Amsterdam

I suppose that Holland is the country that I’ve visited most over the years. But almost all of those visits have been to the predominantly rural province of Overijssel, to the East. Even the people of Overijssel refer to their country as “Holland”, even though, strictly-speaking, Holland is just another province of the Netherlands, the one that faces the sea. No Scot would say he was English, though.

But, Schiphol airport aside, I haven’t been to Amsterdam since I was about ten years old. I remember it from then as being very clean and very quiet, and also I recall seeing policemen with guns, which was quite scary. One of these things I remembered correctly.

But I’ve long felt a connection with Holland, partly because I tend to look at things from the perspective of a classical liberal, which is how Holland seems to work, and partly because after nearly forty years, I’m still in awe of Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, and their team. So it was with great anticipation that I finally visited Amsterdam again, and I wasn’t disappointed. Continue reading


Duncan’s Ditty of the Day #13

A little bit out of sequence, but whatever….

There are many reasons to be glad to be alive. Here’s one of them. Arcade Fire.


Thailand

I’m still not entirely sure what this blog is for. A vehicle for ideas or verbal diarrhoea –  is it for other people or just myself? Or a combination? Should I post personal data, or attempt some measure of objectivity?

It’s virtually impossible for me to make any posts at this time of year, as my wife is on the long teachers’ holiday and she has this strange idea that blogging, and things associated with computers in general, is the work of the devil, and therefore a more productive use can be found for my time, such as hedge-cutting.

And we’ve been on holiday. And just for that reason I’m going to bore my handful of readers with a few holiday snaps.

Thailand was an experience, to be sure, although it would have been better, perhaps, if they didn’t make such an effort to conform to the expectations of their Western (and increasingly, Chinese) visitors. Having said that, it was immensely enjoyable. I thought I’d post a few images.

While I’m obviously not impressed by religion itself, some of the Buddhist temples are at least as awesome as any Catholic cathedral. The sheer scale of the main temple complex in Bangkok could not be captured without actually going there.

This is the Reclining Buddha of the Wat Pho complex. It must be forty metres long. It’s impossible not to be impressed with the workmanship on offer.

The view from the river opposite the Grand Palace shows what an exciting mixture Bangkok is. It’s full of skyscrapers, yet at street level no space available for trading is unoccupied.

Off to Phang Nga Bay, which is the site of some of the most arresting scenery I’ve ever seen. This is the famous “James Bond Island” which is overrun with tourists – a suppose a price we have to pay, although there are countless equally spectacular views.

It is a testament to human ingenuity that people can thrive living entirely above water. This picture is also unusual in that the men were not wearing Manchester United shirts.

Of course it wouldn’t be a proper holiday without at least some relaxation. This was our hotel beach at Cape Panwa, Phuket, and it was this peaceful.

This is not a picture I took. Phuket is famous for certain things which although are restricted to a small area, have to be seen to be believed. We didn’t participate fully, I hasten to add. The two people in the picture above are men – I thought they would be harder to spot but as they’re all about two metres tall it’s quite easy.

It’s a shame that Phuket’s most iconic man-made landmark is still a work in progress. Nonetheless, well worth a visit.

I’d love to go back, with the benefit of experience, and I’d also recommend Thailand to anyone who hasn’t been there. Still, there’s so much in the world I haven’t seen that I’ll just have to savour the memories.


The Slide Into Irrelevance of the Anglican Church

Sunday June 17 2012 was a memorable anniversary for me. It was thirty-five years to the day since my met my wife, and I remember it like yesterday – better, in some respects. Two years or so after that we “tied the knot”, and our, official, thirty-third anniversary will happen in August this year.  I’m sure that my wife wouldn’t look at it quite the same as I do, but to me the day we met carries more significance, if a date can be significant in that way.

So I regard marriage as a contractual formalisation of something that already existed. Although I haven’t been divorced, that is another such formalisation. The difference between married people and unmarried people is simply one of a relationship to a formal set of obligations, responsibilities and benefits, and it has long been assumed that such formal obligations, responsibilities and benefits will contribute to the smoother running of society as a whole, in much the same way as, say, a formal contract between an employer and an employee will contribute to the more efficient management of a business.

