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Saturday, May 29, 2004

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Moloch horridus

Tonight on the ABC was a program on lizards, narrated by David Attenborough. What I saw focussed on the lizards known as "dragons", Agamidae, which are mostly found in Australia. In particular there was a sequence on Moloch horridus, the Thorny Devil.

Both this website and Attenborough refer to the curious forwards-backwards shaking movement the lizard makes as it moves slowly along. That is, it rocks backwards and forwards as it walks. Both the website and Attenborough imply that this is a kind of camouflage or cryptic movement, to help the lizard resemble swaying vegetation. The Thorny Devil is a prey item as well as a predator and it is conjectured that the rocking movements help its camouflage.

Other animals that make similar rocking movements as they walk include some chameleon lizards, if I recall correctly, as well as many stick insects and praying mantises. In the case of these insects, a cryptic resemblance to swaying vegetation has also been proposed.

On the other hand, as I proposed in a paper some years ago in an entomological journal, the rocking movements made by these large, typically arboreal insects may actually be to aid in achieving vision. By moving their body (and therefore their eyes) backwards and forwards the animal can detect objects and gauge their distance from the objects' parallax movement against the background. This would be particularly valuable for animals with comparatively simple vision that do not move quickly and freely enough to generate relative motion - and therefore parallax movement in the visual field - in any other way. That is, rocking movements among these insects are a way of obtaining visual information when the whole animal is not able to move freely and quickly.

What applies in the case of these large, slow-moving arboreal insects may also apply to the slow-moving Thorny Devil. That is, the rocking movements of the lizard may be to help the Thorny Devil see objects, not to help it resemble swaying vegetation.


Julian

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Birdbrains

A theory on how birds like parrots manage to be so intelligent despite having relatively small brains is that their brains are more compact (and efficient) to allow the birds to be lighter and more able to fly.

A number of questions come to mind:

What about bats? Are their brains unusually compact and efficient and could they be more intelligent than their brain size suggests?

What of flightless birds? Do they show signs of larger than normal brain size for birds? If so, is this related to higher intelligence, or simply the releasing of the selection for low brain weight related to flying? If flightless birds do not have larger than normal brain sizes, perhaps smaller (more efficient?) brains in birds are not related to flight.

What of dinosaurs? Given that birds evolved from dinosaurs, could it be that dinosaurs' brains are relatively small because they also had more compact, relatively efficient brains like birds? Perhaps the compactness of birds' brains is not related to flight, but something else, and that "something else" may have applied to dinosaurs as well. Perhaps, now that dinosaurs are increasingly seen as active and intelligent, there may be room for new conjectures about the supposedly pea-brained and unintelligent dinosaurs.

Something to read and think about, perhaps.


Julian


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Thursday, May 27, 2004

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No homosexual marriage in Australia

The Prime Minister, John Howard, plans to legislate against homosexual marriage. Gay groups are not happy. I saw Kerryn Phelps complaining about this tonight on SBS television, but the ban on homosexual marriage has the support of both major political parties, so it seems certain to succeed.

It does seem as though, on this issue at least, Australian society is more conservative overall than American society.


Julian

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This week's ER

Last week's episode seemed choppy and unsatisfying to me and I wondered where they thought they were going. But this week's episode was much more enjoyable, though still quite silly of course.

Neela, the Indian doctor, lost patience with Frank, the large white man who inhabits the administrative desk in the Emergency Room, and called him a bigot. Now that Dr Romano has gone, Frank is the show's sole remaining "designated bigot", who voices the show's Id, so to speak.

I found this bit of medical jargon interesting:

" Two centimeter laceration extending through the vermilion border. "

with its technical reference to the "vermilion" of the lip.

Anyway, Frank the Bigot has a heart attack - and Neela saves his life, with a bit of help from Pratt and a testy cardiologist. It turns out that Frank has a devoted wife and a daughter with Down's syndrome - so he is, in fact, a noble, lovable bigot.

There is a subplot, or maybe a sub-sub-sub-plot involving a guy who commandeers a tank (sic) and drives it to the ER to settle a score with the lazy, dubiously-competent red haired male doctor (Morris). I had a feeling of tank deja vu at this point; I feel that I have seen this, improbable thought it is, used as a plot device before, if not on ER then on some other TV show.

They've been playing around with the Neela character a bit, toying with the idea of having her lose control. Next week's episode apparently continues this theme. They do this a bit - both Luka Kovac and Lizzie Corday have had periods of real or apparent gross incompetence, which are now forgotten by everyone, or at least by the scriptwriters.


Julian

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

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More on eucalypt leaves and water

Some time ago, I noted that eucalypt leaves seem to repel water. That is, they don't "wet" well. I wondered if this is not due to their waxy covering. I also wondered if it might help prevent mould formation on the leaf surface, by keeping it dry - a mechanism proposed for other plants. Someone recently suggested another possibility - that repelling water might mean that it flows off the leaf and onto the ground where, in a dry climate, it could do most good for the tree.


Julian


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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

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The voice of tolerance?

Here is an American article attacking homeschoolers: (my comments are in bold)

" Homeschool Horror
Divinely ordained education, taught by martyrs

BY QUINN COTTON

(Somebody really called "Quinn", like Daria's sister?)

You know how there are terrorist cells embedded throughout the world? Well, in my neighborhood we have numerous "homeschool" cells humming in the cul-de-sacs. They're almost as scary as the terrorist ones in some ways -- and they definitely have some traits in common with them.

(A nicely tolerant start.)

When we first moved to Charlotte, the houses next to us, behind us, and diagonally across the street all contained children who mysteriously never seemed to leave home, and mothers with glazed expressions on their faces. The whole set-up of moms stuck with their school-age kids 24/7 gave me the willies, and that was before I even had one of my own.

(One what? - a willie?)

