Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Religion
Goddaughter 2 recently suggested I read this. I now suggest that you read it:
In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.
You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet. You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials. Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events. In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.
This is from Sum, by David Eagleman, which is subtitled “Forty tales from the afterlives”, the above being the first of them, also entitled “Sum”.
I sum- (hah!) -marised this tale as best I could to another friend, who immediately got the point that Eagleman makes at the end, that the mere fact of the variety of life becomes a source of joy, if you compare it with a life from which variety has been drained away. This alone turns humdrumness into hell, and contemplating that hell turns the humdrumness into a kind of heaven.
Count your blessings, but not the same blessings all at the same time.
Today I decided that I would like to do one of those “A Year In …” postings, at the end of this year, featuring newspaper front pages, one for each month. Everything hinged on whether I’d happened already to have taken any pictures of front pages during January.
And, I had. These front pages:
And I expanded the picture, and scrolled across. Tax demands. Some NHS politics ruckus. Snow warning. Something to do with racing, which anyway is not properly visible. Yawn yawn yawn yawn. And then there’s that “Big D”. I still don’t know what “Big D” stands for. It’s incomprehensible. But look at this subheading:
That’ll do. The rest will have to be rather better, helping readers to remember big stories of the year, but this little story will do for starters. The project survives.
A rather more serious newspaper page which I also photoed in January, not a front page but it got my attention, was this, from the Evening Standard of January 21st:
Latest news about that:
Badawi is serving 10 years in prison, and has also been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blog posts criticizing Saudi Arabia’s clerics.
The first 50 lashes were delivered on Jan. 9 and Amnesty said he’s had none since then.
His detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation.
Amnesty being one of the chief stirrers. Good for Amnesty.
“Insulting Islam” is what Badawi has been convicted of. Carry on handing out punishments like that for “crimes” like that, and the “insults” hurled at the evil monstrosity that is Islam can only grow in volume.
Islam. The bad stuff in it is bad. And the supposedly good stuff in it only helps the bad stuff to go on doing bad, which means that the “good” stuff is bad also.
Sadly Jacob Rees-Mogg is not taking part, his cat wasn’t feline up to it. The big pussy. ...
Guido keeps going on about the Guidoisation of politics. But he, it would appear, is on the receiving end of the ever rising tide of internet cat references.
I’ve just been listening to Christopher Hitchens reading out what is apparently one of the chapters of his book God Is Not Great, and there is a cat reference in that also. Although down on dogs, it seems that the Muslims have tended, historically, to be nicer to cats than the Christians, because Christians have been in the habit of associating cats with the Devil.
Good grief! More Guido moggy-blogging.
Spent the middle of the day at the demo, taking my usual excessive number of pictures, and then the evening trying to divide them up into clumps to show here, or somewhere.
My main impression was that this was a real demo, rather than some faked up exercise in pretending to be angry about some bit of bad economic or political news that some bunch of people have just been hit by, but not very hard, with lots of identical signs all printed out by the same dubious Marxist agitprop organisation, and then afterwards lots of moaning about how the evil Mass Media paid no attention. There were a lot of people there:
Not surprisingly, there were a lot of French people present, what with London now containing so many French people. Also not surprisingly, the average age of those present was young, what with there being so many young French people in London.
My thanks to Goddaughter 2, now back in London, who told me that she and a friend were going to attend. Had she not done this, I would only have twigged that it was happening when it started happening and I saw it on the telly.
I have in mind, Real Soon Now, to be posting a clump of pictures of the signs and pictures that people were holding up, along the lines of these photos, that I took of a much smaller demo in London a while back, including the one above, and also including this one, which I especially like:
My immediate reaction to the Paris brouhaha was not: “I am Charlie Hebdo!” It was to take another crack at reading the Quran, to check if it really is as obnoxious as I remember it being the first time around. So far, it is, even more than I remember.
My thanks to Tony, for his and his family’s hospitality during the last week and more, and for this photo, which he took in Quimper recently, and kindly emailed to me a few days ago. I couldn’t then pay attention to it, but it was waiting for me when I got home:
What this shows is how Quimper Cathedral looked before they put two big(ger) spikes on the top of it, in the nineteenth century, thus making it look how it looks now.
I can find nothing about this transformation on the internet, let alone any repro of this actual map. Odd. Odd, that is, unless it is all there and I merely couldn’t find it. That would not be odd at all.
The gap between my eyesight and the eyesight of my camera grows and grows with the passing of the years, as my eyes inexorably dim and as my cameras inexorably improve. Even I can regularly manage quite decent shots with my latest camera. As a result, I become ever more immobilised by having to choose good ones from the enormous piles of decent shots I often come back with, after a day out.