Of course it is more complex than this. We have Common Law provisions that dictate that people can be effectively married even if not formally so. But marriage is also a kind of public declaration of devotion – in an ideal world the married have no need for formal arrangements to cement this devotion. And weddings are themselves a celebration, not of formal arrangements per se, but of a formalised mutual commitment. In this sense they are a “tradition”. As I’ve argued elsewhere, traditions themselves become the traditions and there is no historical reason to suppose that things that we regard as traditional now will always be traditional. Continue reading


Duncan’s Ditty of the Day #12

It’s time for a complete change.

I don’t listen to a great deal of classical music, and as every genre contains some degree of rubbish, at least to my mind, classical music is no exception. But there’s some great stuff too, and JS Bach, Paganini and especially Mozart fully deserve their reputations.

A few years ago by chance I went to the Albert Hall in London to see Swan Lake. I’d never seen any ballet before apart from a few minutes here and there on TV. I was a wonderful experience and sadly I’ve never been back.  I didn’t realise just how much of the music I was familiar with, and how good it was. Tchaikovsky deserves his reputation too.


Creationist Drivel – Weismann and Lamarck

Posts in this series.

Over at the FFF, remnant continues with his or her mission to absolutely ruin whatever is left of the forum, aided and abetted by the incompetent owner – whose behaviour is equivalent to paying $18,000 for a well-maintained car and parking it in a lake . However, remnant’s sociopathic behaviour in mindlessly pasting repeated snippets from the Institute of Creation Research doesn’t extend to finishing off his or her posts from the Vance Ferrell’s Evolution Handbook. I’ll have to conclude this series without remnant’s prompting.

Ferrell continues:

It is a remarkable fact that the basis of evolutionary theory was destroyed by seven scientific research findings,—before *Charles Darwin first published the theory…

August Friedrich Leopold Weismann (1834-1914) was a German biologist who disproved *Lamarck’s notion of “the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” He is primarily remembered as the scientist who cut off the tails of 901 young white mice in 19 successive generations, yet each new generation was born with a full-length tail. The final generation, he reported, had tails as long as those originally measured on the first. Weismann also carried out other experiments that buttressed his refutation of Lamarckism. His discoveries, along with the fact that circumcision of Jewish males for 4,000 years had not affected the foreskin, doomed the theory (*Jean Rostand, Orion Book of Evolution, 1960, p. 64). Yet Lamarckism continues today as the disguised basis of evolutionary biology. For example, evolutionists still teach that giraffes kept stretching their necks to reach higher branches, so their necks became longer! In a later book, *Darwin abandoned natural selection as unworkable, and returned to Lamarckism as the cause of the never-observed change from one species to another (*Randall Hedtke, The Secret of the Sixth Edition, 1984).

The Evolution Handbook is a remarkably poor piece of writing throughout, if evolutionfacts.com is anything like a fair representation, and, as the website is based directly on Ferrell’s work, it probably is. Yet the paragraph above is abysmal even by Ferrell’s standards. The only part that is correct is that Lamarckism (the passing on of characteristics acquired during life) has been disproved. Even if it was true that Darwin abandoned natural selection and embraced Lamarckism, this wouldn’t mean that modern evolutionary biology was based upon Darwin’s later thoughts. We have a good idea what Weismann thought as he wrote a book entitled Über die Berechtigung der Darwin’schen Theorie (On the justification of the Darwinian theory). According to Ferrell’s logic, therefore, Weismann denied Darwinism while supporting something else that he called Darwinian theory, which today we would call natural selection. Of course, Ferrell neglects to remark upon Weismann’s own thoughts on evolution, whereas normally he never loses an opportunity to poison the well by ensuring that people’s beliefs in other areas are given a mention. (Linnaeus was an “earnest creationist”, Wallace a “spiritist”). Continue reading


The Dark Heart of Europe

The Euros have started, to keep us all occupied, and surprisingly the games have been entertaining. My pre-tournament prediction of the winner, Germany, are looking like likely winners already, beating Holland though enjoying less possession.

