Archive Page 2 of 75



Of things unseen

I have remarked before that anyone who has spent any extended period living in Africa or Asia will have encountered people with strong beliefs, based on their own direct, personal experiences, in the existence of a non-material realm.   In many places, the overwhelming majority of people have such beliefs.  It may be that the majority of westerners, too, have had such experiences but our contemporary culture (pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural, pagan aspects of Catholicism) inhibits their public expression, or even, sometimes, their private recognition.

Strangely, my thoughts on this subject I find mirrored uncannily by Lafcadio Hearn, writing 120 years ago.  Here is Hearn, writing about Shintô temples in Japan and his reactions to the associated beliefs:

Why certain architectural forms produce in the beholder a feeling of weirdness is a question about which I should like to theorize some day; at present I shall venture  only to say that Shintô shrines evoke such a feeling.  It grows with familiarity instead of weakening; and a knowledge of popular beliefs is apt to intensify it.   We have no English words by which these queer shapes can be sufficiently described, – much less any language able to communicate the peculiar impression which they make.  Those Shintô terms which we loosely render by the words “temple” and “shrine” are really [page-break] untranslatable; — I mean that the Japanese ideas attaching to them cannot be conveyed by translation.  The so-called “august house” of the Kami is not so much a temple, in the classic meaning of the term, as it is a haunted room, a spirit-chamber, a ghost-house; many of the lesser divinities being veritably ghosts, — ghosts of great warriors and heroes and rulers and teachers, who lived and loved and died hundreds or thousands of years ago.  I fancy that to the Western mind the word “ghost-house” will convey, better than such terms as “shrine” and “temple,” some vague notion of the strange character of the Shintô miya or yashiro, — containing in its  perpetual dusk nothing more substantial than symbols or tokens, the latter probably of paper.   Now the emptiness behind the visored front is more suggestive than anything  material could possibly be; and when you remember that millions of people during thousands of years have worshiped their great dead before such yashiro, — that a whole race still believes those buildings tenanted by viewless conscious personalities, — you are apt also to reflect how difficult it would be to prove the [page-break] faith absurd.  Nay!  In spite of Occidental reluctances, — in spite of whatever you may think it expedient to say or not to say at a later time about the experience, — you may very likely find yourself for a moment forced into the attitude of respect towards possibilities.   Mere cold reasoning will not help you far in the opposite direction.  The evidence of the senses counts for little:  you know there are ever so many realities which can neither be seen nor heard nor felt, but which exist as forces, — tremendous forces.  Then again you cannot mock the conviction of forty millions of people while that conviction thrills all about you like air, — while conscious that it is pressing upon your psychical being just as the atmosphere presses upon your physical being.  As for myself, whenever I am alone in the presence  of a Shintô shrine, I have the sensation of being haunted; and I cannot help thinking about the possible apperceptions  of the haunter.  And this tempts me to fancy how I should feel if I myself were a god, — dwelling in some old Izumo shrine on the summit of a hill, guarded by stone lions and  shadowed by a holy grove. (Hearn 1897, pages 2-4)”

 

Reference:

Lafcadio Hearn [1897]: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East. London, UK:   Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited.




London life

Two buskers practicing, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London, this morning. They each had three skittles, and threw one up with their right hand at the first and second beat of three beats, while throwing a skittle to the other juggler on the third beat. The other juggler caught the thrown skittle with his left hand. They stopped practicing as soon as they saw me take this photo.

jugglers




Next year in Nuremberg

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Telegraph puts eloquently and compellingly the prosecution case for the greatest deliberate economic crime of our era.  He argues that this gross failure of democracy leads him to vote to leave the EC. But, as Bush 43 used to say, you are either at the table or you are lunch. This failure should mean we redouble our efforts to reform European institutions and rid them of the Dutch-German austerity policies which so dominate economic policy.

 

Nobody has ever been held to account for the design faults and hubris of the euro, or for the monetary and fiscal contraction that turned recession into depression, and led to levels of youth unemployment across a large arc of Europe that nobody would have thought possible or tolerable in a modern civilized society. The only people that are ever blamed are the victims.

There has been no truth and reconciliation commission for the greatest economic crime of modern times. We do not know who exactly was responsible for anything because power was exercised through a shadowy interplay of elites in Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, and Paris, and still is. Everything is deniable. All slips through the crack of oversight.

Nor have those in charge learned the lessons of EMU failure. The burden of adjustment still falls on South, without offsetting expansion in the North. It is a formula for deflation and hysteresis. That way lies yet another Lost Decade.

Has there ever been a proper airing of how the elected leaders of Greece and Italy were forced out of power and replaced by EU technocrats, perhaps not by coups d’etat in a strict legal sense but certainly by skulduggery?

On what authority did the European Central Bank write secret letters to the leaders of Spain and Italy in 2011 ordering detailed changes to labour and social law, and fiscal policy, holding a gun to their head on bond purchases?

What is so striking about these episodes is not that EU officials took such drastic decisions in the white heat of crisis, but that it was allowed to pass so easily. The EU’s missionary press corps turned a blind eye. The European Parliament closed ranks, the reflex of a nomenklatura.

While you could say that the euro is nothing to do with us, it obviously goes to the character of the EU: how it exercises power, and how far it will go in extremis.”




