måndag 29 mars 2010

Palm Sunday procession

Palm Sunday procession, originally uploaded by seadipper.

The liturgy at St Mary Magdalen's just goes on getting better and better. The processional cross was decorated with palms and leaves this year.

This has similarities to the "four species" of the Jewish Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles) celebration, the species concerned being the palm, willow, myrtle and citron (a sort of lemon). The practice could well go back to the earliest days of the Christian church.

It has been suggested that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem actually took place on the Feast of Tabernacles rather than in the week before Passover. This is at least plausible.

The new layout of the sanctuary can be clearly seen in the picture.

A gap in the camera market?

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. If practicable, the sensor would be concave, to reduce aberration and provide a light path where all light rays struck the surface at 90 degrees, thereby avoiding the need for microlenses and simplifying the lens design.

The square format would be novel. Amongst other advantages, this format would permit the viewfinder to be used equally well with the left or right eye. It would also avoid having to make the decision whether to frame for a vertical or landscape format, as well as making the best possible use of the image produced by the lens.

For the sake of robustness, it would have manual focussing and the lens would have a thread for a protective filter. With such a small focal length, it will not be necessary to fit a rangefinder, although that could be optional.

The cost should be no more than £2000. How about it, someone?

Where is Leica going?

Leica has produced a variety of digital cameras over the years. Most of them have been a joint venture with their partner Panasonic. But nothing like the classic M series appeared until the M8. This model had teething troubles, people were dubious about the sensor, which was about 0.7 x full-size and the cost was around £3,000, which made for slow sales.

Full frame at last

The full size M9 appeared in Autumn 2009, at a staggering £5,000, significantly more in real terms than their 1960s equivalents. Despite the hefty price tag, the factory cannot satisfy demand, because it is the most compact full-frame camera available, when the alternative SLR is about the size of a four-cup teapot.

Is the M9 the last word in camera design? In my view it is not, and on the contrary has exposed a gap in the market. The M9 will not accept zoom lenses, apart from the special Tri-Elmar with three focal lengths. Most of the time, one uses a Leica M with a 35mm or 50mm lens, the latter being available as a f/2.8 collapsible Elmar, which is both compact, sharp and gives excellent colour depth. It seems as if there is room for a simple and robust fixed-lens camera that will do 80% of what the M9 can, at one-third of the cost or less.

Back to the Leica M2

Leica M2 (1958), originally uploaded by :Antonio.

Towards the end of the 1990s came digital imaging and, in 2005, Flickr. This encouraged me to start digitising my accumulation of forty years of negatives. I noticed a strange thing. That all my best material had been taken with the Leica M2 I had bought in 1970. Why? First, it was relatively compact and I tended to carry it with me, whereas the SLRs stayed at home. Second, the viewfinder shows not only what is in the view, but also what is outside the view. On this realisation, I promptly obtained another M2 which enabled me to carry on where I had left off.

Of course at the same time digital cameras had been maturing. I am not tempted to buy a digital SLR since the reasonable ones have become even bigger and clumsier than their film counterparts. My first digital camera was a Canon Ixus, of which the less said the better and I was not sorry when it died of salt spray after 18 months. In the meantime I obtained a more up-to-date Leica, an MP, very similar to the 50-year old M2 but with built-in light metering, though I also run films through the M2 from time to time. The M2 still seems smoother, more sensitive and responsive than the new MP.

Another recent purchase is a Ricoh G600, a rugged camera from which, with care, quite good pictures can be coaxed, but more importantly, will survive horrible conditions where one would not take a normal camera. But the picture quality can be disappointing, due to the small size of the sensor and the poor dynamic range that goes with it.

More on photography

Minox 35 GT, originally uploaded by Guido lighthunter.

In the mid-1990s I took up photography again, tentatively at first. By that time, good cameras made in the 1970s could be obtained for next to nothing. I was not keen on carrying around my big and heavy Nikon F2 so I got hold of an Olympus Trip 35, a small and simple camera with manual focussing and simple automatic exposure control. This was quite successful and I was not worried about taking it to places where one would not use a better camera. In that way I managed to get some dramatic shots such as one of the sea front cleaners at Brighton, trying to sweep back the sea at high tide in a gale. My only criticism is that the pictures are soft.

