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Taytoman Agonistes
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Another book review!

Owen Gallagher
A Spoonful of Medicine: Tales of an Irish Doctor
(Barny Books, Hough On the Hill, Grantham, Lincolshire, £5.99)
Reviewed by Seamus Sweeney

The public have a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for medicine, as can be seen in the TV schedules and the bookshops. There are two definite strains in medical drama. One is the hard-nosed likes of ER, or Samuel Shem’s House of God. These revel in the gory, the seamy, the adrenaline-fuelled, the sleep-deprived and the dramatic. The other sorts, as exemplified by The Royal, are exercises in gentle nostalgia and anecdote. A Spoonful of Medicine, Dr Owen Gallagher’s memoir of his time as a junior doctor, tends more towards the latter school, although it avoids sentimentality and cheap nostalgia.

This book is a collection of stories from Dr Gallagher’s years as a recent medical graduate in the late 60s and early 70s, particularly in accident and emergency, in paediatrics and in psychiatry.
Some anecdotes bear the hallmarks of much polishing over the years, and certainly some of the dialogue is rather unbelievable, with the characters coming out with perfectly grammatical paragraphs and overly pat witty repartee. There are several lapses on the part of the sub-editors, which lead to distracting typos and occasional confusion as to what precisely is happening on occasion.

However, these seem rather churlish caveats about what is a warm-hearted, entertaining book. The stories, while comic and sharply observed, are never cruel and Gallagher’s compassion comes through without ever becoming sanctimonious. Particularly in the final series of stories from his time in psychiatry, we sense his admiration and respect for certain of his patients’ bravery and approach to life.

It was a far different Ireland then, and it was also a far different medical practice. Certainly its impossible to conceive a character like Dr Moore, protagonist of one of the most memorable sections, being produced by today’s medical schools. Dr Moore was a GP whose practice revolved around the schedules of the racetrack rather than any notion of patient convenience. Moore had honed his system until the least possible amount of time was spent with the patients, with anything at all worrying referred to accident and emergency post haste. Dr Gallagher, working in the nearby A&E, bore the brunt of this extra work.

One patient recalled Moore completely ignoring his complaints, preferring to listen to the radio broadcast of a horse race, and then telling him to get himself down to the pub for a couple of pints and a few cigarettes, as "your complaint is mainly in your head, anyway." Moore never asked a patient to undress, and would listen with his stethoscope over even the heaviest clothing. It may come as no surprise that his patients were all very fond of Dr Moore, who never kept case notes as he knew all the patients from living in the same community as them. Dr. Gallagher too came to appreciate his more endearing qualities.

It certainly is a long way from that to the obsession with targets and mission statements that marks modern health services. This book is not a sociological tract and it would be unfair to expect a deep analysis of the relative pros and cons of the health system, or indeed society as a whole, then and now. There is however a sense of loss at the passing of a certain pace of life and a certain approach to social interaction. Modern practice seems much more rushed and impersonal.

The book could also have been subtitled "what they don’t teach you in medical school." If the book has a "moral", it is that much of the education in human nature that makes a good doctor takes place far from the lecture hall or library. It is an enjoyable account of how one doctor acquired that education.

Thursday, November 11, 2004
Those of you who care may enjoy another article from the UCD 2003 programmes.....

Japanese Rules: Why the Japanese needed football and how they got it" by Sebastian Moffett. Yellow Jersey Press 2002.

During the Confederations Cup, myself and a friend were wandering the Champs Elysees. My friend was clad in a replica Japan top and we attracted the attention of a young Japanese man who turned out to be a football journalist. A brief discussion followed – he was delighted that we recognised Inamoto and Nakata from a team picture, and asked as what we thought of someone/something called "Jiko" It took us a while to realise he meant "Zico." He was quite knowledgeable about Ireland’s fortunes and asked us to illustrate Brian Kerr’s tactics on a piece of paper as little circles and lines.

