Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Stewtape Letters, No 1

lashing Lash: easy pickings to start with

Dear Nicholas Lash
I've picked you out more or less at random to be the first recipient of my Stewtape Letters, which are a hopefully polite and civilised approach to the issue of religion, particularly Christianity - it being the dominant supernatural belief system in the west - and its costs and benefits in our society. Generally these letters will be addressed to believers, though sometimes they'll be addressed to critics of those advocating entirely 'non-supernatural' belief systems. These critics may or may not be believers themselves.

While websurfing I happened to come across an abstract of an article you wrote for New Blackfriars magazine, entitled ‘Where does The God Delusion come from?’ I’m afraid I haven’t read the whole article and would prefer not to do so as I would find it tiresome – which would put you offside immediately of course, but there are so many other things to read, learn and do, and I can well imagine what an elaboration of your abstract would be like.

In any case, the abstract itself provides plenty of material to sink my teeth into, if you’ll pardon the expression father [if you’re a father]. First I ‘ll note that New Blackfriars is ‘’A Review: Edited by the Dominicans of the English Province, published on behalf of the Provincial Council of the English Province of the Order of Preachers”, and so the article is designed principally for consumption by your own [dwindling] constituency, so to speak. For my readers [ho ho] I should point out that you’re a Catholic theologian, and that you’ve written various texts, with religion, theology and god in the titles. Wikipedia describes you as a loyal and obedient Catholic – the term obedient being an important operative, as good Catholicism seems to be as much about submission as is Islam.

That this article is designed for your own people is more or less obvious from the abstract. Your readers will give a bright hallelujah to these sentences:

Given The God Delusion's lack of extended argument, historical ignorance and unfamiliarity with the literature, the praise it has received from some distinguished scientists is troubling.

to address the question of what it is about the climate of the times that enables so ill-informed and badly argued a tirade to be widely welcomed by many apparently well-educated people.

It isn’t my view that Dawkins’ book is badly-argued or ill-informed, though it steers clear of theological literature and only dwells lightly on the various philosophical arguments put forward for the existence of a god or gods. I think it’s probably the lightest of Dawkins’ books, and I think that is entirely fitting to the subject, a subject he can’t quite take seriously. I also think that, like your article, it’s addressed largely to his own [expanding] constituency, a group to which I belong. We find the book hugely entertaining and amusing, as well as accurate.

It’s also a book full of optimism. Let me take, for example, his comments about practising scientists in the USA and their religious views:

A study in the leading journal Nature … showed that of those American scientists considered eminent enough by their peers to have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences… only about 7% believe in a personal god. This overwhelming preponderance of atheists is almost the exact opposite of the profile of the American population at large, of whom more than 90% are believers in some sort of supernatural being. The figure for less eminent scientists, not elected to the national academy, is intermediate. As with the more distinguished sample, religious believers are in a minority, but a less dramatic minority of about 40%. It is completely as I would expect that American scientists are less religious than the American public generally, and that the most distinguished scientists are the least religious of all.

These remarks could hardly be described as badly argued; they’re merely a commentary on some fairly conclusive hard data. More importantly, they emphasise Dawkins’ focus – a reasonable hope that religion is losing its grip, especially amongst those who most matter, those in the process of shaping and changing our understanding of the world. Like many of us, he believes that science and religion are in conflict, and that religion has lost and will continue to lose every battle.

Of course, the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, recognising the damage it has done to its cause in backing the loser in the scientific stakes on every historical occasion, has chosen more recently to back evolution, though in an unsurprisingly half-hearted way. Most scientists and non-believers are far from fooled by this move, and see it as entirely political, just as the move to pronounce the infallibility of the pope in the 1860s was a political move in response to the Vatican’s loss of material power in Italy and Catholicism’s giving way to the protestant ascendancy in Northern Europe. Dawkins claims that the Catholic church makes it up as it goes along, a remark that you, with your huge investment in that particular set of interpretations of your religion, will undoubtedly see as awfully glib, but to most of us the evidence speaks for itself.

