31 Dec

Dear Arthur…

An open letter to my teacher and friend Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Dear Arthur,

I don’t know whether you’ll be able to read this – or,. as today’s quaint phrase has it, “access this” – where you are. And, of course, I don’t know where you are or even if you are. In your great work Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, you drummed it into us that the secret of life is to extinguish the relentlessly insistent will – including the will to live. So perhaps you don’t want to be anywhere. I can’t quite get my head around this. (Another of our irritating modern phrases). You wouldn’t like it here. That incoherent upstart Karl Marx, who was only just getting going in your day, has been tremendously influential all over the world: even so-called “conservative” governments pursue socialist policies these days.

But really I want to tell you about something else. In Britain today there is a national organisation, paid for out of taxation and called the BBC, which tells us what to think and which things to regard as valuable politically, ethically and aesthetically. It doesn’t use books or newspapers to achieve this. Instead every home has a device which enables families to hear, and even see, the BBC propaganda. (I know you will find this far-fetched, but it’s true) The BBC is particularly keen on three things: that we should all be socialists and like crap – excuse my language – “music” and celebrate dead nihilists.

A very rare occurrence: you, dear Arthur, got a mention on the BBC yesterday. It was like this…

There is a feature on the BBC called A Good Read in which celebrities – usually ones who know nothing about literature – talk about the books they are reading. Yesterday, one of the participants mentioned a book by a psycho-thoroughpissed. (It was about death, so I thought you would be interested). The participant was impressed by this book and he praised the thoroughpissed author in  words such as the following, (I paraphrase, but here’s the substance of what he said):

“This is a wonderfully interesting book. The author writes about philosophers such as Nietzsche (worth reading, Arthur) and Sartre (a nihilistic narcissist and not worth reading) and…Schopenhauer. He provides a superb three pages summary of Schopenhauer’s writings. It might encourage you to go on and read Schopenhauer for yourself. But you don’t have to read him: these three pages are adequate in themselves for an understanding of him.”

So, Arthur, finally I come to my reason for writing. I want to apologise. You see, the BBC is not only full of socialists with bad taste in music, it is also – to use another of our tiresome modern expressions, irretrievably “dumbed down.” The very idea – the offence! – that your many thousands of penetrating and entertaining insights in Die Welt  and Parerga und Paralipomena can be distilled into three pages written by a throughpissed is a travesty and an insult.

So, wherever (or if) you are, please accept my renewed thanks for all your glorious works and my embarrassed apology. For I know you won’t get an apology from the BBC. There the philistines are proud of their ignorance and casual in their rudeness

With the best will in the world, I am your devoted pupil and friend

Peter

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30 Dec

PHE has placed me under house arrest

It’s a bit parky out there this morning, so I’d better not stray beyond the front door.

Public Health England (PHE) has told the aged to stay indoors. And they define an aged person as someone over 65. Well, I’ve been aged for nine years, going on ten and I’m afraid I’ve not been behaving myself. When, aged 70, I was living in North London in the coldest winter for a decade, I used to run round the park in shorts and t-shirt. According to PHE, it’s a miracle I’m still here to tell the tale.

That’s nothing. My grandfather Jim Priestley (born 1882) was a newsagent. For more than fifty years he walked five miles twice each day in all weathers, often in the dark, through the back streets of Leeds with two bags of newspapers to deliver. He was well-known among the locals for singing as he went and one of his songs was, “Poor little Joe, out in the snow.”

There were only two days in the year – Christmas and Good Friday – when there were no papers. Mind you, he had it easier on Sundays when there were no evening editions.

So I reckon he walked, heavily laden, 65 miles every week. 3300+ miles each year. About 165,000 over fifty years. That’s equivalent to nearly seven times round the earth or two-thirds the way to the moon.

He was still working aged 75. Energetic, enterprising and popular, he built up his business until he owned three shops: one on the railway bridge, near the Crown Wallpaper warehouse in Armley Road; another on Oak Road opposite the jail; the third on Tong Road by St Mary’s church.

In the coldest winter of the 20th century 1963, when the frost, fog and ice stayed from the end of December until Easter, Jim, aged 81, retired, and having recovered from three strokes, regularly walked the mile from the Tong Road shop, past the Oak Road establishment and down to the shop on the bridge taking messages, as he said, “To help out.”

His diet was porridge for breakfast, a pint of beer at The Brunswick pub – “The Brunny” – on Oak Road after the morning round, with stew and dumplings for lunch. About 4.30pm he would have tea and toast and some Epsom Salts and then set off with the evening bags.

He died a month short of his 88th birthday.

According to PHE, he should not have ventured out in the winter months after attaining the age of 65, in 1947.

Good job Jim Priestley didn’t know that.

