Songs in the key of life

I got to do something I almost never get to do last night. I was fortunate enough to play in a 12 piece big band ( I’m not sure if 12 constitutes ‘big’ but fuck it). It was in a field in Kent with 11 people only 1 of whom I’d met before. We had free food and a free bar and for the most part the sun was shining. As I said I don’t get to play with this many musicians on a gig that often but when I do I absolutely love it. As a guitarist it’s a joy not to be told to cover: the brass parts, the backing vocals, piano parts, string lines whilst at the same time fending off some pissed bloke who wants to get up and play Wonderwall with us.

festivalgirl

I want to say how much fun it was and how much I enjoyed it. But that doesn’t do it justice. The truth is; it was pant wettingly, ball bouncingly, head bangin riot, arse shakingly good fun. It was like having your arse tickled with a feather. We grooved, we rocked, we jazzed and there was even a rap. Any mistakes were quickly picked up or were brushed under the rug, no one noticed because we were cooking. There were no egos and no prima donnas. We were all there for the collective good. Making the songs sound great and making sure everyone left happy and a little sad that it was over.

With 12 in the band it meant that we all had to work less. That’s right, LESS. I didn’t have to worry about anything other than the guitar parts, as there was a piano and 3 part horn section. I didn’t have to worry about filling out the space. I just concentrated on sitting in the groove. The same also applied to the piano player. With 4 vocalists I didn’t have to worry about backing vocals, plus the singers as individuals didn’t have to worry about their voices getting tired. With a percussionist along for the ride this freed the drummer up to sit back and hold the groove down, which he did impeccably. The icing on the proverbial cake…trombone, sax and trumpet. Sprinkling musical magic everywhere we went.

It was a beautiful evening. 12 people coming together, unrehearsed, for the common good. We had jazz musicians who had studied in some of London’s finest schools playing next to musicians who couldn’t read a lick of music and who referred to musical parts as ‘the bit that goes doo de dee da da bat bat bum’. We had players that had toured the world with big name artists trading licks with people who still practice with the remnants of their children’s breakfast on their unwashed tee shirt. We were of different backgrounds. We were of different sexual orientation. But we were there playing for the song, not the individual. It is a testament to what can be achieved when like minded, focused and dedicated  people come together with a single goal in mind. And it was fantastic.  It’s a shame large factions of the world don’t adopt these principles. We have psychotic sociopaths vying for power and control at the expense of the rest of us. Carving us up into fractions, continuously pointing out our differences and forcing us to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. As part of my daily recovery from addiction, I meditate. It’s not something I profess to doing well or daily for that matter. But when I do I try to picture myself sitting crossed legged on the Moon, looking back at the earth. Watching it spin so elegantly. Gazing at the vast oceans. Watching the thunder storms in South America, the deserts of North Africa and the seemingly invariable rain in the U.K. One thing I don’t see…Borders. Flags. Countries divided by religion or race. Cities divided by sports team. Towns divided by popular talent shows. Because those divisions only exist if we let them. We and we alone have the power to eradicate them. Does that mean we should be held accountable?

I often get tarnished with ‘Left wing dreamer’ brush. I have a belief that the world could be a better place if we all put our differences aside and worked together for the common good. The trouble is we all have a different opinion of what ‘Good’ is. It’s subjective. I get tired of writing it; us coming together. I want to find something less trite, something more inspiring….but when it boils down to it that phrase sums up what I’d like to see. Less murder, less poverty, less war, more education, more love. And that’s good

Maybe you think I am a dreamer. Maybe you think that we can’t come together. Maybe you think that our division runs too deep and we will forever be a race split. But it’s out there, it is possible, I’ve seen it. It happened to me last night.

 

And we’re back!

So after what seems like an age I finally have my laptop back. It’s been away getting a new lease of life. I can’t remember the last blog I wrote and it feels like a lifetime ago since I put fingers to keys.

I’m sat writing this in a very trendy bar in Rochester just a few hours before a gig. Hopefully I can finish what I want to say before the hoards of Saturday night revelers file in, stinking of lynx and hair gel and looking for a good time.

What do I want to say? The truth is there are so many topics I want to cover but I can’t untangle the mess and matter of my brain and get them out in a concise and articulate way.

I feel a huge weight on my heart. I feel that we as a people are pulling so hard in opposite directions that we’ll never get to rise to the capacity that we are so capable of attaining. There is one topic in particular that I must get off my chest.

