President's Message

President's Message November 2019

Appreciation

We are now at the end of our successful 2019 and looking forward to the Christmas break. It is also the last term of my tenure as President of U3A Clarence.

During each and every term day of activities the success of our organisation rests on the help provided by many of our members.

The work of the set up crew makes sure that when our lecturers arrive the rooms are prepared for them and us to start on time and with ease. Their work also means that the morning tea is set up and ready for us to relax for a few minutes to chat to friends. Getting up early enough to start the set up at 8.50 is I think a remarkable gift they give to the U3A Clarence organisation and us as members.

Our lecturers and facilitators give us their time in each session but also untold hours of preparation. These people of course are the heart of U3A Clarence. They are the very point of our gathering together. I am continually amazed at the range and depth of the content of lectures and the extent of our other activities.

At morning tea another group of people wait on us to pour out the tea or coffee and do the washing up and more of us help to clear up the room ready for the next session.

Some of the activities of our volunteers are not obvious because they occur at times other than Mondays and Wednesdays, perhaps in the holiday breaks. Committee members also work in the background to ensure the smooth running of our organisation.

We are very fortunate that all of these members care about our aims and pitch in to help. I am sure that you appreciate their efforts as I do.

On a personal level I have been supported in many ways by many of our members. Your advice, goodwill, appreciation, and support have made my presidency a pleasure. In addition you laugh at all my jokes.

Thank you all very much.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude” AA Milne

Wishing you all an enjoyable and restful break

Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

President's Message October 2019

Kindness

Kindness, the small acts of assistance and consideration for others is, I think, an inherent part of human nature just as much as aggression and competition.  Very small children often display acts of kindness.

Usually we see kindness as a small voluntary almost reflexive gesture of assistance to a stranger but of course it includes good manners which in essence tell us how to be kind and considerate to others (Unless the manners become rigid etiquette.)

Good manners and kindness extend to friends and family as well as strangers.  We can often forget to say thank you and be kind to our closest family from habit or frequency of cohabitation.  Still a thank you is often really valuable.

Kindness gives the receiver help and a positive feeling to get through a difficulty.  Just opening a door for someone makes them feel good and gives us positive feedback.  Very often the small kindnesses recognise the bridge or connection between us all.  We recognise our common humanity and the knowledge that we feel the same at different times.

Very often the benefit flowing to the beneficiary is out of all proportion to the cost of the small act to the giver and we are all glad of a little help from time to time

After a small act of kindness we gain for ourselves a positive feeling. It is very good for our health because good deeds release serotonin and oxytocins which over time improve our life, health and longevity.  A small act of kindness has also been shown scientifically to reduce our own anxiety as indeed it does for the receiver of a kind act.  Kindness has also been shown to reduce inflammation.

Kindness then is better than any feel good medication.

So we should choose to be kind.  Although deliberate actions to help our own well being are really not kindness, which is spontaneous, still if we practice some thing for own benefit it helps the receiver and we soon do so out of habit.  Just as good manners are taught to children by their parents but become ingrained in later times.

A recent article in the New Scientist makes the case that nurture, kindness and altruism arose as an evolutionary by-product of warm bloodedness* so we cannot help but be kind, it is basic to our nature. 

 "Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness." -Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

* Professor Patricia Churchland    Why Do We care?  (New Scientist 28 September 2019)

President's Message August 2019

Choices

We like to feel that we are in control of our lives, ourselves and our surroundings as much as possible.  We want to be free to choose outcomes and options for our future.

With the exchange of goods would have come the exchange of knowledge and more and more sophistication ways of living (and unfortunately warfare).  This has been going on for thousands of years.  The Phoenicians (from the Levant) traded with many nations through sea routes (Britain for tin) but also had extensive trade networks through Turkey, Persia and Mesopotamia.

There are arguments that we do not in fact have free will and the freedom to choose our future. These arguments fall mainly into three categories, theological, philosophical and biological. Each of these views presents conflicts of outcomes or and if accepted can affect our outlook on life and our sense of well-being.

