Friday, May 31, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Rahsaan Roland Kirk's Creative Chaos, by JD

In the middle of all this current political chaos, fake or otherwise, I think we deserve to have some real and creative chaos which is genuinely inspiring and joyful.

If you are of a nervous disposition, look away now (as they say on the telly) but if not, fasten your seatbelts and turn up the volume for the unique and legendary Rahsaan Roland Kirk!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Voter Suppression in the USA, by "Paddington"

In the good old days, the primary paths to power were generally simple. Things like birthright, marriage, assassination and conquest.

Now that most countries are democratic, at least in theory, one must claw to the top of some power structure, and then be elected.

One way to do the latter is to convince enough voters that they need you. This carries a high risk of failure.

To increase the odds, one could take the route favoured by Saddam Hussein, and famously described by Stalin, “It doesn't matter how the people vote, only who counts the votes”. While effective, this method requires a large conspiracy, which is hard to maintain.

In some places of the US, such as Chicago and Miami, Florida, a popular method used to be what is called the 'graveyard vote', having people impersonate dead voters. In New York, they just got enough street dwellers drunk and marched them to the polls.

With better modern record keeping, these methods are much less effective. In fact, despite claims by Republicans of millions of illegal aliens voting, and massive voter fraud, repeated investigation has only uncovered a handful of cases nationwide in the past two decades. Most of those were Republicans, claiming to 'test the system'.

It is the South, now primarily Republican, which has outdone itself, with the simple tactic of voter suppression.

We can begin with the founding of the Republic. The slave-holding states realized that their population was mostly slaves, and so apportionment of Congressional seats by population would leave them with little power. Hence, the allocation of two Senate seats per state, and the famous '3/5 compromise', where slaves counted as 3/5 of a regular person.

After the Civil War, the 14th and 15th amendments now allowed all former slaves to vote, so a new tactic was needed. The answer was to arrest the now-homeless freemen under vagrancy laws. Not only could they not vote while in prison, but also were generally prevented from doing so if they ever got out. An added bonus was that slavery was still allowed for people in prison, so they were a tremendous source of free labour, a system which lasts through today. This method was supplemented with poll taxes, which the African-Americans couldn't afford to pay, and literacy tests, which were strangely harder for people of colour.

Under the cover of claiming massive voter fraud, there have been major moves to require 'valid' identification to vote. This sounds reasonable enough, doesn't it? Now consider:

1. Texas accepts a state-issued Concealed-Carry Weapons permit as valid, but not a state-issued university ID card (those 'liberal' students)
2. Many older African-Americans in the South cannot get their birth certificates, as most were not born in official hospitals, and so cannot get ID.
3. In Arkansas, the single office to get a state ID (for those without a driver's license) is only open for a few hours on the fifth Wednesday of a month (not a joke).

And then there are the other clever techniques used most recently in 2018:

1. A bus in Georgia was taking a group of African-American retirees from a nursing home to the polls. The white workers at the home stopped the bus, and dragged them off.
2. In Georgia, there is automatic voter registration when a driver's license is renewed. But, it only registers the person for the national elections, not the local and state ones, keeping things like the Sheriff's position away from 'those people'.
3. A law in Arizona required voters to have a street address. Most Native Americans use rural post boxes, without one.
4. Dodge City, Kansas, closed its single polling station, and moved it a mile out of the city, miles away from any bus route.
5. The state party in charge after each census gets to decide the Congressional map for the state. In the last elections, Republicans have so gerrymandered the districts that they were awarded 12 of 16 seats in Congress for Ohio while only getting 52% of the vote.

While our leadership lectures the rest of the world on democracy, we behave more like a banana republic.

Further reading (Ed.):

... and a recent example from Texas:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Business Rat Spoiler Alert System?

From China Daily, news of a fresh twist to the national program of mutual snitching: debt-shaming by smartphone.

Hebei court unveils phone program to expose deadbeats

... With the program, smartphone users can find out how many deadbeats are within 500 meters, as well as their personal information, which they can use to share with friends or report them to the court.

Wang Yanling, a resident in Chang'an district in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, said she was so surprised when she found so many debtors near her.

"The program shows there are 87 defaulters around my home at Huicui Garden, including individuals and companies such as restaurants and real estate developers," she said.