Other cameras from this period that I tried were a Canonet, which had an incredibly sharp lens but was bigger and clumsier then the Olympus, and an Olympus RC, a camera like the Trip but with a coupled rangefinder.

Finding I was taking my photography more seriously I obtained a Nikon F3 body for use with my lens collection, again at no great outlay.

By then, digital cameras had started to become popular and the better old classic film cameras could be picked up quite inexpensively. At that time, out of curiosity, partly encouraged by my friend Lomokev, I tried a variety of old classic film cameras. These include the Contax T2, which is beautifully made, takes sharp pictures with rich colour rendering, but suffers from a poor viewfinder and the lack of a thread for a protective UV filter; the Olympus XA , which is compact, robust and takes reasonable photographs; and the Minox 35GT (above) the smallest 35 mm camera ever made, not quite as robust as the Olympus and mine gave a disappointingly soft rendering.

Unfortunately the Minox was so small that I lost it a couple of times, eventually for good, so my cheap film camera is now the Olympus XA.

torsdag 18 mars 2010

Clerical and other sexual abuse

The scandal of sexual abuse by the clergy continues to make the Catholic Church a target for criticism. One excuse is that "it wasn't taken so seriously in those days".

Having grown up "in those days", perhaps I can shed some light on the subject. A minority of classmates talked about their sexual activity even in primary school. This was usually with older brothers. In secondary school, it was common between the boys by the age of twelve, and usually initiated by another slightly older boy, in one case a young man, a scoutmaster. But since both parties were happy to relate in detail what they regarded as adventures, with a sense of achievement, it is obvious that the matter was between equals - we were all willing participants and it was something that happened amongst friends. On one occasion I was approached by a creepy man in his thirties, which was a different matter. I made a quick getaway.

Things were slightly different in the boarding school, then an all-boys' institution, I attended from the age of 13. The authorities took a strict line on sexual activities and anyone caught was asked to leave. This acted as something of a curb but still did not stop a lot of the 14-year-old boys in the 8-bed dormitory pairing up and sleeping with each other. One of the masters was of dubious sexuality, but everyone gave him a wide berth. Another was definitely weird. He was in charge of the prep school and attracted to the better-looking fifteen-year-old boys whom he called "my specials". One of the prefects' duties was to keep an eye on the prep school after lights-out in the early evening and when the master came back, the prefect had to report if any of the boys had misbehaved. Of course there were always a few, and they had to be given the slipper. The master clearly enjoyed watching the handsome prefects whacking the naughty eleven-year-olds. But to my knowledge it never went further.

I don't know what one can conclude from all this.

måndag 15 mars 2010

Ultimate Islam

What is the ultimate Islam? Islam means submission to God's will, does it not? The ultimate submission to God's will was enacted in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is necessary only to follow his instructions and example, chief amongst them being to love one another and eat his body and drink his blood.

The ultimate Islam is orthodox Christianity.

onsdag 10 mars 2010

Banks cause capital flight from Africa

This from the website of Tax Justice

Norway's development organisation Norad has commissioned the respected Chr. Michelsen Institute to produce a new literature review entitled How banks assist capital flight from Africa - A literature review. Its first sentence notes something we've long been aware of:

"Systematic studies of the banking sector’s involvement in facilitating capital flight from developing countries are limited."

"The review shows that banks should not be disregarded as passive players when analysing capital flight. Banks play an active role in facilitating capital flight from Africa."

So what is actually leaving Africa by the container-load? Factories, mines, and the machinery that is in them? Logs? Wild game? Rhinoceros horns? Land? Paper claims on wealth?

I ask the question because capital is such a vague term that nobody seems to be able to define it any more.

tisdag 2 mars 2010

The evil legacy of Margaret Thatcher

The £ is sinking in the foreign exchange markets, on the news that the Conservatives seem not to have enough support to enable them to form a majority government at the next election. The Conservatives suffer from the legacy of Thatcher, they appear to be too close to the landowning and corporate interest groups and they have a track record of making people poor, although so does Labour. They also come across as appealing too much to greed and too little recognition of the public realm and its value.

