Nothing to do with the entry below, but a nice, artitstick bit of 'filth' is always acceptable, I find. Symbolic, too, innit?
The painting above is not the work of my best friend, Mike Molloy. If I had a picture of one of his pictures I'd put that up instead. It would be better than Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who committed this one, but Mike steadfastly refuses to go in for soft porn. Dedicated, these artist chaps. This blog entry is in praise of Mike, who will be 70 years old on Wednesday.
Interesting, that. People say, "Little Timmy is six years old," and so on, but when you are 70, 'old' is not a figure of speech. In a bit more than a month, I will, assuming I survive the holiday season, also reach that milestone.
Not that Mike allows himself time to be 'old.' Apart from being a successful painter, with exhibitions in gallerys in Bond Street and all, he has also written dozens of books and screenplays, and is regularly called on by newspapers and magazines to tell folks what's wrong with the world, and what's to be done about it. A respected and sought-after commentator in fact.
All this, after a glittering career in journalism, where he rose, like some hero of H.G.Wells or Arnold Bennett, from office boy to head of a mighty press empire, dragging me some way along in the process. On the way, he was, for some years, the Editor of The Daily Mirror, when it was a paper one was proud to work for. And he did all this on brains and ability. Apart from the Driving Test, he has never passed an exam in his life.
This is all very remarkable, but what, for me, is even more remarkable - is that, as far as I know, Mike does not have, and never has had, an enemy in the world. Being so good at everything you put your hand to usually has a way of pissing people off. Not so with Mike. Everybody likes him,including dogs. And dogs know.
True, Jeff Bernard used to get a bit snarky when in his cups, which was just about always, but in his rare sober moments spoke nothing but good of his boss and benefactor. Mike will, doubtless not care much for this piece, being a modest, self-effacing kind of chap apaert from everything else, but it can't be helped, the world must be told.
And I will write no more on him until his 100th birthday.
Whenever I see Greyhounds in the snow, I think of the Middle Ages. It conjures up those sumptuous tapestries of hunting scenes, caparisoned men on horseback, archers on foot, damsels, Unicorns, etched against the white. This is Lulu in the part of Moratinos we call The Promised Land.
Because I really should blog something new, and don't seem to have anything much to say for myself as usual, I am turning the latest 'Struggle' over to a guest - Monsieur Arouet, a noted and notorious troublemaker. He is talking about England some 250 years ago, to be sure, but it's still happily familiar...
" This is the country of sects. An Englishman, as a free man, goes to Heaven by whatever road he pleases.
Yet, though everyone here may serve God in his own fashion, their genuine religion - the one in which people make their fortune - is the sect of Episcopalians, called the Church of England, or preeminently The Church.
No one can hold office in England or in Ireland unless he is a faithful Anglican. This argument, in itself, a convincing proof, has converted so many nonconformists that today not a twentieth of the population lives outside the lap of the established Church.
The Anglican clergy has retained many of the Catholic ceremonies, particularly that of gathering in tithes with the most scrupulous attention. They also have the pious ambition of being the Masters.
Moreover, they work up in their flocks as much hold zeal against nonconformists as possible. This zeal was lively enough under the government of the Tories in the last years of Queen Anne, but it went no further than sometimes breaking the windows of heretical chapels; for the fury of the sects was over, in England, with the civil wars, and under Queen Anne nothing was left but the restless noises of a sea still heaving a long time after the storm.
With regard to morals, the Anglican clergy are better ordered than those of France, and this is the reason: all clergymen are brought up in Oxford University, or in Cambridge far from the corruption of the capital. They are not called to high station in the Church until very late, and at an age when men have no other passion but avarice, if their ambition goes unfed.
Positions of rank are here the reward of long service in the Church just as in the army; one does not see young fellows made bishops or colonels on leaving school. Besides, the priests are almost all married; the awkwardness they pick up in the university, and the fact that, socially, Englishmen have little to do with women, result in a bishop's ordinarily being forced to content himself with his own wife.
Clergymen go to the tavern sometimes, for custom allows it; if they get drunk they do so in a serious-minded way and with perfect propriety.
That indefinable being which is neither ecclesiastical nor secular—in a word, that which is called an Abbé is a species unknown in England. Clergymen here are all reserved, by temperament, and almost all pedantic. When they learn that in France young men, who are known for their debauchery and who have been raised to the prelacy by the plots of women, make love in public, divert themselves with the composing of sentimental songs, entertain daily with long and exquisite supper parties, and go from there to beseech the light of the Holy Spirit, and boldly to call themselves the successors of the Apostles — then the English thank God they are Protestants.
But they are nasty heretics, fit to be burned to Hell and back, as Master François Rabelais says. That's why I keep out of it.
These English gentlemen have made grave airs and severe expressions all the fashion in this country. To them is owing the sanctification of Sunday in the three kingdoms. On that day it is forbidden to work and play, which is double the severity of the Catholic churches.
No opera, no plays, no concerts in London on Sunday; even cards are so expressly forbidden that only the aristocracy, and those we call well-bred people, play on that day.
The rest of the nation go to church, to the tavern, and to the brothel.
Although the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian are the two main sects in Great Britain, all others are welcome there and live pretty comfortably together, though most of their preachers detest one another almost as cordially as a Jansenist damns a Jesuit.
Go into the Exchange in London, that place more venerable than many a court, and you will see representatives of all the nations assembled there for the profit of mankind. There the Jew, the Moslem and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel only for those who go bankrupt.
There the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist, and the Church of England man accepts the promise of the Quaker. On leaving these peaceable and free assemblies, some go to the synagogue, others in search of a drink; this man is on the way to be baptized in a great tub in the name of the Father, by the Son, to the Holy Ghost; that man is having the foreskin of his son cut off, and a Hebraic formula mumbled over the child that he himself can make nothing of; these others are going to their church to await the inspiration of God with their hats on; and all are satisfied.
If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each others throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace. "
Voltaire doesn't say it here, but he also suggested that the reason England was superior to France was that in France they have 30 kinds of cheese and only one religion, whereas in England they have 30 religions and only one kind of cheese. A perfect country would, of course, have both.
Got into an interesting discussion on a website the other day. The word, 'Homophobia' came under discussion. (Gives you some sort of idea of the blogs I subscribe to, dunnit? All 'gays' and 'filth'!)
I looked it up in my American Heritage Dictionary and got this: 1: Aversion to gay or homosexual people or their lifestyle or culture. 2: Behaviour or an act based on this aversion.
No mention of 'fear' there. This was pointed out to me by another blogger who gave me this definition:
A phobia is “a fear, aversion or hatred, esp. morbid and irrational. – ‘phobe’ in composition, one who has a (specified) phobia.” (‘Chambers 20th Century Dictionary’).
I agree this definition of 'phobia' is more accurate. And, by extension, we must add 'fear' to homophobia.
But the interesting little word here is 'esp'. It has me thinking. Are all phobias irrational and/or morbid? From the 'esp' it seems clear that that very possibly some phobias are neither. But which?
The web site at tagged the beginning here is remarkable. It lists literally hundreds of what it describes as phobias. For myself, I would have no trouble in putting 'Melophobia' in the 'irrational' camp as it is a fear of music. But, had it been a fear of being made to watch movies produced by Mr. Gibson, it would surely occupy the 'rational' slot.
Is it irrational to be frightened of spiders (Arachnophobia)? Is it rational to be afraid of simply walking (Ambulophobia)?
And, where does that leave us regarding Arachibutyrophobia, (Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.) eh?
Out of mere curiosity, I checked to see if there was a word for fear of Catholics. Naturally not - except for Catapedaphobia, (Fear of jumping from high and low places) which is quite close, as you will agree, especially the second part...
Then I found 'bufonophobia' which turns out not to be a fear of buffoons, which would be entirely rational, but a fear of toads. A totally irrational fear without a doubt. How could one hate and fear a toad? You might as well hate and fear Noel Coward!
The list is so wonderful that I will simply regale you with the last four; all Zeds (or for Americans, Zees) with special reference to the penultimate.
Zelophobia - Fear of jealousy. Zeusophobia - Fear of God or gods. Zemmiphobia - Fear of the great mole rat. Zoophobia - Fear of animals.
