Old folk at lunch

Monday, December 19, 2005

MERRY XMAS! 2005






Yes. That motheaten guy looking at you above is I -- photo taken this year.

Again not a lot of news to report this year. My blogging keeps me busy in front of my computer for about 12 hours a day so I am the sedentary man. I do however go out a lot to eat -- usually for both brunch and dinner. I have only those two meals per day. There is a small anecdote about my breakfast adventures here and a note about one of my dinner adventures here.

Judith Middleton moved out a few months ago to return to Melbourne and care for her aged father -- who is now very frail. So I was left without a companion for a short while but I now have a new lady by the name of Anne. She is such a keen chorister that she is in two choirs so she and I share a lot of musical interests -- including an interest in early church music. Through her choral contacts she hears a lot of what is going on in the Brisbane music scene so if there is some good Gregorian chant or the like being performed somewhere she lets me know and we go along. That has meant rather a lot of visits to churches lately -- even though we are both unbelievers (though both of us were, coincidentally, once communicants at Ann St Presbyterian church). There is an account of our visit to "Our Lady of Victories" Polish Catholic church here and a memoir of our visit to "Our Lady of Protection" Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church here

Anne is a pretty individualistic lady but she is very kind to me -- perhaps because I am the individualistic type too. She has even been to Iceland -- a place I often talk about but only admire from afar. She is a nurse by trade and tells me that everything you hear about the Queensland Health bureaucracy is true. See here for an example of what I mean.

I reported as follows last year:
"I am constantly in and out of surgery for my skin cancers these days. I just had three lots done at once yesterday. Rather remarkably, all the local anaesthetic the dermo pumped into me seems to have had a lasting but beneficial side-effect: For the last 4 months or so I have had a very sore left shoulder that I could move only in certain ways without pain. I never could work out for sure where the pain came from but it seemed to be tendonitis rather than arthritis. Anyway, six hours after surgery on my OTHER arm, the pain was all gone and I could move both arms any way I liked! I only hope the effect lasts! They put a lot of adrenaline into local anaesthetic so maybe that had something to do with it. Frozen shoulders are a rather common problem among oldies so now you know how to cure it! There are not many instant cures around for anything these days so it may be worth remembering. There was a famous case in America where some sort of surgical anaesthesia cured a kid of his autism so there may be more in these anaesthetics than meets the eye.

And I am pleased to say that my shoulder problems did indeed vanish. I am now as good as gold in that department. My dermatological adventures are however unending and there is a report of the most recent one here. I am now more or less over the procedure concerned but it sometimes takes months before everything is 100% again and that seems to be the way of it on this occasion too.

It's surprising whom you sometimes meet when you frequent hospitals, however, as I noted in October.

My son Joe is now 18 and has just finished his first year at university -- majoring in Mathematics. He got marks of 7 out of 7 for all his mathematics subjects so we are all pretty pleased about that. I have arranged a celebratory dinner in honour of the achievement for this Thursday, at which a bottle of Grange will be opened. For those who do not know the wonders of Grange, it is Australia's most famous wine and costs around $500 a bottle for the current release (1999). So I hope I don't give Joe a taste for it. It will keep him poor if I do. There are some pics of Joe here

I started a new blog recently devoted entirely to Australian politics and events of interest and it seems to have taken off well. See here.

And what about a funny photo to finish up with?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Gregorian chant at Our Lady of Protection Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church



Because both the lady in my life (Anne) and myself are lovers of early church music we tend to end up in churches a fair bit on weekends even though we are both unbelievers. Mentally, I am as atheist as you can get but emotionally I am still Christian. And I can assure you that that apparent inconsistency bothers me not one iota. I have an enormous appreciation (and considerable knowledge) of my Christian heritage.

Last night we went to a concert held after the regular service at Our Lady of Protection Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church here in Brisbane. How a church can be both Byzantine and Catholic is a considerable puzzle. Byzantium is the home of Orthodoxy. But I assume that there was a schism some time in the past where an Orthodox church kept all its Greek rites but decided to recognize the magisterium of the Pope as well. The fact that the church still had a version of the mediaeval "rude screen" between the altar and the congregation supports that. There was also no organ in evidence -- which seemed very strange to an old Protestant like me. Presbyterian/Methodist churches that I know always have an organ with a pulpit in front of it as the focus of attention in a church (rather than an altar).

