Monday, October 31, 2011

Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot

Religion vs. Spirituality

Tenzin Gyatso gives a characteristic hands-rai...Image via Wikipedia"Actually, I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality.  Religion I take to be concerned with faith in the claims of salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or supernatural reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayer and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit - such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony - which bring happiness both to self and others. While ritual and prayer, along with questions of nirvana and salvation, are directly connected to religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however."

- the Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millenium, Riverhead Books, 1999, p22, quoted in Clive Erricker, Teach Yourself Buddhism, Hodder Education, London, 2008.
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Friday, October 28, 2011

Pretty As A Picture ?

4 Wise Men

Closed Market Stalls Amsterdam

Sea View From Dunstanburgh Castle

Alnmouth Beach

This was back in August. Meg took me on a day trip to show me some of the places that her parents used to take her as a child.  Alnmouth beach is lovely, hard flat sand and lots of interesting rock pools, and a golf course on which you almost tee off from the sand.

Ellie At The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Exposed: Media fabricated 'empty tents' story at OccupyLSX

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rudeness Of Atheists

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI
I became involved in a discussion last week on my Christian beliefs, and as at many times before when I have stated my belief in God, I was immediately verbally attacked and in quite rude terms.  I find this quite a lot, there seem to be quite a lot of people who cannot feel secure in their own atheism without being quite astonishingly abusive and deliberately attacking my faith.

I do consider myself a Christian, I believe in God and Jesus, I am not a fervent follower and won't be proselytizing in order to try and convince you to accept my set of beliefs.  I really don't mind if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, a white witch or actively bow down and worship Accrington Stanley FC.  I do find though that a fair number of people who profess to be atheist have to attack you for not sharing their life view.

The discussion was one of those rambling after dinner chats when one of the diners said to me "You believe in God don't you ?", I replied that I did.  The follow up comment is sadly fairly typical "I find it hard to believe that any so called intelligent person can believe in religion." My response to this rather rude outburst was to say that there are many far more intelligent people than me who also believe in God, but the attack had to carry on and try to poke holes in my belief and to 'prove' that I was foolish for so believing.

If this situation was turned around and I was fairly rude to people on other topics, for example let's say I verbally attacked fellow diners for having children, thereby increasing the already almost insupportable world population, draining our resources faster, damaging the ecosystem and bringing the world perilously close to an ecological tipping point.  If I said this, and added that I was astonished that any so called intelligent person could have children, I feel fairly sure that people would be rather offended and the likelihood of me being invited round for dinner again would be somewhat diminished.  In modern British society though it has become acceptable to attack religion, in almost any terms you wish to employ, and for that to be accepted as a reasonable way to behave.

Why are some atheists so intolerant ? What is it about what I do and believe that angers them so much.  I go to church once in a blue flood, I pray more often when I'm out in the countryside hiking or running, there is something in the beauty of nature that calls to my faith.  I have been reading the Bible, and I am interested in learning more about religion, not just my own, what is there in this simple set of actions that so angers some non-believers ? I really cannot see that I am doing anything that should bother anyone or cause any sort of offence.

Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK, at ...
Jonathan Sacks
On his visit to the UK last the Pope warned of the threat of the "more aggressive forms of secularism" that he perceived in British society.  Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, warned in July this year of the growing, and state sponsored, religious intolerance in the UK.  In Wakefield a housing worker of 15 years good standing was sacked for displaying a palm cross on his van, what sort of intolerant buffoon is offended because the electrician who comes to fix his faulty fuse box wears a cross, a star of David, a turban or nips out for a prayer break instead of a tea break ?

I would like to reiterate that if you are an atheist, I am quite happy with that, I don't see the need to bother you about it. I don't profess to have all the answers to life and the universe, I cannot explain to you the mysteries of cancer, Alzheimer's or any other illness you bring up in the "If this disease exists then there can be no God" argument, I am not a professor of theology.  I'm just a cook who also happens to believe in God, why does that offend you so ?
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

People Listen To This For Pleasure ?!

