Saturday, 10 September 2016

None of My Best Friends Belongs to a Minority

     You frequently hear said by people wishing to appear tolerant, that "Some of my best friends are [insert name of appropriate minority]. But I don't believe them. No, I am not saying they are liars; they merely suffer from a deficit in logical expression. What they really mean to say, I suspect, is: In my daily life I deal with a lot of different people, many of whom belong to [such-and-such minority], and I get along well with them all. To illustrate my point, let me analyse the first statement.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Working Women and the Housing Crisis

     John and Marsha are yuppies in the original sense: Young Urban Professionals. Buying a house was not a problem - that is, until they started a family. Then they had to renegotiate their mortgage. They do not think they can afford more than two children; the cost of housing is just too great. Julian is a 40-something bachelor. Despite receiving half the proceeds of a house sale a decade ago as a legacy, he is still renting. He does not think he will be able to afford to buy a house unless he acquires a second income by marriage - and, of course, children would be too expensive. Time is running out if he wants to get a thirty year mortgage. Our society has never been so affluent, yet its natural reproduction rate is below replacement and we are struggling to own our own homes.
     Meanwhile, back in the world we used to inhabit, my father was an unskilled labourer, and my mother took only part time and casual work. Yet they managed to pay off a house and raise two children. What on earth has happened in the interim?

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Why I Don't Respect the "Respect" Campaign

     "You must be the last man who still does that," said my cousin's daughter, as I manoeuvred to walk on the outside of her on the footpath. But childhood training runs deep, and I was brought up to be a gentleman. So I would normally be sympathetic to the government advertisements encouraging respect for women. But when it showed a man telling his son, "Don't throw like a girl," depicted as a bad thing, I decided to look up the government website it recommended.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Tradition and Doctrine

Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est
     One evening, as I was walking back to the station after working overtime, a man passed me a pamphlet and invited me to his church, which I gather was of a fundamentalist or pentecostal persuasion. I thanked him, but pointed out that my own church was only a mile from my home, that at the time I had no car, and that, in any case, I was at the time their sole liturgical assistant, so my absence would have caused problems with the congregation. That should have been sufficient, but he continued, and somehow the conversation got around to baptism. I referred him to the Didache.
     "What was that?" he asked.
     "It was a church handbook used at Rome in the middle of the second century." I replied.
     It soon became obvious I had raised matters completely arcane to him, and eventually he countered: "Look! I'm not interested in looking at anything except the Bible."
     He should have been. He didn't understand that tradition has been the greatest determinant of doctrine in all ages.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Lunatics Are Taking Over the Asylum!

     According to estimates, between one in 20,000 and one in 7,000 men, with a similar order of magnitude for women, are transsexuals, that is they are seriously distressed about their biological sex, and feel in their hearts that they are "really" members of the opposite sex born in the wrong body. Of these, only a fraction go on to have an operation. It comes as a surprise, therefore, that I have met three of them, and so am sympathetic to their plight. Certainly, as long as we permit "sex change" operations, legal anomalies will arise which need to be dealt with. Hitherto, this has always been seen as a social problem: how to permit these unhappy people to live with some sort of dignity and peace of mind. But lately there have been strident calls to treat it, not as a problem, but as an issue of "rights" - which are defined very broadly, despite the fact that they are not self-evident, nor were they agreed upon by the rest of us. That is a route which leads to madness, which will ultimately rebound to the detriment of those it is intended to help.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

What You Didn't Know About Books

     Have you ever wondered why most books do not start at page 1, and frequently have blank pages at the back? Are you aware that, if you add up all the pages, both printed and blank, they will nearly always come to a multiple of eight? Have you wondered why photos are not placed close to the section to which they apply? What about those mysterious numbers or letters you occasionally find at the bottom of selected pages? All of these have a perfectly simple explanation.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Re-introducing a Great Adventure Writer

     One is hard pressed to find even a copy of H. G. Wells in my local suburban library, but when I was a teenager in the 1960s it was a source of hardback copies of lots of older writers, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Baroness Orczy, R. M. Ballantyne - and H. Rider Haggard. One day, my mother brought me home a book by the last author, Nada the Lily. At once I was immersed in a larger than life milieu, the bloody world of the Zulu king, Shaka, "the black Napoleon". I thrilled to the exploits of the invincible hero, Umslopogaas, who wielded a great axe, who roamed the veldt with his friend, Galazi, at the head of a pack of "wolves" (ie hyenas), and who loved the beautiful Zulu maiden, Nada. It left me with two ambitions: to learn more about this phase of African history and, most of all, to read more of the author. Over the following 50+ years, I have scoured libraries, secondhand book shops, and lately reprint publishers, and have just completed the twenty ninth.
     However, I have noticed that H. Rider Haggard appears to have dropped off many people's radar by now. Even my son-in-law, who grew up in South Africa, had never heard of him. In fact, I read on a now extinct website that most of his fans are people like me: baby boomers who were introduced to him by an earlier generation. In that case, it is time to pass the torch and reintroduce one of my favourite authors to a new generation.

Friday, 4 March 2016


     A doctor once gave me a recipe for avoiding heart disease: have a naturally long and lanky build (he was short and squat), don't smoke, get plenty of exercise, and eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, with moderate amounts of lean meat. "In other words," I replied, "live the life of a traditional tribal Aborigine." Then, as soon as I uttered the words, I realized their significance: until recently, the hunter gatherer lifestyle of the Aborigines was the way of life of all human beings and their immediate ancestors for a couple of million years. It was the lifestyle for which our bodies evolved.

Friday, 5 February 2016

No, Women's Swimsuits Are NOT Too Brief.

     "Well, Frances," I asked, "how was your camp last weekend?"
     This was 1980, I should add, and Frances was my square dancing partner. She was a strong Roman Catholic, rather prim and proper in some ways, and she was studying to join the Roman Catholic school system as a teacher. The previous week she had informed me that her class was going to a camp, or rather, one of those youth centres with dormitories, kitchen, and hall, the following weekend - hence my query.
     "Oh, it was all right," she replied, "but it was rather primitive. We had to get water from outside taps. Also, I'd forgotten my swimsuit, so I had to go in with nothing on, and I was embarrassed until I got into the water."
     That set off a light in my brain. "It was an all female group, I take it?" I asked.
     "Oh no," she replied. "It was a mixed group."
     "Wait a minute!" I demanded. "How come you bathed naked in front of men?"
     "Oh," she said, almost off-handedly, "they were just friends - nobody I was romantically attached to."

Thursday, 14 January 2016

When History Is Just a Matter of Chance

     The First World War, as every schoolboy knows, was sparked by the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by the Serbian terrorist, Gavrilo Princip. The royal party took a wrong turn, and the assassin took a wrong turn, and by chance they came face to face. The gun went off. A million others followed. Later, when Princip was asked in prison what he thought would have happened if he had failed, he said, in effect, that the Germans would have found another pretext to go to war. He might have been right. Europe at the time was powder keg waiting for a fuse to be lit. But he might have been wrong. Perhaps the right conjunction of events would never have occurred.
     Nevertheless, there are many instances where the course of history has turned on chance. Let us examine a few.