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Sunday, May 29, 2005

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The Da Vinci code

A "debunking" program tonight on TV on this theme. A friend and I were just discussing it on the phone. I said to him that - if people really want to take part in an ancient ritual, with hallowed mysteries - they could go to a Latin Mass like the one I went to on the campus of the Australian National University today, in the Chapel of St John the Evangelist. But many people avoid the real thing and go chasing fake traditions and invented mysteries.

Julian

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Hitchhiker's Guide

I took four 11 year old girls to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" this afternoon. They seemed to enjoy it, but I felt it sagged badly in places. There were a few lines from the female lead ("Trillian") that actually seemed to be simply botched. I was familiar, a bit too familiar, with some of the basic jokes, and I found the male lead irritating. I couldn't see his appeal to Trillian. Why would an attractive female with the whole universe to pick from choose this dull man, whose main desire seemed to be for a really good cup of tea?

A satire on bureaucracy - even intergalactic bureaucracy - is surely nothing new. There were some special effects towards the end of the film that worked fairly well on the big screen at least. But the theatre we were at was largely empty. I do find that of all the genres that can be a bit of a bore, failed whimsy is one of the worst. The movie seemed to meld the worst of British insularity with the worst of American crassness.

Julian

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

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Tasmanian Aborigines and Vitamin D

This issue has arisen again at Gene Expression. See the 22 May 2005 post, entitled "Why no white Aboriginals?".

I have posted my comments on an earlier discussion of this issue at my biology blog, Biology Notes. By the way, if there is anyone from Gene Expression reading this, my name is Julian O'Dea, not Julian David. Thanks for the reference though.

People in the Northern Hemisphere are often a bit hazy on Australia's location. They frequently seem to think it is further South than it is. In fact, even Tasmania is at about the latitude equivalent to the Mediterranean Sea. My favourite example of the error of assuming Australia is a long way South was a writer who asserted that the reason Australia looks so much bigger than Britain is that it is so close to the South Pole that its size is distorted on the Mercator projection typical of world maps. Not true. In fact, it is Britain that looks larger than it really is.

Julian

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

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Slogging away at the blogging

Both Fiat Mihi and Recta Ratio have kindly blogrolled me. So I feel a bit more inspired to put effort into this blog. I was going to focus more on my biology blog for a while. I suppose I'll do both.

Julian

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

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And this week we beat the "Shinboners"

Footscray Bulldogs defeat the Kangaroos.

This footy season is looking better and better.

Julian

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

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Remarkable result

I had just about written Footscray off this year, especially after the new captain was injured two weeks ago. The old excuses were being trundled out, and I had practically given up on the Bulldogs in 2005. I knew they were playing the Brisbane Lions last Sunday, and that the Bulldogs have always been good for an upset against the big teams, but I had not even bothered checking the result, so certain was I that they must have lost.

But, they won!

They are having a better season than I had feared, which I attribute largely to their new, quality coach, Rodney Eade.

Here is the ladder, with the Bulldogs in quite a respectable position.

Julian

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Yet another claim that honey bees have a language

More "science by media release" yesterday, with the announcement that scientists in England had claimed proof that bees do indeed use dance language to communicate where nectar is. This language theory was developed first by Karl von Frisch and won him a Nobel Prize. However, Adrian Wenner continues to be sceptical of the hypothesis and the new results that supposedly confirm it. I like the picture of the bee with its tiny radar reflector attached in the news report, but I remain to be convinced, especially as several supposed "final proofs" of the reality of the dance language have appeared in recent years. I hope to review the new data soon.

What troubles me about the dance language hypothesis is that it seems to change slightly all the time and the supportive data always seem a bit marginal. Note the following phrase from this report: "Only two of the bees in the first experiment ever actually found the food source, Riley conceded ..."

I have published my own critique of the dance language hypothesis, from an evolutionary point of view, here.

Julian

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

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Fr Reese

Humanly speaking, I am sorry for Fr Reese, recently sacked by the Pope from his job as editor of the American Jesuit magazine "America". Andrew Sullivan has been effusive about the magazine and its recently dismissed editor:

" It's a fair, informed and moderate intellectual voice - one of the few left standing in the Church. Its extraordinarily gifted editor, Tom Reese, interviewed me about homosexuality and the Church a few years back. He was a ubiquitous and learned commentator on television during the last conclave, is anything but a radical, and his great gift was simply in allowing respectful debate in the pages of his magazine. "

However I am not so sure about that. I have complained before about this remark from Fr Reese:

" When the pope authorized bishops to allow this mass in 1984, the idea was that this was a pastoral response to older people who still are so attached to this older mass that they need it. The idea was never to create a new desire in people for this mass ... The idea behind allowing this mass was that it could help older people in the later stages of their lives. The hope is that this mass eventually will fade away. "

Not only does this not "celebrate diversity", but it is condescending to old people and wrong. The Traditional Latin Mass is particularly strong among young people and Rome has officially stated that it is not just for "older people in the later stages of their lives". Rome clearly expects that the Latin Mass will continue, since it has provided for the establishment of more than one order of priests to say the Mass. The new Pope is likely to be even more sympathetic to the Latin Mass.