People do not trust the Conservatives and this leaves enough support for Labour, despite its disastrous track record. The Conservatives have not helped themselves, since they have failed to develop a convincing set of policies in the thirteen years they have been out of office.

No such thing as society
Thatcher's exact words, I am told were "There's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people and people must look after themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves, and then, also, to look after our neighbours." 1979

There is everything wrong with that statement by Thatcher and you see its evil consequences the instant you step into Britain. There is a such a thing as society and consequently a public realm.

In Britain, this public realm is not valued as it is in other countries, and it is noticeable, down to the minutest triviae. People don't generally drop litter in Scandinavia. The pavements are not spotted with chewing gum. If you travel in a train you will find a brush and paper towels in the toilet. That is only possible when everyone is recognises that there is such a thing as society.

Duties of government
There is the individual and there is the family on one side, and there is government on the other, and yes, government is made up of, but is more than the sum of, individuals. Individuals, families and government all have their particular duties.

Amongst the duties of government are:
  • to defend the realm, to apply justice,
  • to deal with emergencies,
  • to ensure that everyone has the means to provide themselves and their families with a livelihood, and
  • to collect the rent of land
This latter is because if government does not, all sorts of undesirable consequences follow. Not the least of them is that large numbers of families end up being unable to provide themselves with a livelihood. Then comes socialism. More and more become dependent on welfare, which eventually consumes ever-increasing public funds.

Now I would have thought that a recognition of those points described above as the minimum duties of government would form the basis of a genuine conservative programme, but sadly the Conservatives have just thrashed around whilst out of office instead of getting a coherent policy together and gathering public support.

Thatcher's foolish statement seems to have its origins in US libertarianism, perhaps in the writings of the evil Ayn Rand. At a more general level, it has promoted the f*** you attitudes which have brought us to Broken Britain. She has a lot to answer for. Thatcher, together with the changes that came with 1960s "freedom", gave assent to the change in social attitudes that have brought us to broken, bankrupt Britain 2010.

The rise of home ownerism
Home ownership went up during the Thatcher years. In the end it led to a house price bubble and bust (in reality land price bust) in 1992, followed by four years of serious depression. This recovered and then we had a re-run, only ten times, worse ending in the collapse of 2008.
And homes became unaffordable as the price of land spiralled up. We need, amongst other things, a different model of home ownership than Thatchers.

Oil revenues squandered
Another of the evils of the Thatcher government was the way it squandered North Sea oil revenues to shut the coal mines, which were not uneconomic. They then used the money to pay for the high levels of unemployment, especially in the former mining areas, during much of the time it was in power.

The mines were abandoned and cannot be reopened and we are faced with an energy problem despite the fact that most of Britain is sitting on a layer of coal, sufficient to last 300 years.

Now we have vast tracts of the country with a dead economy, dead, drug-ridden societies, a mood of hopelessness and a burden on the taxpayer ie hard-working people. Conservative policies lead to exactly the same problems as socialist ones, which is why it is a good idea not to attach oneself to any political -ism but to look around for oneself and see what is happening on the ground.

And looking on the ground I see Norway which has used its oil revenues to build good infrastructure and for other investment. It is no accident that the Norwegian krona is one of the few currencies in the world which is not crashing down.

Then there was the ludicrous Poll Tax which finished off the silly woman. But her sour legacy, not least of which are the nonsensical cult of managerialism, the notion that everything must look good on the bottom line and that is all that counts, and that the Conservatives are not trusted in this country.

What a wonderful politician.

måndag 1 mars 2010

Taking a balanced view in the church

After Mass our parish priest usually, and very kindly, invites people into his kitchen for discussions about events of the day. This tends to be a smoky affair, which I don't like, as some people make roll-ups filled with stuff that belongs on a compost heap. Today's ended up talking about the teaching of sex in schools. My own experience is that teaching a subject at school is the way to kill all interest in it. One can envisage the children   sitting in class reading illicit text books on Latin and Chemistry hidden inside the covers of the text books on sex. One also worries that they would end up knowing nothing at the end of the course.

