måndag 1 februari 2016

A sea change in attitudes

It looks like there has been a sea change in attitudes to immigration over the past month here in Sweden. In the face of the gruesome pictures of drowned children in September, those who expressed doubts about open-door policies to refugees were denounced as heartless racists. "Refugees welcome" signs went up and politicians urged us all to open our hearts. We were assured, too, that we were about to be blessed with thousands of highly-qualified and much-needed engineers, doctors and IT specialists, with vacant posts for them just waiting to be filled. Those of us who too a more sober view of what would happening warned that this mood would evaporate within a few weeks.

So it has turned out. The events in Cologne were followed by revelations that similar things had happened in Stockholm fifteen months before, but which had a been concealed by the authorities and media as a matter of policy. Then there was the Ikea double murder and a string of gang rapes and street robberies, and sexual harrassment in swimming pools. The authorities and media have also done their best to conceal the identity of the perpetrators.

The knife murder near Gothenburg last week brought to attention another systematic cover-up. The incident took place in a hostel for unaccompanied refugee children, but when the accused, a resident at the hostel, was brought to court, it was obvious that he was at least 25 years old. This is part of a broader policy, whereby young men are classified as children whilst the authorities refuse to check their age.

The unprecedented flow into Sweden - a population increase of 2% in a year - has overwhelmed the resources of the departments responsible for receiving the newcomers. The point was reached when the imposition of border controls was unavoidable and border checks were introduced just before the New Year. A couple of weeks ago came reports that 80,000 would be deported, and that shopping centres and railway stations in Stockholm and Gothenburg were infested with gangs of Moroccan street children who were robbing passers-by. At the weekend came more reports, this time that a gang of football hooligans had gone on the rampage in Stockholm and beaten up anyone who looked as if they might been a refugee.

The open doors policy is in ruins. Nobody apart from the politically-correct fringe thinks otherwise.saying so and this is reflected in support for the Sverigedemokraterna, a party with allegedly nazi roots which tries to give the impression that it has cleaned up its act - and probably has..

What happens next depends on whether the authorities begin to act responsibly or not. What ought to happen is the the police should be instructed to move-on gangs of acting suspiciously or loitering in public places such as railway stations, or in the street. Criminals caught in the act should not be released if they claim to be under-age. It will probably require changes in the law, which needs to be brought more into line with British practice. If the authorities persist in failing to protect the public, then the thugs will take over and lynch law will prevail. The politicians need to understand this. Unfortunately, the present ruling junta seems to be too stupid to realise what are the choices in front of it.

onsdag 20 januari 2016

The Pope and the Nazis

I have had a visitor staying with me who wanted to read the Papal Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (My Burning Sorrow) addressed to the Nazis. It was written by Pius XI and came out in 1937. I downloaded it and printed a copy, nineteen pages.

Its contemporary relevance is astonishing. Not only have many of the issues that it refers not gone away - on the contrary - the document is as relevant now as it was when it first came out.

Next year will be the eightieth anniversary and a good opportunity to bring it to the wider attention of the public.

söndag 10 januari 2016

There is nasty stuff in the bible too. But...

An excellent response to a not very good article in The Guardian, by Nick Cohen, who ought to know better than to write what he does.

I agree with so much of this which is why I'm sorry that Cohen displays such a lamentable lack of understanding of Judaism. His simplistic references to 'Leviticus' and the Ten Commandments do his argument no favours.

For while the Torah does indeed specify the death penalty for homosexual and other acts, it was - even in antiquity - a punishment rarely and grudgingly imposed. Jewish religious law demands that anyone accused of a capital crime had to have been warned by two valid witnesses not to commit the crime before s/he committed it in order to be convicted. And the death penalty could not be imposed on the basis of a confession.

Furthermore the Talmud contains an authoritative reference to religious courts which imposed the death penalty more than once in 70 years as 'bloody courts'.

Of course, you may argue that having male homosexual acts on the criminal statute books is an abomination let alone having it listed as a capital crime. But you can't reasonably conflate Judaism's reticence to execute with the eagerness, ease and joy with which certain Islamist groups do so.

