Monday, February 27, 2006

Who is your favourite Copenhagener?

I’ve decide to change the quote at the foot of the page – not that it is all that noticeable. While I am very fond of Dave Allen I find that a particular thing that Niels Bohr said is most condign - Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question. I might add that while Bohr was born in Copenhagen, the city seems far more keen on celebrating H.C. Andersen by having bad sculptures and underpaid actors depicting him on what seems like every other corner. I guess Bohr was just plain lucky to have been saved that indignity. Or maybe it has something to do with fewer people reading theoretical physics than children’s stories – not that I have anything against good children’s stories. I suppose that good children’s stories and good theoretical physics are, in fact, similar in that they reveal something important about the world and in that they bring joy.

Does this bloke seem true blue to you?

The Australian finance minister Peter Costellobeing a responsible, competent politicianhas been doing his best to smooth the tensions following the riots in Sydney a few weeks ago. Well, I figure he must have been, though I find it hard to understand how his actions will lead to such a result:

Mr Costello said migrants who did not respect Australia's laws and traditions should lose their citizenship.

He singled out the Muslim community and said it had a responsibility to uphold Australian values.

He insisted those people that did not were no longer welcome.

Let me get this straight. Costello is saying that Australian citizens whose opinions do not fit with what would have to be a government appointed body approved of should lose their citizenship? Well, if that is seriously what he thinks he ought to put himself at the front of the queue of those getting on the plane out of Australia! I would find it hard to think of a statement that could run more counter to the great Australian traditions of letting everyone have a fair go and letting them live their lives in whatever multicultural way they wish to. You do not teach people mateship by threatening to toss them out of the country if they don’t get it. Unfortunately, Costello doesn’t seem to be alone in thinking this way:

There has been backing too for Mr Costello from his boss, the prime minister.

John Howard was criticised earlier this week for controversial remarks he made about Muslims.

Yes, the Australian government is doing its level best to improve its standings in the coalition of the sycophantic. Or, perhaps, both Howard and Costello are trying to get the job of U.S. Ambassador to Australia. Neither seem to understand however that, once someone is an Australian citizen, the values they uphold are by definition Australian values – for better or worse. The best thing they could do to reduce tensions in Australia is to first tell Bush and his cronies to go and get lost and then tell the racists whose votes they’ve been angling for a thing or two about Australian traditions.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Is she more beautiful now?

Was the Mona Lisa more beautiful just after Da Vinci painted it or is it more beautiful now?

And I do not mean due to the natural deterioration of the paint and canvass.

The question seems nonsensical. The Mona Lisa was as beautiful then as it is now, is the obvious answer. So why am I asking the question?

I had never been into the avant-garde. As the famous twentieth century composer Lutoslawski wrote, “Novelty is that quality of a work of art that ages the quickest.” As such, the search for novelty seemed to me to be a shallow pursuit. I remember, therefore, being incredulous when one of my university teachers suggested to me that I read contemporary writers – I had always favoured writers from the early twentieth century, people like Virginia Woolf or Joseph Conrad. Having read a little of contemporary literature I had found it not worth the time to pick through to find the truly great works. As a good friend of mine had suggested to me, I had always allowed time to do the winnowing for me.

Lately, however, I have come to understand something of what I think the teacher was trying to communicate. Art is an on-going conversation, each work adding a voice to the general hubbub, replying to what was said before and in turn being replied to by later works. By not looking at contemporary art I was cutting myself off from what was being said now. This is a hard idea to communicate as it is only possible to get a feeling for it by exposing yourself to a significant amount of art and considering the context that art was created in as well as the context it exists in now. None-the-less, the point is that to a large degree, the significance of the piece of art isn’t internal to it but to the general cultural milieu it exists in. But this then leads back to the original question – can a piece of art become more aesthetically pleasing? Well, in the sense that in a richer cultural milieu it gains added meaning, it seems that it can.

I find this line of thought deeply troubling as it conflicts with the deeply held conviction that underlies the original thought that the Mona Lisa is just as beautiful now as it ever was. One could try to save things by claiming that beauty is internal to the piece of art while something like meaning is external but this seems to me to be just a relatively weak distinction created to avoid a real conflict. And I am not sure what to think, really.

