onsdag 28 november 2012

Slow comfortable travel

Blå Tåget

Blå Tåget, originally uploaded by Elmar Eye.

Travelled from Göteborg to Stockholm last Saturday on Blå Tåget. Swedish carriages from the 1960s - the high point of Scandinavian design - have been tastefully refurbished, and the train is complemented with a German dining car and a lounge car from the 1970s. The locomotive is modern and hired in. The train runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and was well filled, possibly because the fare undercuts the SJ ticket price and people do not mind the slightly longer journey time, an extra half an hour, making it four hours, which is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the slower speed makes for a pleasanter and more relaxing journey as one can watch the landscape go by.

Food is cooked on board in the traditional way, so if you have your meal about half-way through the trip, the journey is soon over.

After a tentative start earlier in the year, patronage seems to be building nicely. Keeping the speed down keeps the costs down and clearly there is a market for this kind of travel.

måndag 26 november 2012

St Lars Catholic Church, Uppsala

Went to Mass here yesterday. The architecture of the church is firmly stuck in the mid-1970s. In its way, it is an attractive and well thought-out building, with good quality materials, but it lacks the markers that are associated with sacred spaces.

The worst thing about it is the arrangement of the Sanctuary. An organ, slightly askew, reading desk, altar, crucifix with an Rothko-style offcut barely recognisable as a cross, three IKEA-style chairs and a cube of a tabernacle, are spread out in a row along the end wall as if they were items for sale in an auction. There is no symmetry or sense of order - in fact, the lop-sidedness is deliberate. It lacks focus. Goodness knows what theological statement is it all trying to make, but the message that comes across is confusion.

The same, unsurprisingly, goes for the liturgy: a pick-and-mix collection of Lutheran and Wesleyan hymns, a few 1980s settings and a garnish of Gregorian chant in Latin. The latter was very well sung by the organist, whom I would imagine finds the rest of the service a penance to be offered up. There is something for everyone, but the total effect and message is incoherent. The whole carries the stamp of the times just as do the clothes, popular music, cars and just about everything else from four decades ago.

Period piece
I should not like to live in this parish. It is run by a community of German Jesuits who must have received their formation in the late-1970s. At that time, the Catholic church was going through an experimental phase in the wake of Vatican 2 and the liturgical reforms that had followed. Since then, the pendulum has swing, with the publication of books such as The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Razinger, Turning towards the Lord by Uwe Lang or the Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis by the Pope. These authors have clearly had no influence on the clergy at Uppsala, to the point that they seem to have lost touch with the spirit of the times and have inadvertently created a period piece.

The church is well-filled, and the people are friendly and welcoming. But this is Uppsala, the leading university city in Sweden. The Catholic church needs to be running a flagship parish, where the musical treasures of the Catholic church's heritage are on display. A good model is the Oxford Oratory, where members of the Oratorian order took over a moribund parish at Oxford and brought it back to life through, amongst other things, the use of a traditional liturgy with Latin, Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony.

Unfortunately, the possibilities at Uppsala are constrained by the building itself, which is unsuitable and would be difficult to adapt by re-ordering. However, nearby is a medieval, former Dominican church would would be perfect since it was designed in the first place for the Catholic liturgy. The Church of Sweden could no-doubt be persuaded to part up with it if the offer was good enough. Someone, presumably the bishop, needs to take control of the situation, as at present a wonderful opportunity for mission and evangelisation is going to waste.

Helga Trefaldighet Kyrkan

fredag 23 november 2012

Greengauge forecasts HS2 boost to regions

Pro-HS2 research group Greengauge 21 says it thinks the rest of the country will benefit more than London from the high-speed link. In its evidence to the Independent Transport Commission, the organisation cites better connectivity to the ‘gateways for global commerce’, the main international airports and also the Channel Tunnel for access to the European HSR network.

This prediction is a statement of faith more than anything else. What counts are door-to-door journey times. I am sceptical whether HS2 is the best way of achieving wothwhile improvements, as it is the local networks that are just as important. One reason for the appeal of the south-east is its proximity to Europe by road, which is the most frequent freight mode.

Improved rail services could help to relieve the motorway network by taking some traffic off. Improved intermodal freight would help the north somewhat. The simplest way of rebalancing the UK economy would be through the tax system, so that it favoured areas of disadvantage, with a bigger contribution coming from areas of geographical advantage.

These things tend to balance out anyway as rents and house prices reflect the advantage of location. If HS2 really does what its supporters claim, it will push up commercial rents and house prices away from the London area, thereby making it a giveaway to property owners at the expense of the taxpayer.

