Epicurean Music #1

This is only the second post of mine that isn’t about politics or religion. Life in Britain has been stressful lately, with a snap General Election, the terrible fire in Kensington, and a series of terrorist attacks- most recently against a mosque in North London by a far-right extremist. The good news is that we’re currently enjoying a heatwave. So to lighten the mood, I thought I’d share some music with you. 

Even though I’m not religious, I have to appreciate the wonderful music composed for Christianity. Not the modern choruses, which are about as derivative as the popular music scarring the contemporary cultural landscape. But I’ve recently acquired a taste for choral music, and I wanted to share some of my favourites with you. When searching for recordings of these pieces, try to find performances of them by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, if you can. Trinity’s choir is simply sublime.

Miserere Mei, Deus- Allegri

O Ignis Spiritus Paracliti

Ave Maria

Requiem: In Paradisum

And the whole of Cantiones Sacrae, 1612


I must add that choral music isn’t the only music I listen to. But it has a uniquely soothing quality. I’ll be sure to write a piece on orchestral music over the coming months, but the troubled world we live in demands that I return to current events for the time being.

Best of the Week #3

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/16/15810524/senate-ahca-explain-please. If anyone ought to be able to explain the American Healthcare Act, it should be senior Republican senators. Vox asked them what the bill is meant to do. Their responses are wildly varied and totally lacking in detail. An important and frightening story!

http://www.conservativehome.com/highlights/2017/06/outsiders-are-not-always-good-and-governments-are-not-always-bad.html. A book review of the rise of the outsiders, and why being ‘anti-establishment’ is necessarily a good thing. But the increase in populism reveals the failures of the established political class across the developed world, particularly in France. Unfortunately the book is unlikely to have much of an impact, as the people most likely to read it are those mostly likely to already adhere to its message of compromise and thoughtfulness.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/06/the-great-myth-of-the-global-warming-pause/. Probably the best debunking of climate change scepticism I’ve read. Williamson challenges the myth that the recent ‘pause’ in global warming is evidence that climate change isn’t happening.

http://exepose.com/2017/06/15/coral-reefs-the-canary-in-a-coal-mine/. Staying on the subject of the environment, an excellent overview of the decline of coral reefs- why is matters, and what can be done to stop it. Written by a highly intelligent and thoughtful friend of mine.

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/06/grenfell-tower-latest-sign-britain-undeveloping-country. This sums up my thoughts on the Grenfell Tower tragedy succinctlyy. Rampen also contextualises the fire in a country which seems increasingly undeveloped. The declining quality of infrastructure and public services, the government’s neglect of people’s concerns, and the exploitation of low-paid and migrant labour- are all signs of a society far less civilised than it pretends to be. Like Rampen, I don’t believe the UK is a developing country, but I accept her overall point that our wealth makes events like the Grenfell Tower inexcusable.

The fire disaster in North Kensington

A tower block  caught fire and was totally destroyed near where we are staying, killing an unknown (17 so far). number of poor people in the middle of the night.

Residents of the building, which was constructed in 1974, had long warned of potential fire hazards even though it was renovated just last year. “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization will be found out and brought to justice!” a residents organization, the Grenfell Action Group, wrote in a blog post last year. The KCTMO runs public housing on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the west London area where the fire broke out.

On Wednesday morning, the Grenfell Action Group’s website was updated, with a post on the fire. “All our warnings fell on deaf ears, and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time,” the post read.  Residents said they had been instructed by management before the blaze to stay in their apartments (!) in the event of a fire and to wait for emergency services to arrive. They said they had been told that their units were fireproof for at least an hour.   Nick Paget-Brown, leader of the borough council, promised  “a thorough investigation into “why the fire started and why it spread so quickly.” He acknowledged that residents had expressed concerns before the fire.   “There are always concerns about fire safety in high-rise buildings,” he said. (Washington Post)

The story of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is a good example  of what happens when you have a self- selecting elite with safe seats who are voted in without having to lift a finger . From personal experience they ignore residents, sit on their hands, refusing to answer letters or emails , and are indifferent to ordinary constituents. Their only concern seems to be to keep the local taxes , modest by most standards, down for the rich.   James Wood, a graphic designer is quoted by the Washington Post as saying, “Anyone who earns below 10 million pounds a year is not human in this borough,” he said. “They don’t care about fire safety.”

