måndag 26 december 2011

The religion of peace strikes again

At least 35 people were killed in an explosion in a Catholic church in the suburbs of Abuja in Nigeria, while a second explosion rocked a church in Jos.

Guardian article.

måndag 5 december 2011

lördag 3 december 2011

Virgins of the Islamic Paradise

Porcelain Nuns by A.Currell
Porcelain Nuns, a photo by A.Currell on Flickr.

I like to think of the Virgins of the Islamic Paradise turning out to be be nuns, preferably of the Sacred Heart Order, pre-Vatican 2.

Health and Safety

In a discussion in the Guardian's Comment is Free yesterday, I was asked, "Where in the Physiocrats' Laissez-Faire life of purity do you think health and safety legislation figures?"

It is an excellent question. Laissez-Faire concerns, primarily, the realm of economics. The answer to the question, however, lies in the common law concept of "duty of care". The fear and possibility of being sued is an excellent deterrent against laxity in matters of health and safety. Legislation should do no more than codify good practice for the guidance of the parties concerned.

In the economic sphere, the most important contribution of the Physiocrats is their proposal for the replacement of the multiplicity of contemporary taxes by the Single Tax, or Impôt Unique, which is explained in the Wikipedia if anyone is interested.

However, beware of the Wikipedia. Entries tend to be pulled this way and that by people pushing their own agendas (possibly including me, of course). Thus, "individualism" has been appropriated by Anarcho-Capitalists, who, when tackled, turn out to be bitterly opposed to the single tax proposal which they revile as communistic! The Physiocrat model is the antithesis of Anarcho-Capitalism.

The French Wikipedia entry on L'Impôt Unique is a good example of how unreliable it can be, since it describes it as the "Flat Tax", which it most definitely is not.

In present economic circumstances, the bargaining power of labour is weak, since most people have no option but to sell their labour power to an employer and are little more than wage slaves. The single tax policy would correct this imbalance so that employers and labour were bargaining from an equal position of strength. Employers who were careless about health and safety would quickly find that nobody would work for them.

måndag 28 november 2011

Lenovo X61 repair

Lenovo X61 repair by Henry░Law
Lenovo X61 repair, a photo by Henry░Law on Flickr.

I bought an X61 laptop recently, about four years old with nothing on the disk. These are very good value at around £150 on Ebay. With the small battery and without the docking bay it weighs about 1300 gm which makes it a powerful netbook, with a 1TB hard drive and 4GB RAM.

When started to use it I discovered minor damage to the plastic case. There was a split on the left hand side at the very rear, spreading from the corner of the fan ventilator. As a result the screen and lid were opening unevenly.

This is a stress point and a design flaw not on the earlier X31 I have. I would not be surprised if many X61 machines have exactly the same damage. I have mended it unobtrusively by cutting a piece of black plastic and super-gluing it over the crack, which reinforces where it is needed.

As it would have been easier to do this before the crack had occurred, it might be worth thinking about doing this preventatively.

fredag 25 november 2011

Who cares about tax havens?

There is more moaning about tax havens. Professional moaner about tax havens, Richard Murphy, has just published a book on the subject. I am sure it is a fascinating read. Personally I do not give a fig about about tax havens. They are the product of a rotten tax system.

If the bucket leaks it is up to the owner of the bucket to fix it. They should not blame the cat for lapping up the spilled milk.

tisdag 22 november 2011

Fanny may in the U-kay

The government's announcement of guarantees for 95% mortgages for house purchase, suppported by both Prime Minister Cameron and Deputy Clegg, demonstrates either an absolute lack of understanding of the nature of the problem, or moral cowardice, or both.

The aim, we are told, is to "unstick the housing market", which has stagnated due to the banks' refusal to give mortgages larger than 80% of the value of the property they are lending on.

Fanny May = taxpayers will pay

This sets the scene for a UK run of the Fannie Mae debacle. It will also pump up the housing bubble for a while. The government is doing the very thing it should not be doing.

If the housing market worked as advocates of the free market assure us it does, then the price of houses would drop to market-clearing levels. Some building firms would lose a lot of money, having bought land at the height of the boom and found themselves stuck with it in what they call their "land banks". That's market forces for you. They misjudged and overpaid. According to the principles of market capitalism, they would be allowed to fail for their mistake. But in the re-worked style of capitalism that is now being imposed in Britain, capitalists who get it wrong are handed out welfare at the expense of the taxpayers. It gives rise to moral hazard in a strangely reversed mirror-image style of socialism.

There are, apparently, about 300,000 housing units for which planning consent has been given but which have not been constructed. This is the "stickiness" referred to but the real cause is that the developers are asking too much and refuse to drop their prices to take account of the present state of the market. And so the taxpayers are being asked to pay for the developers' mistakes, and pay they will, because there will be defaults on some of these 95% mortgages

What should have happened was that the developers should have been made to pay the price. After all, they were happy to rake in the profits when land values were rising. Apart from having to provide a bit of social housing or planning gain, they enjoyed rich pickings from the increases in land value released by planning consents.

To get development moving again, all the government needed to do was to announce that as from 6 April 2013, sites with planning consent would be subject to the same Council Tax as if the development had been constructed. The sites would have been built on and the exchequer would have received useful extra revenue. It would not have been LVT but the end result would have been similar.

söndag 20 november 2011

Traditional Latin Mass is the future

From next week, for a trial period, our local parish priest has decided to say an Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) every Sunday. This is partly a response to the growing attendance at the weekly Friday evening TLM, and partly as a result of experience with using this liturgy on other occasions. The surprise has been that it is more accessible and inclusive than the 1970 Mass in any of its forms. This is not an experience confined to the local parish, as I have noticed it elsewhere. The future of the Catholic church is with the TLM, accompanied of course by other practices such as regular prayer by the laity and regular confession.

The main benefits are, first and foremost, that it is perceived as more prayerful. There are extended and well-defined periods of silence, but it is a silence in which something is happening. With the priest facing in the same direction as the rest of the congregation, there is a stronger sense that everyone is taking part in the action, which is less dominated by the celebrant. The priest finds it less distracting. The sacred mysteries are shielded from the full view of the congregation just as they are in an Orthodox liturgy where the altar is situated behind the iconostasis. The servers have an easier task as everything is carefully prescribed and it is necessary only to learn what has to be done and when.

The use of Latin is inclusive. Language is a great divider, separating both nations and social groups within nations. Latin cuts across all these divisions, since it has long since ceased to be the property of any particular nation. The TLM also has the advantage that the choir is singing during the long recitation of the prayers of consecration, which are best followed silently in the missal in whatever language one chooses.

Paradoxically, this growing realisation of the quality and accessibility of the TLM comes at an unfortunate time, because the new, and much improved English translation of the 1970 (Novus Ordo, NO) Mass has just been brought into use. One wonders now what its long-term future is? Its main value may in the end be for catechesis.

A further question raised is this. What is the legality of introducing TLM practices into an NO celebration? What if all the NO rubrics were followed but the prayers were to be said in English? What if the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Last Gospel were recited? What if the Canon of the Mass was said silently, either in Latin or the vernacular? These things are not provided for in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which stipulates how thing should be done, but on the other hand, celebration of the NO mass is still very much according to the way the particular priest chooses to do it. Would it then be wrong for a priest to adopt TLM prayers and rubrics in an NO Mass?

måndag 14 november 2011

Paedophile clerics - who should pay?

The recent decision by the courts, that priests are in effect employees and answerable to their bishops, raises two concerns. These will presumably be considered by the appeal court to whom the matter has now been referred.

First, there is the substance of the complaints themselves. Many of these relate to incidents long ago. The principal actors are in many cases long dead and cannot be cross-examined. There is a lot of money at stake. How can genuine victims be distinguished from gold-diggers?

Second, in the event of damages being awarded, who should be responsible for paying?

Parishioners contribute to the church's funds, and it appears that these are held by trustees under rules set by the Charity Commissioners. Is compensation for actions due to a bishop's negligence a proper use of these funds?

There would be a good case to argue that they are not. Most people would not give money to the church if they thought it was going to be used for such a purpose. In effect, it would be to underwrite the actions of the bishop, over whose appointment and actions they had no control. Dissatisfaction with bishops is widespread, with concerns about matters that extend well beyond the misbehaviour of what is still, fortunately, a tiny minority of priests.