Friday, February 24, 2006

How to deal with dumb design?

Reading the news from the US, I often come across information about creationism. Thankfully, we don’t have much of a problem over here in Europe. Of course, the Church has its view about divinely-guided evolution (though why God would have to guide it if he can foresee the end result is beyond me). However, neither creationism nor the ID monster it has transmogrified into are much in evidence around here. I suspect that a big reason is that there are no well funded organisations pushing that particular brand of BS uphill in Europe. So, when I was told by a student the other day that it isn’t so clear whether evolution is correct, I was dumbfounded. The student clearly had no idea what he was talking about as he came from a purely humanities background and simply must have somewhere heard or read this semi-intellectual claptrap. As such, he seems to me to be a prime example of the victims of creationists – the majority of humanity that do not have the relatively specialised knowledge to tell the difference between science and pseudo-science.

The failure of the education that student has been receiving is two-fold. Firstly, that he could be at university and holding beliefs that are akin to thinking that the Earth is flat. Secondly, that he could be blissfully unaware of just how outrageous those beliefs are. Unfortunately, my immediate reaction was not satisfactory – I laughed off the matter saying that yes I know that they think that kind of thing in the US and that if their technology and society falls behind because of this it will be their problem. This claim is neither true – it will be everyone’s problem – nor did it help the poor student to realise just what he was claiming. This raises two questions. In the context of the particular situation, the question is how I should deal with such cases. More generally, the question is how I, as an intellectual, ought to deal with views that have no intellectual validity but which are socially influential.

Dealing with second question first, it is necessary to start by pointing out a particular quandary which is quite familiar to anyone who finds themselves in my situation: by reacting, even negatively, to a particular view, one gives it some intellectual cachet as it thereby becomes a thing that is discussed while, by not discussing it, one allows errors to persist unchallenged. I think the answer has to be sought case by case and depends on several factors. Of course, just as with a disease that strikes the body, it is better to act to prevent people being susceptible in the first place rather than having to deal with the actual problem. This has the added advantage that this would not lead to the objection that one is merely opposing views one does not like, rather than ones that are really inferior in some way.

However, given that harebrained ideas are just as common as rabbits and often reach plague proportions, it is necessary to know what to do about them. I think that intellectuals have as much an obligation to oppose such views as they do to propose better ones. Carl Sagan, in his role as a public intellectual, is a very good example here. I guess that over the rest of the semester I will simply have to show how much evolution is a part of our understanding of the world. Thankfully, the content of the course is such that I can not help but show this.

In general, there are two reasons why a particular view ought to be discussed. One is that it is interesting for some reason. The other is that it is influential. I find creationism duller than bilge water (as that is bound to be full of all sorts of interesting micro-organisms). However, it is influential, making it necessary that I deal with it on occasion. At the same time, these kinds of instances really reveal how important a rounded education is. Had the student received a proper education in the basics of science he would be in the position to evaluate creationism himself and the whole problem would not have arisen in the first place.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A plank in their eye?

A Polish pop-culture magazine Machina has added to the recent spate of images that have caused consternation and angry reactions by putting on its cover the following image:

To understand the image it is necessary to get some background. The face of the woman in the picture is known around the world (the child is her daughter, Lourdes). The clothes, however, belong to another Madonna – the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, considered to be the holiest painting in Poland, with thousands of pilgrims walking across Poland to reach it every year:

Not surprisingly, the image in the magazine is considered to be sacrilegious by many Catholic organisations, with the magazine coming under attack. Already a number of advertisers have withdrawn their contracts with Machina and the magazine faces the threat of being taken to court as religious feelings are protected in Poland.

It seems very likely that the original editorial decision was a calculated effort to create publicity for a magazine which is returning onto the shelves after a four year long hiatus. Still, the image can bee seen as saying a lot more, given its context. Polish society has been rapidly changing over the sixteen or so years since the downfall of communism. In that time it has become a capitalist society, with a new generation growing up that does not remember the days when the Church was considered to be the main protector of Polish identity in the face of the communism that had been brought to the country on Soviet tanks. As such, Poland has been undergoing many of the same changes as Western European societies – the difference being that in Poland the changes have been much more rapid. To replace in the icon the Mother of Christ with the Mother of Lourdes is, therefore, to acknowledge what is happening in Poland – one set of icons replacing another. The sharp reaction by the conservative Catholic elements in society to the cover must be understood not just as a reaction against a religious icon being used in what is thought to be an inappropriate way but, also, as a reaction against being told what they fear is the truth.

