronounce "Prahran".


NOT a coffee table book

U.S. Chemical and Biological Defense Respirators: An Illustrated History (Schiffer Military/Aviation History) by Christopher T. Carey.


The case against homosexual parenting

From the American College of Pediatricians.


The Seven Deadly Sins Defined: Sloth

Sloth - the sin of hanging upside down in trees.


More on the latest disciplinary statement from the Vatican: "This practice is reprobated"

One of the more entertaining aspects of this new document Redemptionis Sacramentum is the collection of weird things that Catholics have apparently been getting up to:

" The abuse is reprobated by which the celebration of Holy Mass for the people is suspended in an arbitrary manner contrary to the norms of the Roman Missal and the healthy tradition of the Roman Rite, on the pretext of promoting a “fast from the Eucharist”. "


" Nevertheless, from the fact that the liturgical celebration obviously entails activity, it does not follow that everyone must necessarily have something concrete to do beyond the actions and gestures, as if a certain specific liturgical ministry must necessarily be given to the individuals to be carried out by them. "


" Accordingly, terms such as “celebrating community” or “celebrating assembly” (in other languages “asamblea celebrante”, “assemblée célébrante”, assemblea celebrante”) and similar terms should not be used injudiciously. "


" It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. "


" In some places there has existed an abuse by which the Priest breaks the host at the time of the consecration in the Holy Mass. This abuse is contrary to the tradition of the Church. It is reprobated and is to be corrected with haste. "


" Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing. "


" Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a Nuptial Mass. "


" The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. "


It is good to see this restated:

" Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice ... "


The local petshop ...

at Belconnen Markets is now selling a selection of "Australian Natives" in its aquarium section. Not the most spectacular of fish - no piscine equivalents of the koala or kangaroo or platypus - but at least they are there.


A tiny whinge

I realise that the English Mass is a bit of a gone doggie really - the latest statement from the Vatican to "correct" abuses is apparently a paper tiger (to mix animal metaphors). But I go to the English Mass when it suits family arrangements, and of course it is a valid mass and may contain excellent things. Today's was fine, with a good homily. But - extraordinary ministers. If we are going to have someone other than the priest distribute communion, could we have this only on a) occasions when it is really necessary or, failing that, b) have acolytes distribute communion or, failing that, c) laymen or, failing that, d) laywomen wearing skirts or dresses? Today we had laywomen in pants.

Is it too much to ask that ladies who feel called to serve God in this way wear something feminine?

On the other hand, perhaps by wearing pants they hope to fool the angels (1 Corinthians 11) into thinking that they are really men.


Thanks for blogrolling me

I have been blogging for several months now. You've gotta really want to do it because readership builds slowly. A friend pointed out that my blog is a little too eclectic - too many different subjects. Yes.

Still, I am starting to get some people blogrolling me, for which many thanks. These include:

El Camino Real

After Grog Blog (an Australian blog, like mine)

Catholic Analysis

The Unswung Bat

I don't have a blogroll yet, but I'll try to set one up.


They won!

The Bulldogs played Hawthorn last Sunday. All this week I have been afraid to check the result, certain they would have lost their fourth game out of four so far this year. But no. They actually won:

Here is the happy news.

They had rotten luck in their first couple of games. But now a win - and because of our healthy percentage, we look quite respectable on the ladder. St Kilda are currently at the top of the ladder, which looks really weird.



Saturday, April 24, 2004

Interesting interview on Graham Greene on EWTN

I saw an interview on Graham Greene tonight - Dr Paul Voss of Southern Catholic University in America interviewed by the editor of Crisis magazine.

It was good, on the whole, but at one stage Dr Voss referred to CS Lewis as a Catholic convert. He was not. He remained an Anglican. In fact, he was probably rather anti-Catholic. Voss also referred to Tolkien as a Catholic convert. But, as far as I know, he was a "cradle Catholic". His mother had converted.

The book that Graham Greene wrote about a Latin American dictator, which the discussion touched on, was "Getting to Know the General". I read it because it was about Panama, in which I had an interest at one stage.

Dr Voss implied that Greene was a success as a writer from an early age. But his autobiography tells a different story. Many of his early novels were critical and monetary failures.

The interview also referred to a "hatchet job" by AN Wilson on CS Lewis. I have read this biography and, although it is certainly no hagiography, it is not a hatchet job. Lewis, speaking frankly, is the focus of a cult of personality at times. He was a great Christian apologist, but he was not faultless.

On EWTN itself, I would simply say that I have always felt that, as a truly universal (i.e. catholic) religion, Catholicism can only benefit from improved international communications. EWTN is the fulfilment of some of that promise.


First thoughts on Donatists

As I noted below, I am reviewing a book on the Donatist heretics of 4th Century North Africa.

The author wants to claim that brave female martyrs were a Donatist development. But what about cases like Perpetua, who - before the Donatists appeared on the scene - gave her life for her faith in what one reviewer describes as "the North African tradition of noble suicide"? I would quibble with the word "suicide" but it seems there was nothing completely novel about female martyrdom in the case of the North African Donatists.

Maureen Tilley, the author of The Bible in Christian North Africa: The Donatist World, takes a broadly sociological approach, and I thought I might follow this theme in my review. The Donatists were struggling with the Catholics for influence in a segment of the Roman world, North Africa. I wonder if some of the recent work on competition between human groups might be of relevance and interest. For example, this article notes that:

" Since group evolutionary theory has been on the out since George Williams' pioneering work in the sixties, MacDonald's first task [is] to make anew a theoretical claim for group evolution and thus group evolutionary strategies. He does this rather convincingly by showing how social controls, ideology, and plasticity in evolution can overcome individual self interest in a collectivist community. "


"... the non-assimilating group that excels, even minimally, in a specific geographic area will eventually dominate ..."

