måndag 20 december 2010

The corruption of British democracy

For sheer awfulness, the present British government surpasses even the previous one. They give the impression that they are driven by the prevailing anarcho-capitalist ideology, whilst at the same time not knowing what they are doing.

Democracy in Britain is failing to deliver the sort of government that people want. Or perhaps, on the other hand, it is a precise reflection of the British people and their attitudes. If it is not, why, I ask myself, would newspapers like the Daily Mail sell more than a handful of copies. I regularly come across people parroting the views expressed by its journalists, which suggests that they are catching and shaping a widespread popular mood. Which is even more worrying. In the meantime, a generation of young people is becoming radicalised - something that has not happened since the 1960s. There will be blood on the streets next year.

Underlying these movements is the same issue that Plato talked about in the Republic. The first qualification for being a political leader is not wanting the job. And so pretty well all politicians are unsuitable from the outset. The corruption of democracy runs deep. Politicians are too easily tempted by offers of lucrative non-executive directorships on retirement, in exchange for favours whilst in office. The system is fool proof, since the corrupting interest groups are obliged to deliver if future politicians are to be drawn in.

What might be done? Perhaps, on retirement, members of parliament should be obliged to live under some kind of house arrest on a modest pension and be forbidden to communicate with the outside world beyond their immediate families. That would certainly discourage the chances and others on the make who hanker after the levers of power. But these turkeys are not going to vote for Christmas.

onsdag 15 december 2010

The Bishop of Stockholm's comments on terror attack

In a short commentary about the terrorist attack in Stockholm, Bishop Anders Arborelius encourages everyone to distance themselves from all violence that is done in the name of God.

The full text is as follows...

"We are all shocked by what has happened amongst us: that a young man has blown himself up in the middle of Stockholm and perhaps planned to drag others to his death.

"It is deeply tragic that he should have done this from religious motives, as is now being claimed. All of us, whether Christian, or Muslim or belonging to some other religion, must say yet again: we distance ourselves decisively from all violence and especially from violence carried out in the name of religion.

"Such actions are actually an attack on God Himself, a blasphemous action directed against God and a denial of God and His love.

At the present time it is also important to pray for God's help and protection, so that nothing like it will happen again and that no innocent people will, in any other way suffer from the actions of a blindly fanatical individual."

Stockholm bomber - just a maverick?

I came across this from a friend on Facebook...

"It's time for the secular, post-modernistic and atheistic Europe to wake up about Islam. Islam's role model is "prophet" Mohammed. It's time that we study his life. Then we will stop being naive about Islam and its political goals for slumbering Europe."

The followers of all religions have done both good and bad things. The difference between Islam and the others is that when Buddhist and Christians do bad things. they are going against the teachings of the religions and what they are doing is the opposite of the actions of those whom the religion venerates eg Buddha, Jesus. When Muslims do bad things, they are following in the footsteps of Mohammed. The prophet IS responsible for the evil doings of Muslims. We need to be clear about this. Islam has only ever spread itself by violence.

söndag 12 december 2010

lördag 11 december 2010

Killer jeans

The jeans I am wearing in the picture below are old ones I got from a market stall or charity shop. Apparently, the worn-out look is fashionable, though I reckon that clothes in that condition belong in the dustbin. I would never pay good money for a pair of "new" worn-out jeans.

It now turns out that the fashion is deadly. The worn-out look is achieved by sandblasting, and the factories where it is done are full of dust. As a result, the workers have been getting silicosis, the lung disease that used to be common amongst coal miners. The practice has been banned in Turkey since 2007, but not before many factory workers became incurably ill. The manufacturers have moved production to other countries in the world, which has simply shifted the problem.

DO NOT BUY WORN-LOOK JEANS

tisdag 30 november 2010

Not the only shooter on the beach

Got up early to take pics of the Brighton swimmers going in the cold sea. I have not been going in myself as I have got a bad tooth and have been drugged up, also have been expelled from Brighton Swimming Club, which is a long story in itself.

lördag 13 november 2010

Bonkers air freight restriction

I cam across this on Ebay just now.

***Transportation of ink and toner cartridges by air is restricted***

Following recent incidents with improvised explosive devices, the Secretary of State for Transport has issued a directive prohibiting the transportation by air of ink or toner cartridges, to any destination inside or outside the UK. This directive comes into effect immediately. To avoid any doubt, an ink or toner cartridge is defined as ‘a cartridge weighing more than 500g designed for use in printing equipment such as printers, photocopiers and fax machines’.

What is bonkers about it? It isn't clear whether it applies to stuff purchased from one's usual computer consumables supplier such as Dabs or Misco, but all it means is that anyone with malicious intent will in future conceal explosives in something other than a printer cartridge. There must be an infinite number of objects that could be filled up with explosives and turned into bombs. It is a strange response to ban them after they are discovered. And it is only good fortune and effective intelligence that keeps the security services on top of the situation.

We can only hope they make sure to keep on good terms with Mossad who seem to be the most effective outfit worldwide when it comes to infiltrating Islamic terrorist groups.

onsdag 10 november 2010

ASBO double bind

Last night I heard a story about a man with an ASBO who was called for a health test to try to get him off his benefits and into - what, exactly? The trouble is that attending the test will put him in breach of his ASBO as he is not allowed to be in that part of town where the health checks are done.

fredag 5 november 2010

Hooray, journalists on strike!

I switched on Radio 4 this morning only to find that the usual news programmes had been replaced by a much more interesting documentary.

Which makes me wonder if we really need all this urgent-sounding gabble pushed into our homes morning, noon and night. It could be good for the nation's equanimity and sense of proportion to have regular breaks from the endless stream of matters of the immediate moment, of no lasting consequence. They serve merely to make people anxious.

söndag 3 oktober 2010

The view I do not like


Containers on ship's deck, originally uploaded by seadipper.

It is a beautiful view - early morning on the North Sea. But it is not a view I can enjoy. Every moment it is taking me further away from the place that has become my home, to where I do not want to go to. Only one more time, I hope just for a short stay and after that it will just be for a brief annual visit to catch up with friends.

lördag 2 oktober 2010

What is this camera about?



Leica has just brought out this special titanium version of the Leica M9 digital camera. Launching the limited-edition model, Leica states, "The exclusive special edition Leica M9 "Titanium" is the result of a collaboration with Walter de'Silva, the prominent automobile designer. Responsible for groundbreaking design concepts for the latest models from the Volkswagen Group, the chief designer and his Audi Design Team have re-interpreted the design of the LEICA M9 just as he envisaged it. The outcome is a unique camera with a new interpretation of the characteristic features of Leica rangefinder cameras, which lends precision engineering, unique style and solid titanium to extraordinary formal design."

At a price that is intentionally outrageous, this is obviously aimed at the super-rich extravagant consumer and not intended to be a professional's workhorse in the way that the M2 was, in the early 1960s. The latter is still regarded by many as the best-ever Leica. I have one and enjoy using it, but it is getting too fragile to carry around all the time. I have also got used to the built-in metering of the current MP, launched about ten years ago, which is in most respects identical to the M2. Leica film cameras continue to be made in small numbers but the main production is now devoted to the digital cameras, including the successor M9.

With its 1950s styling, the latter is in some ways a bit of an anachronism. However, it has an overwhelming advantage over all other full frame digital cameras - its small size and simple viewfinding and focussing system, which show not only what is in the picture but what is outside the frame as well. This makes it particularly easy to use and has brought Leica a full order book.

Because of Leica's iconic status, the brand has tended to be taken up by the super-rich, although in fact the prices are within the same range as other full-frame digital cameras used by professionals and serious amateurs. The firm can hardly be criticised for exploiting this niche market, even though the cameras themselves end up in display cabinets or are rarely taken out of their presentation boxes. Who, one wonders, would want to buy a gold-plated camera covered with red crocodile leather and would they ever use such a thing?

As it happens, the Titan development programme led to some unintended technical developments, including the abolition of the frame illumination window and its replacement by LED illumination. It would be surprising if this feature does not soon turn up in the standard M9. I would be surprised also if a titanium bodied M9 similar to this special edition will not soon be on offer as a new professional workhorse, preferably without that peculiar strap.

Boffins, nerds and aspies


., originally uploaded by Reportdigital.co.uk.


In the 1940s men in white coats who worked in laboratories were called "Boffins". They were very much sought after. They were as important as the generals in helping to win the war. After the war, they were still sought after as it was recognised that they were essential to industry and to provide the things that we all use, that rely on sophisticated technology to keep them working.

Later on, people realised that there were easier ways of making money, by moving it around at watching it grow. Nothing was actually produced in this process and industry was spurned. After that, the value of boffins were not recognised so much and the pejorative term "Nerd" was applied.

But now matters are even worse, as these boys (it is usually boys and men) are now considered to be mentally deficient or even ill, and get diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome.

If you want your computer fixed or you have a problem with your web site, no-one will do the job better than someone with this "syndrome". They might not be able to make witty light conversation but these people should be regarded as gold dust.

fredag 1 oktober 2010

Labour set for a come-back?