The books I’ve reviewed in the past few issues have dealt with football and football culture in traditional powers of the game; Spain, Germany, Brazil. Written before the 2002 World Cup, "Japanese Rules" main theme is the establishment of the J League and the gradual improvement of the national team over the years. As the title suggests, football was not an established element of Japanese culture until a perceived need for it arose.

In Japanese culture, at least in Moffett’s account, hardly any aspect of life isn’t seen as a metaphor for how the Japanese see themselves. Baseball was the established sport in Japan for most of this century, largely because the one-on-one aspect of pitcher vs. slugger reminded the Japanese of one-on-one sword combat, which dominated Japanese culture well into the Nineteenth Century. Japanese baseball culture revolved around the cult of the coach – television coverage would focus on the coach’s reactions and instructions to the players. This was in turn seen as analogous to the hierarchical management structure of traditional Japanese corporations.

Football had a low-level presence in Japan for years – they won Bronze at the 1968 Olympiad coached by German Dettmar Cramer, whose training routines according to Moffett largely consisted of jumping up and down. In the early 1990s Japan’s culture began to change. There was a mood of rebellion against the hierarchical, "baseball style" management, towards a more creative, less hidebound style - football was seen as exemplifying this trend.

Hidetoshi Nakata was seen as emblematic of the "new Japan" – in fact his signings for Perugia and Parma were partly in response to death threats from some of Japan’s tiny but virulent ultranationalist groups, after off-the-record comments made about the national anthem were publicised.

Some of the descriptions of Japanese coaches of the past are astonishingly brutal. Corporal punishment of the most severe kind was not only frequent but encouraged. This was a hangover from baseball training – which from Moffett’s account seems to consist in Japan at any rate largely of the players hurling heavy objects at each other and betraying no reaction when hit.
Zico would find his Japanese team-mates taking down his most incidental word and even referring back to them prior to games. Arsene Wenger was frustrated by the subservience of the Japanese players – players in training games would look to him for baseball-style micromanagement. As late as 2000, in a Second Division J League game, a coach instructed Omiya Ardija to slow the play initially to stop the opposition take an early lead – however once the early lead was conceded the goalkeeper continued to take an eternity to take a kick out, leading to the foreign pros on the team pleading with the ref to give their own goalkeeper a yellow card.

Wenger (recent events notwithstanding) is generally portrayed as an urbane sporting intellectual. Coming to Japan fresh from the Monaco job, Wenger spent most of his time shouting at his Grampus Eight charges – once, when a striker missed a sitter, Wenger yelled at him in English from the touchline "I’ll kill you!" No wonder Martin Keown was so wound up. At first the players naturally hated him, but over time and with the help of Drajan Stojkovic, Grampus Eight became a formidable force. Stojkovic found the Japanese players initially very passive, and worst of all they weren’t upset enough for his taste when they lost.

Dunga, former Brazilian World Cup winner, came to Japan and, like Stojkovic, spent most of his time shouting at his teammates. Dunga dubbed this his "football classroom full of love" and Japanese TV showed his greatest onfield rants to a backing track of slushy romantic music. Initially, Gary Lineker was the J-League’s greatest star. He was polite, affable, made an effort with the language and culture, and was widely expected to be a crucial factor in the conversion of Japan to soccer. Lineker had severe injury problems and his son had leukaemia around the time of his Japanese Odyssey, which was not a success. One paper calculated he made a cool million quid for every goal he scored. Linker’s case illustrated a less endearing Japanese trait also seen in baseball – gaijin (foreign) players brought over on huge contracts would be mocked behind their back if they failed to live up to expectations.

