06 Jun

Show me what you value and I’ll tell you what you’re worth

By six o’clock in the evenings, I have finished the day’s work and so I put down my pen and turn on the wireless to hear what’s going on

Last evening I first tried the news on Radio Four. So now, let me ask you a question: to how many questions are you able to give the complete answer in a single word? Well, at least I managed one such answer last evening. The BBC correspondent, invited by the newsreader to contribute asked, “Are government cuts the cause of a great rise in the number of cases of syphilis?”

That was an easy one: NO

The next item was the news that the Maida Vale recording studios, used for the last eighty years, are to close in spite of the fact, as the newsreader told us, “They have been home to some of our greatest musicians such as David Bowie and The Beatles.”

Now surely no one of a charitable disposition would wish to say anything too severe about Bowie and the Beatles – as one might easily be tempted to say something very severe about Elton John or Arianna Grande, the singer of near-pornographic songs to great crowds, including many preteens. But Bowie and the Beatles are/were not among “our greatest musicians.” They are popular entertainers with a goodly amount of the sort of talent required in order to pursue that vocation. The fact that Bowie and The Beatles were described as among our greatest musicians tells us all we need to know about the musical and aesthetic competence of the BBC

After all, if that newsreader had wanted to mention some of the truly great musicians who have preformed at the Maida Vale studios, he might have mentioned Vaughan Williams or Myra Hess, one of the finest pianists ever: for Maida Vale was the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra

I switched from the news to Radio Three , the alleged classical music channel. This was a mess described as “In Tune mixtape” which interspersed snippets of the sort of music I wouldn’t want to listen to anywhere or ever with acres of mindless promotional chat

There was nothing for it then but try Classic FM. At that time in the evening the station offers “uninterrupted, the big piece after 6pm” – presumably in the hope of winning back listeners who tired of hearing music chopped up into minute excerpts and punctuated by advertising jingles.

Here surely there were grounds for hope. We were promised Dvorak’s lovely New World Symphony. I pricked up my ears, as they say. But “the big piece after 6pm” turned out to be only the little piece after six, the truncated piece after six: for they played only the last movement.

What insane cultural vandalism! Like reading an Agatha Christie thriller – but only the last fifty pages. Whodunnit? It would be rather a case of Whodunnwot? Do we need to spell out to the people in charge of classical music provision on national radio that the symphony is one of the most sublime musical forms ever developed? The first movement sets the scene, as it were, and the succeeding movements develop this and bring it finally to resolution. Thus it is impossible to make sense of the final movement without our having heard what went before.

But then we should hardly expect even such elementary discernment from the sorts of folk who regard David Bowie and The Beatles as “some of our greatest musicians.”

I think in future when it gets to 6pm I’ll download old episodes of Strictly Come Dancing or Britain’s Got Talent.

Why do that? Because at least I know that those programmes are utter rubbish. So I won’t be disappointed because I was hoping for something better.

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19 May

Let’s hear it for the populists!

It looks as if the character of our Brexit is going to be softer than a soft-boiled egg. It was always going to be so – not just because of the strenuous efforts of Remainers in all parts from the House of Lords, the left wing press and even including the Church of England, but because Theresa May has repeatedly declared herself to be a Remainer. There was never a chance that she would deliver what the people clearly wished for – and voted for in the Referendum. I have said so before, but I make no apology for repeating myself for the issue is by far the most momentous political decision made by the British people in a century. So I said it before and I’ll say it again, as I did in this blog last year: “May will wreck Brexit.”  And now she has done.Jacob Rees-Mogg’s terminology is exactly right and we are going to have Brino, Brexit-in-name-only

The word – well, at least the polite word – most commonly used by the Remoniac establishment for Brexiteers is “populist.” And suddenly I discover there are populists everywhere.

This morning The Independent reports: “Two  populist, Eurosceptic parties have reached an agreement to form a government in Italy, the Eurozone’s third largest economy, setting up the single currency bloc for a possible new crisis. March’s national elections in Italy delivered a hung parliament, but also left the virulently anti-immigrant Lega Nord and the radical anti-establishment Five Star Movement as the two parties with the most seats. After a week of intense wrangling, the leaders of the two parties – which have sharply divergent outlooks in a host of areas – announced on Friday that they had agreed upon a common programme.”

Great! – who said there’s never any good news!