You clearly don’t come from a science background, but you do make a claim about science in your abstract. You write of the illusion, unique to the English-speaking world, that there is some single set of procedures which uniquely qualify as "scientific" and give privileged access to truth. These words are quite revealing. Of course, science’s aim is to discover how the world works, and scientists, largely by trial and error, have worked out various methods for uncovering the truth about this, though in fact setting these methods in stone, so to speak, has proved more difficult than might have been thought, as philosophers of science can attest. In any case, a complex and painstaking combination of model building, experimentation, theorising, careful observation and the like, has resulted in a great furthering of our knowledge over the past few centuries, and scientists should feel rightly proud of the great strides they’ve made. Yet though it would be hard to define absolutely the scientific method, or set of methods, we’re fairly clear about what constitutes an unscientific approach. Results must be repeatable and verifiable, and hypotheses must be rigorously tested before being accepted as genuine theories. It isn’t about ‘privileged access to truth’, which is a curious term, presumably used in religious discourse but quite foreign to science. Scientists don’t follow their procedures in the expectation that they will give them privileged access to truth, they follow them because they work. As to the claim that scientists in the English-speaking world are under an illusion not experienced by Italian, French, German or Korean scientists, such absurd claims aren’t worthy of a response.

Presumably you’re suggesting there are other forms of truth apart from scientific truths, which is the usual way religious thinkers try to avoid the call to provide evidence for their claims. Of course, ‘truth’ by divine revelation really is privileged access to truth, isn’t it? My contention, and that of most non-believers, is that there is no such thing as privileged access to truth. It’s arrived at through hard work, mainly – a modicum of inspiration or insight, and lots of perspiration. Perhaps in the body of your essay you’ll point out other forms of truth than that which relies on evidence and verifiability, but I doubt if you’ll convince anyone outside your own constituency.

I now want to focus on what you describe as Dawkins’ unfamiliarity with the literature, which you also refer to in terms of his book’s ignorance of the grammar of “God” and of “belief in God”. This clearly refers to theology, and many of Dawkins’ critics have focussed on this.

Amusingly, Dawkins anticipated this by placing at the front of his book the story of Einstein and his theological critics. Einstein rejected in no uncertain terms any belief in a personal, interventionist, anthropomorphised deity, and of course was jumped on by theologians who claimed he should shut up about matters about which he was ignorant. In those days, a mere 70 years ago, theologians and church leaders felt safe about being openly abusive and offensive in their responses, but their authority has fortunately slipped a bit since then, and they now have to at least provide a semblance of a real argument. But the theological ignorance argument is no less bogus now than it was then.

Theology’s a funny old subject isn’t it? I believe Isaac Newton wrote far more on theological issues than he ever wrote about mechanics. What theological issues did he write about? I’d have to look it up, for the fact is, those writings are of merely historical interest, and Newton would be a rightly forgotten figure today if that was all he wrote. Which raises the question of whether any theological work has ever had even a tiny fraction of the impact of the work of Galileo, Newton, Darwin or Einstein on our understanding of the world. There are, of course, thousands of Islamic, Judaic and Christian scholars wasting tonnes of ink today on such matters as ‘the grammar of God’ and ‘the nature of belief’. If all of that work was erased from the planet tomorrow, what difference would it make? You tell me – I would love to know. As a theologian yourself, you would find even this probing to be grossly offensive, for it suggests that you’ve wasted your life. No comment to that. As Dawkins points out early in The God Delusion, the subject of theology creates the illusion that there are people who are experts on the nature of god, and that in order to comment yourself, you should train rigorously in this area. Such an illusion is much-beloved of hierarchical, authoritarian organisations like the Catholic Church, for obvious reasons. It needs to be challenged and rejected as the self-serving sham that it is.

