Saturday, December 31, 2005
Well, the good news is that now he’ll know whether he was actually right. The bad news, for him, anyway, is that he may have been totally wrong.
Elsewhere it was stated that he was making a million dollars a day out of his investments, business interests and so on. Pity that none of it will do him any good where he’s gone – wherever he’s gone.
On the basis of my understanding, he’ll stand, like everyone else, before God Almighty, and have to account for his life. I wonder if being a ‘brash, swashbuckling businessman with a voracious appetite for gambling, both in the boardroom and in the casino’ will be deemed as a worthwhile way to have spent his life. Or the fact that he revived the game of cricket: will God be interested in this, I wonder?
Let’s hope Mr Packer was secretly giving away some of those daily millions to the poor and needy. That would help him a little.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Dale Ralph Davis, discussing 2 Kings 14 (with some irony) in his book, The Power and the Fury, page 205.
Monday, December 05, 2005
"This curious wish to describe Hell turned out, however, to be only the mildest form of a desire very common among the Ghosts – the desire to extend Hell, to bring it bodily, if they could, into Heaven. There were tub-thumping Ghosts who in thin, bat-like voices urged the blessed spirits [already in Heaven] to shake off their fetters, to escape from their imprisonment in happiness, to tear down the mountains with their hands, to seize Heaven ‘for their own good’: Hell offered her co-operation."
How like the last book in Philip Pullman’s famous trilogy, His Dark Materials, this sounds. It could almost be a summary of what goes on in the great battle in that book, quite apart from a reminder of that awful section where the children ‘release’ the spirits under the Earth into…what? Not life, but nothingness!
Saturday, December 03, 2005
A friend of mine, Pat, (for Patricia) whom I bounce ideas off a good deal, replied to my comment above:
"I can't imagine who was involved in that decision by the airlines. I strongly doubt that the decision could have been made by women alone, because the majorityof airline executives are men. It would be lawyers, I suspect, trying to out-guess possible future lawsuits. It seems to me that if airlines are willing to carry unaccompanied children (for profit), then they are in loco parentis for the duration of the flight, and should accept and carry out the responsibility which they have willingly undertaken, by exercising parent-like direct supervision. Clearly, they don't bloody feel like it. So they try to sidestep liability by parking the kids wherever, and then inconveniencing and insulting other paying passengers. I don't think anyone 'kowtowed'; I suspect the decision-makers thought what they were doing was jolly good business practice. I think this policy is - what word should I use, now? It's beyond my ability to sum up in a single adjective. Pathetic, irrational, cruel, stupid, hurtful, pointless, and most likely ineffective, for starters. This morning's ODT says the policy has been in place 'for years' (I doubt that) and is in line with 'the best international practice' (I doubt that, too), or words to that effect. I think it stinks, I think the airlines are trying frantically to put a positive spin on it, and I hope they don't succeed. They sure as hell don't convince me.
Now then. I can't say fairer than that. Tell you what: I reckon air-freight companies must have facilities for transporting dangerous wildlife, like lions and other big cats, right? They must have cargo holds with strong cages built in - room to move around and lie down, and with space for adequate food and water supplies, but properly locked up and SECURE. Obviously, that's where men should be required to travel, eh? Or maybe the entire aircraft ought to be gender-segregated."
The bloke was carrying drugs, knowingly. He knew the risks. There is no secret about the Singaporean attitude to drug-smuggling. However high-minded his motives, he was doing wrong. It would have been just as illegal if he was bringing them into Australia.
Yes, it is sad that he ended up this way, but what about all those who would have suffered from the effects of the drugs he was smuggling if they’d actually got through customs? They don’t seem to have been considered in this case at all.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Phillip Bush - November 17, 2005
One of the comments on Greg Sandow's book in progress: The Future of Classical Music?
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Maoris are assumed to be different - at least by the treatyist brigade and their hangers-on.
Maori are a sequestered, self-interested group driven by a never-ending sense of entitlement at the rest of society’s expense. Maori have more rights than other people, but no responsibilities to anyone other than themselves.
It is time this nonsense was ended and the abolition of Maori seats would be a fine first step. Not, as the professors would caution, when Maori themselves in the fullness of time conclude they are tired of unfair advantage, but as soon as it can be arranged. Apartheid, by whatever smokescreen we care disguise it, is not acceptable anymore.
That done, we could commence a real debate on the wretched treaty, which has long outlived its relevance and which, mutating like a toxic virus and sprouting principles ad nauseum, serves purely as an instrument of division. It is a zombified relic of a time long gone, and a sure sign that, as a nation, our condition is schizophrenic.
Apartheid Unacceptable (Time for Real Debate on ‘wretched treaty’) Dave Witherow – Otago Daily Times columnist, 28th Oct, 2005.
Dave in full flight, and surprisingly getting away with this without a screed of follow-up letters to the Editor.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
The people in Scotland St are more robust, even though one of the main male characters is narcissistic – at least he’s energetically so, and provides some of the high comedy moments in the first novel in the series.
It would be interesting to write a novel in this way, revealing a section a day, no going back, no ability to repair mistakes, no way of getting a character out of a difficult spot by rewriting (Smith’s usual method is just to forget the character!). And the pressure of having to keep up. If I thought a weekly column was an achievement, what about a daily chapter!
My wife and I went to Lindsay Crooks’ funeral yesterday, a jam-packed affair that almost filled First Church to overflowing. It was a disappointment somehow, if one can say that about a funeral. It seemed almost as if the surfies had taken over (the aging surfies, for the most part – surfing is obviously a sport a man can carry on in through his mature years). There was little about Lindsay’s art, which surely, in the end, will be what people remember him for (the photo on the cover of the hymn-sheet of him with one of his cut-out works is delightful, but it’s matched by three of him on the back on the beach). His art and his warmth and ability to make friends wherever he went. Good, solid friends, by the look of it – even those who only had a small acquaintance with him (like us) were struck by his easy and always genuine friendliness. Certainly the friendship angle came out solidly: people who’d known him for years, as friends, were much to the fore. I was surprised that out of that huge crowd no one took the opportunity to speak up in regard to his art – his brother mentioned it in passing, while giving a eulogy (he couldn’t have avoided it) but always, always it came back to the surfing. And it was the surfies who were giving the ‘wake’ rather than the arts community.
But the other thing that was disappointing was that there was no preaching, even speaking, from the minister. Yes, he prayed, effectively and sincerely, and we sang a hymn, and Lindsay’s stepson or godson, (I’m not quite sure who he was) sang a very definite praise song, but what a lost opportunity for the minister to speak. I can only wonder if he was cautioned off it – by the surfing community, perhaps (‘they won’t want any preaching; they’re just ordinary blokes, you know?’). Of course I’m bound to be wrong in that. Whoever made the decision, however, it was the wrong one. People’s hearts are seldom more open to listening to words about eternity than when they’re in the middle of a funeral – even I am, and I’ve been listening to eternal words for decades, and hearing them too. It’s a time when the bubble of life is easily burst, and we know – we really, really know – that our time on this earth isn’t eternal, it’s severely limited. In some cases, as in Lindsay’s, far more limited than it ‘should’ be (and in Rod Donald’s – and in his case the fact of his dying so suddenly and without apparent cause is even more of a message to semi-deaf ears).