Certainly The Independent doesn’t like it. Look at some of the other words the newspaper uses alongside “populist”: “virulent” and “anti-establishment” for example.

(You’d never get a reference in The Independent – or any of her sister red sheets – describing a “virulently pro-immigration” party)

Suddenly the word “populist” is, so to speak, popping up all over the place. In Hungary, Mr Orban’s sensible, patriotism is dismissed as “populist” – and that’s when Orban is not being excoriated as as  a “fascist” or damned as a “Nazi”

Elsewhere there is the “populist” Geert Wilders, founder of the Dutch Party for Freedom which has long warned of the threat posed to The Netherlands in particular and Europe generally by massive Muslim immigration.

And in Britain UKIP and unreconstructed Tories of the old school – but are there any left? – are always dismissed as “populist.”

So I pondered long: what and who is a “populist”?

There’s a simple and straightforward answer: a populist is someone who is very popular – but who is thoroughly disapproved of by the left wing papers and the BBC 

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14 May

It’s BECAUSE it’s successful–stupid!

“Israel’s 70th birthday” is all over the news. I suppose then that Abraham was the nation’s original patriarch in the 1940s and 50s, Isaac came along in the 1960s – about the same time as The Beatles - and I could swear I saw Joseph in his coat of many colours by the bandstand here in Eastbourne only last Thursday. Well, really!

Moses was a legendary character from around 1250 BC, but we know that King David was an historical figure who made his capital in the old Jebusite city of Jerusalem in the 9th century BC. His son Solomon built the first temple there, and the reigns of those two monarchs are well-documented in the Old Testament books Kings and Chronicles. We know also that Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the people were carried off into exile: “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered thee, O Sion” (that is Jerusalem) – Psalm 137:1

But the biblical legends go far back into the second millennium BC when “Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem) brought forth bread and wine and he was the priest of El Elyon (The Most High God)” – Genesis 14:18

So the Israelis can claim an association with Jerusalem which goes back many centuries, and so it’s not surprising that they should now declare the ancient city to be their capital once again – though of course this irritates the left wing press and especially the BBC no end

The second and dominant part of the name Jerusalem connects with the word שלום (shalom), meaning peace, while the root of this word, שלם (shalem), denotes completeness, wholeness and soundness. In Greek, the first part of the name Jerusalem resembles the words ιερος (hieros), meaning sacred, and ιερευς (hiereus), meaning priest.  Back to Melchizedek, the legendary priest-king whose name means King of Righteousness.

Why do all the world’s lefties hate Israel? And why has antisemitism – a despicable thing never entirely dormant – returned with renewed ferocity? It’s been around a long time. The prophet Isaiah described Israel as “despised and rejected” – Isaiah 53: 3. Isaiah also identified Israel as God’s Suffering Servant. Certainly the people suffered under the Babylonians and again at the hands of the cruel Antiochus Epiphanes. And many times since in pogroms and genocides.

That’s some of the history which The Guardian and the BBC speak not of. Never mind, let’s adhere to the brief history referred to in the media’s short term memory and go back to the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Since then, Israel has been forced to fight four defensive wars. The country is a tiny sliver of civilisation in a vast desert of barbarism. Its enemies – on all sides – declare every day their intention to obliterate the country.

But what about the Arabs, especially the poor “Palestinians”? Why does Israel deny them the living space they demand in the form of the so-called “two state solution”?

Well, Israel has tried that. In 1998 the Israeli leadership held talks, sponsored by Bill Clinton, with the “Palestinian” leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David and all sides appeared smiling on the lawn to agree on that two state solution. But then the treacherous Arafat returned to Ramallah and declared the second Intifada – a terrorist uprising – against Israel. By all accounts, when she heard the news, Hillary Clinton’s language was unrepeatable.

In 2018 Israel has a strong leader in Benjamin Netanyahu whose first name means “son of right” and whose surname means “YHVH God has given.”

Historically and in modern times, Israel has shown itself to be one of the most brilliantly successful nations the world has ever seen. Its achievements in philosophy and theology, in the arts, science and medicine are unsurpassed. It is the only genuine democracy in the Middle East.

Why then should all the lefties treat Israel as a pariah?

Let me try to explain: they hate Israel precisely because it is successful.