The Donatists maintained their separate identity with great zeal and devotion and, as Maureen Tilley argues, adapted their doctrine to suit their changing circumstances. As a group, the Donatists competed well with the Catholics. Of course the fact that they were restricted to one area - North Africa - made them vulnerable to local events and to extinction, which is what happened due to the invasion of the Vandals and, later, the expansion of Islam. (I plan to review another book at the same time as that by Tilley, a book that deals with the time of the Vandal invasion of North Africa).

FREE BONUS THOUGHT: Of course, if ethnic and other groups really do compete in an evolutionary sense, government support for multiculturalism can only inflame competitive tensions. Group competition is often ethnic or racial, but it may be purely religious - Croatians and Serbians are ethnically identical.



Friday, April 23, 2004

Catholic women will defeat feminism in the Church

Summa Mamas

From one of the women at "Summa Mamas":


" whatever happened to the good old days when women knew their place? well, when women at least knew that their place was not at the altar (unless they were cleaning it), not center-stage, if you will. and, as ms. clark so keenly points out, that is precisely what most of the hullabaloo about "female __fill in the blank with any church-related positions__" is all about. it's all about the "but, what about me" of feminism.

don't mistake me, i don't fancy that all women should be forever barefoot and pregnant -- well, actually i do, but that's a post for another mood swing. "


A comment from a woman named "Aisling":


" There are all these shirts out there about girl power and then the ones right next to them insulting boys. That is what they want to do with their power?! Okay. As a mother of sons I have strong feelings on this subject!! As for barefoot and pregnant - i'm all for it. "


Perhaps these women sound a little extreme - but at least they are extreme in the right direction.

And - am I the only man on the Planet who finds these women more, shall we say, appealing than feminist spokespersons?


Won't somebody wake up the Bunyip?

The Bunyip blogger has been very quiet of late. Perhaps someone should poke him with a stick.


The Donatist Heresy

I am currently reviewing this book on the Donatist heretics of the 4th Century AD in North Africa. The book is by Maureen A Tilley and is titled "The Bible in Christian North Africa: The Donatist World".

The Donatists (or Donutists) were a group of heretics who taught that God had a round shape with a hole in the middle and that He was made of dough and had sugar sprinkled on Him.

Ho, ho.



Thursday, April 22, 2004

Speaking of animal behaviour as an occasionally silly subject ...

Below, I referred to a newly-observed wasp behaviour called "male-stuffing". I was watching "Catalyst" on the ABC tonight and a chap was talking about his research on reproductive behaviour of penguins. It seems they get up to all the usual shenanigans that most birds do - "extra-pair copulations", "divorce". One particular behaviour was compared to prostitution. Apparently female penguins are so keen to acquire stones (for nests I suppose) that they will trade sex for stones that are provided by young males.

Another thing about penguins. They are seriously overexposed, in my opinion. Every third nature program on TV seems to be about penguins. What is the appeal?


Amazing facts

Correcting a popular but mistaken belief.

Did you know that anthropologists have a hundred different words for Eskimo?


Male-Stuffing among Wasps

Male-stuffing behaviour.

Animal behaviour is a great subject but some of the behaviours seem a little, well, silly. I was turned off the subject by an experiment we had to do in Zoology that involved studying the circadian rhythm of cockroaches (when they were active - mostly at night). We had quite a sophisticated experimental set-up but it just struck me as a bit too silly.

I got interested in animal behaviour again later - and published a paper on "shaking behaviour" (sic) in mantises and stick insects. As for circadian rhythms, they have been a very hot area of research in recent years.



Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Why traditional Catholic women wear mantillas in church

Sister Patricia Therese OPB claims that:

" When a woman covers her head in the Catholic Church it symbolises her dignity and humility before God, not men. "

This is at best a half-truth. In fact, a woman wearing a mantilla (chapel veil, hat, whatever) indicates symbolically her acceptance of her place in the natural order of man and woman. Here is what St Paul wrote:

" But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man: for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. "

Another article that makes the same kind of mistake as Sister Patricia Therese is this by Rosemary Enright.

These sites have the correct interpretation of the issue:

Fr Morselli

Marian Horvat

The Veil of the Virgin Mary




Monday, April 19, 2004

Great Phrase

I love the phrase "tomato/bumblebee technology".



Sunday, April 18, 2004

Parrots feasting across the road

The grass across the road must have some seeds that parrots really like. This morning I counted about a dozen galahs, an eastern rosella and an adult and a juvenile crimson rosella.

There was also a magpie that seemed to be finding some food too.

This is a page on breeding galahs.

This is a so-so pic of an eastern rosella.

This is a good shot of an adult crimson rosella, which gives a good idea of the colours.

This is claimed to be a rare hybrid of a crimson and eastern rosella. Maybe.


Stupid Undergrounds

This article by Paul Mann is perhaps the most brilliant essay of its kind that I have ever read. It is about the whole "underground" movement, typified by this kind of site - ReSearch publications and their e-zine, which seems to have unaccountably lapsed (not before apparently duplicating itself with two "January 2000" and two "February 2000" issues). To be fair, this kind of thing can be kind of interesting.

