Thursday, May 31, 2007

Haring podcast - niet voor mij

Bas Haring is filosoof. Hij had ook heel esoterisch en wellicht vakmatig verantwoord over praktische vraagstukken kunnen spreken, maar in plaats daarvan heeft hij geprobeerd om het behapbaar te maken voor een breed, om niet te zeggen heel erg breed, publiek. In podcasts van tien tot vijftien minuten buigt hij zich over vragen als 'Zijn wij de enige met geest?', 'Kom ik uit de fabriek?' of 'Mag je masturberen in de trein?'

Neem bijvoorbeeld de laatste vraag: Mag je maturberen in de trein? Het antwoord wordt meteen al gegeven: Nee. En het wordt als een syllogisme in de tweede zin afgemaakt. Het is verboden om je onzedelijke te gedragen in het openbaar; masturberen is onzedelijk en de trein is een openbare plaats en dus: het is verboden te masturberen in de trein. Maar waarom eigenlijk? In een simpele vogelvlucht wordt schaamte, sociale conventie, de beklemming daarvan en de zegen aangestipt. Maar wat voegt een drie-uitspraken interview met een exhibitioniste daar eigenlijk aan toe?

Eigenlijk heel knap en wellicht ook heel nuttig wat Bas Haring doet, maar mij is het net een beetje te simpel. Er wordt een spagaat gemaakt tussen heel zorgvuldig redeneren en analyseren aan de ene kant en vergaande versimpeling aan de andere kant.

Ik heb ooit een uitspraak van Einstein gehoord, dat je iets zelf niet begrijpt, als je het niet aan een negenjarige kunt uitleggen. Dat is een ware uitdaging en als je de filosofie weet te ontdoen van intellectuele esoterie, dan bereik je misschien ook wel een verrijking, maar is dat wat hier gebeurt?

Daalt Haring af naar het niveau van de negenjarige? Ik heb het gevoel van niet. Ik heb het gevoel dat je de negenjarige beledigt. Het is een heel ander niveau waar Haring naar afdaalt, een niveau dat tegelijk hoger en lager is dan dat van de negenjarige. Haring daalt af naar het niveau van de gemakzuchtige TV-kijker. Het resultaat is beurtelings een effectbejag, die die kijker moet binnenhouden (interview met exhibitioniste die niets te zeggen heeft. Is dit TV? Komt ze lekker in beeld?) en dan weer een versimpeling die haast debiliserend is. Dat is geen poging uit te leggen aan een negenjarige, maar naar mijn gevoel een knieval naar anti-intellectualisme.

Alleen aan het slot is Haring weer op niveau en komt hij met de beste uitspraak: Masturberen in de trein mag niet en daar ben ik helemaal voor, maar als je het toch wil, kan ik eigenlijk geen goede reden aangeven waarom niet. En je kan wel verdedigen dat hij heel goed naar die conclusie heeft toegewerkt. Dus eigenlijk best een goede podcast. Alleen ik verdraag het niet.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Shrinkrapradio meets Mark Blagrove

There are several podcasts that have interviews as a significant feature (Shrinkrapradio, The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe and Šimek ’s Nachts to name a couple I listen to regularly) and what I find frequently is that the quality of the podcast very much hinges on the quality of the interviewee. Today this became very clear, when I was thoroughly enjoying Dr. David van Nuys in Shrinkrapradio again. He was good old Dr. Dave, with good questions, high audio quality and his own pleasant voice and interview skills. What is more, so I find out, he had a good guest: Mark Blagrove.

What a difference with yesterday, when I listened to the previous podcast Dr. Dave had put out and I was utterly disappointed, but that, also, was with the guest.

In show #92 - Recent Scientific Studies of Dreaming Dr. Dave does a great job in interviewing Mark Blagrove and Mark shows magnificent skill in explaining all the major questions in the scientific study of dreams.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shrinkrapradio meets Curtiss Hoffman

Here is a nice story: In the beginning of time God walked on the face of the earth with the first woman and they discussed what the fate of humanity would be. God picked up a piece of dung with the intention to throw it in the river suggesting: "If it floats, men will live forever and if it sinks, men will be mortal." But the woman stops him, picks up a big rock and says: "I'll toss this stone into the river. If the stone floats, men will live, if it sinks, men will die." God shrugs and lets her have her way and then asks: "Why did you do that?" She answers: "If men won't die, there will be no place for love."

Anthropologist, archaeologist, psychologist and dream researcher Curtiss Hoffman relates a version of this story in the Shrinkrapradio podcast, edition 91, and reveals that this tale in nearly the same fashion is told both by indigenous people in the Sudan as well as in Wisconsin. He goes on to emphasize that these peoples could not possibly have met in history, at least not until the twentieth century, when these stories had long been recorded. Could they?

The more I understand history, the more I find out there has always been exchange between the cultures. So even if indeed the Sudanese never met the American Indians directly until recently, does that mean that until then there were no intermediaries either? Intermediairies that could have carried the story from one culture to another?

I do not reject the idea of archetypes or anything such that indicates some general underlying consciousness in people, but that doesn't mean I take any indication for granted. I'd like to know when these stories were recorded. My hunch is, no earlier than the 19th century, with its Romantic interest in folk tales. How many intermediaries could there have been until the 19th century that could link these two peoples and be a medium to transfer this tale from the one to the other? British colonials had reached both the Sudan as well as Wisconsin by then, so there need be only one intermediary, for all I know. With a couple of more intermediaries, we know the story could have traveled from America to Africa and vice versa, ever since 1492. What is more, there are also things we do not know, exchanges we have yet to discover.

It is still a remarkable story, regardless of a possible direct or indirect contact. The emphasis on the impossibility of the contact seems to want to make it even more remarkable and when such claim is not sufficiently founded and can so easily be challenged, it smacks of fervor, of a thirst for awe, of the want to believe. And that kind of thing gets my hackles go up.

Psychologists know how eager we want to believe something. Two psychologists in one podcast fall prey to their own want to believe. Not just with this story, also on the subject of dream incubation. When Curtiss Hoffman describes the technique, I get to think: this is how you can induce anything into anybody, what is it that justifies the exceptional importance of the induced dream? But both he and show host David van Nuys are so much into dream research that this is hardly challenged. And that is a pity. I am sure such learned people have much to say about the importance of dreams, but they are so full of wanting to show how wonderful all of this is, that they fail to make a point for hard science.

Curtiss Hoffman loses his credit with me when he recounts an occurrence that involved a student of his, whom he describes as a great, or a gifted 'psychic'. I can accept a person to be described as smart, or as insightful, or creative, or even wise. I can accept that occurrences are described as remarkable, as baffling or even as inexplicable, but not as a miracle. Never is someone a psychic, just as nothing is a miracle. Not that I do not allow for belief in psychics or miracles, but I do reject the use of those words. The use of those words reveals an intellectual surrender; one resigns from questioning and explanation. It even gives up proper description and without description, questioning or explanation there can be no understanding and when there is no strive for understanding, frankly, one even gives up on imagination. I hope the upcoming shrinkrapradio podcasts about dreams and dream research (there are three more waiting for me) have more to offer.

The National Archives Podcast

The National Archives of of the United Kingdom organize lectures they record, nice up with music and release as podcasts. This is a History Podcast I advise to pass, unless you are very dedicated to the subject. The latest podcast about King John and the Magna Carta is a case in point.

I am ready to suffer some drawbacks in educational podcasts, which quite regularly are recordings of live lectures. The result is mostly: bad sound, inaudible questions, additional noises, sudden lapses in sound level and the quite frustrating references to slides or other visual material. In this respect, this podcast is no less than others, it may even be better, but like with the others the compensation for these drawbacks hinges on the quality of the lecture as such. Is it exciting? Entertaining? Thought provoking? Can it deliver a couple of key points that open up the subject and allows you from then on to say something about it and understand more? On the subject of King John and the Magna Carta, none of that was established even remotely.

I guess everybody who dislikes history, must have had a teacher who delivered lessons in the way of the National Archives lecture. With a toneless voice and poor enunciation, the lecturer reads out the titles from his Power Point, hands then an endless train of dates, facts and figures without conclusion or punch, only to move on to the next slide with either the next title or some artifact of the archive. Even for the history die-hard, such as myself, it is impossible to keep attention, let alone pick up some interesting fact, understanding or even a joke or a juicy anecdote.
I can't tell anything about King John or the Magna Carta, not even after two runs of the show. But to give you a feel of what it is like, ask someone who barely reads English to read to you the following lines:

Anne Frid de Vries was born in 1966 and grew to be neither the lawyer, nor the scientist he had hoped to be. A mediocre writer, a bland blogger and a dedicated father, are what we see by 2007. Here we see him on a school picture in 1976, squeezed in between the tallest boy in the class, Leo, and school master Brons. In 1979 he became an avid reader of comic books and I can show you here an 'Eppo' magazine that he signed with his name. This one he bought for 25 cents on the market. And here we have a recount he wrote of his first kiss in 1983. It has been suggested that this was his 'first time', but this is highly disputed and generally considered unlikely. We do have here a receipt for a package of condoms he bought in a vending machine in 1985 for the price of 3.50, 'gulden' the currency of that place and time. The head master Broekman, may have said in 1978, Anne was going to salvage the ESA project that failed at the time, but in 1990 he graduated Law School. Professor Huppes graded his master's thesis with a 9. Professor Hoekema brought him to the University of Amsterdam where he left to make a living as a software engineer in Israel. Here we see the ticket dated 13 may 1998 and you can see that the return flight was never used. The next item is a certificate of the Hebrew Course, 600 hours, 100% attendance. Marital life... yes. He married in 1998, became a father in 2001 and again in 2004. And this is a picture with him and his sons in 2006. Thank you.