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Orthodoxy - G K Chesterton
Monday, November 07, 2005
The Everlasting Man – G K Chesterton – chapter 8
The analogy between scientific and theological enquiry is not complete. Theology does not enjoy the luxury that experiment grants to science, of being able to deal with essentially controllable and repeatable experience. It has to look to the given and unrepeatable revelatory events in which God has chosen to make the divine nature known. The closest scientific analogues are cosmology’s reconstruction of the unique history immediately following the big band and biology’s reading from the fossil record the story of the unique evolutionary development of life. Theological enquiry is also not simply concerned with quenching the intellectual thirst for understanding. Its insights demand response and carry implications for human conduct.
Belief in God in an Age of Science – John Polkinghorne – chapter 2
I find it interesting that Polkinghorne uses these two 'analogues' to explain the problems of theology, even though in some circles both analogues are classed more highly than as revelatory events.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
I stick the cutting on the noticeboard in my office. Action Plans are all very fine I know, but it’s how we respond to day-to-day events that will really matter. The Action Plan can’t possibly encapsulate everything we plan to do.
Ahead of the Class by Marie Stubbs – chapter 2
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Sons of the Father – Philip Temple – page 197
Timebends – Arthur Miller - page 259
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Monday, October 24, 2005
People are hedging their bets on it: a few days ago the chief medical officer of Britain said, ‘A bird flu pandemic will hit Britain - but not necessarily this winter.’ And in another report, it says: "Scientists have warned that a strain of the disease deadly to humans could cause a lethal pandemic if it mutates into a form that can be spread from person to person. [Note that ‘if’.] The H5N1 strain has killed more than 60 people in South East Asia since 2003. However, of those only one is suspected to have died after catching the virus from another human, and experts stress the risk is low."
So people have caught it from the birds, apparently, but not from each other, and that’s where the worst problems would arise. But 60 deaths in two years? In a part of the world where the population is around one billion? That’s about .00000006%. Even 50,000 people out of Britain’s population is about 001% - again, though a large number in real terms, not a large number in terms of the population.
Am I dismissing the value of these individual lives, and the effect such losses would have on the general state of the country? No, not at all, but I am wondering if there isn’t a rising hysteria being created by the media about something that hasn’t yet proven to be anywhere nearly as dramatic as made out. More than twice as many people have just been killed in an air crash than have died of bird flu so far – are we going to stop people flying as a result?
Friday, October 21, 2005
No more. For some reason, money orders are regarded as the scum, or dregs, of banking, and banks don’t like to get their fingers dirty.
My shop received a money order today to pay for a book the customer had ordered. The money order was sent from the Bank of Montreal and designated in US dollars. What could be simpler?
The shop’s bank, Westpac, wouldn’t take it into our account, claiming only Post Offices do money orders. NZ Post, when asked, said, yes, they do NZ money orders, but not overseas ones. Try Cash Converters! What? Yes, according to the person at the Post Office, Cash Converters changes international money orders. Of course, the person at Cash Converters had only been there a week, and knew nothing about it – and when he asked further, it turned out Cash Converters doesn’t do anything with international money orders. Not now.
I’ve lost track of how I got onto Western Union, but they said, No, try ANZ, they’re supposed to do international money orders.
Now the fun started for real. After going through the usual process of having to wait to find out which button to press on the phone, I finally got through to someone who didn’t know anything about it, but would put me through to the International Banking section. Who seemed to be out for a late afternoon tea. The frustrated girl finally got someone called Stuart (his real name, since giving him a pseudonym wouldn’t make any difference) and Stuart, after some debate, said yes, they would deal with it if I had an account with ANZ. The only account I have nowadays (after having given up on ANZ in disgust in the past when they used to treat their customers like dirt) is a credit card. Can I deposit this money order into the credit card? Yes, as long as you fax me a copy of the money order to verify it. That seemed simple enough, and I did. Stuart rang me back after five or ten minutes and said I could go ahead. Was he sure the bank teller would actually do it when I went there? Oh, yes, he’d authorised it.
I went to the ANZ Moray Place branch. As always, there was a long queue and only two tellers. It was getting close to 4.30 pm by this time, so I ran along to the ANZ on the corner of Hanover St. No queue, and half a dozen tellers.
I went up to the young lady at the counter, explained what had happened with Stuart, and – I could tell – she wasn’t believing this. Worse, she now brought up the fact that the money order was made out to the shop, not to me, while the card was in my name, not the shop’s. Stuart hadn’t mentioned this as a problem, but it did occur to me about this time that perhaps that hadn’t been clear.
Of course she had to ring ANZ International banking, and of course, Stuart agreed that it couldn’t be put into my credit card account, when it was made out to the shop. All this fuss, mind you, for the equivalent of NZ$80. While I’m standing there waiting for the girl to talk to Stuart – at length, it seemed – I was looking at the ad for ANZ’s latest big deal: get a home loan with them and they’ll give you an island holiday. (It doesn’t say what you have to do, of course, to qualify for this holiday, but I suspect it’s not given out to all and sundry). I was thinking, here they can afford to give away island holidays, but they can’t afford to transact a piddling money order, because that’s what the girl was now telling me – and so did her superior, when she called her in. Sincere apologies, Stuart must have misunderstood, no way it could be done, have to go back to Westpac, since ANZ doesn’t have ‘a relationship with your shop.’ This from the bank who talks about the ‘better we know you the better we can serve you.’
Of course, Westpac, like all the banks, was now closed for the day, so I rang them. And got one of those young ladies who knows that ‘it can’t be done’ but has ‘no idea why not.’ Could she put me onto someone who does have an idea. This person had apparently gone for an early tea break, considering the length of time it took to find her.
When she arrived, she turned out not to be the International Banking Person for Westpac, but merely the ‘team leader.’ Team Leaders are thick on the ground these days, but not easy to get to if you want to speak to them. ‘This is what my team leader says….’ ‘My team leader told me….’ Could I speak to the team leader? ‘Just a minute, I’ll ask her…..She says so and so…’
Team Leaders don’t like to speak to the hoi polloi.
Anyway, this Westpac TL did say that the teller at Westpac should have rung up and asked her, or someone in her department, how to deal with this money order. (Remember the money order?)
I suspect that it wouldn’t have made any difference, but we’ll give it a try when the banks are open on Tuesday (it’s Labour Weekend, so they’re closed on Monday, of course) and see how much of the rigmarole I have to go through again then.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
For I think we respect nouns (and what we think they stand for) too much. All my deepest, and certainly my earliest, experiences, seem of be of sheer quality. The terrible and the lovely are older and solider than terrible and lovely things. If a musical phrase could be translated into words at all it would become an adjective. A great lyric is very like a long, utterly adequate adjective.