Julian

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

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More book-buying

I am trying to cut back on acquiring new books, but I have recently bought this, on the use of booby traps in twentieth century warfare. I am not very interested in the broad sweep of military history, but I detect that classical approaches to writing about recent wars are somewhat exhausted, and what's left are the smaller themes. Some of these are very interesting, touching as they do on the more technical and social aspects of warfare. For example, besides the book on booby traps, I recently bought a book on photographic intelligence in WWII (actually a new edition of an old book); a book on German-Australians who fought with the ANZACS; a book on naval aviation in the first world war; and a book on the "Christmas truces" in the same war. I also noticed recent works on Russian-Australians who enlisted to fight in WWI and a book on "boy soldiers", underage soldiers in the same war. It is the byways of military history that appeal to me, the little social oddities.

As I get older I get less literary, and about all I am inclined to read these days in the way of fiction are novellas and short stories in the science fiction genre. This, a collection of stories about space stations, caught my eye on the weekend. It cost me under twenty dollars and gets some good reviews at the Amazon site linked.

As I said, I seem to be less and less of a reader as I get older. I suppose that, in a few years' time, all I will read will be the labels on pill bottles.

Julian

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Benedictine days

Quite a good turn-out at the Latin Mass today, especially as some families who usually go weren't there. They have always been an enthusiastic group, but there seems to be a new spirit of optimism about. Perhaps it is due to the new pope, whom many traditional Catholics expect to be more friendly to Tradition. It was not that John Paul II was bad in many ways. He did make the Latin Mass available again. But Pope Benedict XVI is interested in liturgy and its problems. I never had the feeling that John Paul II was very interested in liturgy.

There was some discussion today about this new film on the Crusades. "Kingdom of Heaven", I believe it is called. I haven't seen it, but I believe it shows Islam as very urbane and tolerant. I suppose it is important these days to show Islam as tolerant: otherwise a fatwa might be issued.

I suspect that Karol Wojtyla found himself stymied and bamboozled by the Roman bureaucracy and thwarted by the bishops; hence his frequent absences from Rome and his personal appearances in so many countries to try to make a direct appeal to the faithful. It would be nice for people like me to believe that the Benedictine Era will be one in which Rome finally cleans house. But the new pope is not young, not well, and he is only one man.

Will Benedict XVI have any more success in imposing his will? Certainly, he is a man who knows his way around the Vatican already. He is used to disciplining the errant. My reading of his personality is that he is quiet, subtle and firm. I think he had illusions once but they are long since gone and unlamented. He is a bit sentimental in that German way (love of cats, for example), but he is much less of a "people person" than the late pope and won't care about being popular. He probably realises that popularity is impossible anyway. He won't be as inclusive as John Paul II because, unlike the last pope, he won't be as concerned to please everybody.

For me, the difference between the two men is well illustrated by a remark of John Paul II's in which he apparently said something along the lines that he hoped to see all mankind joined in a common spiritual purpose by the year 2000. The then Cardinal Ratzinger's somewhat dry comment on this was that he had seen "no immediate signs of this happening". The new pope is a realist. The Church badly needs a realist.

Julian

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

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Hobbits and Pygmies

Last year, at the annual meeting of the Australasian Society for Human Biology, I suggested from the floor that the Flores "hobbits", Homo floresiensis, might have been simply very extreme Pygmy humans. This has been presented as fitting in with the idea that the hobbits were really pygmoid. There is more on my proposal at my biology blog here.

Apparently the contemporary "pygmies" on Flores live in an area of dense forest in central Flores, according to this report. Modern Pygmies and Negritos are found in rainforest, and their body size seems to be adaptation to this environment. There are "Negritos" all through south east Asia, so it is not really surprising that some have turned up on Flores.

I don't think that the hobbit skeletal material can simply be referred back to this modern Negrito population. Apart from anything else, the hobbit's tiny skullsize and extremely short stature are unlike the modern Negritos who have recently been found on Flores. I suspect that the hobbit was an individual from a group of ancient rainforest-adapted people who were even shorter than modern Pygmies and Negritos, and whose anatomy, including their tiny skulls, was an adaptation to the rainforest environment of a different and more extreme type than is found in any modern group.

Julian

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