Middle class areas seem to be magnets for little suburban schoolhouses. Even though there must be homeschooling pockets all over Charlotte, somehow I don't picture your basic Ballantyne babe risking breaking a nail on a chalkboard in the bonus room, or skipping a tennis set for an educational excursion to the sewage plant. Likewise, I doubt many Belmont moms miss a beat packing those kids off to public school. It's the middle class that gets suckered into the myth that mothers and older children can survive being together all day without somebody being strangled. The true "haves" and "have-nots" know better.

What's scary is that a lot of the homeschooling faithful are as fueled by a fanatical, religion-based belief in their mission as Islamist terrorists, and seem to be just about as brainwashed. Sometimes I even wonder if they're a manufactured race along the lines of the Stepford wives in Ira Levin's book, but assembled in fundamentalist Christian churches instead of family basements. Like the Stepford robots, they're programmed to fulfill their husbands' fantasies, only in this case it's their role as the Ultimate Selfless Mothers.

(That's right - we Aussie men call them Yummy Mummies.)

Other times I feel like the heroine in another famous horror story by Levin, Rosemary's Baby, at that chilling moment when she puts together the anagram "All of Them Witches" and realizes it refers to her seemingly harmless neighbors. Some of the homeschooling moms (HMs) are kind of witch-y, with the uncut hair and the long skirts because pants on females are unholy, but the description that really applies to this coven is "All of Them Zealots."

(Pants on women do remind me of the Wrath of God.)

They're not only terrorist-like in their conviction that their calling is divinely ordained, homeschoolers also often have a broad martyr streak. Rather than suicide bombings, though, they commit "suicide book-learning," sacrificing their own lives to teach their kids. I've known one or two to get pregnant as an excuse to get out of homeschooling hell, but the true martyrs keep right on instructing, with the newest little pupil glued to their breast.

Beyond a certain age, children and mothers are just not meant to be isolated together. It's unnatural.

(No - you're unnatural.)

Keeping the kids at home might have worked back in the Stone Age, but cave women would've at least had each other for company, and I bet they made damn sure the youngsters stayed off in a group together while they grunted gossip and drank their Cro-Magnon coffee.

(Wow - what a witty notion!)

Kids need their teachers to be adults, separate from their mothers. That way they can idolize or despise them apart from a parent figure, and don't have to depend on one person for everything they require. Did a parent of yours try to teach you to drive? How'd that go? 'Nuff said.

(My mother and I had great fun running into that pole.)

All young animals must be immersed in a mass of their peers so they can figure out what it means to function as a member of the larger group. Believe me, I'm aware that homeschooling families get their children together, since occasionally there'll be a flood of them from next door scrambling over the fence to play uninvited in our yard, but being with maybe a dozen other kids once in a while doesn't do the trick.

(Why don't you shoot them like the vermin they are? You'll feel much better.)

It takes serious numbers for developing humans to catch on to the nuances of accepted behavior and to have a chance to make enough friends. I just can't see homeschooling providing adequate socialization.

One of my neighboring HMs taught her two kids through eighth grade, then threw them to the wolves in public high school. The boy ended up dropping out and doing jail time, and the girl got pregnant.

(Yes, public school certainly helped them adjust.)

Yes, I know that homeschooled kids have won high-profile academic contests, but for every homeschooler who aces a spelling bee, there's some poor child being "instructed" by a parent who's barely literate herself. Teachers in the public school system are required to have certification and college degrees, yet any yahoo can force their kids to stay home as long as they pass an annual test.

(You mean results don't matter, only process?)

What's really scary about homeschooling is what it can do to the sanity of a mother deluded into thinking it's her Christian duty. No woman was ever meant to be trapped in a house all day with children old enough to spell "homicide."

(No, that never happened in all human history.)

So if new neighbors move in next door and you notice that the kids never leave for school and mom wears her hair in two braids, be afraid. Be very afraid. "

( ..., be bigoted. Be very bigoted.)

Julian

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Monday, May 24, 2004

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Baby Octopus

Recently I bought a jar of "Baby Octopus in Oil" (Holland House Quality Seafood, "produced in U.K. from local & imported ingredients").

I partly bought them because I found the idea of them quaint. I had a mental image of the poor little cephalopods being kidnapped from rock pools, crying salt tears, to glut the jaded palates of gourmands.

The truth is that they are probably not babies but fully-grown but small species:

" But if you've ever eaten seafood mixes - spaghetti marinara or seafood pizza - the chances are that you were eating something pretty new to science. Tinned seafood mix often contains so-called 'baby octopus'. They are also sold marinated, barbecued or in Thai salads. In fact, most of these 'babies' are fully-grown miniature octopus of species still being described, imported from Asia. About 15,000 tonnes are sent around the world every year from trawl fisheries in Thailand. Can we keep taking them out of the sea forever? We simply do not know. "

So, I may be eating a new species, unfortunately.

I got the jar of "baby" octopus from Coles at Jamison, here in the Australian Capital Territory.


Julian



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Excellent article ...

attacking The Winnipeg Statement by the Canadian bishops on Humanae Vitae. By one John Pacheco.

I had never heard of The Winnipeg Statement. Apparently many Canadian Catholics used it to permit themselves to use artificial birth control, if their "informed conscience" permitted. "Informed", incidentally, should have meant informed by the Church's clear tradition of teaching against artificial birth control. But the weasel words were out ... and doing their damage.

Speaking of Canada, I've heard it said that Quebec would be independent today if they had not contracepted themselves into national impotence. As it was, the Quebecois population did not grow quickly enough to allow the Francophones to win the necessary referenda. Some of the issues are touched on here.

I don't think the Australian bishops ever sold out to the extent of the Canadians. But they were not that impressive. Only Cardinal Pell has spoken against artificial contraception in recent years.

Julian




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Jobs for Boys

My three year old son has just told me that he wants to be a pirate. Fortunately, this is one job that has kept up with the times:

"Pirates storm oil tankers in Indonesia".


