Mike Vickers' Blog

March 4, 2019

Stephen Jay Gould – a great loss as a humanist and science writer

Filed under: Journalism, NOMA, Politics, Stephen Jay Gould, World Class, Writing — derryvickers @ 7:29 pm

Cleaning the bookcase out, I came across my collection of Natural History books by Stephen Jay Gould; some 20 in all. The first one I bought was perhaps his first ‘Ever Since Darwin’ at a small book shop in Santa Barbara, a lovely town with glorious Bougainvillea. It was a Sunday and I had a Sunday break from a conference in LA.

So who was Stephen Jay Gould; he died on 22 May 2002

From the obituary in Nature

“Palaeontologist and public face of evolutionary biology

Stephen Jay Gould, the world’s most renowned palaeontologist, died in New York on 20 May [2002]. His death robs the fields of palaeontology and evolution of one of their most provocative thinkers, and millions of readers of an entertaining and astonishingly productive commentator on biology.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/417706a

This describes him to me from his books completely. To me, he was the ultimate Humanist. He believed and publicized Darwin’s evolution and through his books (collections of essays over 20 years) the wonders of evolution are described, not as the progression of evolutary steps to man as the greatest, but as evolution by natural selection at all levels, unlike Dawkins solely through genes and Conway Morris as God directed. He saw evolution as moving forward in jumps, Punctuated Equilibrium, which if I look back in recorded history, is how civilisation has moved forward from Aristotle; he also invented ‘exaptation’, making use of features already there for one purpose to use for something different, he examples birds developed feathers to keep warm before they adapted feathers to fly. He was not popular with his colleagues, who followed Darwin precisely that evolution was gradual over many thousands / millions of years. He had numerous confrontations with Dawkins. He also battled with creationists who pumped out that Whites were superior to Blacks have in bigger brains; Gould successfully refuted this.

But Stephen Jay Gould is dead for almost 18 years and unfortunately, to me, he is gone from the bookshelves, replaced by Dawkins (thought even he is no longer so prevalent).

He was in his lifetime ‘canonised’ by the US Congress as one of America’s living legends.

Unsurprisingly he was not a Christian but he did come forward with NOMA, Non-Overlapping Magisteria

From Wiki
‘Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets”[1] over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” and the two domains do not overlap.[2]

I personally have difficulty in getting my head round NOMA but never the less it is one way forward in a very difficult area.

Stephen Jay Gould was, for me, a great and erudite writer and a formidable loss to mankind at this time. He will retain a prominent place on my bookshelf,

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March 2, 2019

Make America Great. Dvorak was there long before Trump, when the US was Great.

Filed under: Music, Trump, USA, World Class — derryvickers @ 8:01 am

The RSNO, last night, under conductor Gilbert Varga,  gave a magnificent rendering of Dvorak’s New Word Symphony No 6 at the Usher Hall.
Paul Philbert on drums and the signature tune with Amy McKean on cor anglaise.

I wonder if Trump has ever spent time to listen to the symphony. Dvorak’s music conveys an entirely different vison of the US, than Trump would understand.

For a little more see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._9_(Dvo%C5%99%C3%A1k)

February 23, 2019

James MacMillan and Colin Currie – made in Scotland

Filed under: Cumnoch Tryst, economics, Education, Music, St Petersburg, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:32 am

Last night, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) performed a 60th Birthday concert for James MacMillan: MacMillan conducting two of his pieces Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and Seven Last Words from the Cross.

There was also a short introductory piece by Part. The Seven Last Words from the Cross (1992) was a choral piece and was well done, the SCO Choir gave their best, but I’m not a fan of Choral Works.

But the Veni, Veni, Emmanuel was something out of this world. Colin Currie was stupendous on percussion. Playing everything from snare drums, foot drum, xylophone, vibraphone, dancing everywhere. Excellent backing from the SCO. MacMillan used every possible woodwind instrument and even the strings to provide a deep sound.

What MacMillan has done is to completely integrate modern / jazz with percussion into the classical symphony repertoire.

