onsdag 31 augusti 2011

Crossrail stock decision deferred

London Overground - Canonbury

Following the row over the award of the Thameslink rolling stock contract to Siemens, the Secretary of State for Transport has put the decision about rolling stock for Crossrail on hold.

This project needs a thorough rethink, especially at the western end of the route. It should not run over the GW main line beyond Heathrow Junction. One possible option would be to run the trains onto the Hammersmith branch of the Metropolitan, thereby releasing capacity on the busiest stretch of the Circle Line.

The whole service could then form part of the London Overground system. That answers the fleet procurement question, as a further build of the Bombardier class 378 would do the job nicely.

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

Siemens ugly duckling

How has the Siemens train for Thameslink come to end up looking like this? Of more concern for the passengers is that it looks like a rehash of the wretched class 319 units that have plagued the route since it opened in the late 1980s, with windows and doors in precisely the same positions, and complete with unglazed sliding door pockets.

This practically guarantees either that loading and unloading will be slow or that there will be insufficient, and/or cramped seating - and on a route where passengers may be on the train for an hour or more.

And what is the reason for the sharp curvature of the bodyside at floor level? This cannot be necessary in order to clear the loading gauge, because there are projecting steps at each doorway. The main effect of this curvature is to reduce further the limited width available at floor level, an inconvenience that will probably be compounded by fitting ducts at skirting level.

This train appears to perpetuate the general trend in British rolling stock design - that each generation of trains is worse than the one before.

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.

Ricardo’s Law in brief