Saturday, 23 December 2017

The Australian Voting System

     There are a number of facets of Australian political life which outsiders fail to understand, which I intend to explain in the following articles. The first is the voting system. As a background, understand that we operate under the Westminster system, which means that the executive is not separate from the legislative branch. The Constitution requires a House of Representatives, and a Senate. It makes no mention of voting methods, but over the decades we have developed a system which, in my opinion, is superior to all others. It is compulsory, manually counted, preferential and, in the case of the Senate, both preferential and proportional. Let us see how this works in practice.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Why I Voted for One Nation in Queensland

      She's b-a-a-a-ck! The implosion of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party in the last years of last century was due to its founder's lack of leadership skills. But it didn't mean its core policies had lost popular support. I voted for One Nation in 1998, not because I saw it as relevant to state politics, but because I recognized that the sole party prepared to stand up against Asian immigration had to develop a political base. This year, 2017 I had an additional reason: the people who were supposed to represent us had betrayed us. The left keeps introducing destructive laws on social engineering, which the conservatives never have the moral courage to repeal. One major party is immoral, and the other suffers from moral cowardice. And since most of my readers will not be old enough to know that what we have today is not the way it has always been, let me provide a brief lesson.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Hallowe'en Which Changed the World

     Hallowe'en, as everyone ought to know, is All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints' Day, "hallow" being simply an alternative to the word, "holy", which is what the French word "saint" means. The fun and games now celebrated on that day refer back to the Celtic festival of the dead, which the holy day supplanted.
     Five hundred years ago All Saints' Day was a very special day in the German university city of Wittenberg. Its pious ruler, Frederick the Wise had amassed a huge collection of holy relics, including a twig from Moses' burning bush, a piece of bread served at the Last Supper, four hairs of the Virgin Mary, and 19,000 other items of equal undoubted authenticity, each bearing its own indulgence. Indeed, in 1520, three years after the events to be described, when the Pope, in order to gain Frederick's co-operation, increased the indulgences on the collection, anybody who viewed them and made the proper contribution, could gain a reduction from purgatory, for himself or others, of 1,902,202 years and 270 days, assuming the world lasted that long. And the logical day for them to be placed on display would be All Saints' Day.
     But 1517 was different. The day before the display, the University's Master of Sacred Theology, a priest and monk called Martin Luther, sent a letter to his superiors and some friends, which included an invitation to a debate on 95 theses concerning indulgences. (He probably did not nail them to the church door.) All he wanted was a polite debate, but something unexpected happened. Anonymous persons translated the theses into German and started distributing them. Within a month they were all over Germany. The author suddenly found himself thrust to the head of a great movement of spiritual reform which divided Europe and the Church, and for which men would be prepared to die.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

A Licence to Steal

     Confession is good for the soul, and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox requirement of frequent confession, in the right hands, would certainly allow the priest scope to teach moral principals to his congregation. One of these, of course, is restitution. As well as seeking God's forgiveness, it is necessary, as far as possible, to seek pardon from the one you have wronged. At least, you should do your best to make amends. In particular, stolen property must be returned. But what if the rightful owner cannot be found, or identified, or the ill-gotten gains are acquired by devious means - short changing, adulterating the product, etc - such that a large number of victims have been cheated of small, and not easily quantifiable sums? Obviously, there are good ways and bad ways to go about it, but in the past some of the practices of the church have been very dubious, to say the least.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Pook-A-Noo: a Forgotten Childhood Classic

     I was only a few months older than three at the time, so I don't remember a single thing about my Uncle Charles except my aunt standing at the top of the stairs, shouting: "He's dead!" (My parents didn't know I knew. According to my mother, they tried to keep the truth from me by telling me he had gone away. It must have been confusing for a little boy.) But he did leave me one memento, because the previous Christmas he had given me a large format, 106-page book with a hard green cover, and called Pook-A-Noo. Of course, I was far too young to even have it read to me, but within a few years it had become my favourite.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Book Was Right: Breasts Are Meant to be Sexy.

     If you want to get your books sold, you have to be careful not to raise the ire of the social media mafia. Take poor old Alex Frith, the author of Growing Up for Boys, a guide to puberty. His publisher has just decided to pulp all the remaining copies because a wowser named Simon Ragoonanan raised a Facebook storm over three sentences: "Girls have breasts for two reasons. One is to make milk for babies. The other is to make the girl look grown up and attractive." Shock! Horror! How could he say such a thing? It makes it sound like women are wired for sex appeal. It's a pity they don't show the same outrage towards those sex education books which encourage unchastity.
    Well, as a trained behavioural scientist, I've got news for Mr Ragoonanan. The book is right!

