Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Tuesday, 15 August 2017
Monday, 14 August 2017
Sunday, 13 August 2017
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Numbers: Chapter 19 - A Ritual for Purification After Contact With Death
God has a weird aversion to dead bodies. Now none of us like dead bodies particularly of course, but God said that making contact with dead bodies made you unclean. This of course is just a silly superstition from an ignorant people. But they had a purification ritual to make everything okay again. Still, if God was so averse to dead bodies, why did he keep killing so many people?
So death is kind of a fact of life isn't it really. Nevertheless God was kind of freaked out by it. People dying? Yeuk!
So God gave some instructions on a magic new way to cleanse people in the event that they had somehow come into contact with a dead body, which was probably unavoidable in a tribe whose god kept smiting people every time they doubted him.
God told Moses and Aaron to have Eleazar to get a red heifer, one of those many animals that the tribe of Israel seemed to have about them despite having complained of being hungry only a chapter or two ago. This heifer was to be grazed and given a happy and contented life. No. Only joking. It was of course to be slaughtered and then burnt as a sacrifice. Of course.
Ordinarily if you touched a dead body you were unclean for 7 days. But now God had some voodoo to get around that. All they had to do was take some of the ashes of the heifer, mix them up with water and then sprinkle them on the unclean person on the 3rd and 7th day of their uncleanness. And that was it. They were magically transformed from being unclean to clean. They're like magicians those priests aren't they.
Of course if you failed to follow God's instructions you had to be kicked out.
Saturday, 12 August 2017
Friday, 11 August 2017
Thursday, 10 August 2017
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
I'm not generally a fan of country music, but the very best of that genre transcends it. Glen Campbell took already great songs and turned them into classics thanks to the sublime quality of his voice. He died yesterday at the age of 81, another victim of Alzheimers.
Campbell at his peak outsold even the Beatles in 1968. Over the course of his career, though he didn't often reach those sort of heights, he nevertheless sold 45 million records with his music that managed to crossover from country to pop music. Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Linesman were probably his most celebrated songs, quintessentially American pop songs about the American dream and its working class heroes.
Hello, Goodbye (Official Video) by The Beatles on VEVO.
The youth of today doesn't seem to know about the Beatles. Someone on Quora the other day asked why 'old people' cannot accept that Michael Jackson is greater than them. He, said the youth, had never heard of the Beatles and had only heard of Paul McCartney when he made that record with Ri Ri.
Well, foolish youth, the Beatles are held in great esteem by 'old people' and by the way I was just a kid when they were together , a baby actually, because they changed the face of popular music. They started off as a kind of early boy band, but with great music. They became massively popular the world over. Then they transcended their beginnings by becoming superb songwriters and musicians. The Beatles did this because they learnt their craft by playing. A lot. They were a superb live band, although this was never appreciated because of the poor quality of the equipment in those days. And all of the screaming of girls.
But they also wrote simply superb songs that stand the test of time. Then they invented using the studio as a kind of musical instrument in its own right. Their albums were works of art, masterpieces. Albums like Sergeant Pepper, Rubber Soul, Revolver, the White Album and Abbey Road revolutionised music and paved the way for later bands and indeed their peers at the time like the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones to experiment too.
And this is all reflected in album sales. Michael Jackson was a great artist and made some excellent pop records, but his influence was nothing like as great as the Beatles. And they sold twice as many records as Jackson. They remain huge sellers even now. They even invented the pop video as shown above. It looks crude by modern standards, but remember it had never been done before.
Finally did you know that Michael Jackson bought the publishing rights to all of the Beatles songs to the fury of Paul McCartney who gave him the idea by doing the same to Buddy Holly's songs. Jackson then outbid him for the Beatles songs.
The Beatles were the greatest because they outsold everyone and revolutionised music. They were as influential in rock and roll terms as Mozart or Beethoven in classical music. I assume you've heard of them even though they haven't recorded with Rihanna.
