Saturday 22 March 2014

Happy 1935!

I was pottering around Browsers - a fine second-hand bookshop on Hamilton's Victoria Street this morning, and was led astray by a copy of the December 28, 1934 N.Z. Radio Record and Home Journal in, as the saying goes, "good nick." I parted with the princely sum of $12.

It's a time capsule of life in a distant decade. Inside the publication boasts a full page "Happy New Year to All!" message featuring Shirley Temple. A correspondent reveals that the late Sir Edward Elgar, with whom he was acquainted, "utterly condemned jazz and all its unholy works!" In "A Newsletter from London" dated November 14 we learn that the BBC's "Empire announcers" are anonymous by company policy, but then the anonymous "special correspondent" proceeds to 'out' the "senior Empire announcer [as] one Captain W. Shewen, an ex-army officer." And, no jingoism here, where we are informed that "The King, the world's most famous broadcaster, will speak as head of an Empire-wide family party on Christmas Day.

Well, it makes a refreshing change from the celebrity slop we have to deal with in an age when Justin Bieber is considered newsworthy.

Movies are covered, with the news that the 1934 British film Jew Suss (not to be confused with the 1940 Nazi propaganda film of the same name) is due for early release in New Zealand. This is, you may be as surprised as me to learn, "the film version of one of the greatest books of the twentieth century."

Allow me one little further indulgence before I get to the point of this post. This is the lead item on page 18.
"The Duke of Gloucester carries with him his own radio set, which is installed for his pleasure wherever he stays for any length of time. It is understood that the set is a modern one, specially made for him. Prior to his arrival in Auckland this week the set was sent ahead and installed by a radio inspector at Government House where his Royal Highness listened to his Majesty's speech broadcast to the world from the Empire station at 3 a.m. on Boxing Day. Not a little trouble was experienced in adjusting the set - an a.c. one - to work in a d.c. area, a converter having to be installed."

Yup, life was tough at the top.

In 1935 New Zealand's ties to "the old country" were obviously rock solid. A different world.

But the stiff upper lip conservatism apparently didn't extend to religion. At the bottom of page 10, probably as an afterthought to pad out the column, this short quote appears:
Our Gospels really have some characteristics in common with works of fiction. - Professor J. F. Bethune Baker.
I have no idea who Bethune Baker was, but he was obviously a clued up dude.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Food Wars - Is GM Food okay?

Do you have an opinion about GM (genetically modified) foods? Would you describe your views as strong? Should GM foods be available at your local supermarket and, if so, should they be clearly labelled?

And would you buy them?

My views on this subject have been challenged by a special "Food Wars" issue of the Australian science magazine Cosmos (Feb/Mar this year). The magazine dares to strike a pro-GM position, and is even prepared to deal with the huge (and I'd argue justified) opprobrium surrounding the giant multi-national Monsanto.

On the ecological spectrum my colour choice tends to be "light green", so my gut reaction is to take an anti-GM stand. I confess however that I've had to rethink the matter now I know a little more. It's easy, as any ex-fundamentalist can readily testify, to take a position based on a knee-jerk reaction, and be splendidly uniformed. Until this week I'd not heard of the benefits of "golden rice" or the threat to orange crops from citrus greening. To slap me about even further, there's an article on 'denial psychology' that explains - with uncanny accuracy - why I'd prefer to see GM foods off the agenda (and the plate).


If you're an Aussie or a Kiwi, the 'Food Wars' issue of Cosmos is on the news-stands now. If you've read it, I'd be interested in your response.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Tally ho!

As a kid I was more into DC superheroes than British war comics, but you couldn't ignore their existence, sitting on prominent display at the newsagent. Square-jawed heroes of the RAF versus cruel guys in Nazi uniforms who said "Achtung" an awful lot. Goodies against baddies, with a world view as black and white as the pulp pages inside the covers.

It wasn't that Superman or Batman didn't deal with a simple breakdown of good and evil either, but they were clearly fictional characters, not the seemingly realistic types that bled as they lobbed grenades into Panzer tanks. World War II was still as close as my dad's memories of the North African campaign and German POW camps.

The so-called historical books of the Hebrew Bible share some of the same characteristics as those 1960s issues of Commando. There is no room in either for independent judgement or ethical concerns. It's them and us, and we're the righteous ones. No room for doubt, just shut up, salute, and get on with the derring-do.

But the world has changed, thank God. We encourage a new generation to ask questions, challenge unjust authority and engage in critical thinking. In a multi-cultural world we can no longer rest content with cardboard cut-out stereotypes. It's no longer acceptable to do a bad Peter Sellers Indian accent when your kids go to school with Indian kids who, it turns out, aren't all that different after all (and speak perfect English).

So what do we do with the horrific narratives that adorn the Old Testament. The ones that portray Canaanites and Philistines as barely human and subject to God-sanctioned genocide? These tales are not on the fringe of Heilsgeschichte, but close to the central core.

And, to ask an uncomfortable question, how influential are these biblical "boy's own" stories in warping our understanding of current conflicts in the Middle East vis-a-vis the Israelis and Palestinians?

There are times I wonder if Marcion had it right.