The theological argument postulates an all-knowing supreme spiritual being aware of the future, who chooses or determines our path, consequently deciding whether we die in a catastrophe or if it the person next to us who dies. This argument can lead to the individual believing that they are the special chosen one. However, it can conflict with the idea that we can choose to please the Supreme Being by repenting sins and living the wholesome life it prefers. How can we have the choice to repent if the Supreme Being knows everything and has ordained the future. It is a paradox.

The philosophical argument states that as we interact with others we are affected by their actions and the environment about us. This determines our next actions and the range of possible outcomes. As this ripple effect spreads it is argued that our exercise of free will is entirely determined by past events and the actions of others before us.  Therefore, free will and our actual ability to choose is an illusion.

The biological argument states that we are controlled by our genes, how they have reacted with the environment and the chemical state of our bodies.  So we do not choose to drink we are driven to drink by our bodies need to for fluid.  Some studies indicate the brain exhibits mental signs of muscle activity indicating action before we are aware of choosing to act.  It follows that free will is an illusion of our mind but physically we have no choice.

Are we happy; is this a choice or a biological and chemical innate reaction?  Do we choose to be sad or pessimistic?  Is it our nature or our reaction to the world around us or a combination of the two beyond our control?

In the end my mind boggles. I prefer to think that I have the choice even when I understand the arguments against free will. This is why I will happily read our program for term 3 being quite sure that I am able to choose whatever course I prefer.

I hope you also enjoy choosing from our excellent program.

As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. 

.Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

President's Message June 2019

Trade, the lubricant of civilisation

The earliest form of trade was bartering.  Exchanging something we own, make or can easily obtain, for something we cannot make or is made from materials we cannot obtain.  At first this was between tribal members and then between adjoining tribes. As each tribe bartered with neighbours, the chain of bartering grew longer and longer.  Archaeological digs show many cases when goods from remote areas are found amongst ancient burial sites.

With the exchange of goods would have come the exchange of knowledge and more and more sophistication ways of living (and unfortunately warfare).  This has been going on for thousands of years.  The Phoenicians (from the Levant) traded with many nations through sea routes (Britain for tin) but also had extensive trade networks through Turkey, Persia and Mesopotamia.

We recognise the most famous trade route through Eurasia as the Silk Road because the Chinese Han Dynasty officially opened and documented trade with the West in 130 B.C.  Because silk was entrancing and highly desirable the trade flourished.  One of the main reasons was that the Chinese Emperor Wu wanted free access to the “Heavenly Horses” of Fergana in Uzbekistan.  These were bigger and stronger than the existing Chinese horses and were superior in warfare. These horses were also valued by the Persians in the West so the trading had been going on for centuries or millenniums before this.

(As an interesting aside, after the Ottomans in 1405  closed the Silk road through Turkey to the West, trade with Russia flourished and in the 17th Century the Russians had a monopoly of rhubarb considered essential to keep the British healthy and regular.)

Although money and the exchange of goods for gold was well established by then there was still the physical transfer of goods across the miles of the trade routes.  A more sophisticated method of trade was enabled by the Dutch invention of the limited liability company and the establishment of sea routes around the world.  Basically we value trade as the exchange of physical goods.

Arbitrage was an advance in earning money through trade.  It is the simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.  This can mean small profits per item with large volumes and any actual exchange of goods taking place either at a distance or close by.  It can avoid trade sanctions between the countries in which the principles reside.

Current arbitrage can mean the electronic buying and selling of stocks or futures in split second trading.  Of course stocks and futures do have goods at the end of a long chain but it can be very difficult to unravel the links

Somehow trade as the exchange of physical goods seems morally more correct than arbitrage.

Today the re-emergence of the Central Asian states (the “Stans”) aided by China will change the trade and civilisations of all parties involved and the far west as well.  Sea routes will still dominate trade because of the ability to transfer vast amounts of physical goods much cheaper than land routes.  As the ice melts and ships can traverse the other half of the world via Antarctica relationships between nations and civilisation will continue to change, grow and shape our world views.

As always.

.Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence


Extracts from The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lies a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

President's Message May 2019

Garden hopes 

At this time of the year I look at my vegetable garden with sadness and think of the successes or the disasters with a view to deciding what to bother with next year.