You’ve mentioned Dawkins’ paradoxical belief in progress, and also his book’s lack of interest in ethics. I don’t see anything paradoxical about such a belief. We do make progress. A simple example. In the nineteenth century, in Britain and Europe, there were a number of quite commonplace beliefs. It was generally believed that white people were superior to black people, that men were superior to women, and that homosexual behaviour was a mixture of the criminal and the diseased. Of course, the Catholic Church still officially believes in the third of these, but it can be safely ignored. It also still believes in the inferiority of women, to all intents and purposes, but the majority of us have progressed beyond these false and damaging beliefs. How was this progress achieved? Generally in the teeth of established religion, through universal, secular education, through international travel and trade, and through a more scientific understanding of what human beings actually are. And these changed beliefs have quite massive ethical implications. The most ethical thing that we can do is learn about ourselves and our world. I have no doubt that Dawkins understands that, and as such, his book is in fact steeped in ethics. It is a highly ethical pursuit to seek to divest people of their delusions, and that is his whole purpose, and it’s the purpose of many of us, and we continue to grow in strength and numbers. Where does The God Delusion come from? It comes from a questing spirit, and a sense that enough is enough – it’s time to put away childish things , and to drive out the self-appointed ministers of gods, and expose their bogus expertise on eternal verities about submission and worship.

I’m sorry that I’ve not ended up as politely as I’ve started out, but I am indignant about this issue, and impatient to see the end of the claptrap that, unfortunately, you and your ilk represent. The truth is at stake.

I wanted to email this to you personally, and I almost got hold of your email address, but unfortunately it escaped my grasp. I'll keep trying, i'd love to hear your response. It's never to late to change.

Yours from the USSR.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

letters from the new ussr

I’ve not written much lately on the religious turn, but believe me, I’ve not stopped reflecting on it. The other day I stopped in at Borders bookshop and gravitated naturally to the philosophy/religion section. I took from the shelves a new Australian title by a lawyer who, he said, had never been much of a religious person until he married a catholic [I think – anyway, someone devout]. He’d gone to Sunday School as a kid [as I did], but it didn’t have much impact – he said. He’d gone onto university, and obtained his law degree, and then, at some stage had suddenly or gradually realized that the Christian revelation was true. I sat and read the preface to this personal/intellectual story [rifling through the rest, I noticed much argument on ID and much mention of Michael Behe and Richard Dawkins] and found the fellow gentle, polite, likeable and a bit sad – as I tend to find all well-meaning religious liberals – but I also found much, just in this preface, that was plainly absurd. The back page blurb said that the book refutes Dawkins and makes a convincing case for Christianity, etc etc, but only a few pages of reading were enough to show how hollow such a claim was. At the same time, the recommendation by Gideon Haigh [a sportswriter, and a very good one, but the Christian name in more ways than one gives the game away] that ‘this book cannot fail to move the reader’, struck me as largely true. The sincerity and apparent humility of the writer made me feel almost as much a desire to defend him as to attack him. Almost.

So I half-formulated there and then to blog-write a series of sincere, humble and polite letters, like Dear Terry [Eagleton], Dear John [Polkinghorne], and even Dear Saint [Augustine, Paul, Jerome, etc], to address in a kind-hearted manner their unfortunate and untenable views. A sort of P Z Myers with a charm transplant approach.

The first letter should be to this lawyer-writer I was reading in Borders, but sadly I no longer remember his name or the name of his book, so half-hearted I am in my commitments. So will anything come of this? We shall have to wait and see. I’m trying to think of some amusing secular play on The Screwtape Letters. I’ll sleep on it.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