As Moffett writes, in Japan it is generally believed that there is a proper way of doing things. Thus fans were encouraged to study Brazilian, English and Italian fans. In the early days of the J-League the stadiums were full of families and teenage girls whose motivation was to see the hyped spectacle and ogle the new sex symbols. Some of the stories of early J-League fan culture are quite touching – teams were exquisitely polite to each other and to the crowd. As fans "studied" other nations, they decided that this was not the way to go, and began to adopt borderline hooligan behaviour. Reading the book, this doesn’t seem to have been particularly threatening – after all, it was a rather artificial phenomenon. Even now, at international games the Japanese supporters tend to be quiet, only making noise when it’s "proper" to do so, in the stadium

The ridiculous names of J-League Clubs owes much to this notion of a "proper" way of football. The clubs were given foreign names – such as Yokohama Flugels, Kashima Antlers, Grampus Eight – as they were proper "football names." As the Japanese economy faltered in the later Nineties, and as the initial hype of the J-League moved on, teams began to struggle financially. A merger was mooted between the Flugels and the other Yokohama team. Spontaneously, a fan revolt took place – in fact the whole story is very reminiscent of the Wimbledon MK saga. Football had given communities which largely served as dormitories for work something to focus on. At last an authentic football culture established itself in Japan.

A German Dream: Masterpieces of Romanticism from the Nationalgalerie Berlin

Just saw this (link may die at the end of January) in the National Gallery. Wonderful, heady stuff. As well as lots of Caspar David Friedrich, who I adore, lots of other German romanticists, early and late. Names like Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Carl Blechen, and Moritz von Schwind meant nothing to me about four hours ago, now they are high on my to-find-out-more list. As well as the mysterious Germanic artistic brotherhood called "The Nazarenes"

HIghlights (jumbled and quickly jotted down)
All the C.D.F. - especially the dreamy, shifting landscape of Riesengebirge.
Schinkel's awesome pictures of unfinished cathedrals in idealised medieval cities. This Schinkel chap - painter, architect, sculptor, set designer - was quite a mensch.
The wonderful, elongated Blechen picture of a waterfall in Italy - Gorge Near Amalfi
The twin portraits by Waldmuller of the dashing Byronic Captain von Stierle-Holzmeister and his corpulent, worried looking mother.
The triple portrait of the painters Lessing, Sohn and Hildebrandt by Hubner, looking like those old Communist banners showing Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin or [insert dialectitian of the month here] looking grim and revolutionary.
My initial favourite however, was the "Self Portrait with Brother Ridolfo Schadow and Bertel Thorvaldsen" of Wilhelm von Schadow. Thorvaldsen, a Danish sculptor, stands between the two brothers shaking hands, looking like an ultraTeutonic personification of some stern virtue or other. I advise you to Google this, or if you can get to see it - the reproduction in the catalogue doesn't capture it's wonderful qualities.

Lots more good stuff there. Six euro well spent.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Welcome first time visitors (i.e. everyone I emailed to about this just now)

(is it "emailed to" or just "emailed"? where does the question mark go in the sentence immediately preceding this one? what has spellchecking done to my previously excellent spelling - I spent ages trying to spell "proprietorial" earlier?)

And something else completely different - in 2003 I began writing programme notes for the UCD association football club's match programmes. They were book and film reviews .... like so:

[update - Shaolin Soccer is being released in the UK this month - whether it will make it to Ireland is another matter]

If an entire evening spent watching films about German football sounds good to you, then note December 8th in your diary. That day the Irish Film Institute (which will always be the Irish Film Centre for me, at least) is showing, as part of the German film festival, firstly "Die Champions" ("The Champions", it seems redundant to translate) at 6.20, followed by "Das Wunder von Bern" ("The Miracle of Berne") a popular German drama based around the national mood surrounding the 1954 World Cup Victory in Switzerland, at 8.40.

"Die Champions" is a documentary following four young prospects trying to break into the Borussia Dortmund first team. "Das Wunder von Berne" has been a great success in Germany, Gerhard Schroder taking time out of busy schedule to praise the movie. The film opens with Richard, father of the 11-year old football loving Matthias, returning from a Soviet prisoner of war camp to a West German mining town. Richard disapproves of his son’s love of football, but, as the IFI programme puts it "the boy's passion and fighting spirit effect a change of heart that's as 'miraculous' as Germany's soccer triumph"

Regular of readers of this programme may remember the review of "Tor!", Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger’s book on German football. The book’s name comes form the ecstatic cries of "Tor!" (goal!) that radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann greet the decisive German goals with, which has become an iconic piece of commentary in German. At the very end of the closing credits you can hear the original commentary for yourself. The film was directed by Sonke Wortmann, who previously played professionally for Westphalia Herne.