Tuesday, 8 August 2017
Monday, 7 August 2017
Sunday, 6 August 2017
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Numbers: Chapter 18 - The Power and Wealth of the Priests and Levites
So in chapter 16 there was a small rebellion as some of the Israelites demanded to know who had made Moses and Aaron the bosses. God killed them all including their families just to show them. That's what all of this book is about. The story concerns the tribe being doubtful and disobedient and thus being punished. And guess what? They just so happen to have the power of the priests confirmed. How convenient.
After all of the slaughter of recent chapters then in which God showed who was boss and then delegated it down to Aaron and his priests and his priestly helpers the Levites, we now get a reiteration of what all of this means. It means that Aaron and those allegedly descended from him have sole rights to go into the Tabernacle.
God told Aaron that he and his sons and the Levites were in charge of the Tabernacle. The Levites were the chief servants of the Tabernacle but they were forbidden from making contact or even looking at its most sacred and holy objects. This must have made life tricky. But breaking this rule meant death.
But then God told them what they got in return for all of this: lots of free food and money. Much better. Yes all of those sacrifices were to be given to the priests to eat. So, not actually for God then. There were to be lots and lots of animal sacrifices as we have detailed in Leviticus. But essentially this was just free food for the priests. Funnily enough people who now claim that the Bible is the literal truth tend to ignore the need for animal sacrifices don't they. It's all very very pagan.
And the Levites got a wage too. The Israelites had to give the Levites 5 Shekels for every first born male and every first born animal. A nice little earner then. The only downside was that the priests and Levites were not allowed to own land. God would provide for them, which is to say that the whole tribe would provide for them with taxes on everything.
And on top of those 5 Shekels for all of the first borns there was a tithe or tax of 10% of everything produced by the people. This was to go to the Levites. They then had to hand over 10% of this income to the priests. Why priests needed an income like this is not revealed. Still, thanks to God they were going to be very very rich priests indeed. I bet you didn't see that coming.
Saturday, 5 August 2017
Friday, 4 August 2017
Thursday, 3 August 2017
Wednesday, 2 August 2017
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Monday, 31 July 2017
Sunday, 30 July 2017
God has been doing a lot of smiting and taking out his vengeance against his chosen people lately. If he's this bad against his own people think how he would be against people who don't even believe in him. It's all about people not having faith in him and not accepting the power of the priests. Anyone spot an agenda there?
So after all of the killing of chapter 16 now God felt the need to prove his point in a rather less violent way. He told Moses to go to the head of each of the twelve tribes and have them give him a rod, a kind of walking type stick. On each rod was to be inscribed the name of the man to whom it belonged.
So Moses collected all of the rods and took them to the Tabernacle. He also took a rod from Aaron. The man whose staff blossomed as if alive would be God's chosen leader, second only to Moses of course.
The rods were put in the Tabernacle overnight and then the next day brought out. And of course whose rod had flowered and grown delicious almonds? Yes, Aaron's. Fancy that, eh!
Moses took the rods out to show to the people. Then God told Moses to put Aaron's rod in the Tabernacle as a sign of Aaron's authority. How very convenient.
But this just upset and freaked people out even more. They worried that they were going to die and that this nasty and vengeful God was going to keep punishing them. You have to say they probably had a point.
Saturday, 29 July 2017
Friday, 28 July 2017
Thursday, 27 July 2017
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Tuesday, 25 July 2017
Monday, 24 July 2017
Sunday, 23 July 2017
God is a dictator. He brooks no dissent. You are not allowed to argue with him, doubt him or do anything but obey and revere him. Do anything wrong, transgress his rules, fail to pay taxes to his priests and he will smite you. In particular you had to do as you were told and to follow all of the rules and edicts laid down by priests. Or at least that's what the people who wrote all of this would have you believe. Bear that in mind as we go through Chapter 16 together.
So you'll recall that as the Israelites were going on their journey to the promised land there was some doubt about this great mission. Many wished they had never left their nice easy life back in Egypt and wondered if the Pharaoh would have them back in return for them building him a pyramid or two. Who doesn't need more pyramids after all?