UK - Germany high speed service deferred again

The launch of London-Frankfurt high-speed services has been pushed back due to Siemens’ delay in supplying 16 ICE 3 trains to Deutsche Bahn, who ordered the trains in 2008 and were promised delivery last December.

DB originally wanted to run London-Frankfurt trains for the 2012 Olympics, but then pushed the start date back to 2013 – but further delays mean the service will not now be launched until at least 2016.

The delay is reported as being due to software problems discovered during testing.There was a time when the only things running through a train were a pipe for the braking system, and a pipe for the steam heat. Then they added electricity, with a dynamo-battery set under each vehicle and cables from vehicle to vehicle in case of failure. Ventilation systems were passive so didn't break down and door operation was manual with someone on the station platform to check that they were properly shut before the train moved off.

Trains like those are of extreme simplicity, inexpensive to construct and maintain, and are within the capacity of part-time amateurs to keep going. And from the passengers' point of view there has been little improvement - on the contrary, they got a comfortable seat, space, and somewhere for their luggage.

Later on, into the 1970s other features were added which required a cable with a hundred or so connections but that was manageable too. It brought in features such as retention toilets, power operated doors and air conditioning, which are genuinely useful if they work and a menace when they don't. The first is a matter of basic hygiene but the latter two could certainly be regarded as optional extras. But since then, the complexity has increased exponentially, and so has the cost.

The people specifying railway vehicles need to take a good hard look at what is needed and what is not, and how much could be saved, and how reliability could be improved, by simplification, even if it means employing additional staff to do things which have been automated at vast expense. Or running the trains at lower speeds, because high speeds also give rise to hidden costs, as discussed elsewhere in this blog.

torsdag 22 november 2012

Church of England rejects women bishops

The vote against women bishops has aroused a storm of protests by agnostics, atheists and equalities fascists. Most of it is ill-informed and ignorant. Arguments about modernity and the need to get out of the medieval mindset or come into the twentieth century are no argument at all. They reveal a poverty of intellect and an unwillingness to thing about the real reasons why a change might or might not be desirable.

Church office is not a prize to be sought after like getting oneself in the MD's chair. The desire to be a bishop is unworthy and in principle a reason why the individual is not suitable. This was one of the themes explored by Trollope in Barchester Towers, alas now little read.

But in the case of the Church of England, there is a complication. The question of Anglican orders was investigated by Rome in the late nineteenth century by a commission set up by Pope Leo XIII. This led to the publication of the Bull Apostolae Curae in 1896, which concluded, "We pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void."

"In the whole Ordinal not only is there no clear mention of the sacrifice, of consecration, of the priesthood (sacerdotium), and of the power of consecrating and offering sacrifice but, as We have just stated, every trace of these things which had been in such prayers of the Catholic rite as they had not entirely rejected, was deliberately removed and struck out."

So Anglican "priests" are not priests and Anglican bishops are not bishops of the Universal Church; thus the former Catholic sees are in reality defunct, having been replaced by those established on the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in 1850.

Catholic doctrine is that it does not have the ability to ordain women, an assertion that was put to the test in the 1970s when a number of women in Czechoslovakia underwent the ordination ceremony. This is not a matter of cussedness or sexism. The priest at the altar is another Christ, an alter Christi, representing in a bloodless form the sacrifice of Calvary. This is a theological point that has become obscured by the practice of celebrating Mass facing the people, which has led to the widespread belief that it is a re-enactment of the Last Supper. The question that arises is whether a woman is capable of performing the role of an Alter Christi, and there is nothing to suggest that this is possible.

But none of the above applies within the Anglican church, which means that it can have no objection to the appointment of women to church office. The difficulty there is that it kills off hopes of ecumenical unity at an institutional level, but these were never grounded in realism in the first place.

måndag 19 november 2012

Is it all right to Rock for Jesus?

A friend of mine who used to be a free church evangelical asked me this question the other day. The use of Rock music in worship has respectable credentials, since it has its origins in the baptist Pentecostal churches, with congregation mostly of African origin, the the southern states of the USA. Elements of the style - its characteristic rhythm and tonality - come, no doubt, from the tribal music of West Africa, from whence it was imported along with the people, who were also imported. So what is the problem with it?

