Music For The Day

A flawed, beautiful 20th century masterpiece

Is there a more beautiful 20th century chorale than “Almighty Father”, the hushed invocation from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass? If so, I struggle to bring one to mind.

Almighty Father, incline thine ear
Bless us, and all those who have gathered here
Thine angel send us,
who shall defend us all.
And fill with grace,
All who dwell in this place.

Leonard Bernstein is my favourite composer. Several of his compositions make my Top 50 list – Serenade for Violin and Strings in particular, but also Chichester Psalms and Symphony no. 2, The Age of Anxiety – and while other pieces of music by other composers often get more of a hearing on my iPhone, it is my contention that these Bernstein compositions contain some of the most beautiful (and profoundly human) music ever written.

This is certainly the case with Mass. As to whether Bernstein’s dramatic staged reworking of the Latin Mass works as a cohesive whole, my answer probably varies day by day and according to my mood. Mass is certainly transcendent, flawed, beautiful, stark, cheesy, smug, original in places, derivative in others and often achingly rooted in 1970s style.

The orchestral meditations, interspersed throughout the piece, have a uniquely haunting beauty of their own – particularly the first meditation, whose desolate questioning in the ethereal violin phrase followed by the slowly-building crisis and final, soothing, repeated falling notes on the organ are about as close to a religious experience as music has yet taken me.

A rather mediocre recording of the first meditation is here:


The complete recording of a recent (2012) performance of Mass at the BBC Proms is below:


Leonard Bernstein - Mass - Kennedy Centre

Leonard Bernstein

Owen Smith’s “Threat” To Theresa May Reveals The Arrogance Of The Left

Anyone can choose their words poorly under pressure. But the modern Left have made a habit of jumping on the verbal slips of other people and ruthlessly, cynically exploiting them for political gain using the weaponised language of identity politics. So forgive us for being less than sympathetic when one of their own makes the same mistake

In the ongoing, unwatchable carnival of stupidity that is the second Labour leadership contest in the space of a year, this week’s news coverage has been dominated by challenger Owen Smith’s poor choice of words when he spoke about his desire to take the fight to Theresa May and the conservatives.

From the Guardian:

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has been forced to apologise after saying he wanted to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”, during a major speech to outline his policy ideas.

Smith said he wanted to “smash austerity” and pledged a raft of new measures including scrapping the Department for Work and Pensions in favour of a Department for Labour, plans to make zero-hours contracts unlawful and to end the public sector pay freeze during his speech in South Yorkshire.

Those announcements, pitched to the party’s left, were overshadowed by criticism of his choice of language. Arguing that Labour should be going after the prime minister’s policies harder, he said: “It pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels. These are our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

Smith initially defended the comments as robust political language, but a spokesman said later the remarks were “off-script and, on reflection, it was an inappropriate choice of phrase and he apologises for using it”.

A spokesman for the campaign of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “We need to be careful of the language we use during this contest as many members, including many female Labour MPs, have said they feel intimidated by aggressive language.”

One can feel for Owen Smith. Clearly he has absolutely no desire to walk around the despatch box, cross the floor and physically punch Theresa May in the face, knocking her off her heels. In fact, the Left has a loud and angry tradition of wanting to “smash” anything and everything it happens to find objectionable, be it austerity, racism, sexism or Tory rule, without necessarily wanting to physically do so. It is fairly understandable how such language might therefore have crept in to a speech by this inexperienced leadership contender.

And yet. And yet…

One cannot help taking a small measure of satisfaction from watching somebody from the Party of Identity Politics – a vicious political clan who think nothing of smearing and ruining other peoples’ reputations with allegations of racism, sexism or any other “ism” they can think of when doing so offers them some slight political advantage – come a cropper by falling victim to the very same culture which their actions promoted.

Nobody seriously thinks that Owen smith wants to literally smash Theresa May and knock her off her feet, heels or no heels (in fact it was the heels reference that is actually the slightly more “sexist”, if one must call it that, rather than the threat of violence). But modern Leftist politicians like Owen Smith often end up self-detonating, and deservedly so, after stepping on one of the very same linguistic or cultural land mines that they love to lay across our language and political discourse. And if you make it unacceptable to say enough things, eventually you will trip over your own rules and find yourself convicted of accidentally infringing one of those very same edicts.

