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Thursday, September 30, 2004

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The Alamo, revisited

Steve Sailer writes about the Alamo, and the annexation of Texas from Mexico by the United States. I recently mentioned this classic book, "Blood-Drenched Altars", which gives documentary evidence to support the case - not mentioned by Mr Sailer - that the United States was greatly interested in grabbing Texas so as to carve out another slave state.

Julian

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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

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My wife was teasing me ...

... about my watching a second-hand video I bought a while back called "Charlie White's Fishing Machine, Volume 5". It is not that I am much of a fisherman, or even interested in fishing, it is just that the topic of the video is so fascinating to me. It takes me to a river in British Columbia, where an underwater camera is used to watch huge sturgeon interacting with a bait deep in a river. It is a rare glimpse of an underwater realm, and the sight of some extraordinary "prehistoric" fish in their habitat.

Another "mystery fish" closer to home on which I also have a video is the Australian hairtail. As the video cover says, "The Fishing World is full of mysteries ...", and this video looks at another very big but little-known fish: "Hairtail: The Mysterious Estuary Sportfish".

Julian

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The threat to "progressives" from the Latin Mass

Fiat Mihi (see my blogroll) has been writing lately about the Latin Mass. She has recent posts on the resurgence of the Latin Mass throughout America, and on the recent death of famed Latin Mass activist (!) Michael Davies. She also refers to complaints by people from Call to Action (a "progressive" Catholic group in America) about the way in which people are turning back to the Latin Mass. Fiat Mihi complains about an inaccuracy in the relevant report, but at least the writer said, correctly, that the Latin Mass dates back to the fifth century [at least]. They usually don't realise how old it truly is.

I suspect that the Call to Action people are very worried about the Latin Mass because attending it is a form of implicit critique of certain recent "progressive" papal disciplinary decisions (attempting to dump the Latin Mass, giving permission for "altar girls".) But, more importantly, the Latin Mass undoes all their patient work. For years and years "progressives" have chipped away at the English Mass to turn it into an emasculated version that suits them. But now they are faced with their worst nightmare: a Mass that can't be subverted because its texts and rubrics are permanently established. They must be particularly worried that Catholic women will stop trying to be imitation men when they attend Mass, but instead rediscover their Catholic womanhood.

Julian

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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I was thinking of buying a copy of ...

"Vermillion Sands" by JG Ballard, but the only seller on Amazon wants $105 for a used copy, which he describes as a low price! I have all the stories from this book in my copy of Ballard's complete short stories, so I shall simply be content with that.

Julian

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A thought on Thomas the Tank Engine

This extremely popular TV and video and book series is aimed at small boys. One would imagine that it would be all about technical aspects of running an imaginary railroad. But what is astonishing is the emphasis on personal relations among the engines. Thomas and his friends spend a lot of time engaged in what can only be called Office Politics. There is much backbiting, teasing and competition for attention, and a great deal of concern about personal appearance among the otherwise macho little engines. The engine yard is as bitchy as a sewing circle.

Are they trying to interest little girls? It seems unlikely. Whatever, this series of stories for small boys must be providing them with an excellent education in the perils of personal relations.

Julian

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Adding another good blog to my blogroll

I am adding Gene Expression to my blogroll, another blog that, like Steve Sailer's blog, investigates the fascinating intersection between biology and culture.

I find that even when I buy history books I tend to focus on volumes that are in some way about human biology (on slavery, war and conflict, strange outbreaks of peace, migration, fertility, and so on). Looking at the social sciences from a biological perspective was not popular in the twentieth century, certainly not in the latter half, but it seems likely to be an area of massive interest this century as it becomes increasingly obvious that man remains a perverse creature who has not proven to be as malleable and tractable as many social thinkers expected.

Julian



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Saturday, September 25, 2004

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Adding another blog to my blogroll

I am adding Southern Appeal to my blogroll.

Julian


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Thursday, September 23, 2004

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Catholicism in America

There is a lot of interest at the moment in the Hispanic influence on, and illegal immigration into, the United States. In recent years I have become aware of how much we are not told about the Spanish and Catholic history of North America. El Camino Real has written about this recently, and has referred to the film "One Man's Hero", with Tom Berenger, which tells the story of Irish-American Catholics who fought for the Mexicans against the United States, which was encroaching on Mexico. This book, by the Most Rev. Francis Clement Kelley, which I bought recently, is also an excellent antidote to the anti-Mexican and anti-Catholic bias of much of the standard history we get in the Anglophone world.