Perhaps because it doesn’t have much of a presence in the USA, football is oddly absent from cinema culture. Of course, there’s the likes of "Bend it Like Beckham" (the French are now apparently making a "Joue comme Zidane"), "Mean Machine" and "Mike Basset England Manager" from the UK. There’s the perennial Christmas favourite "Escape to Victory", with Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and a host of Ipswich players alongside Stallone and Michael Caine. There have been various interesting football related movies over the years, of which this article presents a small selection.

1940’s "The Arsenal Stadium Mystery" features Highbury and actual members of the Arsenal first team in its whodunnit plot. It also features footage from an Arsenal-Brentford game which turned out to be Arsenal’s last home game before the outbreak of World War II. It’s a fascinating little time capsule of a movie that sometimes turns up on daytime television. Aside from the archival interest of the footage, its an interesting glimpse of pre-War morality – the caretaker of a building one of the footballer’s lives in is scandalised at the possibility that a woman stayed there overnight. One shudders to imagine that caretaker transported into the world of Kieron Dyer.

"World Cup" takes place to the background of the 1982 World Cup. It tells the story of a group of Palestinian militants who kidnap an Israeli soldier. As is the way in movies, initially they see him as a less than human enemy, but their shared love of football and the excitement of the forthcoming World Cup makes all concerned learn Important Lessons.

Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter AKA "The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" is a Wim Wenders-directed film from the 1970s whose plot, according to the Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/ is as follows:"A goalkeeper, Josef Bloch, is ejected during a game for foul play. He leaves the field and goes to spend the night with a cinema cashier. He then proceeds to strangle her the morning after." I knew Oliver Kahn had his problems, but that’s taking it a bit too far. There is a scene in which Bloch and another character discuss penalties while watching TV, but overall the film is more about man’s alienation in the modern world etc. etc. than a "football movie."

From the arty and pretentious to the, well, ridiculous. 2001’s "Shaolin Soccer" is Hong Kong’s highest ever grossing film. It’s directed by, written by and features in a starring role Stephen Chow, Hong Kong’s heir to the Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan throne. It tells the story of a top soccer player who is crippled by an opponent and spends time in exile, before reforming with a cadre of Shaolin monks who play football with the acrobatics of Robbie Keane’s goal celebration and the highkicking of Jason McAteer in Macedonia. The special effects are said to be truly amazing, and as Hong Kong cinema tends to blaze the trail of action techniques that The Matrix et al follow, this is high praise for a HK production. The Italian release of the film used Serie A stars for the voice dubbing, including Patrick Vieria and Adrian Mutu’s friend Sinisa Mihaljovic.

Unfortunately it has yet to secure an Irish release, but if the recent review in When Saturday Comes (the magazine, not the not terribly good Sheffield United themed movie with Sean Bean) is to go by, any film that features the line "I saw you collecting urine and excrement the other day" can’t help be a box office hit here as well. There was some controversy about the cut of the film released by Miramax in the USA, with all the best bits hacked out.

While not as fertile as the rock star/movie actor crossover, there have been various footballers who have dabbled in the silver screen. The most famous being, of course, Vinnie Jones. Guy Ritchie (Mr Madonna) wrote the script for "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (which, incidentally, the dyslexic Ritchie wrote out phonetically) with a "Vinnie Jones type" in mind for the role of Big Chris. It was quite late in proceedings when Ritchie and the producers thought, well, who better to play a Vinnie Jones type than Vinnie Jones? Vinnie Jones’ major roles in "Lock Stock", "Snatch" and "Mean Machine" were all versions of himself. He has made Hollywood appearances in "Swordfish" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" as largely silent henchmen.