Mobile roaming for Brexit

If you were really concerned about losing national sovereignty, as the UK Leave campaign claims to be, then you would logically need to leave lots of other international organizations, not just the EC. The WTO, Inmarsat, the International Maritime Organization, Interpol, the International Criminal Court, even the International Cricket Conference all impose obligations on their members and compromise their sovereignty.  What would British life be if the country were not in any of these organizations? Let us take just one example – The International Telecommunications Union, and it’s European analogue, ETSI. It it perfectly possible for a country to have its own mobile telephony standards – Japan and the Scandinavian bloc are past examples.  But customer roaming between nations then becomes difficult, and costs of every component part will be higher, due to a loss of scale economies.  Even just operating a common mobile standard but at a different frequencies limits roaming, as anyone alive in the 1990s and traveling between the USA and Europe will recall.

Are the Brexiters against mobile roaming, too?

 




Back in the USSR

CooperativesUKlogo

How clever of Co-operatives UK, the association of British co-operatives, to design a logo that brings to mind the Cyrillic acronym of the USSR, CCCP.  For leftists of a certain age, this would be a very positive allusion.




The rise of Blockchain

A sticker on a shop wall in East Finchley, London, June 2016 (HT: JG).

blockchain2016-06-14




Brussels life

Eglise-des-Peres-Carmes

Stained glass window in Eglise des Peres Carmes, Brussels, Belgium.




Female composers

Louise-Farrenc

Several newspapers have recently carried reviews of a new book presented short biographies of 8 female composers (Beer 2016).  It is certainly true that female composers have suffered from misogyny, and probably still do. But the situation is more subtle than it may appear at first.  The discrimination may arise because composers such as Fanny Hensel (neé Mendelssohn) wrote mostly for small-scale, intimate forms, such as lieder and solo piano.  Hensel wrote no operas or concertos or symphonies, as far as I know.   Since the industrial revolution our society, one could argue, has favoured the grand and the grandiose, so anyone who writes only in small forms is ignored.   This is true even of male composers:  Hugo Wolf, who wrote art song, is unjustly overlooked, for instance.   (This bias for the big and bombastic could also be a strongly male one.)  Against this argument that composers need to go large or be ignored, one could cite the case of nineteenth century French composer Louise Farrenc (pictured), who wrote symphonies and full-length chamber works (indeed, very good ones), yet still was ignored by the musical establishment.  Despite her music being as good as Schumann’s or Mendelssohn’s, she still is ignored.  Even Beer does not, apparently, profile her.

Hensel’s brother, Felix, was a symphonist and composer of overtures who audibly honed his technical craft writing a dozen string symphonies for the pick-up orchestra his mother assembled for the family’s weekly salon concerts each Sunday afternoon in Berlin.  Very few women composers have had such an advantage, which perhaps explains something of Felix Mendelssohn’s comparative abilities.   But Fanny Mendelssohn certainly had access to this resource.  What explains her failure to write for it? Was it some pressure in the family, or just in herself?  Did their parents, perhaps unconsciously and subtly, expect Felix to write pieces for the family salons, but not expect Fanny to do so? Was it a matter of social and class expectations of gender roles which the family had internalised? Or was Fanny simply lacking in confidence?   She once wrote a song to secretly communicate her love for the man who later became her husband at a time when her parents refused to allow the pair to meet or write letters, so it seems she could disobey the spirit of any explicit family imposition, if not the letter.

Or are we looking in the wrong place entirely here?  The Mendelssohns’ father and his brothers were bankers.  Felix’s father took him to Paris as a teenager to meet Cherubini explicitly to assess whether the boy had a future as a composer.  It is easy to imagine that his father wanted him to follow in the family bank, so perhaps Felix had to fight to get to be a composer. It was not, perhaps, that the family discouraged Fanny in particular from a career as a composer but that both children were thus discouraged, but only Felix resisted this pressure.  To be honest, Felix’s letters do not reveal any such discouragement from their parents.

Reference:

Anna Beer [2016]: Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music. Oneworld, London, auK.




Courage, honour, valour

For as long as I can remember, I have had to endure lectures from men in uniforms – policemen, soldiers, teachers, clerics – about courage and honour.  I recall a particular egregious lecture from a cleric on the cowardice of men who had long hair. (For next millennium readers, this was part of a larger argument accusing anyone not supporting US and Australian involvement in the second Indo-Chinese war of cowardice.  Of course, it required great courage for a 17-year-old conscript to openly confront such logically specious, and morally tendentious, nonsense.)   The forces of conservatism always accuse those who confront them of cowardice, it seems.

The Hillsborough coronial verdict shows just what true courage and valour and honour are:  It is fighting for justice against all odds, against the overwhelming sentiment of those in authority and of society in general, against friend and peer, as well as journalist and foe, against recalcitrant judges and lying policemen.  But courage is also admitting when one has made a poor decision, and bravely facing the consequences of that decision.  South Yorkshire police have spent 27 years and millions of pounds lying about what they did at the stadium before and on and after that day, and lying about who was responsible, and maligning the dead and their families.  It is not too late for these men in uniform to finally reveal some courage and accept the consequences of their negligence, their lack of preparation, and their poor judgment.  For valour and honour, however, they lost any opportunity to show those long ago.




Historic compromises

Polish-Round-Table

After the coup in Chile in 1973 which overthrew the democratically-elected administration of Salvador Allende (and which killed him and many others), the Eurocommunist left in Western Europe spoke of the need to have a grand “historic compromise” before entering Government: enjoining the centre and centre-right to support a coalition of national unity, so as to preclude, or at least inhibit, the right from undermining an elected government of the left.  One of the ironies of history was that it was the left in government – the communist regimes of Eastern Europe – which were forced to forge such grand compromises, by conducting negotiations and sometimes forming coalitions (albeit, short-lived) with their non-communist opponents in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and even Zimbabwe.