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12 May

Educashun

The government has promised £50miilion to support the expansion of grammar schools. It’s small change when compared with the £2billion each week we pay to the EU. But, credit where it’s due, it’s a start

Naturally the socialists who run state education are against it.  The teachers’ unions have accused the government of pursuing an “elitist policy” during a funding crisis. Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The government cannot point to a single piece of evidence that shows strong educational benefit of this misguided policy. While it may benefit a small minority, it will not close the gap between rich and poor pupils and if anything will increase the divide.”

Let me interrupt Mr Brook’s secular sermon for a moment to say that education is not meant to be social engineering but about the business of teaching and learning.

Some perspective wouldn’t go astray: there are 3268 comprehensive schools in England and only 163 grammars. So, while grammar schools are certainly a good thing, they are a side issue.

The nub of the matter is that state education in this country is so poor that it amounts to a betrayal of our children, child abuse. The government actually comes close to admitting this fact. The department of education’s own statistics show that 43% of pupils leave school after eleven years of compulsory, full-time education unable to read, write and count efficiently.

In the OECD rankings, the UK comes 23rd in literacy and 24th in numeracy: behind South Korea, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and…. Oh forget it – just about everywhere really.

The teachers’ unions have a single explanation for this abysmal showing and it is that “we” – by which of course, being socialists, they mean the state -  don’t put enough money into state schools. This is not the explanation. How can it be when education expenditure on junior and secondary schools has increased by 900% in the last fifty years – and that is in real terms, after allowing for inflation?

The problem is with the whole ethos and style of state education. Often it is informal to the point of formlessness. “Child-centred” – which seems to mean letting the children do just as they like. Here’s a bit more jargon from the educational pros: “open-plan”; “non-structured”; “non-selective”  and above all, in that verbal icon, “comprehensive.” This last word – “mixed ability” is a variant – connotes a classroom where children who find learning easy are obliged – by the lying socialist mantra “equality” – to be dragged back to the same pace as those who find learning difficult.

The concept of “knowledge” has been abolished as the traditional idea that teachers were supposed to impart information – actually tell their charges something – has been anathema for the last fifty years. Unsurprisingly, today’s children know nothing, or next to nothing – as indeed is revealed in those appalling OECD rankings in literacy and numeracy and the education department’s own figures which I have quoted already. If the children are not meant to be at school to be informed, why are they there? Answer, “To express themselves.” But no one has a self to express until that self contains something. And they are meant to be “creative.” But you can’t be creative until you’ve mastered the basics. Tell it to Mozart who said, “I had to sweat and struggle once that I might find it easier now.”

Or, as C.H. Sisson said, “We learn by rote before we learn by light.” The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent stresses this truth and we are admonished to “Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, that by patience…” Impossible if you’re running about all over the place and generally “expressing” yourself. What self?

The awfulness is compounded by the fact that the highly-unionised teachers themselves know next to nothing too. How could they when, given half a century of comprehensive education, they have all come up through the same failed system? Moreover, the near anarchy of the comprehensive school classroom does not encourage intelligent and competent men and women to consider spending their working lives there. So, if they yet have a desire to teach, they go into the grammar schools or the private sector.

Whenever the subject of education comes up, the totalitarians – such as the Leeds Grammar School boy Alan Bennett – who want to abolish the grammars and all private schools, I am always told. “It’s all right for you: you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.” Silver spoon? Wooden spoon, more like. I was brought up in Armley, that is in the same grimy Leeds suburb as Alan Bennett. A question: if grammar schools don’t improve social mobility, how did Alan “make it” then? By the way, Alan’s father had the local butcher’s shop and was widely known to be “a miserable bugger” – which might account for a lot. 

May I finish by telling you about my schooling in the 1940s and 50s, which was excellent? Armley County Primary School was a Victorian building between the jail and the Leeds-Manchester railway line. When trains passed, great clouds of white steam would fill the playground – what we called “the yard” – and we laughed as we momentarily lost sight of one another! There were forty-three boys and girls in my class. Our desks were in lines. I sat next to Josephine Wilson who was adorable and had very hairy arms. We learned times tables by chanting them out loud. We learned to read by phonetics, by being read to for hours on end and by being introduced to books – by being enrolled in Armley Municipal Library (Junior Section). Aged about eight, I read Hans Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, The Coral Island  and A Christmas Carol. By the age of eleven, we had learned fractions and decimals, parts of speech and the beginnings of clause analysis. No silver spoons, then: some of my classmates wore clogs. Others went hungry, so that if someone was eating an apple at playtime, a small crowd would gather round to beg the core. We had morning assembly – unashamedly Christian – every day: a Bible story read from The King James Version, a hymn and a prayer.We were taught to sing. And we listened to Handel’s Largo and the overture to The Marriage of Figaro on Old Macdonald’s wind-up gramophone. (I suppose Mozart wrote it to “express himself”!) We trekked beside the tram tracks to Armley Park to be coached at cricket. We were given a third of a pint of milk a day in a glass bottle 

