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Archive for December, 2009

Happy New Year


Just a short post during my hols to wish one and all a very Happy New Year!

I’ve been back in England visiting relatives and old mates over the past few days and I’m looking forward to the festivities in London tonight. Could be chilly!

“Normal” blogging will resume in 2010, if I survive 😉

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So the dust has just about settled on yet another Christmas Day, which means that we can take stock, count our presents, our blessings and our lucky stars and get back to the real world just so we can start the twelve month countdown to the next “season of goodwill.” (I had a marvellous Christmas, by the way. I bought my parents the one thing they have never in their entire lives, for a whole host of excellent reasons, bought for themselves, namely, a brand new, top of the range TV. They were surprisingly and gratifyingly thrilled by it.)

But Christmas is Christmas. For me, cynical as I am and, after the communal warmth of a dutiful morning mass had (quickly) worn off, and the postprandial hangover of Boxing Day political reflection kicks in, thoughts turn to the next decade. Fortunately, at least for me, Simon Heffer, who ordinarily these days comes across as a rather reactionary old duffer, has refound his radical voice and framed the “Noughties”, from which we have all just emerged significantly scathed, in terms everyone must comprehend. As is my bad habit, I’ve copied it for you here:

It is customary to find a sobriquet for a decade as it comes to a close – the Naughty Nineties, the Roaring Twenties, the Swinging Sixties – but I can think of none to describe the Noughties that is fit for repetition in a respectable newspaper.

The commanding image of the decade remains, more than eight years after the event, that of the aircraft flying into the Twin Towers in Manhattan in September 2001. The battle of the civilised world against the lunacy of Islamic fundamentalism dominated and poisoned the rest of the decade.

However – and however callous it seems to say it – we should have been lucky if that had been all we had to worry about in the past 10 years.

Sadly, it was not. Both away from the “global war on terror” and, most controversially, inherent in it, was a display of incompetence by a political class which it sought more and more to cover up by obfuscation, a retreat from democracy, and downright lies. We are reminded almost every day that lies were told to take us to war in Iraq, and that is probably so. Yet we hear less about the lies told to conceal the activities and identities of those responsible for the economic collapse in the developed world, which have done their own severe damage.

What happened to global prosperity in the Noughties was just as atrocious, in its way, as the conduct of terrorism and of some aspects of the battle against it. I wish we could have a proper public inquiry into the causes of that, with the persons responsible punished in an appropriately bankrupting way.

We leave this decade poorer than when we entered it. That is the result of having lived spectacularly beyond our means. We have, quite simply, not earned enough to afford the lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves: and now we are paying the price. Yet whose fault was that? Foolishly, many blame the bankers, easy scapegoats in a society driven by envy because of their champagne-stoked lifestyles and their vast bonuses. They also took idiotic decisions that imperilled the savings of their customers and the value of their shares – decisions that depleted the pension funds of millions of Britons.

But how were they allowed to do this? The answer is painfully simple. The same Government that refused to regulate the bankers properly also allowed an insane amount of liquidity to go into the economy, which gave them cheap material with which to play casino economics.

Labour’s biggest lie is that America brought us the recession. The truth is that there, like here, the recession was brought to us by politicians, and Mr Brown is the prime culprit. This decade of debt is about to usher in a new one of hardship.

These failures were partly the cause of the advance of mediocrity. Around the world, too many leaders won office because they were good on television, or plausible con men. Too few reached the top because they were able and sensible. We are now all paying the price for being duped.

We shall be foolish if we don’t learn a lesson from the enormous mistakes of the past 10 years. They are both social and economic. In the former sense, we must stand up for our right to a way of life as we desire it in this country, and as no one else has a right to dictate to us. Majorities have rights, too. Nor is there anything wrong with fighting to protect them, provided the battle is joined honestly and with democratic sanction.