How can it possibly be irrational to fear The Great Mole Rat? I suspect this is a question we will each have to figure out for ourselves. But that will be difficult if we happen to suffer from phronemophobia (Fear of thinking).
According to experts these French cave drawings are between 30.000 and 32,000 years old. Not bad for their time, are they? As we can see from here in 2010, it has taken man over 30,000 millenniums to learn how to draw like Jean-Michel Basquiat.
And it would seem from The Good Book, that men (or women) made these images some 27,000 years before Adam and Eve. Hard to believe it, (or Adam and Eve it, as Damian would say). Makes one wonder what was going on all that time. Nothing, it seems. Just people being born, living, making art and making more people and then dying. And not paying income tax, or watching Mel Gibson movies.
An absurd world, then and now. Though possibly a little less absurd now, without Basquiat. (But Mel is still around. Bit quiet, though, recently, is he not?)
Zenyatta, the miracle horse. I believe, I believe, I believe!
My last post generated some nice responses, for which I thank those guilty.
Golden Chersonnese Is worried that I might be unhappy at the paucity of Islamic miracles. No. That deals with that. My current take on Islam is that it is even worse than Christianity and Judaism, at present, at least. Miracles or not.
Kathleen, a very nice and kindly lady, has thoughts on Fatima. Apparently, the Sun 'danced.' I don't know quite what that would entail - bouncing about like a balloon? Well how far away from the 'epicenter' was this marvel still seen? Was the Sun dancing at 100 yards and not at 101? What happened to the Sun in Lisbon at the time? In Rome? Any pictures? No movies, I suspect. Be able to 'grab' it on our mobiles now, though! Next time, perhaps. A more constructive thought on Fatima and Lourdes, why has God, as far as I know, never replaced a missing leg? Now, that would get my attention. Why does He specialise in the internal stuff? Any clue, anyone?
As to the Resurrection, I have looked at the four versions in the New Testament. They differ so widely that no newspaper, apart from the Supermarket tabloids in the USA, would or could run it. And before anyone tries it, let's not go down the specious road that suggests that because the four accounts differ, means, in some weird convoluted way, that the basic story must be true. (If they were identical, it would mean collusion.) I have seen that tried. No, let's not be so silly. Is one more 'relatively' true than the others? Relativism, The Bogey Word. The Pope ain't gonna like this...
Stanley Spencer; The Raising of Lazarus. I think, no caption material.
High time for a new blog. Lazy old Toad that I am. Too much water has been passed since the last installment. The most significant item to report is that Lulu and Nabi, the Greyhound Girls, are off to Leon again next week to be 'neutered.' We took them last week but Lulu had gone into heat. This operation will cost three hundred Euros each. We have not paid a cent to buy any of our dogs or the cat, but they have now cumulatively cost us thousands. Still, we save by not having a telly.
What has this to do with miracles?, you say. Nothing, unless, you regard everything as a miracle, including the fact that our pets have not yet managed to bankrupt us. I think this is the general attitude of Kathleen (re miracles that is, not bankruptcy) on the famous 'Catholicism Pure & Simple' blog, to which I regularly subscribe. Like many others, she is, I believe, of the 'every snowflake, every baby's fingernail, every day without an earthquake, is a miracle' persuasion. If I am wrong, she will swiftly, and rightly, disabuse me. And Joyfulpapist, another chum on CP&S, is planning a piece on this very subject soon. Good, because 'miracles' are a stumbling block for me and many others on the Road to Salvation. So, it's time to flip open the Very Excellent 'Hello!' Magazine Sub-editors' Dictionary, and read that a miracle is defined as:
1. An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause. 2. Such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God. 3. A wonder; marvel. 4. A wonderful or surpassing example of some quality: a miracle of modern acoustics.
Interesting that the word is, in my opinion, in the process of being devalued even now. "I've found the car keys! it's a miracle!" I suppose Kathleen's point is that, as we are all here as a result, as she sees it, of a supernatural event, everything that follows is, naturally, supernatural. Well, it's one way of looking at it. But I'm old-fashioned, and think this is merely further devaluing the word.
It will be no surprise that I'm with David Hume on this. I was going to run his original text on miracles, but it's long and wordy, and I found a neat little precis on the web. Hume provides four reasons to think that there has never been sufficient evidence in favor of a miracle to render it probable. We must note that he, like me, does not go so far as to state that miracles don't happen. He merely doubts that they happen and says that, if they DO happen, we can never be sure they were miracles in the first place. We are getting back to Popper here. No miracle, indeed nothing metaphysical, can either be verified or falsified. So either we must accept them on faith, or ignore all claims of them.
What Hume says:
First, no miracle is supported by testimony of a sufficient number of trustworthy people to rule out the possibility of falsehood.
Second, while we should normally believe that which most closely accords itself with past experience, the sensations of surprise and wonder often lead us to unreasonable beliefs. There are countless instances of tall tales of all sorts that stem not from reasonable inquiry but from a love of wonder.
Third, Hume remarks that most reports of miraculous events occur amongst barbarous or ignorant people, who may not be sophisticated enough to disbelieve fabricated testimony.
Fourth, since every religion claims the veracity of its own miracles as against the miracles of every other religion, the evidence of all other religions opposes the evidence in favor of a miracle in any one particular religion. For instance, what a Muslim might consider a miracle would be considered a heresy by anyone of different faith.
(I find reason number four particularly compelling. And if anyone takes the slightest notice of all this, it will be a miracle.)
Part 2 of Waxing Nostalgic over CP&S: Bruno. Portrait of a 'difficult' man. Clearly.
Too much water has been passed since part one of this series on 'Downhill'. And, yet again, I find myself pondering if I should quit CP&S, or not.
They are all nice people there, just like, no doubt, a lot of Republicans, Israelis or Saudi-Arabians are nice people, but they all all mired in their belief so deeply that there is little or no reasoning with them.
They ferociously defend the Church, right or wrong, doesn't matter. Criticism is not an option.
Same thing GBS said about patriotism, "Saying, my country, right or wrong is like saying my Mother, drunk or sober."
Even Raven, among the least rabid on the blog, went to almost comical lengths to justify the obscene torture of a fellow man. And it took place four hundred years ago. Long memories here. He couldn't even bring himself to say, "Well, it was a fair bit ago, and they did things differently then." No, the man Bruno was 'difficult.' Yes, and his difficulty was that he was ahead of his time in believing something that is now accepted by every intelligent person.
He was, as Montaigne so memorably remarked,(not about Bruno himself) "Roasted over a difference of opinion."
At least Raven offered some sort of argument, unconvincing though I found it. It has got to the point where if I make some mild observation, the cries of 'spewing raw sewage', 'foaming at the mouth', and of being 'angry' and 'irritated' and 'hateful' are deafening.
Not that it bothers me, but it all smacks strongly of the sort of treatment people get if they are in any way critical of Jews or Muslims. And it also smacks strongly of the treatment Jews and Muslims dish out to anyone who 'offends' them. It is extreme. They are NeoCaths on CP&S. They would probably agree, and revel in it. Must ask them.
And yet, more than one person on 'Damian' and CP&S is frequently and cheerfully and viciously abusive of 'rival' fanatics. And they are spluttering mad if I 'criticise' any little Catholic foible, or Catholic polemicist.
Why, then, do I go on banging my head against the Vatican wall? I had a Catholic upbringing. I know a bit about it. And I truly believe that the CP&S mob, along with others of their kind, want to make their own brand of Heaven right here on earth for all of the rest of us. Whether we want it or not. Just like the Muslims. If they succeed, they will make a Hell.
I don't like the prospect, and will continue to say so.
It is the feast day of Santo Tomas, patron of our church and village. A doubter. He and I have that much in common.
I am writing this between greeting passing pilgrims in the church's 'departure lounge' and stamping their credentials, if given the chance. When not stamping, or musing on the parade of flesh of some of the French ( and Spanish) pilgrims, who are practically wearing swim suits with their mochillas, (it is hot) I brood. “Why do you bother with the Catholicism Pure & Simple blog?” ask some folk, sadly shaking their heads. Good question, as I have been beset by problems with religion in general for the last half century. The idea of believing six impossible things before breakfast each morning has proved impossibly challenging since I was about 15.