But in another way, in his Cumnock Tryst, he has brought classical music to the people of Scotland. He established his tryst in Cumnock, an old mining town in Ayrshire, some five years ago and brought a new life to it. OK, just four days a year in the Autumn but the local musicians practice the whole year for the event: He involves the whole town. Last year, the theme was the First World War and to me the centre piece was ‘All the hills and vales alone’ (https://www.thecumnocktryst.com/all-the-hills-and-vales-along) using a forgotten poem by a forgotten Scottish poet Charles Hamilton Sorley. MacMillan brought in singers such as Ian Bostridge, but the choir was local, and the orchestra was the Dalmellington Brass Band backed by the Scottish Ensemble. He was taking the piece on to London where they would use the London Symphony Orchestra.

If we want, in West Lothian, to see what Modern Classical Music can do for our Core Development Towns then we could persuade MacMillan and Currie to give Veni, Veni, Emmanuel in Livingston with the orchestra being one of its many brass bands: he has the skills to transpose the music to brass band as demonstrated with ‘All the hills and vales alone’. Sorry, I may sound pejorative but I’m not. One has only to think of perhaps the greatest symphony of all, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 played first (almost) to a packed audience in bombed out and besieged Leningrad in 1942.

Free Music Tuition for Schools is a ‘hot potato’ in Scotland , butget’s are short and tuition fees are an easy target.  West Lothian has come to a reasonable compromise with the those that can pay do pay and those that can’t go free.  But people get a kick out of music, and Veni, Veni, Emmanuel is just one that could bring the whole community together, rather than ‘Them and Us’.  The Concert last night at the Queens Hall was filled with the ‘Usual Suspects’ but there were at least 20 children near the back.

 

October 7, 2018

The Cumnock Tryst.

Filed under: Music, Poetry, War, World Class — derryvickers @ 8:40 pm

 Cumnock is not an exciting place, it used to be the central town of the Ayrshire Coal Field; now no more.  However, it’s the birthplace of Sir James MacMillan and what a difference he has brought to the Town.  He created the Cumnock Tryst  five years ago and since then the Tryst opens up the Town to music and the elite come to Cumnock (rather than vice versa).  Not only the music goers but this year the Tryst was graced by Ian Bostridge.

We went to just two pieces (6 in all); the second first; a musical promenade through the rooms of Dumfries House.  The House was saved and restored with the support of Prince Charles and Alex Salmond with Scottish Government Money. The Promenade started with Nikita Naumov on double base – a young Russian who plays with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and looked delighted at his reception today.  Then came the primary school bell ringers supported by Sirocco Wind and local singers.  The bell ringers chimed to old tunes and new from MacMillan; you may think this childish, but MacMillan takes it very seriously and it’s great that he uses his talents to bring forth kids to succeed him and in doing so becomes one source of dispelling the previous desperate state of the town and its surroundings.  The Promenade finished with five modern French pieces for woodwind from the Sirocco Wind – all young and should go far.

But the truly outstand piece was last night was an oratorio by MacMillan that will be played later this month by London Symphony Orchestra to mark the Armistice of WW1.  But that performance is unlikely to be anywhere near as exciting as last night’s.  The Oratorio text came from a WW1 Scottish poet, Charles Hamilton Sorley.  Sorley like so many other poets only lasted just 6 months into the battlefield; the text is entitled ‘All the Hills and Vales Along’.  The players were: Ian Bostridge the lead tenor, the Cumnock Tryst Festival Chorus, the Edinburgh Quarter (a group of four, two of whom regularly play with the Hebrides Ensemble), Naumov on double bass and the Sirocco Wind but the main orchestra came from the Dalmellington Band (Brass);  the mines may have closed but the Band plays on;  and how MacMillan had the Band at the core of his oratorio;  it shatters the desire of the Scottish Government to save money by deleting music education from school curricula.  There was a standing ovation and quite rightly so.