Yesterday was a bit different. I went to the home of Michael Jennings for a Christmas Day lunch, picture 1.1 being the most striking thing I saw from out of his front window. The day was lovely, but the light, though wonderful, was fast fading, so Michael and our mutual lady friend and I went out for a short (by my photographic standards) walk to take advantage of it. Which meant that I took, by my standards, only a few pictures. Which made it easier to choose and stick up a few half decent ones.
Picture 1.2 is my favourite of these. Thank God for London’s religious diversity. Much as I loath what Islam says in its holy scriptures, and much as I am critical of people who go through the motions of worshipping these writings, either because they truly believe what those writings say (very wicked), or because they don’t but think that they it doesn’t matter or that they must (also wicked – yes, I mean you, Moderate Muslims – stop saying that you believe stuff that you also say that you don’t believe), I do like that having Muslims in London keeps shops open and taxis running on days like Christmas Day. Michael fixed a couple of Uber taxi rides for me, and both the drivers had Muslim sounding names.
I don’t know what the church is in 2.1 but it looks pretty behind that leafless tree. And Tower Bridge always looks pretty to me.
Re those two Tower Bridge shots, I’ve always liked how digital cameras do the opposite of the human eye, and turn urban skies bluer and brighter as they actually get darker. It’s all those orange-coloured artificial lights, burning relatively brighter as the sun sinks, together with the actual darkness on the ground, impinging upon the Automatic setting.
Being the Godfather of Goddaughter 2, who has just started out as a student at the Royal College of Music, is a bit costly, but it most definitely also has its privileges. Yesterday I was kindly allowed to sit in on one of GD2’s one-on-one lessons, and today I got to see (at no further cost) the first dress rehearsal for the College’s production of The Magic Flute. GD2 was not performing in The Magic Flute. She merely arranged for me and various others of her acquaintance to be there, and she watched it along with us. As did many other RCM students by the look and sound of things. GD2’s singing lesson was most encouraging, and the Magic Flute was terrific, truly terrific, reflecting huge credit on all the professionals named at the other end of the above link, who between them set the tone of it.
Michael Rosewell conducted stirringly, emphasising the menace as well as the grandeur and beauty of the music. Jean-Claude Auvray directed wonderfully, with lots of pertinent comic business. Ruari Murchison’s set was dominated by a big, black, modernistic wooden box, with big sliding hinged doors at the front, with little doors in them, and with more doors at the sides and the back. This moved the action along with minimal fuss. They could shut the big doors at the front and do a scene in front of them, while inside the closed box other cast members could then set up the next scene. Since so many of the scenes in this opera are contrivances by some of the characters within the drama, them opening the doors to reveal the next scene made perfect sense. The production reminded me, in its clarity and austerity, of the best sort of Shakespeare productions that I have seen.
The costumes were modern, in a way that illuminated the characters and the various stages their lives were going through, rather than in a way that stuffed Mozart’s story into a specifically different era and made an anachronistic nonsense of it. Mark Doubleday’s lighting emphasised the brightness and lightness of the final scenes, but in the meantime it emphasised what a dark and morally ambiguous story this is, ending up as it does with the hero and heroine joining a religious cult. Tamino and Pamina started out in jeans, then found themselves clad in pantomime hero and heroine costumes, and they ended up power-dressed, City-of-London Moonie/Mormon style, in matching grey suits with, in Pamina’s case, shoulder pads.
Mozart loved being a Freemason, but a modern audience can’t be so unreservedly happy about this particular happy ending. In many ways, this is a story about the triumph of religious fundamentalism over the forces of modernity and of female emancipation. There are numerous references to how women must subordinate themselves to men, with the only Queen involved being the Queen of the Night, the leader of the eventually defeated forces of modernity, individuality, and darkness. These anti-modern references became particularly chilling when spelt out in plain English, in the illuminated surtitles at the top of the stage.
The Three Ladies were dressed to kill at a Premier or a Charity Fundraiser, but not in uniforms, rather as three individuals. The Three Boys, on the opposite side of the conflict from the Three Ladies, were all dressed identically, like Mrs Krankie, being also ladies underneath their boy costumes. All six acted and sang splendidly, individually and as teams.
As for the singing generally, only Sarastro, the leader of the ultimately triumphant cult, needed to be granted a little slack. It was absolutely not his fault that although most of his singing was fine, his voice lacked that final ounce of basso profundity required for those fearsome low notes. This was the one time when you wanted to be hearing one of the half dozen, or however many it is, aging-giant Sarastro super-specialists who roam the earth, bestowing their show-stealing low notes upon rich opera audiences everywhere. But this Sarastro acted very convincingly, especially given that he had less help from his grey suit of a costume than I presume most other Sarastros tend to get, and not much help either from his relatively short stature. Being the one black man on view, on the other hand, meant that he was instantly recognisable. (I want to hear this guy singing other things.) As for everyone else, terrific. This was the first time I have actually seen The Magic Flute on a stage, and I can’t imagine a better introduction. GD2’s mother, who has seen other non-student productions, reckoned this one to be the best. Yes, really.