My kitchen normally chugs along to the noise of angry sounding young people bellowing over a crescendo of wailing guitars and pounding drum rhythms, yesterday though as I pressed on to the next part of my humanities course, the fat lady sang.

Giuseppe VerdiCover of Giuseppe VerdiTo be more accurate, she wasn't fat at all, I was just repeating an overly used jibe about opera, but like many people, I suspect that quote and a vague image of large men in tight fitting costumes is about my sum knowledge of opera.  Yesterday I was introduced to Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti and Luzzaschi, and I must admit, it was not an easy introduction.

I have no problem with listening to songs in another language, alongside the excellent German singing Rammstein I have a fair few bands whose singing language is either not English, or in some of the more extreme metal bands, possibly not human.

There is a quality to this operatic singing though that sends a shiver right through me, and not in a good way. To be even more precise, I can get along with the male singers, but the high pitched warbling effect favoured by the female vocalists is jarring and unpleasent to my ears. 

So far on the course I have gained knowledge of a good many art forms and historical figures about whom I previously knew very little, and the more I learn the more I seem to appreciate them, with the exception of Stalin, who was a git.  I have not come across anything so far though that has been so hateful at first contact and that has left me with the feeling that if I never encounter it again, I will be the happier for it.

Opera is regarded by many as being difficult and elitist, an art form reserved for, and appreciated by a narrow band of the upper classes.  As with many things regarded as being elitist, half the case is that access to opera, as with many things considered somewhat exclusive, is actually quite easy, anyone can download, cheaply or for free, a reasonable selection of music, and if you have the money you can buy a ticket for a gig.  What seems to be harder to come by though is an appreciation for the art form.  I am listening to (I think) Maria Callas warbling her way though a bit of Verdi's La Traviata, and to be perfectly honest, I just wish she'd stop.

Oh well, I will just have to apply our old Scout motto, POR - Press On Regardless.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stalin's Giving Me A Hard Time

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later, I have reached a part of the degree course that I did not find easy.  I dare say as I add modules and move on to stage 2 and 3 work I'm going to find quite a lot of the work quite hard, but until the Stalin chapter yesterday everything seemed to be going quite well.

Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, January 1936.
Krushchev and Stalin

Our task in the Stalin chapter of Reputations is to examine the myth of Stalin, both the story he built up about himself, and then the counter-myth spun by Krushchev, this is done by examining the conclusions of different historians.  This is a very different way to learn history than I am used to, this isn't at all the rote learning of dates and events I can remember from school, along with the very definite 'this is what happened' approach. The methods we are being trained to use to examine history is much more 'so X occured, but the reason might be Y according to Smith, or Z according to Jones', and then it's up to us to sort it out.

I have managed to complete the Stalin chapter, and did all the exercises within, but it was tough going, and when I read the suggested answers for each question, I had not made half so many connections and conclusions as I had been doing in the earlier parts of the course.

There isn't an essay to do on Stalin, for which I am quite grateful.  My Cleopatra essay is almost completed, just the bibliography to do, and I have my Cezanne vs. Zurburan essay in rough form ready to copy up. Looking to the next chapter of the course, it's music, focusing on the diva, and taking in Maria Callas, Madonna, Puccini and Luzzaschi, who as far as I am aware at the moment, plays inside left for AC Milan.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wagner, Dead As Mutton

Caricature of Richard Wagner Cover of L'Eclips...Image via Wikipedia
"I tell you young people that before the nineteenth century is out Wagner will be as dead as mutton. Wagner! I would give all his works for one opera by Donizetti."
"But Siegfried! When he mentioned it Professor Erlin leaned his head on his hand and bellowed with laughter. Not a melody in it from beginning to end! He could imagine Richard Wagner sitting in his box and laughing till his sides ached at the sight of all the people who were taking it seriously. It was the greatest hoax of the nineteenth century." - Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

ICC Dinner & Wine Night

A green wine grape.Image via WikipediaThe food cooked by Dave, Richard, Owen & Callum, Maitre D'd by Liz, and served by Ellie and Rae of this parish, was wonderful.  Seriously folks, hats off to you, I think you did a quite remarkable job cooking a five course meal for 50 people from what is really just a standard home, non-commercial, kitchen, I was most impressed.

