Hell has no Limits

Erwin Schrott as Méphistophélès, photograph by Tristram Kenton

Hell has no Limits

Faust, opera in five acts, music by Charles-François Gounod, libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, conducted by Dan Ettinger, director David McVicar, 5th revival of the 2004 production, Royal Opera, Thursday 11th April 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones

When Charles-François Gounod died in 1893, Faust had already been performed a thousand times. It is not hard to see why. Exquisitely orchestrated, with echoes of his protégé George Bizet’s Symphony in C (composed when the latter was only seventeen), there are compelling and beautiful arias, such as Salut! Demeure chaste et pure (Hail! Chaste and fair abode). Moreover, Faust addresses universal themes. “Who”, as one critic sagely remarked, “doesn’t long to be young again?” (lyricopera.org). Faust, a world-weary scholar, depicted by the American tenor Michael Fabiano as a doddering old man, feels that he has learnt nothing and has needlessly forgone opportunities for love. “Maudit soit le bonheur, maudites la science, la priere et la foi”, he exclaims (Cursed be happiness, science, prayer and faith). He damns everything that ties people to life – sex, youth, the beauty of nature and the thirst for knowledge. Continue reading

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Two Poems by Velaj

Two Poems by Velaj


The Hymn of Madness

The old women witch river banks
Wetting white sheets of snow
And wrapping dead mouse in them

God forgive them
They do not know what they are doing

The sheets belonged to a virgin girl
They killed the mouse in a dark hole at night
(Girls and mouse are their sacrifice)

God forgive them
They know no other light

They begin to sing such a luring melody
Under the rhythm of steps that has lost the way home
Without knowing that the river has no memory at all
It knows only how to flow and flow, only this much…

My God, I shall not speak any more
From today on the muteness of the ocean will be my language

Continue reading

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Detention Deficit Disorder

Van Gogh, Round of the Prisoners

Detention Deficit Disorder

by Bill Hartley

In 2016, I wrote an article about detention centres. This was prompted by Operation Seabrook, Durham Constabulary’s investigation into allegations of abuse at Medomsley, the former detention centre in County Durham which closed in 1988. Seabrook grew to be the country’s largest investigation into sexual abuse. The story began back in 2003 when a man called Neville Husband who once ran the kitchen at Medomsley was convicted of serious sexual assaults of teenage detainees. It is claimed that some staff at Medomsley were aware of his activities but failed to report this believing that he enjoyed the support of senior management. He might have been stopped sooner; a former detainee tried to complain to Durham police but was sent packing. Husband received a long prison sentence and has since died. Seabrook illustrates how the police moved from a point where the authorities ignored allegations of abuse to a situation where any such complaint is assumed to be true and they are dealing with a ‘victim’.

Detention centres were tough places, dedicated to the ‘short sharp shock’ approach. Politicians were active in encouraging this. The theory was that a brisk activity based regime would deter young people from crime, since they wouldn’t wish to come back for a second helping. To run this kind of regime required strong and visible leadership to make sure that firmness didn’t spill over into what we now describe as abuse. Unfortunately DCs, to use the Prison Service term, were something of a backwater, often a place to post individuals who were close to retirement. Ambitious governors didn’t want to go to such places. Medomsley appears to have been a good example of an institution which didn’t get the leadership it deserved. Given its size (holding around 70 detainees), a reasonably energetic person could easily see every detainee and member of staff in the course of a typical week. Many governors of larger institutions used this high visibility approach, since in those days there were fewer demands on their time. Suffice to say for the present that the Medomsley regime at times went beyond robust. This is always the danger; the bully will prosper when there is little risk of getting caught. Continue reading

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Mulling it Over

Chris Mullin, Credit Total Politics

Mulling it Over

Review of Hinterland by Chris Mullin, Profile Books, 2017,
ISBN 978 1 78125 606 0, reviewed by Monty Skew

Some political memoirs are dull. Not so A View from the Foothills, a frank and self-deprecating diary (the first of three) of Chris Mullin’s time in Parliament. Mullin is unusual: a leftwing party loyalist but a fiercely independent MP who worked hard for his constituents. His latest book could have been called From the Sunny Uplands but it is sensibly entitled Hinterland. Continuing in the same vein as the aforementioned diary, he charts his disillusion with the left and with politics generally, content to leave it all behind. This is probably his final set of memoirs and is told with searing honesty and realism.