Aside from his performance in "Escape to Victory", Pele has portrayed on screen the Troy McClureish sounding characters "Plínio Pompeu" and "Chico Bondade." Maradona too, if the IMdB is to be believed, has dabbled in screen acting. Unfortunately Pele and Maradona have obviously appeared mainly in Brazilian/Argentinian films which the ImdB is frustratingly short of detail for.

Even Ally McCoist has got in on the act, with "A Shot at Glory" sharing the screen with such heavyweights as Robert Duvall, Brian Cox and Michael Keaton. This was largely ignored on release but if the ImDB comments board is to be believed has its fans. Apparently Ally indulges in realistic Scottish swearing.

The oddest sounding movie I dug up researching this piece is the 1995 Italian flick L’Estate di Bobby Charlton. "After the marriage between a woman from Italy's north and a schoolteacher from Italy's south fails due to deep-seated differences in culture and tradition, the husband forcibly kidnaps his two young sons from the home of his estranged wife's parents and sets out on the road with them in a VW Beetle." According to the IMdB. What has any of that to do with Bobby Charlton? Who knows?

And here's another one - a review for The Lancet from a few years back of The Mystery of the Aleph by Amir D Aczel.

The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity
by Amir D. Aczel

The French mathematician Henri Poincaré wrote that the work of Georg Cantor was "a malady, a perverse illness from which someday mathematics will be cured," the equally legendary German mathematician David Hilbert held that "no one will expel us from the paradise that Georg Cantor has opened for us." Georg Cantor, working in isolation in a provincial university, was at the cutting edge of late Nineteenth Century mathematics, discovering set theory, establishing notation for infinite numbers, and stating the continuum hypothesis, for decades regarded as the most difficult problem in pure mathematics.

Galileo demonstrated in 1638 that one can prove that the set of all whole numbers is equal in number to the set of all squares of whole numbers, which is a subset of the set of all whole numbers. How can this be so? If we list all the natural numbers 1,2,3,… and so on, we can place each of these numbers in direct one-to-one correspondence with its square. We can also put each on in correspondence with a prime. Cantor would later use such thinking to define an infinite set as a collection of objects which can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with a part of itself. Cantor realised that the paradoxes of infinity produced weren’t just slightly bothersome games but required a new type of arithmetic. Sets which can be matched to each other like the example above are then said to have the same cardinality – and Cantor dubbed such sets "countably infinite" and their denoted their cardinality by "aleph-null" - the Hebrew letter aleph with the subscript zero.