I am not sure how to categorise Paul Mann's informed, witty and penetrating piece: sociology? cultural studies? social critique?: but it shows that postmodernism can be both intelligent and fun. Certainly postmodernism can be done badly, but that is true of any critical approach. A sample of Paul Mann's work:

" That is why, in the stupid underground, work embraces its
stupidity. Bike messenger, cappucino puller, cabbie,
purveyor of used books and rags, health food bagger, record
store peon, hip waiter or fast food shoveler, proofreader,
phone-sex hustler, sub-programmer, security guard, venal
rock-band manager, nouveau-entrepreneur: the day job still
means a life carved in half, but now without the old cachet
of noble struggle, without the slightest belief in
fulfillment somewhere down the line, without the slightest
romance of labor, however dialectical the sweat of thy
brow, and with the certainty that the other half is
permanently missing; one rarely bothers to yearn for it any
more, and when one does, it's usually as a joke. Even the
consolations with which one tries to beguile oneself for
having to work are aggressively inane. The only bonus
offered by fringe subsistence is stupid proof that one
really is fringe (i.e., happy confirmation of one's
*ressentiment*), an alibi drained from the outset by the
certainty that fringe employment is central to the economy. "

I love that phrase "record store peon". Here is Onion on the topic of record store peons. But I have to admit I like High Fidelity, as sort of paean to the peons. I own the video.


How the West was Lost

Another article of mine from Oriens, the Australian Latin Mass magazine, is on the web here.

It is a review essay on Arthur Herman's "The Idea of Decline in Western History".


Demography as Destiny

The editorial in this weekend's Australian Financial Review refers to new support in Israel for a separate Palestinian state with the following "breakout text":

"The march of demography and failure of security measures have changed conservatives' thinking."

I take this to mean that the editorialist is arguing that conservative Israelis have realised that rapid population growth among Palestinians will mean that a mixed Jewish/Arab state would eventually be dominated by Arabs.

However there are also Arabs living in Israel proper - that is, not just in the West Bank and Gaza. Their population growth is very rapid and by 2020 Arabs could represent nearly one-quarter of the core Israeli population. To the extent that the Arab population remains relatively poor and retains its traditional family-orientation, this trend will continue.

Here is John Derbyshire being pessimistic about the future of Israel. He feels "that Israel is one of those grafts that just won't "take" — like white Rhodesia or the Crusader kingdoms." Basically it is an enclave surrounded by people who outhate and outbreed it. A small minority, no matter how brilliant and hardworking, rarely survives in an unfriendly milieu.



Saturday, April 17, 2004

Sociobiology coming of age

Some of the best books I ever read - in terms of inspiration - were Robert Ardrey's "African Genesis", "The Territorial Imperative" and "The Social Contract". A problem he had in writing them, however, was that the data and ideas were in their infancy and he could only foreshadow possibilities. "Sociobiology", now often called "evolutionary psychology", has grown a lot since then, and I feel that this book, Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship and Ethnicity by Frank K. Salter (Editor), is the sort of thing that Ardrey had in mind.

The book is not just of academic interest. It provides clues to understanding many of the social forces - in particular ethnicity - that are probably going to be increasingly important in the future. In future a really well-informed person will need to understand a little bit of economics, a little bit of sociology, a little bit of biology. All these fields and factors intersect in works like Salter's, which put it all together in a meaningful way and help us understand where power is really flowing, and why.

PS One thing which surprises me a bit is that Francis Fukuyama's book "Trust" is not cited in Salter's work. There seems to be considerable overlap in the subject areas covered. It is a bit of a mystery really.



Friday, April 16, 2004

Writer JG Ballard wanted the Internet in 1971

JG Ballard in an interview in 1971 quoted in Re/Search No.8/9:

" ... at the moment, I think we are starved of information. I think that the biggest need of the painter or writer today is information. I'd love to have a tickertape machine in my study constantly churning out material: abstracts from scientific journals, the latest Hollywood gossip, the passenger list of a 707 that crashed in the Andes, the color mixes of a new automobile varnish ... The technology of the information retrieval system that we employ is incredibly primitive. We fumble around in bookshops, we buy magazines or subscribe to them. But I regard myself as starved of information. I am getting a throughput of information in my imaginative life of one-hundredth of what I could use. I think there's an information starvation at present and technology will create the possibility of knowing everything about everything. When Apollo 99 blasts off to Alpha Centauri we will know everything about the crew all of the time. "

I think he got his wish for a "tickertape machine in my study constantly churning out material" - the Internet.

As for Apollo 99, not much luck there. Still, there is plenty on Sedna, here, here, and here.

Apparently "Sedna" was preceded by "Quaoar", another recently discovered minor planet beyond Pluto.

The astrologers are wasting no time. Here is a site on the "significance" of this new planet for the pseudoscience. A quote:

" For astrologers this signifies yet another distant transpersonal planet to join with Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Quaoar, and 2004DW. Our whole way of looking astrology is undergoing a fundamental shift, and will reshape the way we think about ourselves, our spiritual evolution, and our place in The Universe. "

Yeah, OK, Whatever.



Thursday, April 15, 2004

"ER" and "Late Night Poker"

"ER" wasn't much good tonight. I never like the episodes set in the Congo.

Apparently they have a Welsh program on SBS tonight, a regular show, centred around a poker game. You can see the cards - camera under the glass table, it seems. I think this is a brilliant idea. Poker is made for TV.