As for the Ten Commandments: it prohibited murder - how much more so genocide? There is a discussion in the Talmud in which the majority of rabbis determined that carrying a weapon is demeaning and is therefore prohibited on the Sabbath - unless necessary for the preservation of one's life.

The rabbis based their view on the verse in Isaiah (that adorns the UN building in New York) that when the Messiah comes “swords will be beaten into plowshares and nations will no longer wage war.” King David was denied the glory of building the Temple in Jerusalem because he had engaged in warfare and so the honour was left for his son, Solomon.

As for rape and torture, they may not be explicitly outlawed in the Ten Commandments but they are prohibited by Jewish religious law. And slavery, while technically permitted, was so bound up with regulatory restrictions that it was said in the Talmud that “one who acquires a slave actually acquires a master for himself”.

While the historical reality may often not have lived up to the ethical, moral and legal requirements of Judaism it's telling that there is no Jewish movement campaigning for the restoration of slavery (or the execution of male homosexuals). Whatever one's beef with religion, Judaism has for thousands of years striven to balance a yearning for peace and universal brotherhood with the realities of a violent, threatening world. To place it in the same category as the bloodthirsty fascists marauding Iraq and Syria is lazy and cynical.

fredag 8 januari 2016

Opened hearts closed

Do you remember last autumn's wave of support for receiving unlimited numbers of refugees, following the publication of the picture of a dead child washed up on a beach in Greece? We were told to open our hearts, and demonised as heartless racists if we questioned the wisdom of this policy. The Hungarians and Poles were hit with a barrage of criticism. When the Swedish Sverigedemokraterna suggested that border controls should be introduced, they were indignantly denounced.

"Refugees welcome" signs appeared all over Western Europe. I predicted that the mood would evaporate after a matter of weeks. The Swedish government has done exactly what the pariah SD party proposed three months ago. The last vestige of open-heartedness has vanished. The terrorism in Paris and the new year's events at Cologne have done the job more thoroughly that I would have even thought possible.

Plantin - a very useful typeface.

Being stingy by nature I am reluctant to pay for typefaces when so many are available free of charge. But there are some tasks that the free typefaces do not do well. Times Roman is a pleasant though suffers from being everywhere. It also photocopies badly as the thin parts of its letters are hairline-thin. Smaller than 11 point fails entirely. Times Roman Bold is horrible, which makes the font useless if the idea is to give emphasis.

The trouble with Times Roman is that it was designed as a metal type to be printed on absorbent paper, so that the ink would spread and thicken the letters. Unfortunately, when it was digitised, the model was the metal type, not the actual images made on paper.

One typeface that gets round this problem is the Plantin range, which was the model on which the original Times was based. It was created about 100 years ago from heavily-inked impressions of a seventeenth century document in a museum in Antwerp. It photocopies well and legibly down to 9 point. This makes it useful for newsletters, music sheets, scripture readings, etc.

There is a fundamental difficulty when digitising metal types. With metal types, the small font sizes are not just reductions of the larger sizes. The proportions change too - the smaller sizes of metal types were widened, technically known as expanded to prevent the open parts of the letters getting blocked up with ink.

Strangely, when Monotype digitised Plantin, it used 8 point as the model. This was expanded and had a relatively smaller x-height. Thus in the larger sizes - 11 point and upwards - it looks noticeably different from prints from the original metal type of the same size.

News Plantin is the font which retains the original character of Plantin in the larger sizes, being slightly condensed and having a large x-height. The difference is apparent in the letter "O", which is circular in Plantin but oval in News Plantin.

There are some useful extensions including Old Style (non-lining) numerals, small caps, and different weights; there is a light, and a decent-looking semi-bold where emphasis is needed.

The sets of typefaces are available from fonts.com. They are a bit pricey but a good investment if you are turning out printed material in any quantity.

måndag 7 december 2015

No hymns at Mass, please

Why do we sing hymns at Mass? The practice has become almost universal during the past 50 years, following the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy.