Some economists have suggested that Mexico had a peculiarly bad 19th Century. As Bishop Kelley pointed out, Mexico languished under revolutionary and anti-Catholic governments for most of the period 1810 to 1928. Busybody "progressives" got the upper hand and, as often happens, only made things worse. The only exception to the general decline, mentioned by both the above economists and Bishop Kelley, was the rule of Porfirio Diaz. There is something odd going on in this story, which I have yet to tease out, some connection between liberty for the Catholic Church in Mexico and prosperity.

Another book of Catholic interest that I have been dipping into is David Blackbourn's "Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Germany". This got an excellent review in "History Today", the British magazine, but I have not found it to be quite as good as I had hoped.

Also on my Hispanic America craze, I am reading "Dateline: New Mexico", by Toby Smith, a collection of pieces on modern life in New Mexico.

Speaking of politics and Catholics, my reading includes "Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House", by Sally Bedell Smith. I wonder if Hillary Clinton or Teresa Heinz Kerry would concur with the previous Democratic First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, who said that "... a woman's place is - secondary to the man"? On the whole, I suppose not ...

I have never been much interested in the American Civil War, but my wife brought home, from the library, "War in Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville" by James Lee McDonough. Quite interesting.


Julian


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Saturday, September 18, 2004

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The New Yorker gets its mojo back

Years ago, when I was in hospital in my mid-teens, I used to read the occasional copy of the New Yorker. In more recent years, I have rarely bought it. Other interests, the high Australian price, and its makeover a few years ago, made it less appealing. The latest, 6 September 2004, issue suggests that it has returned to its roots, and the result is very satisfactory. (The peevish piece at the front by Hendrik Hertzberg can be ignored.) The issue focuses on food, and contains excellent pieces by the likes of Burkhard Bilger on salads and their packaging and by Malcolm Gladwell on the search for a better tomato sauce (or ketchup, as the Americans say).

This is the New Yorker I used to enjoy; not snippy, choppy and ephemeral; but urbane and intelligent. With the kind of article that makes you look at something perhaps over-familiar and really understand and appreciate it for the first time. Somebody once complained about the old-style New Yorker piece that was "30,000 words on how they make baked beans". But that's the article I like, and it looks like it is back.

The magazine even looks the way it used to. It has the same humanistic tone: not personality driven, but aware of personalities; not raunchy, but aware of the corporeal dimension; not over-refined or decadent, but stylish nonetheless with "the art that conceals art".

A jolly good read. Which is all you want in a magazine.

Julian

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Friday, September 17, 2004

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Adding to my blogroll

I have added two excellent blogs to my blogroll at the right. Both are interdisciplinary in the best sense. One is Steve Sailer's blog. Sailer's shtick is to look at politics and public policy from a biological perspective. Very illuminating, and I predict there will be much more of this in the future. The other blog, written by "Grant", is a sort of applied or observational sociology blog. It is often fascinating.

Julian



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Dutch abortion ship

The Dutch have long been given to strange enthusiasms: tulips, Calvinism, putting their fingers in dykes: and in recent years they have led the world in encouraging people to die conveniently. Thus their recent invention of euthanasia for children. Children can certainly be annoying, but this seems like an overreaction to me.

The flower of Dutch womanhood, not to be outdone, have taken to commissioning a ship called the "Borndiep" (meaning "born-dead", I assume) and sailing it to Catholic countries like Ireland, Poland and now Portugal to provide abortions in international waters, like pirates with very small victims.

The latest news is that the Portugese Navy has turned the Dutch women's boat back. I suppose it was either that or sell the women into slavery among the Moors. It must have been a tough decision.

Julian



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Saturday, September 11, 2004

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Social conservatism and intellectualism

A couple of thoughts about this.

This kind of thing always leaves me puzzled:

Retro vs Metro

It's an American site, but the message is fairly clear. Socially conservative people, with strong religious beliefs, people like me, are backward. We suffer from "religiosity" and, unlike less religious people, we are not "committed to excellence in education and science". Nor do we "want the arts to flourish."

Some of this is probably an American thing. But surely, even in America, it is not that simple. Wouldn't the people responsible for this website claim not to be divisive? Aren't they being divisive - and also smug?