If any Tory MP spoke of smashing, say, Liz Kendall back in her heels, you can bet that Kendall would be touring the news studios that very evening, faux-earnestly warning of the violent misogynistic rhetoric being used by mainstream conservatives. But when one of their own does the same thing, as Comrade Smith did with his unfortunate remarks about Theresa May, nobody utters a peep. And while it certainly became a news story, Conservative MPs were not queuing up to make political capital out of the event, let alone those Labour MPs who fancy themselves champions of women.

Smith is too important to centrist Labour’s flimsy plot to prematurely terminate the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn to be brought down by his own violent rhetoric, you see. Besides, everyone knows that Labour are the good guys and that any racist, sexist or anti-Semitic remarks uttered by one of their own must simply be well-intentioned jokes taken out of context by people with sinister motives.

One would hope that Smith’s brush with political danger might force some kind of rethink within the party as to whether weaponising identity politics and making the English language a veritable landmine of things you can’t say / imagery you can’t adopt is really the best way to go. But of course there will be no such rethink. The next time a hapless Conservative MP talks about crushing the enemy or “targeting” Labour MPs, some weepy party apparatchik will be wheeled out to sob to the media about how terribly threatened and triggered they feel. Labour simply stands to gain too much from weaponised identity politics to consider giving it up, even as it poisons our politics and chills our public discourse.

But let us be magnanimous and take heart that Owen Smith does not seem to have suffered unduly from his amateurish speechwriting error. There are many reasons why Smith does not deserve to win the Labour leadership contest – starting with the fact that his 20-point policy pledge seems to be a condensed version of Labour’s disastrous 1983 “longest suicide note in history” manifesto, while the man himself seems to be nothing other than a younger version of Jeremy Corbyn minus the adoring fans.

We all know, those of us with brains and consciences, that Owen Smith does not harbour secret fantasies of karate kicking Theresa May across the floor of the House of Commons. It was an awkward turn of phrase, not a Freudian slip revealing deep-rooted male chauvinism.

And though Owen Smith’s party will never in a million years extend to us the same courtesy and benefit of the doubt, let’s stop talking about this pointless distraction and move on to matters of substance.


Owen Smith - Labour Party Leadership Coup

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As Hillary Clinton Accepts The Democratic Nomination, Donald Trump Leads The GOP To Its Armageddon

As Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination for president of the United States, the Republican Party stares oblivion in the face

It wasn’t the best acceptance speech at a Democratic Party national convention by a long shot, but Hillary Clinton’s historic speech got the job done.

Personally, I thought that it started off quite well before getting bogged down into the kind of grinding, laboured pedantry that is often the hallmark of a Hillary Clinton speech. One could almost hear Clinton’s brain checking off the various points she felt obligated to touch on (i.e. absolutely everything) as the speech ground onwards. But the moment Clinton accepted the nomination itself was effective:

And yes, love trumps hate.

That’s the country we’re fighting for. That’s the future we’re working toward.

And so it is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for President of the United States!

And one did feel that slight sense of history in the making that we last felt when a much younger-looking Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomination eight years ago.

This section was powerful too, inasmuch as it sought to make a virtue of the way that Hillary Clinton grinds away behind the scenes, seeking to make incremental progress (an approach which clearly frustrates the millions of Democrats who preferred Senator Bernie Sanders as their nominee):

I remember meeting a young girl in a wheelchair on the small back porch of her house.

She told me how badly she wanted to go to school — it just didn’t seem possible.

And I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother and what she went through as a child.

It became clear to me that simply caring is not enough.

To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws.

You need both understanding and action.

So we gathered facts. We built a coalition. And our work helped convince Congress to ensure access to education for all students with disabilities.

This blog hasn’t done a night-by-night analysis of the Democratic Convention as we did for the Republican Convention in Cleveland last week, but I have been watching closely – both the speeches, the mood of the hall and how it has all gone down in the American media. And right now, I think that the Republican Party should be feeling complete and utter stomach-churning, sweat-inducing dread. For all of the GOP’s political sins are about to catch up with them, and Republicans will be forced to pay for them in a hefty lump.

The Democratic convention was everything that the Republican convention was not, but normally is. Usually, one can expect the GOP to successfully co-opt and monopolise the flag, the military, the constitution and the founding fathers. But not this time. With Donald Trump as their standard bearer, de facto party leader and the ugly face of American conservatism (as far as most people are concerned), the Republicans have utterly ceded patriotic centre ground. Reagan’s “morning in America” has been replace by a darker, dystopian “midnight in America” in Republican rhetoric – a fact noted by Hillary Clinton in her speech. The sunny optimism and the shining city on a hill have been utterly banished, replaced by something insular, nativist, distrustful, selfish and wantonly cruel.