With a new leader elected, some people are suggesting that Labour could make a come-back sooner rather than later, as the government's policies start to unravel.

At the moment, Labour has no credibility but to judge from the way the £ is tumbling, outside the UK there is a lack of confidence in Britain, regardless of who is in charge. The exchange rate went up after the election, reflecting expectations that have not and probably cannot be fulfilled.

We are all in this together is true in the sense that the boat is going down. People will start to notice as prices in the shops start to soar.

Fisherman's Friends will not save the country
Anyone who thinks it is helping imports is deluding themselves. The only British products in the shops in this part of the world are a few sweeties - Fisherman's Friends are curiously popular but they are not going to save the country.

From a bigger perspective on could say that it is the result of the country's moral failure over many decades. Extreme selfishness prevails and is noticeable in the behaviour of people in public places, politicians get elected for saying what the public wants to hear, the politicians themselves are cowardly and vain, the get-rich-quick culture has dominated, there is a widespread belief that moving money around is the way to create wealth, nobody really cares about people forced to sleep in shop doorways, unborn children are literally disposable.

It is not a pretty sight and it is the road to ruin. If Labour reflected on this, reconstructed itself, and took a leadership role, the party might just get itself back when the present lot find themselves presiding over the ruination that Britain seems to be heading for.

Socialism has shown itself in practice to have no effective solution to economic problems that are of very long standing. Socialist and Keynesian economics both rest on shaky foundations.

This is unfortunate because the present coalition have no interest in anything other than (a) survival in power and (b) maintaining ancient and entrenched privileges.

Whatever happens it is not going to get any better until the party that claims not to represent privilege engages with the underlying problem that afflicts the UK. The question that then arises is whether the privileged ones, and those that wrongly imagine themselves to be privileged, have sufficient vision and patriotism to see beyond their immediate self interest and accept the need for change.

måndag 27 september 2010

Israel settler moratorium ends

As a supporter of Israel, I despair at times.

I was sorry to see that the moratorium on settlement in the West Bank was allowed to run out. I have no great expectations of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians, nor of the Palestinians' ability to run a peaceful and stable state. But the Israelis need to be careful not to put themselves in the wrong. The moratorium should have been extended and the Israeli government should have had the courage to stand up to any opposition.

It seems that the settlers are mostly "orthodox" Jews from the USA and it would not be unreasonable to describe them as religious fanatics, with much in common with the US Protestant Christian religious right. This kind of worship of land has nothing to do with traditional orthodox Judaism as it has been understood for the past 2000 years. It is little more than a pernicious and dangerous form of idolatory.

lördag 25 september 2010

Palestine - how the occupation began in 1967


Most people alive today where not even born when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began. Too much comment is made without an understanding of the background.After 1948, the Gaza area of Palestine was annexed by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan. This was the situation until 1967.

After the 1956 war, a contingent of United Nations troops was placed in Gaza, in a buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli territory. In the early part of 1967, the Egyptians built up a concentration of military forces in Gaza and then asked the UN force to leave. The aim was an invasion of Israel. Considerations of sheer numbers made it certain that the Israelis would be wiped out, with an invasion from the Jordanian side to deliver the final blow. It is said that there was some kind of agreement made with the Jordanians that they would not attack Israel, the rationale being that the Jordanians were not keen on the idea of a Palestinian state as neighbours, and the Israelis were not keen on fighting a war on two fronts.

In the event, the Israelis knocked out the Egyptian forces through an attack on Egyptian airfields, leaving them with air superiority, and the Egyptians were quickly routed. The Jordanians attacked nevertheless even before the Egyptian defeat, and were also defeated.

The end result was that Israel ended up in control of the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai peninsula. Initially, the occupation was as peaceful and benign as any occupation can be. The Israelis were anxious to talk to representatives of the Palestinians and get themselves out. Unfortunately, no Palestinian representative with any authority emerged. The leadership eventually coalesced around Yasser Arafat and his terrorist group Al Fatah - who began their career with a series of aircraft hi-jackings. They refused to actually talk to any Israelis as they regarded the country's entire existence as illegitimate. Thus were sown the seeds of the present troubles. It was all unnecessary as the Israelis at that time would have happily departed with a peace agreement in their hands.

From the early 1970s, things changed. Settlers started to move in to the West Bank, leading to conflicts at a local level. And then the Israeli government changed. Since 1948, the Israeli government had been a benign left-leaning social democratic alliance. The 25-year dominance came to an end with the election of the nationalistic Begin government and the rise of hawks like Ariel Sharon. The Palestinians had missed their opportunity.

Even so, the Israelis have not been completely intransigent. Following the 1973 war, there was a final peace treaty with Egypt. The Sinai peninsular was returned and normal diplomatic relations established. But Egypt did not want Gaza and that remains as a problem too.

Israel v Israel


DSC_5763, originally uploaded by abcharlie.

Last night I saw the premiere of a film about Israelis who protest against the occupation of the West Bank. They are a handful of people who are making a brave stand against the Israelis, often at considerable personal risk. The film showed the degrading conditions the Palestinians are having to endure with the constant security checks at an increasing number of barriers where they are caged in whilst they wait to be searched and have their papers examined. And to add to their problems are the settlers, often from the USA, who are stealing land and then abusing the local Arab population - even the young children of orthodox Jews in Hebron are behaving in this way. And then there is the hideous concrete wall.

The trouble is that the Israelis have not done this for no reason at all. The draconian security is largely a response to the suicide bombings that were a regular feature of Israeli life before these measure were introduced.

One difficulty is that the Palestinians have got themselves an image problem. The picture above is iconic of Palestine. One interpretation is that it is a case of David fighting Goliath. But there is another reading, and it is not favourable to the Palestinian cause. Quite the reverse. It is very unflattering. Like Yasser Arafat's constant wearing of an army uniform. It inspires no confidence. It does not suggest the possibility of peaceful intent.

Where does this end? To help in understanding, it is really necessary to go back to the origin of the occupation in 1967. Unfortunately, supporters of the Palestinian cause tend not to do that. And there is also the issue that there seems to be more concern about Palestine than a host of other injustices round the world that receive nowhere near the same amount of attention. Israel is of course a nice assignment for journalists who want to record disturbances. They can live in a nice air-conditioned hotel in conditions of safety that depend on the effectiveness of the very Israeli army whose behaviour they condemn. The film shows how ugly that behaviour can be. It reflects no credit on the Israelis and is immensely damaging to the fabric of Israeli society itself. This is a situation with two sets of rights and wrongs and it is not useful to take sides at all.

torsdag 23 september 2010

Has Fuji filled gap in the camera market?



A few months ago, I wrote that it ought to be possible to produce a camera with a much reduced specification that will do most of the things the Leica M9 will do at a fraction of the price. It would incorporate a bright optical viewfinder like that on the M, but with a simple fixed projected frame. The sensor would be between 20mm and 25mm square and somewhere around 12 to 15 megapixels - no more. The lens would be fixed and wide-angle, with an equivalent focal length of about 30mm and an aperture of f/2.8 or f/2.

It looks as if Fuji has come up with a camera that comes close to this specification, and will presumably be followed by others.

It is not precisely what I was proposing, which was for a square format sensor, and it has power-focussing, which I am not keen on, but it appears to provide most of what I have been looking for in digital cameras. And at a price of well under £2000, it should give Leica something to think about.

tisdag 21 september 2010

Papal and other impressions

The Pope has duly come and gone, and seems from this distance to have made a good impression. The aggressive atheists duly made their protest and seem to have made little impression at all. But what kind of impression is the Catholic church as such making?

We have plenty to say about sexual morality, abortion, euthanasia and so on, and we need to because no-one else is making a stand. It sets us well apart from the mainstream secular way of thought in modern Europe. You cannot win a debate about the immorality of abortion with someone who thinks that an embryo is just a blob of jelly. If you argue that the individual comes into existence at the moment of conception, they will look at you with blank incomprehension. Mention of the human soul cuts no ice at all. So this not a useful way to conduct discourse.

Yet adultery, abortion, homosexuality or contraception have consequences that are readily discovered by empirical observation. There is no need to invoke revelation.

Then there is Catholic Social Teaching. The church and scripture have long spoken out against usury. The present financial crisis was the consequence of - usury. Yet who has referred to the connection?

We need to do better in the way we present the teachings of the church. Otherwise we shall just be picked up on our weaknesses.

lördag 18 september 2010

Aggressive atheism at large in Britain

The Pope, on the first day of his visit to Britain, has warned of an aggressive atheism, and in particular, anti-Catholic emotion, at large in the country. That is certainly my impression. I have noticed this even with old friends. But if one is any doubt, take a look at the comments in the Guardian's Comment is Free page. There is plenty to criticise the Catholic church about, and anger is by no means out of place, but there is a crude, ugly and vicious tone to what is being written which suggests that something else is going on in the country.

Britain is, of course in a bad way, with the public finances in a dire condition. That itself points to moral bankruptcy, since it indicates that politicians have been offering the voters goodies without regard to the cost, and that the electorate have failed to question how they are to be paid for.

