Thursday, October 10, 2013

BOAT RACE: Bosbaan Course, Amsterdam

Amsterdam's Bosbaan boat race course, from the boathouse;
all photos by JT Marlin, from 2008.
Oct. 11, 2013–Amsterdam's Bosbaan is the world's oldest specially made rowing course, built in 1936 during the era of high unemployment era in the wake of the Great Depression.

The jobs project also reflected the frenzied sports competition surrounding the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Today, it's a practical and comfortable venue for training and races.

What happened at the Bosbaan might help other communities seeking to build a boat-racing arena as a job-creator and a tourist attraction.

The bottom line is that you want to make it wide enough, from the gitgo! Retrofitting is costly.
  • It initially had five lanes for the Holland Beker of 1937. The European Rowing Championships of 1937, 1964 and 1965 were held here, as well as the 1977 World Championships.
  • The Bosbaan course was widened to six larger lanes in 1964 when Amsterdam hosted the European Championships. This was the first international event where women were allowed to participate in the top races. The Dutch rowing regatta has been held at the Bosbaan every year, with frequent improvements to the finish-line area for both rowers and spectators.
  • In 2001, the Bosbaan was widened to eight lanes to comply with standards of the international rowing federation, the FISA.
Bosbaan pioneered in women's rowing in 1964.
  • Other recent retrofitted improvements include dressing rooms, a new entrance area, a new restaurant (the "Grand Cafe") and visitors center, and a new finish-line tower. 
  • On the spot where the grandstand used to be is a new building with many multipurpose rooms. 
The location was well-selected. Bosbaan is ten minutes from both Amsterdam City Center and Schiphol Airport, served by rapid and frequent transportation. A taxi from the center of Amsterdam costs 10-15 euros. Nearby is available affordable and adequate hotel accommodation.
Training on the Bosbaan.

The Bosbaan is now the venue for world-class rowing at the Koninklijke-Holland Beker World Cup Regatta, which was in 2003 and 2004 the first of a series of international top rowing events that became the World Cup in 2007.

World Rowing "under 23" Championships in 2005 and World Junior Championships in 2006 took over the course.

The Bosbaan provides a compact, convenient and friendly venue. My photos here (from my visit in 2008) include crews that are training for international events.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

FEAST DAY: Oct. 9 - John Henry Newman

Blessed John Henry
Cardinal Newman
Today is the Feast Day of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). Newman's birthday was February 21 and he died in August. October 9 was the date, after two years of instruction, when Newman was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 by Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist, in Littlemore.

Oxonians brought many gifts to America, including independence, with Pitt the Elder kicking the French out of the colonies and Lord North trying to make the colonials pay for the cost of British troops, thereby precipitating the Revolution. Newman's gift was not just to Catholics in America, but to Christians everywhere, especially those speaking English.

He was born in London and at 16 years of age went up to Trinity College, Oxford. He then served as a tutor at Oriel College, which was a center of Oxford University's religious revival.

For 17 years from 1828, he was vicar of the Anglican St. Mary's (The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin) close to Oriel at the center of the University on High Street. Five years into Newman's vicarage, John Keble gave his famous sermon at St. Mary's that won over Newman to the Oxford Movement to regenerate Catholicism. The Movement went back to the early Church for inspiration.

In 1845,  based on his search for continuity in the history of Christianity and his belief in objective truth, Newman then became a Roman Catholic. He published eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons as well as two novels. He is celebrated as both an Anglican and a Roman Catholic theologian. His poem, "Dream of Gerontius," was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar.

In 1847, Newman was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded three centuries earlier by St. Philip Neri. Returning to England, Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London. In 1854 he went to Dublin to serve as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, which he helped found. While in Dublin he wrote The Idea of a University, in which he sets out his ideas on the purpose of education. Newman promotes the idea that the lived experience of believers is a key part of formation of theology.

Newman accepted Vatican I's teaching on papal infallibility while noting its limits, which at that time few proponents of infallibility were eager to do.

Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, and he took as his cardinal's motto Cor ad cor loquitur ("Heart speaks to heart"), which he adapted from a 17th century dictum. His crest includes three hearts, which are interpreted as being the Trinity. Pope Benedict XVI used the Cor ad cor loquitur motto to headline Newman's long-awaited beatification.

