Friday, September 30, 2011

Metaphysical malthusian mechanism

Above:  I am still re-reading London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, but I plan to start soon Paper Money Collapse by Detlev Schlichter (it is the Austrian School's analysis of the economic crisis).

Dismal This Week last night looking at the economy, with Alvin Hall advising people to keep a "cushion" of cash constantly to hand, and Michael Portillo predicting disaster doom and gloom (although we can confidently ignore his pronouncements as he always gets things wrong).

Although I am hoping that the economy is going to "bounce back" I do sometimes wonder whether the market failures we are seeing represent some kind of metaphysical malthusian mechanism.

If we accept (although many do not) that economic growth is environmentally unsustainable, is it possible that collective humanity has, in some way we do not fully understand, corrected itself by bringing about a financial collapse that has stopped growth?  This theory would depend on the existence of a human collective intelligence similar to the mysterious collective intelligence found in an ant colony (and other species).  Humanity has therefore saved itself through a fail-safe mechanism that ensures excessive anti-social behaviour always corrects itself.

If I had the time I would work this up into a book and make some money...

18th June 1940

First there was a very silly article by Simon Jenkins (one of a tranche of silly articles he has written) in the Guardian saying it was time to stop mentioning the Second World War because the Germans and other foreigners (or British people of foreign extraction) supposedly found it offensive.  Then there were letters to the Guardian and comments on the web agreeing with the Jenkins position.  Which makes me ask, from a moral point of view, how long do we need to keep mentioning the Second World War?

To reach that decision we need to go back to a statement made by the then Prime Minister in the House of Commons on 18th June 1940.

At that time our main ally France had been defeated and over-run, and was preparing to collaborate.  Russia had a peace treaty with the Germans and had shared in the looting and devastation of Poland.  The Americans were neutral and pretending the war was nothing to do with them.

In June 1940 the United Kingdom and its territories had the choice of continuing with the war (and risk losing everything), or reaching a settlement with the Germans.  There were many influential political voices saying the government must do a deal with the Germans.  If the matter had been put to a national referendum probably the majority would have voted for "peace".

As we know, the government decided to continue the war.  In his statement to the House of Commons on 18th June the then Prime Minister talked not only of national interest but also freedom, Christian civilisation, and the rights of small nations.  He also said that if the British people prevailed against the Germans and won the war their efforts would be remembered for a thousand years.

Therefore to answer Simon Jenkins we still have another nine hundred and twenty-four years to go.

I know this is a very literal interpretation.  Almost everyone who took part in the Second World War has died so we can probably disregard any idea of hurt feelings.  And I know we live in a world where everything is endlessly malleable and politicians tell so many lies that their dishonesty is regarded as a matter of course.

But for Simon Jenkins, or anyone else, to break the national pledge made on 18th June 1940 is a new low in an increasingly depraved pan-European society.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another possible link between Qumran and Ephesus

Above:  the Provo Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls says that the description "essenes" originated in Ephesus.

Above:  the title of John Kampen's research.

Was the Copper Scroll produced at Ephesus

A few days ago some of the Dead Sea Scrolls went on-line  The Dead Sea Scrolls are an interest of mine, and I find everything about them fascinating (especially the possible link with the Essenes).  But seeing them on-line is not the same as seeing the actual artifacts, and I look forward to an exhibition of the Scrolls going on display at the British Museum at some point.

Also, only a few Scrolls are on-line, and they do not include the enigmatic Copper Scroll.

Anyway, on Monday evening I was reading a few verses from the Bible, as I usually do before going to bed.  I had reached the end of Paul's second letter to the Ephesians, where Paul is making a few last requests before he signs off.  I read through the text, then read it again several times.

Above:  these are the verses I read.  Paul is asking for things to be brought to him in Rome, including his cloak and books.  But especially he is asking for some parchments.

The next two verses (which seem to be an aside) mention a coppersmith, who "withstood" the words of Paul and his followers.

And in the jumbled confusion that is my mind I thought of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

The scrolls were parchments.  And they included a scroll made of copper.  Is it possible that Paul is referring here to the transcribing of the early Christian scriptures from parchment onto copper, and the project going awry because of the incompetence of a coppersmith who "withstood" (or misunderstood?) the words?