OK, you can wake up now.

Joan of Arc -- In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and his guests (Anne Curry, Malcolm Vale and Matthew Bennett) concentrate on the siege of Orleans in 1429. What had led to the siege? How was the situation for the English and the French side in this part of the Hundred Year War? What were the prospects?
Then Joan of Arc enters the scene. Why did Charles, the Dauphin, choose to even allow her a chance of riding to Orleans in an attempt to lift the siege?

In fact he had little to lose. The figure of Joan mapped on some legends about a Maiden leading troops, that hung around. He was not aware that the English were actually stretching their might on Orleans a bit too much and were not invincible, in fact. So off she was sent with better chance than really understood. Then there is the famous turning of the winds and the siege could be lifted.

Events sped to the capture of Rheims and the coronation of Charles that tipped the balance in this war that was basically a war of succession. One gets the impression that by then Joan became dispensable, or even a threat and hence, her capture by the Burgundians and consecutive trial by the English and eventual death at the stake, were no longer a problem.

Then the figure of Joan takes on a symbolic meaning and when a couple of decades later there is a retrial, she is exonerated. From then she is the stuff that myths are made of. She captures the imagination of many and is sainted by 1920.

It underlines the quality of In Our Time, that 24 hours after listening to the show I can recount the broadcast, such as above. Again this was a brilliant issue of the show. The only thing I regret is what I had hoped to find: some version of Joan, as a human being. No matter how well documented her person is, few histories of her manage to find the middle ground between the mythic proportions (the mighty maid, the visionary, the saint) and the plain (illiterate peasant girl) woman. Who was she, really? That remains a mystery.

I want to close with Joan's own words (as recorded during her trial). When they tried her with a trick question, whether she knew she was in God's Grace -- a knowledge, theology had it, no one was supposed to have, meaning that a yes, meant heresy and a no meant admission of her evil -- she replied:
If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tomato-Onion soup

I love eating soup, I love cooking soup. During the warm season I prefer lighter soups -- potages, so to say. The lightest version of soups are sour soups, which I usually make with lemon juice, or, the not-so-sour versions, white wine. To my surprise, the kids love eating my sour soups. They just yum it up, albeit with the indispensable tiny croûtons that are so typically Israeli: שקדי מרק (photo left).

1 table spoon olive oil
half a tea spoon ground cumin
half a tea spoon turmeric
1 tea spoon sweet paprika
4 onions finely cut
3 tea spoons rock salt
branch of tomatoes
4 tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1.5 liter water

Pour in the oil and spices at low heat. Simmer and stir for a couple of minutes and add the cut onions. stir fry on medium heat for 5-10 minutes. When onions are shiny and tainted by the spices, add 1 tea spoon of salt, and tomato branch. simmer for another 5 minutes. Cut the tomatoes in quarters and add while stirring. Add boiling water, keep stirring. Add the garlic and boil for some 10 minutes. Taste the soup and add salt as needed. Boil for 10 minutes, add lemon juice. Allow standing time, taste and add salt if needed.

The kids do not like ground black pepper in this soup, but you can add to your taste during standing time or while serving.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

מותו של דוגי דג

כשבאתי לאסוף את איתמר מיום ההולדת של נמרוד ציפתה לי הפתעה – במקום שקית ממתקים, חילקו הוריו הנרגשים של נמרוד לכל ילד וילדה שקית קטנה עם דג זהב במים ושקית קטנטנה עם מזון שיספיק בדיוק לשישבת.
הדג עבר בשלום את הנסיעה הקצרה עד לביתנו כשאיתמר מחזיק בשקית ובבית שפכנו אותו על מימיו לקערת זכוכית גדולה. אבא של איתמר הוסיף לו לקישוט חייו אצה ירוקה מפלסטיק. איתמר קרא לו בשם: דוגי-דג.
ביום ראשון לא הלך איתמר לגן, התרגש התעייף ונורא רצה להצטרף לאמא לסידורים – והסכמתי. היה ברור שנקנה מזון לדגים. על ההתחלה הסברנו לאיתמר שתוחלת חייו של דג זהב קצרה, שזה ככה ואין מה לעשות ושלא יצפה שהדג אפילו יסיים את צנצנת המזון שקנינו בשבילו. בימים הראשונים ניסה אבא של איתמר לתת לו את התפקיד של האכלת הדג מדי בוקר אבל די מהר התברר שהחידוש בעניין עבר. מי שבעיקר נהנתה מחברתו של הדג הפעיל והסקרן הייתי אני ולכן לקחתי על עצמי גם את העונג לדאוג לו לארוחה בכל בוקר. וכך עברו הימים, הילדים התעלמו מהפלא, אני ניסיתי מדי פעם לעניין אותם או את חבריהם בחבר הזהוב אבל בעיקר נהניתי ממנו בעצמי. ואז זה קרה. בבוקר אבא של איתמר ניגש אלי ובטון יבש הודיע שהלילה נפטר דוגי דג ושהוא שטף אותו בבית השימוש. שנינו הצטערנו. הילדים שלא גילו עניין בדוגי דג בחייו לא שמו לב אליו גם במותו. לפחות ההתמודדות עם המוות נחסכה מאיתנו חשבנו. ואז כשבוע אחרי המקרה, בשעת ערב מאוחרת, איתמר שוכב במיטתו ואנחנו חושבים שהוא שוקע בשינה, מופיע הילד במטבח ובלי הקדמות שואל במפגיע: איפה דוגי דג?
אמרנו: הוא מת. אבא מצא אותו מת בבוקר. והוא שאל: קברתם אותו? אז אבא אמר שלא קוברים דגים ואני פתאום ראיתי את החיבור בין האמת לתחושה טובה והסברתי: הוא נשטף דרך הביוב והגיע לים, בים זה עולם הדגים החיים והמתים, דוגי דג עכשיו מת בים ואינו חש בדבר. טוב, אמר איתמר והלך לישון.

The genitals of Christ -- Anderson replies

OK, so I thought maybe, these paintings that show Christ's genitals may want to deny Christ's circumcision. So, I figured I blog about it and drop an email to Professor Margaret Anderson (of the history 5 podcast). I do those things, without much research. The amazing thing about the modern internet era is that I got an immediate reply from Ms. Anderson herself:

Thanks so much, Anne, for your thoughtful comments! Good question -- but based on a false premise. (It was said of Herbert Spencer, who "thought big," that he considered the definition of a tragedy "a large theory brought down by a small fact.")

For Jesus was circumcised. (Luke 2: 21-39.) The "Feast of the Circumcision of Christ" is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Armenian, Bulgarian Orthodox, etc. etc.) Anglican, & Lutheran liturgical calendars (and perhaps some of the later Protestant denominations too, for all I know), and among Roman Catholics it was, until the 1960s, a "Holy Day of Obligation" -- i.e., a day like Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, and a very few more, when believers were obligated to attend mass. Vatican II, in order to make the Church more "user friendly," cut down on the number of obligations, like not eating meat on Fridays, and now the "Feast of the Circumcision," while still an important feast, is not one that you'd have to drop work to go to mass for. (Not that you'd have to drop work, at least in the West, since it is traditionally celebrated on January 1). A good part of Bach's Christmas Oratorium, which deals with the whole 12 days of Christmas, is devoted to the Feast of the Circumcision. And thus, by the time we get to Epiphany, the Greek word for the "showing forth" of Christ to the 3 wise men/Magi/kings, and thus -- symbolically, to the whole gentile world -- which was the main subject of these pictures of Christ's genitals, Christ had already been circumcised. And there are also Renaissance paintings of Christ's circumcision.

In the VERY early Church, there was a big debate among the disciples and apostles of Christ about whether a gentile who became a Christian, would have to become a Jew first, and get circumcised. (We're talking adult males here!). [The] apostles Peter, Paul, and Barnabus convinced the "Council of Jerusalem" (I.e., the very early Christians, meeting in Jerusalem, all of whom were of course Jewish) that circumcision would not be necessary, nor would it be required of gentile converts that they observe Jewish dietary laws. Here is the apostle James:

It is my judgment, therefore that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." (Acts 15:1-21 -- which is the 5th book of the new Testament, right after the 4 gospels.)