The fact that Machina may well end up worse off for its decision is only indicative of the problem with the claim that the way to deal with unwanted images (be they of Mary, Christ or Muhammad) is to boycott their publishers. No publisher in Poland would care about a Muslim boycott as the Muslim community is tiny while the Catholic Church still claims the, wavering, adherence of the great majority of Poles. The result is that the strong can strike back against what they dislike while the weak are open to ridicule or, in the case of the Muhammad cartoons, worse.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Morally uplifting children's stories?

The parents of the children from the Colorado elementary who were shown a video of the opera Faust claimed that their children had been traumatised. I guess it would have been better if they had stayed at home and read The Lord’s Word – there are so many morally uplifting stories about children there, after all. For example, there is the classic about the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 2.23-24:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

What is the moral lesson to learn from this story, I wonder? That, and who prays for the children of Bethel?

Who's Afraid of Opera?

Mentioning Faust reminded me of another piece of news I’d recently come across. An elementary school music teacher in Colorado got into serious trouble when she showed a portion of an old children’s series which featured bits from the opera Faust – the parents seemed to be more concerned about Satan being mentioned than the fact their kids saw opera, I gather. The local school district supervisor commented with typically American even-handedness:

It created a kind of firestorm. We have people on both sides of the fence. Some are saying it's trying to promote the devil. Other people are defending the arts to the hilt.

I guess we can see both sides of the issue, right? Some people live on Earth whereas some exist in an world of their own invention. 50/50. Some have functioning neurons, some have outsourced their cognitive functions. Even Steven. And all that. I await similar protests against Shakespearean comedies (pagan worshipping), Dr’ Seuss’ Cat in a Hat (clearly a magical witch’s familiar) and Sesame Street (we all know the truth about Ernie and Bert). Then again, I bet that someone in America has already protested against all of the above.

Given the other bits of news, the only conclusion to draw is that Christians do not like competition getting free product placement, especially given the much better rates that Satan offers.

To us this may be funny – just another story about the hollow bit between America’s ears – but to the poor teacher this must be a horrid time: she is now on leave and the school may decide to fire her. Then again, she seems to realise that Bennett, Colorado isn’t the place for her:

As I’ve said before, when I hear these kinds of stories I no longer get angry, I merely look upon them as case studies of dangerously delusional subjects.

Selling your soul to the Christians?

I quite seriously wonder what is the reason why Christians are hypocritical so often. Just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Pope’s stance on charity being used to convert people and, now, a new piece of news has reached me that goes way beyond the Pope’s ingenuous stance. BBC News reports:

The Venezuelan government has given a Christian missionary group from the US until Sunday to leave the country...

The missionaries live and work in the remotest areas of the country, including the Amazon rainforest.

Their goal is find tribes untouched by so-called "civilisation" in order to convert them to Christianity...

In return for agreeing to adopt the Christian faith, the indigenous people receive basic health care and literacy classes.

Faust managed to get a much better deal for his soul from the devil.

Friday, February 10, 2006

What does a man have to do to get civilizations to finally clash?

A couple of days ago in discussing the Muhammad cartoon row I mentioned Robert Fisk as someone who is very much worth reading when it comes to discussions of the Middle East. I should have mentioned another writer – this one an academic rather than a journalist – who is very dependable when it comes to going in-depth into Middle Eastern matters. Juan Cole runs a blog with a well chosen name – Informed Comment. Yesterday, ran a piece by him explaining at length what is going on:

Muslim touchiness about Western insults to the prophet Mohammed must be understood in historical context. Most Muslim societies have spent the past two centuries either under European rule or heavy European influence, and most colonial masters and their helpmeets among the missionaries were not shy about letting local people know exactly how barbaric they thought the Muslim faith was. The colonized still smart from the notorious signs outside European clubs in the colonial era, such as the one in Calcutta that said, "Dogs and Indians not allowed."
Indeed, the same themes of Aryan superiority and Semitic backwardness in the European "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the Holocaust against the Jews also often colored the language of colonial administrators in places like Algeria about their subjects. A caricature of a Semitic prophet like Mohammed with a bomb in his turban replicates these racist themes of a century and a half ago, wherein Semites were depicted as violent and irrational and therefore as needing a firm white colonial master for their own good.