Julian

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Sunday, May 23, 2004

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Attack on Religion

I think this is one of the worst aspects of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal:

" Some said they were forced to renounce their religion, eat pork and drink alcohol. "

This isn't just physical abuse it is soul murder.

It's one of the most disgusting things I've ever heard of.

I respect America, but they are turning out some sickos these days. To make a man break his religious taboos is really wicked.

Julian



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Beating The Blues

I had a feeling they might, and they did. The Bulldogs beat the Carlton Blues today. And quite comfortably too.

So now we have won three games this season and our percentage is relatively healthy.

This is all I hope for, that the Bulldogs will be at least competitive. And it is nice to beat Carlton, one of the "Big Four" of the League.

Julian




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"Logrolling" about another blogrolling

The Idea Shop, a most interesting economics site, has blogrolled me, which is nice.

I think this is an American site, so I am surprised by the use of the word "Shop". I thought that was a word only English and Australians used.

Julian

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Saturday, May 22, 2004

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Buying stuff to go with my other stuff

Today I bought a copy of Wozzeck by Alban Berg. This one.

Berg seems to me one of the most genuine of the modernist composers. This opera comes highly recommended by the Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, a volume that practically turned me on to spectral and horrific music and modern music in general. The concept of Sprechstimme particularly intrigues me. (I see that Amazon Books has a copy of the Penguin Encyclopedia for sale at 185 dollars!)

I also bought a copy of Geoffrey Blainey's "A Game of Our Own" about the early history of Australian football. It is quite remarkable that such a brilliant historian should turn his attention to such a subject. It should be a real treat.

I watched a VHS copy of Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry" recently. I bought it as an ex-rental from our local video shop. I think it is a good example of Woody Allen doing what he does best. I did have trouble following the various tricks and turns of the film, but the set piece gags and the repartee were generally excellent. There is a lot of bad language and profanity. People have complained about Elisabeth Shue's performance, but it seemed fine to me. Judy Davis played, well, Judy Davis - a woman who, even in repose, looks like she is about to throw a plate. Demi Moore was surprisingly believable. I found the black "hooker" intrusive and a bit of a bore. Billy Crystal did well. Robin Williams was adequate. I don't know the name of the actress who played the Chinese prostitute, but has any Chinese woman ever looked more profoundly Oriental?

Julian

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"Do the red; say the black"

See what Fiat Mihi says: "Do the red; say the black".

Yes, I get it.


Julian




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More richly-deserved trouble for the pro-aborts

A bill has been introduced into the American Congress that specifically recognises the pain children feel when they are aborted.

Evil thinkers like Peter Singer only worry about the pain of animals. The pain of unborn children doesn't matter to them.


Julian


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John Paul II as a theologian?

This article on the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes is a trenchant critique of the document and, I believe, accurately depicts John Paul II as an exponent of Vatican II and Gaudium et Spes.

The writer, James Hitchock, claims:

" Pope John Paul may be the most accomplished theologian ever to occupy the papal throne, possibly the most important Catholic thinker of the past century, above all the man who has articulated, once and for all, the most sublime Catholic understanding of human sexuality. "

I am sorry to say that I think this is a very tendentious statement. The Pope is an imaginative theologian, in a postmodern style, but he is not accurate or respectful of the letter of scripture or of tradition. This critique of one of John Paul II's documents casts doubt on the quality of the Pope's theology. This article contains a broader critique. The Holy Father has many good qualities, but his theological novelties will probably not be seen as creditable in the future.


Julian




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ABC in a tizz about trade with Iran

The ABC showed an interview with a newspaper editor with ties to the regime in Iran tonight. He threatened Australia with having crossed a "red line" by supporting the US in Iraq. We would lose trade, he said. The ABC are greatly concerned that Australia has offended a nation led by theocratic fascists.

It seems we sell a couple of hundred million dollars worth of wheat to Iran each year. From them, we buy pistachio nuts and carpets worth about 50 million dollars.

Australians who spend a lot of time sitting on Persian carpets eating pistachio nuts should take due warning.

Julian

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

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Over two thousand visits

I meant to blog something when I reached my 2000th visit on my sitemeter. But I think I was sick at the time, so I didn't. Also, my little bloke broke the home computer.

How is blogging going so far? Not bad. I've been blogging since September last year and I am currently getting up to 20 visits a day. Some of these come from Google and other searches finding my current or archived pages; some come from a few people who seem to be regular visitors; some come from citations on other blogs (four of them have blogrolled me). Sometimes I get Google hits from people who have an interest in some topic that I also find interesting and there is - I hope - a happy meeting of minds; sometimes they are searching for something unpleasant (not often); very often I get hits from people searching for information on the Julian Calendar (a lot of them seem to have military interests, for some reason).

I have found the truth of the blogging maxim that writing about religion attracts readers. All the comments I have received in my comments boxes so far have been on posts on religion. However I have broader interests than that. I have tried to hive off my scientific posts into a separate blog (ZooBot Blog) but I find that I want to write about a lot of different things. Perhaps, for that reason, this blog is too eclectic. But I can't see a way to change that.

I haven't written as much humorous material as I would have predicted. I just don't feel funny of late. I think that humour often flows from frustration and mordant bitterness, and I don't feel a lot of that lately.

Anyway, I'll keep blogging. I think it suits me and I hope to build up more readership over time.

Julian

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

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Creating life using piezoelectricity

A longstanding theory on how the first molecules of life were formed is that founded on experiments that show that electrical discharges in the presence of simple organic molecules such as methane, together with ammonia and water, produce more complex molecules found in life. See the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis discussed briefly here and the Miller-Urey experiment discussion here.

The usual form of electrical discharge considered is lightning, but it occurred to me recently that there is another natural source of electricity - the piezoelectric effect. In the piezoelectric effect, pressure on crystalline matter, such as that in rocks, produces an electric current.

