lördag 28 mars 2009

The Catholic Church and Property

The teachings of the Catholic Church on the subject of property are neatly summed up in clauses in John XXIII's encyclical Mater et Magister of 1961.

19. Secondly, private ownership of property, including that of productive goods, is a natural right which the State cannot suppress. But it naturally entails a social obligation as well. It is a right which must be exercised not only for one's own personal benefit but also for the benefit of others.

43. Concerning the use of material goods, Our Predecessor declared that the right of every man to use these for his own sustenance is prior to every other economic right, even that of private property. The right to the private possession of material goods is admittedly a natural one; nevertheless, in the objective order established by God, the right to property cannot stand in the way of the axiomatic principle that "the goods which were created by God for all men should flow to all alike, according to the principles of justice and charity."

74. As Our Predecessor Pius XII observed with evident justification: "Likewise the national economy, as it is the product of the men who work together in the community of the State, has no other end than to secure without interruption the material conditions in which the individual life of the citizens may fully develop. Where this is secured in a permanent way, a people will be, in a true sense, economically rich, because the general well-being, and consequently the personal right of all to the use of worldly goods, is thus actuated in conformity with the purpose willed by the Creator."

From this it follows that the economic prosperity of a nation is not so much its total assets in terms of wealth and property, as the equitable division and distribution of this wealth. This it is which guarantees the personal development of the members of society, which is the true goal of a nation's economy.

One of the implications of this is the need for the taxation of property, meaning land. Were this teaching to be followed, then not only would the huge profits of the super-rich, of multinationals, and of banks, which mostly comprise the economic rent of land, would be made available for public revenue, but also the opportunities for tax avoidance would be blocked, since land cannot be shifted to a tax haven.

An end to discrimination against Catholics?

As this expresses my views on the subject so precisely, I am re-publishing it.

There is a certain Spot The Deliberate Mistake quality to proposals to make the monarchy more egalitarian or (God help us all) "meritocratic".

The Act of Settlement is good for us Catholics. It reminds us that we are different, and it does us the courtesy of taking our beliefs seriously by identifying them as a real challenge.

I question the viability of a Catholic community which devotes any great energy to the question of ascending the throne while the born sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets and the pre-born are ripped from their mothers' wombs to be discarded as surgical waste. Far from being a term of abuse, the word "Papist" is in fact the name under which the English Martyrs gave their lives, and expresses the cause for which they did so, making it a badge of honour, to be worn with pride.

The Protestant tradition is a fact of this country's history and culture. No good purpose would be served by denying it its constitutional recognition. And we must never countenance alliance with those, such as Evan Harris, who wish to remove Christianity as the basis of our State. Parties, such as his or the SNP, that wish to abolish Catholic schools need not imagine that noisily seeking to repeal the Act of Settlement somehow makes their position any better.

As for male primogeniture, it, too, sends an important signal: that the male line matters means that fathers matter, and that they have to face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance (including censure where necessary) from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

On matters such as this, we should listen to the voice of Recusancy, currently in the Commons (and it has been largely "reformed" - what an appropriate word! - out of the Lords) the voice of the gloriously anti-war Edward Leigh more than anyone. He has no time for this proposal, and rightly sees the whole thing as an excuse to bring the question of the monarchy to the floor of other Parliaments, particularly in Australia.

There is only one circumstance under which these changes could begin to be justified, namely that any Realm or Territory may leave the family defined by our shared monarch unless they were given effect, though not otherwise. Which is considering doing so?

Posted in response to St Mary Magdalen's blog by David Linsdsay

The dreadfulness of British governance

I wrote to my MP on two entirely separate issues recently. The first was to do with the replacement for the Inter City 125 train, which at £2.6 million per vehicle, is twice as expensive as it ought to be. The second concerned the benefits of a switch from business rate and Council Tax to a tax based on site values.

In both cases, the replies were full of spurious, unsubstantiated assertions and completely flawed arguments.

This is typical. You will not get an iota of sense from the government on any area of public policy at all - finance, economics, trade and employment, agriculture, housing, health, transport, energy. All junk. If you write to your MP you will invariably receive answers that are an insult to your intelligence, no matter what subject you are writing about.

Of course they cannot understand statistics. They are innumerate. Whitehall is staffed with idiots with a high IQ. Look at their IT projects. And mind your purse, they will have that too.

Palace conversation I would like to take place

Buckingham Palace
Originally uploaded by ©Yazeed

Scene: Gordon Brown and HM Queen's weekly meeting.

