Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Top 1,000 Albums of My Life

So several friends have now tagged me in this “post a great album cover” thingy that’s been doing the rounds on FB at the moment. I suppose I could just post a picture of the Dark Side of the Moon, tag a few people and move on. But music is too important to distill down to that level, and besides, I like to make my own rules, so I have…

I will be fifty this year. Even though many musical masterpieces were created before I was born, I have been fortunate enough to live through, in my opinion, the most creative and influential years in music, certainly in album form. I have therefore been through my entire collection and selected my top 20 albums form each year since I was born (1966), to compile a list of my top 1,000 albums of my lifetime.

I’ve had to impose a few arbitrary rules upon myself. No compilations, best of’s, greatest hits, re-releases or anniversary special editions, but I have included live albums, but for consistency, at year of release rather than year of recording.

As most of you know, I’m currently undergoing some very aggressive chemotherapy for advanced renal cell carcinoma and have been unable to work. Compiling this list, has given me some focus and a chance to revisit a lot of these great works. Despite the fact that I acquired most of the albums in the first 13 or so years retrospectively, when placed out in this order, they tell the story of my life. I can tell you where I bought each and every one of these albums and they all coincide with life events; births, deaths, marriages, holidays, locations, friends and emotions are all recalled when I scan this image of my life’s soundtrack.

Hopefully Blogger will allow you to open the image in a large enough format for you to be able to determine each individual album, and if like me, you have a deep passion for music, you’ll recognise most of these images and they may put you in mind of a certain periods in your life too.

Compiling the list also highlighted the greatest peaks and troughs this in this music period. Between 1969 and 1973 I really struggled to fit in all the albums I wanted to. Whereas between 1986 and 1990 many albums made the cut that perhaps wouldn’t have in other years. Despite never again quite achieving the lofty peak of the early 70’s, there was still a surprising number of great albums to choose from in the 90’s 00’s and 10’s showing that there is always great music out here if you just go and look for it. Do not content yourself with the simple and easily digestible dirge from over commercial Saturday night TV karaoke contests, 

I don’t suppose there’s anybody else out there who also owns all 1,000 of these albums?

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Bradford Sisters and the Faith Pyramid

Much debate has raged this week regarding the (presumed) Syrian bound sisters from Bradford. How could these people become so radicalised in our free and democratic society? To the rational mind it remains a complete enigma as to why anyone would choose such an irrational, immoral, preposterous and ultimately dangerous path. Some blame the internet. Some blame extremists in the local community. Some blame the radicalised brother. But regardless of where these hateful ideologies were preached from, how could such insidious ideas possibly take root?

It seems to me that some groundwork has to be done first. Believing in vile nonsense requires a bit of effort. Before you can believe in something utterly ridiculous and hateful, you need to first believe in something seemingly slightly less ridiculous and hateful. The best way to believe in something slightly less ridiculous is firstly to make it a cultural norm, so we stop questioning it, and secondly to make sure you start believing in it before you are capable of fully comprehending the ridiculousness of the belief.

Religious fanaticism and its associated consequences could therefore be seen as having a Maslow styled hierarchy of belief. Here’s my belief pyramid and the consequences you can expect at each level.

While much thought and effort is directed at tackling those at the top of the pyramid, society seems equally keen to continue fuel the system from the bottom, ensuring that we have a constant fresh supply of enough receptive minds to climb to the top of the pyramid.

Of course things are a lot more nuanced than my knowingly provocative graphic suggests and I’m keen to stress that the attributes of these levels of religiosity are not restricted to any particular faith.

Finally, does the general decline in religion mean that this pyramid will eventually die out, or will we just find a new base?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

(They Long To Be) Close To You: A Rational Explanation

As a sceptical and pedantic old git, one thing that especially infuriates me is people who, when presented with a situation that is not immediately explainable to them, resort to the comforting pre-prepared paranormal or supernatural explanation that is prevalent in their culture. Indeed, if that instantly thought of supernatural or paranormal explanation also adheres to a previously subscribed to worldview or supports an ulterior agenda, then very little effort is often expended in identifying the natural, and frequently rather banal, actual explanation for the phenomenon.

As an example, let us consider these immortal words from the sadly demonstrably mortal, Karen Carpenter: 
 “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time, you are near?”

A curious portent indeed and one worthy of critical and unbiased examination rather than simply dismissing it as a mere justification of the allure of the recipient of Ms Carpenter’s affection. Leaving aside the fact that extensive scientific research carried out in the sexual selection preferences of female Homo sapiens has shown no measurable correlation with an increased avian presence let us consider more plausible explanations for the ubiquitous fowl. Indeed we need to look no further than the first 3 lines of the chorus:
“On the day that you were born the angels got together
And decided to create a dream come true               
So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair”

Clearly the reference to fictional spiritual beings is an extrapolation of the initial flawed supposition regarding the divinely bestowed attributes of the subject. It would not be unreasonable to assume that any interference with the person in question at the time of the birth would be from a member of the family or a trained medical professional, most likely, a midwife. Karen then alleges that the angels (or as we have already established, most probably midwife) sprinkled moon dust in the hair of the new-born. Although Karen’s claim was made in 1970, shortly after the first Apollo mission to land on the moon, and indeed bring back small samples of moon dust, it seems unlikely that the target of Karen’s affection would be so young. Furthermore, Karen’s claim is actually plagiarised and can be traced back to Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1963, long before the plausible availability of moon dust on Earth.