C S Lewis – Letters to Malcolm – chapter XVI
Lewis putting paid to all those writing teachers who insist adjectives are very secondary in the scheme of things.
....who can dance no better than a centipede with wooden legs.
C S Lewis – Letters to Malcolm – chapter XVII
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
In spite of the fact that this guy writes a column regularly, this seems a prime example of ‘How not to write a column.’ Firstly, it constantly mixes Christian religion with religion in general. [His original words in italics]
Christian fundamentalists claim religion is associated with lower rates of violence, teen pregnancy and divorce. A new study says they couldn't be more wrong.
Are religious societies better than secular ones? It should be an easy question for atheists to answer.
Yes, it should, since it's Christians societies have founded hospitals, hospices, orphanages, and a variety of other good-dooer institutions. But as you'll note, he's switched from "Christian" to 'religious' within two paragraphs.
Most of those now seeking to blow people up -- whether with tanks and missiles or rucksacks and passenger planes -- do so in the name of God. In India, we see men whose religion forbids them to harm insects setting fire to human beings. A 14th-century Pope with a 21st-century communications network sustains his church's mission of persecuting gays and denying women ownership of their bodies. Bishops and rabbis in Britain have just united in the cause of prolonging human suffering, by opposing the legalization of assisted suicide. We know that the most dangerous human trait is an absence of self-doubt, and that self-doubt is more likely to be absent from the mind of the believer than the non-religious infidel.
Hmm...this is an interesting generalisation, that I think he might find wouldn't hold water in real terms. And we're prolonging human suffering by not letting people kill themselves?
But we also know that few religious governments have committed atrocities on the scale of Hitler's, Mao's or Stalin's (though, given their more limited means, the Spanish and British in the Americas, the British, Germans and Belgians in Africa, and the British in Australia and India could be said to have done their best).
So doesn't this contradict what he's just said in the previous paragraph?
It is hard to dismiss Dostoyevsky's suspicion that "If God does not exist, then everything is permissible."
Exactly - and this is much the same as what Chesterton said: when men stop believing in God, they start believing in anything.
Nor can we wholly disagree with the new Pope when he warns that "we are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which ... has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." (We must trust, of course, that a man who has spent his life campaigning to become God's go-between, and who now believes he is infallible, is immune to such impulses).
Why does he keep disagreeing with himself? Making a point in one sentence and then contradicting it, or mocking it, in the next?
The creationists in the United States might be as mad as a box of ferrets, but what they claim to fear is the question which troubles almost everyone who has stopped to think about it: if our lives have no purpose, why should we care about other people's?
Now he's doing it again - the creationists are mad yet they believe something sensible.
We know too, as Roy Hattersley argued in the Guardian last month, that "good works ... are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists. The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand."
He's not making much of a case against religion! And then he adds two anecdotes about the only heroes he's met both being religious.
The only two heroes I have met are both Catholic missionaries. Joe Haas, an Austrian I stayed with in the swamp forests of West Papua, had spent his life acting as a human shield for the indigenous people of Indonesia: every few months soldiers threatened to kill him when he prevented them from murdering his parishioners and grabbing their land.
Frei Adolfo, the German I met in the savannahs of northeastern Brazil, thought, when I first knocked on his door, that I was a gunman the ranchers had sent for him. Yet still he opened it. With the other liberation theologians in the Catholic church, he offered the only consistent support to the peasants being attacked by landowners and the government. If they did not believe in God, these men would never have taken such risks for other people.
Remarkably, no one, until now, has attempted systematically to answer the question with which this column began. But in the current edition of the Journal of Religion and Society, a researcher called Gregory Paul tests the hypothesis propounded by evangelists in the Bush administration, that religion is associated with lower rates of "lethal violence, suicide, non-monogamous sexual activity and abortion." He compared data from 18 developed democracies, and discovered that the Christian fundamentalists couldn't have got it more wrong.
But this wasn't the question that the column was asking....
"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion ... None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction."
So is this researcher saying that the US is a Christian nation? He doesn't tell us. What the researcher has plainly failed to take into account is that the US is anything but a Christian nation. It has claims to being one, but the majority of people in the country believe in God barely at all, in fact.
Within the United States "the strongly theistic, anti-evolution South and Midwest" have "markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the Northeast where ... secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms."
I think the research data is flawed: we don't know at all what questions the researcher asked, and the conclusions are extremely broad.
Three sets of findings stand out: the associations between religion -- especially absolute belief -- and juvenile mortality, venereal disease and adolescent abortion. Paul's graphs show far higher rates of death among the under-5s in Portugal, the U.S and Ireland and put the U.S. -- the most religious country in his survey -- in a league of its own for gonorrhea and syphilis.
Now comes the crunch surely: in pro-Islamic nations, then, it ought to follow that they also have higher infant mortality, and huge rates of gonorrhea and syphilis. This is where we find again, that the writer isn't talking about religious nations at all, but about Christian ones....supposedly.
Strangest of all for those who believe that Christian societies are "pro-life" is the finding that "increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator ... Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data."
This has to be balderdash. New Zealand has an extremely high rate of abortion, yet no one would call it a Christian nation anymore. Or wasn't New Zealand included in the data?
These findings appear to match the studies of teenage pregnancy I've read. The rich countries in which sexual abstinence campaigns, generally inspired by religious belief, are strongest have the highest early pregnancy rates. The U.S. is the only rich nation with teenage pregnancy levels comparable to those of developing nations: it has a worse record than India, the Philippines and Rwanda. Because they're poorly educated about sex and in denial about what they're doing (and so less likely to use contraceptives), boys who participate in abstinence programmes are more likely to get their partners pregnant than those who don't.
I think this is where he reveals his true colours. This is typical Family Planning Assn propaganda. Boys who participate in abstinence programs get girls pregnant more than boys who have no morals? Yes, I believe the abstinence thing doesn't entirely work - but the reason in part is that the society around the boys and girls is so sex-ridden in its thinking that it's hard for anyone to stay pure.
Is it fair to blame all this on religion? While the rankings cannot reflect national poverty -- the U.S. has the world's 4th highest GDP per head, Ireland the 8th -- the nations which do well in Paul's study also have higher levels of social spending and distribution than those which do badly. Is this a cause or an association? In other words, are religious societies less likely to distribute wealth than secular ones?
I'm not sure where this comes from. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with his original argument.
The broad trend, however, looks clear: "the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have ... come closest to achieving practical "cultures of life."
Case not proven, methinks.
I don't know whether these findings can be extrapolated to other countries and other issues: the study doesn't look, for example, at whether religious belief is associated with a nation's preparedness to go to war (though I think we could hazard a pretty good guess) or whether religious countries in the poor world are more violent and have weaker cultures of life than secular ones.
Since he hasn't actually given us any real findings, just a bunch of poor extrapolations, based on no figures that we can glean from his article, we can't really hazard any good guesses whatsoever. He's taken a few assumptions and generalisations (perhaps loosely based on the research done) and come up with some 'facts' to fit his own preconceived theory.