Mullin describes his childhood and his early years in left wing politics. Vauxhall was once a plum Labour seat. George Strauss ran it like a personal fiefdom. He personally owned the Labour party building and paid the secretary himself. He also restricted the local membership. The shameful role of John Silkin, another lawyer, who controlled a rotten borough in Deptford, is also well told. Silkin spent much of his time fighting the Left. Like many Labour MPs of the time, Strauss and Silkin could have belonged to any party. These were the rotten boroughs dominated by right-wing Labourites and trade unions, often in a corrupt embrace.

This fact was identified by left-wingers who targeted such seats. Reg Prentice in Newham North East was the first to be deselected and he defected to the Conservatives after being staunchly defended by Labour leaders. He then announced that he had always been a Conservative! Both before and during his parliamentary stint, Mullin helped to democratise the Labour party and install reselection of MPs as a positive process. He knew something about this for as soon as he became MP, there were organised attempts to unseat him. Continue reading

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Presbyterians, Preparing for Battle

John Knox

Presbyterians, Preparing for Battle

Jeffrey S. McDonald, John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America, Pickwick, 2017, Pp. 263, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

John Knox (1514-1572), one of the founding fathers of Protestantism, did not eschew controversy. Preaching with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other, he campaigned as if the soul’s stake in heaven depended on his efforts. Some commentators consider him the founder of Presbyterianism. His theological precepts persisted in the creeds of his followers.

Down through the ages, clergymen lamented any dilution of the founders’ convictions. The sword of the Spirit became their weapon of choice. Preach the Bible! – the clergy iterated. For laymen, surely, could not impede the renunciation of faith. Skepticism divorced people from their once firmly held belief in biblical texts.

The majority of adherents to Calvinistic views can no longer can read Luther, Calvin or other non-English writers in their original languages. The Enlightenment helped critical scholarship, but the flow of new information did not lead parishioners back to the textual sources of their faith. The Church drifted into the arms of secularists. One thing is certain though, in these days when the use of secondary literature prevails even in synods where Lutheran and Calvinian beliefs have been staunchly maintained, New Reformers were/are needed. Continue reading

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TV Tarts: Cringe Factor

Photo by Benjamin Applebaum, Credit Wikipedia

TV Tarts: Cringe Factor

By Ilana Mercer

It takes a foreign correspondent planted amid our White House Press Corps to highlight the latter’s dysfunction. During a presser with “Trump of the Tropics”—Brazil’s visiting prime minister, Jair Bolsonaro—a Brazilian lass distinguished herself by focusing exclusively on … hefty matters. When this foreign correspondent asked President Trump about the “OECD,” the furrows on the sloping brows who make up the American press scrum deepened. 

To these presstitutes, it mattered not whether America was going to put in a good word for Brazil at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, when there was one overriding, life-or-death matter to tackle:

Trump’s irredeemable, unrelenting, absolute awfulness, which not even an exoneration by the sainted Mr. Mueller has ameliorated.

Yes, Grand Inquisitor Robert Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 election. This has altered not one bit the hyperventilating done by the harridans on the ubiquitous television panels.

Let me be clear. When I allude to the women of TV, I include those with the Y Chromosome. Continue reading

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Review of Handel’s Berenice

Alessandro – Jacquelin Stucker; 
Photo: © ROH Photographer: CLIVE BARDA

Review of Handel’s Berenice 

Linbury Theatre, Covent Garden, 27th March 2019, co-production by Royal Opera and London Handel Festival, directed by Adele Thomas, London Handel Orchestra conducted by Laurence Cummings, libretto translated by Selma Dimitrijevic, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Bragging rights matter. Spur’s new stadium reportedly has the longest bar in Europe, the aptly named “touchline”. But the Linbury Theatre, an intimate space, evidently has the longest sofa. It was the only prop in Royal Opera’s paired down new production of Handel’s Berenice. Commissioned in 1736 and premiered at Covent Garden in the following year, it tanked after only three performances.