The Republicans used to be the Party of the Constitution (in rhetoric, if not always in practice). But one was hard stretched to hear any substantive mention of freedom, individual liberty and smaller government in Cleveland last week.

The Republicans used to be the Party of the Military. But now they are led by a thin-skinned, authoritarian, egotistical demagogue who has openly bragged that he intends to order the military to commit unconstitutional acts including torture, placing them in an impossible position. And so this week in Philadelphia, the retired four-star generals and distinguished veterans were on stage supporting Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

The Republicans used to be the Party of God, happy warriors for social conservatism. Now they are led by a twice-divorced adulterer who openly objectifies and belittles women, while the Democrats are led by a woman who (despite her many faults, and those of her husband) has kept her marriage together through thick and thin.

But more than anything else, the Republicans used to be a party of unabashed optimism and patriotism, always seeing the potential and the best in America and seeking to build on that progress in order to open the promise of America to more and more people. Now, they are led by a wannabe strongman who sees only the flaws in America, grotesquely exaggerating and distorting those faults for electoral gain while promising blunt and unsophisticated remedies without acknowledging the disruption and negative consequences of ripping up trade agreements and erecting protectionist and physical barriers against perceived threats. And now the Democrats are the ones with the positive, upbeat message.

Or as Clinton put it in her speech:

Our country’s motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, we are one.

Will we stay true to that motto?

Well, we heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention.

He wants to divide us – from the rest of the world, and from each other.

He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise.

He’s taken the Republican Party a long way, from “Morning in America” to “Midnight in America.”

He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.

Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In nearly every category where the Republican Party once dominated the political landscape, they are now in retreat. Donald Trump clearly believes that the level of unregistered pain and dissatisfaction in the country is great enough that he can be swept to power purely on the back of an anti-establishment backlash. But my word, it’s an awfully big gamble to cheerfully abandon the constitution, the military, patriotism and fiscal conservatism and assume that this will bring in sufficient new voters, and that the party’s existing voters – who sincerely believe in those things – will stick around even as the Democrats aggressively pitch for their support.

That is not to say that a Trump victory is impossible – far from it. But look at the type of things which would have to happen to make President Trump a reality – more Islamist terror attacks on American soil, driving scared voters toward Trump’s authoritarian appeal, or a further deterioration of the fraught relationship between America’s police forces and the black communities they serve. Trump benefits from this chaos and division, but none of the policies he has offered would make America tangibly safer. You can be assured that Hillary Clinton will be pushing that message through the fall into the general election.

If things remain as they are; if there are no further large extraneous shocks to the economy, to politics or to national security (admittedly a big “if” when Islamist terror attacks in Europe seem to be running at one per week) then Republicans should be very worried indeed. In their embrace of Donald Trump – a man who could never have become their leader had congressional Republicans acted in a more responsible manner throughout the Obama presidency – they have utterly jettisoned their commitment to the constitution, to individual liberty and to small-c conservatism. They have lost the support of this blog and millions of other thinking conservatives, all in the hope of riding a populist wave to the White House, based on promises which they know are largely undeliverable.

And while Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly a flawed candidate offering a continuation of America’s current trajectory, in a binary choice between the status quo and the void, she has effectively positioned herself as the de facto choice for anybody who is serious about protecting the American republic from unpredictable and often irrational constitutional, economic and political vandalism by Donald Trump.

The Republican Party should be afraid. And chastened. And if the day finally comes when the fever breaks and they realise just what eight years of hysterical opposition to President Obama followed by the nomination of Donald Trump hath wrought, they will face an almighty uphill climb to earn back the respect of small-c, constitutional conservatives.


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Hillary Clinton - DNC - Democratic National Convention - Acceptance Speech - 4

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Our Schools Are Hotbeds Of Anti-Democratic, Anti Free Speech Sentiment, Hostile To Conservative Students

EU Referendum - Brexit - Free Speech - Children - School - Education

British schools and universities represent an oppressive and highly unsafe space for young students who believe in free speech or hold pro-Brexit beliefs

If you think that you have been made to feel uncomfortable for holding eurosceptic, pro-Brexit beliefs, spare a thought for those young Brexiteers trapped firmly behind enemy lines in the clutches of Britain’s left-wing educational establishment.