Nor -- because, with the exception of Japan, the countries in his study are predominantly Christian or post-Christian -- is it clear whether there's an association between social dysfunction and religion in general or simply between social dysfunction and Christianity.
Again that wonderful assumption that the only 'religious' countries are Christian. The Muslims don't get a look in, perhaps because they muck the figures up too much.
But if we are to accept the findings of this one -- and so far only -- wide survey of belief and human welfare, the message to those who claim in any sense to be pro-life is unequivocal. If you want people to behave as Christians advocate, you should tell them that God does not exist.
Ah.....right....yes we should. The message is definitely unequivocal: get a decent piece of research done, include all those who actually make the thing sensible, and don't start basing your thinking on poor assumptions - as Kinsey and Co did and produced some of the worst nonsense ever perpetrated in research history.
Following the reprint of this article, more than 200 comments were uploaded. Of course, many of them picked up on the anti-Christian bias of the article, and went for Christians, hammer and tongs. A couple, which I've added below, made some more sense, without needing to get involved in bias at all.
Selwynn wrote: The caption of the article reads: "Christian fundamentalists claim religion is associated with lower rates of violence, teen pregnancy and divorce. A new study says they couldn't be more wrong."Wow, aren't non-religious folks supposed to like, value reason and truth more than "religious" folks? That's what non-religious folks always tell me. Well here's the study [Click here] And here's a quote from the study:"Regression analyses were not executed because of the high variability of degree of correlation, because potential causal factors for rates of societal function are complex, and because it is not the purpose of this initial study to definitively demonstrate a causal link between religion and social conditions.."The study does not show causal links between anything. Correlation does not equal causation. People who are attempting to use this study as a "proof text" against "religion" are acting exactly like fundamentalist dogmatists. Its funny, there are as many secular fundamentalists as there are religious fundamentalists, and they're just as dishonest, just as disengenuous, and just as willing to lie about the truth if it serves their purposes and worldview.
And another writer Juergo says: As personally satisfying as essays like this one are for me to read as a staunch secularist, it's a little sketchy to make overgeneralizations and logical extensions like some of the ones I see here. An important thing to remember here is that Gregory Paul, whose study is the only one cited, is a paleontologist--not a social scientist. Alternet's own Joshua Holland wrote a nicely scathing review of Paul's study shortly after it was published. Alfie Kohn's 1990 book, The Brighter Side of Human Nature, cites plenty of well-reviewed social studies (on individuals, not societies) shattering misconceptions about religion and morality. As Holland's article mentions, poverty (more specifically wealth distribution) is a much better predictor of the societal ills cited. These studies DO NOT show that religion is bad for you or your society.What these studies DO show is that "faith" does not equal "values," and that lack of religion is not inherently harmful.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Whenever a copywriter puts pen to paper the odds are about one in four he will do his client more damage than good.
Sometimes you can create a good campaign in ten minutes. After ten hours of thinking. And ten years of practice.
A fear seems to have developed of late that advertising men are omniscient. These fears are probably unfounded.
If a product is unworthy, advertising performs a service in bringing its shortcomings quickly to light. In fact, advertising may on the whole be more valuable in hastening failure than speeding success.
From the sermon preached by the Rev Maclean in the movie, A River Runs Through It.
‘Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with, and should know, who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.’
Irony is the refuge of the educated.
Graffiti on a corrugated iron fence in Dunedin.
I know who wrote this.
More graffiti, this time in the alleyway between York Place and Filleul St, Dunedin.
Dawkins' God - Alister McGrath - chapter 1. Midley's quote comes from 'Gene-Juggling, an article in Philosophy 54 (1979).
Friday, October 14, 2005
Timely Thoughts on War and Death - Sigmund Freud.
Quoted, apparently, in both Walter Kaufmann’s essay, ‘The Faith of a Heretic,’ [pg 356-7] and Ravi Zacharias’ ‘Can Man Live Without God?’ [pg 159-160], two rather opposing views, one would think! Though how I know about the Kaufmann book I’m don’t know, as I’m sure I’ve never read it. I originally noted the quote back in 1995, so perhaps the details were picked up from Zacharias’ book when I read that.
Freud’s essay is also translated as Timely Reflections on War and Death. Whatever one may now think of his psychoanalytic ability, his remarks in this quote are very much to the point.
The phrase ‘de mortuis nil nisi bene’ means ‘Speak nothing but good of the dead,’ but it’s also known in slightly different guise – ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum’ – which has been translated as: "Concerning the dead, people should say nothing except good." It apparently derives from Diogenes Laertius. [Back to quote]
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Muslim terrorists on the other hand somehow equate martyrdom with killing other people. That’s something I can’t understand. Whoever heard of martyrs taking the lives of others in the process? Did the martyrs in Nero’s Coliseum think: well, let’s see how many of these ordinary Romans we can drag into the lions’ mouths along with us? I don’t think so.
I can understand, if not agree with, the idea that Muslim men killing themselves for a cause might consider themselves martyrs – as well as having the carrot before them of Paradise. But how on earth do they bring into this idea the thought that they must take dozens or hundreds of innocent lives with them? These innocent people don’t automatically become martyrs; they become victims. Unless I suppose, you consider them martyrs to the cause of sanity.
Friday, October 07, 2005
It’s no surprise that we use the word ‘play’ for things associated with at least two of the arts: theatre and music. Being Uncle Andrew was like having the opportunity as a sixty-year-old to return to childhood, and to remember again how much fun it is to play – in what might be called a ‘controlled environment.’ Uncle Andrew’s a spoilt child, self-centred; a two-year old in adult’s clothing. I could put on his garb without suffering any consequences for his bad behaviour.
I loved performing for the audiences (physically exhausting, yet also energising), but I enjoyed the rehearsals even more. They were a return to that time of your life when you laugh without restraint.
At the rehearsals there wasn’t the pressure to get everything right. Certainly we did lots of serious hard work, making sure things went smoothly, fitting in with each other. But I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in ages as I did during the rehearsals themselves - and even more during the tea breaks. For some reason Lewis’ nonsense line, ‘Womfle pomy shompf’ (uttered by Uncle Andrew when his top hat is pushed down over his head) brought us all near to hysteria. (Though it never raised an out-loud laugh during the performances.)
There were the ‘deplorable’ words – or lack of them - and the attempts of the actress playing Jadis to find something explosive but incomprehensible that would do for a ‘spell’ to bring Aunt Letitia to her knees. And the same actress’ refusal to admit that in spite of her character saying she could see through walls and into the minds of men, she was not only singularly unsuccessful at this at any time, but remarkably dense about what the inept humans were up to.
Nor could she take her task seriously when she had to grasp Uncle Andrew’s chin, twisting it this way and that while she inspected his face for signs of a ‘real’ magician. Equally, as Uncle Andrew, I wasted long minutes of one rehearsal because I couldn’t burst in on Aunt Letitia and inquire ‘what on earth’ she was doing with the mattress, without collapsing in a heap. Those actors’ moments of madness you see at the end of movies don’t only happen to movie stars.