The piezoelectric effect seems particularly interesting because of recent suggestions that life (bacteria for example) is common deep in the crust of the earth and that it might even have evolved there:

" The rocks that have hydrogen, methane and other fluids percolating upwards would seem to be the most favorable locations for the first generation of self-replicating systems (9). Deep in the rocks the temperature, pressure, and chemical surroundings are constant for geologically long periods of time and, therefore, no rapid response to changing circumstances is needed. Ionizing radiations are low and unchanging. No defense is needed against all the photochemical changes induced by ultraviolet light or even by the broad spectrum of visible sunlight.

Bacteriologists have speculated that since a large sub-group of archaebacteria - the most primitive and judged to be the most ancient bacteria - are thermophiles, this may indicate that primitive life evolved at such high temperatures in the first place (10). If it did, and if the archaebacteria are the earliest forms of bacteria, evolved at some depth in the rocks, they may have spread laterally at depth, and they may have evolved and progressed upwards to survive at lower temperatures nearer the surface. Some combination of lateral spread at depth and spread over the surface with subsequent re-adaptation to the conditions at depth will have allowed them to populate all the deep areas that provided suitable conditions to support such life. "


What else is likely deep in the crust? - piezoelectricity.

I haven't found any references to this possibility, but it does seem to me that electrical charges acting on methane, ammonia and water (all found beneath the earth) could have helped form the building blocks necessary for life on Earth (such as amino acids) deep in the Earth's crust.

I have found this, however. In a discussion of the possibility of life on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, this suggestion is canvassed:

" Also, this heating mechanism and the cracks in the icy surface are almost for certain caused by the huge tidal forces to which Europa is subjected because of its proximity with the giant planet Jupiter. Europa is terribly deformed by tidal forces and get regularly elongated and roundish again. This could perhaps suffice so that piezoelectric discharges exist at the ocean's solid floor and may help create the complex molecules and aminoacid the way Miller proposed. "

I wonder if the effect proposed to occur on Europa - piezoelectric discharges producing amino acids from simpler compounds - could also have happened deep in the crust of Planet Earth.

(Here is an article on abiogenic methane - that is, methane from within the Earth's crust that is not of biological origin.)


Julian

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Monday, May 17, 2004

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Reading about Woody Allen while sick

Being a father and having "the flu" has several disadvantages, the main one being that one simply loses control of things. I wrote recently that life is sometimes like a sitcom without the laugh track, but a minor illness is like being written out of a couple of episodes. One simply doesn't figure any more; people can just act as if you aren't there. My 3 y.o. ran so far amuck as to redecorate the upstairs bathroom and my easy chair with a layer of toothpaste.

But there are advantages to being laid up in bed too. One is that you get to do some reading. Sometimes when I buy a few books I think to myself - oh yes, and when will you read these? Answer - when I get my next minor illness.

This time I got to read some science - a book on early man in Eastern Europe, a book on the metabolic biochemistry of fish (including a good chapter on organs that produce electricity), and a book on isolated human populations.

I also read Cardinal Newman's old essays on early Christian trinitarian heresies - Arians, the heresy of Apollinaris, and so on. The sort of information that is sometimes described as "hard to get".

Finally, I reread a biography of Woody Allen, the one by John Baxter. It's neither friendly nor unfriendly, but it gives the impression of being honest. I hadn't realised that Woody Allen had had so many flops. I must say I like his films but his short stories are really glorious.

I suppose if there is a "take home message" from Allen's career it is that he has been spoiled by his own success, both personally and professionally.

People always go on about how sophisticated Woody Allen's humour is, and how that means he loses audiences. In my experience he always throws in plenty of broad, obvious jokes to keep the "groundlings" happy; the same trick that Shakespeare used to keep the whole audience interested.

Julian


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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

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Girl Stuff; Boy Stuff

Paul Sheehan writes nervously - is there any other way? - about Young Women These Days. He leads off with a reference to David Stove's notorious essay that argued that, since women have produced less of intellectual merit historically, they must be intellectually inferior to men. Here is the essay. Sheehan then notes that women now outnumber men at universities. He notes that women are more in the workplace than ever before. He predicts a feminist millennium but frets that women are starting to suffer from male patterns of unhealthy behaviour and stress.

All good clean fun, but I would add a few thoughts:

Stove's essay was first published in 1990, in the Proceedings of the Russellian Society, not in 1995 as Sheehan suggests.

The education system has been growing more and more inimical to males for some time. It is hardly surprising that young women are "matriculating", as we used to say, in greater numbers than men.

There is some evidence that males do not really hit their stride intellectually until they are 16 or older. Their weak performance at school may be partly due to a slower maturation process compared with girls.

One of Stove's points was that schemes for the education of women are not a new idea. And it was observed centuries ago that girls study more diligently than boys.

What boys seem to enjoy and excel at is what might be nicknamed "Talmud study" - close, competitive, creative analysis and reasoning. Something like this is seen not only in the Jewish tradition, but also in Christianity and Islam. This kind of thing is exactly what is not emphasised in the modern educational system.

Creativity is a wild card. It is one thing to graduate. It is quite another to innovate. For example, are there more women inventors on the ABC's "New Inventors" than on its predecessor?

It is possible that boys are not going on to tertiary study because they are busy setting up their own computer businesses or garage bands or beginning electrical apprenticeships in the Navy.

The number of women in the workforce is indeed historically very high, but a lot of this is part-time work. The truth is that the number of women in full-time work has actually increased very little over the last few decades. As John Quiggin notes " ... the model preferred by most Australian households with dependent children ... [is that of] ... one full-time and one part-time job". The part-time job is, of course, typically the mother's.

The large number of households with a mother and children but no father is not a cause for unalloyed satisfaction.