So if Christians weren't required to be circumcised, Why was the circumcision of Christ so important to the Church? You probably don't want to know all this, but it was important, not only to show that Christ's family were good Jews, who kept Jewish law, but because of the Christian tradition [of] Biblical exegesis. This tradition related the New Testament to the Old not only chronologically, but "typologically" -- or what we would call analogically or symbolically. Thus just as Jewish circumcision was a symbolic reminder of God's covenant with Abraham and all his descendants (the Jews), symbolizing Abraham's willingness to shed the blood of his son, Isaac, because God had demanded it, so too Christ's circumcision -- the first shedding of Jesus's blood -- symbolized "the new covenant" of God with Christians, foreshadowing God's eventual shedding of Jesus's blood for all the world, beyond the world of the People of Israel.

As for the importance of Christ's genitals for the Renaissance emphasis on the incarnation: had my History 5 lectures appeared in print, I would have of course footnoted my source for these reflections. Since they are oral (and, until last semester and the podcast, ephemeral), and since Berkeley undergrads would be bored to tears if I continually cited my sources, I left my source out.

It is the very stimulating work The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion. (University of Chicago Press, 2nd revised edition, 1997) by the art historian, Leo Steinberg (who, I assume, from his name, is Jewish). His book includes many of the paintings that I show my class to illustrate the point, although I found some additional paintings that support his argument myself.

The brilliant feminist medievalist, Carolyn Walker Bynum, who has specialized in gender issues and religion, published a very respectful critique of Steinberg's hypothesis when Steinberg's book first came out (the 1980s,I believe, or perhaps the early 90s). I can't remember what her arguments against Steinberg's interpretation were -- one of them was that emphasizing Jesus's maleness was not the same thing as emphasizing his "sexuality," only his gender -- but she went beyond that (maybe she said, in fact, that the wise men were pointing to his circumcision!). In any case, she convinced me that Steinberg's interpretation, though imaginative and brilliant, was wrong. (Her critique has been republished in one of her collections of articles). But the second edition of Steinberg's book, in 1997, has an appendix, entitled "Ad Bynum," which rebuts her arguments (he doesn't treat her nearly as respectfully as she treated him!)-- and I ended up being convinced by Steinberg all over again!

Obviously these are hypotheses. The artists themselves don't say WHY they are emphasizing Christ's genitals. But Steinberg's seemed a very plausible explanation for what looked like very odd goings-on in these pictures of the 3 Wise Men!

Thanks so much for your interest in History 5, Anne.
Peggy Anderson

Wow, I am speechless. This is not just listening to podcasts, this is participating. It is not the first time I see podcast hosts go to great lengths addressing my reactions. Margaret Anderson (I am allowed to say Peggy, ha!) tops this experience. Have I said podcasts were great educational material? Have I said podcasts are better than talkradio? I haven't said it enough.

Martin Simek en het ongrijpbare -- podcast

12 januari 2007. In de Volkskrant, Trouw en NRC staat een advertentie:
Vrouwen én mannen,…wordt WAKKER! Voortplanting dient het ecosysteem van mens, plant en dier en is gebaseerd op het recht van de sterkste (genen!). Door godsdiensten ondergeschikt gemaakt aan de man, is de man aan het copuleren gegaan óók als de vrouw niet wilde. Gebrek aan zelfbeheersing en ‘vermorsing’ verzwakken de kracht van het zaad en beïnvloeden overdracht van genen. Gevolg: degeneratie van de soort. Vanwege eeuwenlange voorkeur voor een zoon geldt dat vooral de man. De man verloor zijn intuïtie, de op het eco-systeem gerichte intelligentie, en maakte er een zooitje van. Herstel is nog mogelijk: door een mondiale geboortestop. De intuïtie, de eco-intelligentie, komt dan vanzelf wel weer terug.

De advertentie is geplaatst door kunstenares Guus te Riele. De RVU kan het niet beter interpreteren dan als: een oproep tot een geboortestop.

20 mei 2007. Aan Martin Simek de op voorhand enorme taak deze vrouw te interviewen en de ongrijpbare tekst uit de krant in een perspectief te krijgen. Aan het einde van de moeizame uitzending waarin Simek er nauwelijks in geslaagd is om uit Guus iets concreets te trekken, zelfs niet een bevestiging dat zij oproept tot een geboortestop. Guus lijkt er niet in geslaagd te zijn haar inzicht erlangs te krijgen en dan gaat de microfoon open voor haar laatste woorden. Haar kans om zich tot de luisteraars te richten en dan luiden haar woorden:
Luisteraars, het enige dat ik van jullie vraag is vertrouwen te hebben in de toekomst. Net als ik dat heb gehad, ondanks de strijd die ik heb moeten leveren.

Wat moet je daar nou mee?

Er is een serieus probleem met persoonlijke ervaringen. Hoe moeilijk het ook is om Guus te Riele te volgen, je krijgt wel de stellige indruk dat ze heel oprecht is. Het is ook wel duidelijk dat haar persoonlijke ervaringen geresulteerd hebben in een voor haar diep en integer inzicht. Dat is fijn voor haar, maar als ze dat inzicht niet kan vertalen in algemeen geaccepteerde termen en in conventioneel coherente uitspraken, wat blijft er dan over, behalve een solipsistische, esoterische brij?
Alle lof voor de RVU en Martin Simek in hun poging om Guus te laten uitleggen. Alle lof voor Guus' moedige pogingen om dat ook te doen. Maar, als na bijna een uur gesprek, er niet meer staat dan: 'heb vertrouwen in de toekomst' na zo'n alarmerende oproep en zoveel gestrande uitleggingen, dan rest de conclusie dat mevrouw Te Riele op een eiland woont en haar inzichten in eenmaligheid verstikken. Uniek, eenzaam, geisoleerd. Moet dat gelden voor al onze diepste inzichten, zoals ze voortkomen uit een levenlang ervaren?

The genitals of Christ -- History 5 Podcast

I will be writing much more of the latest edition of the History 5 podcast series which is carried by Professor Margaret Anderson. But in the fifth lecture about the common culture of early Renaissance Europe, she mentions something very new and very thought provoking: the fascination of the culture (at least of the visual arts) with the genitals of Jesus. This ranks from the little penis of baby Jesus, to the erection with which the risen Christ is depicted.

Many pictures show either the wise men examining the baby's genitals, or mother Mary lifting his robe in order to show, or even the child doing it himself. In addition, many of the pictures showing the dead or the resurrected Christ, depict him with an erection. Needless to say, in consecutive prudent eras, these details were painted over only to be rediscovered in recent restorations.

Professor Anderson's explanation is that this is allegorical and is intended to emphasize that Christ is human, a man of flesh and blood and as such kin to humanity. What this meant is, that on account of being related to men, it made sense for the Renaissance European that Jesus could have perished for their sins. This logic follows from the culture of having relatives be held responsible for debts. In this respect, had Christ been only divine, the death at the cross, could not be logically linked to the sins of humanity.

It is not for me to challenge Anderson's expertise, it just so happens another thought came to my mind. I think I'll ask her about it. (I did and she replied) When the genitals of baby Jesus are at stake, I thought, this may be connected to circumcision. The genitals are studied and portrayed either to make sure he is circumcised, or the opposite, he is not circumcised and if so, the whole meaning of these portraits is to remove Christ from his Jewish roots and as such dislodge Christianity from its Jewish origin.
The same could go for the mature genitals, though that would not explain why they have to be erect. Could that then, be some pagan element seeping in? Just some thoughts. What a podcast.

(Picture: Wikimedia Commons)

Perry DeAngelis - Don't Get Me started

The skeptics' guide to the universe podcast is regularly co-hosted by Perry DeAngelis. He is the most vocal of skeptics when it comes to badmouthing the true believers and the deceivers in paranormalland. Frequently this puts me off. But in edition 95 of the Guide, I could only agree with him.
In the section of listener's email, a YouTube video was being discussed. It allegedly showed an abnormal object on the surface of the moon, either man made or ... alien. It takes the panel valuable airtime to discuss this obvious hoax, prank or whatever kind of false thing it is, when finally Perry speaks up. Why are we even discussing this? Indeed, Perry, why are you?
For once I totally agree with Perry. In stead of going for the obvious stuff, the skeptics could go for the more intricate issues. Take on deceptions that many more people believe in. It sure makes for a more interesting podcast. Right on.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

