Wednesday, June 30, 2004


An educational resource called Spectrum. A nursing magazine called Spectrum. A pop culture magazine called Spectrum. A sports magazine called Spectrum. A religious magazine called Spectrum. An arts magazine called Spectrum. An alternative Internet magazine called Spectrum. Logistics Spectrum. A natural resources magazine called Spectrum. A health magazine called Spectrum. A World Bank magazine called Spectrum. International Spectrum. San Francisco Spectrum. Asian Spectrum. Diabetes Spectrum. MIT's Spectrum magazine. Scotland on Sunday Spectrum. Ohio media Spectrum.

And, to put all your Spectrum magazines in, the Spectrum magazine rack.


Fisking Sister

I've always wanted to fisk Sister Veronica Brady. Here is my chance (my comments in bold):

" Where the River Runs: The Catholic Church in Australia

by Veronica Brady

It may seem a strange thing to say but I suspect that today is perhaps a good time to be a Catholic in Australia. Habit is a great deadener, especially as far as faith is concerned. When I was growing up, for instance, I more or less took the whole Christian story for granted.

Julian: It sounds like habit helped your faith, Sister. So it was not a "great deadener". But do go on ...

Being part of the self-enclosed world of Melbourne Catholicism, I assumed that everyone else did too. True, from time to time it was borne in on me that we were somehow different, setting off to Mass on a cold Sunday mornings in winter, for example, when most of the neighbours were still in bed, or hearing grown-ups talk about 'prejudice against Catholics' and how difficult it was to succeed in business where 'the Free Masons controlled everything'.

Julian: Usually written Freemasons. A Free Mason is someone who will lay bricks for nothing.

But none of that really bothered me. After all, I reasoned, we were members of the 'One True Church', in possession of the Truth and always knew - or at least The Church knew - what was right and what was wrong.

Everyone else needed to listen to us.

But all that is gone today. After the excitement, the sense of liberation, of coming into the fullness of our Christian inheritance generated by Vatican II, a pall seems to have settled on the institutional Church as it turns its back on the complex and challenging world in which we live and retreats into an imagined past of unchanging belief and absolute notions of right and wrong.

Julian: What is Sister actually trying to say? That we have lost our certainties ("all that is gone today") or that we have regained them ("retreats into an imagined past of unchanging belief")? Which is it? This essay needed an editor.

Being a Catholic of this kind seems to me rather like being a devotee of Plato's unchanging forms

Julian: When in doubt, mention Plato's Forms. It always makes one sound intellectual.

instead of a disciple of the God who commits his divinity to this world, 'going on ways to Godself

Julian: "Godself" - struth!

through this world even when they lead to other places, even to that which is not God', as one theologian, Eberhard Jungel, puts it. In that sense, as he says, 'to think God means to be taken along by God', to be drawn into strange and challenging places as we attempt to follow these ways.

I still remember, for instance, the winter afternoon in the library of the University of Chicago where I was studying when I first began to understand this, coming upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters And Papers From Prison and being stopped in my tracks by his argument that God does not come to us on the edges of life in special religious places but is intimately involved in the joys and pains, hopes and fears of everyday life.

Julian: You don't say.

So we are called to read 'the signs of the times', to commit ourselves to our world and not turn our back on it but to become involved in God's struggle to transform creation.

Julian: A big fat non sequitur. But never mind, the sentiment is so very "correct" no-one is likely to notice.

Unfortunately the official Church today seems to be moving in the opposite direction, becoming increasingly defensive and turned in on itself, preoccupied with self-preservation and with institutional matters, unable or unwilling to come to terms with, much less meet the challenges of the complex world we live in as it reiterates old habits and past teachings.

Julian: That's right - ya gotta keep changing those teachings.

In effect the Spirit of prophecy seems to have gone away on an extended holiday.

Julian: Maybe He got bored with reading this kind of crap.

Many religious orders are dying out for lack of vocations, there is a desperate shortage of priests and yet a blank refusal to consider the possibility of married clergy or of the ordination of women.

Julian: This screed won't inspire or convince anyone.

Theologians attempting to do what St Thomas Aquinas did in his day, to carry on a respectful dialogue with contemporary thought, are silenced and persecuted, and more and more ordinary Catholics are dropping out, finding Church teachings, especially those to do with contraception and sexuality generally increasingly irrelevant to their actual situation before God.

Julian: "This is a hard saying ..."

But there is no need to go on with this melancholy catalogue. Why then do I say that it is nevertheless a good time to be a Catholic?

W.H.Auden's saying that

It is where we are wounded

That is when He speaks

is perhaps my main reason. Habit, as we have said, is dangerous, particularly as far as faith is concerned. As J.B.Metz has it, the best short definition of God may well be 'interruption'. But we are always inclined to domesticate God, to equate him with our own desires, create a God as it were in our own image. This is the point of Marx's famous critique, that what we call 'God' is merely a projection of psychological, political or economic need. As I see it, however, the crucified Lord is anything but that, one whose power appears to us as powerlessness and his wisdom as foolishness, as St Paul insists.

The living God is dynamic, beyond any understanding of ours, continually revealing himself in and through history and in the natural world and cannot therefore ever be contained in any institutional forms or words about him.

Julian: Christ said "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church".

Karl Barth compares them to the banks a river throws up as it flows, pointing out, however, that rivers often change courses, as God also does in his dealings with us with the result that if we cling to religious words and institution we are like people sitting by dried up river beds.

Julian: Christ didn't say "I won't found a church - just go with the flow."

God's life has gone on before us. This, I think, is the possibility we need to confront when we look at those in the Church today who seem to cling to tradition for its own sake, and in the process, in my view misconstruing the idea if tradition as 'running errands for the dead', running that is, to carry on their wisdom in terms of the future.

This is not to deny the need for institutions. Since we are social beings and, as Karl Rahner reminds us, 'salvation touches the whole person and places [us] as a whole and with all the dimensions of our existence in relationship to God', we need a social and institution of our faith, and this has always been one of the strengths of Catholicism, its ability to give expression to the faith of people in ways appropriate to their society and culture. But the institution itself is not an end in itself but a means to the inner mystery on which our existence turns, 'the nameless one who does not enter the world we can name as part of it ...the silent one who is always there and yet can always be overlooked, unheard, and, because it expresses the whole in all its unity and totality, can be passed over as meaningless.' (Karl Rahner).

Julian: Utter bumf.

Simone Weil understood this, I suspect, when she refused Baptism because she rejected what she called the 'Church patriotism' which seemed to her often to substitute for commitment to this mystery.

Julian: Simone Weil was a poseur.

Religion is not necessarily the same as faith. Religion can be social, even tribal - one recalls, for example, James Joyce's remark that the Holy Roman Catholic Church was Ireland's answer to the British Empire and something similar might be said of Polish Catholicism. But faith by definition interrogates appearances. As the Letter To The Hebrews has it, it rests rather on 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' It does not reject this present world but looks to more profound possibilities within it. In The Varieties Of Religious Experience William James makes this point, arguing that faith, genuine religious experience, rests on a sense that the so-called order of nature, which constitutes the world's experience, is only one portion of the total universe, and that there stretches beyond this visible world an unseen world of which we now know nothing positive, but in its relation to which the true significance of our present mundane life consists.

Julian: I have always meant to read that book, but now it seems less important.

The Church then is both a visible and an invisible reality, a community of faith, hope and love called together by the gift of God to live out in the world that life given to us in Baptism and to witness to its transforming power. It follows from this, however, that there will always be, and indeed needs to be, a certain tension between Church and society since the God who came amongst us in Jesus of Nazareth was crucified because of the challenge he posed to the present order of things. It has taken me some time to realize this. I still remember, for example, how puzzled I was as an undergraduate by the remark of my tutor, a young Protestant theologian, who used to say that 'it was Constantine who did all the damage'. Constantine of course was the Roman Emperor who made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, thus bringing Christ and Caesar together. The temptation remains, for Catholicism perhaps more strongly than for Protestantism, to do deals with the state to protect its institutional needs - in this country this has been particularly evident as far as Catholic schools and health care are concerned.

Nevertheless I also take comfort in the fact that we belong to a community of sinners, in need of God's grace to realize who we really are and can be, not a spiritual elite. Indeed one of the things I have always loved in Catholicism is its comprehensiveness, the way in which people of all cultures, classes and psychological and moral shapes and sizes can all belong together and get on with one another. But that is also why I am troubled by the growing intolerance as Church authorities attempt to fit us all into one mould made in Rome which takes little account of local or cultural differences and the tendency to condemn any attempt to rethink our faith in terms of contemporary thought and experience. But who possibly can have the last word on God's ways with and in this world?