Even in Australia I find that most intellectuals are of the Left. In fact, they are as reflexively leftist as Hollywood moviestars. Andrew Bolt has provided a definitive dissection.

I have had to accept that most of the people with whom I associate have much more leftist views than me. I have always self-identified as an intellectual, a big reader, an occasional writer, and so on. But that means chumming with people who almost invariably disagree with my - comparative - religious, social and political conservatism.

I bought a copy of the New Yorker recently, mainly because of an essay I wanted to read on the development of pre-packaged salads. I find the cartoons clever, and I was pleased that they have reinstated those little marginal drawings that I have always found so charming. The cover cartoon, showing Republican elephants timidly crossing a bridge in New York, to "attend" the recent convention I suppose, was quite cute. But then there is this extraordinarily bitter and mean-minded quasi-editorial piece at the front of the magazine attacking Republicans en masse. Even as an Australian, I know that there are plenty of Republicans in New York, including their most famous recent mayor, Giuliani. Now that the Republican convention in New York was such a huge success, even as entertainment, perhaps they will revise their sneering views, just slightly. But they probably won't.

In a job I had recently, a young woman I worked with papered her office with bitter little cartoons attacking George W Bush, and sent e-mails to everybody mocking the West's intervention in Iraq. I suppose she thought she was on safe ground, and that no thinking person could disapprove of her views.

Another point I want to make relates to respectable institutions using their hard-won old patrimony to promote newly-fashionable causes. Andrew Bolt also writes about this, apropos the Anglican Church in Australia. But the same phenomenon can be observed in the Catholic Church. Many, many institutions have dissipated their hard-won respect in recent years by making a series of unthinking, hip responses to complex problems. The most recent organisation to go down this track has been Amnesty International, which I left a few years ago after it started adopting modish positions on moral issues rather than sticking to its charter. More recently, it has dabbled in politics, turning itself into just another Leftist pressure group.

Julian


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Sunday, September 05, 2004

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Cows and Cats in Art

It has been said that cows in portrayals of rural scenery represent peace, reflecting settled calm, security and abundance. Cats convey the same effect in pictures of home life; and in real life too, of course.


Julian

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Saturday, September 04, 2004

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The richness of Catholic culture

Today we went as a family to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, Penrose Park, on Hanging Rock Road, near Berrima in New South Wales. This is run by the Order of St Paul the First Hermit (the only religious order that originated in Hungary).

One of the features of this place is the multitude of small chapels, representing different Catholic nations around the world: Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Mauritian, Chilean, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Maronite (Lebanese) and so on. There were also many shrines in honour of particular saints. Most shrines and chapels had informative descriptions, each giving a flavour of the richness of Catholic culture around the world.

It was quieter than the last time we went. They have a major Marian event each 13th of the month (in honour of the Fatima apparition), but this weekend the "piety stall" was closed and there were only two processions: Polish and Philippino respectively, I surmised.

There was a program of devotions inside the church itself. We lit candles in front of a fine statue of Our Lady of Fatima, with my late brother and my autistic daughter particularly in mind. A few people lingered on after a Polish gathering in the church. It was nice to see a couple of the women wearing mantillas, including one woman wearing one very like that my wife sometimes wears to Latin masses. I think this custom will slowly return, being very feminine and traditional.

I imagine that Penrose Park serves as a welcome destination for Catholic ethnic groups from Sydney, coming down in buses. We saw two men putting the finishing touches to a Chinese-style pavilion in honour of the martyrs of China (locals and missionaries) over the centuries. This was being put up by the Western Sydney Catholic Chinese community.

On the way back from Canberra it started to rain, and we passed a three-car accident, perhaps caused by bad driving in the bad weather. Speaking of safety, it was good to see the number of rest spots provided along the road. These are all named after winners of the Victoria Cross for bravery. We stopped in one on the way to Penrose Park, named for French, VC. This soldier single-handedly destroyed three Japanese machine-gun nests in New Guinea in 1942 in one action, losing his own life. What a feat! The Japanese must have wondered what they had struck. The Scottish author George Macdonald Fraser wrote of "good VCs" and "ordinary VCs". That is, some are particularly outstanding and extraordinary. I think Corporal French's VC was a "good VC."

I wonder if the psychology of naming the rest places after heroic soldiers is to encourage men at the wheel of family cars to stop for a while.