What captured my attention at first was the incredible nostalgia of CP&S. For one thing, the 'bloggers' mostly seemed to have names like my aunties and the nuns that taught me when I was little - names like, Teresa, Gertrude, Kathleen, Bernadette, Clothilde. (Not sure I ever had an aunt Clothilde. Bit too classy. Still.) And, when they write, they sound like my aunties as well, albeit considerably better educated.
And as I wax nostalgic about them they, in turn, are waxing nostalgically about the Good Old Days when the Mass was safely incomprehensible in Latin, before all this nonsense about the Mass in the vernacular, priests facing the audience, 'Signs of Peace', and talk, God forbid, of women priests. They wax fondly about the days when Irish priests with faces the colour of pig's liver, and fingers mahogany with nicotine, raved and raged interminably from the pulpit about the horrors of contraception. Whatever happened to contraception, by the way? Scarcely gets a nod, these days. Least of several evils, I suppose thrust into the second row of grave sins by abortion.
But I must say that throughout my childhood,dominated as it was by priests and nuns, I never was aware of the slightest hint of sexual impropriety by any priest. Sadism, yes, but not sexual. Father Doyle administered his beatings on my backside with total bored, insouciance(!) – not even bothering to take the cigarette from his lips. No respect! But again, I strongly believe that, if I had been subjected to anything like pederasty, and had told my Mother, her immediate reaction would have been horror directed at me for telling such wicked lies.
In those Good Old Days, Bing Crosby was the Mel Gibson of his day. Times change. All we can do is wax.
(As I was writing the above, horrible things happened. See Reb's blog, alongside. I may return to the original theme tomorrow. Be warned. Whole lotta waxin' goin' on!)
We took a guest from Mexico to see some of the local sights yesterday. Couple of small towns, Astudillo and Tamara each with churches nearly as big as cathedrals.
This part of the world is chock full of virtually unknown Romanesque treasures. Then to Fromista (see The Movie!) This town happens to be on the Camino Françes, so is much better known. Restored to squeaky cleanliness it's really not a church any more and has been de-consecrated. Now it's a sort of museum famous for the carved capitals and gable ends, each one, of course, different.
Quite extraordinary to approach somewhere like Santoyo, where the massive church literally towers three or four times higher than the cluster of surrounding houses where today, only 250 people give, the lady custodian told us, putting down her intricate lace work to show us round.
Fromista boasts a beautiful 12th Century crucifix. Not gruesomely life-like as later versions, but with the simple power and dread of a Picasso. We must have seen 20 or so crucifixes during the jaunt.
The more I see and contemplate crucifixes the more I wonder if they do (or at any rate did, in the past) provoke violence. People looking at a crucifix and saying, "If God's enemies did this to him, it's all right for us to do similar things to them."
Beckett. Better at chess than Toad. Not hard, though.
Took the Gods for their morning walk and pondered the subject of Divine Intervention. Well, why not? It seems eight Jesuits survived the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 by what can only be described as a miracle. Apparently, they were the only survivors in the immediate blast area. God stepped in and suspended the law of physics relating to atomic blasts in their case alone. This being so, what can His reasons have been? Were they the only Catholics in the area? Were they the only good people in the area? Were they the only deserving people in the area? We will never know for sure. But saved they were.
This seems to me rather quirky behaviour on God's part. It's as if He is playing a game of chess with Himself (well, who else could He play with?) and, finding Himself in a tricky situation, moves the Rook diagonally and checkmates.
Let's suppose an onlooker, Toad, and a dialogue.
TOAD: "You can't make that move, it's against the rules."
GOD: "No it's not. I decide the rules and in this case, moving the Rook diagonally is within the rules.
TOAD: " So I can do that from now on?"
GOD: "No, because if you do, it will be against the rules. I make the rules. They are my rules. I can break them. You can't."
TOAD: But then the game is meaningless."
GOD: "What do you care, Toad? You're an Existentialist. You think everything's meaningless anyway. What difference is there, for you, between everyday meaningless meaninglessness and Divine Intervention meaninglessness? Anyway, nothing is 'meaningless.' If I say it's meaningful then it's meaningful. No matter how meaningless it seems to other people. Like these floods in Pakistan right now. Worst in history. Full of meaning if you know where to look."
TOAD: "How will I know where to look?"
GOD: "Sorry, can't tell you that. It's against the rules. Catholics only, Jesuits preferably. They know what it all means."
(The above foolishness reminds me that Beckett wrote a play called Endgame. More meaningful than this, no doubt.)
...and vice versa. There was an amusing little exchange on the Catholic Pure & Simple blog the other day that got me thinking.
One person wrote that, because Dog is God spelled backwards, her Grannie took it as a clear indication that dogs are evil, and wouldn't have one in the house. But then, another commenter wrote saying that her Auntie, because God is Dog spelled backwards, saw it as an unmistakable sign awarding dogs the right to specially indulgent treatment denied to other, less well-connected, members of creation.
It must be noted that this lacuna (50 more bonus points!) only works in English, which accounts for the unique relationship we Brits have with our mutts. The fact that Perro is Orrep spelled backwards cuts little ice with the Spaniards, and may explain why their treatment of dogs often leaves something to be desired.
The real significance of the Dog/God issue is the fact that people can interpret the exact same phenomenon in utterly opposing ways. This undeniably leads to contention and is probably the cause of more loss of life on this planet than even the motor car, the Big Mac or Coca-Cola.
When I was about ten years old, I had an epiphany. I was in a museum, that of Natural History in South Kensington, I suppose, and was looking at the skeleton of a snake. It struck me how similar it was to my own skeleton. It was, to be sure, no more than a skull and a long ribcage, but I realised that the snake and I were quite closely related. We were 'constructed' on the same basic principles - literally brothers under the skin (or scales, in our case). Why a snake's skeleton, rather than, say, a gorilla's should move me in that manner, I really don't know. But there we are. It was also, I believe, the start of my skepticism about religion as I knew it. On the face of it, there is no obvious connection, but connections are sometimes subtle. Later on, at the Big Boys' Catholic school, we were taught that snakes, along with gorillas and cats and dogs and cods, would not be going to Heaven. No, not even Major, my Granny's saintly old Moggie, who was my best pal. Nor, for that matter, would Protestants, Hindus or Jews (Moslems simply didn't exist for us). In fact, snakes, who had no chance at all of wriggling under the pearly gates, still had a better chance than Jews. Jews had had their opportunity, and blown it years ago.. And those of us who persisted in doing newspaper delivery rounds on Sundays wouldn't be going either. We'd be consigned to the snake pit amid a seething and chaotic concatenation of Cobras and Calvinists and Cohens. The notion that only humans merit eternal reward seemed to me then, and still does, insufferable arrogance on our part. Are we really to believe that God, over many millions of years, created untold billions of creatures, the vast majority never even set eyes upon by any puny human being, to live and die for no apparent reason? If we humans (even the Jews) do have immortal souls that Pigs and Pythons and Parrots lack, at what point were they inserted? None of this idle speculation, is, of course, even remotely, an argument against the existence of God. But it does make one consider, if in fact He really does exist, what an odd sort of a chap he must be...
Little bit of Auden that resonates. Love that face! Want one like that when I grow up.Nothing to do with the crazy idea Big Bang idea below, though... Only now when he has come In walking distance of his tomb, He at last discovers who He had always been to whom He so often was untrue.
Had an interesting idea while walking the dogs round the neolithic burial mound this morning. Accepting the Big Bang theory to be true - maybe it can be linked up with Deism - the notion that God set the universe in motion, then walked away and left it to its own devices. What if the Big Bang was a sort of cataclysmic suicide note? What if God, tired of it all, (whatever 'it all' was) decided to bring the universe into existence and then - at the exact same moment - cause himself to cease to exist? Would explain the apparent aimlessness of stuff. Maybe in the 'seeds' of the universe he included the possibility, even probability, of life. Maybe He hoped, or even knew, that sometime, billions of years later, his farewell note would finally be deciphered?
Don't suppose this theory appeals much to Catholics. Does seem unlikely. But then, what doesn't?