And underneath that has grown up a culture whereby people think they can make a packet by scrambling onto the housing ladder, thereby playing the land value game. But it was a game that could only ever be played for a few decades. Moral bankruptcy has brought about actual bankruptcy. Now it is game over.

fredag 17 september 2010

Cardinal Kasper - "Britain Third World"

Cardinal Kasper has been criticised for referring to Britain as a Third World country. In a critical article in the Guardian, Catholic progressive Catharine Pepinster hinted that it verged on the racist.

I don't know what the meaning behind the statement actually was, but in my experience, Kasper was spot-on. I come into the country twice a year, at Harwich. You get overwhelmed by the smell of Jeyes Fluid when you step off the boat, the immigration officials are gratuitously offensive and the trains to London are carefully timed so that you have to wait an hour for the next one. Then one gets onto a cramped and uncomfortable train which is well overcrowded by the time it gets towards London.

Definitely not First World any more.

måndag 13 september 2010

Tea party gathers momentum

The spread of the Tea Party is a manifestation of the beast named ANARCHO-CAPITALISM (A-C).

Its prophets are Ayn Rand, and its high priests are Murray Rothbard, Bruce L. Benson. The economic theory comes from the Austrian School via Chicago, and it is founded on the fallacious theory of property rights put forward by John Locke. This leads them, paradoxically, into the same trap that Marxists fall into - that land and natural resources is a form of capital or nothing other than capital. That particular error makes it impossible to analyse contemporary economic and social problems.

A-C was the guiding principle behind Thatcherism, possibly having entered the political bloodstream via academics at St Andrew's University. Early UK advocates included Keith Joseph, and the principles of A-C underly the utterances of such as John Redwood. In a diluted form it was and remains a strong influence on both Labour and the LibDems. With Marxism discredited, there is nothing much else to draw on at the moment as a source for ideas in political economy. In the UK, the Taxpayers' Alliance is a front for this movement.

The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church (CST) offers the best hope, since it takes the view that both socialism and capitalism are flawed in their different ways. But CST offers no more than a framework of basic principles to work from. There is a job to be done in developing new practical policies.

torsdag 9 september 2010

Koran burning madness


Mary and Jesus, originally uploaded by bweston23.

The Koran is an unpleasant book. Some authorities have attributed it to an Arian Christian source. Arians were a heretical group of Christians who asserted that God did not become incarnate in Jesus Christ, which is the orthodox Christian doctrine and is one of the reasons for the spread of the image of Jesus as a child in the arms of his mother. Moslems venerate both Jesus and Mary, and follow the same teaching as the Arians on the matter, which suggests that there may be something in the view that there is a connection. In any case, ideas spread.

But essentially, Islam is a religion of the book. In fact, in this respect, it differs not at all from the heretical version of Christianity followed by the mad pastor who wants to burn the Koran. Such an act will actually be counter-productive.

If one wants to challenge the Koran, use the intellect, not the methods of half-literate street mobs.

måndag 6 september 2010

Terror weapon


marmite, originally uploaded by dontcallmeikke.

I asked a friend of mine to bring a couple of pots of Marmite with him from Britain. They were impounded at Stanstead airport on the grounds that the jars contained more than 100 ml of fluid.

This confiscation of property is unacceptable. In the first place, my friend would not have gone to the trouble of buying the stuff if he had been informed about the restriction, so the publicity was obviously inadequate. In the second place, the security officer could easily have ascertained that the contents was indeed Marmite and not something that could have been used to blow up the aircraft he was travelling in, so this is just the usual story of officials deliberately being awkward. In the third place, he should have been able to leave the offending item somewhere and retrieve it on return, or post it back to his home address.

But the most worrying and serious matter is that the 100 ml limit is not sufficient to prevent anyone from doing serious harm if they were so determined. There is an almost endless list of substances of which a mere 100 ml would be sufficient to cause mayhem and the death of hundreds of people. So is this really to do with security or is it more about exerting control by causing difficulties for people and humiliating them? And if the aim is security, then all fluids should be taken from the passengers, placed in an envelope and transported on the aircraft in a secure container, the items to be recovered by the owners on arrival. These is something amiss here.

torsdag 2 september 2010

Christian Democrats

A friend of mine mentioned how disappointed he was about the performance of the Christian Democrats. His objection was that they were too liberal, especially in relation to abortion and "gay marriage". He suggested that they had become too concerned with chasing votes and lost sight of principles.

The two issues he referred to need a whole discussion in their own right, but there is a more general point, which is whether there is a place for parties which describe themselves as "Christian"?

In some European countries, notably Germany and Italy, Christian parties are major political forces. In others, such as the UK, they have never gained a foothold and the idea is alien. In the UK, committed Christians of various persuasions have found a place in each of the three main parties. Amongst the most famous was Hilaire Belloc. In 1906 he ran as Liberal candidate in the marginal South Salford constituency where the electorate was overwhelmingly Protestant and Belloc’s Catholicism was considered an insurmountable political liability.

Urged by his campaign manager to make no mention of religion, Belloc began his first election speech in typical pugnacious fashion: “Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.”

After a shocked silence, there was applause. Belloc won. Whether contemporary British voters would have rejected him on the same grounds is an interesting question, given the wave of anti-Catholic emotion which is currently sweeping the country.

In practice, the Christian Democratic Parties in Germany and Italy have never been much more than parties of the centre-right. The social and economic ideas set out in the series of encyclicals beginning with Rerum Novarum have had little, if any, influence on their programmes and policies. One wonders whether the British model is not preferable. There is little Christian influence anywhere in contemporary British party politics. That merely reflects the mind of the British public, as a democracy, even with an unrepresentative electoral system like the UK's first-past-the-post, is bound to do. In that environment, a Christian party would get nowhere unless it watered-down its policies to the point that they were indistinguishable from anyone else's. And Belloc's gesture would probably ensure that he did not get elected.

If one feels sufficiently dissatisfied with the state of all the political parties, it is probably best not to engage directly at all. Catholics at least, have a duty to be aware of the social teaching of the church, which is a closed book to most people. This calls for study of what the church is actually saying, and it stands outside all the current fashionable -isms. Of particular relevance is Caritas in veritate, issued in June 2009. This pointed out that the most important means of charity was through justice. But of what precisely does economic justice consist? What is unjust about the present economic dispensation. These are big questions which the encyclical leaves open, rightly in my view, because this is the challenge for the laity to explore.

Results will not come quickly but ideas leak out gradually and in the long run this approach is more likely to produce worthwhile and lasting change.

onsdag 1 september 2010

God exists, but only in the mind of the believer.

"As an atheist I will make this admission. God exists, but only in the mind of the believer."

That applies to the entire universe. What one actually knows about everything is a construct of the mind as it interacts and interprets bodily sensations. Even basic concepts like hot, cold, salt, red, blue, pain, pleasure.

"There is actually no God out there in space,"

Of course not. But what is space? Nobody even knows how many dimensions it has. At one time, the figure was three, then Einstein came along and it went up to four, now cosmologists are coming up with all sorts of bids - eleven, if I recall.

"What you believe to be true is true for you."


No, that is when people are mad. If belief is out of line with experience and reality it is not true. One can believe in, say, Father Christmas but this being untrue, it has no interpretative value and it would be very foolish to lead one's life on the assumption that he exists.

söndag 29 augusti 2010

A little adventure

Got stuck in a lift yesterday and had to be rescued by the fire brigade. There were six of us and though there was a notice saying "maximum load 6 people or 500 kg", the lift started and then stranded us between floors, with the LED display saying "excessive load". As I weigh less than 60kg and the heaviest was 90kg, I can't see how we could have exceed the limit, and there ought to be a margin of error anyway. We were there for 45 minutes.

This was a good team-building exercise and funny in retrospect but if there was an emergency door-opener and a short ladder inside the lift, it would not have been necessary to call the fire brigade at all, at considerable expense to someone.

måndag 23 augusti 2010

Fertility treatment madness

Britain's fertility regulator is planning big changes to the strict rules governing egg and sperm donation in order to try to stop more childless couples from seeking treatment abroad.

The sweeping liberalisation would see the most significant shift in policy governing sperm and egg donation since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was established. The changes could see the amount paid to women who donate eggs rise from £250 to several thousand pounds – but experts have warned the move would see women donating eggs purely for money.

Donated sperm could also be used to start as many as 20 families rather than the current limit of 10, despite fears such a move would increase the risk of half-siblings unwittingly marrying or having children together
.

The madness is that each year in Britain, hundreds of thousands of perfectly healthy embryos are lost through abortion. Why can't the NHS get its act together and arrange for pregnant mothers who cannot bring up their children can have them adopted by couples who want children but can't have them?

This would solve two problems at once and save a small fortune. And not only that. These procedures are risky and the children produced by these artificial interventions can have lifelong health problems.

Confirmation day in Gothenberg

It was confirmation day at Kristus Konungen Catholic Church in Gothenberg yesterday. Bishop Arborelius came to confirm what seemed like a huge mass of young people - I didn't count them but they must have been at least thirty. The church was very over-full, which these days can not be a cause of complaint.