HM: I think you have been looking a bit tired lately.
PM: No I am fine.
HM: Don't you think you could do with a break?
PM: No the country needs me. I am going to save it.
HM sighs.

A couple of weeks later, PM is taken to King Edward VII's Hospital with "chest pains". After a week in hospital, PM resigns.

fredag 27 mars 2009

Finns det liv i rymden?

Många undrar om de finns liv i rymden. Innan teleskopet uppfanns såg planeterna ut som små ljuspricka i rymden, som rörde sig runt jorden. Galileo var den första som tittade på planeterna genom teleskop och sedan såg planeterna ut som små rondellar. Genom teleskopen såg han också att Jupiter hade fyra små månar som kretsade runt planeten. På grund av hans upptäckt konstaterade han att alla planeterna även jorden kretsade runt solen. Kyrkan hotade Galileo eftersom den ansåg att jorden låg i universums centrum.

Under 1800 talet blev teleskop kraftigare och sedan blev det möjligt att titta på planeternas ytor. En astronom som heter Schiaparelli studerade Mars och påpekade hav och linjer som såg ut som vad han kallade ”canali”, det betyder kanaler. Samtidigt observerades att planetens norra och södra poler var täckta av is som växte och krympte under året. På grund av denna upptäckter trodde man att det kanske fanns ett slags människor som bodde på Mars.

Under 1900 talet byggde astronomer jättestora teleskop. Den första monterades på Mount Wilson år 1908 och dess spegel är 1,5 meter i diameter. Några större teleskop byggdes, först 2,5 meter och sedan den 5 meter Palomar teleskop som ställde färdig år 1949. När man observerade Mars genom dessa kraftigare teleskop såg de att kanalerna var bara en synvilla.

I rymdåldern
Under 1950-talet började rymdåldern. Kraftiga raketer utvecklades och sedan blev det möjligt att skicka sonder till andra världar. År 1976 kom rymdsonden Viking fram till Mars och hamnade för första gången på planetens yta. Sonden bar tre experiment för att leta efter liv, men dessa hittade inga bevis. Under 1980-talet skickas rymdsonder längre bort – till planeterna Venus och Merkurius och till de så kallade gasjättarna, Jupiter, Saturnus, Uranus och Neptunus. På Merkurius är ytan otrolig het. Där smälter bly. Trots att Venus kallas jords tvilling är livet där omöjligt också. Temperaturen på ytan är 450 grader och atmosfären består av koldioxid och giftiga gaser till exempel svavelsyra. Solsystemets två inre planeter är obeboeliga.

På yttersta jätteplaneterna är temperaturen för låg eftersom solen är för långt borta. Omkring dem finns kraftig strålning och tyngdkraften är så stor att levande varelser skulle plattas. Men runt Jupiter och Saturnus kretsar ismånar och där är liv kanske möjligt. Runt Jupiter kretsar ismånen Europa. Dess yta är täckt av is, man tror att den kan flyta på ett hav bestående av vanlig vatten. Ytan är mycket kall men månen värmes upp av tidvattenkraft orsakad av jätteplanen i närheten. Kanske finns det liv i Europas hav under den tjocka islagren. Kanske simmar valar i havet. Vem vet? Forskare vill skicka rymdfartyg och försöka lata vidare.

Den lilla ismåne Enceladus kretsar runt Saturnus. Månen är bara 500 kilometer diameter. Igen är ytan är täckt av tjock is med vanlig vatten under isen, och igen kanske finns det liv där också. Saturnus största måne heter Titan. På ytan är temperaturen minus 180 grader och den är för kall för levande varelser. Men Titan har en tjock atmosfär och på månen hittas många organiska ämnen. En dag kanske kommer liv att bo där.

Det finns olika sätt att leta efter liv. Man kan söka utsändningar skickade av intelligent liv. Det här är anledningen till det så kallade ”SETI program”. SETI betecknar ”Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence” det betyder leta efter intelligent liv utanför jorden. Sedan många år sedan har man lyssnat på radion och letat efter signaler som kan vara intelligent livstecken. Resultat var att pulsarer upptäcktes, men ingen intelligent liv.

