Sons of the Father – Philip Temple – page 197
Sunday, October 30, 2005
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).