There is, in reality, no place of them in a Catholic Mass, since the parts that are meant for the people to sing are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, which together make up what is known as the Ordinary of the Mass. In English speaking countries, there were at first no musical settings for the text of the Ordinary, which was recited in a normal speech tone. In order to provide some music, hymns were inserted as replacements for the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons (that part of the Mass known as the Proper), plus a Recessional hymn. Thus evolved the notorious "Hymn Sandwich".

Here in Sweden the situation was considerably better as there was a long tradition of Gregorian Chant in the vernacular. It was a natural and obvious choice to adopt this music and build on the tradition when the vernacular was introduced in the Catholic liturgy. Thus the standard of music in the contemporary Catholic church in Sweden is exceptionally high and retains a continuity with the ancient Latin tradition.

However, the liturgy unfortunately also suffers unnecessarily from the insertion of hymns. There is no need for them. The Entrance, Alleluia, and Communion verses are given in Cecilia, pages 1157 to 1244 (the second group of pages edged in grey) and mostly lend themselves to setting to Gregorian psalm tones. So why are these texts, which form part of the reading and should not be omitted, normally replaced by hymns?

This gives rise to two practical problems. The first is that there are over 500 hymns in Cecilia. Most people only know a few of them, so they tend not to sing. The second is that non-participation in singing is promoted because people are sitting - which never makes for good singing, and because at the Offertory they are looking for their change to put in the collection, whilst at Communion, they are waiting to receive communion and do not have their books with them. If the communion hymn is sung afterwards, it prolongs the Mass unduly and disturbs people's meditation.

The use of  hymns from the Protestant tradition gives rise to further issues of an artistic and theological nature. The overall sound of the Ordinary in Sweden is traditionally Catholic, irrespective of whether it is sung in Latin or the vernacular. The music is melismatic, modal, and non-metrical, with precedence being given to the text. The hymns, on the other hand, are syllabic, metrical, and in a major or minor key. Thus there are two distinct musical genres in use. They do not sit well together. The result is like putting together food on a plate in a bad combination.

The theological ramifications are using Protestant music are subtle and disturbing. Composers such as Cruger, Luther, and Neander wrote fine music, but it is polemically anti-Catholic. Their music carries within it the very spirit of German Lutheranism - so much so that if one enters a Catholic Mass when this music is being sung, it is barely recognisable as Catholic. The same applies to music from other Protestant traditions, for example English Anglicanism and Methodism. It is good music and we like to sing it, but it is out of place in a Catholic Mass.

  • We ought to wean ourselves off the use of hymns at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion,, and the recessional should be restricted to one of the seasonal Latin or vernacular Marian hymns.
  • We need to get to work on producing Gregorian settings for the translated texts for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses.
  • We should think about introducing some kind of service on the lines of "Songs of Praise" where we can continue to enjoy singing the hymns which we like, but which do not belong in a Catholic Mass. Such a service might be held on a weekday or Saturday and be billed as an ecumenical event. Why not?

måndag 30 november 2015

Doro - mobile phone to avoid

Doro produces mobile phones which are supposed to be for people who want a simple device. I have had one since August. It must be the worst mobile phone I have ever owned. The model I purchased was a Phoneasy in gloss red with a camera.
  • The message facility is awful.
  • Very poor predictive text with limited vocabulary.
  • Cannot change language without closing and changing Settings, and it is difficult to find.
  • It takes EIGHT key presses to delete each and every message.
  • Calendar fixtures cannot be copied to another day or time.
  • The online backup facility did not work.
  • Battery life not good considering it is just a phone.
  • Microphone aperture is in the corner exactly where it will be covered when holding the phone.
  • Very poor build quality.
  • Squidgy keys - have to be pressed on exactly the right spot.
  • Red lacquer scratches easily and has started to wear through to the grey plastic underneath.
  • The back detachable cover has started to split at the corners.
There is more but that is enough to be getting on with.

It was not a bargain price and I am already looking for something to replace it.