The ICC wine nights are a fund raising event for the cricket club, always popular and very well supported, where a team of very hard working volunteers cook and serve the food, and a selection of 'wine experts' select and present a wine to go with each course.  I got to choose the dessert wine (with a fabulous budget of £6 a bottle), and my presentation ran like this....

"Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a wine, the grapes for which are grown only in a single, near inaccessible valley in the Nava De Roda hills of the Ribero Del Duoro wine region in Southern Spain.

Lavish care and attention is spent on the grape vines, grape tenders camp out in the valley ensuring that each vine receives exactly the amount of water it needs and keeping the vines clear of pests. The grape tenders have to be somewhat accomplished at a musical instrument, for wine grower Jesus Montilla is convinced that the grapes grow riper with music, preferring light classical music in the growing season, and a little flamenco as the grapes ripen.

The Moscatel grapes are only picked at night, during the first frosts of Autumn, and only after being blessed by the bishop of Valencia. They are then transported in padded baskets on the backs of mules, at the winery each grape is inspected for ripeness and any that do not pass Jesus Montilla’s exacting requirements are rejected.

The grapes are then gently trod beneath the feet of young girls, filtered, and barrelled for two years before being bottled. The resulting wine is said to taste somewhere between sexual ecstasy and religious revelation, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is not that wine.

However, there is another wine, grown in vast quantities on the plains of Valencia, where the grapes are watered by the urine of passing goats who are herded by the infamous winemaker Pablo Ossario. They say that if you are downwind of Pablo that on a breezy day you can smell his BO in Madrid, on a bad day in Portugal. Pablo seasons his goat piss tinted grapes by spitting regularly and heartily into the fermenting vat, and because Pablo can’t be bothered waiting for the grapes to really ripen he sweetens the resulting wine with antifreeze (which is only rumoured to cause cancer in lab rats). This pale green, sometimes lumpy and frankly repellent vintage is bottled in stolen Marks & Spencer bottles and shipped to the UK to be aimed at the slapper & chav Lambrini girls market.

This ladies and gentlemen, is that wine, cheers."

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Greetings From Amsterdam

The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem v...Image via Wikipedia We're here just having a quick four day break, my first consecutive days off since April I think.  The flight was fine, we had to take a bus from Schipol to catch a train from another station to get into Amsterdam, but that was fine. There was an arse in suit playing hell with the ticket guy and demanding to know why they hadn't informed people in advance of the change of plans, but really, what's he supposed to do, phone everyone in Europe and say "Hey, if you're coming to Amsterdam on Sunday there are some engineering works on the lone so you'll have to catch a bus and that will hold you up by 20 minutes." The thing is, sometimes people in suits are dicks.

Amsterdam on arrival was much like Ilkley, mostly raining.  We had arrived later than decent restaurants open on a Sunday and ended up in a burger place where one half of the customers looked like drug dealers and the other half appeared to be the end of week get together of the Amsterdam National Front.  There's something about groups of skinheads that always makes me mildly nervous.

This morning though the city showed itself in a better light. After sleeping in until 8.30am, and there's a rare treat in itself, we had breakfast at the hotel and then set off on a bus tour of the city.  Meg fancied looking round a diamond workshop and so we looked at the beautiful, glittering and expensive things for a while, and then she said she could stand being bored for a bit and allowed me to drag her around the Rijksmuseum.

I was rather impressed with the collection of Dutch masters and the demonstration the art provided of what an impressive trade and military power the Dutch Republic was.  The museum is having a refit for the next couple of years and the display space has been vastly cut down, but the art on display is a visually stunning Dutch greatest hits parade, including the almost overpowering and vast 'Night Watch.'

After a quick lunch we took a canal cruise around more of the city, including the river and a cruise past the vast river cruise ships and the old sailing ships, the we had a walk around the fringes of the red light district and Chinatown.  Dinner was a huge pile of noodles and Peking duck, then a few pints of Heineken back at the hotel.