In which case, is it possible that Paul is describing the process which created the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Above:  my next thought was that I am not the first person to have examined these verses.  Every word in the Bible has been analysed many thousands of times.  I turned to my copy of the Oxford Bible Commentary ("the clever men at Oxford know all there is to be knowed").

Above:  the Oxford Bible Commentary was disappointing.  It merely said the requests added "verisimilitude".  It said the coppersmith was probably really a silversmith.

Above:  I turned to the only book I have on the Dead Sea Scrolls - The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians by Robert Eiseman (quite a dense book, I have dipped into it but have yet to read it through sequentially).

Above:  a footnote of the Eiseman book hinted that there might have been a substantial forge at Qumran.  As well as the production of parchment scrolls, did Qumran offer the option of copper scrolls?  Or was the Copper Scroll produced at Ephesus by the coppersmith Alexander?

Some other thoughts:

If the Copper Scroll was produced at Ephesus this might account for the poor translation and the enigmatic Greek letters.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are dated (by most scholars) to no later than cAD70, which would correspond to Paul's life and missionary activity.

The Copper Scroll refers to a salt pit, and Ephesus was a major centre for the export of salt throughout the Roman Empire.

These are just my meandering thoughts, developed late at night when I was tired, and probably of no value to anyone.  But there were enough intriguing thoughts for me to want to write it all down.  I put it in the public domain in the hope that someone may find it of use.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Andrew Neil is asking for the name of a "predator" company - TESCO !!!

Why doesn't Andy Burnham say Tesco - and Kraft as well.
Andy Burnham is saying the speech was "a serious realignment" - that was my impression as well.
Charisma isn't everything.  Sincerity scores over charisma in the long term.  Charismatics can be dangerous.

"I'm not Tony Blair" said Ed Miliband

No Conservative leader ever said "I'm not Margaret Thatcher" (and would not have been cheered if he did).

The reaction of the Labour Conference tells you what they think of Blairism.
Nick Robinson has just pointed out that the only cheers came when Ed Miliband mentioned he wasn't Tony Blair (I heard them at the time but didn't realise the significance).
Andrew Neil is apologising for the failure in the broadcast which affected ALL broadcasters.

It came just after Ed Miliband attacked Rupert Murdoch.

I hope I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it does make you think.
As someone who voted Conservative at the last election I don't like to see them attacked without any real reasons why - it's as if Ed Miliband is calling me stupid.

If I was wrong to vote for them tell me REASONS why I was wrong, don't just indulge in crowd-pleasing non-statements.
"Labour the party of work" - this has a subliminal Max Weber ring to it and sounds intriguing.
He can't really hit David Cameron properly at this time so he should stop trying - it looks feeble.
"Cozy cartels of the way top pay is set" - has a poetic quality to it.
At last he is talking about schools but the words are too weak - "lift your ambition" is not enough.
A number of jibes at Nick Clegg, some of them very funny. 
By "producers" he is really saying "the workers" - which is exactly what he should be saying.
"Let's call a rigged market what it is" (the energy companies) - it's good to hear a major political leader saying this.
"Supporting the producers" - again very good (but does this mean farmers?).
"On the side of small business" - again, an unexpected line.
"Different ways of doing business" - again this is a good concept, especially if Labour can develop an alternative idea of commerce.
"Invent things, make things and sell real services and products" - excellent line.

Also "real engineering" - but need to know more about this (it could be a headline for a new policy on growth).
I like the phrase "in it for the long term".
The way to "break the closed circles of Britain" is surely to make the state schools so good that no-one will need the public schools - and to do that he will have to confront the state teachers who are failing but can never be sacked. 
"Who has been rewarded in this economy?" Ed Miliband asks - and says the right values should include creating wealth and creating jobs in this country.
He is absolutely right to talk about the companies that don't train anyone - perhaps there should be a training levy.
Not sure what he was saying about the riots other than thanking the people who cleared up.  Should have had more analysis.  But he did say the wrongdoers should be punished.
My goodness, coverage of the Ed miliband speech has just been interrupted by a technical fault.
Ed Miliband has analysed "rule number one of British politics, don't mess with Rupert Murdoch" - thank goodness he has said this.  We need to have this issue discussed.  It is a corruption at the heart of political life.
The scale of the Labour conference is being commented on - quite a shrewd way of achieving "mass" despite falling membership in recent years.

