torsdag 10 september 2015

Welcome, Jihadists?

Photographs of a dead child have unleashed a wave of generous feelings towards refugees. . Something is bound to go wrong before long and then the mood will turn sour.

Good intentions need to be moderated with sound reason. Not all the people flooding into Europe are refugees. They will inevitably include amongst their numbers fortune-seekers, people who want to live off welfare, terrorists, jihadis, criminals, psychopaths, and people with infectious diseases. Just as immigrants to the US had to pass through Ellis Island, every single one should be interned pending investigation. Genuine refugees from war zones should be admitted. Economic migrants should be admitted selectively. Criminals, jihadis and terrorists and psychopaths should be returned to where they have just come from.

There is also a need to set firm limits on the number who will be admitted. The capacity to absorb newcomers is limited. It is not doing them or the wider society any favours to raise hopes and encourage people to come, when the end result of the failure will be bitterness and disillusion.

måndag 24 augusti 2015

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane

It has been a couple of months since I last wrote anything in this blog. I have been spending too much time on Facebook. A friend gave me a copy of "The Old Ways" by Robert Macfarlane for my birthday, which I have now read.

The book describes a series of journeys on foot or in sailing boats, each lasting several days, with nights spent in fishermen's or shepherds' shelters or under hedgerows. Mostly, the journeys are in Britain though there is a dangerous excursion around Ramallah..The book gradually shifts focus, to Edward Thomas (composer of the short poem Adelstrop in June 1914). Macfarlane has a fine sense of landscape and the book was an enjoyable read, though I could not connect with his outdoor sleeping habits.

I found some aspects of the book irritating. He has a propensity to use words of extreme rarity, to the point that, presumably at the insistence of the publisher, he had to provide a glossary of well over a hundred; most of them could either have been explained in the text or replaced by more familiar words. He also seems to be part of some kind of in-circle of individuals who indulge in this kind of thing.

Chesterton and Belloc also walked immense distances, but the world was different then; with so much of Britain suburbanised, some of the walks seem oddly detached from the contemporary world. That might be part of their interest, but personally I just find it emphasises the changes which have taken place even in the past thirty years. It left me feeling sad.

onsdag 17 juni 2015

It could have been so much better

Last Sunday, Sverigesradio broadcast the main 11 o'clock Mass from St Lars, Uppsala. This is a flourishing, lively and diverse parish which attracts many new converts to the faith. As the priest said in his sermon, there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners.

The sad thing is that the liturgy there could be so much better than it is. As a world-class university city, the parish should be a shop window offering the very best from the 2000-year-old tradition of Catholic music, a tradition which pre-dates Christianity by at least a millennium. The occasion of a broadcast should have been taken as an opportunity to put these treasures on display.

Unfortunately, the liturgy was barely even recognisable as Catholic. The service began with a well-known Anglican hymn "Holy, holy, holy" to the setting by the Victorian composer Dykes, and there was a popular Swedish hymn at the offertory. The Ordinary was one of the adaptations to the Swedish text to a Gregorian setting of the Latin; worse things have been written to be sung at Mass, especially in English, but they are clumsy when compared with the Latin settings such as Missa de Angelis or Orbis Factor. In the absence of a setting for the Swedish text of the Creed, it was recited.

It could have been so much better. The introit antiphon, which forms part of the readings, could have been sung, either in Latin, or the Swedish text could have been chanted. Why not use the Latin settings of the Ordinary?  Why not sing Credo 3? Everyone knows these. And why not sing simple polyphonic motets at the Offertory and Communion? There is no shortage of talent in the parish.

There seems to be an idea around that Protestant hymns should be used at Catholic Masses as an expression of some kind of ecumenical ideal, or to make former members of the Swedish Lutheran Church feel comfortable in their new Catholic environment - as though nothing has really changed.

The effect is to suffuse the liturgy with a Protestant spirit, since such hymns express the spirit of Protestantism at a subtle level. Their intrusion also has the effect of destroying the artistic integrity of the liturgy - it is rather like inserting a piece by Wagner into the middle of an opera by Handel. It also makes those who do not have a background in the Swedish Lutheran Church - and there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners - feel excluded. St Lars is precisely the sort of diverse parish where the church's official language should be used in the liturgy, to establish a common ground where no one group of people are privileged.

Given the importance of Uppsala as a flagship Catholic parish, those in charge of the liturgy need to re-think what they are doing.

fredag 1 maj 2015

A case of mass gormlessness?

Passengers in London were stuck in a train for four hours yesterday, with the air conditioning out of action. It became sweltering hot and turned into an ordeal.

I was in a similar incident in Sweden but after 15 minutes the adjacent tracks were closed to traffic and passengers were allowed off the train. The incident turned into a trackside party with people drinking cans of beer, walking their dogs in the woods, etc, for the four hour it took for a rescue. In this instance, which was in the middle of London, people could have just been escorted to the nearest station to continue their journey as best they could.