Julian: We've had the local and the contemporary in the Church for forty years. It's been a flop of millennial proportions. Not to mention a bore of cosmic size.

In fact, trust in and reverence for this world has always seemed to me a mark of Catholicism; the belief that, in the light of the Resurrection, it is essentially good and that, to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins,

The world is charged with the grandeur of God...

...Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with

ah! bright


So to me the institutional Church's apparent distrust of the contemporary world and seeming unwillingness to discover where God may be speaking to us in the midst of its muddle, pain and anxieties is deeply troubling. Of all Christians, for example, with our sacramental sense of reality, Catholics should be in the forefront of the environmental and ecological movements.

Julian: Yes, throw that in. But you forgot animal rights.

As Rahner says, revelation is unfinished, provisional and not yet completely successful. So it is our task to remain open to and humble before the signs of the times and ready to follow the creative Spirit of God going before us and working to transform the world.

So it is a good, if challenging, thing to be a Catholic of my kind today. Let me conclude then with these words of Simone Weil. Our world's great need today, she wrote,

'...is for a new type of sanctity, ...a fresh spring, an invention. If all is kept in proportion and if the order of each thing is preserved, it [will be] almost equivalent to a new revelation of the universe and of human destiny. It [will be] the exposure of a large portion of truth and beauty hitherto concealed under a thick layer of dust. But it will not be easy and it may be dangerous.

Julian: More bumf.

More genius is needed than was needed by Archimedes to invent mechanics and physics. A new saintliness is a still more marvelous invention'.

But it is surely an invention we badly need.

Julian: Well, go off and invent it.

Sr Veronica Brady, ibvm, was born in Melbourne in 1929. She became one of the first religious women to teach in a university, broadcast on radio and engage in socio-political debate. Dr Brady became an associate professor of English at the University of Western Australia in 1991, and currently holds the position of Honorary Senior Research Fellow there. She has also served on the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is the author of several books and numerous articles. "

Julian: She still needs a good editor.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"Breaking open the Word"

Our Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn recently held a synod. Apparently, a recommendation of the synod was for the compilation of:

"a register of competent and qualified women who can break open the Word at parish liturgies."

I suggest that these ladies begin by "breaking open" this part of the Word (1 Timothy 2:11-15, The Jerusalem Bible)

"During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I am not giving permission for a woman to teach or to tell a man what to do. A woman ought not to speak, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin."


Industrial beauty

The lower illustration of an electricity pylon - at the "Pylon of the Month" Archive - is described as follows:

" Midland Electricity Plc's PKW 77 provides an oasis of beauty in an otherwise rather charmless Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire industrial estate. "

It does have a certain functional beauty. In fact, I would describe it as a delightful exercise in solid geometry rendered in filigree. So many of our reactions to objects are coloured by convention. Unless a structure is proclaimed as beautiful we tend to ignore its aesthetic side.

"Nerds" find beauty in places ordinary people don't. But I am troubled by a whiff of irony that I detect at the above website. True nerds do not do irony, even British nerds like these.

A somewhat relevant discussion is here. Here is 2Blowhards writing about the aesthetics of scenarios like "Bladerunner" and techno-noir in general:

" To be honest, I can't imagine getting much pleasure out of the techno-noir fantasy world. I had my share of little-boy, action-comedy fantasy pleasures when I was a child, but I put them aside as a teen when I discovered art, sex, and France. And since eroticism has always been central to my interest in Culture, my own fantasies tend to run off in the general direction of actresses, women, sailboats, beaches, Provence ...

I'd never, ever choose to spend fantasy time in a drizzly, silicon-implanted, cyber-decaying, back-alley Tokyo. This world looks like a nightmare to me, and not an alluring one. It doesn't turn me on and make me want to battle it out with bad guys; instead it makes my brain hurt. It makes me want to leave town for a refreshing weekend in the country ..."

Well, actually I can appreciate both. Sometimes I think it would be fine to live in a sundrenched oasis, or even the backstreets of Marseille, sunny, warm and indolent. Other times, the techno-noir world of Bladerunner or Neuromancer has its appeal, all Asian noodle houses, mysterious cyber-chicks and backyard biotechnology chopshops. It depends on my mood.

I notice that the pylon enthusiasts like to collect the numbers of the pylons. The small bridges over the stormwater drains here in Canberra are all numbered. I assume this is to facilitate maintenance.

Very few writers are alive to the beauty of technology. One of the reasons I like JG Ballard's fiction is that he understands the romance of multistorey carparks, airports and freeways. He has even set one of his novellas on a traffic island.



Monday, June 28, 2004

"Pilgrimage" Blog

Pilgrimage writes of a priest's views on a text from Galatians:

" He cites Paul's statement about how there is neither Jew, nor Greek, nor male nor female and then says "...after 2,000 years we’re still working on the male/female thing." What on earth does this mean? Paul could have been referring to either heaven [or] in God's Church on earth. That is, all are welcome regardless of race or sex in God's family. He did not say that the roles of men and women were antiquated and outdated, as I assume, Karban seeks to imply. "

Quite so. This ridiculous idea that for two thousand years Christians were too darn stupid to notice the relevant passage from Galatians and interpret it correctly is simply outlandish. Does anybody think that the general level of thinking is higher now than ever before? I don't. People are getting bigger and dumber. This is the result of a diet of good food and bad teaching.

If modern Catholics are so smart, why is the Church in such a mess?

I have blogged on this before (recently). At all levels of the Church - and I do mean all - we see this fashionable use of Galatians to attempt to break down God-given distinctions between the sexes. It is simply a postmodern approach to the biblical text - a matter of ignoring the real meaning of the text and simply interpreting it to suit oneself. It isn't scriptural, it isn't traditional, it's just mindrot. It is the way Nietzsche argued - if you don't like the Truth, change it. At least Nietzsche had the excuse that he had syphilis.

Why is it that the laity, like Peggy of Pilgrimage, have to correct the errant clergy?



Blog Post of the Month

"Jellyfish of the Month"

"Pylon of the Month"

"Molecule of the Month"

Another "Molecule of the Month" (Proteins)

"Gourmet Chocolate of the Month"

"Microbe of the Month"

"Neurology Case of the Month"



- that's a funny name for a blog.

To "plump" for something, meaning to choose it, is a word that I first came across in reading old English school stories. But it seems it has a modern usage. I heard a young woman of my acquaintance use it a while back, but she is a bit old-fashioned. Now, however, Mommentary, an American, uses it: " I've always said that, if I'd been given a choice between having four sons and one daughter, or four daughters and one son, I'd have unhesitatingly plumped for the former. "

"Plumped" - it's a nice word. Let's bring it back. Much nicer than "Tugabooga".


Intelligence - those two little letters

IQ, that is.

Below I blogged on a blogger who reports her IQ to be 145. This is a good, sound IQ and will get you a good job probably. It means that your intelligence is not going to stop you doing a Ph.D. for example. Something else may - your tolerance or patience or your lack of affinity with the subject - but not your intelligence.

As a rule of thumb, an IQ of 140 is only found in one in a hundred people. An IQ of 150 is found in about one in a thousand. That is, about one kid in a school form will have a 140 IQ, and about one kid in the whole school will sport a 150 IQ.

Americans make a fetish of IQ, like they make a fetish of figures in general. "Americans love statistics", I read once: well, 97.56 % of them do.

Anyway, an IQ of 145 is good, but it is nothing to write home about. I really enjoyed Time-Life's classic volume "The Mind" when I was a kid. It included a chapter on intelligence, with a picture of a rather good-looking kid peering down a microscope with a caption like this: "Barry Wichman of Rockwell City, Iowa, whose IQ of 162 puts him in the top one per cent of intelligence". Actually, he would have been about one in ten thousand. I often wonder what happened to Barry Wichman of Rockwell City, Iowa.

Of course, most people look smart peering down a microscope.


The Shining

"The Shining" was on TV last night. I watched a fair bit of it, up to the moment where Mrs Torrance locks her deranged husband in the pantry.

