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It often surprises our international interlocutors, for example in Romania, Russia or Germany, that Australia is a monarchy.  More surprisingly, that our Monarch is not the privileged descendent of an early Australian squatter or more typically a medieval warlord but Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain and Northern Island - who I suppose could qualify as the latter.

Thus unlike those ex-colonial Americans, British Royal weddings are not just about celebrity.  To Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, in addition to several smaller Commonwealth countries, they have a bearing our shared Monarchy.

Yet in Australia, except for occasional visits and the endorsement of our choice of viceroys, matters royal are mainly the preoccupation of the readers of women's magazines.

That women's magazines enjoy almost exclusive monopoly of this element of the National culture is rather strange in these days of gender equality.  There's nary a mention in the men's magazines.  Scan them as I might at the barber's or when browsing a newsstand - few protagonists who are not engaged in sport; modifying equipment or buildings; or exposing their breasts; get a look in. 

But a Royal wedding hypes things up, so there is collateral involvement.  Husbands and partners are drawn in.

As it happens, due to Daylight Saving there, Sydney was just nine hours ahead of the UK so this latest Royal extravaganza, beginning at noon in Windsor, was to occur conveniently around our dinner time on Saturday evening.  Our friends Graham and Claire invited us to come over for a meal and to watch it at their place.  Claire is a published gourmand so it was an offer too good to refuse.  Graham had lit a fire (not Norwegian Wood), welcome against the autumn chill in Sydney, so we gathered round the fireplace; donned our fake crowns and tiaras; and took up our real glasses of bubbly.  Then, like a substantial part of planet's TV audience, we settled down to watch the nuptials of Prince Harry and his American paramour at Windsor.

***

I have to confess that I'm not a great consumer of the aforementioned women's literature. So for some years I was a bit behind the times when it came to the Royal Family. I sort of lost interest around the time of the Profumo/Keeler/Rice Davies affair. You know, the spy scandal involving Princess Margaret and that photographer chappie. Wait, wasn't he the one she eventually married?  How did that marriage go?

But recently we watched The Crown on NetFlix and I discovered a big gap in my knowledge. For example I was reminded that Charles and Ann had a younger brother!  I'd completely forgotten him.

Despite all sorts of esoteric knowledge of this kind The Crown was a bit thin on the ground about the Profumo/Ivanov thing, except to implicate the Duke, during his Phil-and-her-ing days.  So if you want to know more about Christine; Mandy; and poor Dr Ward, driven to suicide, The Crown is of no use. But you could:  Read Here...

Anyway, that's when I decided I'd better catch up and watch some more documentaries. After all, an Australian Republic seems to be receding further into the future, so we may be dining with the Windsors for eons yet.

Of all the royal documentaries I've recently watched (detailing the penultimate King's Nazi sympathies and so on) the most informative has been The Windsors

That's where I first discovered Meghan, the new Duchess of Sussex as well as several other minor royals - explaining who those girls in fascinators were at the last Royal Wedding.  Apparently they're the children of the recently recalled Prince Andrew and his estranged wife Fergie.  And that brought to mind that other Royal wedding - the one culminating in topless toe-sucking photos in the South of France.  How could I forget that?  It's amazing what one can put out of one's mind.

The Windsors also went a long way to explaining the presence of American Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry and that extraordinary half hour long sermon (or so it seemed) on the subject of love. It even prepared me for the camera team's apparent obsession with George Clooney's girlfriend and someone called Posh Spice, who wouldn't smile for them.  Everything seemed entirely in keeping with what I'd been led to expect.

In the event it was something towards the end of Bishop Michael Curry's sermon that most caught my attention.  Like several in the congregation, I'd been losing concentration until this point.  I'd thought he was going on and on and on about love, waiting in vain for a 'right on' or 'halleluiah brother' from the passive audience - when suddenly it was about fire:


...French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.
Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, a scholar, a mystic.
In some of his writings, he said, from his scientific background as well as his theological one, in some of his writings he said - as others have - that the discovery, or invention, or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history.

He declaimed
 


Now I know about Teilhard de Chardin.  He was the Roman Catholic anthropologist and neo-animist thinker who, if I read him correctly when studying philosophy (it's possible I'm mistaken), believed that bacteria have infinitesimal souls, plants more substantial ones and so on - all the way up to pre-humans and modern man who at last had a fully formed one, just in time for Armageddon, now that God's project (Alpha to Omega) is complete.

Like Galileo he was censored by his Church and threatened with excommunication as a heretic during his lifetime.  But like Galileo he is now posthumously restored, thanks to Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, otherwise known as the Roman Inquisition. Cardinal Ratzinger, another interesting character, became Pope Benedict but retired early following a personal message from God. Thus he became the first Pope not to die in the position for over 600 years.  Who could blame him?  With a near to 100% fatality rate it's obviously a very dangerous job.

Bishop Curry's follow-on observation that since the early twentieth century cars and planes have harnessed combustion as a source of energy seemed irrelevant to a sermon on 'love' but might have assumed some importance had he also observed that prior to the harnessing non-human energy, with the invention of the first such engines in the late seventeenth century, the almost universal alternative had been slavery.  This might have been additionally appropriate in the context of his earlier evocation of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr and of slavery's lasting, singularly unlovable, consequences.

Yet I can't blame Bishop Curry for referencing de Chardin.  I've done it too in an article (on India - look it up) on this very website.  And you can read about Martin Luther King Jnr in Atlanta Georgia - USA - Middle Bits.

Anyway enough of that serious stuff.

This was, after all, a royal wedding. So if you want to know as much about the royals as I do, and have access to NetFlix, take a look at The Windsors:
 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Meaning of Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

'I was recently restored to life after being dead for several hours' 

The truth of this statement depends on the changing and surprisingly imprecise meaning of the word: 'dead'. 

Until the middle of last century a medical person may well have declared me dead.  I was definitely dead by the rules of the day.  I lacked most of the essential 'vital signs' of a living person and the technology that sustained me in their absence was not yet perfected. 

I was no longer breathing; I had no heartbeat; I was limp and unconscious; and I failed to respond to stimuli, like being cut open (as in a post mortem examination) and having my heart sliced into.  Until the middle of the 20th century the next course would have been to call an undertaker; say some comforting words then dispose of my corpse: perhaps at sea if I was travelling (that might be nice); or it in a box in the ground; or by feeding my low-ash coffin into a furnace then collect the dust to deposit or scatter somewhere.

But today we set little store by a pulse or breathing as arbiters of life.  No more listening for a heartbeat or holding a feather to the nose. Now we need to know about the state of the brain and central nervous system.  According to the BMA: '{death} is generally taken to mean the irreversible loss of capacity for consciousness combined with the irreversible loss of capacity to breathe'.  In other words, returning from death depends on the potential of our brain and central nervous system to recover from whatever trauma or disease assails us.

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Opinions and Philosophy

When did people arrive in Australia?

 

 

 

 

 

We recently returned from a brief holiday in Darwin (follow this link).  Interesting questions raised at the Darwin Museum and by the Warradjan Cultural Centre at Kakadu are where the Aboriginal people came from; how they got to Australia; and when. 

Recent anthropology and archaeology seem to present contradictions and it seems to me that all these questions are controversial.

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