And as for our economy: we have to close down large sections of the state. We have to get it out of our lives. We have to get our people off its payroll. We have to get our poor out of dependency upon it. In Britain, the decade ahead needs to be the decade of the individual. For it is we, the people, who will revive us, and not the state.

Think about that one thing, apart from all the other disasters: “We leave this decade poorer than when we entered it.” Heffer is at his best when he presents to us in clear terms the simple, unhappy truth. He’s done that here.

Our job is to make sure the next decade is successful, prosperous and, above all, politically rejuvenating. That’s going to be tough, but it can’t begin without the total destruction of the current travesty of a (British) government. When Brown’s gone, we can begin.

Hope you all had a great day off, btw. I did 🙂

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Left, right or sideways, I send you my sincere seasons greetings. If prayer is your thing (it’s not really mine these days) then say a prayer for peace.

Even pop can be profound:

The beauty for the believers, I suppose, is that we are all meaningful parts of God’s plan. And Christmas is part of that.

For the non believers and general killjoys, there’s always Glastonbury. Both happen every year, after all.

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I thought this conversation was fairly interesting, especially the parts where American former trader, Max Keiser, talks about the free market capitalism/democracy relationship and the major disappointment that is Barack Obama (“he’s not a politician, he’s a celebrity”). He’s pretty good on the impact on our purchasing power of the explosion in money supply, too.

Whatever happens, 2010 will be one of the toughest years the UK has ever faced. The only silver linings, at least to me, are that Labour and the evil Brown stain, who caused the catastrophe in the first place and then prolonged it with a fake recovery (which has yet to materialise), will be kicked out of power, preferably forever – and popular music is likely to improve in inverse proportion to the social dislocation caused by the ongoing deterioration in the British economy, (otherwise known as The Clash Coefficient).

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I’m not proud to be what the Left would regard as “middle class” because I simply don’t care. By the same token, I try not to define other people in terms of some ideological critique of their “origins”, whether it be “working class” or, in the destructively hypocritical terms now being thrown around casually by Labour these days, the “privileged few” (as has been conclusively shown by the expenses scandal, there is no one more “privileged” in British society than a politican, whatever their putative stripe). I simply do not believe that it is true, let alone desirable, that people can be or should be defined in Marxist or neo-Marxist terms. Those terms are deliberately intended to deny individuality by confirming the supremacy of State. As far as I’m concerned, once you start down that track you are well on your way to tyranny.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, I was pretty angry when Labour attempted to make this “Tory toff” class hatred thing in the Crewe by election last year the core of their appalling campaign. This wasn’t because I thought it would hurt the Tories – as usual, Labour patronised and underestimated the electorate, whom they generally appear to regard with contempt at the best of times, hence their massive defeat – but because I’d thought we’d long ago moved on from such a bankrupt characterisation of the population. I naively imagined that Labour had changed and that constructive politics within the framework of a pluralist, thriving liberal democracy, away from the fake divisions of the 70s and before, invented by the Left to simply further their boundless thirst for power and for the creation of the socialist Utopia. But I’ve repeated the mistake. You see, after their hammering in Crewe I had come round to the idea that maybe, finally, Labour understood that the flimsy caricaturing of their opponents as being, somehow, “class enemies” just won’t fly in 21st Century Britain; that the penny had dropped and with it the lurch-to-the-far-Left campaign tactic that was doomed to kill them off as a force in British politics (or, perhaps, merely English and Welsh politics) for good.

Fortunately – because I want to see them drummed out of office for generations as punishment for the damage they’ve inflicted on every single facet of British society, having lied their way into power in the first place -so, yes, fortunately, I was completely wrong again. Alan Johnson, former union leader and NEC member and the chippy embodiment of the arrogant, smug, convinced class warrior that makes up the Left’s population, has confirmed today that Labour is an unreformable dinosaur. This is what Benadict Brogan said earlier:

Alan Johnson had a go at ‘public schoolboy millionaires’ yesterday in the Sunday Times. “The Conservatives are the party of inherited wealth, private education and conspicuous affluence, ” he said. “If they were to win the election, you would have a mayor of London, chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister all coming from a tiny clique who went out trashing restaurants and left large wodges of money to pay for the damage.”

