söndag 28 februari 2010

Standing up for Vatican 2

An new organisation has been set up called Stand up for Vatican 2 It is calling on the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales to support a national celebration in each of their dioceses of the forty fifth anniversary of the closure of the Second Vatican Council in 2010. But there seems to be no agreement on precisely what V2 was proposing. Many of the subsequent changes, such as the regular use of the vernacular in the liturgy, appear to be an interpretation that may not ever have been intended by the Council. Which raises the question of what precisely there is to celebrate? In Europe, at least, the Catholic church has not flourished since Vatican 2.

However, it seems to me that an appropriate parish celebration would consist of Mass in the Extraordinary Form, with Gregorian Chant and music by Palestrina.

tisdag 23 februari 2010

Islam is an evil doctrine

Jews leave Swedish city after sharp rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes

Sweden's reputation as a tolerant, liberal nation is being threatened by a steep rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the city of Malmo. The perpetrators are young Muslims. This should not come as a surprise since they are only doing what their holy book tells them to do. But if Sweden does not quickly get a grip of its unruly Moslems, the problem will soon affect far more people than the Jews. As elsewhere in Europe, it is the politicians on the left who are encouraging this by a policy of tacit encouragement. Criticism of Islam is seen as racist. A few weeks ago I published a translation from an article on the subject in a Swedish newspaper, but today there is a report in the British press, with this article in the Daily Telegraph

Also published today is a piece by a Tariq Ramadan in the Guardian Comment is Free on "Islam's role in an ethical society". I referred to and linked the above article, and within an hour it had been deleted by the moderator, presumably following a complaint. I re-posted, and that was deleted too, this time without trace. Someone else posted the same link and that was also deleted.

This seems to point to someone hypersensitive on the staff of the Guardian itself, which has published nothing on the subject.

lördag 20 februari 2010

How Britain looks after its brave boys

Britain's Brave Boys

These homeless men sleeping out under the promenade at Brighton are all ex-soldiers of various ages. They have served in places like Northern Ireland, the Falklands, and the Gulf. Once they left the army they found it impossible to settle into civilian life and ended up homeless. They have a drink problem but clean up as best they can afterwards. They are probably "institutionalised".

A significant proportion of homeless men are ex-servicemen. The official attitude seems to be that they are no longer of use and can be discarded.  I think the problem is that the sort of accommodation that would be right for them simply does not exist. I get the impression that they would not get on well in, for instance, a bed-sit flat, which is what they would probably get offered, after which they would be forgotten about as a solved case. These men need a structured environment, where ex-servicemen can live in a protected community, under firm direction

What might be done? In the seventeenth century, Chelsea Hospital was founded for just this purpose. Isn't there a need for similar institutions today? I have in mind large houses with 15 to 20 rooms and communal facilities such as a dining room, lounge, games and hobbies rooms, and a gymnasium run by a well-organised retired sergeant type who was kind, sympathetic but firm.

Residents in the kind of establishment I envisage would be expected if possible to help in the running of the establishment by taking turns with household tasks like cooking and cleaning, painting, decorating and household tasks. To judge from the way they conduct themselves, most of them would be well able to do such things as a product of their army training.

In such an environment, some of them at least might be able to give up their alcohol habits and possibly hold down regular work and become valuable members of their local communities.

This is really something that the government should take on as part of a duty of care to those who choose to risk their lives to defend the country, but if it will not, there is a need for a new charitable foundation. It would undoubtedly qualify for Royal patronage and enjoy huge public support.

Come on, you tabloids, speak up for our brave boys after their military usefulness is past.

torsdag 18 februari 2010

How to travel to Scandinavia

Restaurant on the Dana Sirena

The ferry between Harwich and Esbjerg is more expensive then a cheap flight but it avoids the harassment of airports and Scandinavia starts when one steps onto the ship at Harwich, which is always a good thing. The restaurant, though on the pricey side, is worth it as well. You only live once so why not?