I think the article is a truly articulate answer to those who just think that Muslim are violent and backward. As a person on one of the forums I read pointed out, some Muslims are burning down embassies while the US went and pretty much destroyed Iraq. Who is the violent one again?

Also in is another article on the same matter, this one a report by a guy in Morocco, who is saying much what I suggested was probably the case – most of the Muslims are insulted but are very much against a violent response:

In the past few days, I've talked to a variety of Moroccans whose views stretch from conservative to liberal. They are tradesmen, academics, officials, students and journalists. The consensus, contrary to the apocalypse on television, is that the cartoons are highly disrespectful, but violence is neither warranted nor part of Islam. The consensus has become a unifying force.

At this point I would like it if some reporter could trace down the exact way in which the cartoons from the Danish paper made their way over to the other papers and, also, to the Middle East, as I would like to understand the motivation of the people who have led to this massive re-eruption of a problem that was dying down.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What did the vast majority of Muslims do last week?

Over the last few days I have read very many things about the Muhammad cartoon row, both those written by journalists and those written by normal, every-day people. Among them there have been a great number of comments which basically said – It’s just a stupid cartoon, by reacting the way they have to it, the Muslims have once again shown themselves to be crazy, religious fanatics. For my part, whenever I read such comments I wonder if I am actually living on the same planet as the people who wrote them. I am also reminded of the racist riots that took place in Sydney a couple of months ago and the fact that I heard no-one make the comment that they showed Australians to be a bunch of crazy, racist fanatics.

I think that any serious comment on the current events, just as on current affairs in general, needs to start from the premiss that people are people everywhere you go. This means that you get your extremists of every stripe, be it religious, political or pretty much anything else; people for whom religion means a commitment to non-violence and those for whom destruction of those who think differently is primary; governments and other organisations that seek to shape public perception and discourse; all the while most of the people most of the time simply want to go about their lives without having someone interfering in them and without causing harm to anyone else in turn. The overall picture is one of great diversity underpinned by normalcy. This isn’t the case just in western pluralist democracies but even in theocratic dictatorships – not that even Iran fits that bill these days. People are people everywhere you go.

This means that any substantive generalisation about what Muslims or Australians or bicycle-riders are like is bound to be false. When people say that Muslims are burning down embassies what does it mean? How many embassies did Mr. Bhersafi who runs a corner store in Beirut burn down this week? Chances are that he didn’t, instead watching the events unfold on the television in the back-room and swearing at those who were tearing apart the Danish embassy. What about Mr. Bhersafi’s cousin, the Muslim cleric? Well, he could well have been among the clerics who waded into the rioting mob and tried to stop them (showing great personal courage). So, who did burn down the embassy? As the events in Australia showed, everywhere you go there are young men who are angry and impetuous enough to act on their violent impulses and, so long as they feel that their actions will be condoned, they will act on them. The difference between places where violence occurs and those where it is rare isn’t in the make-up of the people but in the make-up of the societies. This isn’t just a claim I make on this occasion but a phenomenon that has been studied by psychologists, with the infamous Stanford experiment run by Zimbardo being an early example.

So, Middle Eastern societies are violent while Western democracies are not? Well, it isn’t as simple as that either, as anyone who’s been to the United States will know given their gun culture and the seeming naturalness with which violent ‘solutions’ to problems are accepted there. Violence is a fluid that flows from place to place, cascading from generation to generation. To the degree that societies in the Middle East are violent it is necessary to ask why that is the case – otherwise one is likely to get trapped in the same sort of conceptual determinism that just saying that Muslims are violent invites. The answer has to be sought in history of the area.

A big part of that search is going to have to look at the relationship between the Middle East and the West. Saying that the current violence is a reaction to the cartoons is grossly simplistic and forgets the centuries of contact and conflict that have left many in the Middle East resentful of Western influence in the area. Just as in a marriage, this row is not about the event that sparked it but about the long-term relationship.