Above (screenprint from The Herald website plus Dawson image from the web):  on Newsnight yesterday they showed Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls kissing Harriet Harman in what can only be described as a Les Dawson style performance.

Also I felt the speech by Rory Weal was slightly disturbing (in a Tomorrow Belongs To Me sort of way) - should children be politicised so young?

But on the whole I feel positive about the Labour Party Conference and have rearranged my lunch break to watch Daily Politics coverage of Ed Miliband's speech.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Labour Party is for the working class - any deviation from that and it is nowhere.
I am currently watching Newsnight and looking forward to hearing what "post-neo-liberalism" is.

Very interesting article by Paul Kingsnorth in today's Guardian:
Terrible Stephen Fry "interview" on the Today programme this morning.

He was talking so fast he was incoherent and most of what he was saying was nonsense. 

He is notorious for taking illegal substances, and I did wonder if he had indulged prior to his arrival at the Today studio - if this was the case, why did the BBC let him go on?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is it possible to trace the origins of British postmodernism to Chicago?

Above:  another irritating review of the Victoria & Albert Museum's Postmodernism exhibition, this time by Tim Adams in the Observer.  Irritating because it is yet another commentator who obviously has no sympathy for the subject, which makes you wonder what the point of his witterings are, if all he wants to do is be disagreeable.  Perhaps the Left is so committed to modernism that they cannot tolerate the reality that the modernist style was overthrown in the popular imagination long ago, despite new atrocities such as The Shard getting through (perhaps the pro-modernists secretly believe that the proletariat should once again be confined to Ronan Point-type tower blocks, with anyone complaining about the smell of gas sent to a Health & Safety re-education camp).
That said, it seems there are limitations to the exhibition.  Kirsty Wark on the Review Show complained that it had little intellectual underpinning.  For various reasons it is likely to be some weeks before I can get to the exhibition myself, but in the meantime I have been doing a little research of my own.

For instance, is it possible to trace the origins of British postmodernism to Chicago?

Above:  in 1980 there was a major exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre of Chicago Imagists.  The exhibition is now long forgotten, but at the time attracted a lot of attention.  The Camden Arts Centre is no longer among London's premier visual arts venues, but in 1980 it was at the heart of discussion (particularly as so many artists lived in Camden).

Above:  the Who Chicago? exhibition later travelled to Sunderland, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast - so a good proportion of the United Kingdom's arts community would have seen it.

Above:  the Introduction identifies a theme of reacting against the collectivisation of society and in favour of the individual.

Above:  another article in the catalogue (which is 210 pages long) talks about "straying from Modernist values".

Above:  many of the artworks that were in the exhibition (and illustrated in the catalogue) seem to chime with postmodernism.  I am not an art critic, but even I can see a resemblance between these paintings by Ed Paschke and the postmodernist performance art of Leigh Bowery.  And postmodernist artist Jeff Koons used to be Ed Paschke's assistant.

Above:  we should not forget the other anti-collectivist philosophy that came out of Chicago at the same time.  Milton Friedman's Free To Choose was published in 1980 and changed the economics of the western world.  As I said in a previous blog post, I think the essence of postmodernism is contained in the phrase "free to choose".

But as I say, I havn't yet seen the exhibition.  These are just a few of my initial thoughts.  I might go to the Victoria & Albert Museum and come away with a completely different perspective.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Scovell Estate

Above:  recently I had a look around the Scovell Estate in Southwark.  The council housing is on the site originally occupied by the Kings Bench Prison (a debtors' prison).   Charles Dickens, in David Copperfield, had Mr Micawber incarcerated in Kings Bench Prison for financial insolvency (as George Osborne might say:  "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery").

Above:  the estate is very attractive, despite being put up in the early 1970s.  The architects have used the sloping site to create a picturesque design.  The yellow stock bricks give a Victorian ambience.