Nyligen har astronomer upptäckt exoplaneter som kretsar runt stjärnor långt borta från jorden. Ibland kan astronomer se exoplaneter direkt genom kraftiga teleskop, särskilt rymdteleskopet ”Hubble” men det är ovanligt. Oftast kan man se planetens bevis genom att analysera stjärnans spektrum. Om spektrumet ändras periodisk kan man konstatera att en eller några planeter kretsar runt stjärnan. Men spektrumet kan visa också om det finns möjlighet att planeten är beboelig. Levande varelser släpper ut betecknande gaser till exempel koldioxid och syre, som påverkas stjärnans ljus och det kan upptäckas genom spektralanalysen. Sådana gaser är livs underskriften. Men man kan inte säga vilket slags liv som bor dar. Kanske är det bara enkla bakterier men kanske bor där en mycket avancerad civilisation. Man kommer aldrig att veta.

torsdag 26 mars 2009

A new service

Advertising abortion and contraceptive advice on TV is likely to be permitted soon. The reason given is the rise in teenage pregnancies, but in this age of secularism what else can one expect?

The strange thing is that the use of IVF is also on the increase because there are so many couples who cannot have children. So we have mothers who do not want the children they have got pregnant with and other people who are desperate to have them.

This is where ebaby would come in, by bringing the two together. Children from the unwanted pregnancies are born instead of being aborted, and the couples who want the children get to adopt them instead of having to go through with IVF. It really is possible to satisfy everyone.

tisdag 24 mars 2009

MP's Expenses

There is a row about London MPs who are claiming that they need second homes even though they are in commuting distance from Westminster, with calls for reform.

Apparently MPs are dissatisfied with their basic salary of £63,000. They think they work hard for the money.

Performance-related pay?
How about performance-related pay for MPs? It could be linked to a few indices: inflation; employment; crime; life expectancy; and the affordability of housing, for a start. There should be deductions for wars started, bonuses for wars ended, and stoppages for incidents like terrorist attacks and epidemics amongst humans and animals.

But if this really happened, the government would just massage the statistics, like they are doing with inflation.

Obama Bank Bail-Out

Obama has made yet another attempt to deal with the financial crisis in the US, with a complex scheme risking trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Taxpayers will become part owners of so-called toxic assets, and investors will have the opportunity of making a profit if they turn out better than expected.

This sounds wrong. Toxic assets consist of bad debts, lent on the security of land which was overpriced due to excessively free lending. This bubble has to be allowed to go down to its right size, and nobody knows what that is. But the more governments interfere, the longer the trouble will continue. This cannot be prevented without causing damage somewhere or other.

It seems to me that people and companies who have lent to people who cannot pay it back, they should be made to write off the debts unconditionally. This seems to be a reasonable price to pay for their bad commercial decisions.

söndag 22 mars 2009

I give up on the Guardian

Yet again I have had a post removed from the Guardian's Comment is Free site because it was allegedly off topic. The thread was about the Equal Pay Act and wage reform. I was astonished. The comment was off topic to the extent that I pointed out that women's problems with employment were part of the more general issue whereby nearly everyone has been having trouble earning a livelihood in Britain for the past 250 years. That is hardly off-topic.

"Off topic" applied to nearly all of the torrent of 478 furious comments, including mine, that Gordon Brown's article published at midnight had elicited by after 18 hours, when the Guardian closed the article to further comments. If anyone had gone through them and deleted the ones that were off-topic by this narrow definition there would have been few remaining, and the Guardian would have made a lot of posters even angrier.

The moderators also complained saying that, "On a separate point, your links to http://www.landvaluetax.org are becoming tantamount to spam. Please refrain from advertising this website in nearly every post... It us our policy to remove comments when posters routinely link to web pages that do not specifically address the subject of the article on which the comments appear."

The Land Value Taxation Campaign website has been linked in this way in about 25% of the past 30 posts I have made. Hundreds of readers follow that link, so they obviously consider it of interest. Since these relate to articles on tax avoidance and employment issues, such a link could not be more directly relevant to the original subject, but since the Guardian's moderators consider it so I shall refrain from participating in CiF at all.

Another LVT supporter, a poster called "radicalchange" is also no longer commenting. Since these things are normally drawn to the attention of the moderators by another reader or readers, presumably somebody does not like what is being said.

What a pity it is that the authors of the Guardian's articles, with the exception of Mark Braund, who also seems to have disappeared off the radar, have failed to pick up on the points raised in articles on the website.

It is my overall impression of CiF that the quality of the comments is generally higher than that of the original articles being commented on by the journalists - especially the newspaper's old war-horses - paid by the Guardian! There are dozens of contributors who are regularly generating perceptive and well turned pieces. This does not show the Guardian in a good light as they so often put the authors of the original articles to shame.

Taken together with the nonsense of the removal of the Creed a couple of weeks ago, discussed here, I have concluded that the Guardian's blog pages are not worth bothering with. If they get rid of enough commentators, all they will be left with is the rabid anti-Christian legion and a rump of Guardianistas who say the right things.