The first thing I noted in the church was the large number of children and young people in attendance. It made me feel very grateful for our Ukrainian immigrants. After the genocide inflicted on the Ukrainians by Stalin, perhaps they feel an urge to restore their numbers. And, unlike Muslims, Ukrainians don't make the news by harassing Anglo-Australians. I guess having a religion that says "love your neighbour" is a bit different from having a religion that says "Kill the infidel".

The main attraction on the program was a series of Latin chants by "Schola Cantorum" -- a Brisbane choir who seem to specialize in that. The male members dressed in monk's robes so one got a very good feel for how the chants were originally intended. And hearing them in a church with such a prominent mediaeval feature as a rude screen helped with that too.

And the priest was YOUNG! Still in his 20s by all appearances. Great to see that Christianity is alive and vital among this subsection of the Australian population at least.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Philosophy and postmodernism



I rarely read philosophy these days. I went into the basic philosophical questions in my student days and shortly thereafter had published my conclusions about the nature of mind, the nature of ethics, the nature of cause and the nature of self. I have never seen any reason to alter my views about any of the questions concerned in the many years since but I have at times elaborated a little more fully my views about moral philosophy.

And for me any philosophy that fails to give an account of mind, ethics, cause and self is quite simply failed philosophy. And a philosophy that denies that any of those things are real is therefore fit only to be ignored. As it happens, however, there are lots of failed philosophers about and they have somehow conned the taxpayers into paying them a lot of money. They call themselves "postmoderninsts" and, as far as one can make any sense at all of what they say, their essential credo seems to be "nothing is real". When I come across such garbage I tend to be overcome by the wish that I could hit the so-called philosophers over the head with a baseball bat and then say to them: "Don't worry. Nothing is real so I didn't really hit you over the head with a baseball bat. Just carry on as before while I get ready to hit you again". I think reality would be rapidly rediscovered under those circumstances.

I was triggered off into this little tirade by a book I have just been having a look at. It is called Explaining postmodernism and is by Prof. Stephen R.C. Hicks, who undertakes the heroic task of trying to make some sense of postmodernism and trace its historical roots. As irrationality has always figured largely in human experience, it is no surprise that he finds the sources of postmodernism to be many and varied and to go back a long way. He traces postmodernism back to Kant but he could have gone back much further if he had wished to look at lesser-known writers.

His conclusions are in general also mine, though he is more polite than I would be. In my view postmodernism is simply a juvenile tantrum about how unco-operative reality is with socialist thought. Socialism has of course long had big appeal to intellectuals because it offers the simplifications that intellectuals tend to seek. The only trouble is that the simplifications don't work. From the French revolution on through Stalin and Hitler to Pol Pot we all now know of the horrors that it regularly leads to. So having had their childish simplifications taken away from them by reality, Leftist intellectuals stamp their foot and say that it is reality which is at fault. By denying reality they are in some insane way able to hang on to their faith in socialism.

My only quarrel with Prof. Hicks is that he uses the term "Right" in a peculiar way -- no doubt through political expediency. He seems to think you can be of the political Right and also be a socialist! That enables him to avoid upsetting the applecart with regard to Hitler. He admits that Hitler was a socialist who differed only in detail from the Communists but still calls Hitler a Rightist! Calling Hitler a Leftist would in academe cause Prof. Hicks to be consigned to outer darkness, of course. The only sense I can make of Prof Hick's usage is that he is using "Right" to be synonymous with "Nationalist" but that is pretty sloppy when one considers that, at least from Napoleon on, there have been plenty of Leftist nationalists. Perhaps he just has not read Friedrich Engels, who was as fervid a German nationalist and racial supremacist as Hitler was. (See, for instance, here and here and here and here). And, yes, the Engels I am talking about is the co-worker of Karl Marx. Or were Marx & Engels not Leftists? I think in this matter I have to say that Prof. Hicks gets himself into absurdities as big as those he ennumerates among the postmodernists. Or perhaps he just does not know his political history. He reads this blog, however, so I suspect that he knows it better than he can afford to admit, which is a bit sad. But he has to survive in academe after all and he is only a young man yet.