(Later) I watched the poker program and it was very good, and would have been better if I understood the rules more. That's something to study, if I decide to persist with the program. In any case, I think it is a marvellous idea for a latenight TV show. SBS does the cult thing to perfection. Cf. The Iron Chef, another great show.



The Supermercado Project writes:

" After that the 1954 Footscray Premiership team came out to accept the specially created Premiership cup. Despite the fact that their motorcade blocked me from going to the Southern Stand TAB for a good five minutes it was nice to see. I did find it a bit offensive how the idiots in charge played the Western Bulldogs version theme song instead of the real Footscray one in tribute to them. I find it hard to believe that Footscray, and North Melbourne to a greater extent, fans actually sit back and accept their teams being called these bloody stupid "corporate" nicknames at the best of times but to actually try and push the wagon even more when you're supposed to be paying tribute to the greatest side ever to play for your club is just offensive. "

Yes, I regret that the Footscray name has been submerged somewhat, but I suppose it was the price of having any kind of Bulldogs team still. I suppose "Western Bulldogs" does have more marketing potential than "Footscray Bulldogs". I gather too that the team song has changed, although I think the phrase "bulldog breed" still occurs.

I also get a little sneaky bit of pleasure when I spot the discrete "F.F.C." [Footscray Football Club] on the back collar of the players' jumpers.

As for the Kangaroos (and the Swans) they will always be "North" (and "South") to me.



Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Grace Darling Effect

Some years ago on an animal behaviour Internet discussion list we had a discussion on human bravery and the possibility of a sociobiological explanation, along the lines of kin selection and the ideas of Hamilton and Trivers.

At the time I referred to something I christened the "Grace Darling Effect". Grace Darling was a famous young heroine who helped her father row a boat out to a shipwrecked ship and rescue people. Her feat was celebrated in the eponymous poem by William Wordsworth.

At the time I wrote:

"What I am referring to is that a surprising number of heroic acts are done by teenage and younger girls.... This does not sit well with any of the sociobiological explanations that I have seen discussed. A pre-pubescent girl is unlikely to be advertising herself as altruistic to attract the opposite sex and also, I would have thought, unlikely to be indulging in misdirected altruism towards relatives. As a female who has not bred, it makes little sense for her to endanger herself. "

I later obtained information on some of the bravery awards made by the Australian Government in recent years. These will be fairly "clean" data as the stories will have been officially checked. So I am not having to rely on media reports.

The following cases have been described.

Miss Tracey Christine Gardner: "placed her own safety in jeopardy to save another teacher from possible injury."

Miss Tiani Michelle Chillemi: "fought with an armed man to save one of her parents' employees from further injury."

Miss Emily Rae Dunstan: "assisted in the rescue of her friend from the sea off Weymouth Beach."

Miss Rachelle McNiven: " rescued a boy from drowning in heavy and dangerous seas off North Narrabeen Beach."

Miss Angela Leigh Burke: "then aged 16, saved a boy under attack from a street gang of youths."

Miss Jodie Lee Parremore: "at Clifton Beach...then aged 10, placed her life at risk to save a young friend in danger."

On the basis that females described as "Miss" will be unmarried and probably childless, and in these cases the persons being protected were not relatives, these examples do not fit readily into any of the usual sociobiological categories.


EWTN Latin/English hybrid mass

While watching EWTN last night, my wife and I saw an unusual mass televised. I have never seen anything like it. It was in a mixture of English and Latin (with Greek for the Kyrie). The congregation included a couple of women in mantillas. I have never heard of a mass in a mixture of the vernacular and Latin.


The Politics of Blonde

How Bush lost the blonde vote.

Blonde wonkettes on TV's "West Wing":

"Hayes is a composite, according to Sorkin, of real-life Republican sage-ettes Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter and South Jersey's Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, a pollster," writes Shister. "By sheer coincidence, they all happen to be young, blond, conservative and leggy."

Steve Sailer has written about the sociology of blondeness. Here is some stuff and some more stuff.

This rather cranky hypothesis covers the blond phenomenon.

Blonds are used a fair bit in movies today to signify creepiness. A good example is "Crash", in which the main couple are a rather icy fair-haired man and woman with rather icy personalities.



Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Classical Music's Ten Dirtiest Secrets

... are here.

My comments - from a not very musical man:

1. I actually find Bach's cantatas very individual.

2. Vivaldi's mandolin concertos sound like his violin concertos - only with mandolins.

3. The best modern art music comes out of Eastern Europe, oddly enough.

4. Handel is underrated.

5. At 48, I must still be too young to appreciate Beethoven.

6. Most Gregorian chant only sounds good in its natural environment - as part of a Latin Mass.

7. The best contemporary film music will - like the best TV drama - be revered in the far future.

8. Music older than the Renaissance is too old to be properly understood and appreciated.

9. Sir Michael Tippet's "A Child of Our Time" set a lead standard for dullness.

10. Varese is a waste of time.



Monday, April 12, 2004

Beetle Site

I chanced across this site that contains newsletters for entomologists, especially taxonomists, interested in various beetle groups. There is a link to this site on jewel beetles, a particular interest of my friend Trevor Hawkeswood. I have blogged before on work being done on the Australian weevil fauna. This family, Curculionidae, is a huge and fascinating group of beetles, and the newsletter Curculio, accessible from the site, looks great - colour photos included. There is discussion of cladistic analysis based on larval morphology and phylogenetic studies using ribosomal DNA.