In a hierarchical body such as the church, the chain of accountability is upwards, so that responsibility for the actions of a bishops must surely lie with whoever appointed him. Or could the liability be personal?

onsdag 9 november 2011

Limits of democracy

Occupy Brighton camp
Occupy Brighton camp
Occupy Brighton camp

This is the protest camp that has sprung up in Brighton, in Victoria Gardens. It seems to be dominated by the local anarchists. I have a certain sympathy with their anger as they are the generation that is paying for the decades of mismanagement of the economy.

However, a brazier was burning under a large and very old tree, which cannot have been good for it. I suggested that they might like to move it to where there were no tree branches above. I mentioned this to someone there, and she said she accepted the point and would put it to everyone at the meeting. It seems as if there is a democratic structure in which everyone has an equal voice. Perfect democracy, one might say.

Except this. It is worrying that nobody had the sense to realise that fires should not be lit under trees. But in situations like this, there are those who know and those who do not, and giving everyone an equal voice could have a bad outcome. It is like trying to run a ship with a committee made up of the entire crew, and giving them an equal say, when there are some who know about sails or engines, some about cooking, some about navigation, some about radio, some who are normally content to shift heavy stuff around, and so on. You cannot leave technical decisions in the hands of people who are not versed in the relevant discipline.

The Brighton occupation raises another point. Most of the campers seem to be middle class, affecting a working class accent. They have the resources to equip themselves with comfortable, weathertight accommodation. But also in Brighton is a hard core of genuinely homeless people, with nowhere to go, who are living in the streets and sleeping in shop doorways.

I wonder if it has occurred to these concerned anarchists to engage with their neighbours who have fallen through all the safety nets? How would they feel about sharing their well-found accommodation with those much worse-off than themselves?

The single tax is not a tax

The Single Tax is not a tax. It is the collection of the rental value of land and its use as public revenue. Were this to be done there would be no need of taxes.

måndag 7 november 2011

Latin Mass goes from strength to strength

Traditional Latin Mass- Arundel Cathedral by Henry░Law
Traditional Latin Mass- Arundel Cathedral, a photo by Henry░Law on Flickr.

This would have been a rare sight even ten years ago, but with the publication of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, and the removal of the remaining restrictions on its use, the old rite (Tridentine) Mass is being celebrated quite frequently, at least in some places.

When the restrictions were lifted, people seem to have thought that it would be an exception, and hence it was styled the "Extraordinary Form" (EF), as against the Novus Ordo (NO) liturgy now termed the "Ordinary Form". What was perhaps not expected was that it is, though very slowly, becoming mainstream. A couple of parishes have adopted it as the main Sunday sung mass, whilst there is a growing number of Sunday celebrations once a month, and regular Low Masses on weekdays. Also surprising (or perhaps not so surprising), is that attendance is no longer exclusively by the ageing stalwarts who have supported the Latin Mass Society for the last forty years. A substantial contingent of under-30s is now typical in congregations at these liturgies.

Equally surprising is that an increasing number of parishioners with no special interest in the liturgy are comfortable with the EF Mass, and possibly more so now that the new English translation has come into use. This latter is a great improvement on the old translation and has prompted attempts at setting the new texts to the traditional Gregorian Chants. These are of mixed quality. The rhythms of the English language do not suit the Gregorian Chant, which is presumably why Anglican Chant was devised. An increasing use of Latin is also leading to liturgies which switch awkwardly and unpredictably between the two languages. The logical conclusion of this trend is to do everything in Latin apart from the readings, but in the NO, there is the long period when the Canon of the Mass is recited, which does not work particularly well in Latin, but which in the EF form is said silently whilst the choir is singing the Sanctus.

This difference, which is the most noticeable one to anyone in the congregation, means, perhaps surprisingly, that the EF Mass is more accessible than the newer form. A further benefit is that where parishes are ethnically mixed, not only is the Latin neutral ground, it would also help to unify parishes which have become divided into different national groups according to which mass they attend.

The sooner that parish priests realise this, the better.

fredag 4 november 2011

Catholic architecture

Brompton Oratory by Henry░Law
Brompton Oratory, a photo by Henry░Law on Flickr.
The design of the London Oratory, seen here on the Feast of Corpus Christi, is what became standard after the Council of Trent. It is clear and logical both from an architectural and theological point of view. There is a linear progression from secular to sacred: nave, then sanctuary, marked by a change in level and altar rails, then further steps leading to the altar, then reredos with the tabernacle in a raised position in the centre, the whole surmounted by, and culminating in, the crucifix and three flanking candles on either side.

The sacredness of the sanctuary is further emphasised by a change in flooring materials and rules concerning who is permitted to be there and what clothing they should wear.

It would be difficult to think of an architectural form that could more clearly express Catholic theology. This architectural and ceremonial use of differences to present teachings of a profound nature, is, as Claude Lévi-Strauss explored in his development of structural anthropology, a common thread in all human societies. Neglect it at our peril.

torsdag 3 november 2011

More web fraud - take care

I have been receiving emails purporting to come from Paypal and asking for confirmation of my username and password. It seems as if they are being intercepted.

This was an obvious fraud but I clicked on the link and was directed to a login page which looked like the official one. But the web address did not begin with https. I entered my email address and a made-up password which logged me in to some site with a form asking for various details, again without the https prefix.

If you get one of these, report the fraud to whoever is being imitated. Yahoo, Google, Paypal and the banks have their own email address for this.

måndag 31 oktober 2011

Stop messing about with the clocks

Changing the clocks by Henry░Law
Changing the clocks, a photo by Henry░Law on Flickr.
Yet again we have to change the clocks. There seem to be more than ever, with clocks on things that never used to have clocks but which do not change themselves automatically.

Some people are suggesting that the UK should stay on Summer Time all the year round. The last time this was tried was around 1968 and it was unpopular in Scotland, where it did not begin to get light in Glasgow in January until about 9.30 in the morning.

Our continental neighbours are on Central European Time which is an hour later than Greenwich Mean Time. That suits their situation perfectly well. But nobody can do anything about the fact that noon is more than an hour later in Glasgow than it is in Berlin and Stockholm, nor that in higher latitudes the days are shorter in the winter.

Clocks are set up so that noon - when the sun is at its highest, is at 12.00. Putting the clocks forward by an hour in the summer is just a way of making people get up an hour earlier. The same result could be achieved by changing work and school starting times from around Easter till the end of October.

Time to stop messing about with the clocks.

fredag 21 oktober 2011

Energy efficiency in the home

I have just received an energy efficiency appraisal for my house, which is required before I can sell it. It contains advice on steps that could be taking to make it more efficient. These included
  • Fit low energy bulbs at a cost of £15 to save £23 a year
  • Upgrade heating controls at a cost of £350 - £450 to save £38 a year
  • Replace boiler with new condensing boiler at a cost of £1,500 - £3,500 to save £46 a year
  • Solar water heating £4,000 - £6,000 to save £33 a year
  • Replace single glazed windows with double glazed at a cost of £2,500 - £6,500 to save £70 a year
  • Fit photovoltaic panels at a cost of £11,000 - £20,000 to save £222 a year
Apart from the fitting of energy efficient lighting, of which the main benefit is that the units do not need to be changed so often, the payback times for most of the recommendations are between 30 and nearly 200 years! One then has to ask what is the embodied energy in these energy saving measures?

From which it can be concluded that the most effective energy-saving measure I could make would be to put on an extra layer of clothes.

One measure not suggested in the report was the use of a dehumidifier. In damp weather it can feel uncomfortably chilly even though the outside temperature is 15 degrees or more. It is then necessary to heat the building to around 25 degrees. By removing the moisture, the environment is comfortable at a lower temperature. A dehumidifier is also an efficient substitute for a tumbler drier, extracting the latent heat from the evaporating moisture and distributing it around the house as warm, dry air.

söndag 16 oktober 2011

Novus Ordo versus Usus Antiquor

Extraordinary form mass - elevation of the host

On Saturday, the Association for Latin Liturgy had an event at St Mary Magdalen's in Brighton, including the celebration of a Solemn High Mass according to the Novus Ordo rite, all in Latin, with the priest in the ad orientem position and sung Gregorian Chant throughout, apart from the readings which were in English.

