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Sunday, November 27, 2005

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Calodema No. 3

I recently received the third issue of "Calodema", a natural history journal edited by a friend of mine, Trevor Hawkeswood. Trevor is a prolific field biologist, whose main areas of interest are botany and entomology. "Calodema" is his journal "dedicated to promoting knowledge about the flora and fauna of Australia and the Pacific". Why "Calodema"? Because, as the cover photo shows, Calodema regale is a magnificent Australian jewel beetle. Jewel beetles (Buprestidae) are one of Trevor's special interests. Anyway, what's in the latest issue? A surprising range of topics. The issue opens with a complaint about the poor quality of citation in a paper on the host plants of an economically important Australian longicorn beetle, Agrianome spinicollis. Trevor's theme is that Australian biology journals are not edited with all due care. Returning to jewel beetles, the next article has some fascinating photos - of male jewel beetles fascinated by beer bottles. Biologists interested in animal behaviour have long known about "supernormal releasers": these are artificially enhanced versions of normal stimulators of behaviour. For example, a bird may prefer to sit on a larger, fake version of a normal egg, if it is the right colour and pattern. A supernormal stimulus can behaviourally "overstimulate" an animal. In the case discussed in Calodema, beer bottles discarded in the bush have just the right brown colour, and stippled pattern, to closely resemble the colour and pattern of females of the species. Males waste their time courting beer bottles instead of female beetles.

Dr Dewanand Makhan, of the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands, continues his descriptions of new beetles in the next article, with four new species from China. The new species are in the family Scydmaenidae, relatives of the more familiar rove beetles (Staphylinidae). Here is a fossil member of the family Scydmaenidae in amber. Dr Makhan has named one of the new species after Trevor Hawkeswood, "world renowned entomologist and environmental scientist from Australia". In another paper in this issue of Calodema, Dr Makhan continues his previous work on new species of water beetles (Hydrophilidae), from Suriname in South America in this case. Perhaps his Dutch hosts have a special connection to what used to be a Dutch colony.

Two further articles follow up on another of Trevor's themes: the way in which Australian natural history information becomes lost. In a sparsely populated country like Australia, when it comes to researching the flora and fauna "the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few", to use a biblical reference. This is made worse by the tendency for what knowledge is gleaned to be lost. Trevor refers to two books: "Bush Rambles" by AG Hamilton (1937) and "Our Dying Fauna" by AM Douglas (1980), which contain interesting Australian natural history information which has been largely forgotten or ignored. I am often amused by the contrast between England and Australia in this regard. In the "mother country", the fauna and flora are very well-known. The discovery of a new species there would be - almost - headline news. In Australia, the diversity overwhelms the naturalist. Often, he doesn't know where to begin. There is plenty to study, but resources in the form of guidebooks, for example, are relatively sparse. I remember being told, when I was studying entomology at the Australian National University, not to worry too much about exact identification of anything we collected because "it might be a new species". That's the wonder of Australia, and the problem for the student.

I am not quite sure what to make of the next two articles in the journal, accounts by Kelvyn Dunn of his experiences of being bitten by a wasp in Samoa and a spider in Australia. The accounts are certainly written with verve, even if they do contain sentences that begin like this: "Under masculinity alignment, some social de-constructionists might argue ..." It is always enjoyable to read of others' bad experiences "in the jungle", and the toxicologist in me was intrigued by the accounts of the effects of the bites and stings. I even went out and bought a book on bites and stings to help follow what was going on. However the second of Kelvyn's articles raises doubts about whether he was really bitten by a white-tailed spider, as surmised in the first paper, or by something else. The white-tailed spider, Lampona cylindrata, acquired a sinister reputation in Australia a few years ago for the nasty, lingering symptoms associated with its bite. More recently, doubts have arisen about whether the white-tailed spider really deserves its reputation. I need to research the topic more before attempting to comment further on Mr Dunn's articles. They are a really good read, though. He sounds like a great bloke. (I recently met a young man who met and married a Russian girl from Moscow. What, I asked, did she like most about Australia, and what the least? I was told that she liked everything about Australia, except the spiders.)