The Establishment has not had a good time in this part of the world in the last few days. A hopeless MP voted out,  now this.  Birds are coming home to roost?

If you haven’t seen this, read it – it is very funny. We need funny.

The writer of the following is Anthony Lane in the June 9th edition of the New Yorker “>http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-book-of-jeremy-corbyn”>

And it came to pass, in the land of Britain, that the High Priestess went unto the people and said, Behold, I bring ye tidings of great joy. For on the eighth day of the sixth month there shall be a general election.
And the people said, Not another one.
And they waxed wroth against the High Priestess and said, Didst thou not sware, even unto seven times, that thou wouldst not call a snap election?
And the High Priestess said, I know, I know. But Brexit is come upon us, and I must go into battle against the tribes of France, Germany, and sundry other holiday destinations. And I must put on the armor of a strong majority in the people’s house. Therefore go ye out and vote.
And there came from the temple pollsters, who said, Surely this woman will flourish. For her enemy is as grass; she cutteth him down. He is as straw in the wind, and he will blow away. And the trumpet of her triumph shall sound in all the land.
And the High Priestess said, Piece of cake.
And there came from the same country a prophet, whose name was Jeremy. His beard was as the pelt of beasts, and his raiments were not of the finest. And he cried aloud in the wilderness and said, Behold, I bring you hope.
And suddenly there was with him a host of young people. And he said unto them, Ye shall study and grow wise in all things, and I shall not ask ye for gold. And the sick shall be made well, and they also will heal freely. And he promised unto them all manner of goodly things.
And the young people said unto him, How shall these things be rendered, seeing that thou hast no money in thy purse?
And he spake unto them in a voice of sounding brass and said, Soak the rich. And again, Pull down the mighty from their seats.
And the young people went absolutely nuts.
And they hearkened unto the word of Jeremy, and believed. For they said unto themselves, Lo, he bringeth unto us the desire of our hearts. He cometh by bicycle, with a helmet upon his head. And he eateth neither flesh nor fowl, according to the Scriptures. For man cannot live by bread alone, but hummus is quite another matter.
And the High Priestess saw all these things and was sore. And she gathered unto her the chief scribes and the Pharisees and said unto them, What the hell is going on?
And they said unto her, It is a blip, as if it were a rough place upon the road.
But they said unto themselves, When the government was upon her shoulders, this woman was mighty. But now that she has gone abroad unto every corner of the land, she stumbleth. For surely it is written that ruling and campaigning are as oil and water, and there shall be no concord betwixt them.
And the chief scribes wrote upon tablets, saying, Jeremy is false of tongue. He hideth wickedness in his heart. And his sums do not add up.
And nobody paid any attention.
And the elders rose up and said to the young people, If ye choose Jeremy, he will bring distress in your toils and wailing upon your streets. Do ye not remember the nineteen-seventies?
And the young people said, The what?
And the elders spake again, and said to the young people, Beware, for he gave succor in days of yore to the I.R.A.
And the young people said, The what?
And the young people said, Jeremy shall bring peace unto all nations, for he hateth the engines of war that take wing across the heavens. And he showeth respect for all peoples, even unto the transgender community.
And the elders said, The what?
And it came to pass that the heathen of this land came among the people, with fire and sword, and slew many among the faithful. And great was the lamentation.
And the High Priestess waxed exceeding wroth and said to the people, Fear not. For I shall bind your wounds and give ye shelter from the heathen, and shall take up the sword against them.
And there came again pollsters from the temple, who said, Will the people not vote for her in this hour of need?
And nobody paid any attention.
And it came to the vote.
And the elders went up to vote, and the young people. And the young people were as a multitude. And in the hours of darkness there was much counting. And the young people watched by night, and the elders went to bed.
And there came in the morning news that the High Priestess had vanquished the prophet Jeremy. But the triumph of the High Priestess was as the width of a nail. And she was vexed.
And the elders and the chief scribes and the Pharisees spoke among themselves, yea, even in the corners of their houses.
And there was great rejoicing amidst the multitude of the young. And they took strong wine, and did feast among themselves. And there were twelve baskets left over.
And of the pollsters there was no sign.
And the people saw Jeremy and said, Surely this man has won? Doth he not skip in gladness like a young hart upon the hills?
And there was great murmuring among the elders. And they said unto themselves, Weep not. For the High Priestess doth but prepare the way. Cometh there not one who is greater than she?
And they said, Behold, for the hour of the redeemer is upon us. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Prince of Peace. And they cried in one voice, Boris.
And the young people said, Oh, shit.
And the people gave tongue, and made supplication unto the Lord, saying, Lord, let our cry come unto thee.
And the Lord thought the whole thing was absolutely hilarious.
And then the people said, Lord, what shall we do regarding Brexit? For henceforth the High Priestess shall be as weak as a newborn lamb. How shall we hope for continued access to the single market?
And the Lord said, The what?