The boy playing Digory delighted in holding the fake guinea-pig (named Russell by the cast) like he was a wet sock, or giving him a goal kick into the stalls. Russell suffered much during the show, getting a nightly short sharp shift from Polly, who had to make sure he ‘vanished’ off the stage.
Digory also had a couple of ‘deplorable’ words. In one scene, the word ‘wondering’ always came out as ‘I should think a person would go on wandering all his life…’ It was rather like the mispronunciation of the TV3 sports newsreader (Clint Brown) who always calls the Warriors, the 'Worriers.' (And well he might!) Digory was equally unable to get his tongue around the line, ‘In an asylum, do you mean?’ Only the producer’s desire to keep to Lewis’ original text as far as possible kept her from substituting, ‘In a madhouse…’
Thursday, October 06, 2005
From the ‘St Kitt’s’ chapter of The Eighth Day, by Thornton Wilder. (Pg 327 of the hardback ediiton).
Sunday, October 02, 2005
The character, Amit, in A Suitable Boy, chapter 18:2 by Vikram Seth.
Amit is perhaps mocking himself and his snobbish literary audience, but Seth himself may be writing with irony at this point, as the book this appears in heads towards its 1000th page.
Source unknown, but see this link (search for ‘Gates’ on the page).
Monday, September 26, 2005
The next comment I find is actually related to my post - about looters in New Orleans. And does lead to a real blog. But a quote from Dorothy L Sayers is commented on by someone apparently promoting Xenical, and someone else promoting Direct Satellite TV. Very odd.
Sayers seems to attract these advertising gooks: her next quote has someone wanting me to comment on their dog house training tips, and someone else talking about electric scooters and downloading music, all pretty much in one breath.
The next comment is from someone whose site is at least a genuine blog, by the look of it, but rather ironically, in a silly piece I wrote about trousers and underpants, the comment is from someone who's a female Sikh. Hmm.
I wonder what brings these people to my site? Do the advertising ones just troll blogs, leaving their slimy trail behind wherever they go? The genuine bloggers, however, are a bit of a mystery to me. There are so many blogs out there (so many on Blogger itself that by the time I've uploaded my latest guff, I've already been surpassed by enough blogs to cut me out of ever appearing on the most recently uploaded site!) that it's a wonder anyone finds anyone any more.
There seem to be quite a few scientists, of the popular sort usually, who have these ideas that the human body hasn’t been well put together, or that it has particular flaws. I can’t remember who the tv scientist is who’s always presenting series on the body. He claimed that babies were born too soon and therefore had to be nurtured longer because they were quite incapable of looking after themselves, as other non-human animals are almost from birth. The reason for this was that women’s hips were too small to sustain the growth of a bigger baby, and the birth canal not big enough for a bigger baby to move down. This was therefore a flaw in the woman! Good grief, how many women would want to carry babies any bigger than 10 lb at the best of times; smaller babies are already a considerable strain on the woman’s whole system while she’s pregnant. Similar assertions are made in Bill Bryson’s book, though at least he doesn’t claim to have made them.
He mentions that some scientists think the human eye isn’t well-designed (and therefore we don’t have a Designer) because something in it is back to front to what would be more practical…according to their lights. But often these scientists, it seems to me, get stuck on one ‘problem’ and fail to see that that particular ‘problem’ is there in order to avoid other problems.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
There’s no doubt Hitchcock made some wonderful movies. He made some wonderful movies that had longueurs in them (since we’re into the French here) and he made some movies that were nothing but longueurs, The Birds and Marnie being particular examples. The Birds, as well, must be one of the silliest movies ever made (and Tippi Hendri’s constantly perfect hairstyle doesn’t help). More, it has no resolution whatsoever, and reviewing it again recently, it hasn’t stood up to the test of time in any way. At the end you just wonder: well, what the heck was the point?
Goldman reminds us of a few others duds in Hitchcock’s late period: Torn Curtain, Topaz and, worse of all, Frenzy, that dreadful English piece with a leaden leading actor (but a decent supporting cast), and some of the most grotesque violence ever to appear in a Hitchcock movie. The colour is appalling, as are the effects, especially some of the matte shots. It’s as if Hitchcock the master had badly let himself down. Goldman calls them ‘awful, awful films.’
And finally, there was Family Plot, that last gasp, in which again Hitchcock allowed extreme miscasting (Bruce Dern, for one), and let awful effects shots remain in the finished movie, and failed to edit a particularly bad sequence: the stupid car ride down the hill, in which both of the actors are expected to keep on performing the same idiocies over and over.
I think my favourite Hitchcock is The Trouble with Harry, and yet it’s not one of his better known movies. It too has some bad effects, but overall it has a superb cast, playing wonderful roles (Mildred Natwick’s part here is second only to her mad witch in The Court Jester). Along with the other films of Hitchcock’s top American period, it has a wonderful script (the funniest he ever directed, by far), and at the end of the day, in spite of the absurdity of the whole thing, you come out feeling you’ve watched a film that was worth watching.
Where would Hitch have been without his scriptwriters? This is something else Goldman points out: the auteur theory falls down hugely because there are at least eight or nine top creative artists involved in making any film (that’s not to speak of the dozens of other creative people at work), and to credit all their work to the ‘auteur’ is just a piece of nonsense.
Still, at the time, it seemed to make sense!
When you go back to the early Hitchcocks, you almost have to wonder how it was he became known as such a doyen of suspense movies. He was certainly an innovator, but in terms of suspense, a number of his films lack real tension, and even some of his top American movies are stretched out almost to breaking point (Vertigo, for example). Perhaps at the time they seemed more suspenseful than they do now, when suspense is so much tighter. (The first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much loses all it’s gained by the overlong shoot-out sequence at the end, for instance. And the later version of it almost collapses while Doris Day sings her silly Che Sera Sera over and over.) Older films often are often slower paced, even when suspense is involved, and certainly more ‘talky.’ But the better ones integrate the talk and the action effectively.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
At one point we saw a heated and hurtful debate between her and her husband, (while a third party stood embarrassed nearby saying nothing) in which she effectively berated him for not being enough of a man to stand beside her, and that if he wouldn’t stand by her she’d do it alone. He for his part wanted her to put an end to the campaigning; she was already on trial for killing her mother (something she could have got away with if she hadn’t published her book) and, as he pointed out, in spite of her belief, there was no foregone conclusion that she was going to come out of it without conviction. (She didn’t: she was sent to jail for a period).
It showed how difficult it must be to live with someone who is convinced they’re right about something, who have a call to do something and for whom everything else in life is a side issue. (It was interesting to hear the husband say that he just wanted to get back to ‘real life’ as soon as the trial was over. Of course, that couldn’t be, since she was put in jail.)