Calodema No. 3 ends with a copy of my review of Calodema No. 2.

Julian

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

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"One pope gives, the next takes away"

Quite so. Pope Benedict has reined in the Assisi Franciscans. Story here.

One of my models for a possible Benedictine pontificate has been that he would do nothing, just maintain a benign neglect in the hope that the Church would benefit from a period of calm. Another model in my mind was that Benedict would move slowly but inexorably to improve matters from an orthodox and traditional viewpoint. His recent actions suggest that this latter model may be the true one. Two of his recent actions suggest that he is doing some serious tidying up of a few of John Paul II's messes: namely, the sexual abuse scandal and the scandal of Assisi.

Benedict's recent action in at least sending a message that the priesthood should not continue to be a gay profession was very welcome. Not only did homosexual priests figure disproportionately in the sexual abuse scandal, but it is hard for a homosexual priest - or bishop, a fortiori - to promote a traditional understanding of the dynamics of masculinity and femininity. Over in America, for example, we have seen the results of radical feminists making demands of bishops whose sexuality is often dubious. The results for church life have been predictably chaotic.

On the Assisi scandal, we can now see Benedict tidying up after one of the silliest acts of the last pope: holding a fatuous hyperecumenical "love-in" at Assisi, not once but twice. Of all the self-inflicted wounds the Church has recently suffered, this was one of the most debilitating.

I have some ideas about where Benedict may "strike next". I predict that he will write something in the next few years about the respective roles of husband and wife in marriage, another subject that John Paul II made a hash of in his haste to appear to be, as he called himself, the "papa feminista".

Julian

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

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"The flies are bad ..."

My wife and I drove to Galong, near Binalong, today to the old Redemptorist monastery. It is now mainly a retreat centre, although there are about ten religious of various kinds living there permanently. We arrived to a very hospitable cup of tea and some chat. The countryside is not just looking good for spring, but also now that the drought is over. More shades of green and pools of water than I can remember. The flies were bad though. Speaking of flies, I was interested to notice that a cotoneaster bush in the grounds of the Galong monastery was very attractive to flies of several species, including hoverflies. Something about the bush really had them interested. Other faunal observations included a dead kangaroo, spotted in an inner suburb of Canberra, before we had even left the city - probably a victim of browsing on parkland near main roads. We also saw what was probably a bluetongue lizard on the road to Binalong, and, at Galong, a kookaburra flew overhead, perched somewhere nearby and began its distinctive song. Kookaburras don't seem to do well in the city. I rarely see or hear them in Canberra.

I am not kidding about the flies. We were actually swallowing them by accident. I got one in my mouth, but fortunately I was able to spit it out.

Harry Pearce

by David Campbell

" I sat beside the red stock route
And chewed a blade of bitter grass
And saw in mirage on the plain
A bullock wagon pass.
Old Harry Pearce was with his team.
"The flies are bad," I said to him.

The leaders felt his whip. It did
Me good to hear old Harry swear,
And in the heat of noon it seemed
His bullocks walked on air.
Suspended in the amber sky
They hauled the wool to Gundagai.

He walked in Time across the plain,
An old man walking on the air,
For years he wandered in my brain;
And now he lodges here.
And he may drive his cattle still
When Time with us has had his will. "


Julian

PS All the Internet versions I found of David Campbell's poem contain errors. The above is now corrected from my copy of "Speak with the Sun: Poems by David Campbell", 1949, Chatto & Windus, London. One Internet site claims that Campbell wrote the poem in 1950, but note the publication date of the poem in the book.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

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Mass tomorrow

My wife and I are going on a country drive tomorrow, a belated part of her birthday celebration. I find that her birthdays tend to last a long time. I'll be getting up early beforehand to attend mass at the Chapel of John XXIII College at the Australian National University, here in Canberra. I usually go to the later, sung, Latin Mass in suburban Canberra. The mass at the College at the University is a "low mass". It's an austere style of worship, and the building adds to the austerity, being a modern construction. But one of my sisters was married there, and I gave her away, so it does have some history for me.