Sunday, April 11, 2004

An excellent JG Ballard site


As I said below, Ballard loves to have doctors as heroes. One of his latest books, "Millennium People" features a "charismatic paediatrician"!

I think one of the reasons I like his work quite a bit is that it is truly interesting sociology. HG Wells and Conan Doyle could bring out the romance of science, particularly biology. Ballard does the same for sociology - what is his "Concrete Island" but a psychological and sociological experiment involving sudden isolation in a small environment and a limited social situation?

I have always felt that sociology is too interesting to be left to the sociologists, a rather dull group of academics with fairly predictable views. Here, by comparison, are a couple of remarks from Ballard:

"Nothing brings out violence like a peaceful demonstration"

"If your target is the global money system, you don't attack a bank. You attack the Oxfam shop next door."

I haven't published anything on sociology, apart maybe from a co-authored chapter in "Hoaxes, Myths and Manias". And I might one day try to turn this material on varying crowds at football games into a sociological article.

I notice that someone at the above site on "Concrete Island" indicated that the film of Ballard's "Crash" flopped. I thought it was a terrific film. I have tried quite hard to get a DVD of it, or even just the filmscore, which genuinely merits that overused adjective "haunting". I am not sure why "Crash" would have flopped. I thought it had wonderful atmosphere and Cronenberg was the ideal director to realise the novel. It had plenty of personable actors and actresses, interesting to look at, but the sexual liaisons in the film were both bizarre and not at all erotic. I think this added to the film's seriousness of purpose - it was weird to see one of the Arquette girls rendered so thoroughly unsexy - but I suppose this spoiled some of its appeal.

I loved the portrayal of the strange subculture, but I suspect a major problem with the film, like the book, is that it reflects too personal a vision of Ballard's. Certainly people can fetishise the strangest things, but motor car accidents are not really one of them. That was too psychologically improbable. Maybe Ballard himself does - Goodness' knows he has an unusual personality - but most people not only don't find car crashes the least bit erotic, but they couldn't even imagine that someone else might.


Easter liturgies attended

Last year I got to Tenebrae, but this year I thought I would go to the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy. We stayed until the Adoration of the Cross. We did hear the solemn prayers, including that for "the heretics and schismatics", which I have always wanted to hear. My old 50s missal has a prayer for the "perfidious (faithless) Jews" but the liturgy we actually followed was probably an early 60s version of the traditional Latin mass, and had dropped the word "perfidious".

Today we went to the Easter Sunday Mass, which was a fairly average mass as regards structure and length, at least by comparison with the Easter Vigil Mass, which lasted - I was told - over three hours. One pleasant touch, which I remembered from last year, was the buzzing, tremulous sound that the choir produced when it chanted the Offertory: "Terra tremuit" ... "The earth trembled."

I usually listen to an old record I have of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter Overture" on Easter Sunday. I haven't today - yet. But I have listened to a CD of the Russian Patriarchate Choir's rendition of the Canon of St John Damascene Easter Liturgy. I don't have much specifically for Easter in the Latin Rite, so I rely on Eastern music.

Yesterday I really listened properly to the Penderecki "St Luke Passion", a work from the 1960s. Some of it seems excellent although not all of it works for me. Still, very timely.


Some of my words ...

find their way onto the Christian Order website. I think I also said these quoted words:

"This film," someone declared, "is the 9/11 of the Culture Wars."



Saturday, April 10, 2004

J G Ballard

I read another one of Ballard's collected short stories - The Illuminated Man. Very good of course, and the germ of his later novel The Crystal World, which I have yet to read. There were a couple of infelicities though. He has a Presbyterian minister as a character whom he refers to as a "priest", who confects the Eucharist, and who has a jewelled altar cross. The man is clearly a Catholic priest not a Presbyterian minister. Rather a serious error.

A grammatical error is his use of the antecedentless reflexive - "myself" - in one sentence.

One thing in which Ballard is almost unique among modern fiction writers is that he has scientists and doctors as heroes - ordinary workaday ones too. For example, his female lead character in "Crash" is an immigration doctor. His lead female character in the novel I am thinking of reading, "Rushing to Paradise", is another doctor. Vaughan in "Crash" is a computer systems expert. Another short story I am about to read has a "successful dermatologist" as its male protagonist. Many modern novelists write about people who work in the humanities. Ballard is an exception. Perhaps his early training as a doctor is coming out. He likes to use scientific and medical terms too. Of course he is sometimes regarded as a science fiction writer, but he surely transcends that category both as regards intent and style.

I am now reading an essay of his on the surrealist painters in my Re/Search publications book on his work. Ballard does date a bit - he seems very much a product of the concerns of the 1960s - but the brilliance of his style and the quality of his thought - and most importantly the self-parody and self-consciousness of his work - save him from descending into bathos.



Friday, April 09, 2004

Why don't more women do philosophy?

Here is a hand-wringing discussion about why women aren't more prominent in philosophy. The point is made that women do better in linguistics, another technical field. I would suggest the following points:

1) Linguistics is about language, a female area of strength.

2) Philosophy is about debate and competitive rhetoric, things that men like.

3) Men tend to be abstract thinkers and women more concrete. Philosophy is about abstract thought.

4) In my experience, while there are plenty of intelligent women, there are not so many intellectual women. Even rather unintelligent men will discuss politics, religion, economics and technical issues very freely and happily; whereas rather intelligent women will talk about personal relations and concrete issues (food, houses, children).