Above:  one of the terrace alleys.  The houses resemble the model artisan's cottages put up in the nineteenth century.  Nice use of defensive space, iron railings, tiny gardens.

Friday, September 23, 2011

We are all living with the legacy of postmodernism

The Review Show on BBC2 this evening discussed the Postmodernism exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Kirsty Wark:  "It looked great but I wanted more intellect".

Paul Morley:  "It was insipid... a cultural cowardice" (the exhibition, not Postmodernism itself).

Alex Preston:  "It was inherently contracdictory".

Christina Pattinson:  "We are all living with the legacy of postmodernism".

Nathalie Haynes:  "We moved from one dystopia to another dystopia".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Playboy of the Western World at The Old Vic

Above:  last night I went to see The Playboy of the Western World at The Old Vic.  So highly do I rate Synge as a writer, I paid £44 for a good seat in the Stalls.  It was one of the best cultural purchases I have made this year.

The play was superbly performed and excellent in every way.  Funny, serious and tragic all at the same time (which required a well-rehearsed, well-directed, competent cast to get things right).  Robert Sheehan was superlative in the lead role with a compelling stage presence that was physical, emotional and theatrical (without being exaggerated).

The play is about the reinvention of the self - how a miserable bullied loser can reinvent himself, in different circumstances, as "the playboy of the western world".  Also how self-belief can transform personal situations.  Also the power of words to motivate behaviour.

My favourite line:  "It’s Christy! by the stars of God! I’d know his way of spitting and he astride the moon."

Above:  The Old Vic theatre near Waterloo.  I think the building dates from 1818.  Note the creamy colour and the "broken pediment" top of the facade.  

Above:  the AT&T (now Sony) Building in New York has a similar broken pediment top to its facade, although the building was only constructed in 1984.  It is a beautiful example of 1980s architecture, although much derided by some commentators as pastiche and even a "betrayal".  I am looking forward to going to the Postmodernism exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum where I hope to see more examples of this style.

Hugh Muir seems to be trying to bamboozle Guardian readers

Above:  highly selective use of statistics by Hugh Muir in his Hideously Diverse Britain column in yesterday's Guardian.  You might be able to read the column if you click on the above image, alternatively it is on-line  Hugh Muir is writing about the discrimination faced by black (his definition) footballers in the United Kingdom.

Except that the statistics do not seem to add up.

Above:  as you can see, Hugh Muir tells us that out of ninety-two professional clubs only two managers are black - that is 2%.  According to the 2001 census the population of the United Kingdom is 1% Black Caribbean, 0.8% Black African and 0.2% Black Others - a total of 2%.  Therefore the number of black football managers is exactly proportionate to the black population of the United Kingdom.

The other statistic quoted in the piece is that 25% of the players are black.  As we can see from the Census, 25% of the United Kingdom population are not black therefore far from black people being under-represented at the manager level they are in fact ludicrously over-represented at the player level.  Hugh Muir seems to be trying to bamboozle Guardian readers here (perhaps like Johann Hari he thinks it's okay to be a little creative now and again).

You might of course ask why there are so many black players.  Unlikely it is the result of a manic policy of positive discrimination.  Probably it is just easier for clubs to scoop up promising players from the third world, work them to death, then discard them when they are burned out (and is this not in microcosm what is happening throughout the United Kingdom workforce with cheapo Filipino nurses, cheapo Polish plumbers, cheapo Latvian packhouse operatives etc).

Does the Hugh Muir article matter at all?

On its own, probably not.  But it is another example of "the left" telling BME people they are victims so that they vote as a bloc for their "natural protector" the Labour party.  This does no good to the black population of the United Kingdom, the members of which suffer from low self-esteem due to being continually told they are victims.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"common purpose"

Above:  Simon Hoggart quoted the "common purpose" reference in yesterday's Guardian.  Of course, Common Purpose might be a completely harmless organisation working in our best interests, helping wise technocrats such as Chris Huhne to serenely steer the country on the right course despite the stupidity of the electorate and the uphelpful nature of democracy.  On the other hand, this quasi-masonic organisation might represent something more sinister.

