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.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

I live in a world neither of great believers or of great skeptics. I grew up in a world of believers though, especially in alternative medicine, and when I made it to university I began to lean towards skepticism, even if I let my mom drag me to cold readings on Tuesday evenings. However, leaning towards skepticism is sometimes not enough. Much of alternative medicine has taken on a patina of credibility and consequently the larger public, though no great believers, forget to be skeptic. The same goes for the wide arrange of self-help books and workshops that are delivered. Hence, I think many good people need a skeptic wake up call and the academics, tooled with healthy doubt and skilled in method, should be less lax in bringing this to average person at large.
What is more, skepticism has become a political need. Claims of creationism 'to be heard' in the secondary schools seem a prima facie evidently justified, so that one loses sight on the threats this implies for the quality of education. The next step is that 'to be heard' can be claimed by alternative ideas of history that are just as poorly founded as creationism, like all sorts of conspiracy theories or even Holocaust Denial. Before you know it, Science will be viewed as just one of many perspectives on truth and reality. Democracy as a justification of just any opinion, grading irrefutable religious, esoteric and wildly fantastic ideas in the same class as those that are collective, conventional and connected and those that are arrived at methodically and open to scrutiny at all times.

So, it is very good that some people take up the challenge and send around the skeptical wake up call. One such call is the weekly podcast: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Especially when the podcast features an interview with a professional in one field or another (even of pseudo-sciences), such as this week's issue, #94, are in my opinion especially worthy.

הכתובה - אפרים קישון

למה היינו בקמרי אמש?

קומדיה משעשעת
המתרחשת בישראל של שנות הששים.
גיבורי המחזה הם אלימלך(
שלמה בראבא) השרברב ואישתו שפרא (ענת וקסמן), יוצאי קיבוץ. בתם איילה (שירה קצנלבוגן) עומדת להתחתן עם רוברט (אבי גרייניק) נצר אקדמאי שמתכנן את החתונה בדיוק ליום ההולדת של אמו השלטנית. כדי לאשר את הנישואין על הכלה להציג את הכתובה של הוריה. אלימלך, שמנהגיו גסים אך לבו רך ושפרא עקרת בית שחוטא מדי פעם בתפירה לא בדיוק זוכרים מתי התחתנו ומי חיתן אותם. הם זוכרים שאהבו, שעברו לחדר משפחה וזהו זה.
לאחר חיפש והכתובה לא נמצאה מתחילים לחשוב שאולי לא התחתנו כלל.
איילה מציעה להורים להתחתן, מה שגורם לחשבון נפש מר אך קומי האם זה/זו הבן-זוג שהיו בוחרים אחרי עשרים וחמש שנה של נישואין כשניתן להם לבחור מחדש. שפרא מעקרת בית כנועה הופכת לאישה אסרטיבית שיודעת מה היא רוצה. השכנה האלמנה (רוזינה קמבוס) מנצלת את המצב ומנסה בכל קסמיה לפתות את אלימלך. קיבוצניק צעיר(דן שטג) שלא מבין למה הוא הגיע לבית המשפחה אך יודע טוב מאוד למה הוא נשאר, הבת. ובסוף כמו כל קומדיה כל בא על למקומו בשלום, אלימלך מגלה את אהובת לבו מחדש, הלו היא שפרא. הבת מבטלת את החתונה ומוצאת את עצמה בזרועות הקיבוצניק הצעיר. והשכנה היא מוצאת מושא צייד חדש, החתן שזה עתה נזרק. והכתובה.... אפילו אותה מצאו.