Cantor proved that there are infinities larger than countable infinities by a remarkably ingenious argument – if we try to count all possible real numbers (numbers which can represented as decimals) between zero and one, we find we cannot put them in a one-to-one correspondence with them. Suppose we list the natural numbers and correspond them with all possible decimals between zero and one, in no particular order, like so:
1 ® 0.2345678………. to infinity
2 ® 0.5756037……… to infinity
3 ® 0.6729283……… to infinity
4 ® 0.2386412……… to infinity
5 ® 0.9877754……… to infinity
and so on forever. Cantor a "diagonal number" by taking the first digit from the first place after the decimal point of the first number, the second digit from the second place after the decimal point of the second, and so on. In this example we get the number 0.27267… which is made of a digit from every single number on the list. By altering each digit in this number by adding one to it, we get a new number (in this case 0.38378…) which cannot appear anywhere on the original list, since by its very construction it differs by at least one digit from every single entry in the list. In other words, constructing the diagonal number creates a number which has at least one digit in common with every single decimal on the list – and by changing that digit we create a number that loses this common characteristic with each of the numbers on the list. So the decimals cannot possibly be put into one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers – they are uncountably infinite and are denoted by the symbol C for continuum. The author also demonstrates how Cantor used the concept of the continuum to prove, amongst other things, that there are as many points on any given line as in any shape or volume, no matter of what size "I see it, but I don't believe it!" Cantor wrote (in French) of this result.
The Continuum Hypothesis was Cantor’s next step. He wondered whether infinite sets exist which are intermediate in size between aleph-null and C. He thought that there wasn’t - in his own notation, he hoped to prove that aleph-one (which he defined as the next order of infinity following aleph-null) equalled C – but was unable to prove so. The problem increasingly began to haunt him. His work was under attack from Berlin-based mathematical establishment, embodied in Leopold Kronecker, who sternly declared "God made the integers; all else is the work of man." He longed for an appointment to the mathematical faculty in Berlin, and began to believe that his enemies were conspiring against him. Spending increasing amounts of time in the Halle Nervenklinik, he also became an enthusiastic advocate of the Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship – which Aczel represents as Cantor’s tortured intellect taking refuge from the blinding light of infinity, which he compares to the infinite brightness of the chaluk, God’s robe in Kabbalah tradition. Increasingly Cantor gave the continuum hypothesis the status of dogma, declaring that "from me, Christian philosophy will be offered for the first time the true theory of the infinite."
The mathematicians Kurt Gödel (who himself suffered from paranoia and hypochondria) and Paul Cohen would later show that, firstly, if we treat the continuum hypothesis as an additional axiom of set theory, it doesn’t contradict any of the other axioms of set theory, and secondly if we treat the opposite of the continuum hypothesis as an additional axiom of set theory, it doesn’t contradict any of the other axioms of set theory. Thus the continuum hypothesis is independent of the other axioms of set theory, and therefore can neither be proved or refuted from those axioms.
As he discusses Cantor’s existence in the provincial university of Halle, Aczel announces "mathematical research is best done within a community of good mathematicians. Research results can be shared and ideas exchanged, so that new theories can develop and thrive." This is almost certainly true, yet within a few pages Aczel has discussed not only Cantor but two of his contemporaries who made spectacular advances working in isolation; the immensely likeable Karl Weierstrass (who developed the modern theory of mathematical analysis by night while working as a schoolteacher), and Richard Dedekind (who made equally important contributions to the definition of irrational numbers in the provincial University of Brunswick) – yet Aczel never even discusses the implications of this.
It is significant that a recent survey of American scientists' attitude to the divine found mathematicians the most likely (with biologists the least likely) to believe in a God. Reading of the dizzying orders of infinity that Cantor explored, one feels perhaps that maths and music are the closest humanity can get to any sense of the divine. Aczel treats this potentially fascinating theme in a curiously perfunctory way; the Kabbalah is discussed in one chapter belying the subtitle. There are some rather superficial references to the ability of the human mind to comprehend the infinite, with occasional references to the connection between Cantor’s fragile mental state and his work on the continuum hypothesis. Periodically Aczel announces that Galileo or Cantor or Gödel had the ability to face in full the concept of infinity, which most mathematicians and indeed human beings never do, but never explores precisely what this means.

In told "The Mystery of the Aleph" deals with one of the most fascinating themes that mathematics holds for the general reader, and deals sympathetically with its central character. Indeed the rarefied world of infinity and its relationship with the divine is perhaps the most beguiling seductress mathematics can rely on to persuade the reflex numerophobes conditioned to see mathematics as dry, soulless and worst of all, boring. Like Paul Hoffman’s "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers" and John D. Barrow’s "Pi in the Sky", this is another accessible introduction to the world of pure mathematics, although perhaps Hoffman’s work is more engaging. Aczel's work belongs in the set of books dealing with fascinating tales and concepts that fall just barely short of greatness.

I'm going to use this site to publish articles I've written that aren't linked to anywhere on the net (as far as I know) and partly because of my fear that my hard drive will melt down someday taking my wonderful prose with it, and partly out of rampant egotism.

Here's a review for Fortean Times of ...

.... Martin Gardner. Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries? Discourses on Gödel, Magic Hexagrams, Little Red Riding Hood and Other Mathematical and Pseudoscience Topics (Chichester, John Wiley and Sons, 2003, 290 pp)

Martin Gardner, perhaps best known as author of Scientific American’s "Mathematical Games" section for over a quarter of a century and writer of over seventy books is approaching 90, and the old warhorse is still going. Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries? includes essays on all Gardner’s major preoccupations; science, mathematics, religion, literature and the debunking of pseudoscience in all its forms.