It's certainly not a bad film. The score is good (some of it is Bartok), Jack Nicholson is always interesting, the actress who plays his wife is sweet, the little boy is only mildly annoying, the black cook who knows about "the shining" is only mildly annoying. The scenery and the sets are excellent, and there is something inherently creepy about a hotel out-of-season. All that snow is interesting for an Australian like me who has seen very little of this crystalline form of H2O.

The vague allusions intended to mask the fundamental fecklessness of the plot are no worse than in most Stephen King adaptations. But the husband and wife I find hard to credit. The Nicholson character is a sometime school teacher of English, who is trying to establish himself as a writer. Such men marry women who are their counterparts, women in the polite, minor professions (librarianship, teaching, social work, publishing). What they don't do is marry pretty, rather gormless-looking housewife types with country accents, who do not demur at being shown the kitchen as their natural environment as soon as they arrive in a new home. I just don't believe the wife. An aspiring writer is not likely to marry such a "prairie muffin". (Tho' I'd rather be married to a "prairie muffin" than a writer any day.)

To my mind, the best sequence in the film is the hallucinated (or whatever) party that Jack attends where he meets the waiter who was a previous caretaker of the hotel. The crescendo of true creepiness is excellent.

But another problem with the film is that while Jack is meant to be sent insane by the hotel somehow, he starts out as not quite right anyway. Nicholson's character has been a violent drunk, and Nicholson the man never looks quite sane. His character's odd behaviour at the start of the film, during his interview for the job, would set alarm bells ringing in most people's minds. There is a generous hint of something more sinister than just a sardonic or saturnine manner in his speech even before he gets to the hotel.



Saturday, June 26, 2004

That "August 7" election

For weeks now the media, particularly the ABC, have been intent on talking up an early election, on August the 7th perhaps. I suspect they want this because it would be a good mid-winter story, and they probably mostly hope to see John Howard gone pronto.

Today Parliament had its last sitting and John Howard apparently went home without stopping by Government House to set an election in motion. Despite this, the media are still talking up an early election, and getting comments from any politician who will stand still long enough to share their fantasies.

Look, I could be wrong, but an early election has never made much sense. Howard is off to gauge the mood of the people. My guess is he will call an election late this year.

As for the media - try changing the record some time.


Babes don't kick butt

The always-refreshing Steve Sailer writes of a Spiderman movie I haven't seen:

" The best thing about the new movie is director Sam Raimi's all-out assault on the butt-kicking babe fetish, that pseudo-feminist trope about how pretty girls can easily beat up big strong men that infests almost all of Raimi's competition. You know how in the climactic fight in every blockbuster for the last five years, the willowy 105 pound love interest will always punch out the bad guy to cheers from the audience? Well, in Spiderman 2, while Spidey (Tobey Maguire) and Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), with his four extra robot arms, are battling it out at the end, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) picks up a two-by-four and sneaks up from behind to whack the eight-limbed freak on the noggin (in itself, a rather old fashioned female movie move -- nowadays, we are mostly shown a semi-anorexic leading lady socking a burly bad man right on the jaw as if she was John Wayne). But, in Spiderman 2, unlike in every other movie this summer, the bad guy turns out to be stronger than the starlet. Without even turning around, Doc Ock dismissively flicks Mary Jane across the room.

Just to rub in his contempt for the butt-kicking babe cliché, Raimi repeatedly shows beautiful women reacting to Doc Ock's attacks not by slamming him around with their kung fu moves, but by looking straight into the camera lens from about 6 inches away and screaming for about ten seconds straight with their mouths so wide open their tonsils show. In one scene, three ladies in a row cut loose with extended screams. It would be awfully annoying if it wasn't so obvious that Raimi is just demonstrating his independence from this particularly stupid stereotype. "

A few thoughts about this. It was cute and clever when Emma Peel did karate chops just like John Steed in The Avengers TV series decades ago. But it has become a real cliche since. Actually, I seem to remember a fight between Steed and Mrs Peel, normally colleagues, which was truly violent but, in the end, Steed won. I don't think anyone was surprised by this. He was a man after all.

In more recent times, as Sailer says, the ladies tend to win. David Duchovny complained about this theme during the X-Files series. There seems to be some unwritten scriptwriter rule that females must beat males in physical contests. The only time I have seen this rule broken in recent years was on an episode of South Park, in which the little boys beat the little girls in a toboggan race.

The good thing about free expression and the media is that it eventually corrects itself. Trends are reversed in time. Perhaps that is the lesson of this Spiderman film.

I have seen Americans use films like GI Jane as evidence (sic) that women should be in combat. Strange, but true. I wonder if this kind of female butt-kicking culture has not contributed to the willingness of Americans to see women near the frontline in places like Iraq. The second thoughts that must have been induced by the cases of Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England - each disasters in their own way - may have made Americans start to rethink the whole issue.


Smart people, dumb moves

Jacqueline the blogger says that she has an IQ of 145. She is also part of the "Free State" movement, who are libertarian Americans who plan to all go and live in New Hampshire. I think this is the American state with the motto "Live Free or Die", although if it is as cold as Jacqueline implies, perhaps "Live Freeze and Die" might be a better motto. On the other hand, I read recently about a group of socially conservative Christians who want to turn South Carolina into a conservative Christian state. I think this is an excellent idea. If I were an American I would head for South Carolina before New Hampshire - the cultural climate would probably suit me better, and the geographical climate certainly would.

Of course, this looks mostly like an attempt to emphasise differences that already exist socially between the states in the US. To some extent that is how a federation ideally works. Conservatives can live in conservative states, maybe even migrate there; and liberals can establish more liberal regimes. The problem in America seems to be that liberals want to force liberal views on the nation as a whole. That's my perspective as an Australian. Perhaps I am wrong, but that's the way it looks from the outside.



Friday, June 25, 2004

Another episode of "ER"

The only TV show I watch with any regularity is "ER". I only came to this program fairly late - around about the time Dr Green was fading out. So, I suspect I missed the time when it was sensible, if it ever was. Still, I enjoy it.

Last night's episode continued the theme of Neela as introvert, now edging her way out of the "ER" itself and into a medical research laboratory. The point is underlined that Neela doesn't have what it takes to be an emergency room doctor and, with her brains, would be better in research. Well, biomedical research in America is competitive too as a career (I would suspect worse than medicine. Doctors are always in demand at some level. People will always get sick. But research is at the mercy of funding.)

Also, they are overdoing the researchers as "geeks" thing. I have known a few biomedical research labs (in fact I once worked in a situation not unlike Neela's current one) and the people who do research consider themselves to be "hotshots". And they have generous egos. Also, if Neela's problem is supposed to be that she lacks coolness under pressure, then she would find that laboratory work requires a lot of that.

They went out of their way to make Neela's colleagues in the laboratory geeky. One was an unprepossessing white guy and the other a nerdy Chinese, both played as buffoons. By comparison, the Chinese man playing a social worker in one of the episode's other subplots was given a dignified treatment.



Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The best national song of them all?

According to this blogger named Charlotte, some silly Americans want to abandon "The Star-Spangled Banner" for another song.

I have long felt that "The Star-Spangled Banner" (lyrics and tune) is the most stirring and beautiful patriotic song I know. I believe that the line that begins "And the rockets' red glare ..." is a great moment in song.

The French "Marseillaise" is good, if one can get the image of scruffy Frenchmen marching to Paris out of one's imagination, but it is not as good as the American song.

Our own "Waltzing Matilda" is quite haunting, but much less powerful. Perhaps Australia's folk songs, "The Wild Colonial Boy" and "Moreton Bay", are as fine as "The Star-Spangled Banner" in their way, but Americans have something fabulous in that song.


The news tonight

It was interesting to see the news on the British patrol boats captured by the Iranians. On Muslim television, the news was read by a cute female newsreader wearing a headscarf. But since the Koran requires two women to witness to a fact, perhaps they should have two females reading the news.

More inspiring was the news of the success of the first private manned space flight. The rocket plane was a neat bit of engineering, although I thought its name, "Spaceflight One", lacked a certain creativity.

Another news item tonight was a story on the children of sperm donors looking for their biological fathers. All the children were women. Don't men want to know who their true, biological fathers were?

"Who was your Dad?"

"Oh, he was a bit of a wanker."



The anthropological economist blog (note specialisation in the blogosphere) blogs on "Monk", a TV show about an obsessive-compulsive detective called Monk.

He writes:

" This raises the question why this show is so very successful. Forty-nine in 50 people might be expected to recoil from this demonstration of neurosis with annoyance or distaste.