But God had heard their bellyaching and they had been punished. Now they were going to have to stay in the desert for decades until the God of forgiveness and mercy showed them some. Talk about not setting a very good example.
And so now there was a rebellion. You could hardly blame them. Korah, Dathan and Abiram were the ringleaders and they gathered 250 other leading figures and confronted Moses and Aaron. Why were they the leaders? they asked. What made them so special?
Well Moses said that God would sort this out. He told them to go to the Tabernacle the following day with some incense and God would decide if they were allowed to go inside and talk to him. You can hear the alarm bells ringing can't you.
The next day they went to the Tabernacle and God descended with his big cloud. God told Moses and Aaron to stand aside as he was about to do some serious smiting. Moses realised that he was going to kill the entire tribe. He pleaded with God not to punish everyone for the transgressions of a few mouthy rebels. God relented. Moses was very persuasive wasn't he.
So Moses went to the tents of the ringleaders and told everyone but their families to leave. He then told them what was about to happen and that they should see this as a sign from God. So then God just punished the ringleaders, Korah, Dathan and Abiram. The earth split open and dragged down the three of them plus their wives and families into something resembling hell, although it wasn't called hell then because it hadn't been invented yet.
This, not unnaturally, caused panic. Everyone started running around and generally freaking out. Their panic was heightened by God then punishing the 250 other men who had been part of the uprising against Moses.
Once all of this was done and the rebels had been burnt to a crisp, God told Moses to collect up the censers, the small trays they carried incense in and to bash them into plates. They were presumably still hot from all of the smiting and so quite pliable. These were to be put onto the altars as a constant reminder to do as you are told.
Even then though the people were angry and upset. They blamed Moses for the deaths of all of these men and also for the deaths of their children. They probably had a point there. Isn't visiting the sins of a father on to his children a bit immoral?
But God was having none of it. Now he started a plague. Fortunately Moses was once again the calming influence on the rash and nasty God. He told Aaron to perform a cleansing ritual with incense to placate God. The plague stopped but not before 14 thousand people had died.
That's the message. Do as you are told, don't question the authority of the priests or God will punish you. For ignorant bronze age people all of this was very scary. But now we know better. Don't we?
Saturday, 22 July 2017
This blog is now taking its annual summer sabbatical. There will still be plenty of content here, mostly in the form of videos and music. The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale continues every Sunday as usual as do the film reviews on Saturday but the Video Diary is taking a rest until September.
If something big happens, or if politics continues to astonish and confound us by refusing to take a break from intrigue and endless drama then of course it will be reflected here. Otherwise I'm taking a few weeks off. Have a nice summer, or whatever season you are in in your part of the world.
Friday, 21 July 2017
Earlier this week the Prime Minister accused Chauncey of talking the country down. This was fair enough, although this is hardly new in the career of Chauncey. Indeed he has long regarded it as his principled duty to do so. But perhaps she should have said the same of some of the scribblers who have been writing about the Brexit negotiations this week.
Take the now infamous picture above. A lot has been said and written about it as though it is somehow symbolic. Yet all it really symbolises is the classic British inferiority complex. It was a photo opportunity. British officials and David Davis their boss saw no reason to take documents with them to a photo opportunity, indeed given the antics of photographers in Downing Street they were probably wise. The talks didn't really get underway until much later after David Davis had headed home. But this didn't stop anyone finding symbolism and claiming that this proved that Britain is woefully unprepared for the marathon talks ahead.
In fact, as is often the case, we are extremely well prepared and the Commission is wary of us. They are even worried, probably justifiably, that we are spying on them. The British have taken a high powered team to Brussels and are very well briefed. The Commission has made all of the early running on sounding unreasonable, unbending, intransigent and arrogant. We have been polite by comparison, with the possible exception of Boris.