5) The spread of intelligence in men is greater than in women, so there are more very bright men than women (and more very dumb men than very dumb women). Philosophy tends to appeal to the very bright.


Essendon vs St Kilda

After Grog Blog reports on bad blood between these two teams. Apparently St Kilda had the temerity to defeat the mighty Bombers and the mighty Bombers are whingeing:

" Because Hird and Essendon have not stopped bleating about the umpiring since the loss to St Kilda, their bad sportsmanship has hidden what clearly remains a problem - the fact that the quality of umpiring decisions at key moments in big games is not good enough.

But Hird's decision to target McLaren - and remember that Ian Robinson once sued the late Herald chief football writer Alf Brown - has taken the heat off the umpiring and placed the spotlight on Essendon and its paranoia. The club lost, for heaven's sake. And it would have lost however skilled the officiating. Does Hird truly believe that Essendon has been targeted by a particular umpire? Such a comment is bordering on stupidity. "

There is little real puzzle here. Essendon attracts obnoxious people, including supporters. People who don't want ever to know what it's like to lose. A team like St Kilda attracts nice people, people with a little class. Other teams that attract the obnoxious include Collingwood (of course), Richmond and Carlton. Melbourne did once, but they have had their share of troubles and they are a nicer outfit altogether these days. But - people who barrack for teams like Essendon and Carlton - well, it's not a good start.


More on parasites and the bush

It seems that Tim Blair has also noticed that you can tell you are in country Australia (see my post yesterday) when advertisements dwell on sheep parasites:

" I’m in southern NSW, where out-of-towners are reminded that they’ve left Sydney by television commercials like this:

It’s liver fluke treatment time again!

Actually, Albury isn’t all that rural, although the liver fluke commercial seemed genuine (it had cows). "

Albury is a regional centre. When we first came to Canberra, the "Bush Capital", we used to get a lot of advertisements on TV for treatments for sheep parasitic diseases: "liver fluke", "lice, ked and itchmite". But, as Canberra has become larger, and maybe as sheepfarming has declined, those rather charming advertisements have disappeared from local screens.



Thursday, April 08, 2004

"She's Not Your Typical Nun"

Actually, she is. How many stories have there been in the last forty years about nuns who are not "typical", often showing them dancing around like this young woman? Thousands, probably. And have they attracted young women to vocations as nuns? No. As the article says, being a nun is "an age-old calling fewer than ever are hearing".

Still, I think she's wearing a veil as part of her habit - so she must be fairly traditional really.


Parasites and Popular Culture

This is cute, a little girl and her parasites.

I also liked the blow-up plastic worms that they used to have in pharmacies here in Canberra, novelty items advertising Combantrin worm treatment. You could also get stuffed worm keyrings. I have one.

Their singing worms are here. And you can get a worm screensaver here. It's "free" - very generous, Combantrin.

And when I first went to Armidale, New South Wales, to study, I could tell at once I was in the country because they were running a National Pick-the-Parasite Contest on local television. Sheep parasites of course.



Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Michael Matt on American "Catholic" Politicians

Here is an argument, inter alia, that Vatican II helped prepare the ground for abortion on demand:

" Kennedy, Ferraro, Cuomo, Giuliani, Daschle, Pataki, Lazio, Kerry—these are just the legates of the conciliar revolutionaries running the new Church today. Were it not for Vatican II such “Catholics” couldn’t be elected dog catchers. "


Dump the Missus: Before Kerry it was a Kennedy

Kerry got an annulment from his first wife. She wasn't happy, reportedly. Here is the story of Sheila Rauch Kennedy, whose twelve-year marriage to Congressman Joseph Kennedy was annulled by the slack American Catholic Church.

Notice, by the way, what kind of American politician is indulging in this disgusting abuse of women and children.


John Kerry is ignorant of his own faith

Kerry talks drivel:

" Mr. Kerry became combative when told that some conservatives were criticizing him for being a Roman Catholic who supported policies, like abortion rights and same-sex unions, that are at odds with Catholic teaching.

"Who are they?" he demanded of his questioner. "Name them. Are they the same legislators who vote for the death penalty, which is in contravention of Catholic teaching?"

He added: "I'm not a church spokesman. I'm a legislator running for president. My oath is to uphold the Constitution of the United States in my public life. My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am. And it is separate. Our constitution separates church and state, and they should be reminded of that."

Mr. Kerry apparently meant John XXIII, as there is no Pius XXIII. "

Kerry doesn't know, apparently, that the death penalty is traditionally acceptable in Catholic teaching and abortion and homosexual marriage aren't.

What is this "private oath" between him and God? Where does he get the idea that he has "freedom of conscience" on matters like abortion granted him by Vatican II?

This man is a moron.


PS I found the citation on Midwest Conservative Journal.

PPS Catholic Analysis discusses the issue too at his 5 April 2004 post.


Monday, April 05, 2004

AFL Season Begins for the Bulldogs (and the other stupid teams as well, I suppose)

It's been a very Footscray start to the season, unfortunately. Two close games, with a close and disputed, see here and here loss to the West Coast Eagles and a slightly less close loss to disgusting Colllingwood.

I saw the Collingwood game, from about half way through the third quarter. It was all very frustrating. Still, I thought the Bulldogs played tenaciously, like battlers not losers. The Battling Bulldogs.

It was good to see Chris Grant back on the field. He seemed to be defending well.

I do see some hope for a better season than last year.