The role of the "gay lobby" then came up - this is a strange phenomenon which has moved in a period of 40 years from a fight against intolerance to what is beginning to look like proselytisation. The Catholic church is unambiguous about this: everyone is welcome so long as they are chaste, and if they have sinned then they should refrain from communion until they have been to confession. This is the rule that applies to all, whatever their sexual orientation or state of life. So it is OK for a gay man to have a partner, only don't have sex with him, which is not so very difficult and still leaves plenty of scope for a loving relationship.

After the regular Extraordinary form Mass on Fridays, the conversation can take a different turn, especially if anyone who frequents the SSPX masses turns up. These cover a variety of positions, including the notion that the Pope is not the Pope, the Catholic church is not the proper church, and that the See of Peter is vacant, hence the term Sedevacantist.

I don't know the precise events which led to Archbishop Lefebre's group being excommunicated, but presumably it was the unauthorised consecration of bishops ie without the agreement of Rome, this amounting to voluntary excommunication on the part of the one excommunicated.

The Catholic church contains individuals with a broad range of views and nobody is actually excommunicated unless they do or preach something well outside what is regarded as the official teaching and practice of the church. Thus we have to put up with, amongst other things, near-Marxists, appalling liturgies, and indifferent bishops, all for the sake of unity. And that is the whole point of being Catholic - one cannot be more Catholic than the Pope. "Catholic Fundamentalist" is an oxymoron.

Which is why I find SSPX followers worrying. They present an extreme traditionalist view, which is fine, but they will not accept that there is room for any other, which is not fine. The Pope, as shepherd, has the onerous task of holding his wayward flock together. If one refuses to accept that role, one is not Catholic at all, but heretical, since it is to deny an article of dogma, making one a member of what amounts to a protestant sect.

Poverty and Politics
Poverty and politics are also natural subjects for discussion in the run-up to the election. All of the political parties are running policies which make people poor. But the focus tend to be pro-life, anti-abortion and at best, anti-poverty - meaning that we should do something for the poor. In the past, there have been candidates running on such a ticket.

It is not enough. Catholic Social Teaching has, in principle, the solutions to most of the problems of finance, the economy and "Broken Britain", but we keep silent. Most of us don't even know what is Catholic Social Teaching, let alone what sort of practical policies would follow from putting it into effect.

This is tragic because none of the other parties have policies that even begin to address the problems, leaving us in a position to achieve a radical breakthrough if we had the will. Yet there is a whole body of Catholic social teaching that needs to be translated into practical policies before anyone can claim to be a "Catholic" politician.

Green Policy

I received this from Caroline Lucas

Many thanks for your recent email about Green Party policy on a number of issues. Caroline has asked me to respond on her behalf and I hope the information below helps as you make your decision about how to vote. Please note that we deal with Caroline’s work as an MEP and if you need more party political type information you can contact her campaign office in Brighton on 01273 766 670 or by email to caroline.lucas@brightonandhovegreenparty.org.uk

1) Equalities Legislation
Caroline and the Green Party are very supportive of better legal protection against discrimination. The Equality Bill is in part transposing European legislation called the Equal Treatment Directive. MEPs voted to extend discrimination protection beyond the labour market to goods and services to cover discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, disability, age and religion/belief. It is worth noting that a compromise adopted in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee was an assurance that the directive does not alter the division of competences between the European Union and its member states, so that for example the decision who can have access to marriage falls outside the scope. Moreover, the Directive does not seek to go beyond the extension of equal rights and it will have no impact on freedom of speech or association. Greens steered these proposals through the Parliament and Caroline was happy overall with the outcome, although on some issues she would have liked to see her colleagues go further. She is committed to human right for all and believes that this Directive goes some considerable way to ensuring equality in the EU without undermining any fundamental rights. As far as other aspects of the Equality Bill are concerned, Greens have called for some aspects to be improved, including to provide for gender pay audits, for unions and individuals to be more easily able to start equal pay cases, and for a requirement on major companies to have at least 40 per cent of their boards female (as is now the case in Norway). We also want it amended to provide explicit protection against harassment to LGBT people.