But there is another reason the mystery is a mystery. TV detectives are often paragons of competence. Mannix, Peter Gunn, Kojak were all masterful males. Magnum PI, the Rockford files and Columbo had notes of self deprecation but they did not exhibit psychiatric symptoms (unless you count that rain coat). "

Julian: But isn't there a long history of afflicted detectives (even blind ones)? Admittedly, they were mostly physically afflicted, not loopy, but the idea surely is that their genius is combined with a defect of some kind (the old idea that brilliance is accompanied by suffering).

Another quote:

" In real life, OCD is not a pleasant condition. It has been called ‘insanity with insight’ or ‘the doubting disease.’ "

Julian: It's not always that bad. Many people have a touch of it. Personally, I think it is a failure of the normal capacity for assessing probability. Most of life is uncertain and most people easily assign probabilities to possible events. A few do not. These, in my opinion, are the people who have OCD.

OCD is not as serious as a psychosis. It has its funny side (Cf. "As Good as it Gets" with the Jack Nicholson character). People like to laugh at the afflicted. These days the affliction has to be minor for it to be acceptable to laugh at: being a blonde woman, having poor taste, being overweight, being bald, being obsessive.

Another quote from the same site on the topic of mockery of males (fathers in this case):

" There is a model of consent that says that subordinates have the right and the liberty of making fun of their superordinates. It is their way of reminding the monarch that some part of his authority comes from the people. "

Julian: Some earnest culture warriors (men and women) are wont to complain that while women and motherhood are sacrosanct, men and fathers regularly get mocked. My take on this has generally been that this is actually flattering for men because a) it implies that men are in a superior position and therefore - as the above quote explains - deserve to be mocked and b) it implies that men are still held to a high standard of performance. Certainly fathers and husbands in sitcoms are presented as fools to get laughs, but that is because in real life they are expected to be competent protectors. For more evidence, look at the standing gags about mothers in sitcoms. One of the commonest is that she can't cook. Why is this funny? Because women are expected to be good cooks.



Monday, June 21, 2004

Straws in the wind

I get the impression that attendance at Mass here in suburban Canberra is in decline. Maybe it is just mid-winter. But I sense that things are continuing to get worse. We had the Archbishop at mass at our local parish on Sunday. The attendance was surprisingly low. The Archbishop dilated on the Galatians passage - one of the readings of the day - on their being neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free but we are "all one in Christ Jesus". He noted that this was the motto of the recent archdiocesan synod which he had found most useful. He used the text to launch into a general discussion of continuing problems in human rights: on race, gender and economic inequality.

I could not help reflecting that this encapsulated a problem. The Galatians text is not about human rights in that sense. It is not some ur-text of the United Nations. It simply means that all kinds of people can be baptised and saved in Christ.

The Archbishop's spin on the text, and the apparent focus of the synod, are founded on a misapprehension, on a misinterpretation. The whole church indulges in this "spin", in this "creative" approach to scripture and tradition. The whole church, even at the highest level, as people coyly remark.

It's not good. The Catholic Church must return to uncompromising preaching of the unvarnished truth. For example, it has never been church teaching that men and women should be interchangeable, as some now claim based on a misreading of Galatians. That's not Catholicism: that's Gnosticism.

A practical example of this problem was seen at the same Mass. There was an archbishop, a priest and an acolyte in the sanctuary. As I have mentioned, the congregation was not large. And yet, a female "extraordinary minister of the eucharist" was employed to form a fourth line for communion. Didn't the Vatican just say not to do that in such situations?

Why would a young Catholic man want to be a priest these days? Why would he want to be a Catholic husband? Where is the sense of the distinctiveness and nobility of either role in the Church?



Saturday, June 19, 2004

Keeping warm. Watching TV

We ran out of heating oil, due to an oversight.

We have a wood fire in the family room.

We used to have an old "Conray" electric radiator but my three year old managed to render it permanently inoperable recently. It had a major design fault - it was easy for children to throw objects, typically plastic pens, into it. When it was running these would melt on the heating surface releasing goodness knows what organic gases. Ultimately something, maybe a coin, fused its electrics permanently. Still it survived a long time considering that it was a decades-old design.

There is one column heater in the house, which we used tonight to heat the dining room for my birthday dinner. Of infinitely greater importance, the cats again have something warm to cosy up to. We went out today and bought two smaller ones - dinky little jobs. I have now assembled them. The instructions say to burn off the "new smell" by running them high for a couple of hours with the rooms ventilated. What on earth is being released into the room? In any case, this involves leaving the windows open, which sort of defeats the immediate purpose.

So, each of the three occupied rooms of the house will have its own column heater tonight. In a fairly large, two storey house it probably makes more sense than trying to heat the entire place centrally. However somehow I feel the whole arrangement is retrograde and would be complemented by each of us having a bowl of water, a towel and a candlestick to guide us to bed.

In other mundane news, I missed most of last week's episode of "ER", though I did see Neela go into a medical lab and, accident prone still, manage to contaminate an experiment and wipe out "six weeks' work". Yes, that can happen. In fact, one can easily lose six months work, or six years.

Also on "ER" we were again treated to Dr Weaver, the disabled Lesbian, stating that with the death of her girlfriend she had lost her "wife". Well, no, Dr Weaver, she wasn't your "wife" because you are, you know, actually a girl. Because you are a girl, you cannot be a husband. No husband, no wife.

In short - give it a rest, Hollywood, no-one is buying this propaganda.

Here is a somewhat satirical discussion of this episode. I was amused by this bit:

" Neela's up in the lab, where a stereotypically geeky guy is taking her around what is obviously his domain. Poindexter uses all these really scientific words that mean nothing to me; the only interesting information is that he's an eighth-year Ph.D. student. "

In real life, even in America, a Ph.D. should only take four years - maybe five at a maximum. If he really has been doing his Ph.D. for eight years, then something is very wrong. (Actually there is something very American and cute about "ER" and shows like it. They always overdo everything. You can't just have an experienced Ph.D. student: he has to be an "eighth-year Ph.D. student": never mind that there is no such thing. Maybe they really mean that he is a post-doctoral student.)

Here is the description of the above incident with Neela and the ruined experiment:

" Neela carries a tray of test tubes. Poindexter asks if she's bored yet. "I find it interesting," she says. "I prefer empirical data [to ER cases]." She totally sounds like she's parroting what other people think of her. As she smiles, she turns toward Yuri and promptly knocks into his coffee with the corner of his tray. It doesn't have a lid on it, so it spills all over his dead mouse. He accuses her of ruining his experiment and setting him back six weeks. Poindexter does point out that he shouldn't have coffee in the lab -- especially a lidless one, when lids are totally prolific at coffee places -- but Yuri pouts, "I always have coffee in the lab!" So? I always have Pop Tarts for breakfast. Doesn't make it right. Neela tries not to look discouraged. "

Drinking coffee in a biomedical laboratory sounds like very poor practice to me. As a general rule one should never eat or drink in a laboratory. There is a risk to the experiments, but also a risk to you. I really doubt whether a lab scientist who cared about his results would do such a stupid thing. (Come to think of it, a fellow student of mine did have a coffemaker in the lab where I worked, but I don't think he drank the coffee in the lab itself. Anyway, it would be very sloppy practice indeed.)


It's the dummies, dummy

By which I mean, no kids (with their little dummies, or "pacifiers" as the Americans say) - no future.

No kids - no future.

War Nerd writes:

" The Muslims are counting on birth rate to beat the West, and who knows? Maybe they're right. If you have six kids for ten generations, and the Westerners only have 1.7, you'll end up in the majority. "

The Westernised Israelis are trying to keep up with the al-Jones' by encouraging the middle-class Jews to have more kids, as this quote from a reader of Steve Sailer's fascinating site indicates:

" Whatever might have been the favored ideas of some pre-state Zionist leaders, the actual law of the State of Israel is both strongly pro-natal and nondiscriminatory on either a national or a health basis. This system of pro-natal incentives - which in particular encourage large families - have resulted in the perverse situation where the productive classes in Israel are subsidizing the large families common among the ultra-Orthodox (who are strikingly under-productive because of their refusal to join the armed forces and consequent inability to work legally) and among the Arab sector (who are also less-productive than Jewish Israelis, and who also are questionably loyal to the state). These two segments are a rapidly growing proportion of the Israeli population, with quite serious consequences for the long-term health of the state. Israel would be well advised to modify its pro-natal policies by giving larger subsidies for second third and fourth children, with no further subsidy for further children. This would encourage "mainstream" Israelis who now opt for 1, 2 or 3 children to have another child, without outrageously subsidizing Haredi and Arab families who want 8, 10, or 12 children and are a drain on the state. That won't make the problem go away, but at least Israelis could say they were no longer encouraging it! "

Notice that they want only the "correct" kind of people to breed - liberal Jews, not the religious Jews or the Arabs.

