It's true that I value tradition, and I appreciate the tourist dollars the Royal Family bring in to the UK, but still, those who know me will have heard me say many times "God save the Queen: she's the only thing keeping Prince Charles off the throne", and I have sympathy for Prince William's years of raging against the predestination of his life before he finally came to accept it.
If I got to refashion the British constitution, I think I'd actually keep the constitutional monarchy, but I'd revert to the pre-Norman system where the Witenagemot (or today, the electorate) chose the next monarch from among members of the Royal Family (or those who stood for the post). I'd also thoroughly purge the monarchy of any political power whatsoever: something that unfortunately the reaction of the establishment to the Black Spider Letters debacle shows isn't going to happen in the UK any time soon.
Anyhow, I didn't take part in any street parties during the Queen's Golden Jubilee or her Diamond Jubilee, and indeed laughed a bit at my parents for so doing. (My streets didn't hold parties anyway.) Afterwards, I regretted this a bit: unless the Queen is lucky enough to make it to her Platinum Jubilee at the age of 95, there aren't going to be any more jubilees until I'm an old man (and in any case, I've taken myself out of the running for any more such by removing myself to a different country, where I won't even get a Bank Holiday to celebrate them).
So I thought I'd post a picture here of myself at the one jubilee of the Queen where I really did join in the celebrations, and the street party, wholeheartedly. But then, I was a bit young for political thinking at the time of the Silver Jubilee.
( View piccy )
This one also features a quotation from the early mystical literature, along with a reference to the concept found in the Targum that Jacob's face is engraved on God's Throne of Glory.
I couldn't quite resolve all my issues with the Hebrew this time; corrections are welcome.
And again, feel free to share the link more widely.
I thought it might be nice (having previously googled for a translation of the first of these texts, and only been able to find bits of it) to make these texts available for small prayer groups, where not having a minyan is a real possibility; so they can use them as a study resource to fill the slightly awkward gap not being able to recite Kaddish or Bār’chu can leave, or to recite them in part or entirety.
So here's the first one for you; watch this space for further contributions. And please do let me now if you have found any mistakes, or would like to collaborate on this project.
HAMLET: "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handbag."
LADY BRACKNELL: "A handbag!?"
[ETA: When the Rolling Stones' "Anyone Seen My Baby?" came out, people pointed out that the melody was cribbed from k.d. lang's "Constant Craving". Initially Mick Jagger insisted it was coincidence, and that he'd never heard lang's song, then came home to discover his daughter playing it on her stereo, and decided to give lang song co-writing credit.
Well, this post turned out to be another case of independent invention under strong subconscious influence, in this case from rysmiel's profile page, and integrity compels me to disown credit for it.]
Notes from the NNLS/ZF Israel 60th Anniversary celebrations
The Story of Israel's Creation
Yitzhak Navon (former president of the State of Israel)( Biography ) ( Talk transcript; contains reminiscing about Ben Gurion )
The other week, I was asked to lead bentshing in shul after lunch. We were using the shul's shiny new own bentshers, and I saw they lacked the four lines beginning תהילת ה׳ ידבר פי after the introductory psalm; but I launched into them cheerfully anyway. "It's not the German custom to say these," said the rabbi. "So sue me," I riposted; "I'm a Litvak!"
Well, I got the laugh I was after out of that, but afterwards it occurred to me I'd never sat down and worked out how much of my ancestry came from where; so I did, and here's the result, as far as I can trace my family back, with each concentric ring out from the centre representing one generation back in my ancestry from myself at the centre, and an alternation of males and females among my ancestors clockwise from the top.
(Some of the outermost rings are a bit tentative; and in places I've interpreted a vague "Russia" as probably meaning the Pale of Settlement—the part of historical Poland that came under Russian sovereignity following the eighteenth-century partition of Poland, and to which Catherine the Great, who had suddenly acquired a large Jewish population, and didn't want them dispersing into the rest of her empire, legally confined the Jews.)( View pie chart )
My Windows laptop has managed to render itself almost completely useless, with very little help from me.* :-(
So now I've got the question of what I do about it. Either I can spend probably a long time googling for solutions, with no guarantee of success; or I can pay through the nose to get the thing fixed at a computer shop (which I've not done or had to do before—and I have no idea how much thigs would cost; how much have such repairs cost you?). Or, alternatively, I can write off the ability to use Windows programs like Word for good, erase Windows and install Xubuntu instead. (I'd still have access to Word, etc, on aviva_m's machine, on request.)