2) Abortion
The Green Party has policy that states that it is essential for women to have greater control over reproductive health care. This would be delivered, in part, by providing comprehensive, free family planning services available to everyone and in accessible locations such as high streets. And on abortion specifically, the Green Party document Policies for a Sustainable Society says:

The Green Party will not support any change to the current laws on abortions which would aim to make it more difficult for women to obtain them. Such a change in the law would do nothing to address the underlying factors which lead to women seeking abortions. Instead, it is likely to drive them into going elsewhere for the operations - either overseas or to illegal practitioners in this country - which will increase both the distress and the health risks for those involved.

The Green Party recognises that the decision whether or not to continue with a pregnancy is never undertaken lightly. The Green Party believes that counselling should be offered to every woman considering an abortion. However, the ultimate decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should always lie with the pregnant woman who has to deal with the consequences of that decision.

Caroline feels that women's right to self-determination regarding sexual health is vital - both across Europe and worldwide - as a means of addressing poverty. At European level she has called for member states to guarantee women-centred care and services related to reproductive health.

In Spring 2008, the Green Party adopted policy that expressed concern about the rising number of abortions in England and Wales and acknowledges the moral discomfort that it raises. It called for a multi-policy strategy incorporating effective sex education in all schools, adequate financial support for all parents, and adequate provision of effective family planning advice. It also incorporated recommendations from the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology to remove the rule that requires two doctors to approve a woman's decision to have an abortion, to allow abortions to be carried out by appropriately trained nurses and midwives up to three months into pregnancy, and to remove restrictions on where abortions can be carried out.

These aspects of the policy are designed not to make accessing an abortion ‘easier’ but to eradicate the significant differences between the experiences of women using the NHS and those who have an abortion privately. More than 20% of abortions in England are carried out privately, reflecting the fact that in some NHS trusts women can have to wait up to seven weeks once they have made the decision to have an abortion. Even the standard target time of three weeks is a long time for a woman to have to wait, when in a private clinic they can usually have the abortion within days. Identifying and implementing measures to reduce social inequality are at the core of the Green Party's philosophy, and this policy is an important step to ensure women do not face additional emotional pain and higher medical risks because they cannot afford to 'go private'.

3) Euthanasia
The Green Party recognises that medical decisions taken towards the end of a person's life should never be undertaken lightly. We believe that when the quality of life is poor (e.g. due to severe dementia), life prolonging treatments such as influenza vaccines and antibiotics should not be given routinely without consideration of the whole situation including the wishes of the patient and relatives.

Assisted death presents moral and legal concerns to health care professionals and the public. We believe that people have a right to an assisted death within a strict framework that includes:

  • The appointment of an independent advocate must be made when either diagnosis of terminal illness is made or the person receiving care expresses the desire to end their life.
  • Counselling must always be offered to every patient considering an assisted death
  • Alternatives, such as palliative care must be discussed with the patient.
  • The patient's ability to make the decision must be established by joint assessment of two independent doctors, one of whom should ordinarily be the patient's GP, unless impractical in the circumstances, in which case it may be the patient's medical consultant, one of which must be a psychiatrist and a third independent registered health or social care professional who has undertaken approved training in this area and who has no prior knowledge of the patient.
  • This decision must take into account evidence provided by the independent advocate.
  • Treatable illnesses that may impinge upon the decision making ability, e.g. depression, must be treated and excluded from the rationale for requesting an assisted death.
  • The patient has the right to appoint individuals either during or prior to the process who will have access to their medical and other records and whom they wish to be involved in discussions.
  • The patient's informed consent must be clearly documented. Full discussion of the outcomes of both the illness and the assisted death must also be provided in a language and form understandable to the patient.
  • The patient's close family should be involved in all discussions.
  • There should normally be a waiting period of at least 7 days, set by local policy, for the patient to reflect on their decision.
  • Patients could orally revoke the request at any point.
  • Healthcare professionals can refuse to be party to any stage of assisted deaths for their own moral reasons.
  • Assisted death will be notifiable.

4) Land Value Taxation (LVT)
This is a key Green Party policy and will feature in our general election manifesto. Any election literature Caroline produces will not be able to cover every single issue and I imagine that those she is leading on are those that she considers will most resonate with potential voters. I will certainly make sure that the campaign team knows you consider LVT to be amongst those issues. I am sure Caroline will be promoting the policy as and when she can in the run up to a general election.

I hope that gives you an insight into our policies and thank you for taking the time to contact Caroline.

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...