DFDS ferries

British Immigration officials

Why do British immigration officials present themselves so badly? Every time I encounter these people, I find their behaviour gratuitously offensive, regardless of whether I arrive at the Eurostar terminals at Brussels or Paris, or at the east coast port of Harwich, it is the same story. To judge from the way the conduct themselves, they appear to be ex-prison warders. Or possibly they are prison warders and immigration control is part of the job.

Yesterday I arrived at Harwich and was confronted by a burly, hatchet-faced man with an unpleasant demeanour. I was asked a whole string of questions; what had I been doing for three weeks in Sweden? What was my address in Britain? What was my job? The latter question revealed incompetence, because if he had checked my date of birth on the passport, he would have realised that I was retired.

If I had been caught by the police in the act of breaking-and-entering, arrested and taken into custody, such an approach would have been appropriate.

On reflection, I wonder what would have happened if he had been dissatisfied with the answers? Would I have been refused entrance to the UK? As I was carrying a return ticket back to Denmark anyway, I would just have had to change the date and go back at the next sailing. I can think of worse fates.

Incompetence describes the entire operation. If someone really is up to no good, the worst thing to do is to treat them as suspected criminals. If the officials behave in an open and friendly way, miscreants are more likely to blab and reveal significant information. As it is, we have the usual picture of oppressed people revelling in their tiny little bit of power.

Thoughts on camera design - 1

Six decades of Leica

I have been taking photographs since I was a teenager, when I started with a Box Brownie taking 8 negatives on 120 roll film. These had a little frosted glass viewfinder with the image projected onto it with a lens and a mirror. You held the camera at waist level and peered into the viewfinder, using your hand to keep the screen shaded. It was possible to take a reasonable picture with them but they were never sharp.

My first proper camera was a Selfix 820 with a Ross Xpres lens, also taking 8 pictures on 120 film, made in 1959. At that time, 35mm film was of relatively poor quality and grainy. The Selfix pictures were extremely sharp. The Selfix 820 was a folding camera and quite compact. It is very well made and robust. When the camera is opened up for use, it is very rigid and the lens is held in position positively. The main drawback of the model I had bought were a poor and inaccurate viewfinder and the lack of a coupled rangefinder. After a couple of years I replaced it with a Zeiss Super Ikonta 531/2 with a Tessar lens probably dating from 1939. It is a refined design, but the lens positioning is not positive. The better viewfinder and coupled rangefinder made it easier to use but the pictures were “soft”.

In 1970 I purchased my first 35mm camera, a Leica M2, with 50mm and 90mm Elmar lenses. This was compact, easy to use and took sharp pictures. Its limitations were that it was not good for close-up work and I felt that a longer telephoto lens would have been useful. The great merit of the M2 is that it is robust and the viewfinder provides a large bright image including a field of view outside the projected frame.

In 1977 I supplemented the Leica with a Nikon F2 and over the years obtained a selection of lenses. The following year I disposed of the Leica and traded it in for a Linhof technical camera with ground glass screen, for architectural photography.

After about 1980, most of my photography was for work, which involved a lot of it. I used both the Nikon and the Linhof. My work was with a London borough and when I retired in 1991 the material was transferred to the local history library.

måndag 15 februari 2010

Church alterations

St Mary Magdalen's Church Brighton

St Mary Magdalen's Catholic Church, Brighton, has gone through a series of changes over the past six months. The picture is of the approved layout but it was constructed in thick ply to see how it worked. It was not satisfactory and after a few weeks was changed, which was easily done due to the temporary construction.

The edge of the platform and the altar was moved further back. The steps were extended all the way across and returned on either side. The priest's chair stands on a plinth at the same level as the bottom step on the north side. This will probably be the final arrangement.