Usually I have self-seeded silver beet, but this year the possums managed to scale the fence around the vegetable bed. They have eaten all of our silver beet, and we did not get one strawberry nor any unbitten tomatoes. They have even discovered, to my amazement, that rhubarb leaves are edible. I always thought that rhubarb leaves were poisonous, but it seems that they may be for us but not for possums because their numbers have not declined. At least our potatoes were a success and our runner beans.

Another problem this year is the drought. We do water the vegetables but it is not as good as a soaking rain. Several years of drought plus infestations of corbie and curl grubs plus rabbits and wallabies mean that we have large, absolutely bare patches of dirt. Even dandelions and thistles do not seem to have survived.

The shrubbery around the house has also been severely affected. Plants under stress are very easy pickings. Rabbits and wallabies are eating native plants they have never touched before. The wallaby has even taken a liking to grevillea and fuchsia flowers.

Tasmania was much wetter when we moved to Acton 40 years ago, and we had some interesting small native plants in my garden, white and pink heaths, daniellas, blue sun orchids, running postman, bearded and other greenhood orchids and many more. Of about 20 native small plants, I think we have only about half a dozen left. In the past two years even banksia marginatas, a local Tasmanian small coastal tree, have given up.

The garden is still a delight and allows me to accept that the seasons come and go forever without regard for my hopes and expectations. Despite the set backs and at times screaming frustration I am addicted to gardening and nurseries, which is not a bad thing considering the alternative addictions.

We have improved the fencing around the vegetables and prepared the beds for next year. I will plant pinkeyes; my runner beans will come up, and I will protect the bases with chicken wire. I will fertilise the rhubarb and plant pumpkins and zucchinis and hope for the best. I do not have the heart for any strawberries but may succumb to tomato plants. As an amateur gardener my hope springs eternal that next year I will get a truly bumper crop without disappointment despite all past evidence to the contrary.

One thing I am quite sure will not be a disappointment is my enjoyment of U3A courses in this the second term of 2019.

Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

President's Message April 2019

Words

Words are magic.  They describe physical objects and environments in a way that we agree is appropriate.  For example, we agree that “table” is an appropriate designation for a board on legs. They are also magic because they convey ideas and concepts and provide connections between individuals.  They are used to describe feeling, emotions and ideas and can be used to tell stories, sacred and profane, which amuse or closely link groups, families or nations.  They convey meaning only to the particular language group otherwise they are just markings on paper.  In themselves they may be depicted in beautiful forms.  The Muslim cursive script is used as wonderful decoration in mosques and the illustrations of old mediaeval manuscripts are also a delight.

English is rich because it can adapt new concepts and borrow from other languages.  The centuries of invasions and migrations of many people and the enforcement of their language gives us Celtic Norse, Norman, and Latin words. This is why we have more than one word for many things so can distinguish different forms, cattle, cows and beef, sheep lamb and mutton, pigs and pork

Foreign words which have no English equivalent are happily incorporated.  Ennui (French) and doppelganger (German) are just two examples. German just seems to add to an existing word and so has claim to the longest words in any language.   As Mark Twain put it, "Some German words are so long that they have perspective."

Frequently when we see people speaking a foreign language on the news the English subtitles can be read well before the speaker is finished.  For example, a thatched cottage is chaumiere in French but casa de campo con techo de paja in Italian.  The English seems much more concise.  In compensation Italian seems so well suited to the joy of operatic singing.

English has limitations, however.  Apparently, Inuit has about 40 words for snow and apparently the Scots have over 400 which I think says much for Scottish weather.  However, English has only one word for love, from the trivial to the deepest emotion.  I love your new coat and I love my child.  This most probably says quite a lot about English speakers!

We are also happy adopting new words. Shakespeare invented many new words still in use.  Each year the Macquarie Dictionary incorporates new words and deletes some out of favour. This year a new word was one close to my heart it is Tartle. This means 'the act of hesitating while introducing someone because you've forgotten their name'

A few words to consider.

Fine words butter no parsnips.

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help. (Ronald Reagan)

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like 'What about lunch?' (A. A. Milne)

Jocelyn "Tartle" Head

President, U3A Clarence