Services with a bishop present are a demanding test for the altar servers. The parish has a very competent team who rose to the occasion, and all went off smoothly, so congratulations all round.

måndag 16 augusti 2010

The growing menace of Anarcho-Capitalism

The actions of the Cameron government are best understood when one recognises that the driving force in contemporary political economy is Anarcho-Capitalism, A-C and nobody seems to have noticed. The beast needs to be named and revealed in the light.

Its High Priests are David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Bruce L. Benson, etc, drawing on recent sources such as Ayn Rand and much earlier ones including John Locke.

The mark of an A-C advocate is their assertion that all taxation is theft and deification of "the market." "There is no such thing as society comes" from the same stream of thought.

A-C notions are cropping up regularly in discussion groups such as the Guardian's Comment is Free, though probably most of those who are spouting them have no idea of their origins.

The left has no answer to this which is why A-C is making the intellectual running at the moment and will continue to do do. It is very dangerous nonsense because it is grounded, partially, on familiar experience which makes it superficially plausible.

The underlying fallacy of A-C is that it accepts John Locke's flawed theory of the origin of property rights. Since the left in general has no coherent theory of property rights to pose as an alternative, it is defenceless in the face of this onslaught. The alternative notion "All property is theft" does not stand as it is so obviously flawed.

The only plausible arguments against A-C is the set of ideas put forward by Henry George in the nineteenth century. Better get familiar with them or A-C will take us over and society will be smashed to smithereens.

Time for a new Papal encyclical methinks.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-capitalism

The Traditional Latin Mass (again)

I attended a Tridentine Mass this afternoon. Latin for the mass and readings, Swedish for the sermon. I was not in the most attentive of moods, I never am at that time of day, in fact I was pretty dozy and the effort of maintaining attention consumed more than my available energy. I did not really have much to bring to this particular party.

The ceremonial was down to the bare bones, with no singing. However, even in these circumstances, it clearly does provide a more intense experience. Something special really is going on here. Objectively. I don't think it is my imagination.

onsdag 11 augusti 2010

A Catholic success story


St. Aloysius, the Oxford Catholic parish church for the centre of Oxford, is now served by the Congregation of the Oratory.

It was originally a Jesuit parish, and the building, designed by J A Hansom, was completed in 1875. In the 1980s, the parish was taken over by the Archdiocese of Birmingham, and in 1990 the Archbishop of Birmingham invited members of the Birmingham Oratory to run the parish and found a new Oratorian community. In 1993, the Oxford Oratory was established as an independent Congregation.

Since then, the congregation has built on the Oratorian tradition of fine liturgy, with the Sunday Solemn High Mass as its centrepiece, and in this way has built up a vigorous parish life.

Language and music in the liturgy

Over the last few months I have come across a variety of languages in the liturgy. In England, I have encountered the new ICEL translation, which is soon to become mandatory, replacing the rather free interpretation dating from the late 1960s. An accurate translation of the definitive Latin text, it has a slightly antiquated style and I wonder how it will go down. Published with it have been the recommended musical settings, which we tried for a few weeks. We found that the notes do not fall naturally with the rhythm of the words and trip one up all the time. Someone familiar with the Gregorian chants needs to re-work the settings so make them easier to sing. It does not help either, that they were written out in modern notation instead of the four-line Gregorian notation, which is easier for inexperienced musicians to sing.

Then I have been in Sweden, where the most commonly-heard phrase seems to be "what did you say?" About one-third of what is written is never voiced, and with wide variations in dialect, it is notoriously difficult to hear what is being said. The difficulty is compounded with a high proportion of clergy who have come from other countries. It is possible to speak the language with grammatical perfection and not be understood.

In Sweden, mass is often celebrated in other languages, usually for national or other groups. Thus there are liturgies in Polish, Croatian, Aramaic (in the Chaldean rite), and English, mostly for visiting students from former British countries. A Polish one I attended was a particularly moving experience on account of the the piety of the celebration and the quality of the music, even though I understood not a word. Then there was the celebration of a mass in Swedish with (excellent) newly composed musical settings to the Italian text. I came across a mass in German, celebrated by a German bishop, which I passed up on, and a friend of mine, a priest, is soon going to be visiting but has only been taught to say the mass in English, so he will be concelebrating in silence, if at all.

I also made a visit to Riga, where I attended a mass in Latvian, and again, despite not understanding a word, this was a moving experience due to the piety of the celebration, helped also by the fact that it was in a medieval building where mass has been celebrated for the best part of a millenium.

What is one to make of all this? On the one hand, having liturgies in the languages of national communities is an encouragement to members of those communities to remain in contact with the church, which provides an important point of focus. On the other hand, the end result is that parishes become divided into national sub-communities who rarely get to meet each other, and to that extent it is divisive.

With the benefit of hindsight, it could be argued that the normal celebration of mass in the vernacular was unfortunate. It seems not to have been the intention of Vatican II, since the official document states only that mass "may" be celebrated in the vernacular, with the implication that it was a departure from the norm, which would for the mass to continue to be celebrated in Latin.

In the spirit of the liturgy
But we are where we are and Latin is not going to become the norm again, at least not for a very long time. So what could be done? It would be beneficial if clergy, particularly seminarians, with the encouragement of the bishops, were encouraged to learn the Latin mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms, and to say it more frequently. Another option would be for the priest to recite the Canon of the mass in his own language, but silently, whilst the congregation follow it in the missal, also in their own language. This would follow from a suggestion made by Cardinal Ratzinger in his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy". The dialogues and Ordinary, together with the readings and any hymns, would then be either in the local vernacular or, preferably in the case of the Ordinary, in Latin.

It would also be beneficial if members of both immigrant and native communities were encouraged to attend these masses together and to share in their social activities. This is a two-way thing.

There is also work to be done in the schools, in particular, the teaching of the simpler Gregorian chants, which are well within the ability of schoolchildren.

Humpty-Dumpty is not going to be put back together again but something more coherent might be made of the pieces.

fredag 6 augusti 2010

Wikileaks from Sweden

I assume that whoever sprang the latest Wikileaks was making use of the Swedish freedom of information laws, which were introduced by an eighteenth century king (Gustav III, if I remember correctly), following a series of corruption scandals.

I hope the US is not going to declare war on us for promoting terror.

M Therese Henderson and Jocelyn Belamide

M Therese Henderson and Jocelyn Belamide are two young composers who work together and have been making a valuable contribution to the music of the Catholic church. Little of the liturgical music from the 1970s and 80s will be of lasting value, but this collaboration is something else and it is encouraging to know that there are still composers around who can produce good quality liturgical music.

We had a visiting choir from Italy this week, with a very patient choir master who taught some of us a Mass and some other music by these composers, including a beautiful setting of the Panis Angelicus which was not at all difficult to learn.

However, it seems that most of their work has been in Italy and the settings we sang were in Italian.

They deserve a wider audience. I hope that in due course they will set their music to the Latin texts if they have not already done so, and possibly also write settings for the new English translations. If set in Latin, the music would work well with the Gregorian chant settings of the Propers and could be used for Extraordinary Form celebrations of the Mass.

onsdag 4 augusti 2010

A matter of taste?


Primiz blessing, originally uploaded by [f as in...].

In a previous blog I was taken to task for expressing my dislike of the Catholic cathedral in Stockholm. My critic suggested that it was just a matter of taste.

The cathedral consists of a late nineteenth century red brick building in the Gothic revival style, with an extension constructed in 1983. The latter, which stands in the space formerly occupied by the original sanctuary, is a rectangular space, with facing brickwork inside, and a flat ceiling of gilded hexagons. It is a typical building of its time, which is part of the problem: it now looks thoroughly dated. Expressing the ideals of the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, it now just seems as much of its time as a pop music hit from the same period. It is barely adequate in the light of the reappraisal of the Council that has been going on for the past decade, and in particular since the election of the present Pope.

But is church architecture just a matter of taste? A church is the setting for the divine liturgy, and its purpose is to point to that which lies beyond the material world. It is unfortunately the case that architects schooled in what is still referred to as the "Modern Movement", though it is now more than fifty years since it reached its zenith, are particularly poorly equipped to the challenge of designing buildings with a religious function, because the Modern Movement was founded on the rationalist ideal.

Worse still, there is the whole question of architecture as symbol. The built environment functions as a symbol system, analogous to a language. Certain combinations of sound have no absolute meaning but by convention, within a language, they mean one thing and not another. These meanings are not a matter of individual opinion. So it is with buildings. Here we are dealing with a symbol system that has evolved over two millenia. A structure that looks as if it could be a suburban railway station is unlikely to function well as a church.

fredag 30 juli 2010

Very good internet connection with Telia



Decent internet at last. I have tried several times to get one of those 3G-USB sticks to work but they do not like Linux. Now there is this little WiFi modem, about the size of a small mobile phone, which links to my wireless card. It was a little tricky to set up but now works without trouble. The speeds are good: download is 5.65 megabits, uploading is 1.09 megabits.

tisdag 27 juli 2010

Incredibly inefficient coal handling at Riga


coal port, originally uploaded by König.