I have long had a pet theory that women will only bear the pangs of breeding if men shoulder the burdens of war. Since we have had no major war in the West for generations, men haven't been doing their biological, brave thing by fighting, so women haven't been doing their biological, brave thing of breeding. However, my theory fails for the westernised Israeli population, because the men there have fought hard and well in recent times, but the ladies still don't oblige.



Friday, June 18, 2004

Tiny, lonely islands in the far north

Here and here are articles on the putative most northerly bit of land on the planet.

I have blogged before on "disappearing islands" - with reference to this book - and on whether satellites will prove or disprove the existence and location of all islands. Here is a quote from the first of the above articles on "83-42", the supposed most northerly island on earth:

" Is "83-42" the ultimate one? It's not a question for satellite photos. The islands are small and indistinct, often confused with dirty ice, and they lie under snow except for a few warm weeks each year. "

That is, satellite imaging can't detect everything, including tiny northerly islands. It is nice that there are still some secrets hidden from satellites, those prying eyes in the sky.



Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Traditionalism vs Conservatism

This makes sense to me.

I used to be a worried "conservative" Catholic but I gradually realised that this was not a satisfactory position. Now I am a contented Traditionalist.

We gave "the spirit of Vatican II" and the New Mass a fair go. They have flopped. Let's face facts. Time to return to Tradition.



Sunday, June 13, 2004

People as they are, not as we would like them to be

Steve Sailer has interesting things to say as usual. His "shtick", an underused one, is to look at politics from a biological point of view, believe it or not. I have blogged about this kind of book before: that's the kind of thing I am talking about, and that Sailer is interested in.

Here is what I wrote about the book:

" 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. "

Anyway, what I said of Salter's work could also be said of Sailer's work and his website. Lately his website has included the following observations (my comments in bold):

" Sometimes I wonder if Bangladeshi society will ever progress if their women remain so tied into maintaining their kin networks. Let me elaborate, women spend far too much of their time utilizing their "social intelligence" in my estimation. This is a general female tendency, but, in Bangladeshi society with its extended familial obligations, and the fact your friends and your cousins overlap almost to an identity, the constant chit-chat about social BS seems overwhelming (to me at least, the reputation of the family that your female third cousin by marriage married into is not something that should require 1 hour to discuss). "

Julian: From a sociobiological point of view, this is exactly what one would expect. If women specialise in social intelligence, and gossip is the quintessential female weapon, it is hardly surprising that women spend a lot of time maintaining relationships. It is how women might be expected to make the system work for them. Of interest may be a recent comment on witchcraft in early modern Europe by author PG Maxwell-Stuart that "witch-trials may be seen, at least in part ... as a continuation of inter-female struggle for power and status within a local community, using the male-dominated law as the ultimate weapon in that struggle." Reputation, gossip, relationships with men - all these will be important to women in male-dominated societies.

I don't think Bangladeshi society is in trouble because women simply express interests that are probably common to women the world over.

" One of the less remarked demographic trends is that the makers of "Napoleon Dynamite" represent the future. As coastal sophisticates fail to reproduce themselves, an ever-increasing percentage of young white people come from conservative, religious backgrounds. Mormon Utah has by far the highest birthrate, of course, but in the 2000 election, the 19 states with the highest white fertility all voted for Bush, while nine of the ten states at the bottom of the white birthrate list voted for Gore. "

Julian: I sometimes think that liberalism (in the American sense) is like that little toy designed by Claude Shannon that makes a lot of noise and then turns itself off. That is because liberalism leads - via feminism and radical environmentalism - to a distaste for breeding. The only thing that is likely to stop a human group from "turning itself off" by failing to reproduce once it adopts "progressive" values is a religious belief that overrides those values. It is no accident that Europe has started to decline demographically a few years after its people, even the Catholics, rejected the traditional Christian objections to artificial contraception. It is a huge irony that what were once the most Catholic, family-minded countries on earth - Italy and Spain - now have the lowest birthrates ever recorded for human populations. One day, they might come to realise, belatedly, that Pope Paul VI's encyclical against artificial birth control, Humanae Vitae, was good public policy, not just sound theology.

" Actors almost never think -- they feel. As Raymond Chandler wrote in The Little Sister: "If these people didn't live intense and rather disordered lives, if their emotions didn't ride them too hard -- well, they wouldn't be able to catch those emotions in flight and imprint them on a few feet of celluloid ..." That's why actors' political views are almost always silly. They really can't think past the first level of cause and effect because their primitive emotional reactions are so powerful. "

Julian: But of course most of us are not actors. More and more of us are "knowledge workers", who use symbols in our everyday breadwinning. That is, we are Apollonian people. Dionysian experiences are growing scarcer. The Australian Capital Territory, where I live, is planning to ban fireworks for private sale. And so another Dionysian expression - a source of colour, noise and excitement - disappears from our lives.

Today, at the Latin Mass I attended, I did not refer to my missal as often as usual; and we had the yearly Corpus Christi procession around the church. This made the experience much less word-based and Apollonian, and much more Dionysian (incense, colour, movement). Quite possibly that is what modern Catholics miss in their new, participatory, vernacular masses - the Dionysian. Sometimes the modern, English mass reminds me of a seminar.


You can get nun dolls


I saw a Greek Orthodox priest doll on sale at an op shop in Braddon, an inner suburb of Canberra, one weekend not long ago. My wife popped in the next week to see if it was still on sale but someone had bought it. I suspect it was made by hand and locally.



Saturday, June 12, 2004

"The upset of the season"

I had a feeling that the Bulldogs might defeat the Saints this weekend. We seem to specialise in shock defeats of more successful teams, and St Kilda lost to the Swans last weekend, which suggested a slump in form.

Great news anyway. Four wins now and a more respectable place on the ladder. I suppose it is just possible that we could make the finals. But at least we are not languishing at the bottom of the ladder like last year.

Melbourne should beat Collingwood in their upcoming, traditional Queen's Birthday game. I hope so, as that will keep the Bulldogs on top of the Magpies on the ladder, given that we have a better percentage.


While debating with my ten-year-old daughter ...

... I told her that "I am entitled to my opinion, and you are entitled to my opinion too."


Fiction vs Non-Fiction

I noticed that someone had come up with a new word to describe "non-fiction" writing recently. Unfortunately, I can't remember it.

It has always annoyed me slightly that the two classes of writing are called "fiction" and "non-fiction". As someone who mainly reads factual material, I feel that it reflects an endemic bias towards fiction, and particularly the novel.

Why not divide reading up into "fact" and "non-fact"? It would make as much sense, if not more.



Friday, June 11, 2004

Friday Roundup

I haven't been monitoring Wogblog much lately but I now find he (or she?) wrote:

" Michael Darragh is at the very least part Irishman, a Celtic jackass, and therefore a drunkard who cannot drive and cannot dance, who loves his mother, potato, potato. "

Um ... what??? ... where did that come from? ... potato?

My favourite TV show, "ER", was about average last night. Dr Weaver is the woman with the funny voice who stumps around on a cane. She is also a Lesbian with a girlfriend who is an Hispanic firefighter (only in America). Recently, with a little help from a sperm donor, they had a baby called Henry (sic). Anyway, the firefighter got crushed in a burning building and came to Dr Weaver's ER and, after desperate attempts to save her, died. The Hispanic family took over minding Henry for the duration while Dr Weaver mourned; eventually Dr Weaver went to get him back and the family shut her out, literally. I suppose the point was that, if she had been legally married to her girlfriend, she would have had rights over the child.

MORAL: Life is unfair if you are a disabled Lesbian doctor with a girlfriend who has a baby by artificial insemination and who is a firefighter who dies on the job and has homophobic Hispanic relatives. This problem must be addressed by Government immediately.

There is a lot of it about on TV at the moment. I quite enjoyed "Angels in America", but why did they have to make such a meal of denigrating Roy Cohn, a closeted homosexual and onetime colleague of Joe McCarthy? OK, he was probably not a very nice man, but then neither were some of those he was battling with politically. And, as Arthur Herman's book on McCarthy shows, many of his points and accusations were, in fact, well founded.