Newman was buried near Birmingham but his grave was exhumed in 2008 and a new tomb was prepared at the Oratory church in Birmingham. Three years after Newman died, a Newman Club for Catholic students began at the University of Pittsburgh, and similar centers for students were set up in many universities. Newman Centers had been created earlier but until Newman himself was beatified they lacked ecclesiastical blessing.

Pope Benedict beatified Newman in September 2010, at a ceremony outside of Birmingham. The pope noted Newman's balanced emphasis on both his religious beliefs as part of civilized society and on his pastoral energy to attend to the needs of the sick, poor, bereaved or incarcerated.

Newman's views were a key reference point for Vatican II under Pope John XXIII. He was called the "absent Father" of this conference of bishops 70 years after his death, especially on issues of conscience and religious liberty, the vocation of lay people, and relations between Church and State.

Monday, October 7, 2013

TRINITY: How 2 Alums Created the USA (Updated Oct. 25, 2015)

Trinity College Dining Hall High Table, behind which is the portrait of
William Pitt the Elder (second from the right). Lord North is on a side
wall, where history would also put him. All photos by JT Marlin.
The following is edited from the article the originally appeared in The American Oxonian, 100:1 (Winter 2013), 37-40.

The portraits of two noted alumni of Trinity College, Oxford are on the walls of its Dining Hall.

  • One made possible the American Revolution.
  • The other made it inevitable.

The two men are judged very differently by history.

One resisted the Euro-centered vision of George II and created the British Empire through clever military strategy focused on the colonies. The other fed the petulance of George III and together they engineered the needless loss of what would be the most valuable part of the British Empire.

Closeup of William Pitt the Elder, Lord Chatham.
  Behind the Trinity High Table.)
William Pitt the Elder

The first of these two noted Oxonians was William Pitt the Elder, the Great Commoner who late in life accepted a peerage and became the Earl of Chatham.

Pitt served as Whig Prime Minister, 1766-1768.
He made possible the Revolution by sending the troops that drove the French out of North America and defeated the Indian tribes that were allied with the French.

So long as the French were in the colonies, the colonials had needed the British army for protection and revolution against the mother country was out of the question.

The great city of Pittsburgh, Penn., is named after Pitt (an Oxford twofer, since Pennsylvania is named after another Oxonian), and so is Pittsfield, Mass.

While a boy at Eton and a student at Trinity, William Pitt suffered from severe gout. For that reason, in later years he did not look back with fondness on the time he spent at either Eton or Oxford.

Pitt was a passionate advocate for using expansion of British power in North America and India to balance retreat from costly wars in Europe during the period that was called the Seven Years War in Europe and was called the French and Indian War in the United States.

The British Army – following some early reverses – cleared out the French all the way up to Quebec, Pitt championed the cause of the colonies and sent over British forces despite George II’s wish that more of them be posted to protect his beloved Hanover.

The war in Europe went badly. George III sent his son the Duke of Cumberland to defend Hanover, but the duke - surrounded by the French at Hastenbeck in Germany - was forced to surrender Hanover to the French. Cumberland escaped with the help of Colonel Jeffrey Amherst, and on his return to Britain "resigned his military offices in disgrace". This story is told well in Walter Borneman's The French and Indian War (HarperCollins, 2006).

Pitt's campaign was immensely popular in the American colonies. But in a true Hegelian dialectic, the cost of the war created financial worries in Britain - and a consequent determination to make the colonies pay for the British troops stationed there - that hardened the attitude of the colonists to their mother country. Lord North became a passionate ally of George III in seeking to make the colonies recognize what they owed to their mother country - a debt both filial and financial.

Before the American Revolution, George III controlled virtually all of North America. After the Revolution, the British Crown retained only Canada as a colony, until Canada’s own independence was granted in spurts–and with a low profile–during the fitful 1919-1938 period.

Pitt was a fierce devotee of the colonies:
  • He vigorously opposed the Stamp Act in 1766 ("The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England.”). 
  • He argued for removing British troops from Boston and deplored the punitive campaign of Lord North. 
  • Not long before his death, Pitt said that the colonies had given the most brilliant proofs of their independent spirit. 
But even he believed the colonies should defer to the Mother Country.