Karl Popper's Birthday tomorrow. He's 108, or would have been. An intellectual giant of the last century. Hugely underrated, partly for a silly reason - his name, Popper. Sounds like a child's toy or, nowadays, a night-club drug. If only he'd been called Wittgenstein. The Open Society should be enforced reading for everyone over the age of 16 in the world. Yea, right.
Couple of quotes:
The open society is one in which men have learned to be to some extent critical of taboos, and to base decisions on the authority of their own intelligence.
The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato. Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
If you have not read 'The Open Society,' and are daunted by its size, just read the last chapter, 'Has History Any Meaning?' Then, unless I am sadly mistaken, you will want to read the whole thing.
Don't know if I am still having communication problems with 'Catholicism Pure and Simple' or not. (A more maladroitly-named blog is hard to imagine.) Each morning about 20 emails still arrive - all more or less saying the same thing in different order - and giving very little indication that my message to 'include me out' has got through.
It isn't very important, except that I will feel guilty if someone is unknowingly toiling to get my page on there straightened out, unaware that Toad has hopped off. As you can see from this post, I am still occupied with the whole odd business.
'Cath' is a classic example of Narrowcasting - the big thing on the web. No matter how narrow your interest, there will be a handful of the like-minded out there with whom one can bond. Generally, it is harmless - folk, say, with a shared passion for Victorian British postage stamps, or Ferret breeding, or Agatha Christie first editions. But it can also be vicious - imbeciles who link up to earnestly pray for the early death of Obama.(That last is true. Saw it on Facebook.)
'Cath' is in the first camp. It is, at times, preposterously complacent and pàtronising, but it means no real harm.
Someone tried patronising my wife on there the other day. She (figuratively) wrapped her rosary round her fist like a knuckle duster, and delivered a stinging poke to the guilty noggin.
The A-Team there was also condescending to me. Kindly and sympathetically suggesting, that as a non-believer, I was somehow not an entire human being. My senses were less acute than theirs. Not my fault, but there we are, we will pray for you.
For a while, I felt that it was my mission to gently suggest that there is another way of looking at the world, the way of the likes of Montaigne, Hume, Voltaire, Popper, Russell, etc. The way of reason. But no. All misguided. Voltaire was poo-pooed for bringing about the French Revolution, for example. One might as well beat up on Beethoven for bringing about Boogie-Woogie.
Toad was amusing, but not to be taken seriously. Quite right, too. Now that I'm not watching with my beady toad eye, the gallant little gang can form a snug, smug, self-congratulatory circle of mutual, mental, masturbatory admiration. ''Loved your offering on 'the Little Flower of Luton' Cecil!'' ''Nowhere near as teary-eyed making as yours on 'The Ecstasy of Saint Winnifred the Wonderful of Wimbledon,' Claude!''
Well, I warned them I was nasty. They just smiled. 'Dear old Toad..'
The Deposition, by Roger Van Der Weyden, circa 1435
I've spent a long time looking at this painting in The Prado over the years. Undoubtedly one of the world's greatest, and a case could be made for being the world's most moving. All the action takes place in a sort of painted 'niche' about six feet deep, from front to back. Christ's arms echo the shape of a crossbow, because the Guild of Crossbowmen, or something similar, commissioned the work. Early 'image branding.' The little reproduction here cannot come near to doing it justice. The original is 8.5 feet wide and the figures are almost life-size.
It really has little or nothing to do with today's topic, unless you take an existential view of the world. I suppose I do. Anyway, on Friday, I was in our little church on duty, giving pilgrims 'sellos' and keeping the place open for them. Ten minutes away from closing time, at 2pm, a woman pilgrim came in looking a bit disturbed and asked if she could go into the church. She did so. Five minutes or so later, she came back out to me with tears streaming down her face. She had spoken to her mother, by phone, about half an hour before, for the first time in six months. The mother's news was very grim. Two operations for cancer within the last few weeks and the prospects for recovery bleak. Bad enough. But it gets worse. The pilgrim, Elizabeth, from Budapest, told me she also has cancer, the same sort as her mother, and her chances of survival are equally low. That, she said, is why she is doing The Camino now. While she still can.I told her she should come back to our house and rest and stop for a while. She wanted to keep on walking, but I managed to persuade her to come over. We gave her lunch and she ended up staying the night. She slept a long time and said the visit had done her good, 'thank God for sending me to your house,' etc. My wife and Kim are wise and good listeners. Pilgrims often want to talk a lot. But then, others are virtually mute. What does it all mean? Everything and nothing, I suppose. Religious-minded people would see some significance in it all. I don't.
Well, it will be no surprise for many of my readers(!) that I am finished with 'Catholicism Pure and Simple.' Toad brought low by a mouse. Never mind. Better on my own blog probably. No big boys around.
I am a bit miffed because I had posted a piece yesterday about images of the Crucifixion, which seemed to me, worthy of discussion. And this morning I had a further thought on the matter. The first thought was, briefly, how do people, Catholics in particular, (naturally for it is a Catholic blog,) reconcile personal modesty (often excessive modesty, in my opinion) with the image of the near-naked Christ, that, in other circumstances, that they might well decry as more or less pornographic?
The second, (and more interesting, I think) thought is, did The Romans bother to cover up the genitals of their victims under similar circumstances? Somehow, one doubts that they would. I suppose historians would know. If Abu Ghraib is anything to go by, torturers make a point of stripping their victims naked to humiliate them, probably always have done. If the Romans did crucify people naked, what is the justification for covering Christ up, even partially? If the idea is to show in totally realistic detail (and some Spanish dead Christs go to remarkable lengths for realism, including real hair)why not show him naked? I suspect if such images were hung on classroom walls, there might be a bit of an outcry, even from those who advocate keeping the existing crucifixes in schools.
Here is a mercifully short and exquisite fillum starring myself, made in Palençia in the Bullfight Bar. A brief movie career, but glorious.
Indeed, films are the subject of today's offering. Recently my dear wife bought me sixteen movies on Cd's made by Ealing Studios. I lived many years in Ealing and knew the studios, and the pub across the road from them, The Red Lion, well. The films involved all date from the forties to the sixties, before the BBC took over the studios.
So far, I have watched four - Nicolas Nickleby, Hue and Cry, The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. 'Nickleby' is not bad - the others are awful. Worse than I either remembered or expected. I should have known.
Not that I don't enormously enjoy watching them - many use location shots of various parts of London, which is very nostalgic for me.
I should have known that they would be bad, because Wittgenstein, who liked to relax during the nineteen-forties by going to 'the pictures' declared - as an unassailable truth - the the British were incapable of ever making a watchable movie. He favoured American Westerns and musical comedies. His favourite 'star' was Carmen Miranda. Well, he was a philosopher.
Looking at these laborious, dim-witted efforts, one can see his point. Still, I have to say that during this time, David Lean and Hitchcock were making some excellent works of art.
Bertrand Russell. Nothing to do with the blog, just he has such a wonderful face.
Much ado, these days, about blogs and stuff.
As some of you may know, I had been 'commenting' for a month or so on a Daily Telegraph site by Damian Thompson, about Catholicism. I was often vaguely aware of all sorts of weird undercurrents there, none of which concerned me.
Anyway, a new blog was started. As of 7.05 pm today, it is called 'Catholicism Pure and Simple.' (It might well have a new name by the time I post this.) I know, I know. I have already made the point that Catholicism is neither of those things. 'Pure' could be argued (unconvincingly) perhaps, 'Simple' never. But I digress. They are all nice people and I wish them well.
Already, however, the new blog is riven by schisms. (Isn't that a great phrase? Worth a repeat - RIVEN BY SCHISMS - doubt if I'll ever write that again in my life. Hope not,anyway.)
Again, I digress. The thing is, a couple of their stalwarts have quit to start up at least yet one more blog. On top of that, I, and my wife (but that is another digression) have succeeded in upsetting a 'commentator' on Blog Two (CPAS) so deeply that they have quit in a huff.
In view of all this schism rivening, and bearing in mind that what I wrote seemed, to me no more than reasonable and low-key comment on a totally preposterous idea, I am wondering whether I should just stop. Go back to Damian. Or just stop it all. Take up dog walking, grooming and excrement-gathering professionally. When I upset somebody unintentionally, it makes me unhappy. I like to upset people intentionally.