Wang said she would check the blacklist on the program first next time she wants to go to a restaurant.

We're used to being spied on in the West - not just Five Eyes intergovernmental sharing of information about us, but the rash of trackers attaching themselves as we look around online so that they can target adverts.

But if we're going in for this kind of thing, how about making it work for us?

Wouldn't it be useful to know, before signing a contract to supply goods or services, whether the other party has swindled others? What if such information was so commonly available that such people were driven out of business for lack of victims?

Let me give you a couple of examples I know about.

Case 1: a successful small shopfitting company has a sub-department turning wood products for commercial furnishing and refurbishments. King Rat puts in a big order and when the work is done, withholds payment, falsely claiming that some of the goods were not as specified. The cashflow crisis puts the whole company into receivership; the receiver sells off goods at 10p in the pound - including the original order, to King Rat. The buildings are flogged off at 50% of bricks and mortar value (all this is standard in the world of receivership); a couple of dozen workers are laid off; the director is landed with surplus personal debt after all this bargain basement raiding.

Case 2: another firm completes work and the director goes to see a different King Rat to settle up. Everything has been done satisfactorily, the latter agrees. He then says there are two options: sue him for the £100k owed - and KR has deep pockets for the legal case, which will take a long time; or accept £50k now - "it can be in your bank account this afternoon" (which will wipe out the profit and leave a fair bit of the costs uncovered, too.) There is no choice but to accept the swindle.

This kind of thing is one reason small enterprises struggle to rise and often fail, especially as recession looms.

What if there were some extraterritorial whistleblower setup that could automatically warn all potential contractors via their phones?

If only.

Btw the above Chinese story - quoted in this week's Private Eye - is accompanied there by another, about outsourcing traffic law enforcement to bounty hunters:

"How New Yorkers are making bank ratting out idling drivers."

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

EU Superstate: Pointless AND Dangerous

The point that so many commentators are missing about the EU, is that it’s lost its point. It began as a peace movement disguised as a mutually beneficial trading arrangement. Now it is failing at both projects; and worse yet, it is becoming dangerous.


Jean Monnet laboured over decades to achieve it through European union: never again should there be Continental war between France and Germany.

But by the time his post-WWII project was launched, that conflict wasn’t possible in any case. Like the rest of Western Europe, France was struggling to recover from the war effort, while Germany was divided and occupied by the Communists on one side, and British and American armed forces on the other.

Again today, even after German reunification, it’s not going to happen. The nations of the Common Market have bound themselves together with Lilliputian threads. As North and Booker show, the Common Agricultural Policy saved France from Left revolt by subsiding its small farmers during reforms to their sector, and since January’s Aachen Treaty the two nations are committed to regular biannual joint Parliaments to tackle joint problems.


As well as easing inter-member trading, the Community was also a bulwark against globalism, using its joint external tariffs to guard against cheap-production Far Eastern economies.

That is, until its mania for expansion took hold, and other countries were absorbed, whose poorly paid workforces undermined the living standards of their fellows. Some existing members sought temporary relief, campaigning for a moratorium on the right of the newcomers to seek work in competition with them; but not Britain, which was then surprised by the numbers entering the UK.

So on the one hand the EU didn’t need to become a superstate to prevent Franco-German war, and on the other hand its territorial acquisitions have imported some of the economic destabilization from which it could have protected Western Europe.

As though there wasn’t enough to do, combating globalism. Sir James Goldsmith warned of the social consequences of untrammelled “free trade” back in 1994; and what he said has come true. Our budgets are out of kilter, our workforces are “just about managing” and resentful. Debts grow; the system is creaking; industries are failing – goodbye now, British Steel.

Yet even Mrs Thatcher was supportive of the system at first; it was sort of all right so long as one was firm with one’s European partners. Yes, we bled billions every year in our trade imbalance with the Continent; yes, our miners, smelters, farmers, fishers, factories paid the price; but what with North Sea Oil, Mrs T’s supply side reforms, her Chancellor’s monetary expansion and the profits of the City’s financiers, the country could keep going.

In fact, if the Community had stayed as it was in 1983, we might never have had our second Referendum and if we had, Remainers might have won hands down. For up to that point most matters were handled on an intergovernmental basis, without mooting the need for an overarching Power dictating everything.