I hasten to add that this is not the case at the moment but if enough people stop bothering with their site and the poor quality of the articles is not addressed, that is what will happen. Since the advertising is sold on the basis of the amount of traffic generated, in the end this will hit the newspaper where it hurts.

Avalanche of outrage against Prime Minister

"We are about to take the war against terror to a new level", says Gordon Brown in the Observer today here

This has generated an avalanche of outrage from commentators. Their views are worth reading, because the summarises the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the New Labour project. The literal bankruptcy of the UK is, I suppose, a logical consequence.

Personally, I don't blame Brown or New Labour. The British brought it on themselves by their complacency, ignorance, greed, and refusal to engage in politics at an intellectual level. The prevailing mood is rage. Soon the masses will be taking to the streets but there will be no coherence to their demands. There will just be an emotion of anger. What the British will not do is sit down and think.

lördag 21 mars 2009

Supposing the Pope is right about condoms?

Supposing the Pope is right on condoms? The evidence certainly points that way. They may indeed "aggravate the problem". Some of us who have been there and done it say he is spot on.

Condoms are readily available in Brighton yet the incidence of HIV here amongst homosexual men is the highest in the country.

Report on incidence of aids

Taking one thing and another, it seems to me that the Pope is the best thing we have had for a long time and he is a victim of people's determination to demonise the Catholic Church in general and the Pope in particular.

Electricity dependence

Pylons in the landscape

An article in this week's New Scientist described the doomsday scenario that would result from a solar flare - an energetic outburst from the sun occuring when sunspots become particularly active. Huge current surges would be generated in electricity transmission systems. They would be ruined and much electronic equipment would be damaged. It would take months even to begin to get services started again.

The last event was in 1859, and although telegraph transmissions were disrupted, life carried on much as usual. The next time the effects will be catastrophic. The lights would go out and telephones would stop working. Computer systems would shut down and possibly suffer irreparable damage. Gas and water supplies and sewage systems would come to an immediate standstill as electric pumps stopped. So would all electric railways. Fuel supplies would cease shortly afterwards.

We are far too dependent on electricity and high technology information systems.

torsdag 19 mars 2009

Passengers forced to use older trains

Tram at Saltholmen

On the tram

Rail passengers are being forced to use older trains as the average age of rolling stock reached a five year high, according to the Office of Rail Regulation. The figures were seen as a condemnation of the Government's record on the railways by Theresa Villiers, the Tories' transport spokesman. Commenting on this news, "This news is more evidence of Labour's failure on our railways. For years Labour have been promising extra carriages but they never arrive and the average age of rolling stock continues to climb. Three successive Secretaries of State for transport have promised 1300 extra carriages and yet passengers are still stuck on enormously overcrowded and ageing trains."

It is depressing when this kind of comment is bandied about. It does not help public debate. The government's rolling stock procurement programme has got into a mess, but the age of the trains is certainly not the issue and politicians should not be raising the matter. Surely there is enough to attack the government about without this kind of fatuous nonsense?

Trains and other public transport vehicles are not consumer items with a 15 year life. Typically, they can continue in useful service for three or four times as long. Gothenberg has just refurbished its 1960s trams (above) to keep them going for another ten years, and just as well too, because the city's fleet of new Italian vehicles had to be taken off the road for a couple of weeks in February. Some of the trams in the Milan fleet date from 1928. The trains on London's Metropolitan Line are still looking fresh and giving good service after nearly 50 years.

Daily Telegraph article

tisdag 17 mars 2009

The End is nigh

The end really is nigh. The Guardian Comment is Free has the occasional piece on religion. I quoted the Athanasian creed. As the primary document is in Latin and English translations are various and unreliable, I quoted the Latin one, with apologies. It is easy enough to get translations and compare them, which is what one has to do. Presumably someone complained and the moderators were happy to comply.

European civilisation must be at its last gasp if one cannot quote the Creed in a discussion on religion in a discussion group run by what purports to be a quality British newspaper.

måndag 16 mars 2009

The price of drinks

It has been suggested that taxes on alcoholic drinks should be drastically increased to reduce binge drinking.

In Sweden, alcoholic drinks can only be purchased from Systembolaget, with one exception, lättöl (weak, full flavoured lager) with an alcohol content of 3.5%, which is available from supermarkets and is modestly priced. Anyone would have to drink an awful lot to get drunk.

Whilst there is much to be said against having a state monopoly retailer, making a distinction between 3.5% drinks and stronger ones could indicate a way forward.

söndag 15 mars 2009

What is the Tax Justice Network for?