 

August 10, 2018

The Edinburgh Festival

Filed under: Music, Painting, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:35 pm

Since the beginning of the international Festival we have been to:

  1. An exhibition of paintings by Emil Nolde. Nolde painted from 1900 to 1950. His paintings are full of color, but during the period he fell foul of the Nazis and his painting was ridiculed as degrading and were banished from the German galleries, though at one time he signed up as a national socialist. His paintings are now accepted, but his socialist national ties are still unfavourably remembered. The same is true, but less so of the composer Richard Strauss.
  2. Waiting for Godot by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. The game is about two old abandoned living from day to day passing the time under a tree waiting for Godot that does not show, but a young boy reports every Night that Godot will ‘ arrive tomorrow ‘. Beckett spent most of his life in Paris and some of the language reminded me of Molière.
  3. The Barber of Seville, a work of Rossini. A cheerful work where everything finishes ‘ Happy ever After’. The opera was performed by the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.
  4. Last Wednesday we went to see the Siegfried Wagner Opera. The work is the third in the cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Siegfried is the hero who will save the world but is found wanting in Götterdämmerung; However the ring and gold are rescued by the maidens of the Rhein and the god Valhalla is burnt. Not quite ‘ happy ever after ‘. Wagner provided the libretto as well as the music and the operas were praised by the Nazis. Last night’s performance was given by the Halle Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder,  the music was dramatic and the singing was glorious, but five and a half hours needed attention to keep awake.
  5. Yesterday I went to Queens Hall for Leider. Ilker Arcayurek, tenor, and Simon Lepper, piano, singing Hugo Wolf and Schubert. The career of the tenor will go far.
  6. Finally, last night we went to the Usher Hall to hear a concert given by the BBC Symphony playing the music of Turbulent Landscapes of Thea Musgrave and Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams. The first was good but the second reminded us of the last Night of the Proms.

April 2, 2018

Two Articles for Easter

Filed under: History in the making, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 1:10 pm

 

“Jaclyn Corin, a white survivor of the Parkland, Fla., shooting, spoke at the march in Washington, where hundreds of thousands of people had gathered. “We openly recognize that we are privileged individuals and would not have received as much attention if it weren’t for the affluence of our city. Because of that, however, we share this stage today and forever with those who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.””

http://time.com/5220093/the-whitewashing-and-resurrection-of-dr-kings-legacy/

 

Anna Campbell

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/01/anna-campbell-father-no-right-to-stop-her-fighting-syria-kurds

And a codicil from Simon Jenkins

“But no man, or woman, is an island. Humanitarian sympathy is not a defect. It is hard not to accept a father’s sincerity, and hard not to warm to the adjectives he applies to his daughter’s memory. That young people want to travel abroad and identify with the struggles of others is not to be condemned. That they can leave a comfortable country and find fellow-feeling for those in misery is good. We might wish that such passion be directed to more productive ends, but the choice is not ours to make. Ours is not to reason why”

 

November 29, 2016

An Impression of St Petersburg

Filed under: Europe, Music, St Petersburg, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:07 pm

The immediate impression on driving from the airport to the city centre is how many shop signs you recognise. This is buoyed up as soon as you start to walk round the centre; you might have confused St Petersburg for any Western City. On flying out you are required to go through the usual array of booths selling perfume, biscuits and booze.

But of course St Petersburg is not only a western city; it is a living museum to a great Russian Past; first established when Peter The Great wished for a seaport on the Baltic from where he could attach the then Swedish Empire which had plagued the North Western Russian Baltic coast. Peter also was an avid travel within Europe and wished to ‘westernise’ Russia. He built the city and then required his state officials to move from Moscow. Which of course they did, after all Peter was a Tsar, but moving into the outback was unthinkable; they brought their mansions with them and so you have the magnificent heritage which is St Petersburg. Of course St Petersburg was not built in a day; St Petersburg was taken forward by Catherine the Great, who had married a grandson of Peter and looks to have usurped the throne from him. You can find much more about St Petersburg on Wiki including the transfer of power from the Romanovs to the short lived Democratic Government to the Bolsheviks.

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Short-lived Democratic Government

Short-lived Democratic Government

Catherine The Great

Catherine The Great

But one point worth bring up is that the area occupied by St Petersburg was a swamp, cut into two by the Neva River, a great wide navigable river; the swampland was drained by canals and these together make a splendid feature of walking around the city; the canals and palazzi reminder one of Venice though all a lot colder.