This has gone down badly at City Hall, where Boris “I fear no man” J0hnson is preparing his riposte for when he comes to face to face with the Home Secretary at the “Johnson v Johnson” debate organised next month by Policy Exchange. The event is ostensibly about PR, with Vernon Bogdanor seconding Johnson A and Lord Norton of Louth assisting Johnson B. But like a row about whether to put the toilet seat up, it can very quickly be turned into something else. I’m told Hizzoner is itching to “put that man Johnson in his place”. So book your seats now: the class war is about to go live

If Labour does pursue this futile line of attack on the Tories up to the General Election, they will be wiped out, possibly for good. People are sick of it, for one thing (Blair, for all his sins, knew that) and for another, it is perfectly clear to all but Brown and his henchmen that a massive proportion of the British public don’t define themselves in these terms any more. They are not offended by money, as long as it is perceived to have been earned. So Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson will not be judged harshly by the electorate because of their backgrounds. Their parents were all hard working and successful and in that way, they are not what Labour thinks they are and desperately want us to think they are, namely, some sort of robber barons – and I don’t mean in the metaphorical sense. It’s the “flimsy caricaturing” I was talking about earlier and, quite simply, it won’t work.

However, it’s conclusively been demonstrated by idiot Johnson that Labour really are stupid enough to be planning to do just that. All I can say is that it will be enormously gratifying when this abject cynicism based on an obsolete, 19th/20th Century political ideology earns precisely the reward it deserves come May 2010.

I confidently predict that Labour will go the way of the dodo, and good riddance to it.

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You could click on this link and visit the Half Blood Welshman’s blog to read the original version of the latest wonderful instalment in his series on some of the great composers, or you could just read the stolen stuff, conveniently copied below. That’s up to you. The reason why I’ve been so brazen in pirating, plagiarising and purloining the excellent post is that Handel is one of my three favourite music geniuses.

I really hope the HBW doesn’t sue me. (Not that I really mind, er, mind 😉

The excellent article:

George Friedrich/George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)

Coming to the end of our time with the four great 09/59 composers, we come to arguably the greatest of them all, and certainly the most enduringly popular. Also, perhaps, the one who should not be bounded by national labels, being instead a true cosmopolitan – born in Magdeburg, trained in Florence and Venice, who from the age of 27 lived in London, spending much time in Dublin.

Among French musicians at the turn of the twentieth century, it was a standing joke that the English had only ever had one great composer, and they managed that by stealing him from the Germans. Yet that is a gross over-simplification of the role of Handel in music, particularly English language music. Although there was a tradition of English opera, oratorio and popular song established by Purcell, it was the music crafted by Handel – opera, but most of all oratorio – that carried it forward.
He also of course became involved in a very important English institution that was gradually extending itself into Scotland and therefore becoming British as well – the monarchy. In 1727 he was commissioned to write four anthems for the coronation of George II. By all accounts the coronation was rather chaotic, but the anthems stuck – all four remain readily available in print, and no. 3 especially, “The King Shall Rejoice”, is a joy to perform. It’s always rather overshadowed, however, by no. 1 – generally called “Zadok the Priest” after its opening line. So far has this slipped into the idea of the British monarchy – the British nation – that it is performed at every coronation, receiving its last outing for this purpose in 1953. Truly a remarkable achievement, even if I prefer the others musically.
Details of his life are at once crowded and sketchy. His chronology is readily available, but little is known about his home life, or the reason he never married. Despite frequent financial crises caused by ill-advised ventures into opera management, or poor compositions (all composers produce a fair share of stinkers if they write any volume at all) he died worth £20,000, worth certainly many millions in today’s terms (there is no precise way of calculating worth from that time to this, given the variables involved). Most of this went to his niece, who had remained in Germany – it is doubtful that he knew her well.
In his music, he left all of us a much greater legacy. His operas fell into obscurity post mortem, but have recently enjoyed a modest revival. That is nothing, however, compared to the oratorios – popular at the time, and popular ever since. That said, most people just know the edited highlights of most of them. Anyone who has ever been to an Easter Day church service will surely have sung “Thine Be the Glory” – the tune, known as “Judas Maccabeus,” was originally set to “See The Conquering Hero Comes,” written first for Joshua and then added to Judas Maccabeus. Who has not heard the wonderful number “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” from Solomon and Sheba, with its wonderful, flowing theme importing the grandeur of the occasion? I recommend it to all of my friends who get married as a processional piece – far better than Wagner’s “Treulich Gefürht.” For myself, I have always had a definite soft spot for the Solemn March from Joshua – I play it at Remembrance Day services, and at funerals where appropriate. It was originally written to measure the tramp of the Children of Israel as they marched around the Walls of Jericho, before the trumpets laid them flat in ruin.
In the majority of his oratorios Handel created essentially an opera without the actions – a strong narrative, with almost enough for a staging of it as an opera. This is the classic format for an oratorio (Elijah being another good example). But in one, he broke that mould, and created a classic that remains perhaps the most performed work in all English music. I speak, of course, of Messiah.