My low fat recipes are no diet

I felt the need to make a general explanation for the fact I publish low fat recipes.
My recipes are not made for losing weight. If you want to and need to lose weight, you will have to find a dietician to help you design a diet that fits your physical make up and that will help you lose weight in a responsible way. Or if you do not want to go that road, you might want to try diets that are laid out in various dietary programs or books (for what they are worth; I am convinced there are a lot of scams and plain ineffective methods out there) or even enter a support group of the likes of Weight Watchers or OA. Whatever the road to take, and what ever the outcome, to reach the right weight is one thing, stay there is another.
My low fat recipes are our way of staying at the right weight. When I look back at the recipes I followed when I learned cooking, there was no intention of keeping the calories down. The amounts of calorie rich ingredients were not kept at a reasonable rate (sugars, fats, carbo-hydrates) and maybe made for very delicious meals, but not very healthy ones. The current quest is to make (or remake) recipes and crank down the calories. I try not to use sugars, but if I have to, use no more than one tea spoon per four servings and preferably replace with more natural sweeteners such as honey (which by the way can be obtained in a light, low calorie version) or raisins and other fruit. I keep oil, butter or cream at a rate of one table spoon per four servings. Carbo-hydrates (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes etc) are fine with me, I'll just eat no more than one serving.
All of this is fine, but must go with two other rules for eating, otherwise it won't work. The first rule is to never go hungry. When you are starving you are inclined to indulge in eating or attack some high calorie food. When having eaten in time it is much easier to stay away from the bad foods.
The second rule is just as important and easier to abide by if you stay true to the first one: never over-eat. It amazes me now when I look back and understand how I had made myself used, over the years, to stuff myself up. I had to unlearn this and gradually get used to eating smaller portions. It is very important to understand that this needs getting used to, otherwise eating binges are on the lure again. But one should eat just enough to not go hungry until the next meal.
And thus, with a normal three meals a day, eating as much as I want (without stuffing), I can stay away from the calories and remain at a normal weight.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Chicken and vegetables

For our Sabbath meal I used the most amazing means to make a stew in an easy, clean and low fat way: the cookie bag. This is a plastic bag that is made to sustain the high heat of an oven (up to 200 degrees centigrade) and this allows for cooking with almost no fat at all and still come up with a very tasty meal. I am still in the process of perfecting my recipes for the cookie bag, but for completeness sake, I give the one for Friday evening below. First I want to explain more generally the use of the cookie bag, though.
Nothing sticks to the bag and as a consequence one can make a mix of all the desired ingredients of the stew and not add any more fat ingredients than is needed for taste. This allows for making a dish without oil or butter or such altogether. Any combination of vegetables with fish, fowl or meat can deliver a very tasty stew. Vegetables with a strong taste of their own such as garlic, ginger, fennel, carrot, paprika for example are fantastic contributors to the stew.

For one large cookie bag:
1 kilo cut chicken (remove skin for less fat)
400 gram potatoes
400 gram carrot
400 gram cauliflower
red paprika
small green pepper
6 cloves garlic squeezed
tea spoon of squeezed ginger
table spoon soy sauce
table spoon sweet chili sauce

Throw all the ingredients into a large cookie bag. Mix well. Close the cookie bag with delivered clip and punch some 4-8 tiny holes in the bag with a tooth pick. Put the bag in the oven at 180-200 degrees for one hour. Let the holes in the bag face upwards in order to prevent leaking, but allow steam to be let out and not cause the bag to explode.

Physics for future presidents - podcast

Here is the first thing I learned from the PffP podcast after two lectures on power and energy: hydrogen has three times more energy per kilo than gasoline, but it has three times less energy per liter. How is that? It is because of density. Gasoline is so much denser that you have more weight per measure of content. In other words: it takes up less space. The consequence is that hydrogen may be a really good alternative for gasoline, because it has more energy in it and also, very importantly, is less polluting, but for putting it in cars it will take up too much space. Then again, for trucks and airplanes space is much less a problem. So in the near future we may see trucks and planes hydrogen driven, but less likely cars.
On the subject of cars I also got a good explanation of why hybrids are the future. And even though this is a physics class at UC Berkeley, I did not drop out as I did in high school. Many more lectures to go; I am excited.

The physics for future presidents is a lecture series that intends to hand out the broad lines and important social relevant facts of physics to any student, regardless of majoring subject. The lecturer Richard Muller is very entertaining, yet well on track and persuasive on the important stuff. A gem in educational podcasts.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sweet and spicey soup with zucchini

I never know what to call the vegetable. Is it zucchini? Squash? Courgette? Whatever it 's named, that's what it is and for this recipe I used the dark skinned type. There is also yellow skinned and light green. There is also a difference in shape. I took the elongated version, not the ball-shaped or the ones that look like small pumpkins. All in all, the difference in taste is not so huge. I guess you can use them all, but for the sake of accuracy: dark green, elongated zucchini is what I used.
Another ingredient that needs some discussion are the spices. I use ground spices, mostly, as they produce a more evenly distributed and stronger taste. If you ground yourself, be aware that finer grounding gives stronger taste immersion, especially when fresh. Still, you have to be careful and know your stuff. A spice like cinnamon can be different in strength from one ground packet to the next.
Another ingredient where the strength can differ enormously is sesame oil. I have the dark, concentrated stuff that is very strong. I have no experience with the lighter version. I only know from an Indian woman I know, who is used to the light version, that in case she can only obtain the dark one, she mixes it with regular oil in order to get something near to what she is used to. In short, the difference is enormous.

40 gram butter
half a teaspoon ground cloves
half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
half a teaspoon ground galanga (laos)
4 drips of dark sesame oil
green pepper
6 small zucchinis
2 large onions
1 liter water
1.5 table spoon soy sauce
4 bay leaves
1 table spoon of (light) honey
3 cloves of garlic (squeezed)
0.5 liter skimmed milk

Stir fry in the butter and sesame oil, first the cinnamon, cloves and galanga and then, after a few minutes, when you smell the spices, add the finely cut zucchini and onion. Stir fry and slowly build up heat, until the onions and zucchini are shiny. Add salt and bay leaves, stir and slowly turn down the heat. On low heat add soy sauce and water after which you turn on the heat again. When the soup is boiling, add the garlic. Boil some more and then add the honey, turn heat down and let the soup simmer. Taste from time to time; add salt, honey or soy sauce (or even pepper) according to your preference and the taste development. Take the soup off the fire and add milk. Allow to stand for at least 30 minutes.

A word on calories. I try to cook on a low fat basis. The interesting discovery is that whatever recipes I have learned or developed over the years, when I redo them, I find that the amounts of oil, butter, cream, honey and so on can be significantly reduced. The rule of thumb is that one should not have more that one table spoon of oil/butter/cream etc per 4 servings. For stir frying, for sauces, for stews, it surely makes it more difficult to retain the taste as should, but it can be done.
In addition, wherever possible I use low-fat ingredients such as light honey and skimmed milk in this recipe.

Only in America -- Podcast

Larry Josephson is an experienced radio maker who conceived of a history podcast that makes an expose of various aspects of the history of Jews in the United States. It carries the title 'Only in America' apparently as an expression of the feeling that Jews were never as well accepted historically as they were in the US. Nevertheless there are also episodes about antisemitism. In addition there are full feature interviews and a couple of theme issues, that all in all are covered by the subtitle: "350 years of the American Jewish Experience."
Larry's background in radio journalism has led him to do much more than what you find in regular podcasts. These are full blown radio programs. They are complex productions bringing together source material from Columbia University's oral history program and snippets from interviews and lectures as well as historical audio material. A good example in point is the latest edition 'Over the Rainbow' about the Jewish roots of Hollywood and the development from its origin days to date, with the Jews that took part and the measure to which Jewish content could make it to Hollywood productions.
I have compared podcast to talk radio in other posts. Only in America is talkradio that wasn't made for regular broadcast but turned into podcast in stead. As far as I could discover from either the shows or the references on the web it was never carried by any station on air. This seems to me the best example of talkradio turned podcast. I can only wish Larry reaches a larger listenership than he would have with regular radio, he deserves it. This is a great podcast.

Off on a tangent -- David Kalivas's podcast

You need to be up to date on the subject that David Kalivas discusses in his World History podcast. With a lot of enthusiasm I made a second run of his series of lectures and while I enjoyed it, again, a lot, I was disappointed as well. You cannot take the series as a full blown educational podcast. After listening you will remain with too many fragments. If you need an introduction, or even an outline of World History, do not take on David Kalivas.
Although he is a very pleasant and entertaining lecturer, he goes off on tangents all the time. Consequently, the historic milestones are not all mentioned, or even put in order. Whatever he says is very worthwhile and I liked hearing his words, but they serve an entirely different purpose. They pick and choose on some aspects of World History and give some in depth reflections on them. This means that if you are on par with the discussed epoch, setting and events, his lecture can be very thrilling, but that is a lot of prerequisite to take into a podcast.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Attires of the holiday (2)

What did we do on Shavuot? I want to mention three things and this goes to show, more so, what I wrote yesterday -- how this festival of the reception of the Torah, for all practical purposes is one of the early harvest.
We had a campfire with friends, we made a basket of offerings with stuff we made in our kitchen and took it to friends and then we visited a kibbutz to see the celebrations there.
The Kibbutz celebrations are very traditional in Israel and make no statements on the Torah at all and all the more work out as a display of all the harvest elements these agricultural communities can offer. A couple of years ago we witnessed one in the Galilee with an impressive procession of tractors and other farming auxiliaries, decorated with whatever representation of what this kibbutz was farming. This was followed by performances of singing dancing and such.
This time round, in a much more urbanized settlement. The result was unbelievably poor. If one ever needed a reminder that we urbanized folk hardly have any rural roots left, we got one here.