We got home to find that our neighbours, who are moving, had left us some boxes of books for possible sale at a school fete. Some of them we will keep (and pay for ourselves). I was particularly pleased with a volume of collected papers on pulsars, entitled rather primly "Pulsating Stars". It includes Professor Thomas Gold's correct speculation that pulsars are rotating neutron stars. In a long career of sometimes failed speculations, that was Gold's single most stunning success.

Another interesting volume they left us is Clive Barker's "Everville", which is a fantasy that seems to receive some "rave" reviews.

When my wife relieved me of driving, I read the Australian Financial Review and some more of JG Ballard's "High-Rise". I suppose this book could be criticised as being too much like William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", only translated to an urban environment; just as Ballard's "Concrete Island" has been criticised as merely a repeat of "Robinson Crusoe", but situated in the centre of a city; but Ballard has enough ideas of his own, and such a distinctive style, that one hardly thinks to make such comparisons.

Julian

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One year's blogging

It's been a year since I began blogging and I have posted an average of at least once per day. I have a steady readership and several other blogs link to me. Some of my readers come here because they have found something I have written using a search engine. Google used to find my site, but now only Yahoo seems to. Still, even Yahoo brings a fair bit of traffic.

I get a reasonable number of comments. I have reason to think, as well, that some people I have criticised have found my critical remarks through "ego surfing" on their own names. This gives me some satisfaction. I try to "suffer fools gladly", but I can't always.

My impression is that the hot blogs are those that stick to one topic (religion or politics seem best) and post regularly. Unfortunately, I tend to be very broad in my interests and, paradoxically, this may narrow my appeal. Still, time will tell.

Nothing to add really now, except that my daughter and I enjoyed watching a fortieth anniversary showing of the film "Mary Poppins". It has held up well over the years. Julie Andrews looks lovely in those feminine fashions of an earlier time and Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent is not really as bad as people insist. I think I heard the "Irish" fox that appears in a cartoon sequence refer to the hounds as "omadons", which is Gaelic for "fools". Pretty obscure. I wonder how many moviegoers picked up that reference?

We also watched a program on the "Animal Channel" that included an importer of exotic pets in Florida who had been careless with his charges. His licence to import, and therefore his livelihood, was in danger. That reminded me of meeting a young man at a pet shop a few weeks ago. He was responsible for the fish section of the shop. I chatted with him for a while. He told me that he had always been interested in keeping tropical fish. Now he had a job in that line. He was making OK money at what he liked most. One meets such people: they have always known exactly what they love most; they get to do just that kind of work; they are satisfied and fulfilled in their occupation. They are truly fortunate.

Julian



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Friday, September 03, 2004

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I saw a fit young man stride purposefully ...

... out of the local TAB tonight. He was well-dressed and looked like a "winner". For that reason he stood out. Most of the people I see in the TAB (betting shop) look like battlers, or what the Americans call "losers".

I do know some smart people who gamble on horseraces, but most of the time, when I peer into the TAB, the people there seem like "lost souls": old, bowed, cowed and scruffy. Certainly they don't seem to be having fun. Someone once said that "the English take their pleasures sadly": perhaps this is true of some Australians too.

I have never been tempted by gambling. To me it really is "a tax on stupidity". I know some people get a thrill from it, and it might repay such folk, but it seems pointless to me. I used to have shares in Victab, a gambling company, but then I saw a documentary that indicated that they deliberately targeted heavy gamblers, and I sold my shares. I don't mind people gambling a bit, but I don't want to contribute to problem gambling.

Julian

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Interesting program on the Cassini mission

Last night's ABC's science program "Catalyst" was all about the Cassini Mission to Saturn. It was good to see that Canberra, here in Australia, is involved in communications with the spacecraft. The Americans don't have the pronunciation of "Canberra" right (they emphasise the second syllable, not the first), but you can't have everything. I was also interested to hear two references to popular culture from the imaging team at NASA: a reference to something the Tom Hanks character said in the movie "Apollo XIII" and a reference to "Star Trek". Where would Americans be without the movies? Probably not in space ...

It was good to see that the Europeans are literally piggy-backing on the American mission with their Huygens probe, to be dropped onto Titan in due course. The American dominance and brilliance in space makes me feel sorry for the Europeans - although they are not absent from "big, exciting science", what with their world-leading CERN particle physics laboratory.

Julian



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