Have just heard on Newsnight part of Chris Huhne's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Chris Huhne was accusing the Conservatives of wanting to "wreak common purpose".

As Common Purpose is an insidious secretive and highly suspect organisation this is enough to make anyone vote Conservative!

Pullens Buildings

Recently I was in Southwark and had a look round Pullens Buildings.  They are interesting because they are relatively untouched examples of Victorian model tenements.  Almost demolished in the 1970s.

Above:  look at the beauty of that facade!  Although the tenements were populated by some of the poorest in society, the architect has decided to give the block a collective grandeur worthy of a Venetian palace (possibly he had read Ruskin's Stones of Venice).  This application in the Victorian period of noble design to working-class dwellings is a truly democratic and radical idea that needs to be further explored (contrast this with the arrogance of architects working today). 

Note the gates which lead through to courtyards (where small workshops were located); the shops that intersperse each block; the flat roofs which were intended for recreation.

Above: each doorway leads into a communal stairwell. Corinthian capitals (a symbol of luxury!). The buildings were constructed between 1886 and 1901.

Charlie Chaplin once lived in one of the tenements.


Above:  the shops are fascinating examples of Victorian retail facades.  Presumably the left hand door led to the shop-owner's living accommodation and the right hand door was the public access to the shop.  I love the drop shadow font.

Above:  there were four courts at the back of the various blocks, with a total of 106 workshops.  The cobbled drives are original.  Part of the attraction of Pullens Buildings is the way in which it incorporated residential, retail and manufacturing units within a total (superb) design.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Kelis airport queue incident

Both Hugh Muir in the Guardian and Barbara Ellen in the Observer have used the Kelis airport queue incident to write long(ish) pontificating pieces about the racist nature of British society and how we are all guilty of everything bad you can possibly think of (and if you try to deny it you are of course racist yourself).

That people exchange verbal insults in airport queues is regrettable, but not uncommon.  That a provoked person should reach for the most wounding insults to hand is deplorable, but not surprising (had Kelis been overweight, or disabled no doubt different insults would have been thrown at her).  That public outbursts of anger should be condemned is, I hope, something we can all agree on.

Whether the Kelis airport queue incident reveals anything useful about British society is a more debatable point.

If the United Kingdom was a genuinely racist society why on earth would Black and Minority Ethnic people come here?  If racism was such a ubiquitous and debilitating everyday experience we would expect to see a mass exodus of BME people, with long airport queues waiting to get out.  Instead the BME population has grown from near zero in 1945 to over 5 million (and rising).

Everytime even the slightest racial tension appears on the news we see Darcus Howe telling us how racist British people are.  And yet Darcus Howe is a comparatively wealthy individual able to live anywhere he chooses.  That he chooses to live here is evidence that British society cannot be as racist as he likes to make out.

BME people complaining about racism has become so predictable and formulaic that they are losing all credibility.

Yes, I condemn name-calling bullies.  But I also condemn celebrity divas who think that the normal conventions of everyday life (like standing in a queue) don't apply to them.  And I certainly condemn the media claque that constantly encourages BME people to think of themselves as victims, with the unspoken subtext that only the Labour party can protect them.

Barbara Ellen

Hugh Muir

Saturday, September 17, 2011

London Fashion Week 2011

Above:  screenprint from the Daily Telegraph website.

We are currently in the middle of London Fashion Week 2011 (opened by Samantha Cameron).  Fashion is about more than just clothes, it influences art, advertising, lifestyles, aspirations, consumerism and behaviour.  If you understand what shapes current fashion you can get a good idea of what is likely to influence culture and society.

Above:  last month I went to see the Masters of Style exhibition at Somerset House.  It was a fascinating exhibition as it looked behind the big names to the photographic artists that created the conceptual ideas that underpin all great art and design.  It was as if the exhibition was lifting off the outer shell to show you the mechanics that made everything work.

Above:  the exhibition catalogue was very well done and is a useful reference work on how to create glamour, assurance, and elegance (I mean this in a practical way).