Another thing - perhaps it was just me but I really felt that the commentators expected (and hoped) that the Bulldogs would not upset the "natural order" by defeating darling Collingwood.

Well - next week Footscray ("trading as the Western Bulldogs") meet Melbourne. Should be an interesting game.

I saw a sticker on a car here in Canberra last week referring to "Shinboner Pride - since 1869" or some such date. Are North really that old a club?

My membership card holder this year for the Bulldogs refers to "1954/2004". It's a bit sad that the last time they won a premiership was the year before I was born. Still, that's more recently than some teams I could mention (but my daughter won't let me.)

If you are interested in my statistical approach to the sociology of football supporting, see here. I hope to do a lot more work on it this year.



I firmly believe that whether to have an abortion is a decision for the woman and her doctor ... and the Devil, of course.


Nursery Rhyme Predicts Astrophysical Reality

A report, um, reports:

" Astronomers have discovered a cosmic diamond, 2500 miles wide, twinkling about 50 light years from us. The gigantic gem is the carbon core of a dead star – a white dwarf.

A team of researchers at Cambridge University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics is the first to prove such exotic objects exist, forty years after stellar diamond cores were predicted by theory. "

And a couple of hundred years after stellar diamond cores were predicted by nursery rhyme:

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are,
up above the world so high,
like a diamond in the sky."



Sunday, April 04, 2004

Sunday afternoon at the Australian National University's Hancock Library

A new building has appeared near the library, a medical school. The original concept of the Australian National University, as I understand it, was that it would not have the traditional vocational faculties - Veterinary Medicine, Medicine itself, Engineering and the like. It always had Law, but I understand that its emphasis was on constitutional and Federal Law. But the ANU now has a medical school. I suppose that explains some of the interesting new textbooks appearing at the Hancock library.

Bruce Hall has a new block. When I stayed there, I lived in X (Extension) Block. Now there is a further extension.

I noticed a fine collection of beehives tucked away not far from the colleges. That is one advantage of bees as an agricultural activity - they take up so little space. Unobtrusive is the word. Now, if they were at Oxford, those bees, they would have been there for four hundred years, they would have appeared in memoirs, have had prize poems refer to them, and the area would be called something like The Olde Beehive Close.

I found a book by Flynn on the IQ debate, but his classic study on rising IQ levels across the generations is in a journal article apparently. It is online at the ANU library. I shall have to find out how to get access to this kind of resource.

I picked up a good collection of interesting books, including an Encyclopedia of Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks (edited by one Middleton). I am not usually big on geology but sedimentary rocks rather remind me of biology in their quirkiness and complexity. Whereas igneous rocks are just crystallised magma.

I can see that the surge in interest in evolutionary psychology and the evolutionary approach to social science is reflected in some of the newer works entering the stacks of the Hancock Library. "Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship and Ethnicity" by Frank K Salter looks both topical and fascinating. It was only published in 2002. A much older seminal work in the same tradition perhaps is Francis Galton's "Hereditary Genius", a book much more often referred to than read.

Somebody once said that Sir Richard Burton was the cleverest of the African explorers, forgetting that Galton did some exploring and was no dummy either. I have a copy of a small book on South African explorers, which used to belong to the South African Embassy here in Canberra. Not very politically correct under the new regime, which may be why they discarded it. Galton features in "South African Explorers" (The World's Classics, No. 538), writing on "Ovamboland".

Also not very politically correct is RJ Herrnstein "IQ in the Meritocracy". I have only dipped into it so far, but I noticed an intriguing reference to a woman with an IQ of 192 who was contentedly living as a housewife bringing up eight children.

Lasker's "Surnames and Genetic Structure" I have borrowed before, but it might help with my current interest in surname studies, Y chromosomes and illegitimacy/cuckoldry.



Friday, April 02, 2004

What I love about blogging (a short post)

Some things I have come to love about blogging:

1) Posting on the 1st day of a new month and wondering why in goodness' name your post doesn't appear, and then realising that you are looking at what is now an archive.

2) The way the system teases you by suddenly changing its behaviour. At present my new posts are only appearing after a further post is sent. So it is one behind all the time. Quaint.

3) The way in which I get few visits for my meaty posts but lots for my complaining about John Kerry's annulment. This shows that not only do Americans dominate the web but they are mainly interested in the marital difficulties of presidential candidates.


Mannikins: could two species coalesce?

My desk calendar features pictures of Australian birds. April shows three neat little birds, two chestnut-breasted mannikins and one yellow-rumped mannikin. (Also a bright yellow butterfly that must have wanted to be in the picture.)

It seems that these two species of mannikin actually form mixed flocks. They feed, roost and bathe side by side - and also interbreed.

We are used to the idea that two new species can form from one old one, but could two new species reform into one? If they live together and breed together, will they eventually become a single species again? If so, how common would such a phenomenon be? Could it have occurred often in evolution?

(It is not clear how common interbreeding is between the two mannikin species, or whether the offspring are fertile though.)


More on historical and modern illegitimacy

Another comment I received:

" I have been working with data from several large studies of cardiovascular disease where samples were collected in several ethnic groups (black, white, Chinese, Japanese, hispanic) in several places in the US and Asia. We have typed about 400 polymorphic markers in these families and we have checked for evidence of nonpaternity (and other forms of misspecification of familial relationships - including between families for detection of sample mixups).