Another useless outfit is the Tax Justice Network. Their campaign is against tax havens. It should be obvious that if one taxes people, some of them will move away to places where the taxes are less. It should be even more obvious that it is difficult to tax companies because they exist across many national jurisdictions and can make their profits pop up in the most advantageous places.

The solution is easy in principle - taxation needs to be tied not to people and companies, but to the holding of land titles and based on the rental value of land. This would stop the problem dead in its tracks. The very large revenues that flow to some companies and individuals consist of mostly of land rental value so would be picked up at source. Land cannot be shifted to a tax haven, and compliance is readily enforced, ultimately through forfeit of title.

I have made this point a few times on the TJN website but my comments are never posted for people to read, presumably because they make the original articles look stupid.

Guardian/Observer twaddle

Journalists Will Hutton and Polly Toynbee are the Guardian-Observer stalwarts. Twice a week, they produce some opinion piece which can be read on their Comment is Free website.

Toynbee is a steadfast apologist for New Labour, which takes some doing these days. Usually she writes on social policy, the general idea being put across is that as we are nearly "there", Labour just needs to be given the chance to finish the job. For light relief, Toynbee also does 1970s-style atheism and feminism.

Hutton writes about economic policy, though not in any consistent way. In fact he seems to work to no firm guiding principles at all, though there is a kind of sloppy version of Keynesian thinking there. He will never raise fundamental questions. Today, for instance, he wrote about inequality but carefully avoided talking about the underlying causes of this inequality.

Sometimes one wonders if these are real people at all, and not just pen-names for a rota of journalists or possibly even a computer programme that generates the articles at random from a store of text held it in its memory. They do no credit to newspapers which purport to be operating at the "quality" end of the market.

They invariably generate comments sometimes running to hundreds. Their authors come from right across the political spectrum and most of them are scathing. They are far more perceptive than the original articles and the newpaper could do worse than sack Toynbee and Hutton and engage a few of the people who write the comments.

In praise of rangefinder Leicas

Six decades of Leica

People criticise Leica for sticking to the M format with rangefinder (left), introduced in 1953 as a successor to the Leica III dating from the 1930s (right), saying it is just something to put in a glass cabinet. The real advantages of a Leica model M in practice apply to both film and digital versions.

(1) It is significantly smaller than an SLR, which means it is not an encumbrance.

(2) You can easily see what you are taking, and also what you are NOT taking, through the direct vision viewfinder, which has a feature to insert an extra eyepiece for those who wear spectacles.

(3) Focussing by rangefinder is positive and the photographer can decide what to focus on.

(4) The hardware is robust.

If digital SLRs are just too big, the problem with compacts is that their ergonomics are poor. Direct vision viewfinders, if fitted at all, are inaccurate and hard to see through. LCDs at the back of the camera are difficult to see in bright sunlight and do not show the image in real time. For anyone over the age of 45, it is necessary to hold the camera at arms' length to see the viewfinder, which is not a position where the camera can be held steady. And - a detail, but an important one - lenses are not provided with a thread for a UV filter, the main function of which is to keep the lens clean; dust etc can be removed by removing the filter and washing it under the tap.

Why the manufacturers have not addressed these simple points is a bit of a mystery because anyone bringing out a camera that did would have a best-seller.

lördag 14 mars 2009

G20 summit

Lake & Trees
Originally uploaded by captainzep

The G20 pre-summit meeting is being held in Lower Beeding, which is in a nice part of Sussex. As the politicians, being primarily responsible for the present debacle, cannot possibly have the foggiest idea what they are doing, they would do better to forget about the whole business spend their time walking round places like Leonardslee Gardens, near by.

Poor Papal communication

Pope Benedict XVI has sent a letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has issued a statement and summary of the letter here

Their statement has been widely criticised for giving a partial picture of what the Pope was trying to say, but there is a link to the original letter, which I downloaded and printed. I started to read it last night, but had not got past the second paragraph when I woke up at 3 am to find the lights still on. I eventually finished reading it next day and an excellent document it is once one has penetrated the complicated sentences, which presumably were translated straight out of the German, not the best of starts where clarity is needed, and goodness knows how - it might even have been done by some computer programme. I wonder how many people have managed to read the whole thing right through?

In my view, Pope Benedict is the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church for several decades. He is trying to reconnect the Church to the best of its older traditions, and for this reason there are those inside and outside who will try to attack and misrepresent him. And so my reaction to the document was to ask why the Vatican cannot get someone to edit it into decent fluent British English before publication?