By contrast with these poor but glorious beginnings – which amounted to a real start in life – today’s state education is plain lousy. What words can we use to evoke the intellectual, moral and spiritual bankruptcy of it? It is institutionalised child-neglect.

“Or what man is there of you whom, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone.Or, if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent” – Matthew 7: 9-10

PS Some years ago there was an advertisement in The Times Educational Supplement for a post in a “grammer” school. Says all that needs to be said about the education establishment, dunnit? 

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11 May

GDPR: Goddam Data Prote-ction

Simon Richards, chief executive of The Freedom Association, has come all over strange with me.

I’ve known Simon for nigh on twenty years: we’ve been to cricket matches together; I’ve attended countless TFA meetings; and we’ve been out for scores of lunches and dinners. Then suddenly, he writes to me and asks if he can have my permission to continue to write to me. I was flummoxed. Simon is a stout Brexiteer, a better-off-out man if ever there was one. He doesn’t go in for bureaucratic procedures. So what was it all about – could he have permission to keep writing to me and phoning me up? Was he joking? Well, in that case, what sort of a joke was it? Not a very funny one. Has he been watching too many old videos of Monty Python?

But hang on, it’s not just Simon who’s come all over funny with me. I buy a specialist diary every year called The Parson’s Pocketbook. I’ve bought it through the post from Preston in Lancashire every year since my ordination in 1970. And very handy it is too with all the saints days, feasts and fasts and the table of lessons for every day of the year. Now the supplier of that book has written to ask if he can keep on writing to me.

There’s seemingly no end to it. Every day another letter or email asking the same weird question. I’ve been chaplain of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots since 1999. In fact I was at one of their court meetings only yesterday. But now they’re writing to ask the same damn fool question. Ditto the Fuellers Company of which I’m a Freeman. Ditto my friend Edward Spalton of the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

Any minute now I’m expecting a letter from my wife asking the same question – even though we’ve just breakfasted together

Well, finally I’ve found out what all these letters are about. They are required by the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which come into force this month.

What’s the source of these regulations? I’ll give you one guess: the EU of course. Their purpose is supposed to be to ensure our privacy. That’s fine by me: I like to be private – but I don’t want privacy at the expense of contact with my friends. What sort of nonsense are we embarked upon when someone from whom I’ve enjoyed receiving messages for half a lifetime suddenly has to ask my permission to continue to do the same?

It’s bureaucracy, and bureaucracy is mad. But it’s not just mad: it’s malign. Bureaucracy – particularly state bureaucracy – is not at all about defending my privacy but about control.

And the new GDPR mightily inconveniences me – and not just me, but you and everybody else. I have to write to tell welcome correspondents that they are at liberty to carry on corresponding. This lunacy puts me to some trouble. What if, by an oversight, I forget to give permission? Will they never write to me again? Shall I be altogether cut off from the land of the living, like a dead man out of mind?

Let me think about it.

Meanwhile, Simon, I’ve ticked the box on the form you sent me and returned it in the prepaid envelope you kindly supplied. So please don’t stop writing to me…

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10 May

The Truth that Makes Us Free

It was the day when Ed Miliband finally went off his head. Fortunately, this happened in the House of Commons and the sage Jacob Rees-Mogg was on hand to calm him down

As all socialists do, the Labour party was aiming to curtail the freedom of the press in yesterday’s debate about what has become known as “Leveson Mark II.” Under new proposals, newspapers would have been legally obliged to pay the costs of mischievous litigants – even when the court had found against them. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, was the man all set formally to propose these new strictures on the press. Can you imagine the results if members of The House of Commons had passed this iniquitous Bill? Rogues, scoundrels, anyone with a vested interest or crudely on the make or to settle personal scores would have been able to make all manner of false claims – that is to lie to the court – and yet still have his costs paid after the court had judged he was telling lies

Yesterday’s vote was a damn close run thing which the government won with a majority of only nine.