It's still early days of course but there is much to be optimistic about. For a start the Brits are steadfastly refusing to bend on the issue of money and of setting out what we think we should pay. If it is a bill with which we are being presented it seems to be a stretch to ask the payer to set out what it should pay and its reasons for doing so. There is no legal basis to demand any cash at all from us. If Europe thinks otherwise it should justify its demands of us not expect us to make our case. The fact that we may in the past have agreed to pay for various projects and infrastructure - an argument made by the BBC last night - rather misses the point that we made such an agreement as part of the EU. Then we decided to leave instead. Thus any agreements are null and void unless good legal arguments can be made to prove otherwise. If Europe still refuses to budge on this by the end of the summer then perhaps we should walk out in a huff. It's not very British, but it might convey to them we will not be making any compromises on this.
Or on the ECJ. This continues to be something that the EU seems to be sticking to for now at least. Yet what they are demanding is once again wholly unreasonable. Britain is leaving the EU. The EU's argument, such as it is, is that EU citizens who came here to work, did so expecting to be protected by EU law and thus the ECJ should have the final say. This is patent nonsense. EU citizens have been offered the assurance that they will be allowed to stay here. As such they will be protected by British laws. If they really consider that the EU offers such overwhelmingly greater protections for them then they have the right to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. But Britain's legal system is a byword for fairness. There is no need whatever for EU citizens to be fearful should they decide to stay in a country they have made their homes, indeed it is unlikely that many have such fears. This is just EU grandstanding around a non issue.
And that is the greater symbolism of this week, much more than that picture of an empty table in front of British officials. The EU side had their props - they were after all on home turf - but it nicely symbolised their whole stance. It really shouldn't be hard to do a deal with Britain if they genuinely want to do a deal, after all most of what needs to be done is already in place if true goodwill exists. Britain already trades freely with Europe it's just we have exercised our democratic right to leave a club whose goals we do not share. If on the other hand they want to make the process seem as difficult and unwieldy as possible to dissuade any others from taking the same leap then what they are doing makes sense. Ultimately though that is a political choice that will, as usual, have little to do with the best interests of the peoples of Europe and a great deal more to do with the petty concerns of the EU elite and their dreams of ever closer union. They daren't make life too easy for the British for fear of encouraging others to follow our lead. The fact that they are at risk of behaving like the worst kind of autocrats, like China vis a vis Taiwan, is presumably lost on them.
But we will get our deal because standard EU divisions will in time reassert themselves and we will make a success of Brexit because we will be able to govern ourselves again and be more responsive democratic and flexible. Britain was always semi-detached from Europe. Now we are just making that official. In time our leaving will be seen as the right decision for all concerned and cooperation, even if it cannot be agreed initially, will slowly evolve as time goes on. In the meantime stand by for many more months of threats and bombast and depictions of doom and gloom. There will be many more stories about how the French and Germans are intent on destroying the City of London and poaching away our best companies, stories that ignore the fact that the French and Germans were trying to do this before we voted to leave too.
Thursday, 20 July 2017
So I'm confused. If the top paid employees of the BBC had been more evenly distributed between men and women would that have made it all okay? If the top paid DJ had been Zoe Ball rather than Chris Evans would that have been less embarrassing for the corporation? Is Laura Kuenssberg spitting blood because she came back to the Beeb from ITN and undersold herself?
The BBC's excuse for all of those frankly ludicrous salaries is that this is driven by the market. This is demonstrably absurd. The BBC is by far the biggest broadcasting organisation in the country and in certain key markets is the only game in town. And yet it is paying eye watering sums to presenters despite the fact that there is no real competition for the talent it is employing. Everyone was expecting the top paid presenter to be Graham Norton. And that would be more defensible because there is more of a market for his services. But instead it is Chris Evans who is paid £2.2 million to be a DJ on the only national radio station for which he could work. Would Evans really leave Radio 2 if his salary were cut in half and then in half again? What about the other ludicrously overpaid Radio 2 presenters like Steve Wright, who essentially spends most of his programme reading out the news? Or Jeremy Vine. What other station could he work for?
