Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Girls With the Golden Bras

     Most of you will be aware that the Indians of Central America are not what they used to be. Rapid and massive depopulation was the immediate effect of contact with the white man's germs, even more than from the cruelties of the Spanish conquistadores. Where nothing but impenetrable jungle now stands in Panama's DariĆ©n Gap, there were once found vast native settlements with palaces of mahogany, and the casual use of gold the like of which the world will never see again.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Amazing What You See in the Outback!

     Prof. Tim Flannery is probably best known to Australians as the head of the now defunct Climate Commission, which caused some controversy. However, his real forte is as a very brilliant mammalogist and paleontologist. His book, Country (Text, 2004) is worth reading, not only for its scientific information, but for some of his personal reminiscences. Take, for example, the account on page 29 of his youthful venture with a mate called Bill into Rottnest Island, off Fremantle, WA.
Bill's parents had honeymooned there and apart from an unfortunate incident involving Bill's dad snoring open-mouthed on the beach, and a defecating seagull with a crackshot aim, they had come away with wonderful memories.
     But his most amusing anecdote was the one about the American paleontologist, Tom Rich.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

When It Doesn't Pay to Have the Courage of Your Convictions

     As I pointed out in my last post, it doesn't always pay to have the courage of your convictions. Of course, we all say we admire the person who does. We also say it takes a big man to admit he was wrong.
     William Miller was one of those people who believe the Bible was written in code, and he had found the key. He was actually able to predict the second coming of Jesus to the day and the hour - apparently oblivious to the fact that the hour differs according to one's position on the earth. To quote the inimitable words of C. S. Lewis: "Thousands waited for the Lord at midnight on 21 March [1844], and went home to a late breakfast on 22nd followed by the jeers of a drunkard." Afterwards, one of his disciples, Samuel Snow persuaded him that the correct date would be 22 October 1844. But when the earth still turned after that day, Miller at least had the sense to call it quits, and admit he had been wrong. But for a New Guinea prophet, having the courage of his convictions came with a high price.