But in the Eighties, the Italian Communist Artiero Spinelli pushed for the resumption of the EU’s journey to single nationhood, and we see the fires of that enthusiasm in the eyes of Guy Verhofstadt and other True Believers. The normal objectives were forgotten in an Ahab-like obsessive quest for a White Whale: supranationalism.


Verhofstadt has now used the word “Empire”. The EU wants to become one. It wants to be like Russia, China, the US – all countries that M. Macron named (obscenely using Verdun and the centenary of the Armistice) as the EU’s potential future military opponents.

It wants to be big. It wants to be mighty. It wants an Army, an air force, an aircraft carrier; it wants nuclear weapons. It wants to help African countries in their internal conflicts; it wants to “restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity” while Russia holds the Eastern part and the US arms and trains Ukrainian forces.

It wants everything that Jean Monnet gave his life’s work to prevent.

It wants what could lead to war.

Friday, May 24, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: After the Tempest, by JD

Politicians are currently running around like headless chickens (is that one of the requirements for selection I wonder?) and it is all the fault of Brexit, allegedly. If news reports are to be believed the populace appears to be in a state of suppressed rage at the infantile invincible ignorance of Whitehall and Westminster. It looks as though we need another 'Keep calm and carry on' musical selection to take our minds off their insanity just like the last time -

So Keep Calm and Carry On and remember that nothing lasts forever and 'this too shall pass'

"Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again."

William Shakespeare - The Tempest

Friday, May 17, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Old Roots, New Shoots - by JD

In 2005 the BBC showed the first of a series of music programmes called Transatlantic Sessions bringing together musicians from Scotland, Ireland, England and the USA all of whom played traditional folk music. A stroke of genius really because America's folk, country and bluegrass grew out of the music that immigrants from the 'old world' had taken with them to their new life in the 'new world' The music is a wonderful blend of all those traditions and it ran for six series. They should make some more programmes. There is a shortage of good music on TV!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Conservatives are an endangered species

What is a Conservative? An endangered species, I would suggest; and the reason is corporatism.

British Conservatives tend to be coy about their beliefs. If you wish to be the ‘natural party of government’ it is not a good idea to be too definite and dogmatic about principles, which can only lead to damaging splits as per the factions in Python’s ‘Life Of Brian’ . Quintin Hogg said it was ‘not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society.’

Okay, something to do with freedom; but specifically, individual freedom – not some collective freedom that is equivalent to a coach trip going where many of the passengers don’t wish to go.

And that implies a degree of economic independence.

Over the centuries, between the peasant in his field and the King in his court there sprang up the burgess in his town, where ideas, information and capital could circulate creatively. The special skills of goldsmiths and haberdashers, protected from ruinous competition by guilds, allowed their accumulation of wealth through trade; and fostered the attitude that the rulers should serve the people, or at least, people like themselves. There might be challenges to the throne from time to time, yet as my farmer grandfather observed, the oxen change but the trough remains the same.

Now, the social order is threatened not by an ‘overmighty subject’ looking to unseat the King, but by multinational businesses that undermine the burgess class with impunity. There is no need to be over-careful about a nation’s welfare and social cohesion so long as one can extract the cash and carry it far away.

And then, political attitudes will change.

What goes around, comes around. Tesco’s Dave Lewis is calling for a cut in business rates funded by a tax on online sales. It’s not as though Tesco hasn’t itself taken advantage of Internet trading and tax offshoring, in the past, but now they are getting pinched between the likes of Amazon in the virtual world and the discount supermarkets in the real one.

Still, what’s happening now to the big brick shops is only what they themselves have done to small High Street traders. When I first came here in suburban Birmingham, the local shopping parade boasted a mom-and-pop hardware store, a second-hand bookshop, a post office, two greengrocers and three butchers.

All gone.

What have we got now? Knock-off shops, nail and tattoo parlours, fast-food takeaways and an opaque-fronted store selling hydroponics to grow cannabis. The people are getting fatter, tatter and mad as a hatter. Greyfaced hoodies slip unshaven from the barber’s and into their mates’ nippy cars - don’t look at them, and don’t walk around at night.