The idea of having a temporary structure proved a good investment as it could be tested without spending large sums of money.

söndag 14 februari 2010

Whoever wins, Britain loses

Whoever wins the next election, the people of Britain will lose. As election time approaches, that much is obvious. The real choice is minimal. There is no proper thinking going on, not just in parliament but nor the think tanks or universities either. Basic concepts in economics such as Ricardo's Law of Rent are hardly talked about and certainly not understood, because to do so would lead on to conclusions that are political dynamite.

Why should this be? How about this for an explanation? Seen from a Scandinavian perspective - the idea came to me while I was sitting on a Gothenberg tram - this hypothesis makes more than a bit of sense.

"The country is run by and for the benefit of a mostly hereditary elite, with the aid of their recruited mandarins. One technique is to capture the opposition, so it does not matter who gets elected.

"This elite has always conceded just enough to keep the "peasants" from revolting. From that perspective, the post war socialist reforms, which were hatched during the war, were a response to the real and present threat of revolution. Once it was clear that communism was on its inevitable path to collapse, they could let things revert.

"The present technique is to exercise tight control on what can be talked about, keep people drunk, drugged-up and stupid, through relaxed alcohol legislation, anti-drugs laws that are a fig-leaf, and rotten schools and universities offering degrees of decreasing quality and increasing triviality."

If this is the case, then one day they could miscalculate but it is not going to happen any time soon.

lördag 13 februari 2010

Church Layouts

Elevation of the Host, originally uploaded by seadipper.
St Mary Magdalen's Church, Brighton, has been going through a series of changes over the last few months. This was the temporary altar, with the remains of the sanctuary floor behind. It was moved the following week but its final position is a matter of speculation. Many members of the congregation would like to see it put back to its pre-1970 position against the reredos, where the ruins of the original altar can be seen in the picture.

The arrangement of the sanctuary should not be a matter for argument, since the requirements are set out in the Chapter 5 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is here reproduced.

However, like the church, this is a work in progress and the present edition of the GIRM dates from 2003. As long ago as 2001, Pope Benedict, whilst as Cardinal Raztinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke of the need for a "reform of the reform". Where this will end it is impossible to know but it seems that there is a widespread and growing appreciation, especially amongst younger people, of the 1962 liturgy and what is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Following the ruling by Pope Benedict that the 1962 form of the Mass had never been abrogated and could therefore be freely celebrated, this is becoming increasingly the practice.

The spread of the Extraordinary form is influencing the manner of celebration of the Ordinary Form, with priests appreciating the benefits of the ad orientem (with the people) position. The primary advantage is theological in that it emphasises that the Mass is a sacrifice and not a re-enactment of the Last Supper, but there are also trivial benefits as well: it is less distracting for both priest and congregation, the personality of the priest is less intrusive and it makes clear his role purely as an agent of Christ. Paradoxically, also, it is more "democratic", since he is nothing other than the leader of his flock as he directs them towards God.

For these reasons, it is possible that the next revision of the GIRM will review paragraphs 299 and 315, regarding the position of the altar and tabernacle. A particular difficulty with the present sanctuary layout is that by placing the tabernacle at the extreme east end of the church, with the priest standing with his back to it facing the people, a confusion is created, that is avoided when the altar and tabernacle are at the east end and the priest faces it whilst saying Mass.

It is not only my view that this confusion has given rise to theological confusions and is ultimately related to the decline of the Catholic church in recent years.