The opening two sections deal with Science and Mathematics. Gardner is a wonderfully lucid explainer of mathematical ideas, and the chapters on Gödel’s Undecidability Theorem, Game Theory and Mobius Bands are models of clarity and style. He has a keen interest in the philosophy of science, and his articles on Rudolf Carnap and Karl Popper reflect this.

Gardner’s section on "Religion" is a distinctly mixed bag. The first essay discusses the avowedly Catholic scholar and author Gary Wills who has been increasingly critical of the Church in recent times, to such an extent that Gardner wonders if he in any meaningful sense a Catholic, challenging Wills to state his belief or disbelief in a series of Catholic tenets. Gardner also discusses the occasional emergence of Messiah figures in Judaism, and the hilariously vague mystical pronouncements of Krishnamurti.

The section "Moonshine" deals with the various forms of pseudoscience which Gardner attacks. The fraudulent Freudian approach to autism of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim is particularly disturbing. Bettelheim belonged to the Freudian school of thought that saw autism as, put bluntly, the mother’s fault. There is no trace of evidence for this contention, which obviously caused much distress to the mothers in question. There would be an enforced period of separation of mother and child on admission to Bettelheim’s clinic. Gardner is rightly scathing of this cruelty, and is equally scathing of "facilitated communication" a technique involving an autistic child hold the hand of a trained care worker who holds a pen, and is purported to allow the autistic child to communicate their deepest thoughts. Gardner documents the FC community’s resistance to any systematic testing to disprove the obvious suspicion that the hand holding the pen – i.e. the care worker’s – is doing the communicating.

The last four essays are articles Gardner wrote for Gordon Stein’s Encyclopaedia of the Paranormal. The first two deal with Eyeless Vision and Magic and "Psi". In recent years, Gardner has spent more and more time on magic. He writes that psychic research without a magician’s involvement is useless; "As any magician will tell you, scientists are the easiest of all people to fool." Finally he rounds up with a couple of essays debunking "classic" spiritualists; the Americans Mrs Piper and "Dr" Henry Slade. I hope that this is not Gardner’s last book, nevertheless given his age it is a possibility and one has the suspicion that perhaps he wanted to end with his dissections of these old frauds.

The section on literature sums up Gardner’s catholic (definitely with a small c) interests – an enthusiasts writings on GK Chesterton and Edgar Wallace’s "The Green Archer" sits with an article on Hemmingway ostensibly about his relationship with Jane Kellman, who would later become a spiritualist, but is really – as Gardner enthusiastically admits in the Introduction – a demolition job on Hemingway. The essay on Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday displays one of Gardner’s most endearing traits – describing himself as a "philosophical theist", he can discuss Chesterton’s vision of evil as "the back of Nature" with its Christian overtones without condescension or scorn. Unlike some "sceptical" authors, he is not contemptuous of religion or mysticism per se ; more the deliberately fraudulent claims of spiritualists, or the brutal Freudianism of the likes of Bettelheim.

Gardner has a deceptively bare, laconic style reminiscent of Borges on occasion. Occasionally the subediting lets him down, particularly when it comes to years. Many of the pieces are derived from pieces in Skeptical Inquirer and occasionally one wishes Gardner had extended the pieces more, particularly his dismissal of David Deutsch and Bryce de Witt’s "realist" view of the Many Worlds Hypothesis – put simply, the belief that there the infinite number of universes posited in the Hypothesis are not theoretical entities but actual realities.

Much lipservice is paid to C.P. Snow’s dictum that the Twentieth Century chasm between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities needs to be bridged. Often rather shoddy work with a superficial coating of science or literature is produced in its name. Martin Gardner is the rare writer equally at home in both worlds.

Now that's what I call a break from posting.

Anyhow, hello again. I doubt anyone has actually seen this blog before now, for I have not bothered publicising it, thinking I would get into a regular groove posting first. Well, that didn't happen.

Anyhow, let's hope I'm better from now on. Here's a bunch of stuff I've written since.

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