The bookshop owner told me the neighbourhood was ‘artisan’; that was over thirty years ago.

The self-serving narrative of big capital is that it ‘creates jobs’, but as the sharply pessimistic US writer James Kunstler observes, ‘one of the founders of the Home Depot company, billionaire Ken Langone… made his fortune by putting every local hardware store in America out of business, which enabled him to capture the annual incomes of ten thousand small business owners and their employees.’

And more is lost than even this wide-angle perspective might show. One of my greengrocers was employing his son, training him up to take over. The boy learned how to talk to customers, handle goods and money, and build the relationships that would sustain what would one day be his business. He would not be hanging around the off-license at night or setting fire to street waste bins. Round the corner, one of the butchers had three generations in the shop, the latest a primary age child who on Saturdays donned his little striped apron and watched how meat was cut. He, too, was going to grow up law-abiding and self-supporting.

Don’t expect a shelf-stacker on income supplements to vote the same way as them.

One of the reasons more people don’t support Brexit is, I think, the Marie Antoinette effect: they tend their washed sheep in blithe ignorance. Some of the comfortably-off, based perhaps in London or university cities or market towns, will still have butchers and greengrocers, will buy at the deli, the wine merchant and the artisan baker, will patronise the farmer’s market and fuss over having their strawberries in paper bags instead of plastic punnets. Despite what their eyes may skim over in the papers, they will look around their immediate environment and see that nothing much has altered. What on Earth, they will feel, is this ridiculous fuss all about?

They are heartened by the LibDems’ success in the recent council elections, not seeing that while Con and Lab each lost 7% of their voters, most of those didn’t migrate to the LibDems, who only added 3% to their own, much smaller share. It was an electoral collapse for the major players, and a shop-soiled victory for the least hated.

But it’s not business as usual. A great change is coming.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mysteries of Sacred Architecture (2), by JD

Chartres, the western rose window

It is time for a short history lesson:

In Louis Charpentier's book about Chartres Cathedral [9] he writes the Gothic style appeared suddenly around 1130AD and "In a few years it reaches its apogee, born whole and entire without experiment or miscarriage. And the extraordinary thing is that it had at its disposal master-craftsmen, artisans, builders, enough of them to undertake the construction of eighty huge monuments in less than 100 years."

Jean Gimpel in his book [10] tells a similar tale "In three centuries, 1050 - 1350, several million tons of stone were quarried in France for the building of 80 cathedrals, 500 large churches...... More stone was excavated in France during those three centuries than at any time in Ancient Egypt." And that was just in France. During the same period cathedrals were being built in England, Italy and Germany.

Where did this knowledge and understanding of design and construction come from? It is generally assumed it was brought to Europe by the nine (later ten) Knights Templar in the 11th or 12th century. But before any of the great European Cathedrals were built the Moors in Al Andalus (i.e. Spain) had built the Great Mosque of Cordoba, work starting in 784AD; the Alhambra Palace in Granada (originally Al Hamra - the 'red fort') in 889AD (and exensively renovated in the thirteenth century); and many more.

All of those buildings, and the Cordoba Mosque in particular, were built in accordance with the design principles as described at the beginning of this short essay. [3,4]

So the influences on the Cathedral builders of Europe were not necessarily confined to the returning Crusaders as our historians tell us.

Historians are mere chroniclers of conflict between various tyrants and, as such, tell only a part of the story. They appear to have little or no interest in the 'common people' nor the co-operation between peoples that is necessary for civilisation to flourish. They never tell us about the trade between nations or the exchange of ideas. The Roman Empire stretched from the north of England across the Mediterranean and into the Holy Land. We know that tin was transported from Cornwall to Rome as an essential ingredient for making bronze. We also know that spikenard oil came from the Himalayas and was used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus. So 2000 years ago it seems that there were extensive trade routes stretching across the known world, from 'Britannia' in the west to India (and possibly even into China) in the east. What else travelled along those trade routes? Think of all the different languages along this ancient 'silk road' and all the interpreters and translators who were obviously essential to conduct this trade. What else did they exchange besides goods? They would be exposed to new cultures, new ideas, different philosophies. As an example, one such traveller was Bernard the Pilgrim (Bernardus Sapiens, Bernard the wise) who was a Frankish Monk who left a chronicle of his journeys around the Mediterranean and into the Holy Land. The date of his travels is unclear but it is said to be 875 - 871 AD i.e. long before the first Crusade. [11]

There must have been other Christian travellers during the first millenium but without feeling the need to record their travels and as monks or abbots or bishops they would look at things from a different perspective than traders and merchants and so bring back more esoteric knowledge.