That said, there was no need for anyone to endure sweltering temperatures. In the first place, some of the windows can be opened by a member of the staff, with a key. Where were they? There are also hammers provided for emergency use. This was an emergency. The train companies would have had a hard time prosecuting for wilful damage. Faced with a big repair bill, they would then have made sure the trains were retro-fitted with windows that could be opened.

torsdag 30 april 2015

Successful parishes

It seems to me that four things are necessary to build up a parish.

1) Good quality traditional liturgy. It does not have to be Tridentine form with Palestrina every Sunday (though these things help), but it does need to be as good as possible within the resources of a parish, and significant Latin content is beneficial.

2) Hands-on good works in response to a local challenge.

3) An ongoing education programme for parishioners, including interested non-Catholics.

4) Some social activities - at least coffee and biscuits after Sunday Mass.

onsdag 29 april 2015

What camera?

I have been looking at cameras lately, since my Leica M9 spontaneously cracked its sensor and has had to go back to the factory. Hopefully they will not charge as it is a common problem and Leica are aware of it.

However, the M9 has not been without its problems, mostly due to dust and other muck on the sensor, which was impossible to get off. In the end I took it to the Leica service centre and it took the technician nearly half an hour to clean it, free of charge, I should add.

The only way to avoid dust and muck is to avoid changing lenses as much as possible. That defeats the aim of an interchangeable lens camera. The ideal would be to have a fresh sensor for every shot, which is what you get with film.

The best camera I have ever had was a Leica M2, a 1957 design. It was easy to use and has a hair-trigger sensitive release. The snag is that it has no built-in meter so you have to carry a meter, or guess. There is a clip-on meter, but that makes it clumsy to use. I have a Leica MP, which has built-in metering but the release is less smooth than the older Leica.

Other good cameras I have owned include the Olympus Trip and the Olympus XA series from the 1960s and 1970s respectively. Both are compact and light, and for what they do, they cannot be faulted.

I would much prefer to use film but the infrastructure is not what it was, running costs are high and everything ends up being digitised anyway. My first digital camera was a Canon Ixus. It stopped working after a month after the guarantee ran out as it did not survive a walk on Brighton sea front with salt-spray flying around. It was an annoying camera anyway, difficult to hold, slow to fire and with a viewfinder that was impossible to see in bright light. I was not sorry to throw it in the bin.

One camera that I have had and used for almost ten years is a Ricoh G600. It has a rubber covering and is supposed to be waterproof. I have not tried in the water but it survives rough treatment and rain and I tend to keep it with me. It is a horrible camera to use, though. The shutter release is squidgy and the LCD viewfinder at the back is hard - if not impossible - to see in bright light. It has an appalling dynamic range - if the darker areas are not black, then the light areas are saturated and you get the "white saturation" message. The thing was apparently developed for the Japanese emergency services, but it satisfies the requirement that the best camera is the one you have with you.

I have looked at some of the latest mirrorless SLR cameras. They all seem to have awkwardnesses of one sort or another. I was astonished to see that the sensor is fully exposed when the lens is removed. This is asking for trouble. I would have thought it was obvious that there should have been something to cover it when the lens was off. Given the trouble I have had with the Leica, where the sensor is covered with a mechanical shutter, this is enough to rule them out.

One option I am looking at is the Fuji X100. This seems to be controversial and gets criticised for being retro - comments such as the retro-styling is just a marketing gimmick are frequently made, along with the statement that there is better for less. It has a fixed lens, equivalent to 35 mm, and Fuji's odd sensor array which produces raw images which will defeat a lot of RAW converter software. On the other hand, it has a decent viewfinder and the fixed lens means that it does not have the problem of the exposed sensor. Being now in its third revision of the design, it is emerging as the front runner, and will be a useful camera if I am not taking the relatively heavy M9 around with me, when that eventually returns from the factory.

torsdag 23 april 2015

Smartphones - worst-designed consumer product ever?

My neighbour gave me a Samsung slidephone she had for several years, and I have got another five years use out of it. Must be from around 2003, I would guess which makes it 12 years old. The software flow is a bit annoying but I can live with it.

Last week it took a trip down the toilet and after I had dried it out, it was draining the battery, so I looked at alternatives, including smartphones. For £500 you can get a Samsung S5 which will survive a dunking but it will not go in a back pocket. They are all too big, too fragile, too expensive and mostly not watertight - they should be IP67 as basic. The idea of a qwerty touch screen is madness. If you have learned to type without looking, like I am doing now, you would not be able to use it.

The manufacturers have focussed on selling ever more high-tech and totally failed to get the basic things right. Are consumers THAT stupid? Smartphones must be amongst the worst-designed consumer products ever.

In the meantime my twelve year old phone has dried out and is working fine.