Here is what one reviewer says:

" Joe McCarthy, far from being a saint, was a flawed man who happended to be right more often than wrong about the problem of communist infiltration in high levels of government during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. While McCarthy did himself few favors in the tactics he used, the intentions were noble and the facts are largely on his side. In fact, the Venona cables, which are Soviet recordings released in the mid 1990's, document that all the names that McCarthy named in the Senate hearings were in fact communist spies or sympathizers who had positions of influence within the U.S. government. "

But, to many people, being correct is not as important as being nice and personable. It was interesting to see Roy Cohn meet the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg towards the end of the show. This was cleverly done - she looked just like the famous pictures of her. My understanding though is that the Rosenbergs may well have been guilty. So, why show Ethel Rosenberg as Cohn's nemesis? OK, Cohn helped convict the Rosenbergs, and they were executed as traitors for passing information to the Soviets. But, if they were guilty, what's the issue?

There was a final chatty scene in which some of the characters chew the fat about the Berlin Wall coming down and how the world has changed. But surely McCarthy and Cohn, for all their faults, were part of the pressure that brought the Wall down, and the Rosenbergs were not.

Sometimes the Left will forgive a person for anything except being correct about Communism.



Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Really big cities

I was having my hair cut by an Argentinian recently, and he remarked that Buenos Aires has a population of 15 million. I could hardly believe it. I would have assumed a couple of million at most.

More recently, The Weekend Australian newspaper included a map of world urbanisation as a free insert. It shows all the world's major cities, including the elite group of nineteen that are really sizeable "super-cities", being over 10 million in population (there is only one super-duper-city, with a population of more than 20 million, Tokyo). Sure enough, Buenos Aires is one of the super-cities.

With the caveat that the size of a city is partly a matter of how its boundaries are determined, some interesting patterns can be discerned. One is that underdeveloped Africa nevertheless has two of the supercities (Cairo and Lagos). None of them are in Europe (London and Paris are big, but not that big). Populous China has only two (Shanghai and Beijing), whereas India has three (Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata). In fact the Indian subcontinent has five of the top 19 biggest cities on earth (adding Karachi and Dhaka).

Other monster cities include Manila, Jakarta, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Mexico City.

Only two of the really big cities are in the United States: Los Angeles and New York, of course.

With over 20 million people, it is no wonder that Tokyo has become the metropolis of the imagination for film makers, futurists and science fiction writers.

Other things that surprised me: Santiago in Chile, Kinshasa in the Congo and Toronto are all bigger than Sydney; Denver and St Louis are smaller; Tehran and Baghdad have over 5 million people, and so does Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Addis Ababa and Khartoum are in the same size range as Sydney; Manaus, deep in the Amazon, has over 1 million people.

Another thing: new names for old towns. I can accept "Beijing" for the old "Peking", although it does not spring to my lips. Mumbai is OK for the old Bombay, and besides it sounds so jolly. "Kolkata" for "Calcutta" seems a bit picky to me. But the real shocker is Cairo. Apparently we now have to say Al Quahirah.

Another one that bugs me is that Madras has morphed into Chennai. Mystifying.



Calodema Volume 2

I notice that someone from CSIRO has come here looking for information on Calodema, so it may be time to say something about the second volume of this new journal "devoted to promoting knowledge about the flora and fauna of Australia and the Pacific."

The journal is edited by Trevor Hawkeswood, a noted and prolific field biologist. His numerous papers, mostly on insects and plants, have won him a wide, international audience. He has also produced books, the most recent being a monograph on Australian spiders which sets a standard for what such volumes can be.

Here is a review of Trevor's spider guide.

By way of contrast, this is MS Moulds' "Australian Cicadas", a comparable work that also sits on my bookshelf. Moulds' book, while worthy, is not in the same league. What it lacks is the sense of engagement with the topic that Trevor brings to his more detailed and suggestive commentary on the lifestyle of his subjects.

Anyway, returning to Calodema, I should disclose an interest. I appear as the author of a paper in Calodema Vol. 2 as well as the contributor of some comments on the first issue.

The new issue contains some controversial material and some more mundane, though still valuable, material. The latter is well represented by a taxonomic paper by Dr Dewanand Makhan describing some new species of water beetles; some from Australia, but others from North America, Africa and Madagascar. In a charming touch, Dr Makhan has named these new water beetles after members of his extended family.

Other papers include a baseline study on the benthic macroinvertebrate fauna of the Murrumbidgee River, a paper on jewel beetles (Buprestidae) from Western Australia, and a paper on a beetle that may be a newly-recognised pollinator of the native shrub Leucopogon muticus (Epacridaceae). This last paper is by Hawkeswood and Turner. Trevor Hawkeswood has a particular interest in plant-insect relationships.

I must confess to having a strong interest in the human side of science. For example, I was fascinated by the mixture of science and poignant anecdote in the autobiography of the early dipterist (fly expert) Baron von Osten-Sacken. People who say that "tell-all" writing by scientists is a new phenomenon, perhaps started by JD Watson in his notorious book "The Double Helix", are simply wrong.

So, there are two articles in this issue of Calodema that will make many people sit up and take notice, since they give a glimpse of the human side of science. One is by Trevor himself, in which he details his problems with the editors of the Australian Journal of Botany in the 1980s. Most people who have tried to publish scientific papers have some stories to tell of frustrating experiences (I have had one paper of mine rejected three times lately). However, it does seem that Trevor went through something particularly frustrating in his efforts to publish some major papers on pollination biology in Australia. The story has a happy ending, in that all the papers were eventually published, in certain cases overseas, and apparently entered their rightful places in the scientific canon.

Trevor has found what many people have observed. Sometimes it is easier to avoid the local "gatekeepers" and go international with one's publications.

The other article in this issue of Calodema that provides a glimpse of the human, fallible side of science is a long, detailed critique of a recent major publication on Australian butterflies from CSIRO Publishing. Besides his more technical complaints, the writer, Kelvyn Dunn, has some problems with the citation policy, or lack thereof, by the authors of the butterfly tome. He still thinks you should buy it though.

Just as every stage show has a backstory of bitchiness, every scientific achievement had its messy human side. This volume of Calodema pulls back the curtains more than just a little on that human side.



This is so ironic ...

Cop this from a Catholic Church figure opposed to the reintroduction of the Latin Mass into the Detroit area:

" M. Soehner stated that he believes this will be divisive - perhaps not, but his opinion is that it will be. He is concerned that this will be considered as simply giving in to a pressure group, and where do we draw the line? ... Will this simply be sending a signal that if you complain long enough and loud enough you will "win"? "

What do we have here? We have a small group that wants to worship God the way Catholics did for nearly two thousand years, in the traditional liturgy. We have archdiocesan figures who object. They don't want to give in to "pressure groups". They don't want to reward dissent.

But what has the American church done for decades except pander to pressure groups and reward dissent? Of course that was liberal dissent, so that was different.

This is a branch of the church that has had no problem with communion in the hand, altar girls and extraordinary ministers of the eucharist, as well as the increasing abandonment of kneeling in the rubrics of the liturgy.

What really bothers these ninnies is that people might be growing tired of the passing parade of novelty and yearning for something more substantial grounded in beauty and tradition - "ever ancient and ever new".


The good and the bad

Here is an article at Chicago Boyz that includes the following about the attitudes of anthropologists to the human potential for violence:

" There were numerous articles written after 9/11 that dealt with violence. Not surprising for work by academics for academics, the focus was on trying to discover Why They Hate Us. The main unifying theme found through all of these works was that violence was an aberration. The ground state of humanity (the authors insisted) was peace, cooperation, good fellowship and concern for others.

This is where I became appalled. History teaches us in no uncertain terms that violence is the natural state of human beings. We’re the killer apes, the master predators, the most successful land-dwelling beings on the planet considering the environments we inhabit. There’s no place on Earth that’s free from conflict, no society that doesn’t spawn its own crop of violent criminals. "

The thing is that humans may be both altruistic and violent. In fact, altruism among the group may facilitate violence against those outside the group. Here is what someone on the Evolutionary Psychology Internet discussion group recently noted:

" The dark side of strong reciprocity (I prefer the term "generalized reciprocity") is that the same adaptations that underlie it also likely produce in vs. out group distinctions. This probably evolved during ancestral times of high tribal warfare.

So, the irony is that the adaptations that produce our best behavior also underlie our worst behavior (inter-group warfare).