It is clear from the two books cited [9,10] that the driving force behind all of this building work came from the Monasteries, pricipally the Benedictines and the Cistercians. [12] And the main figure in all this seems to have been Bernard of Clairvaux who had links with the Templars and the building of Notre Dame de Chartres. "when the first Christians arrived in Chartres, during the declining years of the Roman Empire, they found in the 'Druid grotto' within the Chartres butte a statuette of the 'Black Virgin'. It was believed to represent Isis. Chartres, according to Charpentier, was a center for religious worship older than Christianity itself." [9]

That is an intriguing statement because -"St Bernard of Clairvaux was a great devotee of the Mother of Jesus, and he wrote numerous hymns and sermons which he dedicated to her. He also wrote several sermons on the theme of the Song of Songs in which the Bride sings “I am black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem." [13]

Bernard of Clairvaux was a Cistercian [14] and he introduced the cult of Isis into Christianity under the veil of the Virgin Mary. [15] Chartres was the first to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary (the first to be called Notre Dame.)

And so we come to the most mysterious of all the great Cathedrals; Chartres. Better minds than mine remain baffled by the cathedral and its many mysteries so all I can do is give my own reaction after visiting and to comment on some strange anomalies therein.

- The first and most striking inpression is of the light inside. I know that these are stained glass windows and they really are unique. They are not coloured glass which merely filter and colour the sunlight. The building seems to glow inside, an 'inner light' almost. Bathed in that glow, that light brings to mind Wordsworth's poem 'Intimations of Immortality' which includes the lines that everything seemed 'apparelled in celestial light'.

Charpentier explains that stained glass first appeared in Persia and was used in the European cathedrals for no more than 150 years or so and then disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. To this day nobody has been able to replicate the glass nor to work out how it was created. It was produced by Alchemy, that much derided ancient science, the forerunner of chenistry. Charpentier explains that there is something in sunlight which is damaging to organic material, for example in how fabrics fade in colour or how photos fade and of course how our skins are pigmented by prolonged exposure to sunlight. And yet there is something else in sunlight which triggers photosynthesis in plants. He speculates that the composition of stained glass somehow excludes the damaging rays while allowing the beneficial rays to pass. It was only recently that modern science has begun to understand the effect of light on matter in what is called quantum electrodynamics. [16] How did the glass makers know that? How did the cathedral builders know to include such glass? Could that knowledge be part of the 'secret' that was allegedly brought back from the Holy Land? Would they have known or witnessed or even been part of 'The Miracle of the Holy Fire' in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? [17] It might help to explain those questions about light.

- In one of those windows is a tiny gap in one of the panes of glass which allows unfiltered sunlight to pass. On the floor of the nave there is a small paving slab set at an angle to all others and in it is a small gilded metal tenon. At noon on the summer solstice a shaft of sunlight strikes that small piece of metal causing it to shine. The precision of the builders in calculating and locating that single moment in time is astonishing. How did they do that?

I should add that there is a similar but much less spectacular demonstration of the same thing in the Cloisters of Durham cathedral. On the south facing arcade there is a small gap in the tracery of the stone work and on the wall and floor of the arcade is a line with an arrow head etched into the wall and an arrow head etched into the floor. A shaft of sunlight will strike the arrow head on the wall at noon on the winter solstice and the arrow head on the floor at noon on the summer solstice. I don't know when that was incorporated into the stone work, whether it was there from the start or a later addition. And of the thousands of visitors, I wonder how many have noticed it?

- On the floor of the nave is a very large labyrinth (47 feet in diameter, the same diameter as the rose window) The labyrinth predates Christianity and it first appeared on the Greek coins of Crete in the 5th or 6th century BC. and has appeared at other times and places in pre-history. [18] So why is there a labyrinth in a Christian cathedral? Not that it is the only one, there are others in cathedrals in France and Italy.