A good example of how the Latvian economy has failed to develop as well as it might, and a reminder of how the economy is still tightly tied in to the former COMECON system can be seen as one enters the country by boat. A huge coal export terminal is spread out along the river frontage on the approach to Riga. The coal, mined in Russia, is delivered in enormously long trains composed of trucks with the word HOBOTPAHC (NOVOTRANS) in giant letters on the side. It is not an appropriate name. There is nothing novel about these trucks. They do not have hoppers underneath for unloading and the coal has to be scooped out by cranes, dozens of them. It is piled up in great heaps and reloaded into the holds of ships which go to a variety of destinations including the UK.

This unnecessary double-handling is a clear example of job preservation for the sake of it. In a modern system the trucks would have hopper doors underneath. The coal would drop onto chutes and fall straight into the holds of the waiting ships. The principle was established in Britain with merry-go-round coal trains about forty years ago, with coal trains formed of hopper wagons operating in a circuit between the coal mines and large power stations. But even with the present wagons it would be more efficient to uncouple each one and empty it by turning it upside down, which was common even in the 1930s.

If jobs were plentiful, the system would have been modernised. Workers would have drifted away, there would have been pressure for more efficiency, and the remaining workers would have been higher paid. That is how the economy is meant to work in theory. Of course, if jobs are apparently in short supply, it is understandable that people want to hold onto them. But of course, without land value taxation, jobs will indeed be in short supply and there will be pressure to keep this kind of inefficient nonsense in being for as long as possible. In the end, economic reality will intrude painfully.

lördag 17 juli 2010

Dire cathedral, dire liturgy in Stockholm

Went to Stockholm today and to the Saturday evening mass in the Catholic cathedral. I had forgotten how dire the cathedral is. An attractive late nineteenth century building, it was extended (in the 1970s by the look of it) by demolishing the sanctuary and constructing a horrible new asymmetric space. I don't know what else to call it. The ceiling is covered with hexagonal gold thingies (I don't know what to call them either) and the walls are faced in dark brick, or perhaps they are tiles that look like brick. The design might have been suitable for a station on the underground, but it would still look dated.

The "liturgy" was as dire as the building. The priest's accent was so strong - I am told it was Polish - that I could hardly make out a word he was saying, but I fell asleep for the sermon anyway. The Salve Regina at the end was the only part of the Mass that was done properly.

Such is the result of Cardinal Buggeration's reforms.

Stockholm deserves better. What might better look like? In the first place, the present cathedral should be got rid of. Apart from the architecturally unfortunate addition, it is in one of the tattier parts of the city centre. The church needs a better presence and it would be impossible to do a decent traditional liturgy there. Another church is needed - there is an ample supply of under-used ones in Stockholm to choose from. And then something needs to be done to ensure a constently high standard of liturgy with careful attention being given to the ceremonial and the regular use of Gregorian chant and sixteenth century polyphonic Mass settings. Ideally, this is a matter for the bishop and cathedral clergy themselves, but an alternative would be to bring in a congregation that maintains a good liturgical tradition, such as the Oratory.

The capital city of Sweden deserves no less. The Swedes appreciate mainstream European culture and were the Catholic church to rise to this challenge, it would start to attract attention for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.

torsdag 15 juli 2010

The tumour on the economy



Financial services are mostly parasitic on the real economy since they produce nothing.

The main functions of a bank are
  • to provide cash handling and payment services
  • to hold deposits safely
  • to arrange credit
The first two are obvious. The third is to facilitate production eg in a simple rural economy the farmer needs to buy seeds and live, in reality on the previous year's production, until the crop is harvested and sold. This is why credit is needed, and it is extinguished at the end of the production cycle.

The main cost on this is an administrative one of setting up the credit. There is also a need to make provisions against possible default, but that is an insurance function. Not only is there no necessity to charge interest or insist on collate, the practice is positively dangerous, especially when land is accepted as collateral for the credit.

Banks should not act as moneylenders, nor should they give credit for anything other than to facilitate the physical process of production. This it is right for banks to give credit for the purchase of seeds, tools and for the payment of the the farmers' sustenance over the season. It is not right that banks should give credit for land purchase because that has added nothing to the overall productive power of the economy (the land was there from time immemorial, all that has happened through land purchase is that a release fee has been paid to a land owner to enable its use).

Surgery no answer
If these principles were followed, the financial services sector would be a small specialist profession. Anything more is a malignant tumour on the body of the economy. But surgery is no solution. The underlying cause of the disease must be dealt with.

tisdag 13 juli 2010

Drottning Kristina efter att hon abdikerade

Efter att drottning Kristina abdikerade på Uppsala slott i juni 1654 flyttade hon till Rom. Dit kom hon 18 månader senare. Det sägs att hon hade blivit katolik i hemlighet medan hon var Sveriges drottning men det kan inte ha varit så därför att hon mottogs av katolska kyrkan i Bryssel december 1654.

Ett år senare, december 1655, red hon triumferande in i Rom på en vit häst. Påven själv hälsade henne och firandet fortsatte i några månader. I början bodde hon i Farnesepalatset, som ägdes av hertigen av Parma. I palatset öppnade hon en skola. Där studerade man musik, litteratur, teater och språk. Hon blev nära vän med den berömda arkitekten och skulptören Bernini.

Efter ett par år tog hennes pengar slut och hon reste till Frankrike på besök hos kung Louis XIV. Kristina och kungen konspirerade om att hon skulle bli drottning i det italienska riket Neapel, istället av den dåvarande spanska kungen. Drottningen misstänkte sin hovstallmästare Monaldeschi för att ha förrådit henne och beordrade att han skulle avrättas. Försöket att bli drottning i Neapel misslyckades och Kristina återvände till Rom.

Påven blev arg på Kristina med anledning av avrättningen och därefter ville han inte längre umgås med henne. När påven Alexander VII dog 1667, blev Clement IX påve. Den nya påven beundrande henne men han dog i sin tur efter två år och ersättes av Clement X, och därefter, Innocent XI. Förhållandet blev kyligt igen därför att påvarna betrakade Kristinas inflytande, särskilt hennes teaterintresse, som omoraliskt och oönskat.

Till sist, strax efter Kristinas död 1689 blev Alexander VIII påve. Han hade uppskattat henne så mycket att hon fick en ståtlig begravningceremoni, helt mot hennes testamente.

Trots alla besvärligheter är Kristina betydande som konstens och musikens beskyddare. Den mest kända av drottnings skyddslingar var Alessandro Scarlatti men den viktigaste är troligen den nästan okända Giocomo Carissimi. I själva verket är Carissimi betydelseful. Han skrev många musikaliska kompositioner åt kyrkan Oratoriani San Fillipo Neri i Rom och undervisade en annan av drottningens skyddslingar, Arcangelo Corelli. År 1709 reste 24-åringen Händel till Rom och besökte den gamla Corelli.

En kort tid därefter flyttade Händel till London och blev hovmusiken till kungen George 1. Innan Händel dog 1759, skrev, bland annat, 42 operor, 29 oratorier, de flesta av högsta kvalitet. Han blev, samt J S Bach, 1700-talets viktigaste kompositör. Det verkar som om Händel studerade de gamla Romerska kompositörernas manuskript eftersom ett starkt inflytande kan urskiljas. Av denna anledning kan man väl påstå drottning Kristina som avgörande för barockmusikens historia.

onsdag 7 juli 2010

Condoms and Catholics

The Archbishop of Westminster was recently interviewed about the church's attitude to condoms, in particular, in relationship to HIV in third world countries. The church's position is difficult to defend. I am not going to comment on this, because there there is another issue behind it. Poverty. That is why there are so many prostitutes in some countries, and that is the principal mechanism through which HIV is spread. There is major economic injustice, institutionalised. That is the greater sin.

And what does the church say and do about poverty? Very little. It is seen primarily as an issue of charity hand-outs.

The church preached quite rightly against the evils of communism but with a few honourable exceptions has always supported the ruling unjust economic structures. The Social Teaching encyclicals are good as far as they go, but they fail to spell the situation out as clearly as they might. In fact, it is hard work to extract anything solid out of them that could be used as the basis to develop policies that were in accord with economic justice. The most recent one, Caritas in Veritatis, certainly points in the right direction but there is a need to be more explicit. And the laity seem to prefer to focus on issues to do with sexual morality that seem easier to get to grips with.

The fundamental cause of poverty everywhere is one and the same - landlessness. The landless have no option but to work for whatever wages a landowner will offer them, or else pay rent to the landowner for the privilege of working on the land. And who made this land? God made it.

Now when has the church spelled this out plainly? And why not? A clue was revealed a few days ago. The church has substantial property empires which are used to support various activities. And so it has vested interest in protecting its revenue stream.