Richard Morrison, in an otherwise positive review in the Times, notes “how little of the text is adequately enunciated”, even though the libretto is sung in English. Or to put it in plain English, the words aren’t clear. He was not the only critic to bemoan the absence of surtitles. But ultimately it is the interaction between the libretto and the music that matters in Handel, not the meaning of the words. Wagner’s total art work and opera verismo were yet to come. Continue reading

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Van Gogh and Britain

Hospital at Saint-Rémy, from Van Gogh and Britain

Van Gogh and Britain

Van Gogh and Britain, Tate Britain, 27th March 2019, exhibition curated by Carol Jacobi
Van Gogh and Britain, edited by Carol Jacobi, Tate Publishing, London, 2019, 240 pp

Reviewed by Leslie Jones

From 1873-1876, Van Gogh was a trainee art dealer in London with the Goupil Gallery. He evidently admired numerous British authors, notably Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens and George Eliot but also poets and dramatists such as Keats and Shakespeare. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was for him a “beloved book”. Several of the writers he revered had addressed the seemingly intractable social problems generated by industrial capitalism.

While in London, Van Gogh collected prints, particularly those by Gustave Doré, whose “resolute honesty” he respected. His only painting of London, The Prison Courtyard (1890), which is included in the exhibition is, as he euphemistically put it, a ‘translation’ of Dore’s print Newgate: The Exercise Yard, from London a Pilgrimage (1872). Even the tiny, symbolic detail of two butterflies at the top of the engraving is repeated in the painting (see Van Gogh and Britain, page 95). In similar fashion, the watercolour Woman Sewing and Cat (October-November 1881) is indebted to Doré’s The Song of the Shirt, an illustration of Thomas Hood’s eponymous poem about exploited seamstresses.

Sorrow, from Van Gogh and Britain

In the drawing Sorrow (April 1882), reminiscent of Edvard Munch, we see a naked pregnant woman. The model was the prostitute and sometime seamstress Sien Hoornik, whom Vincent had met at a soup kitchen in the Hague and who subsequently drowned herself. She was also the model for Mourning Woman Seated on a Basket (Feb-March 1883). Van Gogh’s uncanny ability to depict human emotions expressed through body language is also demonstrated by the lithograph At Eternity’s Gate (November 1882) and the subsequent painting Sorrowing Old Man, ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ (May 1890). Continue reading

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Harridans Orchestrate Witch Hunts

Tucker Carlson

Harridans Orchestrate Witch Hunts,

Ilana Mercer slams #MeToo

The particular CNN segment I was watching concerned Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. It was meant to help terminate the controversial anchor’s career.

The sourpuss, dressed in marigold yellow, who was presiding over the seek-and-destroy mission, targeting the ultra-conservative Mr. Carlson, was none other than Poppy Harlow.

It transpires that years back, Carlson had routinely called into a Howard-Stern-like shock-jock radio show and made provocative comments, some about women. Women were “extremely primitive,” he had quipped.

To watch the countless, indistinguishable, ruthless, atavistic women empaneled on CNN, MSNBC, even Fox News—one cannot but agree as to the nature and caliber of the women privileged and elevated in our democracy, and by mass society, in general.

They’re certainly not women with the intellect and wit of a Margot Asquith—countess of Oxford, author and socialite (1864-1945). Would that women like Mrs. Asquith were permitted to put lesser “ladies” like CNN’s Ms. Harlow in their proper place. Continue reading

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Who are You?

Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Who are You?

Identity: the Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama, Profile Books, London, 2018, 218 pp., reviewed by Leslie Jones

According to sociologist Francis Fukuyama, identity politics can sometimes be “a natural and inevitable response to injustice”.[i] For notwithstanding the nominal equality of the liberal democracies, people are too often judged by their skin colour, or their gender etc. He therefore endorses the demands of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.

The left invariably supports such protest movements. It has no answer, however, to the job losses caused by automation and globalisation, as manufacturing moves from Europe and the US to regions such as East Asia, with lower labour costs. Indeed, as segments of the working class are “dragged into an underclass”[ii] the American left has all but abandoned its traditional natural constituency, to wit, the proletariat.

Into the resulting political and ideological vacuum stepped candidate Donald Trump, a consummate political operator, highlighting in his campaign both deindustrialisation and the opioid crisis blighting white communities. Fukuyama notes that the left’s support for identity politics, immigration and political correctness is “a major source of mobilisation on the right”[iii], a veritable recruiting sergeant. Trump supporters are generally neither poor nor are they mainly manual workers. But they are “bottom of the white heap”.[iv]  They resent their declining status and the metropolitan elite’s preoccupation with minorities. For his fans, Trump is “like a poor person, just with more money”.[v] They admire his refusal to be politically correct, witness his acerbic comments about “Pocahontas”, aka Senator Elizabeth Warren. Continue reading

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