Only about twenty to thirty people usually attend this low mass. It's fairly close to the kind of mass that we all used to attend up till about 1965. It was the kind of mass I served at as an altar boy in Melbourne, before the change to English. I served a few English masses too, but altar boys no longer supplied half the dialogue - the entire congregation did.

It feels good to attend this holy relic of a mass. Not that I don't prefer the sung Latin Mass, but it feels nice to be helping to keep one of the older forms of mass alive. One irony is that this happens on a secular university campus. It reminds me of that old description of Oxford University: the Home of Lost Causes.

The low mass is a "bare bones", "no frills" rite, with people apparently "just going through the motions". Marriage can seem at times like a "bare bones" relationship too. What remains when a marriage has worn down to its basic form? People often talk - even the homily at our nuptial mass was on this theme - as if the most important thing is to reinvent or escape roles. But sometimes the "roles" seem to be the real thing; and, while everything else falls away, they remain. Most people aren't very creative, despite what we are always told, and the old roles are always there to prop us up, and to provide discipline - like the rituals and rubrics of a low mass.

Julian

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

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Additions to the Web Ring

I belong to a "web ring" of traditionalist Catholic websites. Some new members have now been added, who look to have interesting blogs. I am not keen on self-definition of this kind, but I generally find myself most in sympathy with "Traditional" Catholics, less so with "neo-conservative" (yawn) Catholics. There are a few issues I might agree with liberal Catholics on, but I find their general worldview totally unappealing, intellectually and emotionally.

Julian

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

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"Celebrity"

Perhaps, as most critics complained, "Celebrity" is not great Woody Allen; but mediocre Woody Allen is better than most other films. When I found a copy at the video shop we are currently patronising, I couldn't pass it up. There were some very good one-liners, and some really excellent "several-liners". The scene at the end, at the premiere, with the Judy Davis character ascendant and the Kenneth Branagh character's star on the wane, was very delicately done. I found the end suprisingly morally satisfying. I love watching Judy Davis, partly because she has so much energy, partly because she is an Australian, and partly because it is amusing to watch a woman who - even when she is at her most placid - looks like she is about to throw a plate.

As well as hiring films, I have been buying DVDs. I found a copy of "The Dogs of War" recently, in a military bookshop. I first saw this years ago, when I was working briefly at a boys' school. They showed it to the boys one "film night". I also found a copy of "Crash" at "EzyDVD", here in Belconnen. I have tried hard in the past to get a copy of this film. I managed to finish the book on which it is based, despite its supposed unreadability, and I thought that Cronenberg was the ideal director for the film. I like the frigidity of the film, with its masses of concrete and freeways, the icy blond actors, the minimalist soundtrack; the Toronto setting. All the actors are wonderful just to watch. Rosanna Arquette all done up in leg braces is a sight to behold. This actress seems to have an affinity with metal: her face was covered in metal piercings in "Pulp Fiction".

There is a fundamental problem with the film, which probably relegates it to cult status: the basic premise that any significant number of human beings would really be erotically excited by car crashes. I simply don't believe that. But - if one can suspend disbelief - the film becomes quite fascinating.

My wife has been watching "Lady Jane", a film of the life of Lady Jane Grey, the "nine days queen", with Helena Bonham Carter in an early role. I was impressed by the sympathetic portrayal of the Catholic viewpoint, despite the fact that the heroine was a staunch Protestant. Being Hollywood, they couldn't resist depicting Lady Jane and her improbably handsome husband as early theorists of the welfare state. But a certain amount of absurdity is part of the fun in any historical film.

Julian

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

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In retrospect

My post below, titled "Catholic Cute", has to have a slightly sad addendum. It appears, from this book by Fr Cekada, that the inspirational - and subtly witty - words from the mass for the feast of St Joseph Cupertino have been literally 'dumbed down' in the new English missal. Rather sad. So much of the poetry of the Catholic Church was lost in the wake of Vatican II.

Julian

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