I had a recent debate with a friend on the subject of abortion. Abortion is one of those subjects that both sides of the argument are equally valid and both sides require listening to. I’m of the opinion that abortion is a decision that should be made by the parties involved. I’m pro choice as our trans Atlantic cousins choose to pigeon hole. But it’s a grey area as I do not think abortion should be used as a form of contraception. A decision of this magnitude must not be taken lightly or idly. My friend, to protect is identity we’ll call him David, is pro life and a devout Catholic. After a few back and forths stating our positions I put a classic hypothetical to him:

If a child of 13 or 14 fell pregnant after non-consensual intercourse with her father and she wanted to abort the baby would that be ok?

His answer. No.

His reason. God, the father, is a creator. By aborting the baby you are stifling his creations.  He also said that it was his will that this child should fall pregnant.

After picking my jaw up off the floor I asked; should a child have to go through not only the pain and agony of child birth (Remembering that her body is not yet fully developed and would more than likely damage her internally) but being raped by her father? Would a god that loved us let a child go through all that suffering?

He said “Sometimes suffering is good for the soul”

Hear-No-Evil-See-No-Evil-Speak-No-Evil

In my 33 years of floating through space on this green and blue rock I have never ever heard anyone say anything as wicked and evil and further more actually believe that what he was saying was justifiable. His attitude towards the rape, torture and suffering of children was justified because it’s God’s will.

This kind of attitude towards child suffering should be reserved only for the psychotic and the insane. Not the educated, honest and rational thinking members of society. And it certainly shouldn’t be coming from the mouths of people who claim to have a moral superior high ground, something that is apparently denied to me.

I had this debate about 2 months ago and it’s still burning up inside me. I still cannot believe that anyone would put the welfare of a child second to the will of a God that may or may not exist. I can only assume that the message of Jesus has somewhat been lost on David and he’s now more concerned with the teachings of the church, two teachings which I believe massively contradict each other.

I don’t have a religious bone in my body. I don’t think God exists and I don’t think Jesus did either, at least not in the form that Christians do. Religion seems to give people the excuse to behave poorly. Who, but the religious would picket the funerals of dead soldiers? Who, but the religious would mutilate the genitals of new born baby? Who, but the religious would fly planes into buildings and who, but the religious would promote the idea amongst Africans that condoms increase the risk contracting aids?

Now I would never assert that all religious people support any of the ideas that I have just stated. My point is that people will commit the most atrocious acts if they believe they have God on their side. The physicist Steven Weinberg summed it up better than me in just a few words, if not a little crude.

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion

 

Air gun or egg hunt?

So last weekend saw the arrival of Easter. To me Easter has never been a big deal, even when I was a kid. To me it was two weeks off school and a shitload of chocolate. I’m not a believer in God or Jesus and I believe the bible to be nothing more than a collection of stories that in the course of 2000 years have succumbed to Chinese whispers.

However, the origins of the Easter celebrations don’t lie in Christianity. Originally Easter was the pagan celebration of spring, new life and the dawn of the harvest. Which is why eggs are the flagship symbol of easter. Eggs representing new life. It wasn’t until the third century AD that the Roman emperor Constantine set a date to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus bringing it inline with the pagan celebrations.

So, on Easter Sunday I let it be known on Facebook, where else, of this historical fact. Needless to say it ruffled a few feathers, prompted some people to remove me and generally it caused a bit of a stink. Seven days later I am still asking myself ‘why?’

Why would anyone be that upset by an historical event? Why would anyone care what I think about their festivals? Did hurt their feelings? Maybe. Did they cry? probably not. So what’s the big fucking deal? The above isn’t my opinion, it’s not something I’m musing over, it’s a fact. It happened. But of course whenever someone brings fact to a fiction fight they are often told to stop being so disrespectful and I shouldn’t cause such offence. Well to the people I upset that Sunday, I apologise. It was never my intention to upset you. But if you are upset by historical facts, if they do cause you great offence then I have to say that’s not my problem…it’s yours.

But the truth be told. I enjoy it. I enjoy ruffling the feathers of Christians. I enjoy debating over the origins of life, evolution or morality. I get a small kick out of it and that is my problem.