This is as good as the Novus Ordo Mass can get, but it raises questions. Ever since Pope Benedict announced that the Tridentine form had never been abrogated and that no special permission was required for its celebration, an increasing number of parish priests, though still a small minority, have been using this rite, now known as the Extraordinary Form. At St Mary Magdalen's we have it every Friday evening, and once a month on a Sunday afternoon. These liturgies have attracted a regular following, with a good proportion of young people, and now that we are used to it, comparison with the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin is instructive.

From the perspective of someone in the congregation, the first impression is that there is very little difference between the two. The second impression is the amount of time taken for the recitation of the Canon of the Mass in Latin in the newer rite, which would be silent in the older rite, with the singing of the Sanctus taking place at the same time. The effect in the new mass is to prolong it unduly and to no apparent gain. For a lay person not familiar with Latin ie nearly everyone, the Tridentine Mass is actually more accessible. Which makes me wonder if the Novus Ordo has any future in the longer term.

onsdag 7 september 2011

Did the holocaust really happen?

This blog assembles a mass of evidence as concisely as it is possible (article is in Swedish but the pictures are bad enough)

tisdag 6 september 2011

Linhof Technika Camera for sale

A magnificent piece of German craftsmanship dating from the late 1950s, I have had this camera since 1977 but hardly used it as the project I bought it for never happened. The camera has a ground glass back and a roll film carrier to take 10 exposures on 120 roll film ie 6 x 7 cm. It has a coupled rangefinder and three matching Schneider lenses, a 65 mm f/8 Super Angulon, a 105 mm f/3.5 Xenar and a 150 mm f/5.6 Apo Symmar. All the lenses are Linhof selected. The original owner seems hardly to have used it either so it is in excellent condition, including the bellows.

It will be available for purchase on Ebay in about two weeks time.

söndag 4 september 2011

Goodbye Old New Order

The new translation of the English language mass starts today.

The old one deserves an elegy. E Strobes of Private Eye would have been up to this one, but being no poet, I cannot step into his shoes and can only manage this couple of lines.

Good Riddance and Goodbye,
Old New Order.

fredag 2 september 2011

Should banks buy betting shops?

Bank regulation is in the news. Why not let the banks buy up betting shop chains? They could have counters in their branches for their customers to back dogs and horses. It would be so convenient to be able to pay for bets directly out of one's account. They could also extend their business that way with internet betting.

They could also make a lot of money by putting one-armed bandits on their premises, including those all-night places with cash machines in them - they would be much more profitable if they were run as amusement arcades.

Why not? It's a logical development from their present activities.

torsdag 25 augusti 2011

Gaddafi escapes

Tuareg veiled woman in desert - Libya

Here is Gaddafi leaving his bunker in Tripoli. Will he ever be found? He has 3,630,000 sq miles of the Sahara to hide in.

fredag 19 augusti 2011

What does it matter so long as you love the Lord?


"What does it matter so long as you love the Lord?"

A friend of mine says this when I say that I need to go to the Catholic church on Sunday. The other options are to sit in the woods and pray, or go to the local Protestant church, (above), a little architectural gem.

This is the view that all religions are as good as each other so it does not really matter what religion one follows. As a Catholic my friend ought to know better.

Jesus Christ is the Lord. Jesus founded the church and ordered its sacraments.

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

It is as simple as that. Of course we should love the Lord. And if we love him we will do as he says, and that includes keeping the rules of the church: going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation, receiving Communion at least once a year, confessing one's sins at least once a year between Lent and Trinity Sunday, and not receiving Communion whilst in a state of sin. It matters.

If you love me by Thomas Tallis

tisdag 16 augusti 2011

Why Orthodoxy?

Helsinki - Ouspensky Cathedral

Christians in Western Europe and the US sometimes become members of an Orthodox church - that is, a church not under the jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Often, they have previously been Catholics or members of a Protestant church. It is not a decision they will have made lightly and there are many reasons for their choice. They may not like the modern liturgy of the Catholic church, and might feel that the more conservative and antique Orthodox liturgy is more authentic; they may find some of the rules too harsh; they may disapprove of the amount of power that the Pope has; or their motivation may be a combination of all of the above.

Having decided to do this, the first question that arises is which Orthodox church to join. The Russian? Not if one has no connection whatsoever with Russia. The Greek? On the face of things, Greece is less specifically national, but in practice it is a church mostly for immigrants from Greek-speaking countries, in Britain, from Cyprus. So it is an ethnic minority church. All that are left after that are are the national churches of the smaller Balkan countries, plus Finland and Estonia.

A friend of mine opted for the Orthodox church, and faced with the need to make a decision, somehow ended up in the Euphorbian Orthodox Church, the national church of Euphorbia, a small country that was formerly behind the Iron Curtain. Their church is a converted Baptist chapel off the Portobello Road - very nicely done with some good ikons. It which takes him the best part of an hour to get to from where he lives in Stoke Newington. Services are in Euphorbian, an obscure language unrelated to any other in the world. I am not quite sure why he picked on the Euphorbian church rather than the Greek or the Russian one, but I get the impression that he found the congregations at the others were a bit stand-offish, whereas the Euphorbians were open and friendly.

The Orthodox churches are not Protestant, share the same creed with the Catholics and their priests have valid Apostolic orders. I have attended Orthodox services in Eastern Europe and have always been impressed by the beauty and prayerful quality of the liturgy. In contrast, Catholic services these days tend to be on the rough-and-ready side. But almost wherever one goes, the churches are pretty much filled with the usual mixture of people of local origin, immigrants and vistors from abroad. The liturgy is just about acceptable, though it would be better if protestant hymns were weeded-out and the priests were properly disciplined to "Say the black - do the red". My preference is for the kind of liturgy one finds at the London Oratory - which others might regard as a bit of conceit these days.

Brompton Oratory

There is much to be admired in Orthodoxy. The liturgy has not been tampered with, unlike that of the Catholic church, in recent years to its great detriment. It has a particular spirituality uninfluenced by Protestantism.

But the Orthodox Churches are national churches and have inevitably fallen under the control of emperors, kings, presidents, and dictators. A further difficulty arises in those countries which are outside the geographical areas that come under the Orthodox jurisdictions of Constantinople, Moscow, etc., which means that there are problems in countries that fall within the geographical jurisdiction of Rome. In those countries, the Orthodox churches will always be expatriate churches composed of immigrants - or else, what might be termed minority interest groups; the situation in the USA is chaotic, with  long-established Russian Orthodox communities in Alaska, founded when the state was part of Russia, plus others formed of different immigrant groups. Membership of such congregations means being cut off from both the wider and the local Christian community, with all the consequences that follow from that separation. Instead of travelling half way across London every Sunday, my friend could attend his local Catholic church five minutes' walk from where he lives and become a part of that community.

The ultimate problem, however, is that the Petrine ministry was established by Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 16:18) for good reasons - to provide a person to whom all Christians can look as the source of authority, thereby ensuring that the true doctrine is maintained, unchanged and undiluted, whilst at the same time acting as a source for the interpretation of doctrine in the context of a changing world. Without the Petrine office, the church must in the end become a living fossil.

Postscript - April 2017
Pope Benedict resigned two years after I wrote this piece. We are four years into his successor's papacy. The "reform of the reform" which was gathering pace in 2011, four years after Summorum Pontificum, was arrested and further progress has been stalled.  The picture looks less clear than it did then.

Ruthless Capitalism

I came across a piece recently discussing a problem whose causes were attributed to "ruthless Capitalism". What other kind is there? But then, what is Capitalism anyway? Capital is the fisherman's boat and tackle, the workman's tools. That is not ruthless.

The term Capitalism is bandied around freely, but what precisely is Capitalism as a system of economic organisation? Almost nobody has ever taken the trouble to dissect it and expose its constituent parts. Marx used the term sloppily, promoting confusion and contributing to 100 million deaths in the last century.

To judge from its fruits, it cannot reasonably be claimed that Capitalism is untainted. If the concept is dissected, its intrinsically evil components are readily discernable. Any notion of "caring Capitalism" is an oxymoron.