Last Sunday's readings were about missionaries being sent out with little more than the clothes on their back. Isn't it time we returned to this model and divested ourselves of property empires so that we were free to preach the truth about economics?

tisdag 6 juli 2010

Drottning Kristina och Jakobo Carissimi



Efter Drottning Kristina flyttade till Rom, år 1655, blev hon konst och musik beskyddare. Den mest kända av drottnings skyddslingar var Alessandro Scarlatti men det viktigast är troligen den nästan okänd Giocomo Carissimi. Han undervisade en annan av drottnings skyddslingar, Arcangelo Corelli, som Handel hälsade på när han besökte Rom 1709. Det verkar att Handel studerade de gamla kompositörernas manuskripten därför att en stark inflytande kan urskiljas.

Det här finns den mest berömde stycken av Carissimi, "Plorate Filii Israel" från oratorium Jeptha, skrivet 1665.

måndag 5 juli 2010

What future for the Swedish monarchy?



The royal wedding on the 19 June attracted a lot of enthusiasm but there have also been plenty of voices raised in favour of getting rid of the monarchy.

The Swedish monarch has much less of a functional role than the British one, where the Queen is responsible for putting her signature to every piece of legislation and could, in theory, refuse. The allegiance of the military forces is also to the monarch and not to parliament, and again, in theory, the army could act against Parliament.

The last time a European monarch exercised real power was in Spain, a few years after the retirement of Franco, and it is worth remembering that he intervened to prevent a right-wing coup.

As a general rule, it is not a good idea to get rid of an institution that functions reasonably well, not least because the original reason for having the institution may have been forgotten and might be rediscovered only when the institution is abolished, when it is too late.

The British political system is not functioning well at the moment but there is no evidence that the monarchy is the cause, or that abolition would make matters any better. The Swedish case is slightly different. The country has an exceptionally high proportion of immigrants. Although the political system is not dysfunctional as Britain's has become this leads, potentially, to various tensions, one consequence of which is a significant far-right political movement.

I suspect that in this situation, the monarchy acts as a useful safety valve for nationalist sentiments which might otherwise be drawn in far less benign directions. As things are, the monarchy probably acts as a useful lighting conductor as well as a providing a focus for national identity. That is valuable in a country which is as diverse as Sweden.

This is not a boat to be rocked.

fredag 25 juni 2010

UK budget row

The budget has caused a deal of uproar with comments like this

"The tories will attack anyone and everyone that they don't perceive to be one of their own - White, Etonian/public school, Oxford/Cambridge, old school tie, land owning, bank running millionaires. Not much chance of most people getting into that demographic, although they will favour their lap dogs as the budget has shown."

It is typical of the criticism coming from the Left. It is off the point. Forget their colour, forget their education. There is only one thing that counts. Land owning on the largest scale.

Britain is run for the benefit of the handful of people who own most of it, such as the half-dozen "aristocratic" families who own the most valuable areas of Central London, their ancestors having got hold of it mostly by near-fraud about 400 years ago. Though do not forget the Oxbridge colleges, some of whom are also big-time landowners and would not allow anything to be taught that brought this state of affairs to wider public attention. All the other privileges follow.

This caste has cleverly got a lot of other people on-side by encouraging ownership of the teeny-weeny bit of land their homes stand on and kidding them that they own it when really the banks usually own it. How many people actually own both the land their homes and places of work stand on?

When there was the threat of socialist revolution, they were willing to give a bit by allowing people to have a welfare state, but with that threat gone, they will gather up all their old privileges and leave everyone else in penury. Think of one of the middling countries of South America - that is where Britain is heading. The squalor in Britain's public realm is already marked in comparison to the rest of Western Europe. It will be downhill all the way.

The only danger is they could miscalculate and then things will get ugly, but the army and the police will always be available to sort things out. A few can and will escape to mainland Europe, which will drain Britain's talent, but for the majority, there is no longer the safety-valve of countries like Australia.

Be afraid.

onsdag 23 juni 2010

Full marks for Ubuntu 10.04

There is plenty of good quality computing to be had without spending more than a couple of hundred pounds.

For the past ten years or so I used SuSE Linux but since version 11.1 it has been troublesome, so I tried out Ubuntu 10.04 on my laptop, an IBM X31 Thinkpad, probably about six years old. They can be picked up for £100 or so now, having been superseded by the X60 and X61 series.

So far, so good. Problems with the sound and problems with wireless connections seem to have been solved and it is fast and generally well integrated. In its overall "feel", it is very much like an Apple, with some slick-looking windows decorations.

System management works in a different way from SuSE and a decent broadband connection is needed to set it up in the first place, but I really don't have any complaints.

fredag 18 juni 2010

Bidragsberoendet

Den Brittiska regeringen, samt Sveriges, har svårt med bidragsberoendet. Regeringen anser att bidragsberoende är parasiter och vill att alla ska jobba. Men vad är bidragsberoendet egentligen? De bidragsberoende är människor som inte vill eller kan jobba och är beroende av bidrag.

Några bidragsberoende är helt och hållet fuskare, förstås. De får bidrag av regeringen men jobbar samtidigt. Några bidragsberoende är bara lata och vill hellre sitta hemma, liggea i sängen och titta på tv-n eller spela på datorn. Några är verkligen sjuka. Och där finns det stora problemet. Det kan illustreras av ett exempel, vilket var typiskt för tjugo år sedan.

För många år sedan, och i många områden av Storbritannien var ekonomin beroende av kolgruvor. Arbetet i gruvorna var hårt och smutsigt. Att vara gruvarbetare var ett jobb bara för starka unga killar. Men jobbet var farligt. Det hände många olyckor. Luften var dammig och många gruvarbetare blev skadade och fick lungsjukdomar. När det hände kunde männen inte fortsätte jobba under jorden men fick jobb på ytan, till exempel som kontorist på gruvans kontor, eller ansvarig för gruvans hissar, säkerhet, osv. Sådana yrke var väsentliga trots att lönen var mindre, och människor kunde fortsätta jobba till pensionsålder.

Men under 1980-talet lades de flesta kolgruvor ner. Det var ett val av politikerna, särskilt dåtidens premiär minister Margaret Thatcher som hatade kolgruvarbetarna. De flesta gruvarbetarna blev arbetslösa. Men de äldre gruvarbetarna blev sjukskrivna. Praktiskt taget var det bara ett knep för att minska arbetslöshets siffrorna. Om de hade funnit arbete som skulle ha passat bra för dem, skulle de ha fått jobb. Men det fanns inga lämpliga jobb.

I början av 1990-talet kom lågkonjunkturen och arbetslösheten ökade. Myndigheterna rådde arbetslösa som inte var helt friska att besöka sina läkare och bli sjukskrivna. Antalet sjukskrivna exploderade. Och kostnaderna också.

När man blir sjukskriven är det mycket svårt att få jobb igen. Arbetsgivarna är motvilliga att anställa dem. Sjukskrivna själva är motvilliga att ta jobb i fall att deras sjukdomar försämras och de inte kan arbeta igen.

Regeringen har försökt att minska antalet sjukskrivna genom att införa tuffare reglemente men har aldrig lyckats. Faktum är att tuffare reglemente gör de nuvarande sjukskrivna mer motvilliga att jobba, eftersom om de blir sjukskrivna igen, får de minskade bidrag.

Finansminister George Osborne annonserade att bidragssystemet ska reformeras så att arbetslösa och sjukskrivna vill ta jobb. Vi får se. Faktum är att arbetsmarknaden är så dålig. Varför det? Experterna och politiker anser att dessa problem är någonting som påverkar hela världen men det är bara en ursäkt. Egentligen ligger orsaken under våra fötter. Man behöver bara titta runt stadens centrum här i Brighton. Det finns många tomtar, som har varit tomma i mer än 25 år. Tomterna ägs av spekulanter. Men på tomterna finns rum för byggnader som kan användas av affärer, kontor, lägenheter och så vidare. Samtidigt kan affärsmän inte hitta lämpliga fastigheter. Marknaden kvävs och resultatet är att hela ekonomin inte kan fungera effektivt. Och så är bidragsberoendet oundvikligt.

onsdag 16 juni 2010

Catholic Bishops screw up again

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have an unlimited capacity for making a muck of things. In preparation for the visit of the Pope, they have produced a 32 page booklet called "Heart Speaks unto Heart".

Rarely can such a amateurishly produced piece of typography have been printed in such large numbers - at least a million copies, probably more.

There was a time when many of Britain's leading typographic designers were Catholics. There is Eric Gill, of course, designer of the famous Sans and Perpetua typefaces. There is Edward Johnson, who designed the sans-serif Johnston typeface that was used throughout the London Underground system from around 1916 until it was re-designed in the 1980s, as well as the famous roundel symbol. There is Stanley Morison, who designed what is probably the world's most-used typeface, Times New Roman.

So what have the Bishops given us? A publication that breaks every rule of typography. The recommended length of a line is 2 1/2 alphabets, that is about 65 characters. The average line in the book has well over 80 characters and some have as many as 95. Most fonts need white space between each lines, known as leading. This booklet has none. These two defects make the book very difficult to read at all, so it probably will not be. I have not read the thing and have no intention of doing so. The Bishops have just wasted our money.