We must therefore now consider what substitute for moon dust the offending midwife must have applied to the head the infant later to become the infatuation of Karen Carpenter. Perusing a supermarket for handy sized box of small granules that can be easily sprinkled from a perforated opening the obvious purchase would be a box of Trill.

Suddenly a rational and non-supernatural explanation becomes clear. Karen Carpenter simply had the hots for a scruffy chap with birdseed in his hair placed there many years before by a malevolent midwife.
Angels and moon dust my arse, you just need to think about these things for a while

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Motivational Posters for All

The problem with those motivational posters that people keep sharing all over Facebook is that they’re often tailored to a specific way of thinking, usually either spiritual, religious or rational.  To be a little more accommodating I therefore thought I’d create a few motivational posters that provide a common message but are written in the three languages of spiritualism, religion and rationalism, that way you can share them with everyone without compromising their meaning.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Rev. Libby Lane and Dr. Elena Piscopia

Dr. Elena Piscopia 
On the 25th June 1678 Elena Cornaro Piscopia earned a Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Padua in Italy making her the first woman to be awarded a doctorate.  She would have earned a doctorate in theology had the Bishop of Padua not refused her doctorate of theology on the grounds that she was a woman. She later became a mathematics tutor at the University of Padua and was also considered an expert musician. Perhaps she would have been less successful had she tried to pursue a senior position in the Church.
Rev. Libby Lane
Over 336 years later on 17th December 2014 The Church of England appointed Reverend Libby Lane as its first female bishop. Surely an organisation that steadfastly still claims moral superiority over the faithless should have been first past the post rather than breathlessly wheezing as it finally stumbled over the equality line three centuries behind academia?

The problem with adopting an ideology rooted in a purported divinely revealed truth is that by its very nature it is extremely tricky to improve upon that divinely revealed truth in the light of new evidence and thinking without questioning the wisdom of the deity originally credited with it.

This particular example of lackadaisical Christian catch-up is therefore far from unprecedented.

Galileo was put on trial and condemned in 1616 and 1633 by the Roman Catholic Inquisition for contradicting its unquestionable scriptures by daring to use the scientific method to theorise that the earth in fact orbits the sun. It wasn’t until the 4th November 1992 that Pope John Paul II issued a weasel worded vindication of Galileo, long after the Church’s original position had become utterly untenable.

The speed at which the church was able to catch–up with what now seems to be such obvious and basic gender equality is laughable. But it will need to speed up its reform process to a rate that will be uncomfortable to many of its members if it wants to try and keep in touch with the modern world.

The only alternative to such sensible liberal reforms is to simply stand still. In a post-enlightened world where society, morality and equality are advancing at an accelerating rate, standing still and refusing to rethink frequently now manifests itself as bigotry, with fundamentalism not far behind.

As religious views on women bishops and gay marriages become more polarised how close are we to the ultimate Christian reform of jettisoning the supernatural mumbo jumbo altogether? Bereft of its divisive mystical claptrap surely Christianity could be distilled down to a laudable set of ideas about being nice to one another that we could all rally behind.

How long will it be before Christianity officially abandons the pious petitioning of supernatural beings, implausible virgin births, credulous miracles, the wicked threat of eternal damnation and the fabricated bribe of immortality to the bigots and fundamentalists who prefer to stand still?

I suspect it will be considerably less than the 336 years it took Libby to catch up with Elena but In the meantime we still have the British Humanist Association. But when the Church finally embraces this ultimate reform I’ll be happy to go back, after all they do have the better architecture.


Might pop into my local village Church for the Carol Service on Sunday though, I do like a nice sing-along at Xmas, as I think I mentionedlast year.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Venn Diagram of Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas. I love everything about it, apart perhaps from the predictable fundamental Christians bleating on about the so called War on Christmas and their irksome ill-informed insistence that Jesus is the reason for the season.

A few years back at my local church, I sat through the vicar’s ranting sermon shoehorned into the school carol concert. It was blatantly aimed at heathen parents like me that no longer routinely grace his ever-dwindling flock. I felt honour-bound to boo him for his pious absolute claim on Christmas. The dig in my ribs from my wife however reminded me that it’s still generally considered bad form to boo the vicar – even if he is clearly talking out of his arse. But despite the dodgy sermons proclaiming Jesus to be at the centre of Christmas, I still think it’s a great time of the year.

In fact the very reason why Christmas is so great is precisely because it is a non-discriminatory celebration, far wider and more encompassing than the mere strategically relocated anniversary of the alleged saviour of one particular faith group.

That’s not to say that the baby Jesus lying in a manger surrounded by adorable toilet-trained livestock isn’t a vital and welcome part of the imagery and tradition of the season. It’s just that he’s not at the centre of it any more so than a barefooted John McClane in the Nakatomi Plaza or grumpy TV executive Frank Cross being violently punched in the face by the angelic Ghost of Christmas Present.