Tanya Kekic, a sixth-form student, writes in Spiked about the post-referendum climate endured by those who supported Brexit:

As they had scarcely met anyone supporting Brexit, they could not understand how this had happened. Their only explanation was that the electorate was misguided, brainwashed, uneducated and motivated only by their hatred of immigrants. They were not at all embarrassed by their disdain for ordinary people. In fact, teachers and pupils openly said that democracy is a sham, that we need ‘experts’ to make the big decisions and that idiot Leavers should not have been able to vote in the first place. I’ve not been around long, but I have never seen anything like it. I knew this kind of loathing of the ‘masses’ existed, but in the past it had been disguised.

The same low opinion of people is shown by my teachers’ and classmates’ rejection of freedom of speech on the grounds that, firstly, the public are too uneducated to hear dangerous views, and, secondly, the public are too weak and vulnerable to hear something that might offend them. Over the past year my freedom-loving friend and I have had ongoing debates at school about whether there should be a limit to freedom of expression. We have not yet found a teacher who believes in unfettered freedom of speech.

The most shocking encounters have been with our philosophy teacher. First of all, she declared that she completely disagrees with freedom of speech and the very idea of a free press. (I am not kidding.) Secondly, she became hysterical when we said that no religion, including Islam, should be above mockery or criticism (this was after we were shown a video ridiculing Christianity). She told us to ‘get out’ of the classroom, while whining that we can’t criticise the prophet Muhammad because it says not to in the Koran. We heard from another teacher that apparently we have ‘extreme’ views. (As far as I know, we haven’t yet been reported to Prevent.)

If believing in freedom and democracy makes you an extremist, we are really in trouble. Schools are encouraged to teach students about British values, such as tolerance and pluralism. But when they don’t know what these principles are, little wonder they fail to uphold them in practice. In particular, the idea of tolerance is very confused. We are not told to allow unpleasant views to be shared and then to challenge and criticise them; rather, we are told either to shut up and respect all beliefs, or to censor and shut them down. To understand why hypersensitive university students are cowering in Safe Spaces and banning ideas they disagree with, you only need to sit in on a Year Eight citizenship lesson.

This is concerning indeed, though not surprising. This blog has previously reported on the plaintive cries for help and/or of frustration from young conservatives, eurosceptics and civil libertarians who found themselves being ruthlessly persecuted at school, often with the full knowledge and participation of their own teachers. And clearly the EU referendum has taken that pre-existing hostile climate for free speech and injected it with steroids.

One marvels in particular at the philosophy teacher who “became hysterical” at the mere idea (not even the act) of criticising Islam, and who pre-emptively ejected Kekic and her friend from class as punishment for daring to suggest that all ideas should be open to debate and criticism. On might have thought that adherence to this view would be a prerequisite for anybody seeking to teach philosophy of all subjects, but apparently there are now schools employing philosophy teachers who actively oppose the idea of critiquing certain ideas and belief systems.

Where teachers lead, impressionable students will often follow. And the clear message being sent by the academic establishment – not only at the university level but at the school level too – is that the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is firmly in charge now. Free speech is even less of an absolute right than it was before, woolly metro-leftism is firmly established as the only acceptable political worldview and ideas should no longer be judged on their own merit, but rather on the identity of their proponent and the position which they occupy in the Hierarchy of Privilege.

When I appeared on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year to discuss the phenomenon of oversensitive students, I joked that something strange seems to happen in the minds of otherwise sensible young people the moment they first set foot on a university campus, making them suddenly obsessed with their racial and gender identities and utterly incapable of tolerating alternative viewpoints. But of course this facetiousness disguised an important truth, made clear by Kekic: the fact that we are raising our children to be this way from birth, through our therapeutic culture, worshipping of the self, encouraging of a state of constant personal fragility and a starkly authoritarian attitude toward any speech which even remotely contradicts certain established orthodoxies (Islam is above reproach, the EU is fundamentally good, etc.)

There are already whole industries – certainly in academia but elsewhere too – where holding conservative or eurosceptic beliefs amounts to social or professional suicide. The other day I attended a meeting of good people involved in various social enterprises and charities in the third sector. After I brought up the topic of the EU referendum in passing, the speaker proceeded to wax lyrical about just how awful Brexit is, never thinking for a moment that anybody in the room might possibly disagree with her. Though it was amusing, I also felt a pang of awkwardness and discomfort, knowing that I was surrounded by people who would be utterly repelled if I revealed my own true feelings about Brexit (I did anyway).

The point is that as a grown man and a political blogger well used to debate and disagreement, I still paused momentarily before airing a perfectly mainstream and acceptable opinion in front of people who strongly disagreed and who thought that those who supported Britain leaving the EU were stupid at best and malicious at worst. How, then, must those young people with conservative or eurosceptic beliefs feel, who have not yet developed so thick a skin? How are they to feel comfortable expressing their sincerely and legitimately held political views when finger-wagging teachers casually accuse them of “extremism” and conspire to silence them altogether?

