Proust begins

I’ve started working my way through Neville Jason’s excellent narration of Proust’s classic In Search of Lost Time.  Here’s my brief review from of the (21 hours long!) first volume.

Swann's Way (In Search of Lost Time, #1)Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Revisiting an author I avoided when I studied French at university, I was surprised that Proust’s writing was more accessible than I had feared. Not that it immediately grabs you: the vast sentences with their minute analysis of characters’ motives (“Nooo, not another subclause – my puny intellect can’t cope!”) engages you only slowly. Don’t look for a page-turning twist-driven plot here. What you get is a sort of beautifully-written, melancholy and contemplative retrospective set in fin de siecle France and driven by the big themes of love and memory.

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Haidt on the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan Haidt is one of my current favourite thinkers and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

In this TED talk he posits the possibility that humans evolved the religious impulse as an adaptation to assist group selection. In simpler terms, we are hard-wired to have transcendent  experiences because it makes us co-operate instead of acting selfishly.

Haidt uses the staircase as a metaphor for self-transcendence which should surely have resonance for freemasons who have taken their second degree.  He states:

The staircase takes us from the experience of life as profane or ordinary upwards to the experience of life as sacred, or deeply interconnected”.

Fascinating. Watch it.

Book review – Christian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My review on of this book I read in February:

Christian NationChristian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Without realising it, I appear to have become a fan of dystopian counterfactual fiction. (Wow, is that, you know,  A Thing?). This particular novel certainly fits into that category, presenting as a memoir the events leading up to the establishment of a brutal Christian theocracy in the USA. The protagonist is a liberal-minded New York lawyer, who helps a charismatic friend battle the forces of a “dominionist” (Google it!) Christian movement that uses a Palin presidency as springboard to power. Implausible? Unlikely, but not necessarily implausible given the assistance of some unpredictable events that the dominionists seize on to do, as the author is at pains to point out, “what they said they would do”. It reads sometimes as polemic, the traditional twists and turns of plot never really happen and some might find the lengthy passages of legal exposition a turnoff, but I wasn’t bothered by these flaws. I had, in fact, expected a slightly trashier read but was pleasantly surprised by its erudition.

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Tipping Tyranny

Service charges, gratuities, tips in restaurants – call them what you like, they need to go.

When I’ve looked into the justifications for the existence of this antiquated convention one that comes up frequently is that it supplements the income of poorly-paid waiting staff. Another popular one is that it allows you to reward exceptional service.

Allow me to demolish both.

If restaurants are paying staff so badly that waiting staff are obliged to solicit (or at least tacitly hope for) supplementation from customers directly, it sends the message that the restaurant isn’t paying its staff a living wage. I’m not comfortable giving my custom to a business that incorporates inadequate wages into its business model. Neither do I want to see a separate “service charge” on my bill. I don’t see a “service charge” when I buy my groceries at the supermarket and I don’t want to see one at a restaurant. I’m not interested in the costs of any other aspect of a particular restaurant’s business model. Just incorporate the cost of staffing into the price of the meal and spare me the hassle of umming and ahhing about how much to tip when I’m in a hurry to leave at the end of the meal.

As for rewarding exceptional service, that logic risks over-attentive, obsequious and artificially “friendly” behaviour by waiting staff desperate to impress. I want waiting staff to provide very good service as a norm because it is the house policy to do so. If an individual goes above and beyond I’ll reward it with good feedback in social media and, most importantly, repeat business.

2014 Ceilidh

21 Plus, a Monmouthshire charity I’m involved with is holding a ceilidh in June.

21 Plus


We are holding our annual ceilidh for the whole family

on Saturday, 14 June 2014 from 5 – 9 pm.

It will again take place at Dingestow Village Hall in Dingestow, Monmouthshire.

There will be a hog roast and the Skirrid Ceilidh Band will be leading the dancing. We will have a licensed bar, sell cakes and hold a raffle.

Tickets are £10 for adults, £4 for children (under 16) and £25 for a family (2 adults and 2 children). The ticket price includes the hog roast.

All proceeds will go to 21 Plus (the local support group for families who have a child with Down’s Syndrome).

Please come along, bring your families, relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours  and pass on this invitation!

For tickets please contact Victoria Hughes at

Hope to see you there!

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