This point is actually made today in an op-ed piece in the LA times by Paul Seabright (from his book "The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life, 2004): "...human beings harness altruism, solidarity and the skills of rational reflection in pursuit of warfare." "


The ABC goes politically incorrect?

It has been hard for viewers of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to avoid the ads for a series on Australian women trying out to be erotic dancers at the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris. A female voiceover has been relentlessly encouraging us to watch this show about the "girls" who are following in the can-can tradition (using a series of weak and predictable puns).

What I don't understand is why the ABC, notoriously politically correct, is touting this career opportunity for Australian females and referring to "girls", a term that I had thought had been banished forever by the ABC's thought police.

All very strange.

I made a point of not watching this series, but at one stage my wife called out to me that a nude girl was doing a routine with a snake. I remarked that all they needed was an apple and they could recreate the Fall of Man.



Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Terminator needs to be reprogrammed

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Catholic. I noticed that he made the Sign of the Cross near Ronald Reagan's coffin in some TV footage tonight. Only he made it the Eastern way, if my eyes did not deceive me - that it, with his hand moving right to left. Why? Surely they use the Western style in his native Austria.

It seems that the Terminator needs a new Catholic circuit.

I saw John Howard, our Prime Minister, meeting Arnold recently too. Certainly an interesting juxtaposition.

(Later) Catholic Ragemonkey noticed the same thing. The Terminator got the Sign of the Cross wrong.


The Transit of Venus

Some people are writing "Venus' transit". Surely they can hear that "The transit of Venus" just sounds better. There is a play by that name. That's how good it sounds.



Sunday, June 06, 2004

The Tablet on the Latin Mass

I suppose it is not surprising that the British Catholic magazine "The Tablet" would not approve of the Latin Mass. The Tablet is generally regarded as "liberal".

I just found this article from The Tablet in 2003. I have mixed in my comments in bold.

" 'The Rolls-Royce of Masses'

Elena Curti

Devotees of the Tridentine rite are buoyed up with a new optimism. The Tablet’s reporter went to see and was amazed by the style. But what about the substance?

Julian: The style expresses the substance. They are both superior to the modern mass, which, while valid of course, has proved to be a huge disappointment in every way.

AN UNSEEN woman with a wonderful voice is singing in Latin. A young priest in gold vestments and a biretta is sitting listening at the side of the sanctuary, altar boys and men in scarlet and white are in attendance.

This is the old-rite Mass on Trinity Sunday at St Bede’s Catholic church, Clapham Park, south London, an ordinary suburban church in an ordinary suburban street. There is a Tridentine Mass here every Sunday, but once a month there is a choir and regulars bring food and have lunch together in the parish club next door. They have been welcomed to St Bede’s for eight years and come every Sunday from miles around. Controversially, the church was the scene last month of the first public old-rite confirmations in Britain for over 30 years.

I arrive 15 minutes late and for the first half an hour I am clueless about where we are. The readings are being sung and the wonderful music goes on and on. Then the priest stands up and makes some announcements before delivering the sermon. It is the first and only time I hear him speak in English during the Mass. By way of reminder, he says the Eucharist can be received only by Catholics who are in a state of grace and who have fasted for one hour. At this Mass “it is given kneeling and directly on the tongue”.

Julian: All quite correct and the way it was done until very recently.

There follows the kind of sermon that could have been delivered 100 years ago or more. The priest quotes the Athanasian Creed and St Augustine.

Julian: Why not?

The tone is formal. The strange theatrical quality of this Mass continues. Apart from the sung Nicene Creed, the congregation seems to have little to do apart from a few brief responses. They do not exchange a sign of peace. The priest meticulously performs the rituals leading up to Communion. It is at the consecration that the most striking difference with the modern Mass is apparent. In this Mass, the priest has his back to the people throughout. And there is lots more music. The overall effect is that of a very fine concert. I do not feel part of what is happening on the sanctuary.

Julian: Try using your imagination.

But then, as members of the Latin Mass Society and their supporters are only too eager to explain afterwards, people like me have much to learn about the old rite. It is, they tell me, our link with the memories of the Apostles, the Real Thing, the Mass of Palestrina and Bach, the Rolls-Royce of Masses, one of the great works of art of human history, the Mass of ages that Pope Pius V told the Council of Trent must never be changed yet was harshly put down by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

Of all these assertions, the most striking is that the old Mass is a living historic link to the first days of Christianity. In abrogating it, Pope Paul VI took the view that the new rite marked a return to the Church’s roots. As he said at the time, of the new rite: “We have rediscovered the most ancient and primitive tradition, the one closest to the origins. This tradition had been obscured in the course of centuries, particularly by the Council of Trent.”

Julian: Did he really make such a stupid remark?

But interest in the old rite is growing, particularly among those too young to remember it the first time around. “It is like learning a different language”, says Gilly, a woman in her 20’s who says she appreciates both the old and new rites. “There are different forms of spirituality. The old rite fosters an extremely profound spiritual sense of the Church as the Mystical Body.”

But, from what I could see, the congregation appeared to be detached from the proceedings, with long periods listening to music or prayers in Latin. When I put this point to the choirmaster, he explained by making an analogy. “Opera is the secular equivalent of this Mass. When you go to the opera you are united in everything that goes on emotionally”, he said.

Why did the priest have to have his back to the people at the consecration? “The priest is facing God and we are facing east, which is traditional. When the priest faces the people he is turning away from God. The old rite is God-centred rather than people-centred”, says Yvonne Windsor of the Latin Mass Society. Several people told me that during the long sung prayers and readings, they were closely following the prayers in their missals. Their concentration, they felt, was aided by the commentaries in the old missal that, unlike the new one, provided profound theological insights.

Julian: Quite true. The St Andrew's missal is a treasure in this respect.

The regulars at St Bede’s portray themselves as faithful Catholics who are simply pleading for diversity in the liturgy. Such sensitivity stems from the possible confusion with the Society of Pope Pius X – another group which is attached to the old rite but is out of communion with Rome. The Latin Mass Society, which recently celebrated the first Tridentine Mass in the crypt at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome for nearly 20 years, is very much within the Church. As for the new rite, the old-rite aficionados accept it as a fact of life but are critical of the abuses they feel have crept in. One young man mentions a regular weekday Mass he attends in another parish that lasts, he says, just 10 minutes.

An elderly woman who comes regularly to Clapham from Bromley complains about priests who change the words of the liturgy. “It is offensive. It is not part of the Mass. Priests are doing their own thing”, she says. Another woman tells me of one recent occasion when a new-rite Mass was “a shambles”.

“Such little reverence and respect was being shown. There was little awareness of the sacrifice. I was scandalised and distressed”, she recalls.

The stress on sacrifice goes to the heart of these traditionalists’ perception of the Mass. They feel this dimension is often lost in the new rite in favour of the idea of the Eucharist as a shared meal. They point out that the Pope in his recent encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, made the same point.

According to Yvonne Windsor, there is nothing in the documents of the Second Vatican Council that contradicts the old rite. For her, it is all a matter of interpretation. But what about collaborative ministry? Under the old rite there are no lay readers or eucharistic ministers. Windsor believes the job of lay people is to support the clergy in the parish. She says turning everyone into what she calls paraclerics devalues them all. She has, she says, noticed that a sort of pride affects lay people who distribute the Eucharist.

“In traditional monarchies you have intermediaries to approach the king. We have priests as intermediaries. We are a hierarchical Church. You don’t have to be involved in the sanctuary to be a proper Catholic. In the old rite where you have lay people they are very much assistants. Their job is to support the clergy in the parish”, she says.

Women are not allowed on the sanctuary in the Tridentine rite. Any lay men admitted must wear clerical robes. No female altar-servers are allowed. As one man explains it, barring girls from serving at the altar is a way of strengthening the priesthood. He assures me they are not breaking any rules. “There is no general permission to allow girl servers. There is a misconception about this. Girls are not allowed unless a bishop says specifically that they may exist”, he explained.

Julian: Altar girls are an extremely recent innovation.

He goes on to give a lengthy explanation about the mystical marriage of Christ to his Church, with the priest representing the bridegroom and the bride the Church, while the altar-servers are attendants of the groom. Someone else tells me that servers were originally seminarians: this is now impossible in most places, but men rather than women are used because there is the possibility they will become priests. “These signs require teaching, otherwise it is easy to misread them as sexism or the denigration of women”, he warns.