This year the tournament has gone to Poland and Ukraine. It is only to be expected that any country hosting a major tournament will comes under the spotlight, and Euro 2012 is no exception. Accusations of endemic racism have been levelled against both those countries, and although probably exaggerated, there is likely a kernel of truth in these accusations. I confess that I have been surprised by the enmity of many of the Polish immigrants – most of them born since 1980 – towards Jews. This is all the more surprising since most of the worst excesses of the Holocaust took place within Poland  – Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Birkenau were all within current Polish Borders. As a European on the Western fringe of the continent, the idea of central Europe usually involves France and Germany, but for a Nazi, concerned with lebensraum, Poland is as central to Europe as it gets.

If any inanimate object such as a building can be said to possess evil characteristics then surely the prime candidate must be the entrance to Birkenau, although the “arbeit macht frei” gate at Auschwitz comes close. On one side of the entrance is innocence, on the other almost certain death. Auschwitz – Birkenau has, quite rightly, been assigned as testimony to man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading


Gordon West

Allow me to post in a personal sense for posterity.

I am not a person that allows much room for heroes. I have a few – Jefferson, Orwell, Keith Richards – but most of my heroes played in royal blue.

And they are personal heroes. I started supporting Everton Football Club in the early 1960’s for no other reason than they played in blue, my favourite colour, and also that their players tended to have comic-book names. I got caught up with it and am changed forever, despite my better nature.

I first saw Everton in 1967, at an away game in my then local city of Nottingham. But at the tender age of thirteen I started going to home games which were over a hundred miles away from my home. My first Everton game at Goodison Park was a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in 1969. We went on to win the league that season. And therefore the team of team of 1969-70 has remained special to me.

From memory, Everton used only fifteen players in that whole season. Nowadays every team has at least fourteen starters or substitutes. Sandy Brown and Tommy Jackson came from Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, but didn’t figure much that season – apart from Brown’s spectacular own goal for Liverpool. Remarkably given the state of today’s Premier League, of the remaining thirteen, eight, no less, were born within the city limits of Liverpool. The remaining five were all from Northern England – not a player south of the Trent among them all.

Gordon West was one these five, hailing from Barnsley in Yorkshire. Nevertheless, he came to Everton in 1962 and stayed for ten years, winning the league twice and the FA Cup once. He was the best goalkeeper in England by 1970, but elected not to go to Mexico in that year, preferring to spend time with his family. He did play for Tranmere after that, but was seen at Goodison as a fan for many years. The last time I saw Gordon West was at a pitch-side remembrance for his former colleague and Evertonian Brian Labone. I recall thinking that I didn’t remember him as that big. But he was a giant for Evertonians of my vintage. I confess that I am truly upset that Gordon West died, after a long illness, on Monday June 10.

Gordon West, 1943-2012.


Diamonds are not Forever, Hopefully

As I said a few posts ago, these are interesting times in the UK just at the moment. We have the Olympics next month and that won’t happen again for another hundred years or so if we’re lucky. And we also have just the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. In well over a millennium only three monarchs have made it to sixty years, and one of them was insane at the time. So 2012 is special in more than one way. We have a chance for a harmless knees-up, based on something that happens less than once a century, and therefore we should take it. Those who take a different view, such as Republic, are seen as joyless party-poopers, and, reading their website, one can see why. Continue reading


Duncan’s Ditty of the Day #11

I’m not entirely sure why Led Zeppelin still have the stellar reputation they have. Certainly, by the early 1970’s there wasn’t anyone bigger. But to me, they haven’t aged that well. I didn’t think that way in 1975 when I queued all night in Sheffield on the announcement that they would perform three concerts in London that year. As it happened, while elsewhere in the country fans outnumbered available tickets several times to one, in Sheffield we were able to buy tickets for one day, go back to the end of the queue and get some more. We were joined at the end by someone who travelled 250 miles from Edinburgh, because he had no chance there, and got tickets in Sheffield.

Three concerts were initially planned, and I got tickets for two of them. Eventually another, earlier, couple of dates were added.

The Earls Court gigs have gone down in legend. Looking at them today, though, they haven’t worn as well as contemporary concerts by the Stones or Pink Floyd. Or maybe it’s just that they don’t transfer to video that well. Anyway, I’ve included this because…I was there!

I remember this well. It was the last of the five concerts. I had been to one a couple of days earlier, and as was the norm with these bands. the encores were just as planned as the rest of the set. We got them out again for something unrehearsed, which also explains the rudimentary light show.


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