The general design of the publication is appalling. Those fliers that supermarkets send out with a list of the current bargain offers are sophisticated in comparison. The pages are cluttered and confusing. There is little white space, which makes it difficult for the reader to orientate himself. Most of the pictures are of poor quality, of little interest, and not worth publishing.

And all of this in full-colour printing throughout, which is never cheap.

If the Bishops cannot get arrange for the production of a simple booklet without it having the mark of incompetence and ignorance stamped on every page, what can they get right? The message that comes across loud and clear is "We are ignorant, incompetent philistines!"

Considering that the Catholic Mass has brought forth the ultimate in world art, there is something very wrong here.

söndag 13 juni 2010

Liturgy problem

Today I went to Mass at a church in a cathedral city in the south of England. It was a children's service and a group were receiving their First Communion, so it was a family affair. I would guess that a good number of the congregation were not Catholics. Good to see a flourishing parish with plenty of young families.

But oh, dear, the liturgy was dreadful. We had the notorious "Clapping Gloria", and a collection of the most banal hymns and mass settings composed by I won't say who. We had bidding prayers read by the children, which would have been fine, but some of the children could hardly read.

This kind of thing is almost the rule in Catholic churches in Britain. What is the effect of tailoring the liturgy to what adults imagine are children's tastes and needs? The music is actually incredibly dated, being firmly rooted in the early 1970s, before the arrival of Punk. And so once children reach their teens, they regard it a babyish and unsophisticated, as something to grow out of. Which most of them promptly do, most of them never to darken the doors of a church again.

If on, the other hand, the liturgy was something they could only just begin to grasp, they would feel that growth in understanding was part of growing up into adulthood.

This is not unrealistic. There is plenty of scope for children to participate in the traditional Latin Mass, through the responses, and through being present with Christ in the silence of the consecration. This latter is certainly not something that is beyond the understanding of children, but if it is crowded out with jolly hymns with the subtlety of TV advertisement jingles, there really is nothing for them when they approach adolescence.

lördag 5 juni 2010

6th June



Flags are just bits of cloth but like all symbols they carry meanings that change over time. What does this one mean today?

söndag 23 maj 2010

Paedophile priests - did the church really get it so wrong?

I came across this letter from a retired and well-respected psychiatrist, in the 10th April issue of The Tablet. It puts the issue of the Catholic Church's way of dealing with paedophile priests in quite a different light.

"In the light of my long experience in treating priests with sexual aberrations including pederasty, I have concluded that both the critics and supporters of the Pope and worldwide hierarchies are thinking wrongheadedly. However inanely they may have carried it out, these authorities were right to try to keep control over paedophile priests. In The Times of 26 March, the Archbishop of Westminster wrongly advised “fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders” and there being for them “no hiding place”. It is precisely such a suitable hiding place that is needed for paedophile priests, albeit one that is extremely hard, sometimes impossible, to come by.

"Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, while Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, was severely criticised in the press when he placed an incorrigibly paedophile priest to the chaplaincy at Gatwick Airport in the misplaced belief, which I shared with him, that children at an airport would be not only birds of passage, but also under firm parental control. Not a bit of it. The priest had such determination to suborn and groom children for sex that even Gatwick failed to deter him.

"Treating such priests, I used to discuss with religious superiors how to retain their control outside parochial life in, for example, cathedral clerical posts. But there were not nearly enough of them, necessitating forced laicisation. For years – and particularly after the demise of the Paraclete resource for psychologically impaired Religious, Our Lady of Victory, Brownshill – I have advocated the need for a pan-diocesan establishment, where such priests, while retaining priestly status, could be cared for, indefinitely if necessary, and rehabilitated if possible, under psychiatric and clinical psychological supervision.

Unmitigated laicisation might clear the Church’s Augean stable, but at the cost of imposing the dross on secular society. A convicted paedophile priest emerging from prison on the sex register, discarded by the Church and laicised, workless, friendless and supportless is all too likely to use his pederastic skill to attract and groom for sex children in the neighbourhood, or, as the last resort, frequent public lavatories for cottaging.

Seymour Spencer

(For 20 years consultant psychiatrist to our Lady of Victory, Brownshill), Oxford

söndag 16 maj 2010

Valet och efter

Storbritanniens allmänna val som skedde för en vecka sedan blev en besvikelse för alla tre av de största partierna. De Konservativa vann men fick inte tillräckligt med röst för att de kunna bilda regering utan hjälp av Liberal Demokraterna. Strax efter valet följde förhandlingar mellan de Konservativas ledare, David Cameron och Liberal Demokraternas ledare, Nick Clegg, men det verkade som om partierna inte kunde samarbeta. Sedan annonserade Labour premiärminister Gordon Brown att han skulle avgå som partiledare, förhandlingar påbörjades mellan Nick Clegg och de andra Labour ledarna. När det blev klart att Labour och Liberal Demokraterna inte kunde samarbeta, avgick Gordon Brown. Plötsligt kom en annonsering på måndag kväll att David Cameron hade blivit Storbritanniens premiärminister i samarbete med Liberal Demokraterna. Men överenskommelsen mellan Liberal Demokraterna och de Konservativa är beroende av flera förutsättningar, framför allt att landet får en folkomröstning om frågan hur valsystemet ska reformeras.

Den här tiden kan bli avgörande. Storbritanniens valsystem är föråldrat. Det är odemokratiskt att ett politiskt parti kan bli regering om de bara får en tredje del av alla rösterna. Men det händer ganska ofta som konsekvens av Storbritanniens valsystem. I framtiden kommer Liberal Demokraterna aldrig att bli uteslutna från den brittiska regeringen.

Men Storbritanniens största nuvarande problem är landets dåliga ekonomi och regeringens underskott, som är, relativt, nästan lika stort som Greklands. Arbetslösheten har ökat i de senaste tre år. Skattinkomsten minskar och kostnader växer eftersom regeringen måste betala ut mer bidrag till arbetslös. I slutet av 2009 var regeringens skuld nästan 70% av landets BNP och ökning av skulden fortsätter. Det finns också mycket slöseri av pengar genom onödig byråkrati.

Vad ska göras? Regeringen kan höja skatter men det kommer att orsaka ökad arbetslöshet. Både Liberalerna och de Konservativa vill att den offentliga sektorn ska skäras men i verkligheten är det lättare sagt än gjort. Vilken sektor ska skäras? Försvar? Sjukvården? Bidragen? Utbildningen? Vägar och järnvägar? Hur kan regeringen välja? Att skära den offentliga sektorn kan orsaka arbetslöshet och slutligen kommer inga pengar sparas.

Enligt min åsikt är det grundläggande problemet att regeringen, oberoende av politiska partiet, tror på felaktiga ekonomiska teorier, med det är inte bara i Storbritannien, utan i nästan hela världen. Varför gör de det? Det är faktiskt förvirring om vad de grundläggande termer i ekonomisk teori betyder. Vad består “rikedom” av? Är mark eller slavar någon slags rikedom eller inte? Vad betyder egentligen ordet “kapital”? Är mark ett slags kapital eller ej? Eller pengar? Hur skapas rikedom? Och vad består ekonomisk rättfärdighet av?

Om sådana frågor inte svaras är det omöjligt att skapa ett samhäll där många människor inte är missnöjda. Och egentligen är det inte helt politikernas fel. Felet är akademikers som undervisar politikerna, särskilt i de gamla universiteten som Oxford och Cambridge. Resultatet är att i de flesta länder är skattsystemet en apparat som straffar både arbetare och affärsmän, och regeringarna lider alltid av brist på pengar.

I Storbritannien har vi ett problem till. Undan för undan stal adelsfamiljer landet av folket. De flesta människor, och de flesta affärsmän måste betala ut hyran till markägarna. Följaktligen blev folket delat i två stammar. Det Konservativa partiet tillhör ägarnas stam och skapades framför allt för att bevara och värna markägarna. I Storbritannien hade vi inga reduktioner, och resultatet är att vi har en överklass som håller fast vid sin rikedom och makt. Det avspeglas i brittisk politik. De Konservativa styrs av adelsklassen, som inte bryr sig om de fattiga, och bryr sig om mellanklassen och affärsmän bara för deras röster i val. Labour partiet tillhör arbetarnas stam.

Liberalerna var ursprungligen det affärsmännens parti men blev trängt ut av Labour när allmän rösträtt invigdes under 1800-talet. Då inblandade sig de flesta affärsmän i det Konservativa partiet men egentligen ville partiet inte sträva efter affärsmännens fördelar om dessa konflikter mot egendom ägarens fördelar. Och alla partiledarna tillhör överklassen!

Det finns ingen bot utan att de brittiska själva blir medvetna om den här situationen.

lördag 15 maj 2010

Why do people favourite boring pictures like this?

I posted this on Flickr late yesterday. It has already been viewed 16 times, and favourited three times.

Strange, I only put it there to write about it on my other blog, to say that these trains are not going to be popular when they start running on Coastway services.

onsdag 12 maj 2010

Religiösa Judiska familjer

Religiösa judiska familjer håller sina egna urgamla traditioner. Män och kvinnor brukar gifta sig när de är ganska unga. Ofta händer det innan de fyller tjugo år. Vigseln sker utomhus under en slags tält som kallas ”kupah” och i vigselakten, placeras ett glass på golvet efter välsignelser och brudgummen trampar på det och krossar det.