As this article states ... " women in the last 35 years have received lots more education, no more full time jobs, many more part-time jobs and a large increase in welfare. "


Julian

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Monday, May 10, 2004

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More Signals from Planet Stupid

From something called The Daily Bruin Online:

" The end of affirmative action saw many more Asian American students admitted to UCLA, while the number of students from underrepresented minority groups – blacks, American Indians, Chicanos and Latinos – has steadily declined.

"Without generalizing, I would say that Asian Americans have not had a traditional role of activism in the United States," Nelson said. "They believe the way to success is through education, so they might study hard at the expense of things others may deem relevant." "


Getting an education at a place of education - that's a strange notion.

"Without generalizing, I would say that Asian Americans ..."

Not generalizing while generalizing - clever.


Julian




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To Die For

From reading "Edmund White: The Burning World" by Stephen Barber, it is clear that White, a homosexual writer, quite literally believed that sex was worth dying for. Last words in the book:

" His compelling fascination is for the beauty of the male human body, for sex and for death, and for the impulses behind creativity. In White's world, these preoccupations and values move irrepressibly and provocatively between one another. He has said: 'I do think that sex is something worth dying for. I believe what art is primarily about is beauty, and what beauty is about is death.' So White's world burns. "

Julian

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The Beauty Can Be Found

I think it was the Australian Catholic writer and priest Edmund Campion (not someone I would normally recommend) who said that Catholics outside Europe keep a sort of ideal in their minds and hearts of the great beauties of the Catholic Church. Although they may live with banality in their own church architecture, art and music, they know that in Europe, maybe in France, maybe in Italy, there is something sublime - that great Catholic art and music are to be found there.

Certainly, when I listen to this, Allegri's Miserere, I know that this is really true.

Actually, it occurs to me that as someone who gets to assist at a sung Latin Mass quite frequently, I am less starved of beauty and dignity than most modern Catholics.

Julian

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Collingwood are the "silvertails"

In the midst of all the Collingwood vs Carlton waffle at the Collingwood site is this:

" Carlton, originally a working class suburb, if not as salt of the earth as Collingwood, eventually allowed itself to be hijacked by egotistical show-boaters and became identified as a silvertailed, elitist outfit. "

Now, I don't hold a brief for Carlton - a spoilt, arrogant club - but since when has Collingwood been a working class club? Sure, it's a club mainly supported by dingbats, but dingbats make good money these days.

The genuinely working class, battler, club is the Footscray (Western) Bulldogs. They've always been working class, and they still are.


Julian

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It's the Religion, Stupid!

Over at The Anus Monologues, Andrew Sullivan quotes this approvingly about the American Archbishop Myers:

" What Myers is loathed for is his recent decree that friends and loved ones are not permitted to give eulogies at their loved ones' funeral masses. "

A requiem mass is meant to be a solemn occasion for earnest prayer for God's mercy and forgiveness, combined with the pious hope of salvation. It is not meant to be a lay canonisation, a testimonial dinner or a "celebrity roast".

If you must have something secular, hold a "wake".

Julian

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Sunday, May 09, 2004

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It is sad that this has to be said, but timely

Fred defends white males. See "Uppity White Male".

"Yes, but, other than inventing civilisation, what have you done for us recently?"


Julian


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When does critique equal advertisement?

Something which has often troubled me is whether citing and criticising something can actually just advertise it. I suppose it is like the situation in which attempts to censor and condemn a film, say, can simply give it more publicity. This can happen with immoral films; and also with moral films, such as Mel Gibson's "The Passion", which got a lot of help from outraged people who wanted to, effectively, censor it.

I thought of this again when I noticed that someone had found this site by searching on the "astrological significance of [the recently discovered small planet] Quaoar". He would have found something I had cited on this, although critically of course.

And then there is the case of a well-known blog that is basically devoted to tracing developments in the occult world, from a Catholic perspective. Is this a good facility for warning people, or does it actually serve to spread knowledge of undesirable occult matters?

I was going to make a note on this blog about an error of transcription in CS Lewis' diaries that referred to an occult artist of his time; but then I thought, no, I don't want to advertise that creep (the artist, not Lewis).

Julian

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Google improving

I notice that Google seems to be finding more of my archive pages now. That should help traffic.

Julian

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Russian Orthodox to Roman Catholic

At Mass today a young mother was received into the Catholic Church. She had been Russian Orthodox. I can't remember such a case before. Anglican to Catholic is not uncommon, but from Orthodoxy to Catholicism is not typical.

I noticed that she crossed herself the eastern way - right to left. I wonder if eastern Catholics do that.

There is a striking looking Russian Orthodox church in Narrabundah, here in Canberra. I think I once popped in for a look. I don't think there was anywhere to sit. At least if you convert you get to sit down.

Julian

PS Yes, some eastern Catholics cross themselves right to left. This site has details. In the "Byzantine" rites one crosses oneself right to left. That includes the Russian Catholics, for example.


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Saturday, May 08, 2004

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Foolish people do good things; good people do foolish things

Here's something strange I found out yesterday - the man who first divided the Rosary into the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries was the Dominican witchcraft prosectutor and author of the "The Hammer of Witches", Jacques Sprenger:

" It was to a Dominican, an Inquisitor moreover, Jacques Sprenger (I436 1496), the famous co author of Hammer of the Witches but also founder of a Rosary Confraternity in Cologne, that the division of the mysteries into joyful, sorrowful and glorious events, which has rhythmically supported the piety of whole generations, was attributed. "


I think most Catholics would regard this traditional division of the mysteries as an essential and excellent aspect of the prayer. And we owe it to this - weirdo - who helped egg on the witch craze.

On the other hand, we have John Paul II, whom even non-Catholics respect and like, and he has tacked the Luminous Mysteries onto the Rosary, which have broken the ancient symmetry.