In principle, nothing is wrong with it, any more than there is anything wrong with Lutheran and Wesleyan hymns, or the music of the seventeenth century Anglican church. All of these are expressions of a Protestant from of worship and behind them is a Protestant spirit and a Protestant theology. If you hold to that, then it is perhaps hard to argue that there is anything wrong with Rocking for Jesus. But would Jesus join in, or purse his lips and leave? What music would Jesus want to sing and listen to when the Lord was to be praised?

lördag 17 november 2012

Gaza trouble starts up again

The left has lost no time in whipping up its anti-Israel fervour, following the latest outbreak of hostilities. As far as I can make out, it was Hamas who set off the latest round of rocket attacks, having assembled a supply of weapons from Iran over a period of several months. Civilian deaths are always a bad thing but the Hamas government has the support of civilians so it should not come as too much of a surprise when the Israelis react robustly against attacks from Gaza.

However, it is worth noting that the Israeli response is mild in comparison to the attacks by the Syrian president's forces on his own people, something which the critics of Israel somehow manage to overlook.

Irish medical fatality no excuse for easy abortion

The pro-abortion lobby has seized on a recent medical fatality as a reason for abolishing the country's strict abortion laws so as "to bring the country into the twenty-first century".

As the debate has unfolded it has become evident that no-one really knows what happened, inevitably since medical confidentiality is involved, and that no-one is really clear exactly what the Irish law is on the subject. The official position appears to be that an abortion is permitted if the life of the mother is endangered, but that is ultimately a matter of medical judgement. The relevant principles are, it has been argued, the Irish constitution and an 1861 law, which itself is open to interpretation.

Irish doctors have asked for better clarification and that is evidently necessary. But the whole incident has been used as an excuse by the pro-abortion lobby to argue for the kind of lax abortion laws that apply in the UK, and to take a side-swipe at the Catholic church at the same time, this being the most evil organisation in the history of the universe.

måndag 12 november 2012

Today's Mass reading - wheat and cockle

GOSPEL Matt. 13:24-30

At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the good man of the house coming said to him. 'Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence then hath it cockle?' And he said to them: 'An enemy hath done this.' And the servants said to him: 'Wilt thou that we go and gather it up?' And he said: 'No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: 'Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.' "

Just a thought about this passage that occurred to me - we are both wheat and cockle at one and the same time.

lördag 10 november 2012

"Archbishop of Canterbury"

In all the discussion about the new "Archbishop of Canterbury", it seems to have been forgotten that the last Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, died on 17 November 1558.

Liege Cathedral uglified

Cathédrale St-Paul. by Rienk Mebius
Cathédrale St-Paul., a photo by Rienk Mebius on Flickr.
Beautiful and well preserved Medieval Cathedral but what is the thing that looks like a gold painted radiator in front of the altar?

It is ugly. It should be taken away. And the ugly chairs one the sanctuary should be put in the Cathedral cafe. A perfectly good altar can be seen behind which can be used instead. The celebrant would then be facing east, the same as the rest of the congregation.

The damage done by the 1970s liturgical reforms spread far beyond the liturgy itself.

onsdag 7 november 2012

On the sea on a sunny day in 1946

Sea view - South Devon 1946 by Elmar Eye
Sea view - South Devon 1946, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
Our first holiday was after the war, in July 1946. We stayed at Teignmouth on the South Devon coast. My father must have gone on a fishing trip when he took this picture with a Kodak box Brownie taking 8 shots on a roll of 120 film, which would most likely have been Kodak Ortho. This might be South Devon but it could have been Cornwall. There is lots of detail here - timber boats including two cabin cruisers, a large two masted sailing vessel, probably a nineteenth century ketch, a couple of clinker-built rowing boats and a steam tug. Probably South Devon or Cornwall.

It looks like it was a breezy morning. To judge from the angle of the anchored boats there was a strong tide running  Despite the blue sky, with only a few clouds, the softness of the shadows suggests the sun must have been slightly obscured when the picture was taken. An amazing amount of detail shows up, considering the type of camera, never renowned for their sharpness.