The primary evil of Capitalism is the private appropriation of the goods provided by nature, in particular, the surface of the earth, and following on from that as a consequence, the charging of interst for money loans. Both are, incidentally, contrary to the teaching of scripture.

There no more moral justification for claiming ownership of the surface of the planet than there is for claiming ownership of air. According to that principle, and if the technology made it possible, it would be acceptable to remove all the oxygen from the air and sell it back to people at the going market price. Nor is there any moral justification or economic necessity for the charging of interest. It should neither be expected or charged.

If the components that are systematically evil were to be stripped out, would not be Capitalism but something else.

The main excuse in support of Capitalism is that the only alternative is socialism which has always failed. This is a mark of lazy thinking. There are other models altogether.

lördag 13 augusti 2011


White Benedictine Habits

Gangster chic no longer so chic

There is a nice symmetry about this report that I came across in the Guardian.

"The riots affected a broad range of businesses, from Debenhams to Boots, Carphone Warehouse and Argos, which said 18 stores had been looted. A report this week said at least 10% of retail and leisure businesses had been either directly or indirectly hit by the riots.

"But JD Sports became the enduring image of the devastation. Robin Knight, a retail expert at restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper, said it was targeted because it is seen to 'embody youth culture'.

" 'the riots are a wake-up call for the fashion brands that JD Sports stocks. They have cultivated a 'gangster chic' image and found themselves targeted by looters across the country. A PR and branding expert said that image was now coming back to haunt them. 'The riots are an absolute disaster for a number of brands. From the day the Daily Mail and the Guardian used that picture of the hoodie equipped completely in Adidas it has become a massive crisis.

"Many brands have spent millions developing 'gangster chic' and 'dangerwear' images. A rioter dressed head-to-toe in Adidas was pictured on the front pages of most of the country's national newspapers on Tuesday. One of the youngest offenders appeared at court this week in a full Adidas tracksuit. The brand, which is one of the major sponsors of the 2012 Olympics, took the step of condemning its customers for taking part in the riots. 'Adidas condemns any antisocial or illegal activity,' the company said. 'Our brand has a proud sporting heritage and such behaviour goes against everything we stand for.'

"Another industry commentator said that brands have been aligning themselves with gang and criminal culture for decades but ramped up their association with less clean-cut figures in recent years."

I wonder whether this will mean the end of that stupid style of having nearly all of one's underpants in full view?

Article here

torsdag 11 augusti 2011

Catholic bookshop targeted in looting frenzy

An unreported victim of the London riots is the Catholic bookshop in front of Westminster Cathedral, but I got this report from an eyewitness...

The bookshop was besieged by a large gang of teenagers and men and women in their early twenties, who smashed the windows with bricks. They then burst into the shop and helped themselves to rosaries, statues of Our Lady, and The Holy Infant of Prague. After that, they walked over to the Cathedral, knelt down on the steps and recited all five decades of the Glorious Mysteries. Others cleared the shelves of CTS pamphlets, waving them triumphantly in the air before sitting down outside in the square and starting to read them with rapt attention.

The older members of the gang went for more valuable items, taking as many CDs of Gregorian Chant as they could stuff down their T-shirts. A few, who obviously knew exactly what they were after, grabbed every copy of the £90 Liber Usualis they could find on the shelves before making their way into the stock room where they discovered more. Other looters made a beeline for the 1962 Missal and again, every single copy was taken from the shelves and stock room.

Another target was translations of the works of St Thomas Aquinas, St Teresa of Avila and St Augustine, as well as the present Pope. Books by authors such as Karen Armstrong and Karl Rahner, and music from the publishers Kevin Mayhew, however, were left undisturbed.

Despite the proximity of New Scotland Yard, calls to the police were ignored.

The manageress of the shop said that she was both shocked and puzzled, though she had noticed there had been a bit of a run on Liber Usualis and the 1962 Missal recently.

"We only started stocking them a few months ago when people had come in and asked. I was dubious at first but they have been flying off the shelves. I still can't understand why. This latest business is a mystery. I wouldn't have thought anyone would even have been interested in any of that old stuff.

"But there's no accounting for tastes, is there? If they won't even take the CDs of music by Babette Squirrel and Peter Pinewood when they can have them for nothing, I am just going to have to put them in the 5p box - they must be worth it for the empty cases. We just have to keep up with the demand."

onsdag 10 augusti 2011

What do the riots prove?

The riots in UK cities will be endlessly discussed and dissected over the coming months. Copycat-wise, like an epidemic, they seem to be running their course across the country. They will die out, either of their own accord or when cold, wet weather sets in. The parliamentary debate will be mostly a event of posturing, mudlinging and mutual blame, in which the participants, having regards to the circumstances, behaving little better than rioters themselves. That is part of the trouble. When those at the top behave badly and help themselves to whatever goodies they can grab hold of, they can hardly complain when the underclass follows suit.

An aquaintance of mine in the Metropolitan Police told me several years ago that things were coming to the boil. There seem to be several essential ingredients needed to get something like this going. These include
  • A poor urban environment
  • Bad schooling
  • Alienated youth
  • Poor economic opportunities
  • Broken or disintersted family circumstances
  • Poor political leadership
  • Bad diet
  • The benefits/welfare "culture"
That is a complex brew. A generation has gone feral. The first of the rioters appear to have been mostly of Afro-Caribbean origin, but it is only a matter of time before white youths in the same age group join in. This has been evident for the past decade. It is not even a particularly British phenomenon. It has happened in France, and last summer there was rioting in Swedish cities.

The declining influence of religion is part of the picture. The black youths who were involved in the first of the troubles would be descendants of immigrants who came in the 1950s to satisfy the shortage of labour for low-paid service jobs, which have largely gone. The culture in the Caribbean immigrants' countries of origin was strongly and strictly Christian Pentecostal, and the immigrants brought it with them. Whilst this remains, things are evidently not what they were or we should not be seeing this kind of behaviour on this scale amongst that group of immigrants. Interestingly, shopkeeping Muslim immigrants from Turkey have organised self-defence groups against the violence.

måndag 8 augusti 2011

Otøya - a double evil

The evil of the Norwegian bombing and shootings lies not just in the events themselves, but in their consequence, which will be to stifle public debate.

There are real decisions about the future of Europe that need to be openly discussed. From the end of the Roman period until the Reformation - a period of around 1100 years, Western Europe was Catholic-Christian. For the past 450 years it has been split between Catholic and Protestant Christian. That transition was not a smooth one - the period from 1550 to 1650 was marked by almost continuous war and insurrection. Post-Reformation, the character of those countries that had gone over to Protestantism was very different. Indeed, there were differences according to which strand of Protestantism had become dominant.

Christianity has been on the decline in Western Europe for the past 50 years. If Islam became the religion most practised in Western Europe, that would transform the societies in those countries where it happened.

Are we comfortable with this possibility?

lördag 6 augusti 2011

Is Islamophobia racist?

It is unfortunate that most Muslims in Europe have coloured skins because objectors to Islam are immediately branded as racists. Some Islamophobes might be. The majority possibly are. This makes liberals willing to defend what they would immediately condemn as intolerable and fascistic if Muslims were predominantly blond and blue-eyed.

Islam presents particular difficulties. Uniquely amongst world religions, was founded by a violent war lord with psychopathic tendencies. In the absence of any authority to decide one way or another, whether his revelations were of divine origin or the effects of mental illness must remain an unanswered question. And the grounding text of Islam, whatever its origins are, contains passages that amount to hate literature.

An Islamic society is not one that people brought up in contemporary liberal Western European societies would feel comfortable to live in. The widespread fear is that Islam will end up filling the gap left by Christianity. Whereas in the past Islam was spread by military conquest, demographics could now achieve the same affect. An additional factor is that the societies where this happened in the early years of Islamic expansion had much in common with the contemporary west. In his book The Great Heresies, Hilaire Belloc wrote a (longish) chapter on Islam under the title "The Great and Enduring Heresy of Muhammed" (see previous post). This is essential reading if the nature of Islam and the reasons for its success are to be understood. There is good cause to be afraid.