If the government had lost, the law of the land would have institutionalised perjury and financially rewarded the telling of lies.

Of course, we would have expected the Labour party to vote for this iniquitous motion nonetheless. But it was disappointing, if not entirely surprising, to note that five Conservative rebels voted with Labour: Crispin Blunt, Peter Bone, Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve and Philip Hollobone.

I shall remember those names.

The DUP voted with the government and saved the day 

So what was Ed Miliband’s tantrum all about?  He told ministers that their decision to axe Leveson had been “contemptible” and it was a “matter of honour about the promises we made” to the victims of phone hacking, saying the then Prime Minister David Cameron had pledged in 2012 to launch the second part of the inquiry, Leveson Mark II. That was when Mr Rees-Mogg applied the poultice and  quietly reminded the feverish Red Ed that today’s ministers are not bound by the policies and intentions of their predecessors. If they were so bound, any political change involving statutory process would have been rendered impossible: in other words, the abolition of practical politics

There were pleasing reactions outside the House. It’s always a delight to see the sanctimonious self-regarding luvvies in Hacked Off – John Cleese and Hugh Grant for instance – being sent away with a flea in their ear. Hacked Off actually backed the new draconian legislation which was being proposed. They claim that the vote “was not the end” and the “fight goes on in Parliament and the courts.”

Oh here you are, John and Hugh – you can borrow my hankie! 

Meanwhile, the News Media Association, which represents local and national newspapers, said the freedom of the press had won the day in the face of “dangerous anti-media” proposals. Had the proposals become law, local newspapers would have been wiped out by their having to pay the costs of thousands of lying litigants.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said the proposed new legislation would have made it “near impossible” to uncover stories of abuse, and he highlighted the work of The Times’ chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk, who uncovered the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

Yesterday’s vote was a victory for truth. We should never forget this. For it is the truth that makes us free.

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06 May

The Evil Trinity

I am grateful to my friend Alexander Boot for debunking Dominic Sandbrook’s preposterous article about Karl Marx in yesterday’s  Daily Mail. So much bunk was contained in Sandbrook’s piece that the process of debunking it must have taken Alex all morning. Well it’s done now. So open a bottle of that beer you like, Alex and put your feet up.

Sandbrook’s article was very, very Daily Mail, which is to say all golly-gosh and girly.  You can see the exclamation marks winking at you. He wrote of Marx’s “titanic intelligence.” Well, we all know what happened to The Titanic. He would have been more accurate if he had spoken of Marx’s “moronic” intelligence.

Look out, Karl, here comes the iceberg!

Alex has done such a fine job on both Marx and Sandbrook, so I will not waste much effort trying to add to it – save to point out, from the stinking, rotten heap of Marx’s “thought,” just one of the ripest pieces of idiocy. Marx talks a lot about history. Or rather, being something of a sub-Hegelian hybrid, he talks about “the historical process.” And the historical process, says Marx, is “inevitable.” Notice what this means: not just that, as Marx says, “the Communist revolution and the punishment of the capitalists” are inevitabilities, but that if a horse called Emily Thornberry wins the two o’clock at Goodwood on Tuesday, then that horse’s win was also inevitable. Because that horse and that race are also part of “the historical process.” And, at the risk of flogging a dead horse (so to speak), let me say also that if I win £50 by backing Emily Thornberry, then it was always inevitable that I should win £50. So, according to Marx, everything that happens was always inevitable – even his writing Das Kapital ; which means, logically, we can’t even enjoy the pleasure of blaming him for it.

Now look what you’ve done, Alex, bro! Just as I was about to get out into the Sunday sunshine: you’ve made me think about those other two titanic intelligences of which you yourself treat in your yesterday’s splendid blog. That pair of 19th century mystagogues Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud.

It turns out that these these two titans are firm believers in inevitability: what in the trade philosophers call “determinism.” For Freud everything we do is caused by “unconscious motivation.” And for Darwin it’s all determined by our genes and natural selection.

Eager as I am to get outside, I can’t help but pause and quote a delicious paragraph from Jerry Fodor concerning Darwin:

“The crucial test is whether one’s pet theory can distinguish between selection for trait A and selection for trait B when A and B are coextensive: for example,were polar bears selected for being white or for matching their environment? Search me; and search any kind of adaptationism I’ve heard of. Nor am I holding my breath till one comes along.”