Julian

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The Trad vs NeoCon wars

To some extent, there is a paper war (or perhaps an Internet war) between Catholics who really should agree, and do, on major issues, but have a different cognitive style. This is the Trad/NeoCon war. Of course, we are all Catholics and love one another, but ...

I found this on Steve Sailer's site:

" Ron Chernow's magnificent new biography of Alexander Hamilton begins with these of his subject's words: "I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be." That is the core of conservatism. Traditional conservatism. Nothing "neo" about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix. "

To my way of thinking, this political distinction can be extended to the religious debate among Catholics-who-are-not-liberals. Traditionalists would claim to see things as they are, not as they "ought to be"; they are sceptical of claims of progress; they are sceptical of appeals to "the new", "progress", "our better nature". Whereas Neo-Conservatives in the Catholic Church, taking their cue from John Paul II, are forever finding newness, hope and improvement. They are like people who can see all kinds of things in the clouds. Traditionalists just squint and reply that they can't see anything, and isn't it about to start raining?

Julian




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The thoughts of Fred

Fred often says interesting things.

From his "The Feminization of America":

" The implications of female influence for freedom, at least as men understand the word, are not good. Women will accept restrictions on their behavior if in doing so they feel more secure. They have less need of freedom, which is not particularly important in living a secure, orderly, routine, and comfortable life. They tend not to see political correctness as irritating, but as keeping people from saying unpleasant things. "

I am not sure that he says anything terribly new about men, women and trends, but he says it well. I tend to think though that - if nature plays any role - the trends he describes may be self-limiting.

As for "feminization" as an American phenomenon, I always think of a line from a sociologist I knew: "Anything you say about America is true - it's a big country". Also, if Fred is really interested in societal feminisation, I think that small homogeneous countries where traditional religion is weak are more likely candidates: New Zealand, Canada, Norway.


Julian



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"Obtuse" watch

I just heard a man on EWTN use the word "obtuse" when he meant "abstruse". A senior academic at Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio.

This is a very common mistake, even among the well-educated.

The funniest malapropism I ever heard may have been that of a senior civil servant I worked for who referred more than once to a "blancmange" of issues when he meant to say "melange".

A "blancmange" is a kind of old-fashioned dessert.


Julian


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Friday, May 07, 2004

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Catholic bric-a-brac

I read some lady blogger today who said that clothes shopping is a "little slice of heaven". My "little slice of heaven" would be visiting second-hand shops like the St Vincent de Paul shops, also known as "op shops". I buy cheap books, magazines and old records.

Lately we have found a few interesting old Catholic pictures at these op shops. Sometimes they seem overpriced, but we did buy a copy of an Annibale Caracci Holy Family (a bit chocolate box, with a moribund-looking Joseph, almost like a wraith to one side). Also, I found an old picture of St Pius X. And now my wife has come home with a really charming allegorical depiction of the Blessed Virgin handing the rosary to the Dominicans.

Julian


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How to spend 145 dollars in a record shop in twenty minutes

I went to Abel's, Manuka, here in Canberra, to buy Mother's Day CDs for my wife (on behalf of the children of course) and my mother. I bought a Dolly Parton CD and a Dixie Chicks CD for my wife, more or less as requested. My mother has eclectic tastes, so I wasn't sure, but I know she likes Handel, so I bought his "Vespers for the Carmelites" (Vespers for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). It looks very promising. Also Philip Glass' incidental music for Bela Lugosi's "Dracula", played by the Kronos Quartet (could anything be more "dark and disturbed"?) I think she will enjoy them.

For myself, I was looking for a copy of the Allegri "Miserere", that storied piece of music based on the vespers for Holy Thursday (Psalm 51). I found a Tallis Scholars version (bundled with Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli). I liked the prospect of the countertenors mentioned on the cover. They have a soprano singing the Miserere, whereas a boy's voice is more traditional. On the other hand, the alternative version on sale had a boy's voice, but it was sung in English! As I told the record store dude, I am a Latin Mass Catholic and I would prefer the thing sung in Latin.

That is, I would rather have a woman singing in Latin than a boy singing in English.

Julian


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Google

Google picks up only the current page of this blog, whereas other search engines like Yahoo find all the archived pages as well. Google used to find the archived pages but not any more. Except, for some reason, Google finds this one.

There must be something on that archived page that Google really likes. I wonder what.


Julian

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Ads for blokes

There aren't many ads aimed squarely at blokes. I saw one last night. I think that it was an advertisement for beer. It involved some yahoos whacking cane toads over a fence with golfsticks. Poor dumb animals. And it was cruel to the toads too.

Also last night was an ad with a guy driving "Mum's Taxi" and then doing a bit of sloppy vacuuming and looking stressed out, and then mum comes home with some fast food. Silly old dad! Good old mum! Good grief.

I quite liked a Gillette advertisement I saw once - "The Best a Man Can Get" was the tag line I think. It had a nice shot of a real bloke with his bride (perverted, I know, but some men like marrying women). But apparently Gillette are to be criticised:

" Mach 3 is itself a pretty stupid conceit. Razors as military technology? And the advertising has not been inspired, with one recent spot featuring a picture of a red sports car interspersed with shots of a red Mach 3.

(I have met the Gillette marketing team. They came to Harvard to sing their own praises. I do not mean to be cruel, but I did not come away with a sense that this was a group superbly connected to contemporary culture.)

The marketing press is beginning to rumble in protest. In this week’s Strategy Magazine, Rob Tarry of Rethink says,

Come on, this category embarrasses me as a gender. How do our wives/girlfriends/sisters keep a straight face when these ads air? Give it up my stubbly brother, we’re not going to be astronauts or jet fight pilots or race car drivers. What are we, nine? "


What is it about American men? Why are they such wimps? I suppose it is years of being hit over the head with feminism, from grade school to grad school.