Ortodoxa judar firar bröllopet på ett särskilt sätt. I matsalen ställs upp en hög gardin som delar rummet i två halvor. Män och pojkar sitter i en halva och kvinnor och flickor i den andra halven. Målet består av en riktig bankett. Efter måltiden, flyttas borden utmed väggarna och män dansar med män och kvinnor med kvinnor. Musiker spelar gamla musikstycken i öst europeiska stilen; ett typiskt band består av en fiolspelare, dragspelare, klarinettspelare och trumslagare. Mycket brännvin drickes och männen blir mycket fulla som är helt ovanligt bland judar.

Eftersom det unga paret oftast är fattigt brukar de bo i dåliga omständigheter. Ibland är ortodoxa judar mycket rika. Några få blir affärsmän och handlar diamanter, eller guld, men de flesta förblir fattiga hela livet. Fruar är förbjudna att visa sitt hår utom för sina män och använder bara peruker. Att ha samlag med sin fru är en helig sak för ortodoxa judar och par gör det varje sabbat på fredag kväll. Resultatet är att de brukar skaffa många barn – oftast mellan sex och tio. Ingen vet varför men det verkar som de flesta barnen är pojkar.

Trots att ortodoxa judiska familjer brukar förbli fattiga verkar de vara lyckliga. Hemma fruar har det inte så svårt som man kanske skulle tro, eftersom de äldre barnen tar hand om de yngre, och hjälper till med hushållsarbete: städning, bäddning, diskning, och så vidare. Det är mycket ovanligt att ortodoxa par skiljer sig.

Å andra sidan är ortodox äktenskap inte alltid ett paradis. Judar äter bara ”kosher” mat: det betyder särskilt kött och fisk. Fläsk, kanin och skaldjur är förbjudna, samt kryp. Och det orsakar ett stort problem eftersom det är nästan omöjligt att rensa sallad. Resultatet är att ortodoxa judar äter mat som saknar alla vitaminer som behövs och deras mat är inte hälsosam. Ortodoxa judar har för vana att deras pojkar studerar för mycket inomhus och det är inte hälsosamt heller.
Ett annat problem är att kvinnor fortsätter att skaffa barn efter de har fyllt 40 år. Det betyder att de yngsta barnen ofta föds handikappade vilket betungar familjer.

Bland ortodoxa judar finns det förstås ingen plats för homosexuella män eller kvinnor. Vem vet vad hände till dem?

lördag 8 maj 2010

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måndag 3 maj 2010

Brighton Conservatives publicity prompt me to vote Green

At the start of the campaign, I was far from being decided on whom to vote for. As an outright owner of two properties, and living outside the UK 40% of the year, I have a vested interest in voting Conservative.

But when I read the anti-Green leaflet that came through my door yesterday from the Conservative candidate, I resolved on the Green. The Conservatives have done what the Greens ought to have done for themselves! It's a funny old world.

I have not great admiration for the Greens. They are, these days, mostly recycled socialists of a priggish and self-righteous stripe. Many of their policies are plain batty. But it is evident from the Conservative leaflet that some of the policies are very sensible, and the criticism they make of them is silly and superficial.

The Greens propose an increase in taxes on alcohol. This is overdue; given the local problems we experience every weekend, dearer booze would be beneficial.

The Green proposal for a congestion charge for Brighton should not just be dismissed. Some action is needed to reduce the horrendous traffic in central Brighton, which is one reason why I flee the country from June to October every year. These two policies on alcohol and traffic are potentially attractive to residents in the centre of the city.

The proposal to charge VAT on new build would at least remove the distortion between new construction and refurbishment. I do not agree with VAT at all. It is iniquitous, regressive and bureaucratic. But it makes no sense to treat new-build and refurbishment differently. Contrary to what the Conservative leaflet claims, VAT on new construction will add nothing to the cost of a new home in Brighton - not that there is much new building going on in this area. The reason is that if a seller can charge an extra £44k for a property, then they already will. That is basic economics. The economic principle involved as brought to attention 200 years ago by David Ricardo, a Brighton man, incidentally, who made a lot of money. It is worrying that the Conservative candidate does not understand this.

The Conservative leaflet asks if I like local council taxes? No, but I like local council services. We all do. How are they meant to be paid for if not be a tax on property? And even non-doms cannot dodge property taxes.

Greens want to stop economic growth. Surely it is a good Conservative principle that one cannot use more than one has got? That applies to the natural environment. Economic growth cannot go on as it has. Arguably, gross national product is not a good target because there is a tenuous connection to people's sense of well-being. Further, it is not my impression that people generally are proportionately better off than they were a generation ago. My generation had little difficulty in buying a home. Our children and grandchildren are struggling to pay huge mortgages. Where is the Conservative policy that will address this problem?

The Greens propose a speed limit of 55 mph on the motorways. This sounds eminently sensible. Little time is saved by going faster, much fuel is saved by going slower, and accidents are less severe.

Do I care about the security of the UK? Yes. But it is at least arguable that a country's security is best service by keeping a strong, low-profile defensive posture that no-one else perceives as threatening.

In any case, since there is no possibility that the Greens can form a government, the contents of their manifesto are of little more than academic interest, though it is good that the Greens are raising important issues that no-one else is.

The Tory leaflet reveals both a failure of analysis and of a willingness to pander to the worst and most selfish instincts in people. Since there really is a possibility of a Conservative government, and on the basis of your critique, ignorant attitudes are abroad within the party, I resolved on looking at this literature (which incidentally was scrappy and untidy), to cast my vote for the Green candidate.

Vote for electoral change
By voting Green, I am of course voting for no overall control and a change in the electoral system.

Sweden has a very different, and much healthier, and less confrontational, politics. It is a much nicer country to live in, partly as a result of its different electoral system.

When I did the on-line survey to match party choice to policy, I ended up with a rainbow cocktail of parties, including Greens, UKIP, Conservatives, LibDems, Labour, BNP! This is perhaps because all the parties are aiming for the same few hundred thousand decisive votes in the key marginals. Under Britains FPTP system, the views of this tiny proportion of the population are decisive, and yet people criticise "hung" parliaments as ones in which the minority can hold the others to ransom.

tisdag 27 april 2010

Traditional British anti-Catholicism in full flood


Lewes bonfire night, originally uploaded by ec1jack.
Good old British anti-Catholicism seems to be in full flood following the current problems. It is well explained on a Marxist interpretation. After the Conquest, lands were granted to the church to enable it to provide services such as education, health and welfare. At the Reformation, the lands were transferred to those nobility who supported the king, in some cases by fraud. It was in their interest that the new status quo be held and so the old one was demonised.

The case of the Westminster Abbey lands is typical of what happened in the century after the dissolution of the monasteries, eventually forming the basis of the present Duke of Westminster's fortune. There was in fact strong popular resistance to the Reformation in England and elsewhere on the Continent, in particular the Pilgrimages of Grace, which were brutally put down by the authorities. This does not suggest that the pre-Reformation Catholic church was the evil body that it was subsequently portrayed as.

There is lots not to like about the Catholic church: the behaviour of some of the clergy, over many years, its dogmas, which obviously sound far-fetched, and much else besides, but the tone of much of the comment that is floating around at the moment reveal nothing more than crude bigotry in the Ulster Prod/ Lewes bonfire night vein.

There were stupid and cruel things done by both sides in the aftermath of the Reformation. England's Queen Mary created a clutch of Protestant martyrs, but so had Henry VIII, and it continued until as late as 1681 when the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Oliver Plunkett was set up and hung, drawn and quartered. As late as 1780, the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots went on for a week, with widespread disturbances in London.

There were also strange alliances in the post-Reformation period. Catholic France was on the same side as Protestant Sweden in the Thirty Years' War and it was the (aspiring at that time) Catholic Queen Kristina of Sweden who took the initiative and put a stop to the wretched thing before abdicating.

måndag 26 april 2010

Catholic bid for hung parliament

Sinister plot to wreck UK economy
Britain's Catholic bishops have produced a booklet called "Voting for the Common Good". It gives no clear guidance on who to vote for. This shows yet again the sinister control the church exercises over its simple-minded members. It is a blatant bid to land Britain with a hung parliament, leading to economic collapse and poverty, and driving people into the arms of the church's evil priests.

Catholic Church nuclear threat to world peace

It is not generally known that during the 1960s, under secret protocols involving the CIA, Cardinal Marcinkus and the US defence establishment, and in flagrant violation of non-proliferation treaties, a nuclear launching silo and huge control room was constructed under St Peter's Square with a battery of Minuteman missiles paid for out of church collections from all over the world.

The installation, which is still fully operational and manned 24 hours a day by Jesuits, is concealed by the central obelisk which slides aside on tracks just before the missiles are fired.

Brtain's poor productivity - again

" Britain’s poor productivity performance before, during and after the financial crisis of a decade ago has left a gap of 16% with the ...