Above:  three photographers who have worked for Dolce & Gabbana were featured - Scianna, Meisel, Klein.  All their work is fabulous.  Wonderful 1980s work by Scianna.

Above:  for Gucci the work of Stadler, Testino, McDean and Van Lamsweerde / Matadin are showcased.  You have to admire the way they create moods and feelings from two dimensional images. 

Above:  big new photo by Dolce & Gabbana that appeared in the national press this week.  D&G photography, although it is sometimes controversial, is always worth looking at.  The use of colour is incredible here, also shadows and textures.  Also the narrative - why are they looking askance into the distance?  Why are they wearing formal dress in a run-down part of a city?  What is the importance of the reference to Pier Paolo Pasolini's film Mama Roma (in which Pasolini famously described his country after 1945 as populated by whores, pimps and thieves)?

Above:  full-page Gucci ad that appeared on the OBC of today's Guardian magazine.  On a technical level the photographer has done a brilliant job in illustrating the idea of "intense".  There is an ad which goes with the campaign where the woman (Evan Rachel Wood) seems to be paying the man (Chris Evans) immediately after they have sex.  So another oblique reference to prostitution?  If prostitution is a theme of designers this autumn it is going to be in the High Street next year.  I'm not judging anyone - this is just how it looks to me.

Above:  this double-page spread for Tommy Hilfiger, also in today's Guardian magazine, caught my eye.  It is a very ambitious photograph that completely works in every way (you can split the image up into sections and each one is perfectly balanced and composed).  But what intrigued me was not the number of participants (16!) but the ideological message that seems to be encoded.  This is obviously an extended family; hierarchical (mother and father are the ones who are seated); wholesome (sporty, young, healthy); comfortable but not too wealthy (this could be the hall of any four-bedroom house); harmonious; subtly diverse etc.  It is a representation of a perfect society.  It is certainly art, but it might also be propaganda.

Above:  seeing the Hilfiger ad made me think of the great family paintings of the 18th and 19th century.  This is the Wigram family (a digital photograph of a photocopy of a drawing of a painting - if anyone knows where the original painting can be seen please let me know).  Again this is more than just a simple visual record of a moment in time - it is intended to project a visual message.

"It was because there were no police around"

The August riots were discussed on Dateline London earlier today.

"It was because there were no police around" said Adam Raphael from Transport magazine (a view with which I agree).

"It was because of corruption with the journalists police politicians" said Marc Roche from Le Monde, "the upper classes are not giving the moral example."

"We need to be more tolerant" pleaded Bari Abdel Atwan from Al Quds, as if the rioters were just expressing their culture.

"The society looks broken from outside" said Greg Katz from Associated Press, "a failure to integrate all the different ethnic groups into the British rubric."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Polly Hudson in today's Daily Mirror

Appalling column by Polly Hudson in today's Daily Mirror.  One of the reasons I could never read this newspaper on a regular basis is the routine cruelty of people like Polly Hudson.  In this column she repeats the unpleasant things she said about Coleen Rooney's marriage last week. 

Polly Hudson's writing seems to have a ghoulish predeliction - preying on weaknesses, exulting in her power to hurt people, dredging up unhappiness wherever she can find it.  Her hypocrisy is astonishing, dressing up her viciousness as false concern for "Col" (referring to her as if she were a friend!).  And only a profoundly evil person could describe forgiveness expressed through love as "sad".

If the circulating rumours are correct the Daily Mirror is heavily involved in the 'phone hacking scandal, so let's hope the police get their act together and this nasty publication goes the way of the News of the World.
Still smarting after the resignation of two senior officers for complicity in the 'phone hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police are now attempting to use the Official Secrets Act against the Guardian newspaper for revealing the scandal in the first place.

On Newsnight this evening Emily Maitlis said: "There are people sitting at home saying this is not just a coincidence."

As she said this I was sitting at home thinking: this is not just a coincidence.

The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4

I listened to the News Quiz on BBC Radio 4 as I drove home this evening.  At one stage they mocked Iain Duncan-Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, implying he was well-meaning but hopelessly out of touch.  They laughed (and the audience laughed with them) at the suggestion of Iain Duncan-Smith worrying whether social housing tenants would be able to afford quail's eggs (a variation of the let-them-eat-cake joke, which dates back to the 18th century).