The question this observation together with yesterday's raise is: are we finally ready to leave behind the ancient acting out of Shavuot and move to the more cerebral, abstract meaning of Shavuot: reception of Torah. The Jewish tradition launched.
On a side note. The Christians mapped onto this and the festival became Pentecost, which is the reception of the Holy Spirit and the launching of the Church. I wonder what pagan festivals were hijacked in order to Christianize the Europeans and get them to celebrate Pentecost.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Attires of the holiday (1)

Shavuot is the Holiday that commemorates the reception of the Torah. It is also a harvest Holiday as you can understand from the other names of the Festival: Chag haKatzir (Festival of the Reaping) and Yom haBikkurim (Day of the firsts (fruits etc.)). It is customary to dress up in white, eat dairy products, exchange baskets of fruit, vegetables and dairy (Tenne) and have children wear flower wreaths. I have asked why there is this strong connection with white and dairy and obtained various answers over the years. One is that the Israelites were white as children (innocent, naive, ignorant), when they got the Torah. Another is that the laws for kashrut were not yet known and so they ate dairy. And yet another is that in order to be ready to obtain the Law, the Jews must wash up and become white.
Well, I am no scholar and here is not the place I want to criticize these explanations. All I want to say is that, more than with any other Jewish Holiday, the liturgic meaning of the chag (Reception of the Law), is overshadowed by the additional meaning, by the look of things. This additional meaning, totally dominates the holiday and makes it for the secular newbie that I am, an exclusive harvest festival. It is all about the first fruits and grains and milk that have been reaped. It makes it more likely than with other religious festivals, that this festival was mapped onto an older, rural, maybe even pagan festival.
The amazing thing is, that these Jews that are more urban than ever, still live the earliest roots of the chag in a stronger sense than the newer ones.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sour soup with fennel and garlic

Five pieces of fennel,
half a garlic (7-10 cloves),
tea spoon turmeric,
tea spoon ground cumin,
two lemons,
a table spoon and a half of olive oil,

Clean the fennels (keep the green leafage aside) and cut to fine pieces. Put one table spoon of olive oil in the pan on low heat and add the turmeric and the cumin. Stir fry for two minutes and add the fennel. Stir fry for ten minutes, while gradually increasing heat (make sure neither the spices nor the fennel gets burned). Add ample salt and boiling water (3 to 4 liters). Then add the garlic. Cook for 15 minutes and then add the juice of two lemons. Cook on low heat for another two minutes, add the leafage of the fennel and allow standing time. Add salt and pepper for taste.

Aubergine, eggplant, חציל

If you do not know how to deal with aubergine, it is a really terrible vegetable. It can be a tasteless sponge that makes your dish heavy and even make some people ill, whether it is because of allergy or otherwise. It can be a nightmare while preparing dinner. The green of the plant is like a nasty thistle that hurts your fingers and leaves the sensation of having touched a cactus. Throw in the aubergine too late and the whole dish is ready to serve except for the aubergine that is bitter and rubbery. Cast it in too early and the sponge takes in all the fluids messing up the stew for other ingredients. Over the years, I have begun to learn to get the eggplant under control, and I am still learning.
If you peel the aubergine, cut it in strips and cook it with lemon and tahin, you can get a soup that competes with a creamy soup of asparagus -- I am still trying to get that recipe right. I am also perfecting a dish with minced meat and a red sauce. My wife has some good results with softening the cubed eggplant in the microwave. So there is lots to come.

The easiest way to begin getting the aubergine right is by using the oven or the grill. Without additions, aubergine at high temperatures, turns soft, liquid even, if given enough time. The flavor is sharp and pleasantly scorched. The softened eggplant makes for an excellent basis of pastes, sauces and stews. I'll give two of them here.

Take an aubergine and cut it lengthwise in half. Cover the halves with tinfoil and burn them at 200 degrees for about an hour. (This depends on the power of the oven and the size and toughness of the plants. Large and tough needs more time and power.) After this treatment, you can scoop the liquid out of the peel. Mix it with garlic, a little tahin, lemon and pepper for a traditional middle-eastern side dish. Last night though I made two other side dishes.
  1. Mix with oil, lemon, salt and pepper. (Burnt Aubergine, חציל על האש)
  2. Mix with half a spoon of mayonnaise and ground black pepper. (Baba 'Anush)

Gravitational waves

Me and Physics; don't make me laugh. I dropped out of Physics class in high school (3 atheneum). I can't even get Newton's equations right. Forget about General Relativity. What could I possibly make of gravitational waves? I am a man for History, languages, Law, in case you hadn't noticed. It just so happens that Law brought me to Sociology and Sociology to Logic of Science and once there, you roll from Popper to Einstein and back to Physics with renewed interest. Interest is one thing, but how in the world am I going to grasp all that if I couldn't keep up, right from the start?

In our time, comes to the rescue. Melvyn Bragg met with Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey, with Carolin Crawford, Royal Society Research Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and with Sheila Rowan, Professor in Experimental Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow and they sorted it all out for me. I am not going to try to reproduce anything of their discussion here, no need to get audacious, but believe me, I didn't miss a second. This podcast is one of the very, very best there is.

Schug (סחוג) []

Schug is a spicey additive that has its roots in Yemen. You can mix it with sauces, salads and soups. My father-in-law used to make it at home after learning the recipe from a Yemenite Jew colleague of his. I asked him on occasion how he made it, but it was only several years after he passed away that I set out to reconstruct the recipe. Today I make a schug that is different from what I recall was his, but has developed in the direction my wife and I like it best.

green peppers
fresh cilantro leaves (Koriander, כוסברה)
lots of garlic
black pepper
olive oil

Every time I take the ingredients in different proportions. It really depends on the season and what I know of the quality, strength of taste, in the ingredients. Right now, because the warm season has started, I use more salt and oil to prevent early molding.
Clean four green peppers: cut off the top and bottom, throw away the seeds and cut them in easy to chop pieces and throw in a blender. Add one tea spoon of salt, one tea spoon ground cardamom, one tea spoon ground cumin and half a tea spoon fine ground black pepper and a spoon oil. Blend. Add a handful of cilantro leaves (100-200 gram) and seven cloves of garlic. Blend until the whole becomes a green paste. Add more oil and the juice of one lemon. Blend for five minutes.

KMTT -- The Torah Podcast

Podcasts are my means to perceive the world. On whatever subject I like to achieve more understanding, I look for a podcast. The KMTT podcast is among a handful, I follow for enhancing my knowledge about Judaism, be it religious, be it secular. KMTT was recommended to me by a religious acquaintance. He himself listens to the Hebrew version, which I haven't tried yet.
I listen to the English version, but not to all issues. I have a lack of interest in halachic matters, so I pass these over. What I pick are the theme episodes on Jewish thought and philosophy and the ones on the weekly Torah readings, parshot hashavua.

This week's parasha is parshat bemidbar and as usual I had a hard time following the whole lecture. No matter how much I like to see myself as a Jew, a secular one for that matter, in these traditional settings I feel like an anthropologist and a newbie at that. Alternately I feel, the way I felt in my first years at Law School when University Studies and Legal Thinking still eluded me. An inapt and scrambling outsider.

Nevertheless, I did pick something up. One of the things that is mentioned in parshat bemidbar is the special place the tribe of Levi has among the Israelites. The lecturer (Rabbi Yonatan Snowbell) discusses what meanings and sense this place, aides to the caste of priests, the cohanim, has. There seems to be a connection with the role the Levites fulfilled when the sin of the golden calf took place. They were the only ones who did not sin and they were appointed the task to kill those who did. (And some 3000 were killed, good old bloody Bible.) Then the task of aiding the cohen was taken away from the original appointee and given to the Levites.
Fine, but this raises a question of how this is justified. Is it because they did not sin or were they chosen to get the task all along. The whole thing comes to stand in a strange light if you take into consideration that Aharon, the cohen, had also sinned, not so badly that he needed to be killed, but nevertheless he did. Yet, he was not replaced from his office and the Levites were not placed over him, in stead became his aides. How is that for measure and equity?