I must be singularly wilful because I am unable to read them any other way.

Julian: When God created them male and female, was that "sexist"? Was St Paul sexist when he said that woman was made for man, not man for woman? Is it sexist to only have male priests? Spiritual reality is not "sexist".

Nor could I understand their reasons for downplaying the importance of the sign of peace during the Mass. Windsor felt it was a terrible distraction in its place before the Eucharistic Prayer and caused people to lose their concentration.

Wasn’t it important as a symbol of community? “Your sense of community comes after the Mass”, said Gilly.

Julian: Quite right. Why on earth do people want to emphasise community at the Mass itself? We can have "community" all week. I might add that the best "community" I've ever experienced among Catholics was among a Latin Mass congregation - after mass.

We move on to the subject of children at the Mass and I am introduced to an American parishioner who with his wife is educating his six-year-old son at home and plans to do the same with his four younger children. This St Bede’s regular is a member of the Traditional Catholic Family Alliance – a group of 50 families who live in the south of England and who educate their children at home. He says they made the decision after looking at the RE programmes of local Catholic schools.

But, I ask him, are you not worried that your children will not feel part of the local Catholic community? He responds with another question.

“What is more important? That they feel part of their community or they pursue their faith? At the time of Roman persecution, the Christians hid in the catacombs.”

I point out that we are not in ancient Rome now.

In the American father’s view, we are not far from it.

It is impossible to pigeonhole the St Bede’s old-rite congregation. They include the deputy editor of the Spectator, Stuart Reid, who says the Mass gives him a feeling of historical, spiritual and cultural continuity with the rest of Europe. By no means all of the regulars remember the old rite first time around. There are quite a number of young families, many of them French or Belgian. There are also Africans, West Indians, Poles and Filipinos.

Julian: Yes, it's Catholic.

The priest himself is French. One parishioner tells me Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP is the most handsome priest in England. The claim is not far-fetched but more to the point, Fr Armand, 31, is the only priest incardinated in the traditional order in England. He was trained in a seminary in Bavaria run by the Fraternity of St Peter, which has a special dispensation from the Pope to confer the sacraments in the old rite. He has never celebrated the new rite and says it is not part of his charism to do so.

Fr Armand decided to become a priest after completing his studies at the Sorbonne. He says he spent some time seeking out a seminary that was “doctrinally reliable”. Though already a conservative at that point, he had been brought up in the new rite and was not aware of liturgical issues. He discovered the fraternity through a friend who had converted to Catholicism and was immediately drawn to it.

“Comparing the new and old missals, I found that the formulations expressed our Catholic faith with more precision, first of all, and linked that with more strength and more beauty than the missal I had been brought up with. So long as the Church lets this tool be used for the safety of my soul and as a time-proven means to save souls in the Church, we should use it.”

Julian: That's my feeling too, expressed exactly.

Archbishop Michael Bowen of Southwark allows the old rite at St Bede’s and other churches in his diocese. The Latin Mass Society is lobbying hard for other bishops in Britain to show the same level of tolerance. It senses a resurgence of interest in the Tridentine Mass and can quote the encouragement given to devotees by the Pope himself. In addition, the fraternity’s seminaries in Bavaria and Nebraska are both full. Yet several people at St Bede’s tell me there are parts of Britain where it is impossible to find “their” Mass.

Fr Armand makes a special plea. “Different tools are allowed by the Church. I think the old rite is very reliable. Many priests and laity have found it hard to change to the new rite and many have left the Church. We should respect the sensitivity of those that remain. People should not feel threatened by it. In this country, I would like more bishops to listen to the Holy Father and allow more generous application of the motu proprio”.

He is referring to the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1988, which asked bishops to give “wide and generous” application to 1984 directives allowing the old rite to be celebrated in Catholic dioceses.

On the face of it, to deny Fr Armand appears churlish and unkind.

Julian: That's because it would be "churlish and unkind."

That is certainly the view of St Bede’s parish priest, Fr Christopher Basden, who feels the Church should be big enough and inclusive enough to keep these traditionalists inside. Were the preference for the old rite to be merely one of taste and style, I could agree, but the liturgy with its rituals have potent meanings that hark back to days gone by.

Julian: Why is the liturgy of the last forty years necessarily better than the liturgy of the last fifteen hundred years? I diagnose historical myopia.

The Tridentine Mass looked and sounded splendid, but it was a blessed relief to go to my usual service the following Sunday.

Julian: A "blessed" relief?!

President Bush on ex-President Reagan

Bush on Reagan:

" His work is done, and now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan. "


Ronald Reagan RIP

I think he was a great man. It is not easy to live the life he led - in Hollywood and then in politics - and retain as much decency as he did.

I admired him.



Friday, June 04, 2004

Life Matters

Life Matters is the name of a program on the ABC's Radio National. The last few days I've been home sick, and I've found myself listening fairly happily to this program. Sure, there is the expected progressive bias, but one can filter that out. It's not that I don't find all the sociological stuff interesting. I do. It's just that I don't share most of the default assumptions of the people who also find it interesting. I suspect that, from their perspective, I am part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Today they had a discussion on housework, featuring celebrity academic and divorcee Susan Maushart and internationally famous housewife, Marla Cilley of "Flylady". There was much handwringing on how hard it is to get men (sorry, partners) to do more housework, even "in this day and age" etc.

Most of the callers were women. Why, oh why, don't men do more housework? Why don't men seem to care about having a neat house? I found myself speculating, in a sociobiological vein, that maybe - as some of the women seemed to be suspecting - it was all down to biology. Maybe it goes back to prehistoric times when it was important to women as mothers to keep the campsite clean, to prevent their children getting infected with godknowswhat. The men, meanwhile, could just leave the campsite or cave and go off hunting.

But, to be honest, I mainly thought: Earnest radio ladies, you have not got a clue. You are 'preaching to the choir'. The kind of man who decides not to do much housework is not listening to Life Matters. He is at work. Or, if he is at home sick, he is probably not listening to Life Matters. And, if he is, he is lying in bed thinking to himself, "the day I do my 'fair share' of the housework is the day I walk into the local pub in puce pantaloons."

Here is an apposite comment I have just found, on a rather good blog that looks at the intersection of anthropology and economics:

" When I listen to many social scientists these days, they are plumping for their preferred order of things. They take this to be the point, the very obligation, of their scholarship. It is this presumption of moral authority that has shifted their teaching in the liberal arts from a dispassionate engagement to a partisan one, provoking, in the process, the “culture wars” of the 1990s and the present day. "

I think one could insert "social commentators" in place of "social scientists" in that quote.


Note to self in relation to giant squid

From "Pathways in Malacology" (eds. van der Spoel et al.), 1979:

Page 163:

"In vertebrates lactate can be washed out by the blood, but in molluscs which, in general, have a poorly developed circulatory system, this does not occur so easily."

This might be relevant for some thinking I have been doing about why giant squid have ammonium chloride instead of sodium chloride in their tissues. (Ammonia is a waste product, like lactate.)

I have had another scientific paper published, in the second issue of Trevor Hawkeswood's new journal of Australasian natural history, Calodema. I hope to review this issue here soon. Calodema is named after the generic name of one of Australia's most stunning jewel beetles. Here it is depicted at an insect trading business. It seems they are out of stock.

Here is their page on "Oddities and Rarities".


Please, pretty please ...

if you are a blogger, maybe a parishioner of St Blog's, don't write "flaunt" when you mean "flout". Not mentioning any names.

I've been sick for over ten days with a cold or flu that has lodged in my throat and made me feel as weak as a kitten. Several years ago a mystery virus walked off with 90% of my immune system, and I seem to have less than brilliant recuperative powers.

So, I haven't been doing much blogging, or anything else much, except read and watch video episodes of I Dream of Jeannie, which my wife borrowed from the Australian Capital Territory Library Service. Where would we be without our cultural institutions?

I know it sounds stupid, OK it is stupid, but I feel that I Dream of Jeannie holds up remarkably well after nearly forty years. I was particularly struck by the clever way in which the high-tech, masculine world of the astronauts' workplace is contrasted with Jeannie's rococo femininity.

A program like that would not be made these days in America, I suppose: it would be far too offensive to powerful groups, such as American Muslims.

It hasn't all been cultural studies and the semiotics of television, of course. I have also relaxed by reading books on the rhetoric of John Henry Newman, the Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora in New Testament times and a book on ancient Jewish angel magic.



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