Good job Winston Churchill didn’t have PHE to nag him either when, aged 67, he flew – making a long diversion to avoid enemy fire – in a converted freezing Liberator bomber to meet Stalin in Moscow in 1942.

Given these two examples, I think I’ll risk a stroll through the fog to collect the morning paper.

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28 Dec

Arrest the Prime Minister of Japan

Speaking at Pearl Harbour, Japan’s prime minister has offered Americans his “eternal condolences” for the deaths inflicted by his country on US soldiers in the 1941 attack. I believe the emperor of Japan is regarded as a god by his people, but it’s a bit presumptuous for a mere prime minister to express “eternal” condolences: he should leave such promises to the one true God who alone can deal in the business of eternity. Condolences – eternal or not – are one thing while apologies are another. The PM stopped short of making an apology. But he did make an astonishing promise: he said his country would “never wage war again.”

The man should be arrested, charged with treasonous intent and locked up.

“Never” means “never.” I think, in this case, the Japanese for “never” is “zettai ni.” And it means “In no circumstances.”

So the PM has pledged that Japan will not go war even if his country and people are attacked. That is a contemptible promise for a statesman to make.

Of course, there are those – so called “pacifists” – who would never make war. And pacifists tend to get a very good press. The fact remains that pacifism is fundamentally immoral. I may on my own behalf refuse to fight, but to refuse to fight to protect those for whom I have responsibility is both cowardly and wicked. To refuse to defend my country when it is under attack is a betrayal of all upon which I rely for my safety and well-being.

War is a very bad thing, but there are things worse than war: for instance, surrendering to tyrannous aggression. Redemption can indeed come through war – when men are prepared to shed their blood to redeem us from the enemy. I would go further and say that when our soldiers give their lives in battle, their sacrifice is joined to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

It is a bit much when so called “peace activists” presume to lecture soldiers about the nature of war. Soldiers do not like war – because it is they – and not the peace activists – who are called to fight. But soldiers know that there is a worse thing than war, and that is the triumph of evil. Sometimes war is the moral, the righteous, thing to do. The soldiers are the true peace activists, because peace is what they are fighting for. This is the lasting peace which only comes after victory. And the Bible itself warns us against those who “…cry peace where there is no peace.”

I wonder where soldiers get their courage from? Surely their love of our country and their fierce attachment to their Regiment. Through the knowledge that they are fighting a good fight. Through their loyalty to their comrades-in-arms.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

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26 Dec

The sport of blasphemy

“When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” We’re going to have to revise Shakespeare and for “princes” substitute “pop-stars.”

Another went down in the night. First thing I heard on the wireless on waking – accompanied by several sample blasts of noise. The air waves will be infested with hysterical “tributes” all day long.

The adoring journalists and broadcasters can’t quite get the nomenclature right though. They refer to these dead cacophonists as “artistes” and “musicians.”

That can’t be right.

Ah but suddenly they hit on the right word and describe their dead heroes as “iconic.”

Spot on. Blasphemous, yes. But still spot on. For an icon is something you may worship. And pop-stars are what the devotees of our debased culture worship.

And the object of worship says as much about the character of the worshipper as it does about itself. What we worship defines us.

Show me what you value, and I will tell you what you’re worth.

I think I shall show uncharacteristic reticence and say no more.

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25 Dec

Begone gloomy prelate!

“2016 has left us awash with fear.” Thus spake that leader of the Church Militant in this state of England, the Arch-community dirge-chanter of Canterbury, Justin Welby. We are haunted, he chants, by “the fear of terror and the economics of despair.”

If you Google SKY News, you can see a picture of him actually looking haunted and afraid.

Speak for yourself, Mr Welby. I’m not. I would rather believe the angel who said, “Fear not” than the wimpish Primate of all England.

The aim of terrorists is to make us afraid. I’m not going to oblige them, and I am confident most of my fellow countrymen are not going to succumb to fear either.

And what’s all this about “the economics of despair”? Foreign investment, since the referendum, is at the highest level on record. There are more people in work than ever. A score more economic indicators register strongly on the plus side.

There are so many things to be thankful for. Obama has (nearly) gone. We were spared Hillary Clinton. Trump is (almost) in the White House. The England XV went through the year unbeaten. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow scored a stack of runs.

Welby himself has served another year at Canterbury – which means he has one fewer to go until the day he leaves office.

And Leave won that referendum.

Best of all, it’s Christmas Day. The Word is made flesh and dwells among us, and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father: full of grace and truth.

So Lord descend to us, we pray: and take that Justin Welby away.

I’ve got a better motto for us: Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus…”

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23 Dec

And the word was made trash

“And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

When it comes to the Church of England, we feel obliged to ask, “What mind?”