A double-length walk with the faithful canine crew tomorrow might clear the mind. Used to work for Kant(even without dogs).
Reb has bought me 16 old Ealing Comedies. But I have digressed enough for one day. Tomorrow, perhaps...
I urge you to click on this pic to enlarge it - it's wonderful!
The Greyhounds have dug a big hole in the yard and put a small toy dog in it. Not a real live toy dog, a toy toy dog - a soft toy dog. What can it all mean? Is it a message that we must not go away for two days? Surely not. Kim looked after them just fine. Greyhounds, unless you want to hunt hares, are utterly useless. They just look nice. Some people think they are silent. Not ours. If I'm not up at daybreak, they come and howl. And wrestle and work on making the hole deeper. Maybe they will discover a Roman villa down there. And eat it. Anyway, we went on the train to Avila for a jolly. Very nice it was. The wall is spectacular. The city is spotless, all grey stone. Grim in the Winter, no doubt, but beautiful. We found a wine bar that boasted a wine list literally a thick as a phone directory. Reb spent ages choosing a wine for us. We should have had a drink while we were waiting. When she finally made a selection, wrong number. ''Haven't got that one right now.'' Tried again. Another wrong number. Same thing. Finally the bar suggested one it had in stock. It was OK. Our hotel was once a synagogue. As we were leaving it, we had to fight our way through a guided tour group that was having the building explained to them. Saint Teresa was everywhere. I looked for her hand, only to be told it's in Ronda. There is a finger of hers there, though, still with a snazzy emerald ring on it. Avila seemed to be struggling, economically. Although this is the high season, there were few tourists to be seen, and strangely few local people either. I would go so far as to put it, like Venice or the Grand Canyon, or Vegas, or New York City, on the 'must see' list. Despite all its wonders, seems like the place could use a hand right now. One from Ronda, perhaps.
People seem to prefer it when I write about local stuff, rather than ranting on about politics and the like. I don't blame them.
So. The church of Santo Tomas, in our village has been on my mind recently.
This Sunday, I took myself off to Mass alone, Reb being cheerfully flooded near Pamplona. (see her fine blog) As I entered, a neighbour grabbed me and said 'Go and see if you can help Don Santiago (the priest). So I did. He had a tall, scruffy old geezer in the sacristy with him, with shoulder-length whitish hair and a scraggly beard a foot long, at least. He looked very bogus to me. 'He's a priest, I think,' said Santiago.'Can you talk to him? He has no Castellano.' Well, no, I couldn't. The old fellow spoke only French. But somehow, we all agreed that he would 'co-consecrate, or whatever, the Mass. It went OK, except, that at one point, Santiago handed him the book and he read the wrong bit very nicely and made us all smile. We suppose he was a priest. Could have been a Satanist, for all we knew. Oh, well.
It struck me that here was a good argument for saying the Mass in Latin, like when I was a boy. Except that I am greatly in favour of the Mass in the vernacular. Provided that it is in a foreign language.
On Wednesday, it was our turn to keep the church open during the day for the passing pilgrims. My task alone with Reb still away. A group of four French pilgs showed up in the morning. Perfectly polite. Wanted sellos. No Spanish of course. Alone among pilgrims of every nation, the French, when I pass them on the Camino and say 'Buenos dias,' stubbornly reply 'Bonjour.' Go figure. No good at football either.
The point is, the two men in the said party both were wearing shorts that were so brief they might have been swimming trunks. Oddly, the women were dressed OK. I must be getting older and crankier than even I suspected. I said nothing. But I thought it was near indecent. I am getting more Spanish by the day, I suppose. I even change out of my own shorts, that I wear within the sheltering walls of the house, into jeans to leave and go 300 yards to the bodega to get a bottle or two of wine.
Still, I quite enjoy the weekly stint at the church. Tim comes along and sits with me. When pilgs come in, he goes and sits by them and puts his head in their laps to be petted. They think he is a sort of holy dog, sent to greet them. But he and I know that once a pilg gave him half a sausage. Hope springs eternal in the Spaniel breast.
Followers of Reb's blog will know that my adversary Max is now toast. The Peaceable is at peace again.
I feel bad about it, but not as bad as all that. He was literally tearing the feathers from the backs of the hens, leaving then bleeding.
I thought he was just nuts, but the neighbors tell me that is the way Gallos are. The last straw was him trying to peck Reb's trousers off the other day. God knows what would have happened if he had managed it.
In retrospect, a rooster was a bad idea, if you don't want fertilised eggs and then chicks, and we don't. Max was a decent name for him, but Benito would have suited him better. Apart from maiming the girls, he did sod all, except swagger about bawling his wattles off with his chest stuck out like the tin-pot dictator he was, and try to kick divots out of Murphy the cat.
But I will miss him - he had balls, all right. I had to take a broom into the run when fetching the eggs, to keep him at bay. Otherwise I had to kick him from one end of the run to the other, where he would pick himself up, puff out all his feathers, and wade back in for another basinful. Insanely brave. Got to admire it.
Justi, our next-door neighbour, will not miss him a bit. He didn't much care for the 5.30 am bellow of 'Cock-a-Doooooo', audible for a quarter of a mile.
Max never mastered Cock-a Doodle-Doo, but maybe his version was just the Spanish one.
So, basta con cockerels. We are thinking about some new hens. Maybe from Asturia. 'Asturiano, mal Cristiano,' they say. OK with me.
I'd better write a few words, at least to celebrate the splendid new header here. The work of Kim, of course. I liked the chicken one from before, but this one illustrates the situation better. Me with dogs on Camino. Watch this space for the movie. Seriously.
Lots of activity at The Peaceable these days pilgrims come and go and guitarists as well. Murphy joined in the frenzy by going missing for about thirty hours, which was disturbing, what with his track record. But then he showed up again bawling instructions to be let in, fed, let out, let back in, fed more, and so on. Tim has a crittur in his ear and we are off to the Vet tomorrow. He isn't going to care much for the treatment, I suspect.
Reb is in the USA, which is not much fun for her, and no fun at all for me. And it is raining steadily. Wet dog smell. Muddy Una . Joder.
Mixed bag of a blog today. First, my hand. Tuesday morning as arranged we went to the Hospital de Carrion to get my right hand fixed. One of the fingers had got all bent and needed surgery to straighten out. All set for the op at 3 p.m, but then an emergency by helicopter intervened. The medics started hacking away at 6.p.m. Over by 7.30. Longer than expected, said the Doc. Too late to go home now, so in a two-bed room with a clearly demented old loony who made loud noises all night through every conceivable orifice. Still, the surgery was excellent and there will be no charge directly levied on us for all this. The horrors (if one is American) of Socialised Medicine. I can dig it, as Reb says.
Not the most fun day ever, but infinitely better than it would have been if Tim had still been missing (see Reb's doggone Blog today with great pic)
And this morning Old Ma Nature dealt another weird hand.
Snow. Half way through May. When I looked out of the bedroom window, I thought, How odd, it looks like snow. Must be a trick of the light. Not so. Was snow.
Only a light dusting and gone by 11 a.m., but enough to elicit a scream of horror from Reb when she woke later, fearing for her tender little veggies in their immaculately white, icy, bed. Are they goners? Only time will tell. But the next plague, following on from volcanic ash, dog-losing and snow, is due to be a rain of frogs, then a fresh outbreak of Herod's Evil and Scrofula, followed by a Tory/LibDem Coalition.
We are doomed, I tell you doomed. Send in the frogs.
Behind with the blog for weeks 'til now. No excuses, except for a recurring bout of an old ailment picked up centuries ago in Fleet Street, and known in medical circles as 'indolence.'
Awful pun in the headline, but can't think of anything else.
Well, Kim, our American 'daughter' from Key West, has gone off to 'find herself' or some other mystical thing. Make a lot of money, maybe. We are deeply sorry to see her go, but it had to happen. Things can be very quiet around here. People get restless.
Mind you - after my earlier life until we moved here - things can never be quiet enough.