unexpected connections

I’m taking much pleasure from my little job teaching English to a group of Vietnamese people at their community centre. Most of them are older people, part of the old order, I suppose, that was overturned with the fall of Saigon in 1975. The oldest student is one of only two women out of eight or so regulars. She walks with a pronounced stoop which further reduces her diminutive stature. I noticed that she spoke English with a trace of French, and that she always perked up when I highlighted the French or Latin origin of certain English words. The other day, when I was going through the future tense with them, I had them answer various future tense questions from the exercise book. The elderly woman, Kim, was asked what she would be doing in two years’ time. I was vaguely uncomfortable with the question – hoping she wouldn’t say ‘I only hope I’m still alive’, which would be treated with awkward, good-mannered humour by the rest of us. Instead she said ‘In two years time I will be in Paris’, which encouraged me to venture into some [very basic] French dialogue with her. Her face lit up charmingly, and I wondered then, both at her own particular life and background, and at the rich opportunities and experiences, not to mention the various forms of humiliation and misery, that have come in the train of colonialism.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

our solar moves

photo soon to be replaced by one of our first solar hws

On the news just now on Radio National – but I believe it’s old news – I heard that householders in South Australia will be paid for sending excess solar energy back into the electricity grid, thereby enhancing the state’s ability to deal with peak load. Of course, photovoltaics, that’s to say complete solarisation, is still a distant dream for La Luna.

The state has a rebate scheme for solar hot water systems that apparently comes to an end on June 30, so that many providers are being inundated with orders as the deadline approaches. La Luna Co-op has just ordered its first solar HWS from a Victorian company, and we’ve been lucky to get in ahead of many others, even though the rebate deadline doesn’t affect us! As a co-op we’re ineligible.

What we are eligible for is Renewable Energy Credits [RECs]. On this system, costing $4095, we’re eligible for 42 RECS at $49 each, for a total rebate of $2058, a little more than half the cost price. Installation will be between $1600 and $2000 on top.

From July 1 2008, SA will have new greenhouse and flow rate standards for residential HWSs. A major aim appears to be the phasing out of electric hot water systems. Alternatives are gas, solar and heat-pump systems. Apparently up to a third of residential greenhouse gas emissions come from residential water heating, and electric systems have the highest greenhouse impact.

I don’t know the precise situation regarding our own properties [we have at least one electric HWS], but there may be increased pressure now regarding who gets solar next. Even making decisions on the basis of properties rather than tenants could be tricky.

The two panels we bought were TINOX [titanium-oxy-nitride] coated, which has increased their efficiency. Comparisons between TiNOX and black chrome coatings have shown that there is less thermal loss with TiNOX. It all sounds good, and has increased our RECs score. The only more efficient system is the vacuum tube system, which is apparently rare in Australia.

I’ve made enquiries to our maintenance officer to get the low-down on our water heating systems [I’ve little idea even about my own system, except that it’s gas, as were the systems at Exeter Tce], and whether any others need replacing. At this price [$4000 at most, in the wash-up], and with some 14 properties to be turned to solar, we’re talking more than $50,000. Our surplus this year will be around $10,000. If we did two a year, we’d all have solar hot water systems within seven years. We’ll need to check out the systems being put in place in our new houses too – what will the government install? I doubt if it’ll be exactly state-of-the-art.

As far as I know, two of our houses, at Browning Street, already have solar hot water systems, but I’ve heard nothing about their efficiency and cost. That’s another thing I’ll have to research. There’s also the possibility of upgrading from solar hot water systems to a more comprehensive use of solar power in our properties.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

more on bullying, and sunlight at the end of the tunnel

home made beer bottle solar panel [China]. It works, apparently

While the issue of bullying is important, and the Della Bosca Belinda Neale fracas [the night of the iguanas] is one example of the corruptions of power, which I was going to write about, there are plenty of other examples, some of them even more globally important.