The Arrangement and Furnishing of Churches
for the Celebration of the Eucharist
288. For the celebration of the Eucharist, the people of God normally are gathered together in a church or, if there is no church or if it is too small, then in another respectable place that is nonetheless worthy of so great a mystery. Churches, therefore, and other places should be suitable for carrying out the sacred action and for ensuring the active participation of the faithful. Sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should, moreover, be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.[108]
289. Consequently, the Church constantly seeks the noble assistance of the arts and admits the artistic expressions of all peoples and regions.[109] In fact, just as she is intent on preserving the works of art and the artistic treasures handed down from past centuries[110] and, insofar as necessary, on adapting them to new needs, so also she strives to promote new works of art that are in harmony with the character of each successive age.[111]
On account of this, in commissioning artists and choosing works of art to be admitted into a church, what should be required is that true excellence in art which nourishes faith and devotion and accords authentically with both the meaning and the purpose for which it is intended.[112]
290. All churches should be dedicated or, at least, blessed. Cathedrals and parish churches, however, are to be dedicated with a solemn rite.
291. For the proper construction, restoration, and remodeling of sacred buildings, all who are involved in the work are to consult the diocesan commission on the sacred Liturgy and sacred Art. The diocesan Bishop, moreover, should use the counsel and help of this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on this matter, approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on the more important issues.[113]
292. Church decor should contribute toward the church’s noble simplicity rather than ostentation. In the choice of materials for church appointments there should be a concern for genuineness of materials and an intent to foster the instruction of the faithful and the dignity of the entire sacred place.
293. A proper arrangement of a church and its surroundings that appropriately meets contemporary needs requires attention not only to the elements related more directly to the celebration of the sacred actions but also to those things conducive to the appropriate comfort of the faithful that are normally forthcoming in places where people regularly gather.
294. The People of God, gathered for Mass, has a coherent and hierarchical structure, which finds its expression in the variety of ministries and the variety of actions according to the different parts of the celebration. The general ordering of the sacred building must be such that in some way it conveys the image of the gathered assembly and allows the appropriate ordering of all the participants, as well as facilitating each in the proper carrying out of his function.
The faithful and the choir should have a place that facilitates their active participation.[114]
The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. Seats for concelebrants should also be prepared there. If, however, their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, but near the altar.
All these elements, even though they must express the hierarchical structure and the diversity of ministries, should nevertheless bring about a close and coherent unity that is clearly expressive of the unity of the entire holy people. Indeed, the character and beauty of the place and all its furnishings should foster devotion and show forth the holiness of the mysteries celebrated there.

295. The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation. It should, however, be large enough to allow the Eucharist to be celebrated properly and easily seen.[115]
The Altar and Its Appointments
296. The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist.
297. The celebration of the Eucharist in a sacred place is to be carried out on an altar; but outside a sacred place, it may be carried out on a suitable table, always with the use of a cloth, a corporal, a cross, and candles.
298. It is appropriate to have a fixed altar in every church, since it more clearly and permanently signifies Christ Jesus, the living stone (1 Pt 2:4; cf. Eph 2:20). In other places set aside for sacred celebrations, the altar may be movable.
An altar is called “fixed” if it is attached to the floor so as not to be removeable; otherwise it is called “moveable.”
299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.[116] The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.
300. An altar whether fixed or movable is dedicated according to the rite prescribed in the Roman Pontifical; but it is permissible for a movable altar simply to be blessed.
301. In keeping with the Church’s traditional practice and the altar’s symbolism, the table of a fixed altar is to be of stone and indeed of natural stone. In the dioceses of the United States of America, however, wood which is worthy, solid, and well-crafted may be used, provided that the altar is structurally immobile. The supports or base for upholding the table, however, may be made of any sort of material, provided it is worthy and solid.
A movable altar may be constructed of any noble and solid materials suited to liturgical use, according to the traditions and usages of the different regions.
302. The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics.
303. In building new churches, it is preferable to erect a single altar which in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church.
In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is positioned so that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected and sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order not to distract the attention of the faithful from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.
304. Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth, its shape, size, and decoration in keeping with the altar’s design. When, in the dioceses of the United States of America, other cloths are used in addition to the altar cloth, then those cloths may be of other colors possessing Christian honorific or festive significance according to longstanding local usage, provided that the uppermost cloth covering the mensa (i.e., the altar cloth itself) is always white in color.
305. Moderation should be observed in the decoration of the altar.
During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), solemnities, and feasts are exceptions.
Floral decorations should always be done with moderation and placed around the altar rather than on its mensa.
306. Only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the mensa of the altar: namely, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels; then from the Presentation of the Gifts until the purification of the vessels, the chalice with the paten, a ciborium, if necessary, and, finally, the corporal, the purificator, the pall, and the Missal.
In addition, microphones that may be needed to amplify the priest’s voice should be arranged discreetly.
307. The candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration (cf. no. 117), are to be appropriately placed either on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and the sanctuary so that the whole may be well balanced and not interfere with the faithful’s clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed on it.
308. There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.

