Monday 31 December 2012

Around the World in Thirty-seven Days

Original illustration by Alphonse de Neuville and Léon Benett
to Verne's novel "Around the World in Eighty Days" 
When I was a child, one of my favourite animated cartoon series was Around the World with Willy Fog, an adaptation of Verne’s classic. The story is about an Englishman – called Phileas Fogg in the original novel – who in 1872 bets half of his fortune, ₤ 20 000 on going round the earth in 80 days. The planned itinerary, proposed as the fastest way by a newspaper, consists of train trips across the continents and steamer trips through the seas. Fogg departs on the day of the bet and arrives back in London after spending 81 days – and the other half of his fortune – on a much more adventurous journey around the world. Since he has been travelling eastbound, however, he has gained a full calendar day as compared to his friends in London. After realizing this, he manages to show up at the agreed place just in time to win the bet. 

To my great joy, my daughter has come to love the series just like I did. While watching the film together, I began to wonder how long it would take and how much it would cost today to circumnavigate the earth in a way Verne’s hero did. So I have prepared an itinerary which you can find below.

Sunday 30 September 2012

Circumcision and the Power of Tradition

On 5 May 2012, a German regional court in Cologne held that the circumcision of male children for religious reasons constitutes a criminal act under German law. According to the judgment, parents cannot validly consent to an irreversible bodily injury to their children. The child's right to physical integrity and self-determination prevails over the parents' right to religious freedom. If the court's interpretation is upheld in later cases, Germany may be one of the few countries in the world in which circumcision of children for non-medical reasons is banned.

Fiddler on the Roof. Dir. Norman Jewison. United Artists, 1971. 
The judgment, which was discovered by the press in late June 2012, provoked ferocious debate in Germany and received much international attention. Under-standably, Jewish and Muslim communities, which traditionally exercise the practice, became quite nervous. One Russian rabbi in Berlin to discuss the judgment called it "perhaps the most serious attack on Jewish life in Europe since the Holocaust". Supporters of the ban, however, argue that the decision on this serious question should be reserved for the child upon reaching legal age. 

One of the disturbing facts I encountered while following the debate was the complete ignorance of what circumcision means to the Jewish community. While many Muslims follow the custom of circumcision as a tradition, the practice is not prescribed in the Qur'an and Muslim religious scholars do not agree on whether it is obligatory or only recommended. In the Jewish community, by contrast, circumcision is not a mere custom but a clear command of God. More than a command: It is the sign of the everlasting Covenant between God and the Jewish people, on which the whole Jewish life with all its commandments is based.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Arthur Schopenhauer Looking At Things

Some weeks ago I finished reading Arthur Schopenhauer’s main work, The World as Will and Idea.

Looking at glasses
This accomplishment came a bit late in light of the fact that I first encountered Schopenhauer at the age of 17. This was the time when I decided to study philosophy and was exploring the – admittedly limited – stock of philosophy books in the libraries of my home town. Somehow I bumped into Rüdiger Safranki’s biography on Schopenhauer and was enchanted by the book. It depicted the intellectual scene of late romanticism, Goethe’s Weimar and German idealism in a way that I found fascinating. Thanks to the book, I became interested in Schopenhauer and started to read his minor works. However, I soon realized that his system cannot properly be understood without a basic understanding of Kant, so I began to study Kant. Then I went to university, and many other philosophers diverted me from Schopenhauer. At the back of my mind, I kept planning to read his main work but did not find time to do so until I finished my PhD thesis last year.

Schopenhauer’s most frequently – although simplistically – cited thought is that life is suffering. This may have touched me 15 years ago when – having awakened from the naivety of my childhood – I felt the pain of an unrequited love for the first time. Today, perhaps because I understand more clearly the delight that even an unrequited love can bring, the idea of life being suffering does not affect me much. What I find interesting in Schopenhauer instead is what he wrote about the redemptive power of looking at things.