It might be a stretch to speak of the rise of primitivist religions, or primitivist branches of established religions, as a form of bullying, but maybe not too much of a stretch. Certainly it’s not about reasoned debate – it’s about tactical maneuvering and aggressive lobbying for unrepresentative control of politico-social agendas. A small example of this is the threat, apparently from conservative Catholic MP Ron Boswell, that the government will experience a serious backlash if it tries to decouple overseas aid funding from a moralistic position regarding abortion and contraception. They wouldn’t get away with it in Australia, as pointed out in Mobile Science. Cheers too, to the Sunday Mail columnist [I forget her name] who strongly criticized the likes of Boswell and the bullying moral minority in last weekend’s paper.

That we’ve tied funding to such matters in the first place is something of a scandal – only the US, of course, also does this. It’s been happening here since 1996, thanks largely to the efforts of another conservative, ‘unrepresentative swill’ senator Brian Harradine. The labor government is about to overturn it, or such is our fervent hope.

The thing about political bullying is that it isn’t about convincing people about the truth of your position through evidence and argument, it’s about hectoring, playing the numbers game, threatening to remove backing if you’re a powerful organization like an established church, or a powerful person like a house leader, making a lot of noise and so forth.

In Indonesia, currently, it’s being taken to a whole new level. A weak central government is being blamed for the rise of, and increasingly aggressive tactics of extremist Islamic groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, along with the rising power of the fatwah factory, the Ulema Council [originally set up by Suharto to keep the conservative clerics in line]. Recently, Islamist thugs broke up the annual rally of moderate religious folk which celebrates Pancasila Day, and generally there’s a lot of lawlessness of this kind around the country, polarizing the population. The strange and disturbing thing seems to be that, because of the perceived weakness of Yudhuyono’s government, the police and local authorities are taking the Ulema’s derees and pronouncements as law, and acting accordingly, in a most naughtily unconstitutional manner. It doesn’t look as if shari’a law is going to be instituted tomorrow, but still it’s a situation to watch and worry over. All this is well covered by the ABC’s Religion Report.

Meanwhile on the almost domestic front, our co-op is just going to install its first solar hot water system. We have a few properties with solar hot water at present, I think our two most recently built ones, and the three new ones that we hope will be handed over to us in August. We had to insist on getting solar hot water for them, even though we were given systems with out previous two houses, and even though they’re going to become mandatory for newly built houses soon. I’ll write about this next.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

three horrid hypocrites

off with their heads

This issue of SA’s prison system and our government’s attitude to criticism in this area has got me hooked for the moment. The Independent Weekly’s article linked in my previous post pointed out that correctional services officers, as public servants, are consigned to silence on the condition of our prisons, as this might imply criticism of our reverend ministers. So they’re effectively muzzled, as of course are the prisoners themselves – which leaves only the judiciary, the media and those with a humanitarian interest, such as civil rights activists.

The newspaper article also claims that some cells, designed for one person, have three occupants, and that rape is an extremely common occurrence. If some of those quoted are to be believed, you’re pretty well certain to be raped if you land up in one of our prisons, for whatever reason. So I wonder if the likes of Atkinson has ever been publicly confronted on this mess [assuming the reportage to be fair and accurate] with any determination. By someone who simply won’t let him get away with an ignoble je ne regrette rien response. Or does he have complete control over the media? My fantasy is that he goes on one of those schools visits that ministers must occasionally do, and that some cocky brilliant student asks him, in front of the assembled multitudes and before a sleepy camera crew on a slow news day, excuse me mr minister, why do we have longer prison sentences than other states, and why are our prisons the most overcrowded in the nation, and why are recidivism rates so high here, and why is rape in our prisons so prevalent and why is it that when anyone questions you on these matters you deny that there’s any problem and say that prison sentences are probably still not long enough? And why is it that you’ve called our second most senior magistrate, Andrew Cannon, delusional for criticizing the overcrowding of our prisons when in fact many others including well-known criminal lawyer Simon Slade, and journalists of the Independent Weekly have voiced similar criticisms? Are they delusional too Mr Minister?

But these are dreams.