Messiah is, despite the title, very little concerned with the life and teachings of Jesus. Instead, it draws heavily on the prophecies of the Old Testament (especially Isaiah) and creates an interpretation of who He was, what He means, and what will come to pass, exploring the themes of the virgin birth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection – then continuing to show what that will mean at the Day of Judgement. Handel is said to have written the music in just 24 days – admittedly drawing massively on his earlier works for inspiration, but setting everything anew, painting the words with the music, and creating a work that nobody who calls themselves a singer should pass up a chance of singing.
Originally purely secular and written for theatre, in the 19th century it became a staple of the church choir. With their decline since the 1960s, it continues to thrive as a popular number for choral societies. And of course, it is a much-performed work for charities, as a “come and sing” event – especially at the Albert Hall, where hundreds come to sing it every year. Handel’s most popular work abounds with choruses – most famously, but not by any means most brilliantly, the Hallelujah Chorus. It is a measure of the work’s quality that I at least consider that one of the weaker choruses. Handel gave us a genuine masterwork, one that I have no doubt will be performed as long as there are 50 people in four parts to sing it with an organist (or better yet, an orchestra) to play along.
Therefore it may come as a surprise that I am closing, not with a piece from Messiah, but from Samson. I have a soft spot for both Joshua and Samson, the more so because I have never yet had a chance to perform either. Given the variety and quality of Handel’s output, some very fine stuff tends to get overshadowed. Here, at the end of Act Two, the Israelites and the Philistines are quarrelling over who out of Jehovah and Dagon are “fixed in his everlasting seat” hence the continual echoes. Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to perform it myself!
But do not despair if you love Messiah! I have three more posts to come on this blog, and the last, the very last, will close with a little something from it. It feels like the right way to go out. Next week then: on Tuesday, the Welsh Blogosphere and blogging more generally: on Wednesday, the posts I personally liked best out of the 297 I have done so far: and on Thursday – well, a little something to finish. In the meanwhile, I give you Samson.

Fantastic. But just in case that’s a bit too expert for you (it is for me), and just in case you still doubt him (or me), here’s a truly remarkable performance of part of his Royal Fireworks. If any more evidence were really needed of the depth of this utterly gifted musical revolutionary’s talent, then this must be it. His music is still extraordinary, in the true sense of the term.

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This, the core message of Monckton’s typically impressive – and devastating – recent Berlin lecture, resonates more now than ever before, especially in the shadow of the Copenhagen travesty and the light of the Climategate scandal.

Lord Monckton on Climategate at the 2nd International Climate Conference from CFACT on Vimeo.

Hat tip: The Red Rag

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