People do themselves and us no favours when they churn out this turgid stuff. It is not the only example - Centesimus Annus is in similar turgid prose. Again, almost nobody has read it but it apparently contains valuable insights. The same can be said also of the Catechism and Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which lack clarity and are difficult documents to navigate.

The hierarchy must communicate in clear English or they will be ignored or their message picked up by someone else and distorted, and hardly anyone will go back to the original to check. I am not suggesting it should use the language of the tabloid gutter press, but it should not be more complex than quality newspapers like the Financial Times. That is just sloppiness, inept and inconsiderate, if not plain rude.

Whether one likes it or not, English is the biggest language in the world and the British version remains the standard. What is little better than word-for-word translation out of some other language is not good enough.

torsdag 12 mars 2009


Åland rocks and pines

I received an email recently with this under the signature. I find it disturbing but cannot quite put my finger on what is wrong...

"My premise is that matter is spirit in another light and that the fullest form of spirituality lies within an understanding of the ceaseless creativity of life and the insistent reality of seeking to live in an economic order - or housekeeping mode - that works for everyone and protects the earth. Tho' that is full of theological resonance, I seek to express it in forms that don't let religiosity set us apart from our fellow human beings and other life-forms."

It seems to me that matter is most definitely matter and not spirit in another light, and such a view is implicit in the doctrine of the Incarnation. It does not mean to say that what we apprehend of matter is all that there is to be apprehended "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Cor 13:12).

I would endorse the part about the need to live in an economic order that works for everyone and protects the earth, but the formulation doesn't feel quite right. As for the need to avoid religiosity, this seems to be another way of saying that it does not matter what one believes in, which cannot be the case since actions arise out of beliefs. If the beliefs are confused or defective, what kind of actions will follow?

La crème de la crème

Britain's civil servants, I am talking about. La crème de la crème. The system was invented in Victorian times. Recruitment of top civil servants is by examination and a selection board. Each year, the finest products of academia join the ranks of the elite who advise the government. Mostly, they are Oxbridge products, coming straight from university. They are chosen for their ability to absorb and digest and summarise complex information and for their powers of logical thinking and razor-sharp analysis.

There is only one problem with this perfect system. Too often it gets things perfectly wrong. Why this should be is not immediately obvious. Betjeman remarked on it. Anyone who has written to their MP and received a response drafted by a civil servant will recognise the syndrome - a perfectly argued case will be presented, showing that the government's present policy is the best possible policy imaginable. One often knows it is wrong but it can be difficult to identify the flaws in the underlying assumptions - though it is an ability that improves over the years. Never, ever, will one receive an admission that there is an issue that might need looking into, or that things could possibly be arranged better. As for an admission that a mistake has been made...

This could account for, amongst other things, the persistent cost-overruns and failures of government defence, IT and transport projects such as the Department of Transport sponsored Inter-City Express which is costing four times as much as it should.

What we have here is a classic example of a self-perpetuating caste, which recruits individuals with minds of a similar kind and then conforms them to the mould. Nothing can change.

måndag 9 mars 2009

Worst Catholic anti-abortion nightmare

Autumn oak leaves

The Catholic Church is firmly opposed to abortion in nearly all circumstances. Abortion is regarded as murder, because an individual human life is considered to commence at the moment of conception.

This is difficult to accept because at that point the human consists of what looks like a blob of jelly. At a later stage, the developing child looks like a tiny baby but is still an appendage of the mother. Only gradually does it appear to become sentient, though no-one is sure when this happens. The difficulty is that it is impossible to identify any specific moment other than that of conception when the individual human life begins.

There are many cases of abortion where the procedure is carried out for quite trivial reasons because it would be merely awkward for the mother to have the baby. But a recent case of in Brazil tests the Catholic Church's stance to destruction: a nine-year-old child was pregnant with twins, after having been raped by her stepfather, and a doctor considered it life-threatening to allow the pregnancy to proceed. These would have provided the best possible grounds for having an abortion. However, it was ruled that the excommunication was automatic in the particular circumstances, for which clear lines are laid down.

What can one say? The situation should of course never have arisen in the first place, but how should it be dealt with once it had? The abortion having been done, events will follow a particular course. What if it had not? We shall never know.

But I read a novel recently called Simon och Ekarna (Simon and the Oaks) by Marianne Fredricksson. Simon was not wanted by his natural mother who gave him away to her cousin almost as soon as he was born. He was very much loved by the family who brought him up. It sheds more light on this subject than any amount of philosophising.