Is Atheism just another religion (part 2)

Yesterday I quoted a long article that suggested that religious people and atheists are more psychologically alike than they admit. The religionists argue that supernatural beliefs are hard-wired into our brains. Evolution, has left us with a tendency make belief in non-material beings come easily. As highly social and tribal animals, for example, we need to keep track of the thoughts and intentions of other people, even when they are not physically present. From there, it is a short step to conceiving of non-physical entities such as spirits, gods and dead ancestors who “know” what we are thinking and influence our lives. Some hardcore atheists also tend to entertain quasi-religious or spiritual ideas such as there being a higher power or that everything happens for a purpose.

Sloan Wilson posits another way atheists behave, as if they are part of a religion: “playing fast-and-loose with scientific facts”. “Atheists say that religion is bad for humanity and deny that it is not an evolutionary adaptation. This, he says, is not true. “This is how atheism becomes an ideology. It is organised to motivate behaviour. Using counterfactual beliefs in order to so leaves little difference between atheism and a religion”.

But the difference is that for atheists there are no rituals, no membership rules, no sacred texts and no proselytising. Psychologist Marjaana Lindeman at the University of Helsinki in Finland adds: “There is no evidence for the argument that all people have an implicit belief in the supernatural.” (Thank you! Ed.). Nor does atheism provide a sense of meaning and purpose, encourage people to do good, or endow you with great enthusiasms, except in the case of a very few individuals. (Based on an article in the New Scientist)

My comment: some people need a religion, others don’t. We are all discrete, unique individuals with scores of views, beliefs and points of view. Social scientists like to make generalisations from the particular, but it seems a pointless exercise. Education should allow us to form our own views, not go along uncritically with the majority. That’s a good thing. Religion can (not inevitably) lead to intolerance and cruelty (the Spanish Inquisition). Ask the Islamists, who use violence, and the American evangelicals, who support the Trump oligarchy in every particular to the detriment of the poor and sick. These are political groups and have nothing to do with the prophet Mohammed or Jesus Christ, whose names are being used by disagreeable tribes to impose their beliefs on others. What you can say is that “good” religion teaches morality and ethical behaviour from an early age, which is sorely needed. This is also one objective of humanistic beliefs like Epicureanism. We need more positive morality and ethical behaviour.

I believe you can be moral and ethical while being indifferent to both religion and atheism (all ‘isms in fact). I was once offered a very large contract provided I put a significant bribe directly into the bank account of the CEO of the customer concerned. The order would have accounted for one quarter of our total annual sales. I refused. It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with ethics and the slippery slope.

Tomorrow: something funny!