Above:  not sure where the News Quiz team do their shopping, but in this part of the world quail's eggs sell at £1.50 a dozen (presumably by the time they get to the trendy London supermarkets the News Quiz panellists frequent they experience a 1,000 per cent mark up).

Above:  it's difficult to avoid the suspician that the News Quiz panellists are ridiculous townies who do not have the first idea of where food comes from or what the true cost of food is.

Angelique Richardson reviews Jonah Lehrer's Proust Was A Neuroscientist

Book review that appeared in the Times Literary Supplement a couple of weeks back.  Angelique Richardson reviews Jonah Lehrer's Proust Was A Neuroscientist.  Not sure if I will ever read the actual book (and probably I wouldn't understand it if I did) but this review is so packed full of information that it is a masterpiece of precis.

Some quotes, with my commentary in red:

"...we are before all else a body."  Yes, I see that now (although I didn't before).  Far from being just 'packaging' the body is crucial to who we are.  Is that why physical resurrection is such a fundamental part of Anglican belief?

"Emotions are generated by the body: mind and matter are interwoven."  I always thought emotions were generated by the mind, but it's obvious when you think about it that emotions must come via the body.

"...a body that viscerally connects our minds with our environment, our nature with nurture."  I really like this idea - of the body being a medium through which we transmit and receive.

"DNA is too complicated for genes to be deterministic."  This is a slap in the face for all those who think that we are controlled by our DNA.

"New proteins make up memories, the past is a partial fiction..."  I love the idea that memories are physically made of something.

"Cezanne redefined reality, showing the world as it first appears before the brain gives it form..."  So that's what Cezanne was trying to tell us!

"Seeing has ambiguity built into it; neuroscience shows that subjectivity shapes as it makes sense of sensations."  This is a genuinely disturbing idea - how do we know we are all seeing things the same way (or perhaps we don't)?

"Following in the footsteps of Kant, and the Gestaltists, Cezanne saw that seeing was an act of the imagination."  So do we only 'see' things in the mind?  Are we all actually in pitch darkness, imagining the things around us?  Scary.

"Neuroscience, using the language of music, has named the malleable cells in the auditory cortex the corticofugal network.  They learn new patterns, dance to new tunes, as the brain reorganises them with dopamine."  Again this is an entrancing idea - that the body uses a chemical to reorganise things, like a sort of liquid kaleidoscope.

"Art changes the brain depending on its plasticity, its ability to learn new things, to change itself."  Yes, I have always believed in the power of art.

"And (Virginia) Woolf saw that unity of self is an illusion, that we are ordered into being by the brain, held together by fiction, by how we see ourselves; by our stories."  When I read this sentence I was reminded of this post.

Perhaps I can get the book via the library and have a look through.  I dare not buy it, with the huge mountains of books I already have waiting to be read.  But I have a feeling this is one of the books that changes lives (if you can only understand it).

Writer AN Wilson was on the Today programme this morning

Writer AN Wilson was on the Today programme this morning talking about Downton Abbey (a soap-opera spin-off from the Altman film Gosford Park). 

On the whole I don't rate AN Wilson as a writer - his style is precious, his outlook pessimistic, his conclusions (as an historian) often batty.

But a recent article he did for Churches magazine (official publication of the Churches Trust) is very fine, and one I have reread several times.

He also implies, in his last paragraph, something I have suspected for a long while now - that there are forces in the current hierarchy in the Anglican church that are deliberately killing off (through neglect) parishes where there are High Church incumbants and congregations that do not conform to the new ideologies being pushed through the Church of England. 

For instance, the parish of Keddington in the Diocese of Lincoln.  This had a thriving High Church congregation, but because of parish mergers this church was no longer controlled by its own churchwardens.  Therefore when the High Anglican priest moved on the "Group" parish was able to withdraw resources and close the place down and this beautiful medieval building is now due to become a private house.

In nearby Louth the church and congregation of St Michael and All Angels is (apparently) under siege.  Again they no longer have their own churchwardens and so can be out-manouvred by a well-organised and well-supported clique within the "Group".  You only have to go to Holy Trinity Louth to see what possible fate awaits.