In most normal usage, Rightism would be identified with conservatism and if anybody wants to know what history shows about the nature of conservatism, I have just updated my account of the matter here.

Academic books and papers very commonly end with the conclusion: "More research is needed" and Prof Hicks is no exception. He feels that postmodernists have been allowed to flourish by the fact that realist and empiricist philosophers have not given final and uncontrovertible answers to the puzzles that they consider. He seems to think that if realists and empiricists had done a better job then postmodernists would not have flourished. I think however that such a conclusion runs counter to his own observation that postmodernism fulfils a psychological need rather than having any real intellectual function. I cannot see that a completed program of realist philosophy would have stopped the absurd tantrums of the postmodernists. And the day that there cease to be questions in philosophy, it will no longer be philosophy.

There is another review of the book here which claims that Hicks does not describe the thought of the philosophers he covers in enough depth. My own view of that is that Hicks is a hero to have waded as deeply as he did into such dog's vomit. My own essay on postmodernism is here

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Illegality may be a good way to filter immigrants



I recently put up an excerpt from this NYT article, which pointed out that by Mexican standards most of the illegals were Mexican mainstream rather than dross. I should have said what I see as the implications of that. I think it supports the view that GWB has taken on the matter -- that these people deserve some respect as enterprising, hard-working people. All immigration is a selective process and it well behooves us descendants of immigrants to think of immigrants as a bit better than their parent populations. I know that I am much struck by this view whenever I am in England. The English who still live in England seem a VERY grey lot compared to the many Englishmen I know who have emigrated to Australia. Englishmen abroad are so much more self-confident and dynamic than the ones who have remained passively behind in England and who look forward only to the day when they will become OAPs (State-supported seniors).

Emigration is always a selective process of some kind and the only issue is what the particular selective pressure is in any given case. And I frankly think that the selective pressure of getting into the USA illegally is probably as good a filter as passing any of the normal bureaucratic barriers that I know of. It is obviously true that the illegals do also contain a significant criminal element but, as a social scientist, I look at the process overall and conclude that the USA is probably not worse off genetically for its Hispanic influx. There are a lot of good genes coming across the border too.

And now for my usual anecdote, another breakfast one as it happens! When I think of Hispanics, I think of the guy that I used to get breakfast off in NYC. I used to order ham and eggs at his little diner and I went there because it was both cheap and a good breakfast. And was that guy efficient! He moved like greased lightning. I have never seen anybody butter toast with one swoop of a knife before but he always did. So he could serve twice as many customers per unit time as most eatery workers. It was a splendid example of capitalistic incentives at work and also a splendid example of the sort of immigrant you get when you make them pass a heavy filter.

Monday, December 5, 2005

When England was still English



"What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'

Hopeless old sentimentalist that I am, that coda to a great speech still moves me to tears. And I fear that Churchill was more prophetic than he could have realized. I think WW2 may indeed have been Britain's finest hour. At that time England was still English and Scotland was still Scottish. No more of course. England is now a mish-mash of the world -- including some very unsavoury bits of the world. And London, I am told, is now about 50% black.

I spent a year in Britain in 1977 and at that time most of England was still English. Brixton was already not a good place to go and Notting Hill was a bit dubious but there were plenty of London pubs etc that were still as English as they had ever been so I was able to get an impression of what England was like when it was still all English. And I understood and appreciated Englishness not only because of my ancestry but also because I was a bookworm as a kid and almost all the boys' books I read at that time were written and printed in England. The scene that those books portrayed was very alien to what I experienced in my own environment in tropical Australia but because I steeped myself in it, it became a second world that I grew up with. So when I did go to London I felt totally at home there.

So I do understand what the English have now lost and will almost certainly never regain. To have lost something as wonderful as an English England is a great loss indeed.