As for Freud, what is there left to say about a man who supposed that the whole range of human thoughts and feelings owes its origin to what goes on in the last eighteen inches of the alimentary canal?

The three titans Darwin, Marx and Freud were all atheists. And their disciples, mostly atheists too, often praise them for their supposedly having freed us from the shackles of religion.

My religion – Christianity – teaches the existence of freewill

Whereas the “liberation” celebrated by the numbskull followers of Evolutionary Theory, Communism and Psychoanalysis leads us straight back into the prison house of determinism.

PS These three determinisms contradict one another: is it my genes which make me a Marxist? Or is it my historical inevitability that makes me a Freudian. Or unconscious motivation which convinces me of genetic determinism? Three nonsenses in one nonsense in which we find ourselves – with reference to Darwin, Marx and Freud – confounding the persons and dividing the substance.

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03 May

Gresham, Cricket and Saying Our Prayers

“Good money drives out bad” is a law formulated by the City of London financier Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579). Good money is money that shows little difference between its nominal value (the face value of the coin) and its commodity value – the value of the metal of which it is made, often precious metals, nickel or copper.

For example, silver coins were widely circulated in Canada until 1968 and in the United States, until 1964 for dimes and quarters and 1970 for half-dollars. when the Coinage Act of 1965 was passed. These countries debased their coins by switching to cheaper metals thereby inflating the new debased currency in relation to the supply of the former silver coins. The silver coins disappeared from circulation as citizens retained them to capture the steady current and future intrinsic value of the metal content over the newly inflated and therefore devalued coins, using the newer coins in daily transactions.

This law has application in areas of life away from financial concerns: in unlike subjects such as professional cricket and the way we say our prayers in church.

When I was a boy in the 1950s, professional cricket in England was the county game and the Test Matches. There were seventeen counties in competition and each played twenty-eight three-day games in the season and points were awarded according to win. lose, draw or tie. At the end of the season the team which had amassed the most points were declared County Champions. Test Match cricket was the international game. Seven national teams – England, Australia, West Indies, South Africa, India, New Zealand and Pakistan – arranged Test Match series, usually of five five-day games. So there would be, for example, a Test series between England and Australia and another between New Zealand and South Africa and so on. The best players were chosen from the county sides to represent England in the Tests.

For decades this was the form taken by the professional game.

Beginning in the 1960s, the county game saw some innovations. There began a one-day competition featuring  sixty-overs-a-side matches played by all the counties. It was a knockout competition with the final held towards the end of the season at Lords. In time the sixty overs were reduced to fifty and a Sunday League of forty overs games was set up

The reasons offered by the cricket authorities for these changes were, first, that spectators liked the one day game because they were guaranteed a result for the entrance fee and the time expenditure on a single visit. Secondly, it was said that many found the three-day game “boring” and “long-drawn out.” They wanted more sixes and fours struck and wickets tumbling regularly. Even this new, fast form of cricket did not satisfy the crowds’ craving for yet more of the smash, bang, wallop stuff. So twenty overs matches – Twenty20 – were introduced to the accompaniment of most un-cricket-like razzmatazz: dancing girls, fireworks and loud blasts of rock music every time the batsman struck a boundary

As Gresham would have predicted, this bad cricket began to drive out the good. County matches nowadays play to empty grounds and attendances at Test Matches have decreased. In their latest wheeze, the authorities have decided to take this dumbing down of the great game to extreme and absurd lengths. Twenty20 provides the sort of cricket that could be enjoyed only by those with minds like the grasshopper’s, but it has been adjudged too long. So there is to be a new competition in which teams will face a mere one hundred balls and no match shall last longer than three hours. The deleterious results are piling up thick and fast: attendances at “real” cricket are falling further and some of the best international players have decided that they will play only in the far more remunerative short forms of the game. The catalyst for further radical change is the monstrous pantomime of the Indian Premier League which is funded by commercial sponsorship and attracts gambling on a cosmic scale. Is the IPL a vast vehicle for rampant corruption? Is there water in the Indian Ocean? For decades India has been renowned as a country of cricketing fanatics with crowds of 100,000 turning up for five day test Matches. Now the Test Matches are neglected and some have suggested the previously unthinkable: that first class cricket in India will cease to be played.