A search for the historical roots of the current problems and for an analysis of the reaction to the cartoons leads to the same place, a British journalist who has spent more time in the area than any other English language journalist and who has developed a deep understanding of it, founded as it is upon encyclopaedic knowledge of its history. Those who know him, already know that I am speaking of Robert Fisk. His analysis of the current reaction to the Muhammad cartoons is, not surprisingly, once again insightful, giving a lot of the local background the other reporters miss:

Yesterday’s violence may have been inspired by the previous day's assaults on the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus--or were perhaps encouraged by the same Baath party which must have originally permitted the Syrian demonstrations to take place.

More likely, the crowds in both cities were allowed by the authorities to stage protests, but the demonstrators quickly became overwhelmed as Sunni extremists--in Lebanon, perhaps from the Salafist Hezb al-Tahrir party in Tripoli, and equally Wahhabi-minded Palestinians from the Ein el-Helweh refugee camp--arrived with sticks and stones to assault the Danish property and then to attack the St Maroun church and march on the Lebanese foreign ministry.

Wishing to have a proper understanding of the causes of what is going on, I think I will have to turn to Fisk’s Great War for Civilisation, which was published at the end of 2005 and which covers the history of the Middle East and our, the West’s, involvement.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

What's the fastest way to become an atheist?

Just watched an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! on the Bible. The exclamation mark is well-deserved – a well put together, surprisingly thoughtful, fun, no-nonsense show that really hits Christianity where it hurts, i.e. in the Bible. I have no idea what the actual reaction to that show was in the States. But a particular comparison comes to mind - Penn and Teller have all the bravery and love of freedom and reason that the magazine editor who printed the Muhammad cartoons would like to believe he has but does not.

And Penn is right about the fastest way to become an atheist – “Just read the damned Bible.” Watching Bullshit! comes a close second, though; and is more fun.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

What did Osama ask Santa for last Christmas?

I am feeling very conflicted about the row over the Muhammad cartoons. I have now seen them and most of them are just plain obnoxious. I am sure that if I was an Arab or a Muslim I would be grossly offended. Mind you, I’d be writing a letter to an editor and not burning buildings down. Of course, everyone is trying to roast their own marshmallows on the bonfire. The latest to jump on the bandwagon is the Vatican with a Cardinal from the Vatican’s diplomatic service giving what appears to be the official Vatican position:

The cardinal said secular societies should not assume a right to offend religious sentiments. He noted that many countries consider it illegal to offend their national flag and asked, "Shouldn't we consider religious symbols on an equal level with the symbols of secular institutions?"

Well, hate to agree with a Cardinal but he’s right to say that religious symbols ought to be on an equal level with secular symbols – so, pass me the lighter and hold the flag and the vestments for a second. Free speech is only meaningful if it means the freedom to say things that offend other people. This ought to be blindingly obvious! No-one got dragged off by the NKVD for shouting, “Long live the Party and the First Secretary!” When people are free to speak what they will, other people’s feelings will get hurt. And religious feelings must, absolutely, not be exempt from that. A number of European countries do have laws that protect religious sentiments and that is outrageous. So, Cardinal, I do not assume the right to offend religious sentiments, I think it is something that has to be fought for to be obtained and then retained.

Having said that, it is very important to keep in mind the context of this situation. The religion that had been offended is not Christianity – the main European religion – but Islam – whose adherents are currently routinely vilified in Europe. To print such cartoons is akin to printing anti-Solzhenitsyn cartoons in the USSR. To then claim that this is a victory for free speech is too crass to be laughable. Just because one should have the right to do something isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to do it.

So, what would have been the right thing for the European community to do in response to these cartoons? The American answer would be that some Muslim organisation should sue the ones who printed them originally – the point being not that the cartoons are offensive but that they vilify. But defamation law can be used almost as effectively to control other people’s speech as straight-out censorship and this would not change the general perception in the Muslim world that the West generally supports this. I think the European community should, in any of a number of ways, show their clear opposition to the vilification of Muslims. The magazine has the right to print those cartoons but everyone else in Europe has the right to stand up and be counted against the attitudes that those images were expressions of. If we did that I think the Muslims would feel a hell of a lot better about their relations with Europe. The only people who’d be bothered by that would be the extremists on both sides for whom this debacle is, dare I say, a Godsend.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The treason of images?