When you are a secular it is easy to stay indifferent or just declare that such passage in the Bible doesn't make sense. When I was still busy as a legal professional, I saw that with matters decided by the Supreme Court or by the Legislator, you were intent on understanding and interpreting the law in an optimized way, but should you find a verdict or a statute that you cannot reconcile with the system of low, you are in a position that you can reject it.
A religious Jew, however, can never reject anything in the torah, hence he has to ingenuously reason around the whole text and persist endlessly to find sense. That is, from the perspective of secularity or of secular legality, a weakness, yet it is a strength by means of the resulting creativity and depth in the reasoning.
The end picture is that of a mixed one where both the sinner (Aharon with assignment to atone) as well as the righteous (the Levites) have their place and so it seems, the righteous as an aide to the sinner, who is to be the leader. Fascinating thought.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


It is no small feat to get your chumus salad right. However, these days I make new portions for our household every week and I no longer am intimidated by the challenge. I have established a stable quality that has found wide praise and I have found the secret ingredient: ... naah, that would be telling. :)

I have browsed through many a cookbook, I have interviewed orientals in the neighborhood, who wouldn't want to be found dead with a bought chumus salad in their house, I have searched the internet and nobody mentions the ingredient I have discovered -- and I find it indispensable. If you want to get your salad right, nice and creamy, nothing that sits like concrete in the stomach, you are going to need it. All right, I am going to divulge it anyway, so let's go and mention it here and now: I get my salad right with ... water. Yes, water, as simple as all that. I suppose tap water will do, but I use bottled water, for what it is worth.
The problem is not with the chumus, that is the chickpeas (Nederlands: Kikkererwten), the problem is with the tchina, that is the tahin, the paste of sesame seeds. If you make chumus the way sephardi grandma's or Arab food stall owners tell you to do it, the tchina makes the salad lump like heavy dough. What, if you ask, makes the salad creamy, is either not answered or if it is, you will use too much of the additive: lemon juice or olive oil or the water in which the chickpeas were cooked (or held in case you use a can). Once it was even suggested you need to separate the peas from their skins. For one that was an awful lot of work, and second: it didn't make any difference.
You need lemon juice in chumus to lighten up the taste, but use too much and the lemon gets too dominant and the salad is too sour. Olive oil, I do not use at all. I may add it to a serving, but on the whole I try to keep the calories down in what I cook. Besides, oil doesn't make for creamy salad, it makes for oily salad, which is a different taste and also oily is heavier in the stomach -- what we wanted to prevent anyway.
Now, the chickpea brew... Here is what brought me to water. You see, the water from the can is salted, not so tasty, ripe with additives you may not like in home-cooking and ... Hey, I do not use canned peas anyway. I buy them dry, I soak them for half a day and then cook. What happens during cooking, is, apparently, some kind of starch gets separated from the peas into the water. If you allow the brew to stand and cool down you will see the starch thickening. Needless to say this is also heavy on the stomach. In addition, I have learned to cook the peas with baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) and I wouldn't want that in my food.
Hence, I tried my hand with water and it worked -- perfectly. So here goes. My recipe for around 500 grams of chumus salad.

250 grams dry chickpeas
200 grams tchina טחינה גולמית=
1 tea spoon salt
1 tea spoon ground cumin
1 clove of garlic
juice of 1 lemon
2 tea spoons sodium bicarbonate

Soak the peas at least 8 hours in water and one tea spoon sodium bicarbonate. Skim the foam that is separated from the peas. Note that while soaking, the peas make popping sounds. Don't go looking for a leaking tap, or a scurrying insect, the noise comes from the peas.
After soaking, cook the peas with lots of water and one teas spoon of sodium bicarbonate for circa 30 minutes. Right from the beginning there will be a lot of foam you'll need to skim away. Next, stir while cooking and observe how some pea skins come floating about. They are tasteless; if you have the patience, remove as many as you can. When the peas get the right taste and smell take them off the fire and throw them in a sieve and rinse with cold water.
Put the peas in a blender with salt, garlic and cumin. Make an initial blend. Add the tchina and blend again. The whole will develop into a thick dough. Start adding water and blend till you approach the correct texture. Then add the lemon juice. Blend again and taste. Maybe you will want to add just a tad more water and then you are done.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Holy Sepulchre

Somehow it never happened until now. Today we drove to the old city of Jerusalem and this time, apart from visiting the Western Wall, for the first time in my life, after so many missed opportunities: I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
My old schoolmaster would have been proud of me, maybe hoping my soul is yet to be recovered for Christendom, but no such luck.
Just as the Kotel looks to me like a mere bunch of stones, the church of the HS looks like a dilapidated, anachronistic smudge. If I liked being there, it is only because it spoke to me on whole different level -- nothing religious or even spiritual.

What a weird place it is. A dark, amorphous dungeon, with numerous alleyways and niches and shady parlors on worn flagstones and filled with tourists, gazing pilgrims and the odd priest looking more like a prop from an Indiana Jones film than a proper priest. For example there was this crooked, young looking, skinny priest, with a long black beard and a crocheted black head garment. He had set up shop with a huge host of religious trumpery, almost impossible to make out, for there was so little light in his cramped alcove. He was devoutly praying in the way of a religious Jew from a prayer book with Arab script.
An Armenian priest with black robes and upside down top hat was energetically managing the entries into the Tomb itself, while chewing tobacco, or otherwise jawing and spitting about. Some pilgrims looked distinctly out of place, such as the Russian lady with flashing red outfit befitting a brothel, rather than a Church, or Dutch pedestrians, seated on the stairs in a yogi pose.

This looks nothing like the kind of Christianity I grew up with. Well, I know that, I am prepared for that. Never, when I visit some Christian site in Israel, I find light and sober Calvinist churches. If it looks like anything I once associated with something proper, it is the Roman Catholic stuff you find for example in Nazareth and on Mount Tabor. Over the years I have come to know also a little bit better the Greek style, not just in Israel, also as a result of journeying Greece. However, this looked not even much like that. The odd icon, perhaps, but it was all too dark and dirty. It was Armenian mostly -- with the Armenian script also dominating the walls around the tomb. And I had the strange praying priest pegged as a Syrian.

I am probably not going to be moved either, if it would have been Calvinists running the show, simply because I have strayed from the path too much. Apparently I am not susceptible to the mumbo-jumbo that is attached to Holy Sites. What struck me though and had me fascinated was how thoroughly Un-European this site is. If you think Christianity is a European faith, look at this holiest of holiest of it and you see nothing of it. Well, I suppose the majority of Christians aren't even Europeans, but if so, they are Africans, Asians, South-Americans, but this was not their atmosphere either. This was the atmosphere of where the Church originated: the Middle-East, or more precisely, where the Church as an institution originated: the Eastern Roman Empire. I felt as if I were in Constantinople before 1453 or even before 1099, before the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. That is what fascinated me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Educational podcasts, a search.

Podcasts are extremely suitable for education. I have said it before, I am not the only one to say it, but just as with other podcasts: you have to know where to find them. Especially those institutions that put out their lectures as podcasts, apparently do that for their own students only and therefore invest no effort in making it known to the wider public that they are there. It is hard to find them on the internet, in podcast directories and other places where you might look. If you are interested to know what podcasts are offered by the various educational institutions in the world, you will have to look them up one by one or go through unfiltered directories and so on.

A case to bring this problem home is my History 5 podcast. I am on the look out for History Podcasts all the time. I have already discovered this series from UC Berkeley and figured it is delivered twice a year. I even came into contact with the professor who delivered it in 2006, but the 2007 series still eluded me until yesterday. Not for lack of searches, mind you. I queried the professor, I queried the iTunes directory (which so far got my marks for being the best source for searching podcasts) with no result.
Yesterday I stumbled into it and this was while discovering one old and one new place on the web that delivers some inventory of educational podcasts:
  1. Free Academic Podcasts
  2. Learn-on-the-go
I am off to learn History 5 again. This year, not with Thomas Laqueur, but with Margaret Lavinia Anderson. I have listened to the introductory lecture. Very different style from professor Laqueur, but I am sure I'll get used to it and I am eager in anticipation for getting the history of Europe 1450-2000 in a new style, per chance, from a new perspective, in any case with new insights.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

History according to Bob

If you are into History Podcasts, History according to Bob is an inevitable find. Bob Packett is a College History professor who is just in love with telling stories. He also happens to be married to a computer savvy wife and she probably bought him all the equipment and training he needed for podcasting just have him off her back every once and a while. Have him talk into a microphone in stead of piling the history trivia onto her head, because this man is unbelievable. He cranks out the podcasts by the day. In episodes that vary from five to over forty-five minutes, he tackles one incident or era or person, taking the faithful listeners on a fast moving merry go round through world history. One day you are with the Incas the next running for president with Lyndon B. Johnson, or breathing gas in the trenches or sorting out the popes from the anti-popes and the odd anti-anti-pope.
Bob has a contagious joy for the anecdotes throughout the ages, especially when they get tragic - you have to hear Bob say the word unfortunately laughing - bizarre or even tongue in cheek. Apart from the laughs and juicy stuff, he never forgets to point out what is important to know and understand, and also always delivers his sources. He has made over 500 podcasts already, some of which can be ordered in collections on CD, though in various archives can also be found on the web. One who subscribes to the feed will probably get only 30 to 40 stories from the backlog.
I personally cannot keep up with Bob, he speaks more than I can listen, so I pick and choose on the basis of subject matter, skipping also the question and answer sections. Still I have heard probably up to 400 podcasts of Professor Bob teaching me history; I guess, Professor Bob has not yet begun.