Anyway, yes of course grown men realise that they won't be race car drivers. But there is a bit of the nine year old in every healthy, happy man (it's the bit that helps him understand and share a young son's enthusiasms). Likewise there is a bit of the nine year old in every woman. Women know that they won't become actresses and models, but that doesn't stop such images appearing in ads aimed at women. Nor should it.


Julian

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Vocabulary advice for bloggers and thoughts on "ER"

Many people write "obtuse" when they mean "abstruse". Don't be obtuse when you set out to be abstruse.

I watch very little TV these days. Real life keeps intruding. Why watch TV when your real life is like a sitcom, only with less attractive people and less amusing jokes? And no laugh track. That's the problem with life - no laugh track.

Still, I saw the second half of "ER" last night. Carter is supposed to be very good looking. I suppose he is in a puppy dog way. Anyway, he is rich. He came back from the Congo with a beautiful woman, who looks Ethiopian to me, but let that pass. Anyway, said beautiful woman is pregnant to Carter. But she is not working out script-wise, I suspect, which means she will have to be got rid of. Next week's episode features some tragedy, and I suspect they are going to split up Carter and his African bit of fluff. They had her hanging around the ER, but that didn't make any sense. I suppose they could turn her into an administrative clerk, then a nurse, then a medical student, and have her doing heart operations after a couple of episodes, but she is one of those women who clearly belongs on the catwalk or somewhere ethereal, not sweating it out in an emergency room, stepping around pools of blood and dodging vomit. So, she has to go. I suppose we'll find out how next week.

They could, theoretically, have her as a stay-at-home-mom but this is Hollywood after all.

Julian

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Clear thinking on a murky subject

From this article on the economics of prostitution:

" Prostitution has an unusual feature: it is well paid despite being lowskill,labor intensive, and, one might add, female dominated. Earnings even in the worst-paid type, streetwalking, may be several multiples of full-time earnings in professions with comparable skill requirements.
For instance, newspaper reports of earnings for prostitutes in Sweden in 1998 were as high as SEK 14,000 (U.S.$1,750) a day (Aftonbladet, September 25, 1998), amounting to about a month’s earnings in a regular unskilled job. The Economist (February 14, 1998) reported that Arabic women could make $2,000 a night in the Gulf states, and in the same article, a Latvian prostitute claimed she averaged $5,000 per month, 20 times the average wage. How can equilibrium earnings in a profession with only rudimentary skill and capital requirements be such that a woman can make in a day what for most women takes weeks or months?

The key to this puzzle may lie in the following observation: a woman cannot be both a prostitute and a wife. Combine this with the fact that marriage can be an important source of income for women, and it follows that prostitution must pay better than other jobs to compensate for the opportunity cost of forgone marriage market earnings.

Furthermore, if a man’s willingness to support a wife exceeds his willingness to pay for a prostitute and if the supply of women in an endogamous group is largely fixed, we may understand two other stylized facts about prostitution: why prostitutes are promiscuous and why prostitution is prevalent wherever large numbers of men congregate temporarily. Moreover, prostitution has seen a secular decline in developed countries, and we propose that this may be linked not only to higher female incomes but also to higher male incomes. Prostitution has a poor reputation, and although tangential to the focus of this paper, the presence of social stigma is consistent with the proposed mechanism. Finally, we argue that recognition of prostitution as an alternative female strategy may shed light on the evolution of marriage patterns, in particular why polygyny and polyandry do not coexist. "


Julian

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Thursday, May 06, 2004

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The economic way of thinking

The economics blogs are some of the best. They often contain insights that are both useful and intriguing. I found this one yesterday, which claims to sit at the intersection of anthropology and economics.

I was reminded of an economist's remarks when I had lunch at a place today. I ordered what I ordered the last time, a meal I remember as cheap and excellent. It was OK, but just OK. Why? Perhaps because of what Julian Simon wrote:

" Have you noticed that, when you return to a restaurant where you had a remarkably good meal the first time you ate there, the second meal is seldom as good as the first time? That's because the remarkable first meal is likely to have been so good at least partly by chance, and the chance element is unlikely to be repeated again. "

A good insight, except that I would add that the second time you eat the same dish at the same restaurant, you will be different too. Your tastes may have changed; your mood, your digestion, the company, and so on, will likely be different. The whole ambience will be different.

I wonder if the same kind of principle applies to another life situation - putting a book on order. Very often - though not always - by the time the book arrives after a few weeks, it no longer has the same initial appeal. Whatever enthusiasm engendered the original desire to read the book has dissipated. One has moved on and one's interests have changed. Sometimes deferred gratification effectively means no gratification.

Julian


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Economics of Prostitution

An interesting article on the economics of prostitution, which I found at The Idea Shop.

I haven't read the article fully yet, but it is good to see at least a nod to sociobiology (e.g. reference to Robert Trivers' work). I am less impressed by the references to Kinsey, a notoriously sloppy researcher.

Julian



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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

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Any more islands left to discover?

This book by Henry Stommel, "Lost Islands: the Story of Islands That Have Vanished from Nautical Charts" is truly fascinating and the sort of book that really intrigues me. However there is a bizarre inconsistency in Chapter 19, "Do Satellites Settle the Hash?", about the use of satellite imagery to check the locations of islands.

On page 103 of my copy, Stommel writes:

"In a world where unimportant little islands have low priority, one cannot expect that those who study satellite images can spend much time looking for them. Although the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency has funded the Landsat imaging of a sizable portion of the world's shallow seas, only a fraction of these images has, to date, been carefully analysed. The Thematic Mapper data is very slow and expensive to work with, and those in-the-know doubt that we will ever obtain global coverage with it. So we can conclude that satellites have not yet settled the hash of all islands that do not exist, or perhaps even of some tiny unknown ones that do exist."

But, on page 104, Stommel writes:

"Although there may be some more shoals and submerged dangers, whose existence is as yet unknown, and which may be discovered by satellite, it scarcely seems likely that a new island will be found."