And so Islamophobia is not necessarily racist. If Muslims wish to be accepted in Europe, they need to look at their own beliefs in a critical way and be prepared to change when they do not like what they see. This needs to be pointed out in the nicest possible way, but firmly nevertheless. It does not give anyone an excuse for being racist.

fredag 5 augusti 2011

The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed

The influx of Muslims into Western Europe has at least had the benefit that it has led to an increase in public knowledge of Islam. The conclusion of Ramadan, for instance, this week, produced a crop of articles on the subject. Moslems in northern Europe have a hard time, with sunrise in Stockholm, for instance, at 4.40 am and sunset at 9 pm - a lack of universality that is evidence, I would suggest, that Islam is not of divine origin.

Hilaire Belloc regarded Islam as a heresy of Christianity and devoted an entire chapter to it in his book The Great Heresies. Belloc also drew attention to the similarities between Islam and the residual Calvinism that is an important strand in religion in the USA. The following is an extract.

Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a heresy, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. It vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church. The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most heresiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with. He sprang from pagans. But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified. It was the great Catholic world on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel which inspired his convictions. He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans' while.

If anyone sets down those points that orthodox Catholicism has in common with Mohammedanism, and those points only, one might imagine if one went no further that there should have been no cause of quarrel. Mohammed would almost seem in this aspect to be a sort of missionary, preaching and spreading by the energy of his character the chief and fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church among those who had hitherto been degraded pagans of the Desert. He gave to Our Lord the highest reverence, and to Our Lady also, for that matter. On the day of judgment (another Catholic idea which he taught) it was Our Lord, according to Mohammed, who would be the judge of mankind, not he, Mohammed. The Mother of Christ, Our Lady, "the Lady Miriam" was ever for him the first of womankind. His followers even got from the early fathers some vague hint of her Immaculate Conception.

But the central point where this new heresy struck home with a mortal blow against Catholic tradition was a full denial of the Incarnation.

Mohammed did not merely take the first steps toward that denial, as the Arians and their followers had done; he advanced a clear affirmation, full and complete, against the whole doctrine of an incarnate God. He taught that Our Lord was the greatest of all the prophets, but still only a prophet: a man like other men. He eliminated the Trinity altogether.

With that denial of the Incarnation went the whole sacramental structure. He refused to know anything of the Eucharist, with its Real Presence; he stopped the sacrifice of the Mass, and therefore the institution of a special priesthood. In other words, he, like so many other lesser heresiarchs, founded his heresy on simplification.

Catholic doctrine was true (he seemed to say), but it had become encumbered with false accretions; it had become complicated by needless man-made additions, including the idea that its founder was Divine, and the growth of a parasitical caste of priests who battened on a late, imagined, system of Sacraments which they alone could administer. All those corrupt accretions must be swept away.

There is thus a very great deal in common between the enthusiasm with which Mohammed's teaching attacked the priesthood, the Mass and the sacraments, and the enthusiasm with which Calvinism, the central motive force of the Reformation, did the same. As we all know, the new teaching relaxed the marriage laws - but in practice this did not affect the mass of his followers who still remained monogamous. It made divorce as easy as possible, for the sacramental idea of marriage disappeared. It insisted upon the equality of men, and it necessarily had that further factor in which it resembled Calvinism - the sense of predestination, the sense of fate; of what the followers of John Knox were always calling "the immutable decrees of God."

Mohammed's teaching never developed among the mass of his followers, or in his own mind, a detailed theology. He was content to accept all that appealed to him in the Catholic scheme and to reject all that seemed to him, and to so many others of his time, too complicated or mysterious to be true. Simplicity was the note of the whole affair; and since all heresies draw their strength from some true doctrine, Mohammedanism drew its strength from the true Catholic doctrines which it retained: the equality of all men before God "All true believers are brothers." It zealously preached and throve on the paramount claims of justice, social and economic.

Now, why did this new, simple, energetic heresy have its sudden overwhelming success?

One answer is that it won battles.

onsdag 3 augusti 2011

The logic of permanent war

The little intervention in Libya to get rid of a dictator who is mad, bad and ludicrous has now turned into a small war. Why is anyone surprised at this?

Bombs, once manufactured, have to be used, otherwise stockpiles build up and they have to be expensively stored. Since the companies who produce the things are not going to shut down their factories and let their valuable investment go for scrap, constant war is a logical policy.

War also has the advantage of keeping other news from public attention and directs comment away from the incompetence of politicians. Governments in countries which do not have the option of running wars on a perpetual basis must keep their constituents satisfied by doing their job reasonably well.

tisdag 2 augusti 2011

Stop the scrounging parasites

The real parasites in Britain are not those claiming a few quid in benefits to feed their families but those who feed off the profits earned by their workforce. (FT article)

måndag 1 augusti 2011

The future of British democracy

Britain's 625 parliamentary constituencies are being reduced to 600 in the biggest revision of parliamentary boundaries in living memory. There is now an argument raging about which parties will be the winners and which will be the losers. The thing was part of a deal when the LibDems came to office - the other part being the alternative vote referendum, which was rejected for reasons which include the fact that most people did not understand what was being proposed.

It is my firm belief that elective democracy has had its day in Britain. It can not work in a country where the biggest-selling newpapers are things like News of the World.

The country would be better off if it was run by people selected at random from a list. We judge suspected criminals that way so it is not such a dreadful thing. Even if we ended up with 90% of the members of parliament being unable to string a sentence together, that would still leave around sixty competent and reasonably honest people in charge, with no vested interests to protect and no expectation of a place on the boardroom afterwards.

In the meantime one can fantasise. Mine would be to send all politicians to a rather uncomfortable place of permanent exile when they leave office. South Georgia comes to mind. The only exceptions would be those who could show that they had never willingly sought office.

tisdag 26 juli 2011

Fundamentalists and fanatics

Oslo Royal Palace by seadipper
Oslo Royal Palace, a photo by seadipper on Flickr.
In 2007, the Royal Palace in Oslo did not even have railings around it. It would be nice if last Friday's tragedy did not change this, but it is unlikely.

Although the attack turns out to have been by a lunatic with allegiance to the extreme right, with an overtone of Christian fundamentalism, it is telling that the first assumptions were that it was the work of Islamic terrorism.

That is not course not to say that events like that in Oslo require any ideology at all to motivate them - personal grudges and hatreds are often sufficient. However, the perpetrators of these kinds of atrocities often turn out to have fed on a diet of hate literature. It comes in many forms. The extreme right has its own canon of this material, founded on a paranoid fear of difference. The far left looks to Marx and his insistence on the necessity of class warfare. Islam looks to the Koran, which, if not hate literature, contains passages which are potential incitements to hatred. The same can be said about the bible, but that is moderated by the mainstream churches, which can assert authoritatively, how potentially problematic passages are to be interpreted. The real difficulty with religious texts occurs in the absence of recognised authority. This is why Christian fundamentalism and Islam in general can lead people into trouble.

Usually, of course, it does not. But when mentally disturbed individuals get it into their heads to do something, whether on their own or in conjunction with other people, then nasty things are liable to happen.

söndag 24 juli 2011

Architecture and liturgy

the Romanesque  Abbey "Sacré Coeur"  Paray-le-Monial

I went somewhere different for mass today - a church built about twenty-five years ago. The design was a break from tradition, with a short wide nave so that everyone was close to the sanctuary. The interior was exposed facing brick, the acoustic lively and the general ambience light and airy. The liturgy was spoken apart from the hymns. Thus it can be said to be an expression of the predominant theology of the post-Vatican II movement. Attendance at this, the main Sunday High Mass, was poor, with less than one-third of the places occupied - though it could be that many people were away on holiday.

It would be more difficult to construct such a building today, as there is a growing movement towards the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which in turn is having an influence on the way that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is celebrated. One thing that needs to be recognised is that whatever growth is taking place within the Catholic Church is focussed around the Extraordinary Form, which is in particular drawing young people of an intellectual bent.

That in turn raises the question of what forms of architecture would be suitable for a contemporary Catholic church? What is known as the Modern Movement - ie based on the principle that form should follow function - gives little direction. In a church, moreover, precisely the reverse tends to happen: function follows form. Obviously the building should provide a setting in which it is possible to carry out the liturgical actions, and the requirements of acoustics must be satisfied. After that, theological considerations come to the fore. What counts here is the symbolism, which quickly raises questions of architectural style. Reference to historic style then becomes inescapable.

