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Friday, April 29, 2005

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Panic Attacks

The Bob Bartholomew I mention below has a new book out: Panic Attacks:

" With wit and scholarship, acclaimed sociologist Robert Bartholomew and writer Hilary Evans expose the history of media deception and manipulation from the birth of tabloid journalism to more recent media-created scares in Europe and America involving ‘mad cows’, poison Coke, and bio-terror threats. Other media myths include the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, the ‘Kissing Bug’ scare of 1899, and the Halley’s Comet panic of 1910. These are merely a few of the cases in which members of the media have created, deliberately or unintentionally, an array of imaginary or exaggerated threats. "

Hilary Evans, the co-author, is also an interesting man. I have his "Beyond the Gaslight: Science in Popular Fiction 1895-1905". Hilary Evans is also known for research on the strange "street light interference" phenomenon. (Funny thing about that page. It refers in one place to Hilary Evans as "she". He's a man.)

Julian

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Acronym television

My current favourite TV programs are "CSI", "NCIS" and "ER".

Julian

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Friday, April 22, 2005

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Sociology - a great subject - pity about the sociologists

Marvellous discussion of the wonder and misery of sociology as a subject at 2Blowhards. This is the first essay; a later one exists too; both by Donald Pittenger. Like Pittenger, I remember that sociology was the hot subject in the early 1970s. When I went to the Australian National University in 1973, sociology textbooks had replaced "psychology" or "political science" as the most visible and ubiquitous study materials on display in the library and cafeteria.

I quite like sociology. I have half a bookshelf devoted just to introductory textbooks, as well as lots of other books on sociology and cognate fields. There is some excellent material there among the dross; and even the dross quickly dates and becomes entertaining as "period pieces". Also, "some of my best friends are sociologists". Bob Bartholomew - a sometime academic sociologist with an interest in collective behaviour - and I wrote a chapter together in this book, which he edited with Benjamin Radford.

Julian

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Reactions to the new Pope

"When I heard the announcement my heart sank, quite frankly." -- Sister Maureen Fiedler of 'We Are Church'

“We Are Church”? I think she means “We Are Toast”.

Well, the pundits have spoken, of the Left and the Right. The Left have been spluttering and the Right have been blustering. Most of them have very little real understanding of Catholicism. They constantly confuse settled doctrine with debateable doctrine; the private teachings of the pope with his infallible teaching; disciplinary issues with dogmatic issues. They imagine that John Paul II was really a conservative: a man who permitted communion-in-the-hand and altar girls; who kissed the Koran; who held ecumenical love-ins at Assisi; who failed to discipline bishops who let Hindu priests into Fatima; who wrote an apostolic letter that confused the traditional family roles of husband and wife; who moved with glacial slowness against dissident priests and nuns. He was the most liberal pope ever. It is a measure of the ignorance of pundits that they don't know these things.

The Right have used the late pope to bash the Left and have snickered at the discomfiture of the Left over the election of Benedict XVI, which has made some of the Left express a yearning for the good old days of John Paul II. None of them really understands the Faith. They might as well be arguing about quantum physics for all the real understanding they show.

Julian

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

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Next popemobile to be a Volkswagen

Well, I got my wish: Joseph Ratzinger as Pope. Most of the conservative Catholics, and very nearly all the traditional Catholics, are delighted. My main hope was that we not get stuck with Mahony of Los Angeles, or Kasper or Daneels from Europe. But to get Ratzinger was a bonus. I expect he will issue a few encyclicals "clarifying" John Paul II's teaching, and putting a more traditional spin on recent teaching. I think Wojtyla and Ratzinger played a sort of "good cop, bad cop" routine in the Church's recent theological expressions: we've had the good cop; now we get the bad cop.

The best thing about Ratzinger is that he is not an optimist. He seems to have an eminently realistic view of mankind, and womankind for that matter, which will stand him and the church in good stead. We should hear less about rights and more about duties. The nascent Latin Mass movement should continue to flourish; there should be a gradual improvement in the liturgy in general; and a bit more discipline in the church.