There is a cancer in our schools and universities, metastasising throughout the entire educational establishment. It is a tumour which sucks the life out of free speech and academic freedom, and encourages dull, lumpen conformity invigilated by a watchful, censorious, politically correct Taliban.

We need to excise that tumour before it kills off independent thinking, freedom of speech and academic enquiry for good.


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UK Supreme Court Strikes Down The SNP’s Unlawful Named Person Scheme

Nicola Sturgeon - SNP - Named Person Scheme - Supreme Court

The UK Supreme Court slaps down the SNP-led Scottish Government’s assault on privacy and individual liberty manifested in the evil Named Person scheme, citing the creeping threat of totalitarianism

Good news from the UK Supreme Court today, which has made an important decision in favour of civil liberties and privacy by ruling the SNP government’s insidious “Named Person” child-monitoring scheme unlawful, giving Holyrood no recourse to further appeal.

Specifically the Supreme Court struck down provisions which allowed the sharing of sensitive data about Scottish children between agencies, which the court held to be in breach of the right to privacy and a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court further held that several of the provisions for data sharing in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 were beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Government – in other words that Nicola Sturgeon’s nationalist government has been getting far too big for its boots, and should perhaps focus on trying to deliver better governance for Scotland instead of greedily seeking to acquire ever more power over its own citizens.

What is most encouraging about this ruling – besides Nicola Sturgeon being put firmly back in her box, of course – is the strong, uncompromising language used by the justices in their decision.

From the judgment:

Individual differences are the product of the interplay between the individual person and his upbringing and environment. Different upbringings produce different people. The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.

The justices then go on to quote the late US supreme court justice James Clark McReynolds, who held in Pierce v Society of Sisters:

“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

The child is not the mere creature of the state – a universal truth, but one seemingly forgotten by the Scottish National Party in their paranoid desire to centralise and monitor everything that takes place north of the border.

This is a remarkable tirade against totalitarianism and in favour of individual liberty, and can only be seen as a stunning repudiation of the SNP’s entire suffocating, infantilising attitude towards their own citizens. To warn about the slippery slope toward totalitarianism in such an clear way only serves to underscore just how illiberal – and vastly disconnected from the welfare of the child – the Named Person scheme really is.

What is even more remarkable is that such a start warning against totalitarian instincts came not from a mainstream elected politician, but from unelected judges. In its short history, the UK Supreme Court’s judgments have not exactly set the world on fire or shifted numerous copies of approving books in the way that one might pore over the dissents of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the late Antonin Scalia. That mild-mannered UK supreme court justices are mentioning totalitarianism and quoting McReynolds at all is proof that we are in trouble.

In their reporting, the British press has been making much of the fact that the ruling later goes on to call the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 “unquestionably benign”. In their article, the BBC makes no mention of these pointed references to totalitarianism in the judgment, immediately revealing the corporation’s bias and reluctance to report properly on stories which are critical of the authoritarian leftist Scottish government.

But as it was with the shock Brexit vote in the EU referendum, once again the media’s barely concealed support for infantilising, authoritarian Big Government policies has been overridden. In this case, the supreme court has spoken (though how much better it would have been had the Supreme Court been able to strike down the Named Person Act with reference to a British Bill of Rights or constitution rather than the expansionist ECHR).

As this blog noted when the Named Person scheme was last being debated prior to the 2016 Holyrood elections:

Whether any given Scottish person wants their top layer of government to reside in Holyrood or Westminster, surely anybody should agree that the bottom layer of government should not intrude deep into the family unit in the way that the Named Person Scheme does.

[..] This is the SNP at work in government. A hectoring, overbearing movement which seeks to centralise everything they can touch, from the state monitoring of children to the police and fire services – with deadly consequences, in the latter cases.

Today, a blow has been struck against the insidious ratchet effect underway in Britain, leading inexorably to a larger and more interfering state. We should be grateful to the Supreme Court for their decision, and to The Christian Institute and other appellants for fighting the case.

But it should not fall to an unelected judiciary to make the bold and uncompromising case for individual liberty. Ruth Davidson did a magnificent job opposing the Named Person scheme on behalf of the Scottish Tories, but we need more politicians across the board who are willing to stand up for liberty and who possess the imagination to conceive of a world where government is not the answer to every single problem.

The Supreme Court did us proud today. It is about time for more of our elected politicians to do the same.


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