The difficulty, then, is that all historical styles are loaded with baggage - associations and connotation of one sort or another. Gothic is simply out of keeping with contemporary sentiment, whilst Classical and Baroque styles have overtones of triumphalism, having been favoured in the twentieth century by dictators such as Stalin and Mussolini. But the style usually referred to as Romanesque - a solid and stripped down classicism, seems to carry no such associations. Indeed, it is precisely the kind of church architecture that one might expect to be generated by applying the maxim "form follows function".

lördag 23 juli 2011

Terror in Oslo

First reactions to the terror in Oslo assumed that it was the work of Islamists. It then turned out to be the work of what appears to be an - apparently lone - maniac with links to the extreme-Right".

In other words it had more in common with those rampages that deranged men (they are always men) embark on from time to time in the US, with a close resemblence to the McVeigh bombing.

It has naturally come as particularly shocking that it should have happened in Norway, which, like the rest of Scandinavia, has been regarded for the last decades as a haven from the nasty things that happen in the world. Yet every human society has a dark underside and there is no such thing as a safe place.

On the other hand, these events do not happen in a vacuum. There have long been strange right wing movements throughout Europe and the US. In the latter case, they hark back to the ideal days of the early US where sturdy independent homesteaders lived simple honest lives as horny-handed sons of the soil. In the Germanic countries they tend to focus on Nordic myth with allusions to the Hammer of Thor and that kind of thing. However, it has to be acknowledged that they feed on widely felt genuine concerns. The fact that the initial assumption is that it was the work of Islamists is telling. There is also a need to be concerned about the contemporary sense of rootlessness, which can seek refuge in very odd places at times.

måndag 18 juli 2011

Is this really another Catholic Church scandal?

Yet another abuse and cover-up story surfaced at the weekend, this one concerning the Irish Diocese of Cloyne. But to what extent it can be relied on is another matter, as the comment from Thirsty Gargoyle points out. However, over the past few years, the skeletons have been tumbling out of the cupboard in Ireland. One disastrous consequence is that the once-solid Irish Catholic church is now on the verge of collapse. With the Catholic priesthood so tainted, who would want to be a priest in such a situation?

Although the abuse has been described as "paedophilia", strictly speaking, it is not, since the abuse has mostly been directed against pubescent boys, from which it can be concluded that the priesthood has accepted into its ranks homosexually-orientated men who could not control their inclinations.

A look around the world reveals a mixed picture. The Irish-influenced church in the USA seems to have suffered similarly. In England and Wales, nasty cases have come to light but the problem does not amount to an epidemic. In Germany there have also been a few, and there were strange goings-on at a seminary in Austria. In Spain, Italy and South America, errant priests are more likely to take a mistress than abuse male teenagers. But the misbehaviour does not stop at sexual misconduct. A friend from Salvador was telling me recently how the village priest would hob-nob with the local landowner, whilst ignoring the plight of the poor. All priests - in fact, all of us, need to control our inclinations, whatever they are. Often a potentially harmful inclination, under control, can be positive and rewarding for those involved.

Some people argue that a contributory factor is the liturgical reform of the 1960s and the decline in the practice of regular confession. There is no doubt that regular confession, and the older form of the liturgy encourages a more devotional and indeed holier attitude amongst both clergy and people. In those days the teaching was to avoid what was called "the occasion of sin" - in other words, not to get into a situation where things could happen which ought not to happen.

However, there has been misbehaviour amongst the clergy since the foundation of the church. Although we expect better, that should not be surprising because the priests are mere humans. Of course, abuse can happen in any situation where there is an unequal relationship of power. The fact that people point their finger at the Catholic church is that they have higher expectations. That is in itself an acknowledgement that they recognise the church as a force for good, and the betrayal is for that reason particularly shocking.

The point about the Catholic priesthood is that they have the power of making Christ present as a consequence of the sacrament of ordination they have received. Nevertheless, ordinary Catholics have a right to assume that their children will not be molested by their parish priest. On the other hand, such is the level of suspicion that the clergy themselves are now vulnerable to unjust allegations against which it could be difficult to defend themselves.

The situation is a mess. The very worst aspect of this is that a generation of people will, from a sense of disgust, be deprived of the spiritual goods that the Catholic Church has to offer. Who will believe the truth if they do not trust the messenger? In the light of all this, yesterday's reading was pertinent.

Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.

[Matthew 13:24-43]

Olympics security costs

A report today states that as many as 12,000 troops could be needed to provide security during the Olympic games, to protect the games themselves and key venues in London.

The decision to bid for the games was taken by the Blair government around 2003 and is an example of the then-prevailing megalomania. The same hubris produced assurances that boom-and-bust had been defeated.

Yet this was already after the attack on the World Trade Centre and it was obvious even then that the games would present a security problem.

lördag 16 juli 2011

Neo-Libertarians on the march

The Neo-Libertarians in the Conservative Central Office think tank are presumably the driving force behind the proposals to privatise more public services, as set out in the new White Paper.

But the big private consultancies will just muscle in. These outfits cannot provide the continuity and local and specialist knowledge essential if the job is to be done well. Nor are they particularly innovative, except in devising the kind of asset-stripping deals that caused the trouble with Southen Cross.

The public sector is often indifferent but that is ultimately preventable with good democratic control and accountability. This is a recipe for disaster.

torsdag 14 juli 2011

US prepared for military response in cyberwar

The Pentagon has disclosed that it suffered one of its largest ever losses of sensitive data in March when 24,000 files were stolen in a cyber-attack by a foreign government. There is talk of military responses against this kind of thing. William Lynn, the US deputy secretary of defence, said the data was taken from the computers of a corporate defence contractor.

Am I unusual in thinking that a military response is the wrong response to attacks on the US government's computer systems? It seems to me that a more effective way of discouraging the problem would be to make computer security the direct responsibility of the military. In the event of a breach of security those responsible could then be tried by Court Martial, just as a soldier would be if he neglected his rifle so that it failed to fire when required.

The simplest way to secure a computer or computer network is to disconnect it from the internet. But even if the network is connected, there is no excuse for information to be left open for outsiders to read. Effective encryption should suffice to prevent people from gaining access to the content of files. This loss of data sounds like a case of gross negligence.

måndag 11 juli 2011

The great wealth of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is often criticised for its wealth and its betrayal of the teaching of Christ, but I have not personally noticed that the Catholic church is particularly wealthy - we are always having to scrape around for funds to keep buildings in good order. A few of the religious organisations are perhaps better endowed than is good for them. The so-called treasures of the Vatican would go nowhere if they were all sold and the money given to the poor.

The present pope Benedict appears to be committed to propagating the authentic teaching of Christ. There have indeed been bad popes but that is beside the point which is that Jesus Christ is really and certainly present in the sacraments of the Catholic Church (and Orthodox ie non-Protestant churches).

What would Jesus Christ think about the Catholic Church if he came back today? He might find the vestments and ceremonial a bit ridiculous, but it is not a question of IF Jesus Christ came back today. He IS back to day and present on the altars of the Catholic church. That would still be the case even if every single member of the clergy was a wicked and sinful man, which of course they are not. Man lives by signs and symbols, and the rituals of the Church are signs that help to point to Him and His real presence.

söndag 10 juli 2011

Good riddance News of the World

That the News of the World was Britain's best-selling newspaper says much about the British public, and none of it complimentary.

As an editorial headline in today's Observer puts it, "Murdoch's malign influence must die with the News of the World" However, Murdoch's is far from being the only malign influence in the British media. One the right, we have the pervasive "me" culture, that manifests in the championing of motorists' rights and home ownerism, whilst at the other end of the political spectrum, the discourse is permeated by a low level Marxism, typified by proposals for policies based on job creationism, and the championing of allegedly progressive causes such as "women's right to choose".

The Observer editorial continues "The scandal over phone hacking has exposed a rotten empire and the urgent need for stronger press regulation." That is an ill-judged comment. Whoever composed the sentence will come to regret it. The underlying problem is that much of the British population still identifies itself as belonging to one of two tribes, leading to a pervasive and destructive them-and-us culture. The newspapers simply reflect that culture and regulation is not going to stop it. I have never bought a copy of the News of the World and I do not even recall bothering to open one left on a train or bus. But if people did not buy and read newpapers filled up with salacious tit-bits, then they would not get published. The problem is the British public, not defects in regulation.

måndag 4 juli 2011

Traditional Catholic liturgy IS charismatic and pentecostal

Charismatic pentecostal worship is characterised by repeated cries of "Alleluia, Praise the Lord" and speaking in tongues. Rather like this.

onsdag 29 juni 2011

Tu es Petrus

This setting is by William Byrd.