From now on he will be called Benedict, not Joseph; but I pray to St Joseph, wise father and head of the Holy Family, that he will guide our new pope throughout his reign.

Julian

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Monday, April 18, 2005

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Christian charity

Paul and Carl write about the internal struggle, here in Australia a few years ago, which they say pitted ordinary members of the St Vincent de Paul Catholic charity against its professionalised bureaucracy. I certainly understand the need for a well-regulated charity, with a bureaucracy to ensure smooth operations. In the real world, charity must be channeled intelligently and charity workers must be protected from the very real risks attendant on trying to help people in a practical way. But I feel that one should "render unto Caesar", in that high policy on how the economy should be run in order to provide wealth and jobs is not the business of charities. Charity works best when it is as individual, local and personal as possible. It seems to me that "Big Charity" gets into trouble when it forgets that its expertise is in helping those who cannot be reached by government policy, not in setting the policy itself. It is better to do the humble work of helping people than to try to solve fundamental economic problems, which often leads to "solutions" being proposed that, paradoxically, may make things worse overall.

Julian

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Papabile

As I just explained to my wife, the only absolute requirement to be Pope is to be a baptised man. So I could just get the nod. Her response: "Fine, but you will still have to chop the wood for our fire this winter."

Julian

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Ricin

Duncan Campbell writes in The Guardian (UK) that:

" ... ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction. It is a poison which has only ever been used for one-on-one killings and attempted killings. "

On the other hand, the US Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Survival Manual states that:

"Acute lung injury in large numbers of geographically clustered patients suggests exposure to aerosolized ricin."

which suggests that ricin could be used as a biological weapon.

Julian

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

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Mall trip

A couple of days ago, I was running around in the car with my ten-year-old daughter after work, and I complained about how harried I was. Her response: "Consider yourself lucky that you don't have a mall trip to organise."

So, we went on the mall trip. One of the good things about having children is that they take you to such unlikely places. My daughter wanted to get some cash for some old toys (a gameboy, a set of earphones, a Diva Star doll). So we went to a place called "Cash Converters", a sort of glorified pawn shop, I suppose. Why do all the stereotypes seem to come true so often? The presentable people at the front desk explained that - if we were selling - we should go around to the back of the shop. So we did. A hard-bitten type made expert assessments of the goods he was offered. Offered a power tool, he plugged it in and stared intently into it. What was he checking, I wondered? Another couple had come in with various items, including what looked like a plastic crossbow and a handful of arrows. This was acceptable. A song on the radio started up, the words a story of youthful marriage, unemployment and heavy drinking. To add further to the atmosphere, one of the shop bloke's colleagues came in and out of a storeroom door a few times, tissues clutched just under his nose. Was it a nosebleed? I couldn't see any blood. What was it? The main shop bloke asked about my daughter's doll - did it talk? As a matter of fact, it did, when you pressed the top of her head; a fact he carefully verified. We got quite good money for our stuff, including the doll. I had to sign to solemnly state that it was my property, which it was, technically, I suppose.

Back in the more respectable part of the shop, I asked whether they ever sold record players. My wife and I have numerous old records, and our record-player has seen better days. They do get them in at Cash Converters, but I was told that JB HiFi have them on sale new for 99 dollars. Apparently, they are still manufactured. Good.

Julian

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

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EO Wilson on RL Trivers

Steve Sailer referenced a recent complaint by RL Trivers that EO Wilson got too much credit for "founding" sociobiology with his book of the same name. Curious, I checked how Wilson treated Trivers' work in "Sociobiology" (1975). My impression is that Wilson was generous in his - quite lengthy - discussion of Trivers' basic ideas. In fact, Wilson probably showed commendable prescience in giving them so much attention in a book written in the mid-1970s. I also had a quick look at the notorious "human" chapter in Wilson's "Sociobiology". Oh dear, it hasn't worn so well, even allowing for the fact that it was a "first pass" over what has since become an immense subject.