Still, it’s great to see the judiciary here and interstate closing ranks in support of Cannon. They point out that his main point, that the overcrowding in prisons should be a factor in sentencing, is well-accepted in criminal law, and that Atkinson is far more out of step than Cannon is. But of course the judiciary can’t call for the offing of Atkinson and his populist mates, including Rann, that’s a job for journalists, activists and, dare I say, bloggers. Oh, I feel the responsibility keenly. Anyway, much as I’m looking forward to this government’s plans for public transport, I can’t see myself, in all conscience, voting labor at the next state election or at least not until Rann, Foley and Atkinson are removed from their ranks. Make it be soon.


is anyone out there?

Technorati Profile


Atkinson: politicking at its worst

ordure in the house

I’m often fascinated by my own volatile responses, here in my desert home. The TV’s on, I’m channel-hopping, and there’s a news story on the ABC, regarding the state attorney-general Michael Atkinson’s response to a judge’s argument, written in a report, that, due to overcrowding in the state’s prisons and generally poor conditions, sentencing should be more lenient, at least until the problem is fixed, if it ever is. Now, if I’ve reported it aright, it seems an eminently sensible argument, though I don’t know myself whether the state’s prisons are over-crowded.

But of course with this state government having ridden for years on the bandwagon of law-and-order populism, Atkinson was having none of it. He described the judge’s comments as delusional, and directed the rest of the judiciary to ignore them, and went on to lambast him for daring to comment on an area ‘beyond his expertise’. It was basically a public display of apoplexy, presumably designed to divert the media’s attention from the issues raised by the judge. Meanwhile, here in my dusty-cluttered lounge-room, I was putting on my own private display of apoplexy at Atkinson’s mealy-mouthed crapola. I’ve already written here about how the democratic system transforms individuals with the usual scepticisms and hesitancies into political personae who are pillars of strength and certitude, and this is another nice example. Maybe Atkinson is sincere in his indignation, but it came across to me as obfuscation, manipulation and arrant dishonesty. I’m ashamed to say I wanted to beat him up [for being a bully-boy], but failing that, I wanted to be one of the media contingent, and to ask the question - and meanwhile, Mickey boy, what are you going to do about the disgraceful state of your prisons? But I suppose these are the sorts of questions that make you no longer one of the media contingent, and therein lies another problem with the political system.

Of course I very quickly realised that I don’t know if our prisons are in a parlous state, but the point is that Atkinson’s response struck me immediately as the behaviour of someone with something to hide. If one wants to actually find out how our prisons are functioning, the last person we would ask is the state politician in charge of our prisons. This is what the political system does to people, and it’s a bit of a tragedy. A better person to ask would probably be that judge Atkinson is so keen to muzzle, for he would seem to have no vested interest in the matter, and he would have a pretty clear idea about, or plenty of access to, the number of people being sent to prison, the lengths of their sentences, and the number and capacities of the prison facilities being used.

Politicians should be grilled by the media about their over-the-top claims. The media should be smarter and tougher about the questions they ask, and pollies should never be allowed to evade questions or to pick and choose the media reps they talk to. The very idea that they can use their power to call some mini press conference, assassinate someone’s character, and then walk away no questions asked is just outrageous.

But just a tiny bit of digging reveals my hunch about Atkinson’s attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence strategy to be spot on. Only a month ago, The Independent Weekly conducted an investigation into the state’s prison system and found that it was the most over-crowded in the country, with longer jail terms than elsewhere and poor rehabilitation programs. Apparently the government’s response to this was much as Atkinson’s response yesterday – to actually boast about their dereliction of duty in this regard. Kevin Foley’s hypocrisy on the matter is well worth reading about.

