lördag 28 maj 2016

Linux problems and their cure

The main Linux desktops, KDE and Unity, seem to be getting heavier as time passes, with more and more added features.

For a basic desktop or laptop, Cinnamon, LXDE and XFCE seem to be good enough, and make no demands on the hardware. My main setup is a bit more complex, as I have two screens and need to use different keyboard layouts at times. Unity and KDE handle this well enough but seem sluggish even on an i5 with 16G RAM.

XFCE was troublesome and then proved difficult to remove completely. However, it worked nicely on an elderly PC with a core 2 and just 2G RAM. LXDE had issues with the keyboard layouts and wallpapers on two screens. Cinnamon seems to do the job without difficulty. It looks clean on the screen and runs fast.

In future I shall probably install Cinnamon or Lubuntu (LXDE) to get a further few years' use from the old PCs that are available for nothing but are still good for a while. XFCE is a bit Mac-like and might suit people who are used to that style of screen layout.

Whatever the case, unless the software demands it, there is no real need to use Windows, Macs or new computers of any kind for ordinary household use.


onsdag 25 maj 2016

Choir weekend at Vadstena - another opportunity wasted

I went to the choir weekend at Vadstena in 2012. There is another one this October, to which we (the choir) has been invited.

After the previous weekend, I wrote this, "With a building like Vadstena Abbey Church available - though there are others too, such as Varnhem, there are great possibilities as long as the building's acoustics are respected.

"The vespers could be those for the day, sung mostly in Latin from the Liber Usualis. Why Latin? Because, first, the language has simple open vowels; second, it is pretty close to what would have been sung when the building had just been completed; and third, but most importantly, it would be worth inviting a teacher or teachers to give instruction in the reading and performance of Gregorian chant, possibly a monk from Solemnes. On the Saturday evening, it would also be fitting to conclude with the sung Compline, like these French Benedictine monks, music which would be literally awesome in the Vadstena Abbey church.

"Similar concerns apply to the Sunday Mass. Whilst the convent church is an attractive building, it does not function particularly well as a space for the liturgy due to the stunning views from it. The convent church is very much of its time - the 1970s, and one must indeed have concern for the future of that community itself, which seems to have had few, if any, vocations in recent years. There is not in fact a serious shortage of vocations, but it is the traditional Catholic communities that are drawing in the present generation of young people.

"With these considerations, it would be worth thinking about holding the main Sunday Mass in the Abbey church, possibly early in the morning before the main Swedish service if permission can be obtained. This too, would preferably be in Latin and include the correct Proper for the Sunday. Because of the complexity of these, it would probably be better to divide responsibility for singing the different parts - Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion - amongst parishes who could prepare them beforehand. The same applies, possibly, to the Offertory and Communion motets, which might be polyphonic, and perhaps also to the Ordinary. Alternatively, or additionally, the opportunity could be taken to introduce some of the other Gregorian Mass settings, such as Mass XI (Orbis Factor), and the austere Credo I.

"As regards the Mass itself, unless there is any particular reason to include vernacular hymns - and there is little reason or opportunity to if the Proper is sung - then it would be a good thing to celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, complete with the sprinkling of holy water and incense, which would also have the benefit of conducting it as a High Mass with Deacon and Sub-Deacon, which would avoid the awkwardnesses of a concelebrated Mass.

"Such a weekend could even inspire a few vocations to the priesthood or religious life."

Unfortunately it is not going to be anything of the sort, so I shall stay away. If I went, I would just get angry at the way another opportunity is being thrown away. It really is a tragedy that the director of music for the diocese does not appreciate the value of putting the main focus on the church's 3,000 year old musical heritage. If the main Sunday Mass would have been in the Extraordinary Form, I would have put my name down immediately.

lördag 21 maj 2016

The rise of the Oratorians


26 May is the Feast of St Philip Neri so this is an appropriate time to ask why the Oratorian order is growing, against the general trend in the church; since 1993, when there were just the original two Oratory churches in London and Birmingham, Oratory congregations have taken over parishes in Oxford, Manchester, York, Cardiff and now Bournemouth.

Following the announcement of the latter, the Catholic telephone published an interview with Dr Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society about this significant development. The Oratory as an Institute is on the rise across the world from Australia to South Africa, from France to Wales, and from Kingston, Jamaica, to the United States. Why is this happening when most other religious orders are shrinking?

Interview in the Catholic Herald.

söndag 15 maj 2016

Veni Creator Spiritus


Today was Pentecost Sunday and we had all the ancient traditional music that goes with it - the Introit Spiritus Domini, the Sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus, the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus and the Alleluia, Offertory and Communion verses sung from the Graduale Romanum. Nothing was left out.

In this, we were very fortunate, as it is rare to find a Catholic parish where this happens. The music normally gets replaced by Protestant hymns or translations of the Catholic texts, which are generally a clumsy fit to the music.

In the bigger scheme of things, where Christians are being murdered for no other reason than that they are Christians, this is a minor matter. On the other hand, the music of the liturgy helps to tell the narrative on which Christianity is founded. When the music is replaced with something else, the message becomes blurred.

It runs deeper than that. Until 1970, Catholics would have been brought up with this music and it would have been imprinted in their memories. Young people who had left the church before that time, as often happens when doubt sets in during their late teens, they would have found something unrecognisable if they returned a decade or two later. Worse still, much of the replacement music is not only not Catholic; it is anti-Catholic, having been composed by and for Protestants as a means of affirming their reformism. Nor does it work stylistically. Hymns are of their nature metric, and in a major or minor key, whereas Catholic music is melismatic, modal and gives precedence to the words. Any mixture of the two, which is a widespread compromise, is the musical equivalent of drenching sushi in a strong curry sauce. Attempts to satisfy everyone, in this way, end up by leaving everyone slightly dissatisfied.

We need to get back to following what was laid down in Sacrosanctum Concilium, which affirmed that pride of place in the liturgy should be given to Latin, Gregorian Chant and Polyphony.

tisdag 10 maj 2016

Sudden Jihad syndrome?

Is the Munich incident an instance of Sudden Jihad Syndrome? Does reading the book and saying the prayers lead to mental instability?

Trying to make sense of the Koran demands, amongst other things, the performance of mental gymnastics amounting to the complete suspension of reason. Could this be part of the explanation?

tisdag 3 maj 2016

What is behind Labour antisemitism wave?

Disraeli notwithstanding, Jews in Britain have traditionally supported the Labour party since its formation at the beginning of the twentieth century. This was to be expected, as most of the first and second generations of children of Jewish immigrants were working class, or in middle-class occupations such as teachers and in the public services. Although British Jews have assimilated, in many cases to the point of disappearance, and they have moved up in the economic hierarchy, their loyalty to Labour has continued. So what is behind the current wave of antisemitism in the Labour party?

In part it is due to Israel's perceived mistreatment of the Palestinians, who are now seen as the underdogs and victims of Zionist oppression. Whilst the Israeli government has often made the wrong decisions and continues to do so, there is not a government in the world which would act very differently in the same situation; even so, it should not be beyond criticism. The supporter of the underdogs have also been duped by a very effective Arab PR machine.

Is criticism of Israel antisemitic? It depends on the track record of the people doing the criticism. If they have never spoken out against, for example, the actions of the Chinese government in Tibet, or Indonesia in Papua New Guinea, then their motives must be suspect. Since it is indeed the case that many of the critics have their focus firmly on Israel, then they can be judged antisemitic.

But what is the driving force behind this? It is necessary only to look at the list of names of the people who have had to be suspended from office. Thus does Islam corrupt the political process. The damage is probably irreversible. This is the end of a century-long relationship.