The modern Christmas traditions we’re all familiar with (at least in the western world) have drawn from Christian, Pagan and Secular sources, and they all add value. If we map them onto a Venn diagram there’s quite clearly someone else at the centre of our Christmas traditions and, thankfully, he does not concern himself with our arbitrary faith boundaries.

With the obvious exceptions of Cliff Richard and eggnog, I like everything on this diagram. Those who claim that Christmas is under attack from the politically correct forces of secularism and consumerism are merely trying to purge the season of its equally worthy non-Christian elements.

So, beware of any one set on this diagram who try to claim sole ownership of the winterval. The true spirit of Christmas is not about hijacking the seasonal festivities for the exclusive celebration of one particular ideology. Christmas is for everyone, Christians, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics and adherents of any other conceivable faith group who would care to come and pull a cracker with me.

Merry Christmas everyone
Christmas 2013

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Nobody expects the Monty Python Reunion

A quick transcript of me reading the BBC News website during my lunch-break today...

BBC Website
Trouble at Co-op. 
Oh no. What sort of trouble?
BBC Website
Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of "unjustified smears" over claims about Labour's links to disgraced ex-Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers.
BBC Website
Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of "unjustified smears" over claims about Labour's links to disgraced ex-Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers.
I don't understand what you're saying
BBC Website
(slightly irritated and with exaggeratedly clear accent) Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of "unjustified smears" over claims about Labour's links to disgraced ex-Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers.
Well what on earth does that mean? 
BBC Website
I don't know. I’ve been told to display the news that Mr. Miliband has accused David Cameron of “smears” over Co-op. - I didn't expect the Monty Python reunion.

Jarring chord. The link is clicked and the web page displays the news that Monty Python are to reunite for a one-off show in London.
Nobody expects the Monty Python Reunion! Our chief weapon is satire...satire and surrealism...surrealism and satire.... our two weapons are surrealism and satire...and collage stop motion animations.... Our three weapons are surrealism, satire, and collage stop motion animations....and an almost fanatical devotion to a dead parrot.... Our four...no... amongst our weapons.... amongst our weaponry...are such elements as surrealism, satire.... I'll refresh the web page. (exit and exeunt)
BBC Website
I didn't expect a kind of Monty Python reunion. 

The link is clicked again. Jarring chord.
Nobody expects the Monty Python reunion! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as surrealism, satire, collage stop motion animations and an almost fanatical devotion to a dead parrot, and silly walks - oh damn! (to Gilliam) I can't say it; you'll have to say it. 
You'll have to say the bit about 'Our chief weapons are ...' 
I couldn't do that... 

Palin bundles the Pythons outside.
BBC Website
I didn't expect a kind of Monty Python reunion. 

They all enter.
Er.... Nobody...um.... 
Expects... Nobody expects the...um...the Monty...um... 
I know...I know! Nobody expects the Monty Python reunion. In fact, those who do expect... 
Our chief weapons are... 
Our chief weapons are...um...er... 
Satire and... 
Stop. Stop there! Stop there. Whew! Our chief weapon is satire, blah, blah, blah, blah. Terry, read the leak
The reunion will be a one-off live show in London next July. Brian, come and clean your room out...


Monday, 21 October 2013

Give Piss-Taking A Chance

It’s 45 years since John and Yoko suggested that we “Give Peace a Chance”. A laudable suggestion and a very handy sound bite for the budding Beauty Queen.

For many however such commendable desires for world peace are often tempered with their own indoctrinated ideologies. Many falsely believe the path to peace and harmony lies exclusively within their own particular faith. Increasingly we seem to be witnessing examples where those ideologies appear to be so entrenched and perverted that those captivated under their spell abandon reason and humanity in violent and bloody pursuit of their own deluded notions of Nirvana.

Imagine if John was still with us today, it’s easy if you try. The rolling news coverage on any given day may well lead him to conclude that his admirable 1968 proposal is not going as well as he had hoped. We tried staying in bed. We tried painting our naked bodies in psychedelic patterns and flouncing around to Jefferson Airplane whilst shoving flowers down the barrels of rifles, but it didn’t really work. More recently we tried retaliating against terror with well financed “Shock and Awe”. But that didn't seem to work out too well either.

Now what?  Are we all out of ideas? Do we just cower behind our enhanced airport security and knee jerk anti-terrorism policies and wait for it to go away? Do we redefine our goals for peace to be a little more localised?

I think not. I think we’ve just been retaliating with the wrong weapons. I propose a fresh assault on terror. Not with guns and bombs but with satire, sarcasm and ridicule.

Let’s rip their ideology apart with cutting satirical warfare; let’s rain down cogent and piercing ridicule on their fragile dogmas. Let us unleash the weapons of mass derision. Put down your swords, pick up your pens and let’s make the fundamentalists of all faiths into morons rather than martyrs. And let’s indiscriminately deploy the same sardonic sortie on our own more familiar ideological claptrap.

NB: Extracting urine from deeply held yet completely ridiculous ideologies does not contravene your diversity training