Now I am happy to sit out in the sun with a Wodehouse book, listening to 'tragic' music and scratching the heads of divers dogs. And, if P.G. gets too serious, there is always 'Ulysses' or Wittgenstein.
But, I digress. Kim, seen above with Tim (felicitous alliteration, there) will be missed for many reasons. Her contribution to the smooth running of The Peaceable, her patience with me, the subtle faces she drew on the hard-boiled eggs, the way all the dogs loved her, a thousand things.
But I will miss her most of all because now I will have to do A LOT MORE WORK.
And that is bad.
Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Awesome Act will carry my cash. Poor old thing. Like my brother said recently, 'I couldn't tip a bucket,' these days.
And Barça got beat last night, to the huge relief, no doubt of Real, or they would have won the Champions' league right there, in Madrid, on their deadly rivals' own turf. ¡Holin!
After repentance, comes confession. I could not resist a posting on Damian's blog this morning. There goes the resolution. Still, Lent is over. But now the currant bun (sun) is out again in Moratinos, I am spending far less time hunched over the mighty Samsung Wurlitzer. Which is good. Last night I watched a movie called 'What the bleep is going on?' Not bad, tried to do too much and got all muddled up. But what I took from it was that Quantum Theory is no more than Existentialism wearing a baseball cap, rather than a beret. I keep pondering the comment I made on line to Reb's daughter, Lib. She said that, as far as she could see, nobody, including herself, seemed to have any clue as to what is going on (in the world, I suppose). I replied that she should read Wittgenstein ( could have been several other philosophers, but he is my pick). After having done this, I suggested,, she still would have no clue as to what is going on, but she would have a much clearer idea of why she had no idea. The more I think about this the truer it seems to get. Which is rare for me.
Today being Easter Sunday, and the year being 2010, it is -in a way - the birthday of one of the world's most beloved operas, Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry). The whole of the action takes place in one day - Easter Sunday, in the year 1880, in a small Sicilian village. Being an Italian opera, natch, everything ends in tragedy, wailing and lamentation - rather like trying to Shampoo our dog, Tim. Mascagni. the composer, was a classic One-Hit Wonder. Started his career on the metaphorical high note and never did another thing worth listening to. Or so they say. His 'Ave Maria' is beautiful, but either it is one of the tunes from Cav, -or vice versa.
Geezer (not totally blind, though it looks that way) and three legged best friend: Burgos, March 28th, 2010
A longer, probably boring entry today. Only the very interested in Patrick personally (if any such exist, apart from wife and family) need bother reading.
Good Friday is a good day for reflection on one's sins. Too much foolish fun is a cardinal one of mine. Repentance, therefore, here and now.
For a couple of weeks now, while Reb has been Caminoing, I have been following and posting entries, on Damian Thompson's blog in the Telegraph.
I stumbled on it casually at first and was entranced. Damian, and many of his regular contributors are Conservative Catholics it is safe to say. They yearn for the good old days - before Vatican 2 - when the mass was in Latin and purple-faced priests roared from the pulpits fulminating about the horrors of birth control to packed congregations of potato-faced Irish labourers with stony-faced wives and herds of sullen, lumpen, offspring. Bing Crosby was oiling his way through 'The Bells of Saint Marys, and 'Going My Way,' Barry Fitzgerald sidekicked as a vicious, embittered old bigot with a Heart of Gold (strangely and prophetically channeling the current Pope), typewriter mechanics were in high demand and MEN WERE MEN, not a bloody gang of pansies in tight trousers.
Damian's deranged devotees deplore, not only Vatican 2, but also the Enlightenment, and probably the Renaissance, as well.
To discover that all this was still, if not alive and kicking, at least even moribund, was interesting and more importantly, amusing to me.
So I joined in the fun, introducing a few conceits of my own. One such was that Damian, judging from his photo - was a nine-year old leprechaun that had blundered into a coven. Harmless enough, and maybe even gave the unfortunate lad a wan smile.
All this amiable idiocy might have gone on for weeks more - at least until Reb returned from Santiago and reclaimed the computer for grown-up stuff.
But Providence works, etc, etc.
A past acquaintance, and (so he tells me) veteran Damian blogger, has rejoined the fiesta. As ever, full of lamentations about the terrible state of practically everything these days. Filth and obscenity everywhere - represented on the Blog, no doubt, by me.
Dogs with insufficient legs allowed to roam Spain unmolested, Catholics all capering about the Vatican in brocade-fringed chasubles, 'desperate' sad, atheists discharging their jealous spleen at cheerful, chirpy Christians..
Well my old sparring partner is bang on, and I would thank him from the bottom of my heart if I had one.
Deboot the computer. Back to the books. Back to Montaigne, Voltaire, Sartre, Camus, Russell, Popper, Wittgenstein, Joyce, Beckett, Flann O'Brien - and, yea even Pascal and Kierkegaard.
Goodbye to all that other god-ridden gallimaufry.
Still, my stint in Damian's humbug mine did expand my vocabulary a bit. I learned what a thurible is, (a smouldering tin handbag) and what a chasuble is, (a pope's frock) Good to know in these Vatican-voguish days.
Reb says to point out that I am not abandoning my own blog. Which will be back Sunday with 'Cav!'
Reb is now at Viana. One of the few places on the Camino I remember because Cesare Borgia , the blueprintl for Machiavelli's naughty old Prince is buried there - right outside the church door, so you have to walk on his grave to go in. Serves him right, no doubt. However, I do have a startling bit of news - the local Palencia newspaper has run a FULL PAGE on the pair of us. With a photo. Reb looks fine, I look half witted, so the smudger (Brit newspaper slang for photographer) got it about right. However, something has gone a bit wrong in translation, as Rebekah Scott is now Rebekah Scout. These things happen in the best regulated newspapers as we both know - so we will be laughing, not suing. Scout's honor.
San Jose Day here - in the rain. Don't you just love the smell of wet dog in the morning?
Had a call from the Little Woman hoofing it to Estrella ahora mismo. She stayed in an hotel last night and is now feeling guilty about the expense. I suggested, not only should she make a practice of staying in hotels, but only if there is no parador handy. If there is, book into that. But she won't. I get the impression that she feels the Camino is going, or has gone, down the Swanee big time since she last trod it.
Not only am I the target of a crazed cockerel,(see previous blog) but even my doggie compamions are a source of hazard and concern. Twice now, Nabi the Greyhound has accidentally (I am sure) run into me in the middle of a field at about literally twenty miles an hour and sent me bowling. It would seem that her accomplice, Lulu, has settled for afflicting both Reb and I mentally, by going seriously lame for a couple of days and causing us to worry and call the Vet. In fact, Nabi has already done this in the past, twice, (go lame, that is - not call the Vet) but then recovered from the problems quickly. Now Lulu appears to have done likewise. (recover quickly, that is - not call the Vet) We hope. We are not yet used to Greyhounds. Their legs look so fragile and they run so fast on them that frequent injuries seem inevitable. And you will have read in Reb's blog of their joint attack on a neighbor friend's very small dog which they ran down and had every intention of tearing to bits. We had to fend them off with my stick. These are the same beasts which, from day one, I have felt confident to pick up, pull mouths open, peer into ears and generally poke about - the same as I do with Una and Tim - without the slightest fear of them biting. And I still do. Very odd. However, muzzles are on the cards for walks. They both are still very distrustful of anyone but Reb and me, and may always be a bit that way. On top of that, the Vet hospital in Leon is quoting 450 euros EACH to have them spayed. Greyhounds, it seems - although demanding of affection - are not cuddly dogs. Big fun so far, though.
Max, our Rooster/Cockerel, is kicking up. Big time - with spurs on. The worm-catcher has suddenly turned. I think I have written here before on what a coward Max used to be; bristling and bustling and shouting aggressively until I looked him in the eye, then strutting away pretending the bluster was all about something else, over there, on the other side of the coop. But no longer. No more the Craven Crowboy. He has suddenly become immensely, almost suicidally, brave. When I go out each morning to feed and water him and the harem, he waits until I am busy with the water dispenser, or whatever, then hurls himself full force into me from behind - like Berlusconi at a Miss Italy contestant. And when I turn and challenge him, he puffs himself up all over, shouts the chicken equivalent of 'Banzai!' and wades back in for more. It is well to go armed these days. This morning I happened to be carrying the chain saw, (blade in its cover I hasten to say) and was able to parry him with a smart blow to the wattles, which discouraged him long enough for me to collect the eggs and toe it. Hard to know how to proceed. I must confess he amuses me hugely - now more than ever - and I would hate to make him all timid again by clouting him too hard. But sometimes, other people have to get the eggs and so forth, and should not have to go toe to beak with the Feathered Fury. Suggestions welcomed, the more absurd, the better.