But follow the pathway of the labyrinth in Chartres from its entrance to the centre and you will have journeyed more or less 666feet. Surely not, that is the famous or infamous number of the beast in Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. But all is not what it seems because we are back to the subject of the sun and light: 666 is, or was in ancient time, the number associated with the sun. [19] This cathedral does not easily reveal its secrets or mysteries.

- The outside of the cathedral is equally unorthodox in its many statues adorning virtually the whole building. I cannot begin to unravel the iconography; among the identifiable Christian statuary there is, for example, a statue of a donkey on its hind legs and playing a hurdy gurdy. I haven't the faintest idea what that is supposed to represent! The best guide I think would be a book called 'The Mystery of the Cathedrals' by Fulcanelli. [20] I have not read that book but I have read his other book "Les Demeures Philosphales" and I understood about half of it and there were some thing which I found difficult to accept: he seems to have undue reverence for an x shaped metal bar securely stored in a climate controlled room somewhere in Paris, this bar being the standard measure for the French metre. That struck me as odd because the length of the metre has been changed four times, to my knowledge, since it was invented in 1790. Furthermore it is irrelevant as a standard of measure because it does not conform to either a human scale or a geodetic scale or even a cosmic scale unlike every other standard of measure in history.

I am on safer ground with the actual dimensions of the building. The north tower is 365 feet in height and is topped by a cast iron 'flag' in the shape of the sun thus indicating the solar calendar. The south tower is 28 feet shorter than the north tower and is topped by a cast iron 'flag' in the shape of a crscent moon thus indicating a lunar calendar. [21] So the towers represent the solar, masculine aspect of humanity and the lunar, feminine aspect. (I have seen a lot of older paintings of the Virgin Mary showing her standing on a crescent moon with her head haloed with gold stars.)

This is esoteric rather than Christian symbolism and, overall, the cathedral seems to be dedicated to the sun. This is usually explained by the spread of Christianity which would take existing sacred places of worship and adapt Christianity and Christian symbolism to the extant spiritual system in order to convert the people to follow Jesus. (See above how Chartres was built on a site originally used by Druids) This was how Christianity spread in South and Central America but, oddly enough, in North America there was no attempt to use existing sacred places.

- So what does it all mean, why is it built they way it is? The short answer is, I don't know. I have a lot of other information which I could have included here but how to tie it all together into a coherent answer is beyond me at the moment and a lot of it would just confuse things further. One thing I do know is the effect on me of these buildings, not all of them but most of them. They all generate a strange air of tranquility, calmness and the awareness that there is a connection between here and the not-here which all religions are attempting to describe, a connection between here and that strange place colloquially known as heaven. A feeling that we are not alone and that we are all connected to all that was, is and will be. I am not sufficiently eloquent to articulate this and I know that I am not the only one.

It is not just the sacred buildings which do that. I have felt the same 'harmony' in other places: in the Alhambra Palace of Granada or in the Cañón del Río Lobos in the middle of Spain but also just sitting and watching the sun set into the Pacific ocean or visiting the amazingly peaceful setting of the Holystone/Lady's Well in the far north of Northumberland.

Charpentier, in his book, writes "... its [Chartres] architectural harmony remains intact, or little short of it and no man can boast, not even in a practical sense, that he leaves the cathedral at Chartres the same as he was when he went in."

"From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
This universal frame began
 From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man."

- John Dryden, A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687

[1] Notre Dame de Paris
[2] Viollet le Duc.
[3] fractals in architecture
[4] fractal architecture could be good for you
[5] A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael S. 
[6] Hexham Abbey, the Night Stair.
[7] The Vampire Rabbit of Newcastle
[8] Coventry Cathedral
[9] "The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral" - Louis Charpentier.
also -
[10] "The Cathedral Builders" - Jean Gimpel.
[11] Bernard the Wise
[12] Monasticism -
[13] Bernard of Clairvaux and the black Madonnas
[14] Cistercian Order -
[15] This page has been translated from Portuguese but the meaning is 
[16] QED
[17] The Miracle of the Holy Fire
[18] 'Architecture, Mysticism and Myth' by William Lethaby ( see chapter 
[19] The magic square of the sun.
[20] "The Mystery of the Cathedrals" by Fulcanelli -
  "Fulcanelli suggests that, just like there is a series of mysteries 
dwelling inside the Egyptian pyramids, there is occult knowledge inside 
the architecture and engineering of Medieval Gothic cathedrals. He 
believed these buildings were not only dedicated to the glory of 
Christianity, but also to books that contained the philosophical, 
religious, and social thoughts of our ancestors. Like any sanctuary, 
cathedrals posses a hospitable origin and were meant to shelter to 
anyone in disgrace."
[21] It should be noted that St Paul's in London measure 365 feet from 
the floor of the nave to the tip of the cross on the dome.