From time to time I’ve wanted to rename my blog something like ‘the daily bully dossier’, because bullying really incenses me. Atkinson, Foley and Rann are my bullies of the moment, their behaviour totally disgusts me, and I hope the media continue to hound them, preferably out of office. Not that the opposition will offer us anything better.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

more reveries of the solitary walker

clipsal bowden

Kissing, or osculation, according to a theory first propounded by Desmond Morris and generally accepted, probably first began with primate mothers feeding their young semi-masticated food by mouth. The young would get into the habit of approaching their lips for a bit of tasty slime, and mum would either feed them or comfort them with a lippy version of a dummy tit. We humans of course, have taken the art of osculation to dizzying heights, revealing a ravenous appetite for more than just food.

The ventral tegmental area of the brain, which produces dopamine, is stimulated by kissing and by thoughts of love. My own ventral tegmental area is many times larger than that of most humans, but it remains largely unstimulated.

So I walk, and contemplate, in the damp night. I live quite close to the heart of the city, and I intend that this house, into which I moved last December, will be mine for a long time. I don’t want to move again. So I’m interested in plans for the area, and in transport plans for the city centre so close by. I’ve rarely used public transport, mea culpa, since becoming a driver 15 years ago, but petrol prices are starting to take their toll, and there’s a chance I’ll lose my licence for a while from next month, with a court case coming up.

The Committee for Adelaide Roads, a lobby group made up of engineers and transport industry boffins, has come up with a multi-billion dollar plan involving light electrified rail, dedicated bus and ‘car-pooling’ lanes [can’t quite imagine that], and a strategic road network, with duplication of the Southern Expressway being marked as a high priority.

Some of this might be pie in the sky, but the state government has unveiled a 2 billion dollar transport plan which involves extensions to the new and very successful [indeed already overcrowded] tram system. For starters, trams will be running out from the city to the entertainment centre, presumably up Port Road, by 2010. And I just took a brief promenade to the entertainment centre this evening. This is fabulous news.

The major train systems to the north and south will be electrified, new trams will be bought to reduce congestion, and a new ticketing system will be installed. It’s all rather trifically exciting.

Nearer home, here in Bowden, the 10 hectare Clipsal site is going to be redeveloped at a cost of about $42 million. Here’s some very new stuff about this redevelopment, with the state government prioritizing areas around traffic corridors. Transport Minister Kevin Foley has said the site at Bowden could become the best inner city development area in Australia, after Clipsal moves its manufacturing site to Gepps Cross. Yeah, yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it, but I can’t pretend I’m not excited at the prospect. This little loner will have so much more to observe and contemplate.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

the perennial Marquis

a Sadean scene or a typical Adelaide party

I’ve been reading the Marquis de Sade’s work Philosophy in the Bedroom, for which I’ve been criticized because he’s apparently so boring and his sex especially – so this means I shouldn’t read him? The thing is, I’ve started writing this ongoing open-ended sex thing myself, La Poursuite du Bonheur, and I’ve borrowed a couple of elements from Sade, namely the novel in dialogue form, and the rhythm of a work which involves talk then sex then talk then sex. These are the only elements, as I have little interest in causing shock and scandal, and I have little interest in violence or sadism.

It’s a pleasurable fantasy as the male and female involved in this dialogue [others may join in later] are both simply aspects of myself, so they understand each other beautifully and there’s no conflict – fantasy indeed.