So, on page 103, he entertains the possibility that some unknown islands still await discovery, but over the page a new island "scarcely seems likely". Poor editing.

As for scanning satellite images, Stommel was writing in 1984. It seems likely that improvements in automation and computing will be rendering total coverage of knowledge of oceanic features more attainable.

If no new islands exist, what remains to be discovered and explored? Well, anything that can't be seen from the sky or space. That includes the depths of the sea and anything under the rainforest canopy or under ice, although "ice penetrating radar" can locate lakes like Lake Vostok in Antarctica. A recent issue of New Scientist discussed "cloud forests", in which the vegetation is of course scarcely visible from the air. Cloud forests remain relatively unknown.


Julian

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Finally - the vacuum cleaning robot arrives


Named the "trilobite", after the extinct creature. Hmmm, it emits high-pitched noises and moves around the floor. Sounds like a dog toy to me.


Julian

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A sociologist who isn't a crashing bore

He's Laurie Taylor. I read his interview in a book called "Sociologists on Sociology" some time ago and was impressed with his candour and wit.

I have complained before on this blog about the way sociologists take an interesting subject and make it boring (I know all academics sometimes do this, but sociologists are the champions.) So, here's a bloke who breaks the mould.

This sociological site also looks relatively un-dull.

The editor of "Sociologists on Sociology" is one Bob Mullan. It turns out I have a book of his written with Laurie Taylor himself: "Uninvited Guests: the Intimate Secrets of Television and Radio" and another on "Zoo Culture".


Julian

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More traffic

I've been getting some traffic thanks to Come on, Get Lively and now being on the St Blog's Parish Webring. Which is nice.

This site is also on the webring, Barefoot and Pregnant. Great title.

Julian

PS Heard in the office just now: "I got to Gundaroo before I realised that the damn dog was in the car." What an essentially Australian remark.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

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The game I missed

I missed the game at Manuka Oval last weekend. I have never seen the Bulldogs play in real life, only on TV, and I have only seen them win once. So, last Saturday's game would have been a beaut. Oh, well. At least they won. The story is here.

I was interested in this line:

" Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, most of their loyal fans in Melbourne missed seeing one of the club’s gutsiest wins, and so did most of Canberra with the match played in front of the smallest crowd ever for an AFL match at Manuka of just 7,222 fans. "

It is not surprising that the crowd was so small. The Kangaroos have "no fixed address" and have a small supporter base. Someone told me once that even their success in recent decades has never translated into a big supporter base. They obviously have some "history" and image, the "Shinboners", but not enough. And my poor team, the Bulldogs, are in a supporter slump, and expecting the denizens of Western Melbourne to traipse up to Canberra is a big "ask". I did see a few supporters around the Manuka area, but nothing like the "Collingwood Army", of course.

The ladder has the Bulldogs at a respectable 11th. It is weird to see the Saints on top and Collingwood on the bottom.

Julian



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Pro-Abortion Celebrities

An official list is here.

Some of the names are not surprising. (Martin Sheen is not pro-abortion apparently. That was a mistake.) The list is not that long actually. However, I was sorry to see the following names: Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Bacon, Fran Drescher, Helen Hunt, Uma Thurman, Calista Flockhart and Ewan McGregor. I had thought better of all of them. I do care, stupidly enough.

Julian

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Monday, May 03, 2004

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So where does Mr Donovan come off ...?

One of Bob Sungenis' most recent articles is a demolition of the case against women covering their heads in Mass.

It may be found here. Scroll down to the article titled "Should Women Wear Veils?"

A sample passage:

" The problem with Mr. Donovan’s view of Galatians 3:28 is that it doesn’t support any of the things he is advocating. First, if Galatians 3:28 is the watershed verse Mr. Donovan claims it to be, why didn’t St. Paul give it the same interpretation Mr. Donovan is giving it? For that matter, why didn’t the Church for over 1900+ years give it Mr. Donovan’s interpretation? Galatians was one of St. Paul’s first epistles, coming even before 1 Corinthians (the passage at issue). Mr. Donovan would have us believe that St. Paul writes about the freedom of women in Galatians 3:28, yet is this not the same Paul who writes that women should have their head covered to show they are under the authority of men, and because of the angels (1 Cor 11:3-16)? Is this not the same Paul who told women to keep quiet at Mass, and if they had any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, and stated that this was a “command of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:34-35)? Is this not the same Paul who, in a later epistle, told women to be in submission to the man because Adam was “formed first” and “Eve was in the transgression” (1 Tim 2:11-14)? So where does Mr. Donovan come off in seeing a whole new vista of female prerogatives in liturgy and ecclesiastics based on Galatians 3:28? "


Julian

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Another "Prince of the Church" acts like a Princess

I had real hopes of this bloke.

But he has wimped out.


Julian

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Saturday, May 01, 2004

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Doing this helps fight anti-semitic sites on the Internet

Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew.

The background story is here.


Julian


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Paternalism?

Dynamist Blog refers to an article and asks:

" My best guess, and it's only a guess, is that author Douglas Kern is making a veiled argument that a culture of traditional religion, perhaps Catholicism, would prevent domestic violence. "

It might if the Pope taught the traditional meaning of Ephesians, which is "wives, be nice to your husbands and do what they say; husbands, be nice to your wives and don't hit them". I paraphrase. However that is what the text basically says.

There is a lot of interesting theology still to do on what all that quite lengthy peroration aimed at husbands really means. In the King James Version:


" Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. "


It doesn't seem to get a lot of attention but there is deeper material there that needs genuine exegesis. In my view, John Paul II muffed the chance to teach on what husbandly love and husbandly duties in respect of that love actually mean. Instead he floated a notion of "mutual submission" that has no basis in scripture, tradition or logic.

Another missed opportunity of this papacy.


Julian





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