As the BBC News reports, it seems that much of the world is agog over the controversy of several European papers printing pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. Guys with guns are demonstrating while guys with armies are sending envoys. What is very important and not at all clear from the reports is whether the cartoons merely depicted Muhammad or, whether, they were actually derogatory towards the Muslims. I suspect that the problem is that a number of Muslims think them derogatory while the Europeans just do not see it that way. I guess a first approximation test would be to imagine how we’d react if someone depicted Christ in much the same way. It is only a first approximation test, however, given the Muslim prohibition against depictions of Muhammad. Which makes me wonder why they’d see that prohibition as also applying to non-Muslims – the Jews don’t try and stop non-Jews from eating pork pies or Oysters Kilpatrick.

All in all I can not help but think two things. The first is a sense of amazement that, given the mess that the Middle East is right, anyone there would be bothered enough by cartoons in some European papers to threaten to murder anyone. The second is thinking that this is another example of why religious beliefs are not something that that we can afford to hold on to when we have the capacity to utterly annihilate our species – they are simply another thing that make us unable to be open to debate and compromise.

In the end, I wonder what the reaction would be if someone did a Magritte take on Muhammad and painted a picture of Muhammad and then wrote on the picture “This is not Muhammad”.


I was just thinking about the great Dylan line:

I often feel that way, especially ever since I’d turned thirty. This time, just as I was thinking about the line, the music player I’ve got running in the background started to play “My back pages”, the song from which comes the line. Now, there are two explanation that comes to mind. The first is that this is synchronicity, the second is that I really do think of that line often.

Conclusion – Jung is bunk, I should listen to some other Dylan songs as well.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Why are Schul and a gay club more fun than Mass?

Something that I’ve always found interesting is the differences between traditional Christian practices and view-points and those of traditional Jews. The comparison is fascinating for a number of reasons. One is that both faiths are relatively closely related, one being an out-growth from the other. Another reason is to see how differently a number of things are treated by religious Jews as compared to their Christian brethren. The examples are copious and I will not go into them now. The reason why I mention the differences is that I’d often noticed that I tend to be more accepting of Jewish religiosity.

I remember, for example, going to Schul (synagogue) one time with a Jewish friend of mine who was about to get married. In the Schul the men stood downstairs and the women stood upstairs. The original reason was something at least vaguely derogatory towards women, I’m sure, but the friend of mine joked that the reason was so that the women could check out the guys. Indeed, sure enough, after the service he got asked about the ‘fresh meat’ standing next to him and had to disappoint by informing the girls that I was not kosher. The service was fascinating to me. In particular, I remember the moment when my friend had to go up and read from the Torah as part of the preparations for marriage. That and the bit when the women got to throw lollies at the guys downstairs, with the children running around, screaming and grabbing as much of the thrown lollies as they could get they paws on. You wouldn’t see that in a cathedral.

Obviously, a big part of the reason why I find it easier to deal with Jewish religious traditions is that I had never had to go through the process of breaking away from the Jewish faith. A process like that is always going to make it difficult to then go back and view one’s past faith dispassionately – just like it is always difficult to consider an ex-girlfriend completely objectively. However, there is another reason why I think I would prefer to stand in a synagogue during their service than to cope with Mass.

More years ago than I care to count I used to occasionally go to nightclubs. I didn’t like it as I always felt somewhat put upon by the unspoken rule that nightclubs were for picking up. Anyway, one time I and some friends of mine went to a gay nightclub. I have no idea how – I guess this was an example of the famed gaydar – but the guys there knew immediately that I wasn’t gay and that was fine – I was as off-limits as I was to Jewish chicks who were traditional enough not to date goys. The result was that I could just enjoy the dancing without feeling any pressure to do anything else – I had a great time. Schul was just the same – I knew that no-one would try to convert me or push their beliefs upon me in any way. Indeed, given what I know of Jewish traditions, if I had told the Rabbi that I wanted to convert, he would be obliged to be unnaturally unpleasant to me – not because he had something against me converting but just to make sure that I was serious. And I never did pick up at a nightclub.