Certainly, in our data, the rate of nonpaternity is very low, on the order of 1%. Many of the relevant matings are from 50 years ago, but some are more recent. I would guess that if there has been a change in rate of nonpaternity, it has been very recent. Also, we see many more sample mixups than nonpaternity cases.

Improper handling of samples, even by highy trained workers, is not rare and it might account for some cases of "nonpaternity" when DNA markers are used to detect them. "

A website on non-paternity, with a range of percentage occurrences reported is at: "Misattributed Paternity".

The collection of data at this website makes fascinating reading. There is certainly plenty of evidence for 10% hidden illegitimacy (cuckoldry) in modern populations. So, why do the data from historical studies using surnames and Y chromosomes indicate percentage illegitimacy of only about 1%? In fact, logically, if modern rates of illegitimacy are that high, surely they would also affect the historical studies - since modern men are part of the genealogical chain.


Further thoughts on genetic evidence for illegitimacy and cuckoldry in the past and present

A comment I have received recently is as follows:

" Another possibility is that cuckoldry really does vary by time & place. Much else about human mating markets and family structure is highly variable; why suppose that cuckoldry is some species-specific fixed trait? "

My reply: I wouldn't necessarily expect it to be a "species-specific fixed trait". I expect it will be much influenced by social mores, economics, religious beliefs and so on. What I find hard to believe however is that it will have been apparently very low in the past and now, in modern society, ten times as high. We are talking here, if I understand the matter clearly, about cuckoldry, not overt illegitmacy. What Robin Dunbar and the workers he quotes are claiming is that in modern Western marriages, over 10% of children are not actually those of the putative father. I remember this getting a lot of coverage, at least in the scientific media. At the same time, other workers were reporting on data that seem to show that the Y chromosome travelled down the generations with a surname with great fidelity - maybe 1% leakage per generation.

Certainly it is *possible* that morals have suddenly collapsed in this generation, but I just find it hard to believe. I don't think of people in the past as being that much fussier about marital fidelity than modern people. Although, given the relative unavailability of contraception in the past, the low historical figure for cuckoldry or illegitimacy is truly remarkable.

If I am thinking clearly, it seems that comparing Dunbar's modern figures with figures based on surnames and Y chromosomes may not be completely appropriate. This is because the studies Dunbar quotes refer only to cuckoldry (a male is present but he is not the true father) whereas the surname studies would cover both cuckoldry and illegitimacy (no male is present and the child does not take the father's surname). If so, this makes the low leakage figures historically still more remarkable.



Thursday, April 01, 2004

John Kerry sells his soul?

I thought I had read just about everything disgraceful that a supposed Catholic could do. I knew that John Kerry had got himself a dubious annulment (all American marriage annulments are dubious given the current state of the Catholic Church there). I knew this was an issue since I've received many visits to this blog since I wrote on Kerry's annulment and its eerie similarity to one that a Kennedy male received - and which his ex-wife was also very bitter about.

But - this really shocked me. I sincerely hope that Kerry is not planning to do this sacrilegious thing:

From the American Spectator:


Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and his campaign staff have done everything to portray him as a solid, mainstream Roman Catholic, claiming that he demands that his staff make time for his attendance to Sunday services and that he is a weekly communicant.

That image of a practicing Irish Catholic is what Kerry has been putting forward, harking to the time of John F. Kennedy, when Catholics across the country voted to put one of their own in the White House.

"Catholics are definitely a constituency we are courting," says a Kerry adviser in Washington. "Here we have a practicing Catholic, who is in line with the majority of American practicing Catholics. Rome may not be thrilled with the Senator's position on some of the social issues, but the pope doesn't have a vote in this election. But there are probably millions of pro-choice Catholics who do, and Kerry is their man."

The Kerry campaign was said to be surprised at the coverage their candidate received for attending Mass while on vacation in Idaho. "You saw conservatives all up in arms that he was receiving communion, when most American Catholics do the same thing and live a life very similar to the senator's: divorced, pro-choice, etcetera," says the Kerry adviser. "It just highlights how out of touch the right wing is with America, and we can play to that."

To that end, according to other sources inside the Kerry camp, aides are attempting to identify a Catholic diocese, and perhaps even a specific priest and church, where Kerry could attend a Mass with reporters present, and be turned away at the altar attempting to receive communion.

Under Roman Catholic doctrine, a priest can withhold communion from someone who is known to be either in a serious state of sin, or who should otherwise be disqualified from receiving the sacrament. It is a rule that is almost never invoked, and almost certainly has never been used as a political ploy, either by the church or a politician seeking some kind of photo opportunity.

In the past calls have been made to excommunicate liberal politicians not in agreement with the Church's teachings on abortion, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, for example, or more recently, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. But neither man was officially sanctioned by his respective bishop.

Kerry's situation should be no different. But Kerry and his staff are apparently willing to use the Catholic Church as a political wedge, and hope that some politically conservative priest will be willing to take the bait. " "

I suppose this is not a new sin - or is it? Is Kerry the first Catholic ever to flaunt his dissent like this, to use the occasion of mass and Holy Communion to score a political point?

ADDENDUM: Actually, I have my suspicions about this. I wonder if this is not the Kerry campaign's attempt to bluff the American Catholic hierarchy into continuing to give him Holy Communion. The message may be that if a priest refuses him communion it may be a positive for Kerry's campaign - so it's a covert warning to the Church not to do it. In fact, I suspect that an image of Kerry being refused communion might do him more harm than good, especially among Hispanic voters.



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