These Amazon reviews summarise the story.
Simon Larsson is a pensive and thoughtful boy growing up in Sweden during World War II, fortunate to be safe within a remarkably loving and cohesive community. Half Jewish, he is being raised by his Scandinavian aunt and uncle, who adopted him as their own at birth. In a novel rich in mystical overtones, his adoptive parents take on truly archetypal dimensions. Karin's deep love and compassion is matched by Erik's understated strength and stoicism, and together they create a firm family base from which 11 year-old Simon can grow and dream. But Simon, who doesn't know the story of his birth and adoption, seems set apart from his Scandinavian world by his dark hair and olive complexion, and he often retreats into fantasies to alleviate his feelings of disconnection.

Simon loves his parents - beautiful but sorrowful Karin and kind, practical Erik - but he knows he is different. Dark-eyed, bookish and given to flights of fancy, he worries that they might want an 'ordinary boy'. War is declared. Neighbouring Norway and Denmark are invaded by the Nazis and his parents' fear and agitation seem greater than is warranted even in these grim times. At school Simon is called names, names that he at first can't understand. What is a Jew? What is a bastard? Then the family befriends a Jewish father and his emotionally scarred son fleeing from Nazi Germany and through this friendship Simon learns the truth about himself and his origins.

No Popery

West Grinstead - the secret chapel

The Catholic Church in Britain is getting a rough handling from the liberal left at the moment. First there was the business with the holocaust-denying "Bishop" Williamson, whose excommunication has been lifted. I commented on the removal of the "Bishop's" excommunication a couple of weeks ago. Then there was the excommunication of the Brazilian parents who allowed their nine-year-old daughter to have an abortion, following rape by her stepfather and a pregnancy with twins. There was the case in Italy where someone in a persistent vegetative state had their life-support system withdrawn, against the opposition of the Church.

Piled on to this are accusations of mass-murder by the Crusaders, the Inquisition and the people who put down the Albigensians. for which present-day Catholics are held fully responsible. Murder of witches is also regarded as a Catholic aberration, though in fact it seems to have been more of a Protestant thing, for which Catholics are still held responsible as they are all Christians.

An article by Mary Kenny in the Guardian at the weekend drew attention to the statement by Cormac Murphy O'Connor, that it a great failing of our society today that Christians are marginalised and persecuted. There was, he had said, far less tolerance for Christianity today – or perhaps any form of religious belief – than there was a generation ago. In a mild and perfectly reasonable article, Kenny had gone on to argue that it is the Christian destiny to be a thorn in the side of a greedy, materialistic mainstream culture.

They are not wrong about the persecution. Nobody is being imprisoned for being a Christian but there is an ongoing barrage of ridicule from atheists who claim their intellectual superiority on account of their non-belief in the sky-pixie or flying spaghetti-eating monster. There is the atheist bus poster campaign. And at the time of writing, there were 180-odd comments on Kenny's article, many of which precisely proved the point she was making. The majority were hostile, a few in reasonable and well-argued terms but most with a virulent edge more in the spirit of the Lewes bonfire night celebrations when an effigy of the Pope is burnt.

It was not the sort of thing one would expect from the readership of a quality newspaper with aspirations to be the voice of British radical intellectuals. The tone of these comments amply confirmed the view of the Cardinal, that Christianity is, in some circles at least, marginalised and indeed hated with particular venom. Have been brought up Jewish, it is my personal experience that in Britain, prejudice against Catholics is stronger and more widespread than Anti-Semitism.

There is plenty to criticise about the Catholic Church. Catholics in my acquaintance have not suspended their critical faculties. Most of my Catholic friends can put up a better argument for atheism than the people who comment in the Guardian. Most of the criticism that comes from outsiders serves merely as a platform to display the ignorance and prejudice of the authors. What we are seeing here is good old-fashioned bigotry.

fredag 6 mars 2009

Back to Britain

When I got off the boat at Harwich there were three pretty young women in navy blue uniforms checking passports. They were pleasant and smiled, but the checks took a long time even though most of the passengers were Danes on a day out and the rest, OAPs coming back to the UK after a short break.

I was asked what was the purpose of the visit. This stumped me because I wasn't sure whether she meant the visit to Sweden I had just made or the visit to Britain I was about to make. But I assume she was talking about the visit I had just made. But as I never really know why I am in Sweden when I am there - I just prefer being there to being in Britain, the question was one to which no ready answer came to mind so I mumbled something about being on holiday, which wasn't a quick reply because I had to translate it in my head first into English. Obviously she wasn't satisfied with the answer because I then got another question about what I had been doing while I was away, again not something easily answered straight off after three weeks away, so I said something about taking pictures of ice and snow. She clearly wasn't altogether convinced but let me through anyway.