Neva River

Neva River

Canals

Canals

To the glamour buildings and there plenty of them:

The Hermitage – a truly enormous set of rooms spread over three buildings: The Winter Palace, the Little Hermitage and the Large Hermitage, all sumptuously furnished that the guide books says will take three days to do justice to. We spent just 1/2 day

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Clockwork Peacock

The Clockwork Peacock

The General Service Building across the Palace Square– now an art gallery containing art from the world over: more Rembrandts than the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, more French Impressionists and Post Impressionists than Pompidou Centre in Paris

The Palace Square

The Palace Square

The General Service BuildingThe General Service Building

 

 

The Church of the Spilt Blood – plastered from doom to floor in mosaics – no longer a Greek Orthodox Church, but the church is excellently preserved.

The Church of The Spilt Blood

The Church of The Spilt Blood

 A Church Tower Dome

A Church Tower Dome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Palace – Marble Rooms with immaculate parquet  and mosaics floors and near the top the most modern of modern art.

A Mosaic Floor

A Mosaic Floor

Just One of the other Churches

Just One of the other Churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian Museum

The Russian Museum

The Citizens

The Citizens

A Sculpture

A Sculpture

The Russian Museum – set to rival the British Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

All well attended but we were there on a public holiday weekend – Celebration of The October Revolution and it seems clear to me that Russians are proud of their history; history even prior to the Communist Revolution. On The Peter and Paul Fortress, an island in the Neva River near the city centre is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the Tsars are buried; even Nicholas 2 who was assassinated by the Bolsheviks: he and this family were exhumed from their grave at Ekaterinburg.

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral

 

But to us, as splendidly glamorous as the main buildings are we were as interested to the Museum of Politics: it provides a history of the period up to the Communist revolution and from then up to the passing of power to Putin on January 2000. Yes, the displays do contain some propaganda but not all ‘sunny side up’. And this to me was a feature of St Petersburg itself striving to be a western city, but glorying in its Tsarist past and little sign of overarching or even any Government power. Yes, you do go through careful passport control at the airport but even that scrutiny is exercised more in acquiring a passport in the Edinburgh Visa office in Edinburgh. BTW if you do want to go to St Petersburg (other than on a cruise ship) you do need a visa and the easiest way to get one is to have your St Petersburg hotel to invite you with dates of residence.

Two of the Tomes the Czars

Two of the Tombs of the Czars

To other things:

The available music is great.

First night to see Puccini’s Tosca – as well a dressed performance as you would get anywhere in a western opera house and at less money.

The Opera House

The Opera House and Royal Box

A string concert in one of the rooms in the Large Hermitage – you need to get there early as the seats are unmarked and it is difficult to find the entrance – not the main one. One of the caretakers was very helpful in telling us the way

And finally the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra: three pieces finishing with Schubert’s Great C Major played with all the gusto of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 to the delight of the audience.

Just a couple more comments

  • Eating is cheap – we were set up when we found the Market Place – packed with students and great food
  • A café in the main street Nevsky Prospect which is up to any café in Vienna

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

  • Alexander Nevsky – the Russian hero who’s relics are buried in St Petersburg
  • The Singer Building – used to make sowing machine but now a book shop – that took me back what Foyles used thirty years ago before its splendid face lift
  • Pushka Inn where we stayed. Staff speak impeccable English – but so do most Russians who have anything to do with the tourists: English is the lingua franca – will it remain so after Brexit and Trump?

    Our hotel was on the right

    Our hotel was on the right

  • Is there any effect of Western Financial Clampdown.  Well some of the arcades are half finished but that could have started before the clampdown.

In Summary St Petersburg is an excellent place to visit even in November with an outside temperature of around -1 C in the daytime and a lot cold in the evening with winds blowing around the canals!

July 19, 2016

Back from walking on the Western Isles but it’s nothing like this

Filed under: Europe, History in the making, In Our Time, Politics, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:12 pm

https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/sep/10/we-walk-together-a-syrian-familys-journey-to-the-heart-of-europe-video?CMP=ema-3374

Surely these are the people who would rejuvenate this country?

June 29, 2016

A Real Reason for the EU continuing and going from Strength to Strength

Filed under: Europe, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 6:19 pm

I feel that this comment by Vytenis Andriukaitis, a Lithuanian MEP,  seated behind Farage in the photo that has gone viral, is worth going viral, but in the best way, too.