You can make a case for Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly's vast remuneration as they are presenting a massive hit show and would be in demand were they to leave. You can't however make a case for Gary Lineker's silly salary; he could easily be replaced by any number of perfectly acceptable presenters at much lower cost. People after all watch for the football not to hear his midland tones and perfect pecs when he loses a bet. And how is Alan Shearer worth his mega salary? His fellow pundits don't make the list despite many of them being better at the job and more charismatic.
And go down that list and you see other examples of BBC managers who clearly don't understand how markets work. In order for them to use the defence of them needing to pay the market rate there needs to be a market in operation. There isn't. Are there really commercial rivals vying for the signatures of Jason Mohammad and Mark Chapman? They are good and professional presenters but worth a quarter of a million quid a piece? How are they worth so much more than the excellent Emily Maitlis who isn't even on the list meaning she earns less than £150k? And what alternative employment is Radio 4's Eddie Mair going to find to justify his being paid £300,000? Eyebrows have been raised too about Stephen Nolan's £450,000 a year. Who? Nolan works for late night Radio 5 Live and for BBC Northern Ireland. Perhaps he was part of the deal with the DUP.
John Humphries opined yesterday that it seems odd that he needs to justify his salary by means of showing that he could get more money elsewhere, although at least he was honest enough to admit that he loves his job and loves working for the BBC and so would not seek more money elsewhere anyway. But he misses the point of how salaries are set. That is how the BBC justifies them. It is nonsense. Many of us have loved working for the BBC down the years and did so for normal salaries grounded in reality. Humphries is good at his job and his salary was artificially boosted by offering him a quiz show so as to make him look more value for money. But he isn't value for money. He has a great job doing something he loves doing. He shouldn't be on minimum wage but it's hard to see why he should be paid 4 times more than the politicians he gives a daily grilling to.
This is a clear case of BBC management failing once again to manage. The vast majority of BBC staff earn salaries that are good if not spectacular but who have the satisfaction of working for an organisation they are proud of. These are not big stars we are talking about here, they are mostly presenters and newsreaders handed extraordinary sums for no obvious reason other than the BBC's usual poor financial control and willingness to lavish our money on things it doesn't really need. Huw Edwards has managed to persuade managers that he is worth half a million quid when he has no obvious alternative employer and certainly nothing like the same opportunity to present such a wide range of programming for so large an audience.
Then there are the mega salaries of various interchangeable soap opera actors or the astonishing fact that the BBC is paying Derek Thompson, who has been playing Charlie in Casualty badly for the last 30 years in its execrable soap Casualty. The BBC has no business making so much of this bilge at all. That it is paying actors with the range of Thompson an arm and a leg just adds insult to the kind of injury they so poorly depict in their dramas.
As for the Radio 2 salaries, well they are out of control and should be curtailed with urgency. Why any of them should be getting paid so much more than the likes of Simon Mayo and Ken Bruce is hard to fathom. Radio 2 has long pursued a policy of employing big star presenters and is clearly paying accordingly. But has it stopped to ask if it could get away with paying less? How is Chris Evans worth so much more than his colleagues. Answer: he isn't and could easily be replaced with little or no consequence for the audience. Not that this would happen. Evans loves his gig. He has nowhere else to go.
All of this does however hand an excellent response to ministers currently negotiating with the EU. When the results of their travails are revealed in the coming months and they are taken to task by the BBC about them they have a perfect response. Given what you were prepared to pay Chris Evans, Gary Lineker and Jason Mohammad, it's probably fortunate the BBC was not negotiating for the country.
Here's a tip for managers the next time contracts are negotiated. Just say no. Then see what happens. I think we can all guess that the outcome will not be a mass exodus to ITV, Channel 4, Capital Radio and LBC.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Last week, embracing her inner Gordon Brown, Theresa didn't turn up for PMQs as she had an appointment with the King of Spain instead, although why Ashley Giles deserves such preferential treatment is unknown. Chauncey, being the exemplar of the new politics, took the opportunity to spend more time with his manhole covers and recently neglected allotment too.