Wise Counsel -- podcast

Dr. David van Nuys whom we also know from Shrink Rap Radio, meets us again in another psychology podcast. Under the wings of 'Mental Help Net', he brings an interview podcast called ' Wise Counsel'. The podcast is similar to Shrinkrapradio in that Dr. Dave, in the familiar conversational style, conducts an interview with an expert, but so far, the six Wise Counsels seem to have a slightly more stringent formula. The interviewed experts are strictly from the field of applied psychology, mostly clinical psychology and the interviews have a direct connection with the mission of Mental Help Net: "The Mental Help Net website exists to promote mental health and wellness education and advocacy." In addition, there are no jazzy Dr. Dave promos and talkbacks with the audience through their emails and voice clips.
So if you are a listener to Shrink Rap Radio and tend to tune out as soon as the interview is over, this is just more of the same. The same being, a high quality, informative podcast, albeit slightly less entertaining.
The interviews thus far have been with:
  • John Drimmer Psy.D. on Positive Psychology
  • Jeffrey Young, Ph.D. on Schema Therapy
  • Marsha Temlock, MA on Adult Child Divorce
  • Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D. on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Timothy Kowalski on Asperger's Disorder
  • Jeff Bernstein, Ph.D. on defiant children
  • Anita Remig, Ed.D. on Child Development

Hoe het begon

Waar haalde ik het vandaan dat ik schrijver wilde worden? Ik had geen idee wat dat inhield en ik had tot dusverre ook geen buitengewoon talent getoond. Mijn cijfers voor opstellen waren middelmatig. Mijn bijdrages aan de schoolkrant bestonden voornamelijk uit collages. Ik had fantasie, ik hield van het bedenken van verhalen, dat was het enige. Maar als je zeventien bent, kan dat genoeg zijn. Ik zag op tegen de eisen en verantwoordelijkheden van een volwassen leven en ik dacht dat het eigenlijk wel een leuk ding zou zijn om gewoon door te gaan met fantaseren. Blijven op het niveau van de zandbak en zelfgebouwde hutten in het bos. Zo was het 1983 en schreef ik mijn eerste dingetje. In 1992 heb ik het nog een keer bewerkt, waar de oorspronkelijke versie is gebleven weet ik niet. Weggegooid waarschijnlijk, toen ik emigreerde en mijn schepen achter me verbrandde. Geen kind gebleven, geen schrijver geworden...


Ik zit in de nis van een oud electriciteitshuisje. Niet alleen, er zijn nog drie anderen. Een van hen is een meisje met grijze ogen, die haar armen om mij heen geslagen heeft. Ze heet Thera. De andere twee zijn Bert en Yvonne. Ze geven een joint door die ik voorbij laat gaan.
Ik ril van de kou. Thera ook, ondanks de zware jassen die we dragen. Het is niet echt koud, maar de jassen zijn te groot. Ze kijkt me aan. Ik vind haar ogen fantastisch, om in te verdrinken. We zoenen hartstochtelijk. Ze duwt me tegen de wand, als ze met haar tong mijn mond binnendringt. Ik sluit mijn ogen. Deze avond gaat het gebeuren.
Tegenover het electriciteitshuisje, nog geen twee meter bij ons vandaan, staat een helverlichte telefooncel. Verder om ons heen verdorren kniehoge struiken, langs een trottoir met vuile stoeptegels in een saaie, vervallen woonwijk. Twee splinternieuwe straatlantaarns belichten onverschillig de straat. De wereld in grijze tinten met het felle groen van de telefooncel.
Ik bewonder haar schouders. Ik heb nooit een meisje durven zeggen dat ik van haar houd. De schaamte zou me verstikken als zij niet ook van mij hield. Ik streel haar borsten. Ze ontspant, ondergaat en moedigt aan met het geluid van haar ademhaling. Ik durf nog steeds niet.
Yvonne zit onhandig met de smeulende peuk in haar vingers. Bert kijkt me plotseling agressief aan. Ik zeg: "Hoi, Bert," om de spanning te breken. Yvonne kijkt nu ook naar mij. Doorgaans houd ik van bruine ogen, maar die van haar vind ik karakterloos. Bert komt overeind: "Je gaat tegen de muur hoor," grijnst hij. Thera opent geschrokken haar ogen.
Hij heeft vaker gewelddadige opwellingen en steeds moet ik het ontgelden. Dan doet hij alsof hij me wurgt, net als nu. Thera is bang voor hem. Ik niet, ik weet precies waarom. Vanavond knijpt hij harder dan gewoonlijk. Ik weet wel dat hij Thera wil, al slaapt hij alle nachten met Yvonne. Natuurlijk is hij groter en sterker dan ik. Bovendien is hij net begonnen met afkicken van heroןne. Toch kan ik gelaten wachten tot hij ophoudt.
Zoals ik het zie, is Bert een man van angst. Daarom kan ik niet bang zijn voor hem. En dan is er nog de sfeer met Thera vanavond. Ik weet dat het gaat gebeuren, dus weet ik ook dat ik zelfs deze aanval van razernij bij Bert te boven zal komen. "Laat Pet los, Bert," hijgt Thera onzeker, terwijl Yvonne schaapachtig toekijkt.
Bert is onder meer bang voor honden. Als er luid blaffend een bouvier door de straat holt, vlucht Bert in paniek de telefooncel binnen. Thera lacht en omhelst mij. Yvonne giechelt en duikt eveneens de telefooncel in. Ze begint op opzichtige wijze met Bert te zoenen. Ik geloof niet dat ze echt van hem houdt. Ik vraag me af of zij op haar manier verslaafd is. Verslaafd aan aandacht of iets dergelijks. Misschien is ze bang om alleen te zijn, dat kan ook.
De man die zijn bouvier uitlaat kijkt angstvallig naar ons. Bert kijkt op dezelfde wijze naar de hond. Verbeeld ik het mij, of kijkt Yvonne net zo naar Bert als ze zich tegen hem aan drukt? Overal heerst angst.
Ik ken zelf één angst. Als Thera en ik weglopen, moet ik daar opnieuw aan denken. Ik durf haar niet vertellen dat ik van haar houd. Ik wil met haar naar bed, maar ik schrik al van de gedachte. Zelfs al weet ik dat het gaat gebeuren. Zoiets zou ik nooit durven vragen, of zelfs maar suggereren.
Tegenover een vaart worden woningen gerenoveerd. De straat is opgebroken. Thera en ik worstelen door mul zand. Haar mond nadert mijn gezicht, de getuite lippen voorspellen een zoen. Verlangend ontspan ik. Dan fluistert ze terloops: "Pet, ik ben best wel gek op jou." Ik vergeet adem te halen. Zij heeft het gedurfd. Zo gemakkelijk. Het ging vanzelf. Ik wil zeggen: "Ik ook op jou," maar mompel in plaats daarvan: "wat is best wel?" Thera let er niet op. Ze is stil blijven staan en woelt met haar handen onder mijn jas. Ik doe hetzelfde. Met mijn tong duw ik haar lippen vaneen. Ze ontvangt me gretig.
Vanavond zullen we het doen. Mijn eerste keer.

David Kalivas' World History Podcast

Why didn't David Kalivas continue to publish his history lectures as podcasts? There are ten issues on line and that's it. The quality is very promising. I listened to them all, when I first discovered history podcasts. But then, as no new episodes came out, I discarded them. Now I went back and the lectures still stand out and still make for good history podcasts. So I am going over them again.

My first stop is with the two chapters about the Indus Valley civilizations. I knew nothing about them; I barely knew they had existed. I had never heard of Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, never knew anything about the rise (or the origins for that matter) of Hinduism and the migration of the Indo-Aryan speaking peoples into the region.

Kalivas makes a few connections, such as the language connection between Sanskrit and modern English and other migrations such as those into ancient Greece. It is also very fascinating to find out the Harappan cultures had script -- only we cannot read it, yet. He neatly starts this and in an enthusiastic lecture takes the listener on a journey that makes for a nice introduction into what is there to know about the Indus valley civilizations, if you are capable of sticking with the tangent. You really have to bear with him when he jumps from the Harappan to Beowulf to 'ice-creamy'.

I'll go over the series again and post some more reviews.

Dream language on Shrinkrapradio

Dr. David van Nuys is going to be on a surge before he goes off to Hawaii for vacation. He is so devoted to the public of Shrinkrapradio, that he is not going to let them go with lesser ratio than one show a week, while he is away. And with a conference about dream study coming up he is going to take the opportunity to let a series of guests speak on the subject and then deliver also interviews he intends to make during the conference.