Friday, 11 August 2017

On the Scaffold or Battlefield

[T]here is not one of our simple uncounted rights today for which better men than we are have not died on the scaffold or battlefield. [Winston Churchill]
     I have just returned from a brief trip to England, so I would like to share a couple of memorials I saw there.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

German and English

     Was ist das? (What is that?)    Salz und Pfeffer. (Salt and pepper.)
     I had finally managed to persuade my wife to go to Europe so, with only a month to spare, I dug out my old textbooks and swatted up on the German language, which I hadn't used for more than twenty years. Many of you will be aware that Anglo-Saxon, the language from which modern English evolved, was a Germanic tongue. In other words, German and English are related, having separated more than sixteen centuries ago. While the Norman invasion brought French words into English - indeed, the majority of our vocabulary consists of loan words - the bedrock of the language, the words most commonly used every day - is Anglo-Saxon. Therefore, a strong resemblance exists between German words and English.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Robinson Crusoe's Anonymous Friends

     They didn't go in for dramatic book titles in the old days. For example, if I had written a novel about a man who spent twenty-eight years alone on a desert island, I would probably have given it a title which would leap out at you from the book stand, like "Castaway!", or "The Island of Despair", or even "28 Years Alone on a Desert Island". Instead, in 1719 Daniel Defoe attached to his novel the title, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of  Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. Admittedly, the title was then followed by what can only be called a blurb, detailing what it was all about. Then, at a time before mass communication and mass marketing, based solely on word of mouth advertising, it became a runaway best seller, and has never been out of print. Not only that, within three months he had produced a sequel, which is little read today because, basically, it reads like a sequel which has been run up in just three months in order to make money.
    Personally, I have read the original novel three times, and the sequel once, and I have noticed something peculiar about them. Defoe does not provide names for the other key characters. What's that you say? There are no other key characters except Man Friday. If that's what you think, then you haven't read the book.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Muslims in Australia

     It's not always pleasant to be proved right. I joined Toastmasters in 1990 to learn the art of public speaking, and my third speech was about Muslims in Australia. This, you might note, was 27 years ago, and 11 years before the start of the War on Terror but, as mentioned before, I had done my studies on Islam a decade and a half before. Below is the speech I gave at the time. Read it, and decide whether or not it was prescient.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Myths About Muhammad 1. Moon God

     I am always pleased that I did my readings on Islam in the 1970s. That meant that when the War on Terror began a quarter of a century later, I did not need to do a rapid catch-up investigation, worrying all the time that I was reading biased polemics. However, I have noticed a number of popular misconceptions which have become current, so I would like to take the opportunity to dispel them.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Myths About Muhammad 2. Demon Possessed

     Having read the biography of Muḥammad, I have to admit to a grudging respect. But how you assess him depends on your terms of reference. Are you looking at Muḥammad the Arab, or Muḥammad the prophet? In the case of Muḥammad the Arab, I will not speak a harsh word against him. He was a moral giant striding across his environment. His faults were those of his society, but his virtues were his own, and that is the best which can be said about any of us.
     However, if you look at Muḥammad the prophet, the ideal man, the model to which all men should aspire, then it is hard not to agree with what H.G. Wells said in An Outline of History (1920):
Because he, too, founded a great religion, there are those who write of this evidently lustful and rather shifty leader as though he were a man to put beside Jesus of Nazareth, or Gautama, or Mani. But it is surely manifest that he was a being of a commoner clay; he was vain, egotistical, tyrannous, and a self-deceiver; and it would throw all our history out of proportion if, out of a sincere deference to the possible Moslem reader, we were to present him in any other light.
     So now let us look at a few criticisms of Muḥammad. The Rev. Jerry Vine caused a ruckus when he called Muḥammad a demon possessed pedophile, and an inspirer of terrorism. Let us examine each of them in turn.