(I've also checked my copy of EO Wilson's scientific autobiography, "Naturalist", and his treatment of Trivers is generous there too. Wilson and Trivers used to "talk science" at Harvard, which may have alerted Wilson early to the importance of his ideas.)

Julian

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Death of a Father

I said to my wife today that John Paul II's passing represents the demise of the last of the father figures in my life. Like any father, he seemed omnipresent at times, and could be deeply irritating. Most people believe the media myth that he was a reactionary. In fact, he was quite a liberal in some respects, and he probably upset me more in that way than by being too "conservative". He seemed conservative only because he repeated eternal truths. For example, no-one with any understanding of Christian tradition could seriously imagine women priests.

We've been watching a bit of the EWTN coverage. These people are his natural constituency, and they do a lot of good. They have lost a man who was very much in their hearts as well as their minds. But how long before the criticisms begin? Not the usual ill-informed media punditry, but the knowledgeable criticism from insiders. Even EWTN have already alluded to the late Pope's lack of administrative strength.

One word which I don't expect to be prominent in all the adjectives that will be used is "gambler", but I think he was a gambler. He was not the patient builder, the bureaucrat or engineer of souls. Instead, he used his charisma, his personal style, taking big chances, plunging hard, always hoping and believing that Providence would be on his side. Sometimes he gambled and won big; but very often he bet on the wrong horse. Despite what people say, he always kept his main bets on Vatican II, and he always believed that it would pay off in the end.

If I had to predict how his legacy will be seen, I would say that his successes will be seen as: 1) being one of a few men who really destroyed Communism, 2) being strong on life issues, 3) not raising false hopes about women priests, 4) his Marian piety, 5) his good-heartedness and openness. On the debit side, I would cite: 1) the confusion he has left behind in some areas of doctrine and practice, 2) the illusory hopes raised by ecumenism, 3) rewarding those who broke with tradition on a range of disciplinary issues by abandoning hallowed practices, 4) mishandling the clerical sex abuse issue, 5) a legacy of some poor choices of bishops and cardinals.

What would I hope for in respect of the next pope? I would like to see Cardinal Ratzinger come in as an interim pope, to clean up after all the excitement, and then maybe a steady hand, perhaps someone from Latin America or Africa.

Julian

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Friday, April 01, 2005

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Bob the Builder Barracks for the Bulldogs

Here.

"Can we fix it? Yes, we can!" The Bulldogs won their first game of the season handsomely, beating the truly obnoxious Collingwood Magpies. It was a very satisifying win, with Footscray finishing confidently, booting goal after goal in the last quarter. Tomorrow we play Melbourne. Would it be too much to expect that the Bulldogs beat them too?

I have only seen the Bulldogs win twice on TV. This occasion was somewhat marred by the fact that my four-year-old son chose the last few minutes of the match in which to fall and bang his head, so that I spent them trying to stanch a flow of blood and wondering if I should rush him off to the hospital for a couple of stitches. In the event, I didn't, although the cut has yet to heal cleanly. Perhaps I should have. It is often a tough call for a parent: hospital or not?

Julian

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Bosch without the bosh

Hieronymus Bosch gets plenty of attention, deservedly, as he painted some of the most intriguing works ever. But a lot of the discussion of his paintings seems highly speculative. For example, he has been presented as a painter whose canvasses suggest frank mental disturbance. But Laurinda Dixon has written what looks like a really intelligent appraisal of what Bosch was doing, with expert knowledge of the relevant iconography. I have real hopes that her book will get past the usual surface banalities in addressing the work of this fascinating artist.

I found Professor Dixon's book this week in a Collins bookshop at Woden Plaza, Canberra, near where I now work. After twenty years of working in an isolated building near Parliament House, but nothing else, it is a real pleasure to have all the amenities of a major shopping centre to hand, including a branch of the public library literally a stone's throw away.

Julian

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