Does any of this matter? Millions are still turning out to watch cricket matches. Only dinosaurs and fuddy-duddies reject change. The point is that the new forms of instant cricket cannot supply the subtleties of the traditional, longer forms of the game: there is the world of physical, intellectual and aesthetic difference between a contest fought over four or five days in which each side bats twice and a slog-fest which is begun and ended in an evening. Inevitably, and soon, the skills required to play proper cricket will be forgotten. There is only one thing wrong with the new game: it’s not cricket. 

From cricket, I turn for a minute to the form of Anglican worship. For four hundred years this was conducted from The Book of Common Prayer (1662) and The King James Bible (1611). All Anglican churches – High, Low and Broad – used these books which were composed when the English language was at its freshest and richest: the age of Shakespeare and Donne, of Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. But then in the 1960s, bishops, synods and the like decided that the church needed to provide alternatives to these texts. First there was The New English Bible (1961) and various forms of liturgy in booklet form which pretended to be written in modern English: but it was neither the English we speak in the street nor the good modern English written by the best 20th century poets. In short, it is the verbal equivalent of Twenty20 and the IPL. The new forms of service do not contain the substance to carry the religious weight of the BCP and the KJV. And so in the Church of England, there began that process of decay and decline that was being paralleled in the game of cricket. In 1980 the Church gathered the contents of all these booklets into a single bulbous excrescence – three times as long as the BCP – called The Alternative Service Book (1980). The Church of England authorities publicised the ASB as “the greatest publishing event in four hundred years.” Twenty years later they banned it. Yes, banned it! It makes a fine headline, doesn’t it: CHURCH BANS BOOKS. Just like the Nazis. Anyhow, the ASB was replaced by something even longer called Common Worship which – like the shape-shifting monster of the horror films – comes in a great variety of forms. You can buy a copy. You can download bits of it at will. You can adapt and edit as you please – no one will mind. What passes for liturgical texts in today’s Church of England is something that would be adequately described by the title Prayers for the New Babel .

I haven’t the space here to compare the new texts with the KJV and the BCP. If anyone seeks such a comparison, it can be found in my book A Partial Vision. But I will give one example to let you have the flavour. In The Solemnisation of Matrimony, the bridegroom utters the words “With this ring I thee wed.” Six words which exactly fit the rhythm of his placing the ring on his bride’s finger. The new version has instead, “I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage.” Eleven words for six. And the sentence must have been composed by an idiot: for, if the groom has to tell his bride that the ring is a sign, it just means the sign isn’t working!

The comparison with what has happened to cricket over the same period is pretty exact. in neither cricket nor in liturgy do the new forms bear the weight, the richness and the subtlety of the traditional forms. Bad prayers and bad cricket have driven out the good.

Predictably, the churches – like the cricket grounds – have emptied.

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22 Apr

We are the coprophagists

“Kylie and Shaggy help the Queen celebrate her ninety-second birthday.” said the headline. This was at a “concert” at the Royal Albert Hall. I must say I feel sorry for Prince Philip who, recovering from a hip operation, was unable to be there, for I know how thrilled he would have been to hear Shaggy and Sting “sing” some reggae “music” called Don’t Make Me Wait

(It’s so tiresome, isn’t it, having to put so many words inside quotation marks these days?)

Prince Philip’s comments on this cultural event would surely have been the highlight of the evening.

Cui bono? As the Roman said – which, being very roughly translated, means “For whose f*****g good?” Surely it was a doubtful benefit to Her Majesty to keep her out of bed so late into the evening

Perhaps Shaggy and Sting might have obliged the Queen with an encore, Her Majesty joining in ad libitum from the royal box: Don’t Make Me Wait Up All Night

I can’t believe the Queen liked it very much. We’ve all known for a long time that her taste is for military bands and songs from the shows – with a bit of Elgar or Parry thrown in for special occasions.

I must confess, too, that I’m not an expert on the sort of “entertainment” on offer at the Royal Albert Hall last night – which was merely one more example of the sort of “entertainment” which goes on semper et ubique these days. But I am fortunate to have a friend in the vastly learned commentator on these cultural matters, Alexander Boot. I don’t think Alex will begrudge my quoting one of his recent preview articles on what used to be the classical music scene. I refer of course to the coming season of BBC Promenade Concerts of which Alex gives us the flavour. Here he quotes an extract from a “song” by one of this year’s “artistes” Princess Nokia

“Talk shit, we can cast spells// Long weaves, long nails// Corn rows, pig tails// Baby fathers still in jail// Good witches, I f*** with// Bad bitches, we run s***// 4 bitches, 4 corners// North, East, West, South shit// Good witches, I f*** with// Hopped off my broomstick// Witchcraft, bitch craft// Light magic, it’s nothing.”