Long time no blog. Sorry. One reason is that I have recently subject to recurring attacks of a lifelong, though happily unthreatening, malaise - commonly referred to in medical circles as "idleness." But idleness is not all to blame. I have also become transfixed to the point of immobility by The Blog of Damian Thompson. It is to be found in The Daily Telegraph online, under Blogs, then go to Religion. If I knew how, I would make a link or something. But you know me. Anyway, when you visit said blog, you will see a photograph of Damian. It shows him to be both very young and amazingly lifelike. Due to his tender years he is still having trouble fixing his tie, but we are confident he will have it mastered within months, if not weeks. Shoelaces may take longer. As to the blog, it must be read to be believed. Not so much for his own entries, which are for the most part anodyne enough, but for the responses he provokes. The other day, someone was advocating a new reconquista in Europe. Where I live, they haven't go over the last one yet. Only recently have they started digging the first of the bodies up. As a newcomer to Damian's blog, I congratulate him. It's an unalloyed masterpiece of nostalgic trivia. The heady admixture of incense, candle wax, paranoia, suspicion, bluster and fear instantly transports me back in Proustian fashion over half a century to my Catholic 'education.' Clearly a great many of the commenters are familiar with one another and seem to occupy their entire day in arcane and pedantic bickering over Catholic-Anglican mminutiae which would not detain any rational human for a nanosecond. Sadly, a high proportion of them are clearly barking, and a danger to society if allowed out unsupervised, thus the blog performs a valuable social function. It also puts one in mind of medieval greybeards debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin - but brought up to 'date' as a gang of pinheads dancing on an angel. Having said this - which is, of course, kindly meant - I intend to avail myself regularly of its riches. All good harmless fun, it seemed at first sight. But I can be a bit slow on the uptake. It suddenly hit me like a Blinding Flash - as we cliche-mongers say - that it might All Be The Work of Opus Dei. - (Burst of sinister chords reaching sonorous climax) - Coo, er. So if, or more likely when, my lifeless corpse is found strangled with rosary beads, Mossad and Alastair Campbell can safely be excluded from the list of suspects.
In one of Anthony Powell's 'Music of Time' novels, Moreland says something to the effect that, 'It's not the awful things awful people do that upset one, we expect that - it's the awful things that nice people do that really hurt.' I am sure Powell put it more gracefully, but you get the point. That's why I find the current behaviour and attitude of Tony Blair and Alastair Caampbell distressing. More on this later, I fear. Now it is jolly in London, but cold. Superb lunch in Clapham yesterday in a Spanish restaurant with chums. The murder of David Kelly remains unsolved. Sorry. Alaistair was speechless for fully fifteen seconds on TV yesterday. 'Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent,' says Ludwig. But we shouldn't regard that as an unspoken admission of murder.
There may be no blog for a while. We are off the England, London and Bournemouth, to see family and friends. I will try to write, but it might be difficult. I am looking forward to meeting people but not to the journey. These days I am a rather indifferent old wine, with more than a hint of acidity, that does not travel.
Life without the furries and featheries will be unsatisfactory. But there will be compensations for sure.
And I will try to solve the murder of Dr. David Kelly. Easy.
Today Blair speaks at Chilcot. He will squirm skilfully and nothing will be resolved. He knows something. Maybe we should take a lead from his ex-brother in arms Rumsfeld and waterboard him a few dozen times.
I was beginning to think that the idea of any news story shocking me ever again was long gone - that I had moved beyond good and evil in fact. Until I read that Lord Hutton, some sort of ex-judge, was sealing the evidence in the suspicious 2003 'suicide' of Dr. David Kelly - for the next seventy years! An amazing bit of high-handed arrogance by anyone's standards, one would think. Kelly was, as a biological scientist and arms inspector, deeply invoved in the continuing ruckus over the Iraq war and the famous, if fabulous, Weapons of Mass Destruction. Given this, and in view of the current Chilcot inquiry, we can only ask ourselves: What is Hutton hiding? Something momentous for sure. Either we can hold our collective breath for seventy years or we can speculate. So, here goes. If Kelly's death was either suicide or an accident, there would be no need for a cover-up. It must then, be murder. And very likely brutal murder. And very likely cold-blooded. So, cold-blooded, brutal murder it is. Now we're getting somewhere. Who done it? We have all heard the scurrilous and unfounded rumors surrounding Alastair Campbell. Utterly unfounded. Totally absurd. One only needs to visit his 'Official Website.' It is indeed a site to see. All pastel pink, rose and mauve labels - more suggestive of Women's Knitting Weekly magazine than of a cold-blooded, brutal murderer. And there is the man himself featured in his extensive 'picture gallery' - still almost distinguished looking, despite his advanced years, like some noble old ruin. By no means is this the face of a cold-blooded, brutal, killer - except when he is wearing his soccer cap, of course. The clincher of his innocence was, for me, his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry. The forthright and guileless simplicity of his delivery gave the lie to those base enough to infer that he might have the cunning to commit anything as complex as murder, even the warm-blooded and gentle kind. We must look elsewhere. Watch this blog!
Tony Blair is a melancholy conundrum to me. When he was elected Prime Minister, I was still working in the States but I followed his career with close and friendly interest. He, and his wife, seemed cozily familiar - the sort of people who lived nearby, that you ran into at dinner parties. Decent, reasonable, cheerful, caring, compassionate sorts. Like all of us, in fact. Nice. Liberal.Easygoing. In favour of gay marriage and a woman's right to choose. Enjoying both opera and the Stones. Not too intellectual - at least not in public. Fond of a nice glass of wine, provided it's not too costly. Don't own guns, and don't want to. We had mutual friends. Same sort of people. I wished him well. Seems, as usual, I was dead wrong. Seems Tony got some kind of sexy frisson from hanging around the corridors at the White House in order to catch a glimpse of boy George twirling his six-guns and pretending to be Gary Cooper. From time to time Bush would swagger out ('In Texas, we call it walkin!') of the Oval Office, pat the Prime Minister on the top of his pointy head and let him kiss his arse occasionally. Well, horses for courses, as we Brits say. Whatever floats your boat as the Americans put it. Takes all sorts, etc. But, Jesus Christ. I am no snob (Oh, yes you are - says Reb) but I would far sooner be shoveling shit on the Isle of Capri than have to be in the same time zone - let alone the same room - as Bush, or Cheney or Rumsfeld, or any of that detestable, ignorant, vulgar, arrogant, squalid, unlettered, philistine bunch of neocon bastards. But the ongoing Chilcot inquiry will, no doubt, not pursue this line of reasoning. After all, even today in Britain and America both, to consort with a bunch of hyenas and yahoos like the Bushes merits no more than scorn and disgust. Crimes against taste and human dignity are not war crimes. Some of the British newspapers are encouraging readers to say what questions they would like to ask Blair when he presents himself at the Chilcot inquiry. Mine would be, 'How did you manage to sit next to that nauseating prick at luncheon and ask him to pass the salt without vomiting all over him?' Rhetorical to be sure, but I think we should be told.
Haiti may have to take a back seat today, despite there being another heavy tremor. (Pray harder, folks - maybe you can head off number three) The thing is, we were giving the dogs their usual constitutional the other morning, when Una suddenly ignored our 'commands' and ran across the local road. Two minutes later she came back, accompanied by two skeletally thin greyhound bitches. This was not a surprise to us, as there have been sightings of two stray greyhounds in the area for several days now. We managed to coax the smaller one to come near enough to get a lead round her neck, and the other tagged along close behind but making sure nobody could get a hand on her. And so we lead them home and within the comforting walls of the Peaceful compound. The cops were called, arrived, said it was another department's problem, thanked us, and left. So, now we have two of the thinnest, smelliest - but very beautiful - dogs you'll ever see. Both still very scared and shy. They have been out in the wilderness, living on who knows what, for at least a week. The smaller one has already performed every conceivable bodily function on the floor and the carpet. Reb and Kim are giving them names. Bad idea. They can't stay. Reb came to bed at 2 a.m, last night and I went down and stayed with the dogs. Very pleasant with the stove kept up, dozing in the firelight. When I woke about four one of the hounds had been sick on the carpet. Dogs. As the man said, 'Truly, they are called dogs.' But, at 8 a.m. the bigger one followed me outside and did her bodily stuff in the yard. A good development.