But besides the difficulty of living with someone who’s virtually prepared to be a martyr to their cause, the greater difficulty must be in living with someone who is convinced not only that they’re right but also that they have a majority of people standing behind them, even when there are no facts to back this up. Lesley Martin doesn’t have a majority standing behind her, and regrettably, because of the hard-nosed, stony-faced way she came across, there’s little likelihood that people would join up with her cause because it’s difficult to empathise with her as a person. Her mercy-killing of her mother never came across as something that was ‘necessary’ to anyone else except Martin herself – and that’s the difficulty she has in convincing others that she was right. However ill her mother was, we’re not convinced she right to do what she did.
Thou shalt not kill remains, for most of us, the norm.
The other interesting thing about the documentary that one of Martin’s closest friends didn’t feel she was right, even though she stuck by Martin as a friend. If you can’t convince those closest to you, who can you convince?
While looking up Lesley Martin on Google, I came across a quote from Wesley Smith, a person I hadn't heard of. "The overriding and implacable goal of the movement will always be what it has been from its inception more than one hundred years ago--legalized killing as a legitimate answer to illness and human suffering." I see he has a Blog, too, and one in which he obviously continually undercuts the false ethics of people like Martin and her ilk.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
I’m listening to one of a two CD set of Michael Tippett piano sonatas, played by Paul Crossley, whom I’d never heard of, but apparently he’s known and highly regarded for his championing of Tippett’s work. I bought the CDs because I wanted to check how a section in the first sonata was supposed to be played – now I’m not sure if I can even consider playing the jolly thing at all! Crossley plays it with such panache and ease (it’s not the most difficult thing in the world, but it isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination) that my fumbling efforts seem pathetic. Still, at least now I know how the odd bit goes – it’s worse than I thought!
I like the first sonata – it’s more melodic than the others appear to be (I only have the sheet music for the first, so I don’t really know the others from playing them – that is, trying to play them), and since I started work on it again recently, and have been listening to the CD, pieces of it keep floating through my head randomly. The other sonatas are a lot more off the wall: less melody and lots of crashing and banging. But at least it’s crashing and banging that seems to know where it’s going. For the life of me I can’t get with New Zealand’s high lord of composing, Douglas Lilburn. There are similarities in style between the two composers (at least before Lilburn went hiving off after electronic music), and you could almost sense that there is some connection between Tippett’s first and Lilburn’s first sonatina. But Lilburn just doesn’t seem to have any sense of direction; the first sonatina’s first two movements aren’t too bad in terms of having direction, but the last movement’s piffle – and the second sonatina is just a nothing. I’ve heard a lot of Lilburn’s music lately – they’ve been playing it endlessly on Concert FM since he died, but for the life of me I can’t get to like it much. It’s all bits and pieces; nothing holds together. Even Gareth Farr, who’s more of a one-piece-one-idea man, is more effective, because he’s consistently more interesting. I get the same feeling with Lilburn that I do with McCahon: the trendies have got hold of them in both cases and promote their stuff, and we all have to put up with it.
Oh, well, looks like I’m going to be a Philistine forever where these two are concerned.
Monday, September 12, 2005
World Press Photo of the Year
by Winifred Kavalieris
there were 36,265 entries
over 3,000 photographers
from 113 countries
12 judges agreed
the winning picture
was of an impressively
high standard and represented
the best of international
this Cibachrome 210x297 mm print
was also awarded first prize
in People of the News category
the photographer used 217 rolls
of Kodak 400 ASA film and
a handheld 35 mm Leica
he said he faced extreme danger
to get this one perfect
photo of a woman
who had just lost
her 8 children
in a massacre
I don’t have any problems with it being regarded as a poem, and I’ve certainly seen and read other poetry that’s just as lacking in metre, rhythm, and interesting language. My comment about it is this, though: this poem can really only make it’s point on the page. Imagine trying to read out ‘36,265 entries’ or ‘Cibachrome 210x297 mm print’. These aren’t lines that would come across aloud. For starters, how do actually say, ‘36,265’ in this instance? Do you say straight numbers, 3, 6, 2, 6, 5 – or do you go for three thousand, two hundred and sixty-five, which is quite a mouthful to get your poem off the ground. The Cibachrome line isn’t any easier to communicate. It’s a visual poem, really, not a verbal one, in my opinion, like those poems that have a shape on the page, and look great – but how do you convey that in speech?
Is there any problem with this? Should poetry only consist of lines that can be spoken aloud? I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d say Of course poems don’t have to be spoken out loud – this isn’t a criterion for poetry, by any means. Yet, when you leave a poem on the page, especially one such as that above, it’s very easy to read it just as a sort of statement; the breaking up of the lines and lack of punctuation are only a pretence that this is a poem in any acceptable format. If we ran it all together, would it make any difference to the point – which is certainly a strong one.
‘There were 36,265 entries, over 3,000 photographers from 113 countries; 12 judges agreed the winning picture was of an impressively high standard and represented the best of international contemporary photography. This Cibachrome 210x297 mm print was also awarded first prize in People of the News category. The photographer used 217 rolls of Kodak 400 ASA film and a handheld 35 mm Leica. He said he faced extreme danger to get this one perfect photo of a woman who had just lost her 8 children in a massacre.’
Now it becomes little more than an effective piece of journalism.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Monday, September 05, 2005
The problem with my view is that I’ve taken the testimony of the text at face value. Obviously, this is not good, furrow-browed scholarship. Many would hold that I fail to understand that the viewpoint in the text comes from later Judean editors who held an extremely anti-Jeroboam bias – hence one cannot depend on such texts. I don’t mind if they think such. It they do, they should be faithful agnostics, ie, they should deny that they can know anything accurate about Jeroboam’s cult since the evidence is tainted. This they do not do so; they deny the reliability of the texts yet proceed to do plastic surgery on Jeroboam. If the texts are unreliable, they should shut up. Instead they proceed to reconstruct based upon (essentially) re-written texts. This yields both bad history and perverse theology.
from The Wisdom and the Folly - footnote, chapter 13 (where most of Davis' rants are contained)
I’ve been watching the rest of Olivier’s Hamlet on DVD – I bought it somewhere or other recently for a ridiculous price. It’s superbly done, very inventive in the camera work, wonderful music score, marvellous cast (generally – the guy who plays King (Basil Sydney) is a bit weak, especially in his prayer scene); stagey, of course, but then this is a fairly close adaptation of a play (except poor old Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got lost). And it’s gripping – even though I knew what happens, it still took hold of me and seldom let go. It’s only when Olivier is out of it for a bit (when he’s sent to England) that it loses a modicum of momentum, but otherwise it holds your attention.
I don’t think I’ve seen it since it was shown at Christian Brothers one night (we had to go back for it) in the old hall, when I was at school there. (We saw Julius Caesar about the same time). I remember it making a great impression on me then. I must catch up with the more recent version of it sometime, with Kenneth Branagh. I started to read the film script that was published of this, and it’s interesting how the comments he makes in the script give it a good deal more life, when you’re reading it.