Philosophy in the Bedroom discusses, inter alia, childbirth and abortion. Unsurprisingly, Sade extols individual freedom and sweeps aside anything that interferes with it, including unborn children. Of course he’s out to shock the established order, particularly organized religion, but some of his arguments sound uncannily like those of the most fervent modern pro-choicers – which actually worries me. Basically his argument is a survival of the fittest one. Don’t worry about the unborn, they’re weak and it’s basically a pleasure to do away with them because it’s an exercising of power, and the exercising of power is for Sade the primary source of pleasure. Forget charity and welfare, it just makes for dependence, life should be a battle in which the most ruthless win out and spread their genes across the globe. In earlier times, I’ve read criticisms of Sade along the lines of the ultimate failure of ultra-rationalism [and therefore the need for more ‘spiritual’ solutions], but Sade’s arguments aren’t particularly rational I feel, they’re just fueled by emotions or obsessions which most of us don’t have, or not as much. The argument fails because it doesn’t take nurturing and family feeling into account, it starts with an atomistic individualism which is mere fantasy. It starts with false assumptions about what human beings are. The issue of abortion, for example, is always going to be fraught even without the religious red herring of the sacredness of all human life [as opposed to the lives of other beings, whose purpose is merely to entertain us or feed us], because it often creates, within the mother, a clash between the nurturing impulse, the general, vital desire to procreate, and economic and other issues, including that of individual freedom. Sade simply ignores certain well-defined and well-documented human tendencies and needs to become a propagandist for individual freedom. When I first read him, I thought he had simply concocted a colossal ongoing joke, by taking one side of the individual/social debate, which rages in all of us as thoroughly socialized individuals, and running with it as far as he could. Now I’m not so sure it’s a joke for him, though I’m sure the scandalous nature of his sexual writings gave him quite a few comic thrills. Anyway, I think Sade has his uses and even his charms – he’s remarkably free of hypocrisy, he has a relentless energy and he challenges us to refute him, to show why it is that we need a more balanced approach to sexuality and society than he offers. We need our extremists, to define our world more clearly, and to feel superior to.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

a meandering dawdle, finally about the weather

I don’t work for Mister Krudd, I prefer to work for myself, at my own snail’s pace, and I’ve always been a dawdler and a dreamer. I remember as a kid, walking to school. Younger kids, disabled kids, parents with kids in tow, they all steamed by, leaving me dawdling in their wake, wondering at the cracks in the footpath, dreading arrival. I heard the teacher say something interesting, and I took it and retreated into the little back room of my brain, poked and prodded it, tried to find uses for it, tried to fit it into other bits and pieces I’d secreted there, and when finally I emerged, the lesson was over and people were packing up to go home. I suppose that means that I don’t share Mr Krudd’s work ethic. Maybe I don’t share anything, just horde and forget. I’ve forgotten why I sat down here. To put my queer shoulder to the wheel? To forget, more like. But I have looked up this and that, learned that I don’t understand much, such as how to interpret the climate change data. Some are saying that the global climate has cooled in the last ten years, others are saying that’s bunk, and everybody is interpreting it differently, and I’m not at all sure what I mean by it, since nobody seems to agree on it, and there are so many different data sets.

Outgoing longwave radiation is somewhere in the mix, and this is affected by the presence of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, methane and water vapour. OLR is the amount of energy leaving the earth at low levels. It almost equals the shortwave absorbed radiation coming in from the sun. We should apparently be grateful for this balance.

Research suggests, apparently, that the uptake of CO2 by the oceans, particularly, or specifically, the North Atlantic, which is an intense sink for CO2, has been slowing, though of course too little is known to make many inferences from this – as to whether it is cyclical or has been affected by GW or AGW, etc.

It’s shown here and elsewhere, by those more expert than myself, that the recent coolness – a particularly cold northern winter – was due to it being a La Nina year. It seems that this La Nina, the first since 1998, has been a ‘textbook case’, though of course its effects on life in the oceans will be influenced by a variety of other climate-change patterns.

Those who say that AGW is bunk, or even that GW is bunk because nothing out of the ordinary is happening – taking millennia into account rather than a few years of monitoring – seem to be showing extraordinary complacency in the light of worsening King Tides in Tuvalu, accelerated melting of the Greenland ice cap, rising temperatures in the atmosphere above Antarctica and so forth. Sure you can always find conflicting data, and the scientists themselves are ever-concerned about the quality of climate modelling, but the trends are surely unmistakable, and we can always throw our hands up and say, this is all within the bounds of normal and so what if a few species get wiped out even maybe our own, but the fact is we don’t have a death-of-our-species wish, and we can reverse the degrading situation, so let’s start looking to solutions. There comes a time when scepticism becomes self-defeating, we all know that.

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