Friday, May 10, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, by JD

"Shelby Lynne was born in Quantico, Virginia and raised in Mobile, Alabama where she attended Theodore High School. Music was an important part of the Moorer family. Lynne's father was a heavy drinker who abused his wife. In 1985, her mother fled with the two girls to nearby Mobile, but her father soon discovered their whereabouts. In 1986, in front of 17-year-old Lynne and her younger sister, Allison, he shot his wife to death before taking his own life."

That might sound like the theme of one of those old Country & Western songs but in fact it was the reality of Shelby Lynne's and Allison Moorer's teenage years. Somehow they managed to overcome the trauma of that event and, in Nashville, became very good and highly regarded singers and songwriters. In 2017 they finally made a record together and, like all siblings, the musical harmonies were exceptional. Comparisons were made with the Everly Brothers which is high praise indeed.

Here is a selection from their joint album and a couple of solo pieces and, from Allison Moorer I don't think I have heard a better version of Carrickfergus. And of course, there is an Everly Brothers song included also.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Mysteries of Sacred Architecture (1), by JD

This is a post (in two parts) prompted by the recent fire at the Cathedral of Notre dame in Paris but it is not a speculation on the causes of the fire. I leave that to others.

And it is not about the costs of any restoration; those who object to money being spent on the building are very much in tune with Judas who objected to money being spent on expensive ointments for Jesus instead of giving the money to the poor - John 12:1–8

This is a post about the mystery that is Sacred Architecture and how and why such great ecclesiastical buildings are a permanent source of wonder. There are many books on the subject and thousands of words have been written already so all I can do is merely 'scratch the surface' and try to convey my own understanding from what I have read and what I have seen so far.

The recent fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is not the first time the building has been damaged. Considerably more damage was done to the fabric of the building during the French Revolution of 1789 and subsequently. [1]

The spire which was detroyed in the fire was not the original so all of the pious humbug about a legacy 'lost forever' is misplaced. The original was removed in 1786 because it was unstable in the wind. 

After the Revolution Napoleon was crowned Emperor in the Cathedral in 1804 and French life returned to normal, relatively speaking.

Restoration work on the cathedral was done by Viollet le Duc, starting in 1844. He recreated the original spire but made it "... taller and more strongly built to withstand the weather; it was decorated with statues of the apostles, and the face of Saint Thomas bore a noticeable resemblance to Viollet-le-Duc." [2]

I have been to the Cathedral during my time working in Paris but I have not been inside. I have visited and been fascinated by Cathedrals and other sacred buildings for most of my life and I don't know why but for some reason this one did not 'invite' me to step through the door.

My introduction to sacred architecture came during family holidays in Northumberland and the Borders and a visit to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. There was a wooden Priory building on the site from the 7th century. The current ruins are of the stone Priory built in the 12th century. Although I was very young when I first visited, those ruins looked 'right' somehow and looked as though they belonged in their setting, in that landscape. It was many years later that I heard about the design concept of Self Similarity. It is a concept whereby a glimpse of just a small portion of a design (as in Lindisfarne's ruins) will allow you to know exactly how the entire thing looks or in this case used to look. In other words it is an example of fractal geometry. [3]

" In the article Fractal Architecture Could Be Good For You (Joye, 2007) the author presents numerous architectural examples where fractal geometry plays an important role, from Hindu temples, where the self repeating and self-similar components are supposed to reflect the idea that every part of cosmos contain all information about the whole cosmos, to gothic architecture, with a high degree of self similarity and complex detailing." [4]

"A surprising amount of the world's religious art and architecture has been designed using the timeless symbolic patterns of nature and number, but these patterns symbolic of our own sacred inner realm, symbolic of the subtle structure of awareness whose source is the same as archetypal number. All this was understood in ancient times and deemed so important that it was built into the culture on every level." - Michael S. Schneider. [5]

If all of that sounds too complex, don't worry because you understand it at a subconscious intuitive level whether you realise it or not. It is why you hate the glass and steel of the modern architect's vanity projects found in every city and why you prefer vernacular or traditional building design. It is why modern architecture generates dis-ease.