Olivier’s version comes across as though the dialogue is just straightforward; no need to ‘recite’ this great poetry, just treat it as ordinary stage dialogue and it’ll work (Shakespeare obviously had a bit of an axe to grind when he wrote the scene where Hamlet berates the players for overacting). Only occasionally is it a bit too heavy-handed, as in the reciting of the words at the very beginning, or when the description of Ophelia’s death is given as a voice-over. Olivier’s soliloquies are well done too: partly voice-over, partly Olivier suddenly speaking out loud, all meshing together superbly. And the camera prowls around this gloomy castle with its bare stone walls and lack of furnishing and dressing and seems somehow to be able to move up the sides of the walls and sweep over the turrets. It isn’t, of course – some of it is model work – but it’s well done (especially for its time, when model work was often cheap and nasty).
Friday, September 02, 2005
Where have they come from? Are they all native New Orleans people, who’ve been living in poverty themselves and now believe this is ‘their time?’ Are they gangs who’ve always been into theft and crime in the city and environs, and now are making the most of their chance to further their usual occupations in a really big way? Are they opportunists who see that there’s far less risk in doing evil at this particular time and feel they can get away with it with little likelihood of being caught?
It’s as if they hadn’t existed before, or hadn’t been known to exist before, and now they’ve come out of hiding like some plague that’s been lurking under the surface until the city is at its least protected.
The human reaction is to wish them all to drown in the middle of their wickedness, to be swept away by rising waters, their arms full of their ill-gotten but no longer valuable gains. But justice in this world being what it is, that’s probably unlikely. At best a few might get caught. The rest will have to wait till Judgement Day, when the justice that no one can escape finally catches up with them. Let’s hope they have a really, really good excuse for what they’re doing. They’ll need it.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Of course, if you look at the picture that goes with the email, there's no way we could see Mars like this. It would have to be on top of the Earth virtually to be that visible, and of course, if it was, we wouldn't be here for long. In fact, we'd have been gone some time ago.
But hoaxes being what they are, it's easy to fall even for ones that basically make no sense. And when you did look out at the night sky certainly Mars was biggish, but hardly comparable to the Moon in size. Can you imagine Mars and the Moon being on a par with each other - now that would be incredible!
The gobbledygook in the email sounds very technical, and it's thrown in amongst the layman-type language to seem plausible: 'Mars will be easy to spot.' But Mars is always easy to spot - that's why the ancients knew about it. 'No human being has seen in recorded history.' Hmm, we have no real idea when Mars was last this close, since no one recorded it...!
And, as it turns out now, the two planets were actually closer in 2003 than they are on this trip. Oh, dear.
Monday, August 29, 2005
How thankful I am that I live in a country that’s basically at peace and has been throughout my lifetime, a country where violence is mostly individual rather than general. I’m also thankful that I live in a time when, for the most part, life doesn’t consist of one political or civil disruption after another.
Certainly in the wider world there has been huge unrest and lack of peace during my lifetime. For some reason I’ve been privileged to be sheltered from this. Whether this has been good for my character or not, I can’t say, but my preference is for peace rather than war.
What made me think about this was in reading a brief history of the life of Comenius, the ‘Father of modern education,’ but more importantly, a wonderful Christian man whose life was spent in times of almost constant distress and turmoil. His first and second wife both died, along with two of their children, and, even then he married again. He wrote prolifically, much of his work was destroyed and had to be rewritten (no great joy in a time without typewriters or word processors), and he strove to maintain a sensible and not extreme form of Christianity.
I only came across his name when I was sorting out some old secondhand books, amongst which is a volume of sermons in German by Comenius. Unfortunately it’s printed in the old German font, but I think in English it’s something along the lines of Sermons for Passiontide, Easter and the Ascension. (The German title is: Passions-, Oster-, und himmelfahrts- Predigten).
Friday, August 26, 2005
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, by Alexander McCall Smith, chapter 20.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Bad work can never be justified on the grounds that it is done by a Christian. The Christian, like any other man, is obliged to do the best he can; and in the end the work proclaims the worth of the workman. Private life is irrelevant.
Quoted in ‘Dorothy L Sayers, a biography, by James Brabazon, pg 162
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
And this is the same for what we know or don’t know about the earth’s history: huge amounts of it are speculation. Just as whole areas of evolution theory are speculation. We don’t know, because we can’t know; we don’t have anywhere near enough evidence. Science is supposed to be a game where you test your hypothesis by practical experimentation. When you can’t do this – as in the age of the earth or how humans got here – then you’re stuck, and it seems that an awful lot of scientists invent stuff to fill in the gaps. Which really makes them no different to writers of fiction. It’s all very well popularising science, as long as it remains science. It’s when it’s just popular that you have a problem.
Found an interesting quote from Rosalind Harding:
On getting a poor answer faster:"In population genetics there is usually little reason for confidence that an estimate is correct even to within an order of magnitude, but reaching it faster is definitely progress."
Reference: J R Statist Soc B (2000) Vol 62, Part 4, page 638.
Waitress: Hawaii, Mister? You must be Hungary.
Gent: Yes, Siam. And I can't Romania long, either. Venice lunch ready?
Waitress: I'll Russia table. What are you Ghana Havre? Aix?
Gent: You want Tibet? I prefer Turkey. Can Jamaica cook step on the Gaza bit?
Waitress: Odessa laugh! Alaska, but listen for her Wales.
Gent: I'm not Balkan. Just put a Cuba sugar in my Java.
Waitress: Don't you be Sicily, big boy. Sweden it yourself. I'm only here to Serbia.
Gent: Denmark my check and call the Bosphorus, Egypt me. There's an Eire. I hope he'll Kenya. I don't Bolivia know who I am!
Waitress: Canada noise! I don't Caribbean. You sure Ararat!
Gent: Samoa your wisecracks? What's got India? D'you think this arguing Alps business? Why be so Chile? Be Nice!
Waitress: Don't Kiev me that Boulogne! Alemain do! Spain in the neck. Pay your Czech and don't Kuwait. Ayssinia!
Gent (to himself): I'll come back with my France and Taiwan on Zanzibar is open.
Are you Hungary?
Russia to the table
and I will Fiji.
Would you like some Turkey?
No, there is too much Greece.
Sweden my coffee
and Denmark my bill.
I had a look to see if anyone had put this on the Net but there's nothing obvious. There's a short film entitled"Are you Hungary in Greece for Turkey" by Ray DeGroote, Jr, listed back in 1998, which comes close, but not very. And there are a number of results coming up where it looks as though people don't know the difference between the spelling of Hungary as a country and hungry as in needing to eat....!
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The following quote is interesting in that I'm at present in a play, and am also a long-standing member of a church. While I might not be so harsh on the church as this quote is, the words about being in a play (especially with a bunch of people from that same church) are very apt.
She sold us her vision of the theatre as the place that offered the things that a church ought to offer, but rarely did. Inside a stage door you found comradeship, charity, and most of all, a sense of common dedication to a common purpose, each individual contributing selflessly to the final result.
Quoted in ‘Dorothy L Sayers, a biography, by James Brabazon, pg 159
Monday, August 22, 2005
Quoted in ‘Dorothy L Sayers, a biography, by James Brabazon.