One thing that the mother country did not fully appreciate is that the French and Indian War taught the colonial militias how to organize themselves for battle. Some colonial officers, like George Washington himself, played significant parts in the war. The outcomes of many of the battles in North America hinged on the strategic sense of commanders in coping with the transportation, weather and supply issues in the wilds of the upper Hudson. Sometimes small numbers of frontier-savvy colonial soldiers overcame larger forces of poorly led French troops.

Sometimes British settlers in the colonies returned home to Britain. But that was not the rule. British  colonizers brought their families with them and built permanent homes. They increased and multiplied. The French more often came as traders and returned home. The resulting imbalance of population favored the British in North America.

The upshot of the Seven Years War was that Europe remained not much different from when the war started. But the upshot of its synchronized French and Indian War in North America was vastly different. Britain not only became lord over all of North America, it became master of the oceans. The British Navy truly ruled the waves. The War created bases for the British – for example, in India – that became the cornerstones of the British Empire under Victoria. Pitt, not George II, understood what was going to be important in the decades ahead.

The British public, however, was not so happy about the colonies having a free ride on the military front. The Stamp Act sought to collect duties (in the form of stamps on bills of lading) on imported goods. The colonial leadership reacted by making imported goods unfashionable. Benjamin Franklin suggested that the colonials "wear their old clothes over again." Pitt in 1766 succeeded in having the law repealed.

Frederick Lord North

Frederick Lord North (Trinity, Oxford
Dining Room, back wall.)
The other alumnus was Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, who made the war of independence of the American colonies inevitable by trying to impose on the colonists the cost of the war and by making the payment of taxes a test of obedience to the Crown. He served as Tory Prime Minister, 1770-1782.

When the Quartering Act billeted British soldiers on the homes of American colonists and the New York legislature voted to nullify it, the British were "aghast". George III was "contemptuous" of the colonials. Pitt's chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Townsend, seeing Pitt ailing, moved ahead to do the king's bidding and imposed new taxes on imports into the colonies of glass, lead, paints, paper and... tea. Also, George III claimed the Virginia Territory as his own, thereby alienating many Virginians who had bought land there–Virginians like future linchpins of the new country, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The “Boston Massacre”, which started the bitterness in Boston, was hooliganism. Some soldiers served as strike-breakers. On March 5, 1770, a mob of several hundred youths and men attacked them and one soldier lost his nerve and fired at the mob. Three men lay dead and two were mortally wounded. Pitt, now Lord Chatham, said:
I love the Americans because they love liberty, and I love them for the noble efforts they made in the last war [The French and Indian War]. … I think the idea of drawing money from them by taxes was ill-judged. Trade is your object with them… But … they must be subordinate… They must obey and we prescribe. [Cited in Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (NY: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 200.] 
Lord North came in as Prime Minister in 1770, and for three years after the Boston Massacre, Britain traded peacefully with the colonies. There was a sense in Britain that their Seven Years War was expensive and they were looking for ways to off-load the costs of their military spending. Objectively, it might seem reasonable to ask the colonies to pay for their defense.

But  Sam Adams and other radical leaders looked at it a different way. Why should they be paying taxes to Britain if the colonies were not represented in the British Parliament? It was the Roundhead argument with the additional complaint of foreign taxation. Looking for ways to foment rebellion, they cleverly conceived of the public dumping of tea–the Boston Tea Party being the best-publicized example–to goad the bull-headed George III and his testy Prime Minister into overreaction (Morison, p. 204).

The Crown's response was exactly as the radicals wished - i.e., what were called the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. Pitt had recommended conciliation - withdrawing British troops from Boston (Morison, p. 209). But Lord North supported George III's animosity toward the rebels.

The Acts of course inflamed Bostonians by enacting reprisals for the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor.

But the Quebec Act of 1774 may have been the most disastrous for Britain. It undermined the numerous royalists in the colonies south of New England. The Quebec Act essentially took territory north of the Ohio River away from Virginia (mostly) and the other 13 colonies and annexed them to Quebec, which was seen as more loyal to the Crown.

George Washington and other leading  Virginians had already begin staking claims to these lands as early as 1753. Although they were in 1763 nominally marked as an Indian reserve, Virginia and other colonies had their eye on them for purposes of westward expansion. George Washington, a surveyor by profession before he became a soldier, would have been deeply aware of, and involved in, investments predicated on the Virginian colonial government or other colonies, allocating the lands in the territories that the Crown essentially now claimed for itself. Whereas New Englanders were looking for a fight, the other colonies were not as belligerent, and were not fully committed to rebellion - until now threatened with a huge loss of assets.