"And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. "

"And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed, even in heaven.”

Matthew 16 : 18-19

söndag 26 juni 2011

The threat from men with Asperger's syndrome

I see that another young man with Asperger's syndrome has been accused of making cyber attacks on government websites.

Surely it is up to those who run the websites to make sure that they are sufficiently defended against that kind of thing? One way of doing that would be to recruit IT experts to special posts for which Asperger's syndrome was one of the qualifications for the job.

The accused man should be appointed immediately.

fredag 24 juni 2011

Olympics tickets row

I can't understand what all the fuss is about. If I was forced to choose, I would rather spend a couple of hours standing on the platform at Stratford station watching the trains go by than watching any sport. And the benefit of the station is you can always get on a train and go somewhere else when you are bored.

torsdag 23 juni 2011

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi and here in Brighton we shall be celebrating with a sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form, followed by a Blessed Sacrament procession. We are very fortunate in having a parish priest, Fr Ray Blake, who, gently but firmly, is promoting the traditional Catholic liturgy.

The feast of Corpus Christi commemorates the fact that the body of Christ - that is - God - is really present in the Blessed Sacrament under the appearances of ordinary bread and wine. Which is not so strange if one thinks about it for a moment. The choir is singing a Palestrina setting of the Sequence, part of the liturgy for the day composed by St Thomas Aquinas.

Gospel for the day
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. [52] If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. [53] The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? [54] Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. [55] He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

[54] "Eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood"... To receive the body and blood of Christ, is a divine precept, insinuated in this text; which the faithful fulfil, though they receive but in one kind; because in one kind they receive both body and blood, which cannot be separated from each other. Hence, life eternal is here promised to the worthy receiving, though but in one kind. Ver. 52. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world. Ver. 58. He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. Ver. 59. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.

lördag 11 juni 2011

New Leica to be released soon.

As I guessed in this post last Autumn, some of the features in the experimental special Titanium edition M9 are now to appear in a new version of the standard M9. One of these changes will see the end of the opal window for projecting the frame lines onto the viewfinder image. This has been a feature of the Leica M series since it was introduced in 1953.

A change that I would like to see is the removal of the motorised shutter cocking and its replacement by a traditional lever-wind, which would be quieter, save battery and be one less thing to go wrong.

onsdag 8 juni 2011

Marxism - the undead corpse

Marxism is like a corpse that people will not accept is dead. The present difficulties with the economy have led to a revival of interest in his ideas. All the old stuff is coming up again.

The rise of evil regimes is an inevitable consequence of following Marxist ideology. The underlying philosophy is false. It rests on a false view of human nature. All the rest follows, Gulags, the NKVD. Pol Pot. And that is before the mixture of nonsense laced with half-truths that is his economics, which is bound to lead Marxist followers into chaos, poverty and dictatorship.

Marxist apologists give all sort of excuses, such as this

"The rise of evil regimes was a historical contingency, engendered by many other historical contingencies, such as: communism was not introduced on a global scale; the first communist revolution happened in a poor and backward country like Tsarist Russia, instead in democratic countries like Britain, France or USA with strong, politically conscious working classes and a tradition of relatively democratic politics; World War I diverted everyone`s attention from class struggle to national struggle; authoritarian tendencies of Tsarist ruling classes were carried over to the Russian communist ruling classes; Stalin was a paranoid and unhinged person (Trotsky for example was against anything totalitarian, with him in charge it would have been a different story); western capitalist countries were hostile to communist ones and helped curb any beginnings of democracy there by the constant threat of war."

The trouble is that there always is a historical contingency. It is interesting how the name of Trotsky so often comes up, as if there is some kind of lost paradise that is waiting to be brought back into being. Trotsky himself was as murderous as the rest of his gang, who demonstrated their proclivities in that direction the moment that Lenin came to power. There is no lost paradise. But even to blame it on contingency is to demonstrate the flaw in the Marxist system of thought.

Marxist apologists have more than a little of the religious fanatic about them. On indicator is a failure to look further than Marx. Thus

"To say that there is something inherently evil in Marx`s system of thought, the basic tenet of which is removing a flawed system of economy and replacing it with a fairer one, where people don`t exploit other people and keep them in poverty to get rich themselves, is about as ridiculous as saying Catcher in the Rye directly inspired Mark Chapman to shoot John Lennon, unless there is a line in the novel that says SHOOT HIM MARK!! that I seemed to have missed."

The assumptions in this statement are that the Marxist system of economy is not also flawed ort exploitative and that it actually addresses the wrongs of the "capitalist" system without replacing it with a fresh set of flaws of its own. That is a very big and unjustified assumption.

I would agree with Marxists that the capitalist system of production is flawed, but I would suggest that Marx was far from identifying the genesis and nature of the flaws. More plausible explanations exist and solutions have been proposed that would stand a better chance of success.

I suspect that most people who are attracted to Marxism simply because he was amongst the first to draw attention to the problems that arose in the years immediately after the Industrial Revolution and put forwards suggestions for doing something about them. And his followers made a lot of noise. Subsequent and more precise analysts have simply failed to get much of a hearing. In part this is because their analysis is more subtle (though not more complex), and not easily translated into slogans.

tisdag 7 juni 2011

E coli epidemic - not bean sprouts after all

I said a few days ago that I had my doubts about bean sprouts as a cause of the epidemic in Germany, and now it seems my doubts are confirmed.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of bacteriology would have come to the same conclusion so one must ask what kind of experts are being consulted by the authorities?

måndag 6 juni 2011

Who is creaming off the wealth?

Yesterday there was a visiting priest from the Holy Ghost Fathers making an appeal for funds for his parish in Zambia. He was saying how poor the people were.

Strange because Zambia produces nearly 20% of the world's copper. The country also has plenty of coal. If the wealth was nicely spread around most people should be comfortably off. Who is being allowed to cream it off? Why are they being allowed to get away with it?

E coli epidemic - rushing to conclusions

On further investigation, bean sprouts rather than Spanish cucumbers now turn out to be the likely cause of the toxic E coli epidemic. All of which shows that commentators are too quick to rush to conclusions.

However, I am still not entirely convinced that this is the whole story. From my own experience of bacteriology, I would suggest that to get them growing nicely, E coli need more nutrients than are to be found on the outside of a sprouting bean, where the bugs would just sit quietly waiting for their food. I suspect that something like mayonnaise dressing is involved too, and the concoction would need to be in a warmish place for a few hours for the numbers of bacteria to build up.

All of which sounds as if there could also be broader issues of hygiene in the places where food is being prepared, going beyond this particular epidemic.

Blue and yellow

Storskär at Stockholm quay by seadipper
Storskär at Stockholm quay, a photo by seadipper on Flickr.

Cloudy summer day in Stockholm

tisdag 31 maj 2011

Strange music in the liturgy

Went to Mass on Sunday "somewhere in the south of England". The choir showed real talent, pity about the music, mostly from the 1970s, some written by P*** I*****. Rumty-tumty stuff, OK for listening to whilst half-asleep in a park deckchair, not quite the thing for the Sacrifice of the Mass. Afterwards there was an opportunity to to try out a setting for the new English translation which comes into use later in the year. I don't know who the composer was but the style would have been right for a TV ad for some washing powder.

Adaptations of the Gregorian settings for the Ordinary of the Mass might just work with the new English translations. Some of the Swedish settings for the Mass are simple adaptations from the Gregorian music originally written for the Latin texts and these are very acceptable. They were done in the first place for the Lutheran church, presumably just after the Reformation, and the Catholic church borrowed them when the vernacular was permitted after Vatican 2.

Things go wrong when contemporary composers try to be original and modern. It rarely works. If composers fail to come up with decent settings for the new English settings, the obvious answer is to sing the Ordinary in Latin to the original Gregorian settings. But it would be a pity if competent adaptations of the Gregorian settings did not emerge in the next few years now that we have a reasonable set of English texts.

torsdag 26 maj 2011

The trouble with democracy

Democracy is presently being presented as the highest value. It was not the view put in Plato's Republic - where it was argued that democracy is a step on the path to tyranny.