The Church authorities have produced a two minutes film “Joy to The World” presented by Gogglebox vicar and Songs of Praise presenter Rev’d Kate Bottley. It has been designed to compete in the “Advertisement of the Year” competition with the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tesco

The film begins unpromisingly with Ms Bottley, dressed in civvies, trying to appear…. well, like unto her imagined audience. And behold, she openeth her mouth and spake unto the people these words: “My idea of Christmas is me, in my ‘jamas, sat (sic) on the sofa watching a lovely film.”

The rest of the two minutes does nothing to make amends for this philistine irrelevance and I wondered for a long time what the purpose of this film might be. Clearly, it was meant to portray the priest as unclerical and untheological as possible. I don’t think she found this difficult.

And yet the image she projected was also a cliche – the cliche of the thoroughly modern vicar or vicaress who is not at all churchy, but just like you.

But the authorities haven’t grasped the irony that this image is exactly what the Church is like today: vacuous, suburban attitudes and mores – no different in fact from the world to which St Paul said we are not to be conformed.

The film offered a short resume of what it wanted us to perceive as the modern clergyperson’s Christmas. But there was nothing about the Incarnation. No glimpse of the Christmas gospel. A lot of excited rushing about bathed in a soft focus cloud of sentimentality.

Since the Church of England omits to preach the Christmas Gospel, the least I can do is to write out the words here, John 1:1-14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

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21 Dec

A black day for Rose

From the seat of her high-ranking position as chaplain to the speaker of the House of Commons, the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a black woman, complains that there are not enough black and ethnic minority clergy being promoted to high office. Her own office as chaplain to the speaker is a fine hideout from which to make such accusations. It reminds me of Soren Kierkegaard’s riposte to Bishop Mynster: “This prelate in all the majesty of his ecclesiastical regalia ascends the pulpit of his glorious cathedral and preaches on the text, ‘God hath chosen the humble things of this world’ – and nobody laughs!” 

Ms Hudson-Wilkin blames “institutional racism” within the Church of England. And still nobody laughs.

She had better report this deficit to the second highest-ranking cleric in the church then, the Archbishop of York who was, last time I looked, a black man.

We are accustomed to hearing from class and race warrior Rose on these matters. A couple of years ago, she was interviewed on Radio Four and talked of little else in half an hour. She is a sort of ecclesiastical Doppelganger of Diane Abbott.

The occasion of the reverend lady’s renewed expostulations was the consecration of Karowei Dorgu as the new Bishop of Woolwich. He too is black.

Am I still the only person laughing? 

I don’t think we should get overly theoretical about this perceived deficiency of black and effnik hierarchs. Let’s concentrate on the practicalities instead. If a remedy is thought to be required, how is this to be accomplished? Are there to be quotas to ensure that black candidates are promoted, that is preferred over white candidates solely on the grounds that they are black?

If so, this amounts to racism. It may come as a surprise to diversity-mongers, but black people can be guilty of racism too. (Indeed, the claim they cannot be guilty of this offence is itself an act of racist prejudice, albeit against whites) The race warriors talk about “positive discrimination.” But there is no such thing. One person’s positive discrimination is another person’s victimisation.

There are only two criteria for the promotion of clergy into positions of high office in the church – or indeed for the promotion of anyone anywhere – and these are ability and suitability.

All the clamour for special preferment to be given to black candidates is manifestly unfair and unjust.

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15 Dec

A degree in social engineering?

The BBC newsroom today describes Bristol as a “leading” university. I should like to know within what field is Bristol a leader or, to put it another way, where is it leading us?

Bristol is to increase its intake of disadvantaged students by offering places with reduced grades. These pupils are also described as being “from  schools with poor A-level results.”

Vice-chancellor Hugh Brady said this would be a “step change” in admissions. I don’t know what the vice-chancellor’s phrase “step change” indicates – except that he is rather adept in the use of jargon.

The Bristol project, to be launched by Education Secretary Justine Greening, is described as “an attempt by the university to drive social mobility and attract a wider range of students.”

More jargon. Being translated, it means that Bristol’s wheeze has nothing to do with education but is rather a political project in the dubious area of social engineering. Again I must ask for some clarity: just what is meant by “a wider range” of students? Lower exam grades show that some students are not as academically competent as those scoring more highly. If they don’t show that, then we might as well abolish all exams for then the whole business of grading would be meaningless.

Let me use a dirty word: exam results provide the authorities with criteria which allow them to discriminate between those for whom a university education would be suitable and those for whom it would not.

In fact this “leading” vice-chancellor’s levelling down project is a betrayal of the character and purpose of the university itself which is meant to provide intellectual excellence for an elite. If universities no longer exist for that purpose, then they, along with the exams, should be abolished.