They are obviously anxious about something.

måndag 2 mars 2009

Atheists and the Creator God

The creator God isn't the only kind of God that atheists need to worry about. There is a sense in which the mind creates the universe.

Humans receive data from the physical world through the senses. It is a small subset of all the data that is potentially available. Mathematicians talk about multi-dimensional universes that we cannot even visualise.

The mind imposes an order on this data, in particular through the use of language. This is a kind of collective solipsism. The imposition of order on sensory data is an act of creation. The world we know is a product of mind.

The mind is also capable of apprehending something labelled "God". This act of apprehension may be no more than an odd internal phenomenon of the brain, or it may be associated with an external reality. Whatever the case, it needs to be explained. For example, when a Catholic receives holy communion, they will often report certain subjective experiences which religion gives an account of, using narrative and metaphor. These phenomena cannot be explained away by saying that they are just a particular way that the brain's neurons are firing at that moment, because such patterns on their own can have no meaning.

Associated with this is the experience of "conversion", which at a physical level might be identified with a restructuring of neural connections, but which has the consequence of transforming the individual's view of their self and the universe.

The most hard line atheist is obliged to give an account of this phenomenon, and a physical explanation of the process at a neurological level can only explain a part of the picture. From the religious perspective, on this model, the "Creator God" is operating from the inside. Theology and metaphysics then becomes a discipline to mediate and account for certain kinds of psychological phenomena.

School admission policies

Some local authorities have been using lotteries to select pupils for secondary schools. This is likely to be banned. What should be done?
  • No system will work with over-sized classes. About 15
  • It is almost impossible to teach effectively if a class contains pupils with too wide a range of abilities
  • There is a yawning class gap in Britain. From the point of view of education policy the difficulty is the existence of an underclass whose children do not want to go to school to work and are not encouraged to do so by their irresponsible parents.
  • Some areas have concentrations of members of the underclass which causes difficulties for the schools within whose catchment areas they lie.
  • Family life has become volatile amongst all social classes which makes for disturbed children who can be difficult to teach.
  • Also within all social classes there are children who are difficult to teach and have special needs.
  • There is the prospect of unemployment or drudge jobs for school leavers, which is a de-motivator.
Where is the policy to address these issues?

söndag 1 mars 2009

Corrupt government hand in hand with rich financiers

That sounds like Africa or Latin America, doesn't it? And supporting lame-duck industries was something that happened in the bad old days of socialism. Not twenty-first century Britain, where politicians and bankers are all honest and above board and market forces rule, a faith demonstrated by the portrait of Adam Smith on the £20 notes.

A failed private company, going cap in hand to the government for an advance of taxpayers' money, can expect to be sent packing, with the reminder that the free market is about capitalists taking risk and accepting the good and the bad together. It hasn't worked like that, with banks receiving hundreds of billions in "insurance guarantees". Only that is not what they are at all. These are guarantees on loans where defaults are certain on a large scale, secured on bubbled up land values which are now collapsing. Thus the bankers are being protected against their follies. What ought to happen is for the banks to be allowed to go bankrupt and then the loans written off.

This is of course going to be hugely disruptive to the economy but the alternative is high unemployment which will persist for several years, and a huge loss to be borne by the taxpayer, almost certainly in the form of inflation at 1970s levels and probably much higher.

Expect serious social and political unrest this summer.

Whither England?


"England" can be difficult for people who are not white, Anglo-Saxon/Norman and Protestant. Even Catholic is foreign which is ironical as England was Catholic for nearly 1000 years. There are also issues round the fringes, like Cornwall, where for perfectly good practical reasons there is resistance to being a member of the South West Region. And much of the debate ultimately comes down to money.

As an RC Brit of largely foreign ancestry, I don't identify as English. In fact I feel more comfortable these days being abroad and speaking the local language badly with a foreign accent. That at least has a clarity and local people are happy when one is making an attempt with the language. I was OK with British but now the country has gone in for neo-colonialist adventures I just find it an embarrassment, and often get challenged as if I was personally responsible.

Probably the best way forwards is to adopt the principle of subsidiarity - matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority. And government, at what ever level, should not be providing that which can be effectively provided by the "market".

But for that to happen means that such authorities need an independent source of taxation and one that is capable of being localised. Which rules out personal taxation because people are mobile and will play the system. Given the unpopularity of property taxation and our apparent inability to get it right, it is going to take a major change in attitudes to achieve satisfactory reform.

Ricardo’s Law in brief