‘Yesterday, with my fellow EU Commissioners, I attended the extraordinary session in the European Parliament. Some photos – particularly that of my right hand – and videos have spread on social media. You will have seen me grimacing and trying to hide my despair while Nigel Farage spoke.

‘I have enjoyed reading the many comments and can confirm that I do indeed appreciate British humour. But as tweets were exchanged, I felt it was important to share some more serious thoughts on how I felt yesterday in the Parliament.

 

I was and still am fully with all the British people. I am with all those who voted against financial speculation uncovered in the ‘Panama papers’ and with those who voted against unemployment and decreasing standards of living. However, sadly, many votes will have been influenced by the lies spread by some representatives of the Leave campaign. 

I am also with those who voted to remain in the EU, who want to create a better future for their families, and who believe that it is possible together, united in diversity, to fight against corporate greed and fraud perpetrated by financial transnational capitalism.

Toxic untruths spread by Mr Farage and others, such as claims that money Britain contributes to the EU budget would be used for investments in healthcare, have now been revealed as lies.

 

In my heart, two symbols of this referendum remain – both of them are very different. One is the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox and the other is of Jonathan Hill.

Jo Cox was killed because of people instigating hate, chauvinism and phobias. These are brutal forces infecting our democracies, destroying sentiment of security and values that we hold so dearly in Europe.

Lord Hill was decisive and stepped down. This is an example of moral self-determination, taking responsibility and embracing the consequences. This is in stark contrast to the actions of some others who personify political hypocrisy.

 

Britain is changing. Young people in Scotland, Northern Ireland or London want to see a different future.

The EU is changing as well. For me its future lies in social justice and security. This is the way forward. And only together, with the EU Member States, with the European Parliament, and with a decisive European Council – avoiding the cacophony and constant bashing of Brussels – can we achieve this together.’

I agree with every thing Vytenis Andriukaitis says – I would only add to ‘social justice and security’, peace in our time – which has largely been lost in the UK debate that the primary reason for the EEC (as was the EU at the time) being convened in the first place.

As a person now living in Scotland I hope that I may remain in Europe and the EU

December 5, 2015

It’s been a great week for Scottish Music

Filed under: Music, Personal, Sally Beamish, Scotland, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:31 am

NOISE (New Opera in Scotland Events) – not a very inspiring name for an opera company but last night at the Queens Hall they put on Hirda – wreckage / mess in Shetland dialect.  Certainly not a mess in an Opera – a performance that will live on in our memory .  You can read more at

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/29/hirda-review-noise-opera

But the story to me was past and present brought together in Shetland, the newly married couple and the prodigal brother and moderating sister with the background of a distant love affair where the ghost of woman left in Shetland by her whaler lover can’t rest till she finds her lost mitten.  And it all comes to an end on the moor with the newly wed wife almost on the point of death next the corpse of the women in a splendour of singing by all six of the cast (I need to cast my mind back to the finale of Rosenkavalier for an equivalent).

Music by fiddler maestro Chris Scott (last seen in a glorious concerto by Sally Beamish with Catriona McKay Scottish Harp) and Gareth Williams and libretto Sian Evans.  I just hope that the opera gets south of the border to show the sophisticated Londoners what Scotland can produce.  At least the review was by the Guardian so may be some small hope.

 

On Monday it was Red Notes – Noisy Notes (Noise again) with their excellent musicians playing music composed by young musicians, each piece being no more than 5 – 10 minutes in length.  Often in The Traverse but this night in an old Anatomy Theatre for vets – the theatre is small in the round and gives wonderful visibility of the players – no more than three or four players usually with a conductor John Harris conducting with what looked like a red ball point.  The session is usually split into two halves with space for the audience to come up in 10 minutes with an off the cuff piece.  This time it was no surprise that Sally Beamish in audience won the prize for the best piece but she did squeeze a couple of extra minutes before her score was prised away from her.

Anyway below is the team except the flutist was replaced by an Australian Accordionist who in one piece was almost a show on his own

RedNote

 

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