Monday, June 29, 2009

Another poetry night

I arranged one of my occasional poetry nights for my son Joe on Saturday night. There were 7 of us: Joe and Samantha, Anne and myself, Jill and Lewis and Joe's mother Jenny.

It was great to see how well Lewis has recovered from his stroke. He got up and down my front stairs all by himself and seemed as mentally alert as ever.

Haggis was on the menu for the dinner but Jenny can't eat haggis because of her gluten allergy so she got French (lamb) cutlets. As lamb is now dearer than lobster in Brisbane, some of the others present may have envied her. The haggis was however praised as usual. Anne had haggis a couple of times in Scotland during her recent trip and she said that the haggis I buy is better than what they sell in Scotland.

I ran the after dinner poetry a little differently this time. Instead of whole poems, I just printed out short excerpts of a lot of favourite poems and had us all recite them together. I thought that that would embed them in Joe's mind a little better. I also then got him to read out the first verse himself. My reasoning is that reading a poem once is not the main pleasure of it. It is KNOWING the poem that pleases most.

If any of my Indian tenants were nearby they must have wondered at these strange chants emanating from my dining room. They probably put it down to a worship service for some god. In India there are all sorts of gods, of course. We even tried to sing some of the poems for which we knew tunes but the result was pretty discordant. That would have added to the weirdness to any Indian listeners, I imagine. The poem we had most success in singing together was, rather strangely, the Eton boating song.

We had a big range among the poets -- from Chaucer to G.M. Hopkins -- but we had two poems each from Blake and Tennyson.

Zur Judenfrage and religious identity

I originally wrote the post below for my DISSECTING LEFTISM blog but I think it has a place here too. "Zur Judenfrage" is German for "About the Jewish Question" and is an expression used by both Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler so there was an element of historical awareness in the title I chose. It was actually a bit of a tease. Most people seeing the title would have expected something antisemitic in what I wrote -- but, as you will see, they would have been disappointed

Most Jews must be heartily sick of being forever singled out for discussion and scrutiny but it seems that it was ever so and ever will be. And in my utter folly, I am once again going to voice a few thoughts on one of the most hotly contested topics among Jews: Who is a Jew?

My present thoughts arise from the "wise" British judges who recently decided that Jews are a race. Since there are Jews of all races -- including black ones -- that is arrant nonsense. Yet it is also partly true -- in that various genetic studies have shown that many Jews do still have in them some Middle Eastern genes. So for Jews as a whole it is true that Israel is their ancestral home as well as their religious home.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that Jews are a religion, not a race. And the test of that, it seems to me, is that Jews do accept converts. Try converting yourself into another race: It can't be done.

But many Jews are atheists or something close to it, so how can Jewry be a religion? The easy answer to that from an Orthodox viewpoint (with which I am broadly sympathetic) is that being Jewish is not a matter of belief but of practice. A Jew is someone who follows Jewish law (halacha). What you believe is very secondary. Deeds speak louder than words. Christianity is belief based but Judaism is practice based.

But there is also a much simpler answer: MOST religion is hereditary. And those who inherit it are often not zealous practitioners of it. My late father, for instance, always put his religion down on official forms as "C of E" ("Church of England") and had no hesitation in doing so. He in fact seemed rather proud of it. Yet in all the time I knew him, he never once set foot inside an Anglican church.

So why cannot Jews be the same? Even if you are not religious, you can still have a religious identity.

Because I am an atheist, I never bothered with getting my son Christened but I considered that a knowledge of Christianity was an important element of his cultural heritage so I sent him to a Catholic school -- in the view that Catholics still had enough cultural self-confidence to teach the Christian basics. And they did. And my son greatly enjoyed his religion lessons -- as I hoped he would.

When he was aged 9 however, he said that he wanted to become a Catholic, which of course I was delighted to arrange. So he was baptised and subsequently had his confirmation lessons and was confirmed. These days many years later his beliefs seem to be as skeptical as mine -- which I also expected -- so what motivated his desire to become a Catholic? He wanted to have a religious identity. There was no pressure on him but he was greatly impressed by some very faith-filled people in the church and he wanted to identify with that. And I imagine that he still puts himself down on forms as "Catholic".

So a religious identity can be quite a significant thing for many people, not only Jews. It is a part of belonging -- and that is a very basic human need. Jews in a way are lucky there. No matter what their beliefs are, they still know that there is always one place where they belong, if they ever want to acknowledge it.