Well, in a sort of serendipity, my comments about pants and shorts the other day found some answers when I picked up a short book – Max Vocab, by Max Cryer – on the derivations of some English words, and found a chapter (also short) on trousers and related words. He still doesn’t tell us why trousers is plural, or knickerbockers for that matter, or strides, or slacks, or leggings, or tights, or breeches, or pants, or shorts. Supposedly at one point in history pants did get called ‘pant’ but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it used, even in older books. Cryer talks about two ‘tubes’ as being the thing common to all of these garments, and that they were around before Christ in some form. I wonder if the ancient nomads in Asia used a plural word, or the Romans, when they adopted them (you see them in films like Jesus of Nazareth where the Roman soldiers have some kind of tubers that extend to just below the knee, like tight knickerbockers, or even to the length of plus fours – which apparently comes from extending knickerbockers four inches!). So, in a sense, I’m none the wiser in terms of my original question: why are all these words plural? And why does it sound so odd to singularise them?
Quoted by Dorothy L Sayers, in the Preface to her book, The Mind of the Maker.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
from The Rector’s Wife, by Joanna Trollope, pg 155 paperback edition.
Ptolemy was a quiet, snuffling child who gave the impression of having a profound inner life that he was protecting from his mother. His two elder brothers had the lugubrious sartorial appearance of impoverished Victorian undertakers, and sloped sullenly about the house, slopping endless bowls of cornflakes and muttering for hours into the telephone. They were kept deliberately short of money by Eleanor and so were to be constantly caught unabashedly combing cupboards and drawers for the latest hiding place of her purse. She seemed to think this was perfectly normal behaviour and as much an inevitable part of the messiness of adolescence as spots (which they both had) and wet dreams.
The pattern of the day was very decided, and fraught with argument since Eleanor and Robert believer in the right of every member of the family to discuss every topic from the threat of the environment down to whether Ptolemy or Gideon should be allowed the last helping out of a box of Ricicles. Breakfast happened about eight in an atmosphere of steady acrimony and then Robert herded the older boys into the car for school – this provided a wonderful chance for prolonged defiance – before he went onto College, and Eleanor walked Ptolemy to school. Anna offered to do this (Ptolemy’s eyes gleamed dully at the prospect) but Eleanor said no, because she and Ptolemy had a weekly discussion programme worked out for each term which they got through in 15-minute bursts, as they walked. Anna asked what this week’s topic was, and Eleanor said, ‘Racism,’ and Ptolemy said, ‘Boring.’
A bit more on the evolution stuff. I remembered this morning that some forty years ago, when I was in London at the Opera Centre, one of the singing students pronounced to another in my hearing that eventually we would lose the little toe and the appendix entirely, the latter because obviously we had no use for it at all, since it could be whipped out at the drop of a hat, and the little toe because we really didn’t need that extra one.
I think he may have been wrong on both counts, although I don’t personally have any proof. But I’d like to know if anyone has ever done any research on whether it makes a difference to lose your appendix: are you prone to other kinds of illnesses that those who manage to hang onto their appendices aren’t? Does it affect your immunity in any way? Is it like losing your gall bladder, where afterwards there’s less resistance to certain foods, especially fatty ones?
As for the little toe, I can remember when I was working in the State Insurance office here in Dunedin in the years before the London discussion that one of the older staff had a missing big toe. I have in mind that he’d lost it by having a train run over it, but that sounds a bit improbable now. Anyway, he limped enough for it to be a nuisance, as a result of this loss. That may have been that more than the toe had gone, but it stuck in my mind when I heard this other conversation. The young man in question, an American, full of the latest opinions, may have been right – perhaps we don’t really need that little toe. Yet I’ve always found even the little toe improves your balance in situations where you’re kind of hanging on by your toes. I suspect it has more purpose than he, with his half-baked evolutionary ideas, realised.
I’ve been reading more of Patrick Snedden’s book, Pakeha and the Treaty. It’s certainly a book to make you stop and think about your racist attitudes, not because he attacks Pakeha people particularly, but because of his gentle approach to making us see that more good has come out of The Waitangi Tribunal and its negotiations, and that we are all, Maori and Pakeha, better off because of the efforts that have been made to right past wrongs. One of his biggest criticisms is aimed at the media which tends to sensationalise all Maori issues and stories, and seldom digs into the past to see why things have come to a head. And of course they also make huge play with cases where fraud and misuse of funds occur when Maori are involved, as in the Donna Awatere trial. Such cases may be justified in getting the exposure they receive, but thinking back to the Wanganui Moutua Gardens sit-in, I don’t remember understanding anything of what was going on – or being given much of a chance to understand by the media. We heard about the violence – which was actually a minimal part of the sit-in – but nothing about the co-operation and hard work, nor about the grandmothers and great-grandmothers who came along and stayed there for days on end, in conditions that were hardly ideal for older people, or the way in which everyone who came, Maori and Pakeha, were fed by a team of volunteers who worked to no apparent roster. Anyway, it’s been a valuable read, and is most important at this time when the National Party seems to be trying to move away from Treaty negotiations and get all that stuff out of the Pakeha’s hair…
Saturday, August 20, 2005
‘proteins can’t exist with DNA and DNA has no purpose without proteins. Are we to assume, then, that they arose simultaneously with the purpose of supporting each other? Is so: wow.’
That ‘wow’ strikes me as Bryson’s way of avoiding saying: I don’t believe it, or of throwing in a dash of his frequently-appearing cynicism (not just in this book), or of saying, without saying it, I think there must be another explanation.
I've just seen an article on Arts and Letters Daily site getting all steamed up about creation science – which it mixes up with Intelligent Design – and uses as its focus the idea that creationists are wrong to ask that an open mind be kept on some scientific theories: notably evolution. This curious statement is made in the article:
"To laypeople--particularly those unfamiliar with the scientific status of evolution, which is actually a theory and a fact--the phrasing may seem harmless. But in 2005 a federal judge ordered the stickers removed. By singling out evolution as uniquely controversial among scientific theories, the stickers catered to religious biases and thus violated the First Amendment."
So evolution is a theory and a fact. Is it? It’s a fact in the minds of many scientists, but not all. The quote above follows a quotation from one of the stickers put in biology textbooks, which says,
"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
Isn’t it curious that we can’t be open-minded about a piece of science? If Bryson's books says anything, it's that open-mindedness about ideas is part and parcel of being a scientist. And of course evolution is singled out: it’s one specific area of science that actually goes against the religious teaching as to how humankind came into existence. There’s the rub. Writers like Jerry Coyne know this perfectly well, but his article is just another in an endless series of anti-religious pieces that argue for science as opposed to religious faith, forgetting that scientists have an awful lot of faith in some of their pronouncements, and that the rest of us are expected to go along with them until something better is theorised.
I’m not arguing here for creation science, per se, because I think they’ve gone in for a form of thinking that doesn’t take into account enough of the information we do actually have. But evolutionists don't have all the information either, and they base an awful lot of their theory on faith – it might not be religious faith, but it’s faith all the same…faith that they’ve got it right, in spite of some evidence that seems to contradict their faith.