The biggest round of applause came at the end for the entire cast, and quite right too. But the Queen of the Night got the second biggest ovation for her famously spectacular and difficult aria, and thoroughly earned it. Sensational. Watch out for her. Papagena also stole every scene she was in, although I didn’t get her name. (Maybe I can later add a link for her too.) Papageno handled his various musical instruments with particular aplomb.
But better than any individual excellence on show was the general air of sincerity, enthusiasm and esprit de corps. As the lady teacher said at the end of GD2’s lesson yesterday, opera has changed from the days when all you had to do was stand there and sing. You have to be able to sing and act, and often to sing in very demanding circumstances. You may have to “sing with your legs in the air” was how GD2’s teacher put it yesterday. There was nothing like that on the stage today, but the director did demand lots of acting of a less undignified sort, and got it in abundance. The show came alive from the first minute, and stayed alive throughout. These young singers are being very well prepared for the sort of careers that most of them will surely have.
I’m looking forward to more RCM dress rehearsals, and hope one day soon to be seeing GD2 in one of them. I am reluctant to enthuse too much about her prospects. Just to say that her voice sounds like a pretty fine one to me, that her teachers and fellow students seem to agree about that, and that she seems to be working hard at learning how to make the best use of it. But, as yesterday’s teacher said, there are a lot of circumstances - some of which you can surely imagine and many of which you can hardly begin to imagine unless you also know one of these singers yourself - that can derail a classical singing career. So, fingers crossed.
This afternoon, The Guru is coming by to reconstruct God, so God (the other one) willing, I will be back in serious computing business by this evening.
When I was recently in Brittany, my hosts supplied me with a state-of-the-art laptop and a state-of-the-art internet connection. These last few days, without God (my one) and having to make do with Dawkins (my obsolete and clunky little laptop, the thing I am typing into now), I have felt less connected to the world than I did in Brittany. I am connected, after a fashion. But Dawkins is so slow and clunky that I have been doing only essentials (like finding out about England being hammered in the ODI yesterday), and checking incoming emails, and shoving anything however bad up here once every day. It’s like I’ve regressed to about 2000.
I have managed to put up a few pictures here, in God’s absence. But Dawkins’ screen makes these pictures look terrible. I am looking forward to seeing God’s version of these pictures and hope they will be greatly improved compared to what I am seeing now.
Thank God (the other one) I haven’t been depending on God (my one) for music. As I have surely explained here many times, one big reason I prefer CDs (and separate CD players scattered around my home) to all this twenty first century computerised music on a computer is that if God goes wrong, as he just has, I don’t lose music. I also have music concerts recorded off of the telly, onto DVDs, which I can play on my telly, which is likewise a completely separate set-up to God.
In general, the argument against having everything done by one great big master computer is that when something goes wrong with that master computer, everything else in your life also goes wrong, just when you may need those things not to. One of the things that willgo wrong, rather regularly, with your all-in-one master computer is when this or that particular one of its excessively numerous functions becomes seriously out of date. I mean, if it has a vacuum cleaner included, what happens if vacuum cleaners suddenly get hugely better? In Brian world, all I have to do is get another new and improved vacuum cleaner, and chuck out the old one. In all-in-one master computer world, you are stuck with your obsolete vacuum cleaner. Or, if you can, you have to break open your all-in-one master computer and fit a new vacuum cleaner, and probably also lots of other new stuff to make sure the new vacuum cleaner works, which buggers up a couple of your other functions that used to work fine but which no longer work fine. Or at all. I prefer to keep things simple, and separate.
Something rather similar applies with how to handle (the other) God. That is another arrangement you don’t want to have running the whole of your life for you either. It’s okay if you do God for some of the time and keep Him in his place, but you want scientists telling you about science, doctors about medicine, and your work colleagues about your work, and so on. If, on the other hand, absolutely everything in your life, and worse, everything in the entire world you live in, is controlled by ((your version of) the other) God, everything is very liable to go to Hell. (Aka: Separation of Church and State. Aks: don’t be a religious nutter.)
I have my own particular take on (the other) God, which is that He is made-up nonsense. But just as wise believers in (the other) God don’t let that dominate their thinking on non-God things, nor do I think that my opinions about (the other) God can explain everything else as well. These opinions merely explain the particular matter of (the other) God being made-up nonsense.
Do not, as they say, put all your eggs in one basket.
Overheard in a TV advert for sweeties:
You can’t trust atoms. They make up everything.
Talking of which, I am now reading Lee Smolin’s book about String Theory. Basic message: It’s a cult. I haven’t yet read him using that actual word, but that’s what he is saying.