The Ambo
309. The dignity of the word of God requires that the church have a place that is suitable for the proclamation of the word and toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word.[117]
It is appropriate that this place be ordinarily a stationary ambo and not simply a movable lectern. The ambo must be located in keeping with the design of each church in such a way that the ordained ministers and lectors may be clearly seen and heard by the faithful.
From the ambo only the readings, the responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; it may be used also for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should go up to it.
It is appropriate that a new ambo be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual[118] before it is put into liturgical use.

The Chair for the Priest Celebrant and Other Seats
310. The chair of the priest celebrant must signify his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing the prayer. Thus the best place for the chair is in a position facing the people at the head of the sanctuary, unless the design of the building or other circumstances impede this: for example, if the great distance would interfere with communication between the priest and the gathered assembly, or if the tabernacle is in the center behind the altar. Any appearance of a throne, however, is to be avoided.[119] It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the chair be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.[120]
Likewise, seats should be arranged in the sanctuary for concelebrating priests as well as for priests who are present for the celebration in choir dress but who are not concelebrating.
The seat for the deacon should be placed near that of the celebrant. Seats for the other ministers are to be arranged so that they are clearly distinguishable from those for the clergy and so that the ministers are easily able to fulfill the function entrusted to them.[121]

The Places for the Faithful
311. Places should be arranged with appropriate care for the faithful so that they are able to participate in the sacred celebrations visually and spiritually, in the proper manner. It is expedient for benches or seats usually to be provided for their use. The custom of reserving seats for private persons, however, is reprehensible.[122] Moreover, benches or chairs should be arranged, especially in newly built churches, in such a way that the people can easily take up the postures required for the different parts of the celebration and can easily come forward to receive Holy Communion.
Care should be taken that the faithful be able not only to see the priest, the deacon, and the lectors but also, with the aid of modern technical means, to hear them without difficulty.
The Place for the Choir and the Musical Instruments
312. The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass.[123]
313. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed in an appropriate place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the congregation and be heard with ease by all if they are played alone. It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.[124]
In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season’s character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), solemnities, and feasts.
The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist
314. In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.[125]
The one tabernacle should be immovable, be made of solid and inviolable material that is not transparent, and be locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible.[126] Moreover, it is appropriate that, before it is put into liturgical use, it be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.[127]
315. It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.[128]
Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop,

  1. Either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. no. 303);

  2. Or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful’s private adoration and prayer[129] and organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful.
316. In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should be kept alight to indicate and honor the presence of Christ.[130]
317. In no way should all the other things prescribed by law concerning the reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist be forgotten.[131]
Sacred Images
318. In the earthly Liturgy, the Church participates, by a foretaste, in that heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which she journeys as a pilgrim, and where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; and by venerating the memory of the Saints, she hopes one day to have some part and fellowship with them.[132]
Thus, images of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints, in accordance with the Church’s most ancient tradition, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful in sacred buildings[133] and should be arranged so as to usher the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. For this reason, care should be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately, and that they be arranged in proper order so as not to distract the faithful’s attention from the celebration itself.[134] There should usually be only one image of any given Saint. Generally speaking, in the ornamentation and arrangement of a church as far as images are concerned, provision should be made for the devotion of the entire community as well as for the beauty and dignity of the images.

tisdag 9 februari 2010

Universal Knowledge

Oxford - The High, originally uploaded by seadipper.
Britain's universities are braced for a round of cuts. This could be turned to advantage. Further education and training in Britain needs a complete re-think.