And this week will be the last session before the summer recess, or febrile leadership talk season as it has become known in recent years. This year, for the second year in succession, the Tories are engaging in this sport. Labour have decided against, not because they don't want to, but because if they do the Momentum hordes will briefly stop daubing swastikas on Tory posters and turn their attentions on them instead. This is, after all, the age of kinder and nicer politics. Just ask the people of Grenfell Tower who would like to know who the raving loons speaking on their behalf are and who asked them to put their oar in.
The Cabinet is currently engaged in the kind of backbiting open warfare that Labour until recently made its speciality. On a range of issues, but mostly Philip Hammond, austerity, public sector pay, Philip Hammond, Brexit and Philip Hammond there is no real consensus. Since government is supposed to proceed by consensus they came up with the cunning ruse of leaking what Phil said before consensus was reached. Brilliant!
Theresa is being urged to clamp down on this idiocy. Or to stand down. Or to step up. Or to bang heads together. Or to blow her own brains out. Or something like that. There is no consensus. One possible avenue for her to go with her head held high was lost at the weekend when the BBC named a female Doctor Who. Sadly Jodie Whittaker got the gig rather than the woman presiding over the gig economy. Still, at least it didn't go to George Osborne.
Nothing is certain in politics these days of course, but it seems unlikely now that Theresa will be removed from power over the summer, something that was once talked about as inevitable. Unless of course she does a Diane Abbott and blames ill health for her inability to carry on. She could then demand a job in the Cabinet as her price, like those tennis players who feigned injury only to turn up for the doubles the following day. Diane Abbott also has diabetes, albeit the sort you get from eating too many pies. Think about it Prime Minister. Or consider it on this year's walking holiday.
And of course Labour has rowed back on its tuition fees and student debt promises. These weren't promises apparently, they were aspirations. Labour also aspires to one day have a coherent policy on Europe, in the meantime it has a policy to waffle endlessly until interviewers give up. If they are from the BBC they probably have other financial matters on their minds.
This week Chauncey was in full sanctimonious mode again on the issue of public sector pay and the current travails of the Cabinet. They are bickering he said, seemingly forgetting the last couple of years in his own party. Labour too are bickering, they are just putting on a more united front in public. Sarah Champion was on the BBC talking to Andrew Neil: paid half of what Huw Edwards is paid. She made various contradictory assertions vis a vis student tuition fees but essentially admitted that the Labour leader lied about 'dealing' with student debt. They can't. It's impossible as many of us pointed out. This looked like a brilliant ruse at the election. Now interviewers, even those paid as little as Andrew Neil, are on the case.
And Chauncey continued his strange sub Dickensian tales of the misery that a pay cap has inflicted on the country. Quite how this can be the case is puzzling. He gave as an example the starting salaries of various public sector workers like nurses and police officers. In so doing he probably gave a boost to recruitment efforts. Apparently playing doctors, nurses and cops nets you a starting salary a starting salary of £23k. Kerching. Across the country people will have been wondering what the hell all the fuss is about. Starting on 20 grand plus? When you are still learning? With better pensions, maternity and paternity rights, annual leave and general working conditions? Sounds great. It's nearly as lucrative as reading an autocue for the BBC. Quite how such salaries lead to the kind of misery and food banks depicted by Chauncey is a mystery. Could it be that nurses are as useless at managing their money as Labour governments?
What Labour also never mention is that public sector workers get automatic annual increments to their pay regardless of performance. They are called pay bands. Nurses and teachers also move around within the NHS or education system and increase their salaries accordingly. Pay freezes are only part of the story. In the NHS in particular, nurses frequently set aside their devotion to the service by doubling their pay by going and working for agencies and thus fleecing the good old NHS of much needed funds.
It would be churlish however not to admit that, though much of what he says is inaccurate and dishonest Chauncey has got much better at saying it. His confidence is there for all to see. It's the same old impecunious drivel about spending money we don't have and throwing it at any and all problems and hoping that solves them. As usual Labour make the mess, Tories are left to clear it up and then get blamed for being hard hearted. It's part