Atm, I'm leaning towards the third of these, because atm Linux is annoying me less than Windows (or MacOS, which seems as unstable for me on my work machine as Windows was fifteen year ago); but it would be annoying to lose ready access (meaning: at in my lunch break at work, or any time aviva_m is using her machine) to Windows. Also, I've yet to find a music player on Linux that can play tracks without a momentary silence between (the one advantage Windows Media Player has over VLC)—anyone recommend anything?
* What happened is that in February Windows updates stopped downloading (progress downloading would stick at 0%). The laptop has spent most of the intervening time offline anyway (I took it to work, to listen to music on, because work won't allow me to plug a foreign device into my work laptop, meaning I can't get my music onto it, and I (still) don't have an MP3 player; and it doesn't recognise the guest wifi at work). But recently I did a bit of googling to try and solve the prolem, which suggested that I should use MSConfig to turn off non-Microsoft services and reboot. Lo and behold, when I did that, the large batch of updates pending already in February (it hadn't yet retrieved the ones from since then) downloaded as far as 68%, and then it put up a message about an invalid certificate. Unfortunately, after I noticed and dealt with this, it refused to download any further; and nor did it when I cancelled the update and tried again. But when I tried rebooting the machine, the moment I touched a key or the trackpad when the user selection menu was displayed to logon, the screen went blank and stayed that way; and this has happened every time I've rebooted since, except when I reboot into Safe Mode. But (a) I can't play music in Safe Mode (or I could live with the problem), (b) reverting to a previous state is broken, and (c) reinstalling Windows doesn't work in Safe Mode. And I can't do a clean install from DVD because I don't have a Windows DVD; I got the laptop secondhand with Windows preinstalled on it.
The author's quest for the Ark of the Covenant. Knowing Hancock's reputation, I approached the book with an air of scepticism, but found most of his arguments convincing—though a few the opposite.
Amongst the former: that Ethiopia has a long tradition that it had the Ark of the Covenant, that there has been a connection between there and Jerusalem for two thousand years, that although the Ark of the Covenant disappears from the Bible after the time of Solomon, if you read between the lines, there's evidence that it was still present in the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah referring to God dwelling between the cherubim) but absent by the time of Josiah (I'm not entirely convinced by his "the lady doth protest too much" argument, more so by Josiah telling the Levites (2 Chron. 35:3) to put the Ark in the Temple when you'd have thought it was already there, and no reference to the Levites complying, as opposed to the ceremony when Solomon first installed it there), implying the Levites had removed it during the reign of Menashe when the latter put pagan idols in the Temple.
Based on Ethiopian traditions that the Ark arrived in Ethiopia a few centuries later via the Nile, he then claims that it spent the intervening time in the temple at Elephantine, which nicely explains why the temple even existed.
I'm prepared to buy his argument that the first Templars were searching for the Ark, and that (given that there was always an Ethiopian Christian presence in Jerusalem) there may even have been Templars in Ethiopia, but I'm more sceptical of his claims that the Holy Grail was just a cipher for the Ark, and that the Templars gained architectural expertise from documents they found on the Temple site, and left coded messages in the layout of Chartres Cathedral; and whilst it's possible that the shape of the Ark was influenced by Egyptian culture, his claims that Priests and Levites retained knowledge of that Egyptian past in Temple times, or that the Ark was a high-tech artefact, left me cringing and wanting the chapter to end.
He also frequently used midrashic or aggadic evidence in support of the Bible, despite the intervening centuries; the fact he points this out for another source near the end as evidence against that source suggests poor scholarship to me.
The book then concludes with the hair-raising story of his journey back to Axum when it was in rebel hands, and his attempt to see the Ark taken out of its chapel on the one time in the year when that allegedly happened (though he ends up proving it was only a replica that was taken out). The book was also fascinating for its insight into Ethiopian Christianity, which appears to be overlaid on an earlier Judaism (and for a now dying sect which practised Hebraic worship that looked like it dated from the patriarchal (IIRC) period).
Later, I learned this was simplistic: The genetic evidence points to a mixed Celtic/Saxon population in England, so the Britons were still around there (though they may have been slaves).