Myths About Muhammad 3. Pedophile

     You won't need to read much of anti-Islam polemics to find Muḥammad described as a pedophile. For 25 years he lived in a monogamous marriage with Khadīja, a widow 15 years his senior, who was not only his first, but apparently his greatest, love. However, she died when he was aged 50, after which, as a middle aged man with the prestige of a prophet, following psychological processes on which we may speculate, he threw himself into the hobby of collecting women. (It is interesting to note, in passing, that the verses in the Koran promoting the sexual pleasures of Paradise - the famed "72 virgins" - all date from his monogamous period. Once he had started gathering an earthly harem, these revelations ceased.)
     Be that as it may, the accusation of pedophilia relates to his marriage to Ā’isha, a name sometimes written as Ayesha, which more closely approximates the pronunciation in her Meccan dialect. That he was very fond of her is not disputed, though her own attitude was more nuanced. It is also not disputed that she was his only virgin bride, and was very young when the marriage took place. But how young?

Myths About Muhammad 4. Violence

     The Rev. Jerry Vine also claimed that Muḥammad was an inspirer of terrorism. Is this accurate? A lot will depend on how his modern followers interpret his actions and words, because flying planes into skyscrapers and blowing oneself up in the middle of a crowded building are somewhat different from the way Muḥammad waged war. During the conflict with the Meccans, first blood was drawn at Ṭā'if, when a raiding party send out by Muḥammad cut down unarmed men in violation of the pilgrims' peace. So shocking was this to his contemporaries that God had to send a chapter of the Koran justifying it. But the important point to note was that the outrage was directed at the violation of a religious taboo. Nobody criticized the killing per se. This is the whole point: the violence perpetrated by Muḥammad was standard for Arabian warfare. In this sense, he wasn't doing anything unusual.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Lies, Damned Lies, and Suicide Statistics

     Ages ago, when I submitted my scientific studies for publication, they were in turn submitted to a couple of anonymous reviewers who, I presume, had undertaken studies in a similar field, and they made recommendations - not all appreciated - on how my data could be presented, and their possible implications. Likewise, when I was asked to review someone else's paper, I also made recommendations - which I hope were appreciated. That is how peer review works. So how could a prestigious journal publish a paper whose data make no sense whatsoever?

    Take, for instance, the recent paper by Raifman, Moscoe, Austin, and McConnell, entitled
Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts,
 which was widely touted as proving that the introduction of same-sex "marriage" (SSM) in America reduced adolescent suicide by 7% overall, and 14% among homosexuals and lesbians. Right away, an alarm bell rang. How could even a large reduction among a very small minority result in such a large overall reduction? It was time to examine the document in detail.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Fanthorpe's Fantasies

"Brinton couldn't believe the inscription when he read it in the cold white moonlight. He was looking at his own grave. He tried to read the date but the light wasn't strong enough to be certain. He returned to the graveyard by daylight . . . but the grave had gone.
He left the town in horror, but the grave followed him. He was drawn to burial grounds like iron to a magnet. It was always the same. By moonlight he saw the grave, but never the date. By day he saw nothing. One night he saw the month. Then the day; at least he saw the year. He knew he was due to die in one week. What could he do? Can a man forestall his fate? Can a mortal outwit the dark designs of destiny? Was it all in his mind? Perhaps Roger Brinton was mad? The asylum is warmer than the grave. The day before he was due to die he saw the grave again . . .  the earth was newly turned . . . it was waiting for him!"
    This was the blurb on the back of a paperback I found in a secondhand shop in the 1970s. It drew me in, but when I read it my immediate impression was that it was mediocre. Still, it took some sort of hold on me. I threw away novels by Robert Heinlein and Stephen Donaldson after I had read them, but never that worn paperback by Bron Fane. Also, there were indications inside that a couple of characters formed part of a series so, after a lapse of thirty years, I decided to ask the internet about the mysterious Mr Bron Fane. What I found was astounding.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

What's Got Into the "National Geographic"?

     The National Geographic Magazine, to which my family has been subscribing since 1963, frequently contains article which are not, strictly speaking, geographic in nature. For many decades they have provided grants for the study of wild animals, the results of which have been published in the magazine, but at least they can be justified as being set in exotic foreign places. Ditto the forays into archaeology, and history. Nevertheless, it is hard to see the geographic justification of articles on the King James Bible (December 2011), food (December 2014), or beauty (January 2000). This is not to say that I objected to these articles; I found them very interesting. However, in January 2017 they dropped all lip service to their original charter, not to mention common sense, when they jumped onto the latest bandwagon, with an entire issue dedicated to the "gender revolution".