Universities were first established in Europe in the middle ages, as places for the teaching of universal knowledge. The range of subjects that was taught varied, but usually included theology, philosophy, mathematics, law, astronomy and medicine. As time went on, other subjects were added: chemistry, physics, mathematics, botany, zoology, classics and history. Geography, modern languages, anthropology, psychology, politics and economics were relative latecomers.

Subjects with a practical or vocational content such as art, architecture, and music tended to be taught in dedicated establishments, as, later on, were surveying, engineering and agriculture. Such courses usually involved periods of work in practical situations - learning on the job was balanced with learning the theory, so that the two informed each other.

From the 1960s, there was a huge expansion in university education, with the development of degree courses in subjects like town planning, landscape design, photography, computing science, and of course the notorious media studies. Many of these courses are a ragbag of short modules in which many subjects are taught at a superficial level. This is dangerous because students never get to learn anything in depth. That makes it impossible for them to appreciate when they are only skimming the surface of a subject - they never know how much they do not know. Having studied chemistry in the old way in the 1960s, I am well aware when there are gaps in my knowledge and will quickly own up to the deficiencies (I hope).

What needs to be done? Universities need to contract to teaching the core subjects in depth to a high level, more or less as they did when originally established. A degree from such establishments should be a guarantee that its possessor is not only familiar with a body of subject knowledge, but is also able to think at a high level in the abstract. Such universities should operate independently of the requirements of government and commerce, since to do so would degrade their function. it should be recognised that they exist to serve mankind as a whole.

The vocational subjects should be removed to establishments closely involved with commerce and the professions. The courses should redesigned to include substantial practical in-work content. The qualifications they issue should not be termed degrees, but should either be tied to the qualifications issued by professional bodies or awarded as subject-specific diplomas.

Of course, it is impossible to draw a sharp boundary between what is core and what is vocational, and there are subjects such as engineering that would probably have a place in both sets of institutions. Obviously, too, one of the functions of the cut-down universities would be to serve the vocational institutions.

Subjects everyone should study
There are a few subjects that everyone needs to have a grasp of. One is philosophy - the ability to think and reason for oneself and understand one's own situation in the world. This is something that should inform all teaching, from the earliest possible age. The other is economics. One of the reasons for the present economic problems is that the subject has become the preserve of experts, with the result that everyone else thinks it is too difficult. It is not. Everyone is obliged to act in the world of economics and needs to understand it. On the whole, their grasp is hazy, though often so is that of the so-called experts. Every street busker, for instance, instinctively understands aspects of economics that they would be unlikely to learn if they studied the subject in an academic context for decades!

Universities have become bloated and degrees devalued. Matters were set to get worse, with a proposal that 50% of school-leavers should go to university. It would do no harm to go back to first principles on the entire question of how young adults should be educated.

måndag 8 februari 2010

Coldest winter in Sweden for many years

Snowy night in Gothenberg, originally uploaded by seadipper.
My visit to Sweden has been during the coldest winter for fifteen years or so. Does everything carry on working like clockwork? No. The railways have been disrupted with the usual things like failed trains and iced-points, and the island ferries have been running to a special ice timetable. And people have been slipping and injuring themselves on the ice.

Nevertheless, better preparations have been made for the extreme cold weather and things keep going. Which is no criticism of the authorities in southern England, who have been caught out, because it is expensive to prepare for cold weather and it is better to take the risk of occasional disruption.

Living in a cold climate demands careful preparation or the consequences can be fatal. Which probably explains quite a lot about Swedish attitudes and the national character. It is an environment that is not so hostile that it is not usually possible to take control but the details have to be thought through in advance. It is not something one would appreciate without a visit at this time of the year.

torsdag 4 februari 2010

3G broadband timewasting

Huawei 3G sticks

In theory, 3G broadband is a good idea and these USB wireless receivers are just the job. But none of the providers give decent Linux support. Some models open up as a USB memory stick with a load of Windows software which is useless if you are not running M$. Others may or may not run, or run sometimes, seemingly at whim, so you never know what they will do. Some suppliers eg Phone House, will not refund your money if they prove not to work, because the packet has been opened, though how one is meant to try them without opening the packet is something the shop staff cannot explain.