Now I've learned another couple of interesting twists from the History of English podcast: First, there's documentary evidence that twenty years after the Roman legions left Britain to defend Rome, the Britons were successfully holding the Saxons at bay: they weren't the pampered civilians reliant on the Romans for defence we thought they had by then become. It was only later that the sheer weight of invading Saxons overwhelmed British defences.
And secondly, when William Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066, reducing the Saxons themselves to a conquered people, one third of his army was not Norman but Breton. That's to say, descendants of the Britons who fled the Saxon advance by crossing the channel, lending their name to their area of France, and taking their Brythonic language and culture with them. So, for one third of William's army, they weren't invading a foreign country; they were coming back to the land of their ancestors and avenging their unjust displacement from it—and their bringing with them the Arthurian mythos in its most fully developed form suggests they themselves were aware of this.
That's pretty cool, I thought.
Last Sunday I went to what I thought was my local Soviet war memorial, but turned out to be an war cemetery. It seemed cohen-friendly, so I went in anyway.
There are eight mass graves either side of the central aisle, each equipped with a plaque showing the names of around 150 soldiers buried there. Wikipedia informs me these total 1182 names in all—but those are only the fallen soldiers it was possible to identify. There are further mass graves and plaques all the way around the edge (I didn't investigate these closely as they aren't cohen-friendly—there are trees overhanging them), but Wikipedia tells me that in total there are 13,200 Soviet soldiers buried there, who fell during the Battle of Berlin. The numbers are staggering.
I've never been anywhere like that before, and found it unexpectedly moving, despite the sunshine and warm temperatures. Or maybe those contributed to the feeling of peacefulness for the final rest of all those dead soldiers.
Click through for larger photos.( View photos )
A little while ago, having repeatedly come across references to Tacitus' essay "On the Origin and Situation of the Germanic Peoples", better known as "Germania", I decided I ought to read it myself.
This is the oldest work describing the Germanic peoples—it dates from the year 98—hence its interest to modern Germans, and people interested in Germany, myself included—though I should point out that the Roman use of "German" refers to the ancestors of all the Germanic peoples, including today's Nordic peoples, and the peoples of the Low Countries and of England. Indeed, today German distinguishes between "Germanisch", describing the ancients, and "Deutsch", describing today's Germans—and so did English too once upon a time (see below).
Moreover the distinction between Germans and Celts then wasn't as clear cut as it is today; and even the name "German" is possibly of Celtic origin.
Anyhow, I thought I'd write up a little about the essay here, in case anyone's interested, and to record my own reaction for my own futurity; what follows is a combination of my own insights, what I've read online, and what I've heard in the History of English podcast.( Read more... )
Ever since, I've been playing catch-up on the podcast; I'm currently up to episode 30 (and have also listened to episodes 75 (I think) to 82 which were podcast since then). Stroud is an amateur linguist, and makes a few mistakes (particularly regarding historical pronunciation, and the Semitic languages), but what he lacks occasionally in depth he makes up for in breadth, and I'm thoroughly enjoying listening to his podcast. Some of the earlier episodes (he begins his history of English with the proto-Indo Europeans) didn't tell me much I didn't know already, but the further he goes, the more I'm learning.
Anyhow, the reason I'm blogging this is because I recently learned through this podcast of the existence of the fifth-century Undley bracteate (medallion), which contains the oldest Germanic inscription found in England, and hence can be argued to be the oldest sentence known in English.
It reads g͡æg͡og͡æ mægæ medu, which Stroud translated "This she-wolf [depicted on the bracteate] is a reward for my kinsmen"; Wikipedia demurs about the first word, deeming it a "magical invocation or battle cry"; so that leaves mægæ medu "meed for the kinsmen", which seems disappointingly opaque for an English sentence at first glance. (Translating medu into modern English "meed" doesn't particularly help if you're not familiar with this word.)
However, a closer inspection does actually shed a little light, particularly if you know German. Mæg (nominative of mægæ) had a female form, mægþ, upon which the diminutive suffix -en (as in "chick-en") was appended to give mæġden, or to wind the clock on 1500 years, "maiden" in modern English. And medu "reward", turns out to be cognate to modern German mieten, "to rent" or "hire".
So despite this first recorded English sentence looking at first sight completely opaque, it turns out on close examination to involve roots I am indeed familiar with. I thought this was cool.