Today we start with the first episode in this string of shows, which is an interview with Robert Hoss on the language of dreams (#90 - The Language of The Dream).
The interview starts off as usual with Dr. Dave querying Hoss on the subject and having him explain the scientifically established frame in which dreams take place. It is exposed well, how certain parts of the brain are inactive during sleep and yet others are active and how one should take on the images of dreams by means of what the active brain parts are functioning for. The conclusion that dreams have a language of their own, but since it is especially the lingual part of the brain that is inactive, whereas the emotional part is, it becomes evident that the imagery needs to be understood as emotive metaphors. Fine, so far so good.
But then, Hoss begins to dominate the interview and is allowed to digest his book on the subject and feed the listener his technique of reconstructing the meaning of dreams as is also summarized in one page on his site. Interesting as this may be, I felt being in the midst of a book promotion and not an actual interview.
Only at then end, when Hoss concludes his victorious display of a particularly successful dissection of some woman's dream, Van Nuys chips in again and pushes forward the question in what way the dream analysis had actually helped the woman forward or in any other way shed some new light on the situation. Finally and we go back into having an interview, but I feel our good host missed an opportunity to push Hoss a bit more with critical questioning.
For example, I found it almost inconsistent, how he tackles the issue of colors in dreams. Once having established that the language system in the brain is off line and consequently we must understand the dream as emotional, metaphoric and strictly individual in its meanings, he seems to do a proper job in taking the objects in the dream on, by means of his questionnaire and allowing the dreamer to verbalize what some of the symbolism is, for him individually. Good point, it certainly puts in place generalized ideas that one specific symbol or another in a dream means a certain thing for everybody, like I am inclined to say that dreaming about a house means dreaming about ones identity and dreaming about a journey is about the conduct of ones life. That has made me think -- thanks to the interview.
However, what warrants the color approach, which is not strictly individualized, but rather maps onto traditional schemes of color interpretation, just as my house and journey schemes above? Hoss couples each color with a set of questions that need to be chosen as the right association with the color, thus steering the individual interpretation towards a general pattern. I would have liked to hear Hoss comment on that and justify this approach.

Here I think we see a point that Dr. Dave may need to develop a little bit in order to become a better interviewer. It is all very fine and a wonderful starting point that he creates a good atmosphere and rapport with the interviewee and he is very good at that. It works very well as long as the interviewee is conscientiously making his point, but not when he drops the ball, or takes over the conversation to push his point unquestioned. It would make Shrinkrapradio even more exciting if Dr. Dave were to spot those moments in real time and chip in and challenge the speaker a bit.

Anyway, Shrinkrapradio is still one of the best podcasts around and a shining example for anybody who wants to try a hand in any kind of educational program.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jan Rot (Šimek ’s Nachts -- podcast)

Op zondagnacht, op radio 1, is er een interviewprogramma waarin Martin Šimek spreekt met een gast. Als het goed is komt de uitzending een paar dagen later uit als podcast.
Dit is mijn ultieme podcast. Ik had nooit geweten dat podcast bestond als ik niet op zoek was geweest naar een manier om de interviews van Martin Šimek te beluisteren. Voor hem installeerde ik een muziekprogramma, op hem had ik als eerste een abonnement en hoeveel abonnementen ik al opgezegd heb, Šimek 's Nachts blijft in mijn playlist.

Het valt ook wel eens tegen hoor, Martin is erg gevoelig voor zijn gast. In zekere zin zou je kunnen zeggen dat de gast het programma maakt of breekt. Maar het blijft natuurlijk Martin Šimek die dat mogelijk maakt. En wanneer de gast past en de chemie begint te werken dan bloeit er een bloempje op de radio.

Op 13 mei was de gast Jan Rot en de krenten in de pap bestonden deze keer uit een paar uitspraken die Jan deed, die bij mij binnenkwamen als positieve mokerslagen. Wat hij over zichzelf zei, dat had over mij kunnen gaan.

Dat begint bijvoorbeeld met iets kleins als het accent. "Oh u hebt een beetje een accent," zegt Martin en dan legt Jan uit dat hij accenten overneemt van anderen. "Een soort kameleon qua taal," en hij neemt het voorbeeld van het meest aanstekelijke accent, waar ik ook meteen mee voor de bijl ga: het Vlaams.
Maar dat is nog kinderspel. Veel later gaat het erover dat hij na 23 jaar in Amsterdam gewoond te hebben zonder moeite de stad de rug toekeert. Šimek wil suggereren dat Jan dat doet voor zijn gezin, zijn kinderen en dat is natuurlijk wel een aanleiding geweest, maar dan zegt hij iets dat ik ook voelde toen ik na 14 jaar Mokum vaarwel zei: "Dat is gewoon klaar. Amsterdam is klaar. Amsterdam had het."

Ten slotte het mooiste. Martin vraagt: "Hoe is 't met U." (Ook een beetje Vlaams?)
Jan: "Ik ben zeer tevreden, op 't ogenblik."
Martin: "Met wat?"
Jan: "Met zowel privé, als werk, als in het leven staan. Dat is wel eens anders geweest, maar dit zijn mooie, mooie jaren. "
Martin: "Ja. Dat vind ik leuk voor U. Zou U daar iets over willen zeggen, over die verandering? Hoe komt die, waar komt die vandaan?"
Jan: "Ik heb altijd het gevoel gehad dat er één iemand in mijn leven ooit zou komen, en als je die niet vindt, dan is het leven heel spannend en 't is ook heel leuk dat zij ook overal om de hoek kan staan, maar dat maakt ook onrustig en op een gegeven moment, zes jaar geleden, heb ik mijn ware liefde ontmoet. Ik denk, ah, hier wil ik mee trouwen, hier wil ik altijd bij blijven. Ik hoop dat ik nooit meer bij iemand anders in bed lig."
Martin: "Dat is tamelijk laat, want u bent van '57."
Jan: "Ja, ik was 42."
Daar draaide het dus om. Dat gevoel had ik ook altijd en toen ik eindelijk die ene vond (ik was 30), was ik ook in staat daar alles voor te doen. Het was ineens duidelijk.

Negen jaar geleden....

Koninginnedag viel op een donderdag. Ik wist wel dat het mijn laatste koninginnedag ooit zou worden, maar vertrekken naar Israel leek nog een abstractie. Bovendien, ik had het nooit op de oranjedag gehad, zou ik daar nu ineens sentimenteel over worden? Daardoor viel afscheid nemen tussen wal en schip. Ik had niet echt het gevoel dat ik wegging terwijl ik het wel wist. Dat was op 30 april 1998.
Op 12 mei 1998, was het de laatste, volledige dag in Nederland. Pas toen begonnen mijn zenuwen te gieren. De hele dag voelde ik me ongewis. Niettemin was er nog veel te doen. Patrick kwam langs om me te helpen mijn inboedel in te pakken. Dat sleepte me erdoor. Mijn moeder kwam nog even langs voor afscheid en later op de avond ging opeens nogmaals de bel. Jos, mijn boezemvriend van jaren daarvoor, maar die ik uit het oog verloren was, kwam de trap opstommelen. Hij was toevallig in de buurt en zonder te weten dat ik op het punt stond te vertrekken kwam hij langs. Bijpraten en afscheid nemen in een slag. Alsof het symbolisch was, dat ik afscheid nam van mijn leven in Nederland en alsof het lot wilde laten zien: kijk het zal voorgoed zijn.
De volgende dag liep alles echter vanzelf, hoewel ook die begon met nog weer een symbolische handeling: mijn fiets verkopen.
Nico ging met me mee naar Schiphol en vliegen maar.
Aan boord werd er een kaasmaaltijd geserveerd, zodat ik uitgehongerd voet op Israelische bodem zette. Dat was in Eilat; het was een vlucht via Eilat naar Tel Aviv. Later bleek dat ze daar ook mijn bagage hadden uitgeladen, zodat ik met niks dan handbagage in Tel Aviv arriveerde. Rachel parkeerde de auto van haar broer op David HaMelekh en we liepen naar Sderot Immanuel.
Alles was achtergebleven; ik begon een nieuw leven. Dit was een geboorte.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

History 5 - Thomas Laqueur

European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present. If you got that pictured, you will have a firm grip on the world today, the western world in particular. Where to get that kind of education from, if not from a library full of books, or a course at the university?

The University of Berkeley offered such a course in 2006, in the spring and repeated in the fall, I had the privilege of being there. Not really, but by virtue of the podcasts they made out of the lectures. I didn't even miss out on the slide shows. I emailed the lecturer, Professor Thomas Laqueur (photo) and he made sure I got access to the Berkeley service area and could download the presentations, and I did.

This podcast is extremely worthwhile. It takes some getting used to the fact that one is not present in the room. Also the length of the lectures (80 minutes) and diversions in real time make for tough listening. Not to mention the professor's occasional absent-mindedness (he can stop mid sentence) or awkward giggling. I actually applaud his courage to put such raw material on line, one could easily burn the series down on account of these features. But all of this, for me, is invariably and for ever, compensated by the depth of the history. This course truly gives insight into 1450-2000, if you ever wanted it. Reading on from there, thinking on from there, listening on to more detailed podcasts on particular incidents from there, makes one blessed with a formidable frame of reference.

I am already waiting for the next world history course Berkeley is going to put on-line and until then, I keep going over Professor Laqueur's lectures one by one. If you want to know what my lunch break looks like: making and eating salad while listening to history 5.