lördag 3 november 2012

EF and OF masses compared

Books have been written on this subject but the most obvious differences are
  1. The Mass is usually said in the vernacular *
  2. Vesting and recitation of the Judica me verses takes place in the sacristy instead of in the church.
  3. The Proper is replaced by hymns. *
  4. The priest faces the congregation instead of facing in the same direction as the congregation.
  5. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison are each repeated twice instead of three times. *
  6. There are two readings before the Gospel instead of three.
  7. The readings are to a three-year cycle instead of a one-year cycle.
  8. A responsorial Psalm usually replaces the Gradual verses. *
  9. The prayers over the preparation of the gifts are different.
  10. There are four alternative Canons of the Mass instead of just the one, which is now the Eucharistic Prayer option number one.
  11. The Canon of the Mass is recited aloud instead of almost silently.
  12. There is an acclamation after the consecration.
  13. The Our Father is recited by the congregation instead of by the priest alone.
  14. The Sign of Peace is exchanged between members of the congregation. *
  15. The second confession before reception of communion is omitted.
  16. The "Domine non sum dignus" (Lord I am not worth to receive you) is said once instead of three times.
  17. Communion is usually received standing and in the hand instead of on the tongue, whilst kneeling. *
  18. Communion is received under both kinds. *
  19. The Last Gospel (John 1 : 1-18 is omitted).
The above are the changes most apparent to anyone in the congregation.The items marked with an asterisk are optional though usual rather than mandatory ie the OF Mass may be said in Latin with the chanted responses with communion being received under one kind, on the tongue and whilst kneeling.

There is no doubt that the OF Mass is valid but the question that still remains to be answered is what was the reason for these changes? They add nothing and take away much.

Music at Kristuskonungen

Last night (All Souls' Day), the choir sang the Requiem, at least a fair bit of it, in Latin, including the Introit, Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. But the Tract, Offertory and Communion got lost and replaced by the Responsorial Psalm and vernacular hymns mostly of recent composition and therefore unfamiliar. The Dies Irae also disappeared. The latter is in fact the Sequence and not part of the Ordinary Form, but can nevertheless be included. And that is about as good as it gets at an OF Mass.

The previous day, All Saints' Day, we had a visiting choir which sing a collection of things including the Kyrie by (probably) Haydn, a baroque polyphonic piece at the Offertory and the Sanctus from Fauré's Requiem, interspersed with a modern vernacular Gloria and a slew of Protestant hymns. It was a buffet menu put together so that there was at least something to please everyone. But it added up to nothing coherent, and more like a concert than a service.

The standard of singing by choirs and congregation, is first rate, as are the organists, but the choice of music is another matter, being dominated by Lutheran or Methodist hymns, dated, dull and uninspiring. The sense of lively Catholic spirituality is absent from the sound, a situation that is almost the norm in contempory Catholic parishes almost everywhere. It fails, amongst other things, to connect the church to its own traditions and its ancient Judaic roots. It like going to a Macdonalds and getting the bun without the burger inside. Of course one receives the Body of Christ, but the context is unworthy.

The ray of hope is the weekly EF Mass. Unfortunately, this is usually at an unpopular time, poorly attended, and rarely sung. However, there have been occasional, usually unplanned, high points where the Propers have been sung with the correct tunes, ie not using psalm tones, with the Ordinary sung to a perfectly good Missa de Angelis. The latter is really all it takes for an authentically Catholic liturgy, but it seems to be the hardest thing in the world to achieve. Why is there this resistance? In the long run it is damaging because the liturgy is the church's "shop window" and principal means for conveying its teaching.

It would help if more members of the parish were familiar with the chant, in accordance with the instructions given following Vatican 2. It would further help if there were good scores to sing from ie in the correct four line/square note notation. When Gregorian chant is sung from modern notation, such is the loss of information that it is hard not to end up with a dreary sound. The new edition of Cecilia, due out early next year, ought to have addressed this by including the Gregorian settings in their proper notation but for some reason this has not happened. Someone is going to have to fill the gap.

The cost of speed

A train running at 125 mph consumes 90% more energy than one running at 90 mph. In addition, there are other costs, since the trains have to be specified for higher speeds, one-third of the front and rear vehicles cannot be used for passenger accommodation, there is additional wear and tear, signalling systems must be designed for the longer stopping distances, thereby reducing track capacity, and the railway becomes subject to EU regulations for high speed lines, with all the associated compliance costs.

Reams of careful calculations would need to be made before the proposal to reduce top speed on some 125mph routes to just under the 100 mph threshold could be dismissed as lunatic.

torsdag 1 november 2012

Leica snobbery

Leica M9 with Elmar lens by Elmar Eye
Leica M9 with Elmar lens, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.

Leica users get accused of snobbery. My reason for getting this M9 is because it is easy to use and I already had a few Leica lenses, most of them ancient. The cameras are a bit overpriced but then I don't run a car which is most people's big money gobbler. It is a pity that so many Leicas are bought to put on display or are fashion accessories. One cannot blame Leica for playing to this market, which values crocodile skin coverings and gold plating. However, if it did not exist, the production of the cameras would probably not even be a viable proposition.

If I did not already have the lenses I would have probably got one of the Fuji series, perhaps the Fuji X-Pro 1. This uses some very clever technology to get the very best out of a smaller APS size sensor.

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