I think I published this yesterday, but I have added a bit extra. So will re-publish.
The Haiti quake has shaken up a few preconceptions. Earthquakes - more perhaps than any other form of natural disaster - concentrate the mind wonderfully. Why is this? Well, they invariably strike without warning. Hurricanes, and the floods in their wake, are tracked hourly and we are informed of the risk. People often are warned to flee. Whether or not they do, is their problem, we can comfort ourselves. Volcanos the same. In the past they took the locals by surprise. Not now. Tornados can still strike swiftly, but mostly folks can take some sort of cover in time. Extreme heat and extreme cold are capable of killing, but usually only when things go wrong these days. Mostly we cope. There is the perception of something unearthly about an earthquake. One second you are dozing cozily in your bed, the you are next dead, buried under tons of rubble. In fact, like it or not, an earthquake is one of the most natural things in the world. Geologists are surprised it doesn't happen more often. The paper-thin surface of the planet has been shifting and roiling for millions of years. We all know this, although I suppose the people who think the world is a few thousand years old have their own ideas. In the quite recent past, in 1755 in fact, Christian believers - virtually everyone in the western world that was, had no doubt about earthquakes. They were the work of God - and so must be part of His plan. As they were destructive, He must be punishing the Lisbonians(?) for something. This something must be their sins - what else? When Voltaire had the nerve to question this assumption, it was decried as blasphemy. In 2010, either these old arguments are still valid for Christians or they are not. If they are not, what are the new arguments about God, 'natural' disaster and the world? I would very much like to know.
So far no success. I am now accused of playing games.
What I would like is for somebody to say, 'No, it's not God's fault, because...' or 'Yes, it's God's fault, but...' Is this too much to ask?
I am tempted to say the hell with it, but that would be unchristian.
The Haiti earthquake, and subsequent comments by the likes of Pat Robertson - got me, and no doubt most people, thinking about Voltaire. Well, we can't think about him often enough. I must thank Mr. Thomas S. Vernon for putting all it so elegantly.
ON NOVEMBER 1, 1755, Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, was virtually destroyed by a terrible earthquake that resulted in the deaths of many thousands of people. In statistical terms this event is by no means at the top of the list of the world's great disasters, but it made a lasting impression on the minds of literate people. Many of us today know about the Lisbon earthquake who never heard of the more destructive events that have occurred both before and since in various parts of the civilized world. What made the Lisbon earthquake so memorable? No doubt mainly the fact that it was thought about and written about by one man, François Marie Arouet de Voltaire. The tragedy made a life-changing impression on the mind of this man, not only because of the immeasurable human suffering involved, but also because of its religious significance.
When news of the tragedy reached Voltaire he wrote to a friend as follows:
'One would have great difficulty in divining how the laws of movement operate such frightful disasters in the best of all possible worlds.... What will the preachers say, especially if the palace of the Inquisition has been left standing? I flatter myself that the reverend father inquisitors will have been crushed like the others. That should teach men not to persecute men.'
'The best of all possible worlds' is a reference to Gottfried Leibniz, the German philosopher who, in 1710, had published a work explaining that the evil and suffering we witness are necessary features of a world which otherwise would not be as perfect as it is. This was a popular view among philosophers and theologians of the time: our limited minds cannot grasp reality as it is perceived by an infinite, benevolent, and all-powerful God who, out of an infinite number of possible worlds, has created the best that could be. This is one way of dealing with what is known in the history of thought as the problem of evil: why do evil and suffering abound in a world created by a beneficent and all-powerful Creator? The answer, according to Leibniz and others is that we would realize that everything is really for the best, could we but see things from God's point of view. To Voltaire such a resolution of the problem had long seemed insupportable, and the Lisbon earthquake appeared to attack and demolish once and for all a philosophy that insulted human dignity and intelligence.
The view promulgated by Leibniz and others is often characterized as "optimism." Theodore Besterman reminds us that "in this context optimism has nothing to do with one's outlook on life; it is the belief that all that is and happens is for the best." Indeed to some thinkers, including Voltaire, the Leibnizian view makes for the deepest sort of pessimism, for if we were obliged to believe that the conditions of human life we see about us are the best that is possible -- even under the management of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God then we have good reason to be discouraged, not only about this life but about the life to come as well.
Yet John Wesley, the Methodist patron saint, did not hesitate to attribute the Lisbon tragedy to "sin," to "that curse that was brought upon the earth by the original transgression of Adam and Eve." This should not surprise us, as Wesley was also an enthusiastic supporter of witch burning.
Christian opinion of the question of free will has long been divided, but there is substantial unanimity in claiming the right to exercise free will in the matter of logic! Voltaire had also read a poem by Alexander Pope in which Pope proclaimed, "Whatever is is right"!
Some Christian apologists have tried to explain away the problem of evil by saying that what the infinite mind of God perceives as reasonable and just may not appear so to our finite intelligence. In his Philosophical Dictionary Voltaire makes short work of this kind of pettifogging sophistry:
The silly fanatic repeats to me ... that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the great Being, that His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh! how, you mad demoniac, do you want me to judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions I have of them? Do you want me to walk otherwise than with my feet, and to speak otherwise than with my mouth?
This picture of Edith Piaf has nothing to do with the piece below. But we need something to look at.
Haiti is on my mind right now. That and God, and one of his representatives on earth, Mr.(or should that be the Rev?) Rob Elder. I had a small exchange with him on facebook, during which it transpired that he is a Man of the Cloth.
A felicitous epiphany for me. Of course, with a name like that, one should have known. Mr. Elder, is indeed, an elder of some church or other - which is yet to be revealed, but I have high hopes of The Quivering Brethren. A youngish elder, maybe but an elder nonetheless. And, doubtless, the latest in a lengthy line of elders possibly stretching back to the Flood. A notable affirmation of intellectual Lamarkism. Serendipity is the word that springs to mind.
My affection for clerics is well-known in the small but select circle I inhabit. Nothing I like better than vituperating with vicars, parleying with parsons, prognosticating with priests or bickering with bishops. If you should think this is mere persiflage, ask my bishop buddy Bosco, of Pennsylvania. I would even be prepared to pontificate with the Pope. I am no snob. Indeed, at times I reflect on my wasted life and wonder if I might not have made a decent Dean myself. But I suspect I might have taken the religion business a bit too seriously.
The point is, my Christian chums are, practically without exception, exceptionally nice people. And often intelligent. Jim Basick was - hopefully still is - Chaplin to Toledo University.(Though, on reflection, I suspect this might sound as if I am damning him with faint praise.) No matter, we must press on.
The point is, (I know, we're getting there) the point is, all these good men (and the odd woman) belive in things that are not supported by any credible evidence. There is no evidence to support the belief that there is life after death, for example. The 'evidence' that Jesus rose from the dead, is sufficiently contradictory to prevent any self-respecting newspaper from running it. Fox News might, or The National Enquirer, but not The New York Times or The Toldeo Blade.
The point is, (at last) this all started with Pat Robertson saying that Haiti had only itself to blame for doing a deal with the devil. But, once the door to superstition is opened even a fraction, all kinds of lunacy comes bursting in. Why is making a pact with Satan any more crazy than praying to a god who apparently allows appalling things to happen to us all on a daily basis? Maybe he hates Haiti. Maybe he loves the USA. If that is so, it doesn't seem fair to me. And we English like fairness, in principle anyway.
An honest god is the noblest work of man, they say. (I do, anyway) We need to do more work on this one, he's looking a bit shabby.
And we havent even mentioned Sara Palin. That should count for something.