Fastidious social engineers scream when you say these things, though I can’t see that they have any cause to scream. Those who oppose the policy of dumbing down and levelling are not claiming that intellectual excellence is the only sort of excellence: merely that it is the sort of excellence for which the idea of a university was formed in the first place.

Many who take readily to reading literature, history, philosophy or physics admit to being utterly useless when it comes to the exercise of practical and mechanical operations. To learn to become master of a trade is also something worthwhile – that’s why we used to provide five years’ apprentices so that, when they arrive at maturity, young people might be equipped with high skills as plumbers, electricians, carpenters or dressmakers.

We should ditch these social engineering projects and embrace the existence of different aptitudes. University standards will be damaged and ultimately destroyed by such politicking. And students who acquire their university places by this means will not be happy there.

And now for something similar… The BBC also reports that from 2017 all recruits into the police force will be required to hold a university degree. Why?

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07 Dec

Edukashon Edukashon EduKashon

When it comes to edukashon, the UK is still lagging behind many countries and has made little progress in international rankings since the results of three years ago.

The widely respected Pisa rankings, run by the OECD, are based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in over seventy countries.

The UK is behind outstanding performers such as Singapore and Finland, but also trails Vietnam, Poland and Estonia.

The OECD’s edukashon director, Andreas Schleicher, describes the UK’s results as, “Flat in a changing world”.

In maths, the UK is ranked 27th, having slipped down a place from three years ago – the lowest since it began participating in the Pisa tests in 2000

In reading, the UK is ranked 22nd, up from 23rd, having fallen out of the top 20 in 2006.

We can augment this information by consulting our government’s own shameful statistics. The Department of Education reports that, after eleven years of full-time, compulsory state education, 43% of pupils leave school unable to read, write and count with even moderate efficiency.

And this given an annual edukashon budget of £85million. Neither Estonia nor Vietnam nor most of the featured countries can boast edukashon spending at even a fraction of that sum. And the UK has been in the game for a long time. Free state edukashon was made compulsory in 1880. Since that time, “systems” – actually fashions and fads – have come and gone, yet the performance is always depressingly the same – or worse.

Literacy and numeracy were actually better in Victorian times when the “system” was talk and chalk. Even in the late 1940s, I did most of my work with chalk and slate. My grandmother left school in 1894 aged twelve, able to read the Bible and Dickens’ novels. She also knew by heart all the Collects from The Book of Common Prayer. The lumpen intelligentsia, the highly unionised teaching force, would regard a knowledge of the Bible and the Prayer Book as child-abuse, and the novels of Dickens as disgraceful elitism.

Those who can, do; and those who can’t teach. And those who can’t teach are promoted to become edukashonal advisers. One of these – there are thousands of them reinforced by tedious bureaucracies such as OFSTED – was being interviewed on television yesterday and he said, “We shouldn’t emphasise rote learning. Children must be encouraged to be creative.”

Look, mister bureaucrat, if you try to be creative before you have a smattering of the basics, you’ll end up in danger of winning the Turner Prize.

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03 Dec

The Richmond Park Slaughter

O joy, joy and more joy! Here’s a treat rarer than any blue moon: A radio interviewer with brains, articulate and sharp enough to ask the killer follow-up question to any politician’s fumbled reply. They can’t do this on The Today Programme. But is it perhaps not can’t but won’t for fear that such an intelligent approach might pierce the fog of cliche in which the BBC usually manages to conceal its modus operandi of obfuscation and prejudice?

Sarah Olney, the newly-elected MP for Richmond Park, came on TalkRadio to be interviewed by the very sharp Julia Hartley-Brewer. Julia was noteworthy among radio journalists for her ability to think sequentially and to speak in sentences. From the very beginning, she was on top of her game – which is more than you could say for the flaky Ms Olney.

She began, “When are you going to hold the second bye-election?”

The flummoxed Olney stayed flummoxed.

“I mean, you want a rerun of the referendum on our membership of the EU. That was won by the Leave campaigners with a bigger majority than you got.”

Waffle punctuated by squirming silence.

“Fewer than 50% of the Richmond electorate voted for you. Leave got 54%. But you want a second referendum. Why not a rerun of this bye-election?”

“There wasn’t a clear result to the referendum.”

“Yes there was!”

A very long silence.

“If you can’t answer a few simple questions, people might wonder if you’re up to the job of being their MP.”

An even longer silence.

Enter Olney’s spin-doctor:

“We have to go.”

“No you don’t!”

“Sarah has another interview to do.”

“But how can she? This time was booked with us”

Exit Ms Olney, pursued by her quavering minder. Leaving Julia to speak the closing soliloquy:

“She doesn’t feel she’s up to these questions – which is a bit of a shame, isn’t it?”

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