onsdag 29 februari 2012

Working for nothing - the new economy

Reports continue to flow out about how the unemployed are being made to work for next to nothing. Well not quite, at least they get to keep their meagre "Jobseekers allowance", though putting them into unpaid occupation means that they are then unable to "seek" a job.

It is not going to stop there. Soon people will be forced to PAY TO WORK work and will be expected to take out mortgages to get jobs.

Seriously, I cannot see how it is in the firm's interest to have people working for them and not reward them properly. Soltzhenytin, writing about the Gulag Archipelago in Soviet times, describes how the slave labour working in the diamond mines used to tread the best stones into the ground - a sort of low-level sabotage. It could cause chaos in a technical outfit like Maplins, which has signed up to the scheme, and where putting things on the wrong shelves could result in thousands of pounds worth of stock getting lost.

tisdag 28 februari 2012

This is amazing

Old Mass


St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, celebrated its 150th anniversary with an Extraordinary Form Mass. During the 28 years I lived in the parish, it has had its ups-and-downs. Since 2009, with the increasing use of the traditional liturgy, it has seen a remarkable revival, though it should not be forgotten that the parish is also involved in charitable works including a soup-run for the homeless. My impression of the latter is that it is of equal value to the helper as to the helped, and it prevents everyone from getting snooty as it brings home to us the fact that any of use can end up in either place.

lördag 25 februari 2012

The cost of automobility

The US way of life is founded on automobility. Much of rest of the western world is also auto-dependent.

What does that cost? Arguably, the entire US foreign policy and military strategy in the Middle East since 1920 has been driven by the need to maintain security of the vast energy supplies that are needed to sustain it. Watch what happens when the Iranians block the Gulf of Hormuz. Are we about to see the start of World War 3? That is quite a price.

Bible-believing Christians

My impression is that bible-believing Christians take a pick-and-mix approach to their interpretation. “In the spirit” is an excuse for bending things any way anyone fancies and forgetting about the bits that do not fit in with some other model. Which they are bound to do because some things in the OT do not make sense without interpretation, and if there is no accepted authority and agreed body of interpretation then there is no alternative but to make things up as they go along.

Most of the OT was written down relatively late, probably after the return from the Babylonian captivity, being a codification of an oral tradition which itself was not completely set in written form until the Talmudic period. Worse still, the Hebrew texts have been heavily edited and important sections excised, including the whole of the Apocrypha, and because of the way Hebrew is written without vowels, there is a profusion of ambiguities which means that the text cannot be interpreted if taken as a free-standing entity. So logically, Bible-believing Christians should follow the Talmudic interpretation of the OT except in so far as it diverges from contemporary ie early Christian teaching. Which is an inconsistent and ultimately untenable intellectual position as one could never reconstruct such a thing.

This explains why bible-believers, both Protestants and Jews, have fragmented into so many different groups, as is bound to happen in the absence of any authority whose interpretation is accepted as the last word in the matter. Jesus foresaw this when he spoke the words in Matthew 16:18, and it was for the same reason that the church was wary of allowing the text of the bible to be translated into the vernacular, though a Catholic translation was published as early as 1582 (NT) and 1610 (OT). This was made from the Latin Vulgate; there has always been a difficulty about establishing what ancient texts could be regarded as authoritative. The oldest extant Hebrew texts at that time were the Masoretic version, a sixth century re-working, with the 200BC Septuagint being a more accurate Greek version of the text currently circulating.

I am also always puzzled about how bible-believing Christians explain away John 6.

måndag 20 februari 2012

Music in the liturgy

The Latin Rite Catholic church is the Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Over the past 1500 years, its music has evolved, following its codification by St Gregory. The image shows the Holy Spirit whispering the chant into his ear as he writes it down, which is a bit fanciful. A substantial body of the music is thought to have come from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, who must have got it from somewhere else, possibly the ancient Egyptians.

Nobody knows what it sounded like because they left no recordings. In fact, what notation there was gave no indication of pitch, so this cannot be deduced from ancient manuscripts which show only cantillation marks - little curved lines and dots - on top of the texts. The question mark is a survival from this system of notation.

A system of pitch notation was invented by Guido d'Arrezo, who is also credited with having invented the tonic sol-fa system. (Doh, Re, Me, etc) This uses four lines, with the notes being indicated by squares and diamonds, arranged in groups known as neumes. What is not known is how these were actually sung, and there are grounds for believing, first, that cantors added their own ornamentation, including extra notes at quarter-note intervals, second, that choirs added a drone, possibly one of the resonant notes of the building in which the music was being performed, and third, that singers divided themselves into groups singing the same music at an interval apart, possibly a third or a fifth. This latter practice could have been the origin of the polyphonic singing which culminated in the compositions of Victoria and Palestrina in the sixteenth centry.

The Protestant churches adopted more simplified musical forms, amongst the most accomplished being by composers such as Hassler, Wesley, Watts, and many nineteenth century figures. The Anglican church took an intermediate position, exemplified by seventeenth century composers such as Thomkins, Gibbons and Purcell, and the development of the style of psalmody known as Anglican chant.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with the encouragement of Pope Pius X, Gregorian chant enjoyed a revival, guided by research and the study of ancient documents by the monks of Solemnes. Whether this is an authentic reconstruction is another question, but the fruits of their work are the characteristic Roman Catholic sound of the period immediately before the Second Vatican Council.

Post Vatican II, the liturgy was drastically simplified, with new music being composed for the new vernacular liturgies. That reform has run its course, and the current movement is for reform of the reform. Where does that mean for the music of the liturgy?