Of the two illustrated, from 3G, the old one works fairly reliably but the new only works after many attempts.

What a waste of time.

måndag 1 februari 2010

Is Islamophobia racist?

To answer this question it is first necessary to define both Islamophobia and racism. A phobia is an irrational fear, and Islamophobia presumably means irrational fear of Islam. Racism means an irrational dislike of people of another race. Race is difficult to define but it would generally be agreed that people can be classified according to superficial physical characteristics like skin and eye colour. It is by these external features that people would be recognised as members of a particular race. Most of the characteristics of the different races seem to be adaptations to climate and are not something that any reasonable person should find disturbing. Examples of races would be white Europeans, Negroes, Australian Aborigines, etc, although vast numbers of people have a blend of those features which are regarded as racial markers, and indeed large areas of the world are populated by such. Ethnicity, which merges into but is separate from, nationality, is loosely related to race but goes further in extending the distinctiveness to cultural characteristics such as language, customs and possibly religion. Examples of ethnic groups are Tamils, Arabs, Jews and Roma, whilst national groups such as people of Irish or Polish descent tend to be regarded as an ethnic groups. As with plant and animal species, race and ethnicity are loose concepts.

Followers of Islam tend to be members of particular ethnic groups and historically have their origin in the Middle East and Africa. They therefore possess the characteristics of people from those parts of the world. But not all people from those parts of the world are Moslems; large numbers of Arabs are Christian, and both these, and the Jews who formerly lived in Moslem Arab countries, were indistinguishable from their neighbours in every respect apart from their religion and the customs pertaining to those religions.

A choice, not a race
It may be that dislike of Islam is sometimes, possibly often, based on nothing more than racial prejudice. That is to be condemned. But Islam is a body of doctrine and as such, its followers cannot expect their beliefs to be exempt from the same scrutiny as would be applied to other beliefs such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Marxism. Islam is a choice, not a race. Fear of accusations of racism should not be allowed to stifle honest discussion on this subject. It is no more racist to be against the teachings expressed in the Koran than it is to be against those contained in Das Kapital or Mein Kampf.

Mistake on Mistake

The beleaguered Jewish community of Malmö
The following article written by Ricard Westerberg was published in Dagens Nyheter on 30 January

“In a series of noteworthy articles, Skånska Dagbladet has been describing how the Jews of Malmö have become increasingly beleaguered in recent years. How the chapel at the Jewish cemetery was attacked with a firebomb. How Jewish children have been forced to change schools. How Jewish people no longer dare to show their Star of David because it can be thought offensive. How families with Jewish connections are moving out of the city because they feel threatened. How football teams with Jewish players are being harassed by the public. How security guards must be present during synagogue services.

“In this situation, on 27 January, the memorial day for victims of the Holocaust, the Social Democrat party community adviser, Ilmar Reepalu, chooses to criticise the Jewish community for failing to dissociate itself from the conduct of the Israeli government.

“ ‘I would have liked the Jewish community to distance itself from Israel’s harassment of the civil population in Gaza. Instead, they choose to hold a demonstration in Storatorget (the large market place), which can send out the wrong message.’

“This was a peaceful demonstration which was disrupted after violence from counter-demonstrators. And wrong messages? In this country everyone has the right to demonstrate – regardless of their opinion. Reepalu should defend this right resolutely. Instead, his statements risk encouraging the left-wing extremists and Islamic anti-semitism which is on on the march in Malmö.”

The death of civilised debate

The Guardian has been steadily reducing the number of articles on which comments are allowed. On the newspaper’s web site, which used to ap...