Here in the 'far north' we also have Durham Cathedral which is more than 900 years old and, for me, the massive stone pillars within the main body of the building and the Cloisters are the most impressive features. But I much prefer Hexham Abbey. It is a lot smaller obviously and very different in character. Where the Cathedral is airy and light inside, the Abbey is dark within. The rood screen forms a very clear division between the choir and the congregation which division is emphasised by the width of the transept. By far the most impressive and mysterious feature is the Night Stair which is part of the original 13th century Priory on the site. My favourite detail however are the small carved stone figures behind the choir stalls including a figure of a bagpiper. I like that one! [6]

The Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas in the centre of Newcastle dates from the same period as Hexham Abbey, work being completed in 1350. Its most notable feature is the lantern spire built in the 15th century. The most interesting tale is not about the Cathedral itself but about the strange gargoyle known as the Vampire Rabbit which sits on a very ornate doorway of Cathedral Buildings (built 1901) and this little creature is looking directly at the east window of the Cathedral. Why? Well, nobody seems to know. I have asked in the Cathedral as well as the local library but it is a mystery. I suspect the answer may be hidden somewhere in the dusty archives of the architects; or maybe not. [7]

Venturing further south I have visited many, but nowhere near all, of the Cathedrals of England and each has provided something worth remembering. It would be repetitive to try to describe all of them but I will mention the one which was the exception. That was the new Coventry Cathedral which was consecrated in 1962. When I saw it in that year, to say it was a shock is something of an understatement. It doesn't look like a cathedral, it doesn't 'feel' like a cathedral and I cannot think of anything good to say about it - modern architecture at its contemptuous worst: show any modern architect an urban space to be filled and he will treat it the way a dog treats a lamppost!

My first reaction on seeing it was to wonder why it had a statue of the devil at the entrance. On closer inspection it turned out to be St Michael triumphant over the devil but there was very little that was 'saintly' about the sculpted figure. Inside the building were row upon row of wooden chairs, it resembled a school assembly hall.

The only thing which impressed me was the large tapestry by Graham Sutherland. I still have the commemorative souvenir publication called Cathedral Reborn [8] I note that it cost 5/-, a reminder of the days when we had real money! (See the quote above about number being so important it was built into the culture at every level.[5])

When the new design was chosen the public reaction was universally hostile. I quote from the booklet 'Cathedral Reborn' - " The architect, Basil Spence (later Sir Basil), insisted... that he was the traditionalist in doing what the builders of cathedrals throughout history had done, designing in a style relevant and meaningful for their day." The Bishop of Coventry said "If we cannot express our Christian faith in terms of our time, we might as well pack up." The Provost added "We see the cathedral as a great laboratory of experiment. We feel we have been given a licence to do experimental and probably controversial work."

Clearly none of the three had any understanding of the reasons for having cathedrals at all. They all sound like the Dadaist or Marcel Duchamp; doing their 'art' in a different way because it is all meaningless anyway.

If you want to know why religious belief has withered away in this country, there it is. Those who are charged with keeping the faith no longer believe in it. This was the sixties and 'throwing out the baby with the bathwater' was the 'revolutionary' trend in virtually every established tradition to be replaced by...? Nothing of any substance or meaning.

- To be continued in Part 2.
[1] Notre Dame de Paris
[2] Viollet le Duc.
[3] fractals in architecture
[4] fractal architecture could be good for you
[5] A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael S. Schneider.
[6] Hexham Abbey, the Night Stair.
[7] The Vampire Rabbit of Newcastle
[8] Coventry Cathedral

Friday, May 03, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: More Mediaeval, by JD

I am developing a liking for the old stuff - some of it sounds quite modern!