Tomorrow ? We haven't quite decided yet, but the floating flower market and Anne Frank's house are possibles.
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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Basho by HokusaiImage via Wikipedia'A chili-pepper,
give it wings,
a red dragonfly' - Basho

'Pull of the wings of a red dragonfly,
a chili-pepper' - Kikakou

Pic - Basho by Hokusai
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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Diary Of A University Student Aged 44

Corporate logo of Leeds Metropolitan Universit...For better or for worse then, introductory course Y-180 is a wrap.  I have submitted my assessment essay on Chris Ofili's mixed media painting Afrodizzia, I have done the multi-choice online exam and that is it, the course is complete.  All I have to do now is sit back and wait for the result and hopefully 15 points of the 360 I require to get a degree.

Except...I'm not sitting back and waiting because I signed up for a 60 point module, AA 100 - The Arts Past And Present, and as the Openings module ended, the new one began.

On Saturday I became a proper student as along with a largish crowd of fellow Open University students I attended our induction day event in the Rose Bowl at Leeds Metropolitan University.  A number of the Yorkshire (Region 7) students had contacted each other via Facebook, and so wet met up, slightly nervously, at Leeds Station before trooping off en masse to an actual brick Uni.

I know the first course was proper study, but this course feels more real after meeting fellow students face to face as well as getting to meet our course tutor.  Now, the Open Uni has rules about talking about tutors but I think it's alright if I say that our tutor seems decidedly forthright, blunt even, but in a very honest and helpful way.  I think he has left us in no doubt of what we need to do to pass this module, what we need to do to pass this module with flying colours, and what sort of things we should avoid to avoid looking like complete muppets - handing in 5,000 word count essays when the question asked for 500 for example.

I had a flutter of unease during the tutor introduction session, but not to do with this course, it was just that as the tutor explained why we must remove the 'I' from our essays I was thinking back to what I had written in my essay on Afrodizzia and wondering whether there might be a bit too much of myself in it.

Now, I know that some of my fellow students may well read this as my blog posts to Facebook, and I do want to panic anybody who might be struggling with the coursework, but...I was a bit worried when I took on this degree work that it might be too challenging for me, that I might struggle with the work and fall behind.  The opposite seems to ring true, well, its either that or I'm failing to understand the work.  I know that I have not quite nailed the art of the academic essay style yet, partly because I am far too used to writing in a chatty and informal style, but that will come with a bit more practise.  My first tutor also kept giving me a great bit advice - get in close to the subject.  I realise that I have a tendency to stand back a bit and look at the topic in overview, to try and drag in extra information and expand on the question asked. Practise should make better here if not perfect, read the question very carefully, and then, very carefully, answer the question that was asked.

I love all the work.  Our tutor said we can't possibly enjoy everything, but so far I have, the 1st World War Poetry was moving and powerful, Chartist history opened up for me a part of history I knew nothing about but was glad to learn, and the art, oh wow, the art is fantastic.

Scientist Michael FaradayWhen I started this, I was pretty sure that a degree in English Literature was the one for me, after all, I read loads of books so it should only follow that my main strength and interest would lie in literature right ? I still love Eng Lit, but some of the art sets me ablaze.  Before learning about techniques, meaning, and especially context, I was content to look at art and judge it on whether I liked it or not, which is at the base level what everyone does.  When I can learn about the back stories to, and history of people like Picasso and Cezanne though it makes their paintings come alive for me, I can identify with what they saw and what they were trying to achieve, why they painted in the way they did.

Eyes down then, time to both study and enjoy it, our first theme is reputations and the people we are studying are a fantastically diverse group, Cleopatra, Christopher Marlowe, Paul Cezanne, Michael Faraday, Joseph Stalin, Madonna (the pop singer), Maria Callas and the Dalai Lama. It's all great, I'm sure I will hit a point when the work becomes a struggle, when my comprehension leads me astray and I need to phone my tutor and say "Help", but for now, I love the work, I love the way the OU and the modules work, everything is wonderful.

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