I am, of course, not qualified to judge if Smolin is right, but you don’t have to be qualified to express a judgement, and I judge that Smolin is right. And the way I like to learn about new stuff is by reading arguments about it, starting with the argument that says I am right about it. Smolin is basically telling me that my ignorant prejudice that String Theory is one of the current world’s epicentres of the Higher Bollocks is right, although he is careful not to express himself as crudely as I just did, for fear of upsetting his physicist friends, and because, unlike me, he sees some merit in String Theory.
I have known that String Theory was in trouble for some time, because Big Bang Theory’s resident String Theorist, Dr Sheldon Cooper, has been having doubts about it. He wanted to switch to something else, but they said: We hired you as a String Theorist and a String Theorist you will remain.
The above link is to a blog I had not heard of before, entitled Not Even Wrong. Not Even Wrong is the title of another book I have recently obtained with has a go at String Theory. I have not yet started reading this.
It’s true. You can’t trust atoms. And grabbing both ends of one and stretching it out into a string doesn’t change that. It makes it worse.
I just heard someone say in an American TV sitcom (I love American TV sitcoms) that they’re not going to answer the phone without knowing who it is, “like it’s 1994”.
I still do this, with my old 1994 style phone, which I greatly prefer to mobiles, because when I am out and about, I don’t have to answer it, and because phones connected to your house with wire cannot be lost, and because I know exactly where it is when it rings, and because that ring never changes.
Quite often, when I do answer, it’s a junk phone call, offering to extricate me from a financial error that I personally have not made by urging me to commit another financial error, and as soon as I realise it’s junk, I put the phone down. Does this constitute some sort of “success” for the junk phoning enterprise? Look, they answered! Because obviously they knew who we were, this not being 1994, and yet still they picked up the phone! Hey, we’re getting through!
Much of life these days seems to consist of doing many futile things, but contriving for these things the appearance of non-futility. These days? I suspect all days that have ever been, with humans involved, and no doubt many other species also, both before and now during the human epoch. Only the futile things and the means of contriving a non-futile appearance for them change from time to time.
I don’t mind junk phone calls. If they were more frequent, they would annoy me. As it is, if there is a pause in incoming phone calls lasting a few hours, it is soothing to be informed, even if only by a robot actor voice spouting nonsense, that my phone is still working. The pause was because nobody wanted to talk to me.
When answering junk phone calls, I pause any music that may be playing. I do not mind this. There is a part of my brain (yours too?) where you remember the musical phrase you were listening to when you last paused the music, and when you unpause it you carry on listening just as you would have done normally. I even suspect that pausing deepens my response to particular pieces of music, by fixing particular moments of them in my brain more firmly than might have happened otherwise.
Since I am now rambling like the really old person that I am rapidly becoming, let me ramble some more. In connection with none of the above, here are the wheels of a big mobile crane that I photoed in Victoria Street a while back. Click on it to get the crane:
I like cranes. That one is, I think, the Spierings SK599-AT5. I love how you can find out about things like this, these days. And this time it really is these days, rather than all days.
Here is a link to a toy version of this crane. Do contractors use toys like this to plan their jobs, I wonder? As well as just to decorate their offices or amuse their spoilt children?
It is now late morning on Sunday. Are sermons like this, when the priest is getting old, but is too well liked for anyone to want to sack him? With a blog you can ramble anyway, because nobody can sack you.
The are two photos which I took last Monday. The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street. The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.
They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory. But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:
The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world. It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.
Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject. The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hunt us down and burn us at the stake. But, we refuse to talk about them. We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look. We will not see them.
Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:
Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about it.
Really, really weird.
I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.
What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane. The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on. All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.
But those aerials are profane. They don’t register. They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer. That sales pitch is profane. Forget about it. Don’t even think about it.
Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane. And hence invisible. Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves. But they are not designed to be looked at. They are a pure case of form following function. Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers. But they don’t because what is there for architects to add? Nothing. The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.
Well, I don’t know. I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway. Which is all part of why I have this blog. At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong. This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins. This is, you might say, a profane blog.
This was one of many pictures I took this afternoon, following a most agreeable and tasty lunch at the Windmill, courtesy of Michael Jennings:
A classic church dwarfed by modernity. And off the top of the picture there is more modernity that I did not include, a lot of it being what used to be called the NatWest Tower, or Tower Something Numerical, as it’s now called. It took me a while to hunt down this particular church, but I finally found it.
In the foreground, Blackfriars Station, the one on the bridge.
Definitely my favourite recent photography related photo:
Pity about the car.
It’s a technically terrible photo, back lit, in a way that focusses attention on the dirtiness of the shop window. Reflections everywhere. But, I still like it. It’s a board game:
Photoed by me last weekend, in Tooting, on my way to a Do.
Blog and learn.
Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:
I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.
I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.
All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.
In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:
I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.
This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.
Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.