Easter

Shortly after the chocolate eggs were dispensed with we were treated to another magical day…St George’s day. Again I’ve not been one to stand on high with my hand over my heart signing our national anthem with a union jack waving majestically in the background with a great sense of pride. Why? Truthfully I think when it all boils down to it, it’s nothing more than a pile horse shit that someone made up. A day reserved to celebrate something that happened to me, by accident, at birth isn’t something that needs celebrating. It certainly doesn’t require me to feel proud about it and I don’t get all emotional at the sound of our national anthem. Not to mention that St George himself wasn’t even English. Not even British. He was Greek born to a Palestinian and lived in what is now Israel.

I’m proud that I’m a father. I’m proud that I’m a husband. I’m proud that I played guitar in front of 50,000 people at London’s Hyde Park and I’m especially proud that I fitted the skirting boards in my living room with no carpentry experience whatsoever. They were all good days and at the end of each one of them I stood back and admired my handy work.

I’m not proud to be English just like I’m not proud to be 5′ 11″ or have brown eyes. Pride should be for things that you did on your own, maybe with a little help from Youtube. I can’t do much these days without checking a Youtube video or two. I am happy to be English  and that’s the way it should be. Happy to be English. Happy to have brown eyes. There is too much unnecessary pride these days.

“Pride goeth before a fall”

 

Thank god!

A friend of mine was sadly diagnosed with cancer just over a year ago. He’s in his mid 20’s, is married and he and his wife have a son. I have only met him once when he and his band toured the UK, from America, a few years ago and I played on the same night as them. We shared a few drinks after the show and chatted about cultural differences, namely that it’s socially acceptable to start drinking in the early afternoon in the UK. I kept in touch with the band via Facebook and kept up with their goings on.

It’s always a shock to hear that someone so young is hit with cancer. But after a year of treatments and therapies he has been given the all clear which is absolutely wonderful news. Not only has the disease been kicked squarely in the bollocks but he and his wife and son will enjoy many more happy years together. Which is the most important thing.

But there was something that rubbed me the wrong way, it’s only a minor niggle but it’s a niggle none the less. I’ve written the next sentence a dozen times and there is no way of writing it without me sounding like a sanctimonious arse hole, so here it is.

After the news that he was given the all clear his Facebook wall lit up with comments of well wishing and congratulations. The vast majority praising God for his ultimate wisdom, compassion and grace. “God is good” seemed to be the favourite. This is where the niggle comes in, and there is more that one I’m afraid to say.

From my understanding of the world I would have to say that our medical advancements over the last 100 years are our greatest achievements. Our adventures into space are truly amazing and our expeditions to bottom of the sea are staggering, but they were borne from curiosity rather than necessity. We have eradicated small pox, cornered polio and walked cancer to the edge of the plank. All this was achieved from countless medical professionals working diligently into the long good night. Before them human beings succumbed to diseases and viruses, rotting teeth and gangrene. Even a splinter or the common cold could turn deadly.

So it does upset me when an unproven, unverifiable celestial deity gets all the credit for one man’s victorious cancer battle. Not one mention to the hard working, diligent team of doctors, nurses and therapists. Because let’s face it, without them it could have been a very different outcome. But I must reiterate that the most important thing is one man is cancer free.

Every few months we hear stories of parents denying their children of medical care, opting instead for prayer and trusting the life of their child in the hands of the lord. More often that not, tragically the child dies, the parents are put on trial and subsequently go to jail. So my point is this. Maybe, just maybe, your prayers were answered. The lord provided you with a cure, a helping hand and a miraculous recovery. But instead of white light coming from the heavens or bearded man walking on water and doing tricks with wine you got a mid 30’s woman with a PhD from the university of wherever, armed with a vast knowledge of ‘whatever it is you are suffering from’. I admit that these kind of prophecies don’t look as good as your Jesus fellow, but maybe these people are the answers to your prayers and they deserve the recognition, they deserve the praise and they deserve all the thanks.

I said there was more than one niggle and here it is…if God cured you of your ailments then surely it stands to reason that God gave you those ailments in the first place. Why? To make you a stronger person? To make you thankful for the life you have? What about the people who spend their day getting high on PCP and thieving from good, honest, hard working people, why aren’t they struck down with cancer? What about the numerous people who molest, torture and rape children in every country on the planet and yet somehow manage to evade the wrath of god? What about the people who strive to be good and value life and yet still fall prey to Cancer? There are two answers.