Of course I am commenting as an outsider.  I have no right to tell Anglicans in the Louth area how they should order their churches and arrange their services.  Possibly the other faction in the Group might have a different story to tell.

But I am concerned that the High Anglican tradition within the Church of England is being "cleansed" out of existence.

I wish we could hear High Anglicans on Thought For The Day.  Someone from Walsingham (it's a National Shrine after all) or Pusey House or perhaps John Keble Church in Mill Hill (where my mother as a girl helped embroider the altar frontals).  It would make a change from being lectured by Dr Giles Fraser about things we havn't done.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Question Time this evening Diane Abbott MP referred to Greece as a Latin country.

Spain and Italy are Latin countries.

Greece is a Greek country.

So much for her Oxbridge education.

Article by Matt Grist from Demos in today's Mirror

I don't usually bother with the Daily Mirror.  Usually it's made up of celebrity "gossip" (code for made-up lies) or opinions that are so exaggerated and hectoring they cannot be taken seriously.  However I thought I would read it each day during the conference season, and this article by Matt Grist from Demos in today's Mirror caught my eye.

He is right about everything. 

But I do not understand what he means by more investment to ensure that children do not leave primary schools unable to read and write.  What sort of additional investment is required?  The primary schools are already staffed by qualified teachers.  Does he mean  we need to replace these with different teachers?  Does he mean the existing teachers need some kind of monetary incentive before they will do the job they are already paid to do?  What are the EXACT reasons that make the state schools in the United Kingdom so bad? (I genuinely want to know this, and I don't buy the idea that the state schools are so bad because the public schools are so good).

Also he overlooks the fact that few employers are going to bother training young people when they can get an endless supply of near-slave workers from eastern Europe - uninterested in workers' rights, willing to work for the minimum wage (and usually well below the minimum wage), able to be dispensed with on a whim.

The new Sainsbury's Live Well For Less print ad

I really love the new Sainsbury's Live Well For Less print ad which appeared in the Independent today.

There's so much in the ad to enjoy, not least the use of a double-page spread to give us a fabulous photograph that is a genuine work of art.  You could look at this photograph many times and still see new things - the sense of balance (the upright posts subtly matching the father and son); the different textures (wet pebbles, grainy wood, bleak sea); the wonderful muted colours.  The sense of encapsulated narrative is also absorbing.  Why is this father and son on a deserted beach together (divorced father given access? unemployed father with time on his hands? busy father simply taking quality time with his son?).  Why have they gone to this wildly beautiful pebble beach instead of somewhere more sandy and more commercial?  What is the meaning of the faraway look in the father's eyes?

On a conceptual level I like the implied offerings in the copy - the idea that less is more (always a powerful proposition), the ethical subtext (no cheapo pork and chicken from ultra-cruel factory farms), the advice that we already have the things we most want.

If I were to be critical I would say the orange text is a bit hard to read.  Also the trendy steel thermos flask looks a little out of place.  But these are tiny points - the ad is virtually perfect.

I think the ad agency that did this was AMV/BBDO - can't find the name of the photographer.

American national finances explained

From Thames River Capital (

Norwich & Peterborough Building Society

Norwich & Peterborough Building Society is turning out to be the nastiest most intrusive and high-handed "bank" I have yet experienced.

Not only did they write to me some weeks back telling me that I was not using my current account enough therefore they were going to impose a monthly fee.

Now I have just received this e-mail telling me I have to inform them of my mobile telephone number so they can pester me with automated messages about "security" and "authorisation" (which basically means that the self-appointed busybodies at Norwich & Peterborough will enliven their dead-end jobs by being as obstructive and unco-operative as possible while pretending that they are acting in my best interest).

This is a mutual organisation remember.  They are owned by their members (which includes me).  But their customer service and the way they talk to people (all channels - telephone, printed communications, e-mails) is unbelievably bad.

I know something about Norwich & Peterborough Building Society, having worked with them in the past on marketing campaigns.  They used to be very astute and customer-focussed.  Not any more it seems.