Once or twice a year I still attend my local Presbyterian church (at Easter etc.) and I certainly feel that I belong there. I feel at home with all aspects of it. My mother was a Presbyterian of sorts so that was where I was sent as a kid for Sunday School -- and that has stayed with me even though I no longer believe. So, again, one can have and value a religious identity even if one's beliefs have very little to do with it.

And the lady in my life -- Anne -- is only very vaguely religious but her background religion is Presbyterian and there are many habits of mind she has which I know well from my own family, and with which I am therefore very much at ease. Sometimes when she speaks, I hear my mother and my aunties speaking too. She has a Presbyterian mind, or a Presbyterian way of thinking -- perhaps Presbyterian assumptions. I think that in a similar way, most Jews probably have a Jewish mind too. Attitudes and habits of thought may in fact be the most important parts of a religious heritasge.

I am sure that everything I have said above will be mumbo jumbo to most Leftists but, if so, that is their loss.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Blitz"

Pictured above are a couple of "Blitz" trucks in mint condition. There were a number of variations of them. You see above, for instance, that they came in both 6-wheel and 4-wheel versions. They were made in Canada by both Ford and Chevrolet during WWII as part of the huge Canadian contribution to the war effort. Male Canadians and Britons in those days were men, not the whining mice that most seem to have become under Leftist influence in the postwar era.

My interest in the "Blitz" stems from the fact that my father used to use one in his work as a timber feller ("lumberjack" in North American parlance). Once you have felled a huge forest tree, you have got to get it out of the bush somehow -- either to a rail siding or a road where you can load it onto a truck.

Unlike his father, my father did not use a bullock-team to "snig" (drag) the log along a bush track to its destination. He used a Blitz. A Blitz was originally designed to negotiate the often difficult terrain leading up to battlefields and it therefore had both 4WD and a double-reduction gearbox. It was slow but tough and versatile and could go almost anywhere -- which made it ideal for forest work after the war. And it was immensely popular after the war. They were all over the place in country areas. They were often used as tow-trucks. The picture below is an indication of how many there were before they all eventually wore out.

What I would like to know is how they originated. They were apparently designed in Britain but look like no other British vehicle. My suspicion is that the design was a copy of an Opel Blitz of the period. Opel is/was the German tentacle of GM. So I suspect that the British just copied a successful German design. I have however not been able to find a picture of the Opel Blitz of that period.

The name "Blitz" certainly suggests a German origin. "Blitz" is the German word for lightning. On the other hand, maybe the name is simply ironical: Whatever else the Blitz was, it was certainly not fast.

There must be a million collectors of military vehicles worldwide and a Blitz in good condition would certainly be most prized in such circles so I hope at least one collector reads this and is able to give me the history behind the "Blitz".

Wikipedia now has an article that tells you all about the Blitz. And I have now found a pic of Germany's Opel Blitz, a much more conventional vehicle

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The traveller returns

The traveller returns

Anne got back from OS on Sunday so we had a small celebration on Monday night featuring a bottle of Moet etc. She got to see lots of places, mostly in Britain and Ireland but also in France. She went over to France on the Eurostar and found it very cramped.

It amused me when she told me that the Parisians she met were friendly. Everyone else says otherwise. But Anne is herself exceptionally friendly so it just shows that if you you yourself are friendly, most other people will be friendly too. In other words, Anne's experience in Paris was a reflection of how she is rather than how Parisians generally are.

She did get down to Glyndebourne, and up to the RSC at Stratford, both of which she loved, of course. The opera she went to at Covent garden was some modern rubbish, however. She found the Louvre very crowded and that detracted from her time there. She also got up to Orkney and saw Scapa Flow, which I somewhat envy. Much history there.

And the people on Orkney were friendly too, of course. And she met some friendly people on her way to Glyndebourne as well! That must be as unusual as finding friendly people in Paris.

She also took afternoon tea at the Ritz, which she had to book long before she left Australia. Even with five sittings, it is enormously popular, despite the price. It is so dear that I shouted her and her sister, June. June went over about half-way through Anne's trip to keep her company at Glyndebourne etc. And they both loved the experience of what is probably the world's most famous afternoon tea.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dinner and a thesis

Jenny very kindly made me a dinner of Tonkatsu last night. It went very well with Hoisin sauce, Japanese ginger and steamed rice. Having a Chinese sauce with Japanese food is a bit odd but I have always liked that combination.

Joe gave me a copy of his honours thesis, which he hands in very soon. It is in mathematics so it is all Greek to me (literally!) but the general layout and English expression in it seemed very good. I am in no doubt that he will get a First. And UQ is a "sandstone" University so that means something.

Below is a page from his thesis. If you can make anything out of it you are better than I am!