1. God can intervene, but he decides not to. Which makes him some kind of misanthropist 

2. God doesn’t have the power to intervene, which doesn’t make him omnipotent and therefore no more special than the turd that I just flushed down the toilet.

The power of prayer has also undergone scientific scrutiny with groups of hospital patients. Not surprisingly the tests conclude that people who were prayed for didn’t recover any quicker than the people that were not prayed for. To me it is painfully obvious why.

The truth is, is that there is no God. Never was, not one….ever. But I must reiterate that the most important fact is that a man is cancer free, a woman has her husband in good health and a son has a strong father.

 

 

 

Thinking traps

Imagine that there is a lethal disease which has no cure. The disease is contagious but only affects 1 in 10,000. You’re worried so you decide to go to the doctors to be tested. The doctor informs you that the test is 99% accurate (In other words it will deliver a correct positive or negative result 99% of the time) and should take about two weeks to get the results, which will be posted to you. Two weeks pass and a letter drops onto the mat. It’s from the clinic. You open the letter to discover that you have been diagnosed with the disease.

Review the above scenario and ask yourself the following question:

What are the chances that you have the disease? Please come to a decision before reading on

If you of the opinion that you are very likely to have the disease you would be wrong. That’s right, WRONG!
If you think that it’s very unlikely that you have the disease congratulations, you’re right. Give yourself a pat on the back and you may be excused and I’ll see you next week.

Now, for everyone that’s still here let me explain. There was probably one small, but vital, piece of information that maybe you hadn’t factored in. The deadly disease only affects 1 in 10,000 people. So right from the start you see you only have a 1:10,000 chance of catching it. So let’s say that 10,000 people go for blood tests only 1 person will be correctly diagnosed as having the disease. But about 100 people will be diagnosed as having it when in actual fact they don’t. Because the test is only 99% accurate that means that 1% of the 10,000 (100) will receive a false positive. So you are about 100 times more likely to be in misdiagnosed category.

The problem above isn’t just a clever game. It has the potential to be a life changing event that could have disastrous consequences.

Let’s try another:

I pull out 5 cards, at random, from a shuffled deck 3 times and I note the results:

1) 2 of clubs, 5 of spades, Jack of hearts, 7 of Diamonds and 4 of clubs

2) 10 of Hearts, Jack of Hearts, Queen of hearts, King of hearts and Ace of hearts

3) 6 of Spades, 7 of spades, 8 of spades, 9 of spades and 10 of spades

Which of the three sets is more likely? Be honest.
My gut tells me that the first sequence would be more likely. Any poker player will recognise the Royal flush and the Straight flush which came out second and third. But the truth is they are all as probable as each other. It’s only the randomised sequence of number one which leads us to believe that that is more probable. If there are any mathematicians reading this I would love to know what the odds of pulling anyone of these sequences out are. 500,000: 1 is my guess.

Much like lottery results. You are just as likely to have the winning numbers be: 1 2 3 4 5 6 as you are any other combination. About 14 million to 1. And just so we’re clear, no, somebody does not have to win. Just like a coin will always have a 50/50 chance of landing on heads or tails. Unless it’s in the hands of a hustler who can control the coin.

Cognitive illusions can be fun games. But they can also highlight the kinds of thinking traps that we all fall into; which in turn can lead to dangerous thinking and give life to ideas that can have deadly consequences. Please turn your head towards New York which is currently going through a measles outbreak not helped, I’m sure, by the anti-vaccination movement.

Just as you cannot do very much carpentry with your bare hands, there is not much thinking you can do with your bare brain.

Anyone wanting to look more into thinking can’t go far wrong with Daniel C Dennett’s book “Intuition pumps. Tools for thinking”

Open your mind….

About a year ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook asking if anyone could recommend a good homeopathic doctor as he’s having problems with his back. I suggested that a trip to his GP or a chiropractor was in order and would probably yield better results. I was told I needed to be more open minded.

Open-minded image

Open-minded image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another friend posted a picture saying there was an orb/spectre floating in the background. I pointed out that it could quite easily be a spec on the lens or a reflection from the flash…again I was told I needed to be more open minded.

There is a notion that is flung around that to question something supernatural is to be closed minded, and to be close minded is a negative aspect of being human. This is not true and it can have dangerous consequences.