It seems to me that, throughout the whole of this history, the music that has been used in the liturgy is both a reflection and a product of the theology that informs the liturgy. It is also a powerful means by which the theology is propagated. This is not a matter of asserting a set of verbal propositions, but of presenting the entire spirituality which lies beneath the theology. If this is the case, then music written for the protestant churches, however beautiful, has no rightful place in the Catholic liturgy, which must confine itself to music that has arisen from its own tradition.

This is very different from arguing that the Church should attempt to reconstruct the music of the distant past. It is, in principle, the same question as to whether the practices of the early Church should be revived 2000 years later. In both instances, it is important to acknowledge that the Church is an evolving organism.

fredag 17 februari 2012

Camden Council seeking judical review

Camden Council has joined campaigners in seeking a judicial review of HS2 because of its effects on homes and businesses, hundreds of which will be demolished to make way for the project.

One of the arguments for HS2 has been that the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line was so disruptive that a brand new railway was a better option. It now turns out that the rebuilding of Euston Station is a much bigger project than the public has been led to believe, and it too will be severely disrupt services on the WCML for several years.

Full article in Rail Technology Magazine here.

Have the supporters of HS2 been pulling the wool over everyone's eyes?

torsdag 16 februari 2012

HS2 - exactly what is not required

Google maps
80% of Britain's population lives within an area south of Leeds-Manchester and east of the Welsh border. Most of the rest is concentrated into two outliers, the Newcastle-Sunderland and Edinburgh-Glasgow conurbations.

The largest conurbation in Britain is Greater London, which can be defined in various ways, such as the area inside the M25. However, as an economic area, it can be considered to take in Reading, Oxford, Luton, Cambridge, Southend and Brighton. The second conurbation is that centred on Birmingham, whilst the third takes in Liverpool, Manchester, and arguably, Leeds. In between the conurbations are numerous towns with populations of between 100,000 and 250,000, roughly 30 miles apart. Since 1960, the tendency has been for these places to spread and join up, so that, for example, it could be argued that London and Birmingham are on the way to becoming a single conurbation. Also since 1960, the predominant forms of residential and commercial development have been on the assumption that they will have access by private car. Thus, in order to get to work and maintain their job opportunties, as well as to perform regular household tasks like shopping, people have been obliged to run one, and often more, cars per household, leading to very high levels of car ownership and use.

Such a pattern of development gives rise to a particular pattern of travel, with a myriad of different journeys being made, many of which would be very difficult to serve by public transport in any form. Nevertheless, people are continuing to live and work in towns and their travel habits could be catered for by public transport if the services were available. What is needed here is a system that provides the maximum journey opportunities. A high speed line between major centres, not stopping en route, is exactly what is not required. The right configuration is not a trunk but a net. Much of this could be achieved by reinstating lines closed under Beeching, with good connections where the routes cross.

If there is a case for high speed rail at all, it is to serve the outlying centres of Tyne and Wear, and the Scottish lowland belt. To maximise the benefit, construction should start from Scotland, where the obstacles are fewest, the potential benefits greatest, and where the routes could be brought into revenue-earning use long before 2026.

One has to wonder what kind of planning methodology was used to generate this proposal?

Judicial review threat

Opponents of HS2 are now going down the route of judicial review. It will be interesting to see how the case is presented.

In my view, has come about for a host of wrong reasons, which in turn points to fundamental flaws in the whole way that the decision was made. Whether this is grounds for judicial review is another matter. I shall discuss the underlying issue in my next post.

onsdag 15 februari 2012

Conservatives doing God could misfire

The Conservative chairman's visit to the Vatican on Tuesday is the latest example of how her party is increasingly willing to talk about religion.

It could misfire. Christianity sits uncomfortably with the policies of both political parties. What are the Conservatives to make of the laws on land tenure and usury set out in Chapter 25 of Leviticus?

There is worse: the encyclical Vix Pervenit of 1745 re-states the scriptural ban on usury, to say nothing of the entire body of Catholic Social Teaching encyclicals given out since 1891. These commence with Rerum Novarum, the encyclical signed by Pope Leo XIII, and continue to the latest, Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate of 2009 - which argues that justice is the foundation of charity.

The encyclicals from Quadragesimo Anno (1931) onwards argue the case for social responsibility in the economic sphere, setting the Popes up as advocates of principles well to the left of anything the British Labour Party would have dared to promote over the past couple of decades.

The politicians may get this thrown back in their face.

lördag 11 februari 2012

Council prayers row

A row has blown up over the practice of having prayers at the start of council meetings. As a card-carrying Catholic, it strikes me a mockery to expect non-believers to join in a prayer session.

Simple solution
However, why has nobody suggested this simple and obvious solution? It would do no harm and could probably do some good, to have a period of silence before meetings, which individuals can use as they wish, since that could offend nobody. It would at least give everyone an opportunity to collect their thoughts and could improve the quality of the decisions that are made.

There is of course nothing to stop them doing that before they get to the meeting, but human nature being what it is, they will busy about with stuff until the last minute. This has nothing to do with the deity but would need the external discipline of having to arrive in time for the meeting that includes a couple of minutes of silence.

After that they might even listen to each other instead of being full of themselves as politicians usually are.

lördag 4 februari 2012

British train ticket

British train ticket, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

This credit-card size ticket format is convenient but the information on it could be presented more clearly. The important things such as the destination, ticket type and the dates of validity should be in bigger type.

Ricardo’s Law in brief