I wonder if Princess Nokia’s “concert” will be one of those attended by the Queen? Perhaps Price Philip will be recovered by then and be able to accompany Her Majesty and, in his customary style, show his approval also?

While I’m on the subject of the Proms, these will also highlight someone called Seprpentwithfeet who performs “Pagan Gospel” and the Buena Vista Social Club with wall-to-wall reggae.

I’m sure Sir Henry Wood will be looking down benignly on these improvements we have made on the concert series he created in 1895.

Please don’t be hard on me. I have no objection to pop concerts – so long as my attendance is not required. English people have always had a broad back and we can tolerate a bit of rubbish around the edges here and there, now and again. But to pretend it is the real thing is beyond satire. To corrupt an occasion of State such as the Queen’s birthday or to debauch a 123 years old classical music series is verging on blasphemous and certainly an act of civilizational suicide.

But we can expect nothing else. As Gertrud Himmelfarb said, “The counter culture is the culture now.” The barbarians are not at the gates but inside the city and parading their barbarity throughout our formerly great institutions: the concert halls, the opera houses, the theatres, the “book” shops and – leading them all – the churches. The Ring cycle in a German power station, Macbeth under the, Nazis, Peter Sellars’ Don Giovanni in a New York skyscraper apartment. “Music” now means only cacophany, bedlam and pandemonium 

Blasphemous? Yes, I’m afraid so. For what we are affirming in all this filth is, “Evil, be thou my good.”

What words can describe our “culture”?

Try these: “…like unto whited sepulchres which indeed appear beautiful outward but are within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”

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20 Apr

“It’s all my fault…but I’m not to blame!”

Friday began well. I thought for a moment I had caught a contemporary theologian saying something sensible. It was an article in Church Times by Ian McFarland, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He began most promisingly: “On Original Sin I’m pretty Augustinian.”

Then he spoilt it all:

“One important reformation of the doctrine I affirm is the irreducible character of human agency. Calling people victims of sin, while intended to be helpful, can actually undermine their healing process, which depends on them claiming their own agency. Of course, this raises the worry that people will blame themselves for the harm they have suffered, and here it’s important to distinguish agency — and self-responsibility — from blame.”

This is such a wonderful agglomeration of contradictions that it repays closer study before we rush out into the sunshine.

I rejoiced when he said we are not “victims” of sin. Three cheers for Professor McFarland! Here, by implication, he is protesting against the hideous contemporary culture of victimhood which abolishes personal and social morality. You know the kind of thing: we are not gluttonous but we suffer from obesity. We can, if we have the time and patience, analyse all the seven deadly sins after that example and declare that we are not responsible for what we do but in some weird and incoherent sense afflicted by our own actions. As if it were the fault of the whisky that i got drunk. Some years ago, I read of an extreme example of this abolition of morality. A young man had murdered his mother and father and run off to New York with all their money. When he was captured and brought before the court, his defence offered a plea in mitigation: the young man had done nothing wrong but instead was “suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.”

Professor McFarland seems clearly to reject this fondness for the culture of victimhood: sinners’ healing “depends on them (sic) claiming their own agency.” As they say in the crime films, this means the culprit saying such as, “OK gov, it’s a fair cop. You’ve got me bang to rights. I’ll come quietly.”

Or, more elegantly,at the beginning of Morning and Evening Prayer: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, He is just and faithful to forgive us all our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So far, so good. But then the Regius Professor turns wonky: admitting our guilt – our “agency” – “raises the worry that people will blame themselves.”

Well yes – what’s wrong with that? Accepting my agency – it was me wot done it – means taking the blame. To put this formally: the acceptance of agency means taking the blame, being responsible, owning up. It is a plain contradiction to claim agency while rejecting blame.

The whole of personal and social morality, rewards and punishments and the concept of justice itself requires the antecedent concept of personal responsibility. Without the capacity to attribute blame (for bad acts) and praise (for good acts), there is no morality.

St Augustine believed and taught that all morality originates in God, in divinity. The way Professor McFarland would have it, there can be no morality and consequently no divinity.

So what’s the point of the Regius Professor of Divinity?

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