If a pilot, who was coming in to land at Heathrow with 300 passengers onboard said to himself ‘Ok I know what to do, I’ve landed a thousand planes. But you know what, today I’m going to keep an open mind, try something new and see what happens’  

I would describe myself as open minded. I’m more than happy to accept a new view or opinion.. so long as it’s based in fact and not superstition. I would also change my opinion on a subject if new evidence suggested so, although it would be a bitter pill to swallow. To me the true definition of being open minded is, willing to change your view despite what you believe.

I saw video a few days ago in which the stage & television medium/psychic Colin Fry gave a reading to a gentleman who had lost his son when he was just 3 months old (Please watch the video). I know the video is short, but there are a few classic signs of cold reading, and hot reading, that could explain how Mr Fry achieved his results. Fishing for answers, asking the gentleman to supply valuable information and simple deduction. Colin may possess supernatural powers and is able to communicate with the dead. However, I’m skeptical and unless he’s able to prove his abilities under test conditions then I will remain on this side of the fence.

If Mr Fry isn’t in possession of these magical abilities then what he has demonstrated in the above video is absolutely fucking disgraceful. If Colin Fry uses cold reading to achieve his results, then he’s systematically trampling over the beloved memories of the deceased, offering false hopes and exaggerated claims when people are at their most vulnerable and most desperate, all for profit, then he should be arrested for fraud. If Mr Fry truly believes that he has power to connect to people beyond the grave and hears voices in his head, then he could probably do with being in some kind of institution.

It was estimated at the turn of this century that the psychic industry was worth about $2 billion in the USA alone; and it’s growing. You require no formal training or qualifications to become medium/psychic and there is no governing body or guild, at least not in the sense of the GMC that doctors have. All you have to do is talk to people; and there will always be people who want a reading. While it’s not as lucrative as the oil industry it is older and it will be around for longer.

The James Randi foundation offers a $1 million prize to ANYONE who is able to demonstrate any psychic or paranormal ability under test conditions. Although thousands

en:Image:RANDI.jpg (Original text : James Randi)

en:Image:RANDI.jpg (Original text : James Randi) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of people have attempted the challenge, to date the prize is yet to be claimed and has been on offer since 1964.

I have had people say to me that there are some people who go for readings, and that they take great comfort in hearing messages that their loved ones, who have passed on, are ‘in a better place’ or ‘happy and at peace’. So if it makes them happy, what’s the harm? To that I will say that a friend that offers false hopes and false promises is no friend at all. Especially if they are charging $700 for a psychic reading over the phone. At it’s most harmless it is just a bit fun, maybe after a few drinks down the pub or at a party. But when people make life changing decisions or squander the entire family fortune on trying to reach lost ones then it becomes deadly and it needs to stop. Or at the very least regulated by an independent body.

I don’t believe in psychics, reiki, ghosts, homeopathy or voodoo. Why?  because I see no reason why I should. To date, there is not a single shred of evidence that supports any of the above claims, at least nothing that can’t be attributed to cold reading or the placebo effect. So until there is, I will always question something that has no basis in truth or fact. I will try and keep an informed mind and not so open that my brain falls out.

Derren Brown.

Derren Brown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year I was lucky enough to part of the Derren Brown live show. I was picked at random from the audience and was asked to think of ANY word, write it down and seal it in an envelope. Derren then removed his envelope from under his jacket to reveal that we both had the same word written down. If you’re interested the word was CORNFORD. A model of guitar amplifier that I use. I have NO idea how he did it and I was 100% certain that he wouldn’t guess the word. The level of connection I felt with Derren at that time was overwhelming, I wanted burst. Derren makes no bones about how he achieves his results and there is nothing supernatural about it. I can understand how people are taken in by it all…It’s very powerful and has nothing to do with how intelligent or gullible a person is.

If you are someone who believes in such things then I would urge you to do some research into cold reading, if only to strengthen your belief in the supernatural. It’s certainly not my aim to convince you that there is no such thing as psychics, I’ll let you be the judge.

I would also like to add that there might very well be real psychics out there. But if there are, why has the $1 million prize reward not been claimed….for nearly half a fucking century?

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

Tim

*FOOTNOTE*

There was an excellent blog about conformation bias written by a friend of mine which ties in nicely, totally coincidental I must say, which you can find here

And if you are interested in further reading on cold reading and the occult I would suggest:

The full facts of cold ready by Ian Rowland

Trick of the mind by Derren Brown

Confessions of a medium by Anonymous