The difficulty with democracy is that it demands an electorate composed of voters who are mature enough to vote for any candidate other than the ones who appeal to their selfish short-term interests.

In practice, it seems that elections actually produce a worse result than random selection of representatives.

Anyone who thinks they can represent their constitituents should be allowed to put themselves on a list for selection by lot. The only qualification should be that they live in the area they wish to represent. Remuneration could be tied to a civil service grade.

We already accept the principle of random selection for jury service, so why not for government?

onsdag 25 maj 2011

Life joins advisory panel.

The predominantly Catholic "Life" organisation has been invited to join a new sexual health forum set up to replace the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV. Stuart Cowie, Life's head of education, said: "We are delighted to be invited into the group, representing views that have not always been around on similar tables in the past." In contrast, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been omitted from the forum despite its long-term position on the previous advisory group and 40-year track record in providing pregnancy counselling nationwide.

Predictably, the report on this in the Guardian has brought forth a tirade of objections in its Comment is Free columns.

Occasionally surprising people do something right, in this case the UK coalition government. Why abortion is seen by "progressive" people as a good thing rather than serious violence against women and their bodies is a question that still calling for an answer. It is also surprising how so many who regard themselves as broad minded and tolerant can react vituperatively when their own views are challenged. And the BPAS appears not to be quite what its name would suggest, since, reputedly, its default position is to encourage the termination of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, which is a strange kind of pregnancy advice.

söndag 15 maj 2011

Denmark introduces border controls

For Denmark to introduce border controls with Sweden is an exercise in self-harm. Many Danes live in the southern tip of Sweden because of lower house prices and they commute to Copenhagen to work. They are the ones who will be put to trouble and inconvenience. The Öresund region has been developing as a single integrated economic unit since the bridge was opened 10 years ago, a development further enhanced by the construction of the Malmö city tunnel which opened last December.

Sweden has received waves of immigrants since the end of the war, successively from Finland, Yugoslavia, Greece, South/Central America, Poland, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The earlier immigrants were predominantly Christian/Catholic and have generally integrated well, the church itself being an important means through which integration has taken place.

The later immigrants have been predominantly Muslim and it seems that they have not integrated will, with high levels of unemployment and crime. The reasons for this are complex, but one of them is that a substantial and conspicuous minority of them have no respect for the local culture, customs and religion, and no desire to integrate. However, the same is true in Denmark so one wonders who is trying to keep out whom?

The problem of unintegrated immigrants has a strong economic component. Wage-related taxes in both countries are high, which adds to employment costs. In Sweden this is aggravated by extra high VAT on services such as restaurant meals, thereby crippling the very industries where immigrants might have had the best chance of establishing themselves in employment.

There is a general need to establish an alternative model for raising government revenue so that public services and a welfare state can operate sustainably. The left in particular must recognise that it is time to get rid of the job-destroying taxes which have been the main source of funding for the welfare state for the past 60 years.

söndag 8 maj 2011

LibDems now dead meat

The LibDems are, at last dead meat. This was inevitable from the time the Liberals mated with the Social Democrats. The party never had a coherent philosophy as a base from which to work. But the Liberals had long before forgotten what they were about, and that was why they could slip into their empty partnership.

There is nothing the LibDems can do to make itself credible. It attracts nice people but, as a party, it has always lacked a coherent ideology and without that it has no driving power and no sense of direction. This did not matter so very much as long as it was merely a local force.

Those in the LibDems who do have a coherent vision now need to refine that and set something up from scratch. What the country needs is a party founded on the principles of the Liberals of 100 years ago. I was going to say they need to be updated, but they do not, as the same problems still need to be dealt with. I have no great hopes that any such grouping will emerge, but would like to be proved utterly wrong.

Will Hutton should read the paper he writes for

Will Hutton, has written a piece in the Observer, arguing that Britain needs an economic vision. He should read the Guardian more. The economic vision starts with the ideas of Henry George as explained in articles such as this one.


This policy was embedded in the constitution of the Liberal Party but it forgot about it after world war 2, lost its way and embraced Keynes. From there it was a logical step towards the soggy centre of social democracy, and was always vulnerable to be blown in any direction. Guided only by notions of fairness and a desire to be nice people (and most of its members seem to be), the LibDems, lacks any firm principles to which it can hold on to and was bound in the end to be sucked into whatever project one or other of the big parties was running at the time, as it happens, the neo-libertarian tory one.

lördag 7 maj 2011

No win for UK

Shocking that the country has thrown away the opportunity for much needed reform by using the referendum as an chance to kick a dishonest politician. But the £ has been rising sharply on the foreign exchange markets over the last 48 hours, so perhaps the result has given confidence to somebody that Britain is moving in the right direction.

fredag 29 april 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

71001 and 46258 respectively. Good names for replica steam locomotives, eh?

Which just about sums the whole thing up - an atavistic display. And I am not against the monarchy, but this show could backfire in the end.

måndag 25 april 2011

Gods just a human construct?

There is something about Easter that brings out the atheists. They just cannot leave it alone.

To not believe in gods because they are just a human construct is irrational. Everything we know about the world is a human construct. It cannot be anything else, since all knowledge is mediated through the use of signs and symbol systems that are humanly constructed, above all through language. What one "knows" about the world as a French speaker or a German speaker, for instance, is a little different from what one "knows" as an English speaker, even though all three languages are closely related and arise out of a shared historical experience. An engineer "knows" the world differently from the way a chemist "knows" it.

If one thinks of religion as a descriptive system of signs and symbols, the question that then arises is how well they map to one's experience. Or not. From that point one must judge by results and one's own experience. They don't all look pretty and most seem to have persistent flaws, but do they or do they not reflect a reality?

lördag 23 april 2011

Off to France on royal wedding day

I am no republican but am off to France for the day - the tickets have been booked. In my view the monarchy is not helped by letting itself become soap opera. Or perhaps that is part of its strength, since it fulfills a psychological need.

However, republicans need to appreciate that a monarch has an essential important qualification for the job - they never wanted it.

Horrible things can happen under democracies. They are vulnerable to take-overs by rabble rousers, as we are seeing at the moment with the rise of the far-right all over Europe. I can think of one important democratic country which is run for the benefit of a military-industrial complex and is on a permanent war footing.

It is a safe assumption that Hitler would never have happened if Germany had turned into a constitutional monarch after 1918.

lördag 9 april 2011

Handicapped teenager hacks electronic aid

A friend of mine has a teenage son who is classified as handicapped. He apparently has trouble with remembering when to do things so was issued with an electronic reminder device. After a while he got fed up with it and was curious how it worked. So he booted into the operating system which turned out to be some cut-down version of Windows, deleted the programme (which had cost the authorities fifteen grand), and discovered that he had been actually been handed an HTC mobile phone.

He is now planning to install Android and once he has put a SIM in, he will have a useful little gadget. However, this should not impress anyone since his hobby is building and programming robots.

tisdag 22 februari 2011

Should scripture be believed literally?

Reaching Catholics for Christ is a website that is not what it appears at first sight to be, but actually aims to "disprove" the teachings of the Catholic Church. The giveaway is the text on the front page "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Romans 4 : 5.

It is interesting that this style of protestant usually quotes the King James translation. But of more interest is that they promote a literal interpretation of scripture, but then stop short of interpreting chapter 6 of St John's gospel literally. Here is the (Douai-Rheims) text...

48 I am the bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the desert: and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven: that if any man eat of it, he may not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
52 If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
53 Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
54 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
55 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him.
57 As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.
59 These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.
60 Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard; and who can hear it?
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you?
62 If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?

It is clear from this, bearing in mind the abhorrence felt by Jews at the idea of drinking blood and eating human flesh, that the notion of eating My flesh and drinking My blood is intended to be interpreted literally. The reference would not have been made were it not for the express purpose of emphasising that the words should be taken literally.

Then of course there is Matthew 16
18 And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed, even in heaven.

Remainer food hypocrisy

Remainers claim that Brexit will allow in a torrent of toxic meat. This Guardian article , unsurprisingly not open for comment, shows yet ag...