George III said smugly to Lord North on February 4, 1774:
The die is now cast. The Colonies must either submit or triumph.
This test was petulant and unnecessary. Britain could have made so much money off their 13 American colonies if George III had shown the strategic good sense that Edward had demonstrated by accommodating to Scotland less than a century before.

The mistakes of the mother country came to a head on April 18, 1775, when the planned signal of  two lanterns ("two if by sea") were hung in the steeple of Boston's Old North Church, launching riders including Paul Revere on their dash to Lexington and Concord with the news: "The British are coming." The minute men freaked themselves for the redcoats and the Revolutionary War was on.

Lord North's tenure as Prime Minister ended in 1782 and he died ten years later. Lord North gives his family name to Guilford, Conn. and that is about it (North Dakota and North Carolina are not named after him).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

BIRTH: Oct 2–Graham Greene

Graham Greene
Today is the birthday (in 1904) of novelist Graham Greene, in Berkhamsted, England. Berkhamsted Castle is where the Saxon nobles were summoned to pledge their allegiance to the Norman king, William the Conqueror, after the Battle of Hastings.

A conference is held in Berkhamsted every year to discuss the huge volume of Greene's novels and other writings and the many films based on them. Greene was born in a building of the Berkhamsted School, one of six children in a large, prosperous and intermarried family.

He boarded at the Berkhamsted School, where his father was made headmaster. He was bullied and unhappy, and frequently depressed. He was sent to London for psychoanalysis in 1920, which was unusual at the time. He tried to kill himself several times. Doubtless unconnected with his depression, he attended Balliol College, Oxford. Also, surely unconnected with his Balliol affiliation, he (briefly) joined the Communist Party.

He began his career as a reviewer and essayist. An avowed atheist, he had been questioning his faith since his days at boarding school. He wrote:
So faith came to one—shapelessly, without dogma, a presence above a croquet lawn, something associated with violence, cruelty, evil across the way. I began to believe in heaven because I believed in hell, but for a long while it was only hell I could picture with a certain intimacy.
Garrison Keillor describes Greene's marriage as follows:
When he was 21 years old, [Greene] wrote an essay referring to Catholics as people who "worship" the Virgin Mary. He received an indignant reply from a young woman named Vivien Dayrell-Browning, explaining that Catholics did not worship the Virgin Mary, they venerated her. He wrote her back, they met, and Greene was smitten. Unfortunately, Dayrell-Browning was a very devout Catholic, and she had several more eligible men courting her. But Greene was stubborn. He wrote her no less than 2,000 letters and postcards, sometimes three a day. And he converted to Catholicism. How much of his conversion was influenced by his future wife, and how much by other spiritual motives, no one knows for sure. But he became a Catholic, married Vivien, and went on to write novels about characters struggling to reconcile their faith with the rest of their lives. 
Greene's first novel, The Man Within (1929) was sufficiently successful that he was able to earn a living writing novels, all of which deal with questions of morality. About ten years into his marriage, Greene had an affair, the first of many. He and his wife separated, but never divorced.

The Power and the Glory (1940) is a novel about an old Mexican priest. He calls himself a "whisky priest" and looks back on a life of drinking and other misdeeds including fathering a child with one of his parishioners. At the end of his life, he is living on the run, practicing his faith despite the new revolutionary government's outlawing Catholic sacraments.

Keillor writes:
The Power and the Glory was so popular that it attracted the attention of the Vatican, which appointed two different people to review it and decide whether the Church should take an official position. The two readers had similar reactions to the novel. One wrote: "Odd and paradoxical, a true product of the disturbed, confused, and audacious character of today's civilization. For me, the book is sad." They thought it should never have been written, but they also knew it would look bad for the Church to officially condemn it, since Greene was the most famous Catholic writer in England. Instead, they recommended that Greene's bishop privately scold him for it and direct Greene "to write other books in a different tone, attempting to correct the defects of this one." Greene did nothing of the sort, and continued to write about characters struggling with their own moral failings and their Catholicism in novels like The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The End of the Affair (1951), which he dedicated to his mistress. 
Greene's other novels include Brighton Rock (1938), The Third Man (1949), The Quiet American (1955), The Comedians (1966), and The Honorary Consul (1973).