tisdag 28 juni 2016

Ugly post-referendum mood

The referendum campaign was appalling on both sides. Speculations were presented as solid predictions by both sides. The race card was played by both sides. In the end, most of us, on both sides, had no option than to vote on gut feeling.

The neglected working class in the neglected regions turned out in sufficient numbers to upset the prosperous metropolitan elite. Democracy produced the result that supporters of democracy did not want, thereby demonstrating, amongst other things, that democracy is not an ultimate value.

The Bremainers have now cried foul and demand a re-run. There is no guarantee that it would produce a different result. The result has also given rise to racist and anti-foreigner feelings and verbal abuse. It will probably get worse. There is a nasty side to the English white working class which has always been an embarrassment to the left wing intellectuals who have patronised it and expected it to vote them into power.

That it has come to surface is an ugly development on the face of a British political tradition which has usually listened and treated with respect those with different views. I cannot help feeling that I am well out of it.

söndag 26 juni 2016

A national disgrace - the fruits of secularism

A friend of mine is currently working temporarily at a home for elderly disabled people, run by a local authority near Gothenburg. Most of them have had strokes and are also suffering from dementia.

Three times a week I get a telephone call about what a stressful day she has had. The home is understaffed, with six care staff for 35 residents. Her colleagues seem not to care. The patients' calls for help can go unheeded for an hour or more. Care is inadequate. They don't even get enough water. They are allowed to lie in their own excrement for hours before they are changed. It does not help that most of the residents almost never receive a visit from their children.

Having to work in such an institution is stressful, especially if one cares about the patients, wants to do the best for them and is actively prevented from doing so. If dogs were kept in conditions like that, those responsible would be prosecuted for cruelty.

It's not fair - new referendum please

The advocates of democracy, not liking the result, are now petitioning for a new referendum. This is a game that could go on indefinitely.

lördag 25 juni 2016

Fair weather democrats

The Bremain party are having a whinge today. The Brexiters, they claim, were stupid, xenophobes, racists, Little Englanders and old fogeys.

Democracy is only good when the people vote the way you want them to.

fredag 24 juni 2016

The Secret People by G K Chesterton

SMILE at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God's scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

These are the first and last verses. The ones in the middle are rambling and frankly, reprehensible, with a nasty line about a cringing Jew. Too often, Chesterton lets himself down. But the first and last seem pertinent this morning.

A map of political failure

Islands of yellow in a sea of blue. The metropolitan prosperous surrounded by the left-behind rest. Areas with good infrastructure embedded in tracts with poor roads and run-down railways. The yellows will benefit from HS2. Everyone else gets nothing. It is a map of the economic failure of the past seventy years.

By removing some of the obstacles to the necessary reforms, Brexit might help to turn things round, but it will still take a lot of imagination, intelligence and hard work. Whether the British have what it takes is another question.

tisdag 21 juni 2016

Listen to Soros - vote Remain

I am sure George Soros (or should it be Tsures - צאָרעס, the word means "misery") has everyone's interests at heart when he urges people to vote Remain, but how many other people appreciate that? Soros warns that "The Brexit crash will make you all poorer.".

Wouldn't politicians and other commentators who are so widely mistrusted do better to keep quiet if they want people to do what they say? Or do they not even realise that they are not trusted. Anyway, here is the link to his piece, but you will not be allowed to comment.

However, his reasoning is interesting, since by implication he suggests that Brexit would remedy some of the long standing weaknesses of the British economy. First, he predicts a fall in house prices, a bubble value if ever there was one. Second, he refers to the drying-up of capital inflows - which have been a major factor in the large-scale purchase of UK real estate by foreign "investors", particularly residential property in London, an influx of finance which has helped to make housing in London unaffordable for people working in London.

A third point, which is not altogether congruent with the other two, is his projected fall in the value of the pound, which he predicts could go as low as 1 € to the £. If this were to happen, British producers would enjoy an immediate and substantial competitive advantage. Euroland countries might then apply protectionist measures to punish their own people by depriving them of lower-cost UK goods. However, a lower £ would give a boost British tourism and other invisibles, eventually driving sterling back up again. In the meantime, British firms would be able to make use of their other competitive advantages - the English language and proximity to ports - to develop trade outside the EU - ie most of the rest of the world. Outside Europe, British consumers would also gain access to food outside the tariff wall.

I wonder how much Soros stands to lose from a Brexit vote?

söndag 19 juni 2016

What would The Archers be without the tune?

This famous signature tune tune was written twenty five years before it was chosen for the BBC's longest-running radio soap, The Archers. This is the story. The music was picked at random by the producer, whose budget would not stretch to paying a composer to write something specially.

What would the programme be without it? A couple of weeks ago I wrote an blog piece about why the Introit should be sung. The Introit music is the signature tune for the Mass, and sets the theme for the day. Unlike the Archers' tune, the music was composed with the aim of setting precisely the right mood for the theme.

Guardian writer slags of Catholic church

That is not exactly news but this time it is because of a "shameful silence". The author writes "The Orlando killings would have been a perfect opportunity for the church to condemn the deep-rooted prejudice in our midst".

Because of its timing, it is only today that the first opportunity would have arisen to pray for the victims at a Sunday Mass. I would be surprised if prayers were not offered at Masses on the following day. Only a couple of days before, I was at a Mass where the sermon was on just this point - it is a lie to accuse the Catholic church of being anti-gay.

torsdag 16 juni 2016

The Catholic Church at Skövde

Katolska kyrkan - Skövde

It is good to see the Catholic community flourishing in what is said to be the most secular country in the world. Skövde in the west of Sweden has a small Catholic congregation using a church quite recently converted from a an old church hall. It really is quite an attractive building. There is a very small pipe organ which has a lovely tone. The work has been done to a high standard

However, the building would benefit from a re-ordering, with the altar re-positioned against the wall and the tabernacle immediately behind. The lop-sided position of the tabernacle (to the right of the sanctuary) is ugly and confusing. The tabernacle should be in the same position as the Ark is in a synagogue, where the Scrolls of the Law are the focus and given pride of place. The position of the tabernacle - indeed, the entire architecture of a church, is a theological statement.

It would also be helpful if the pot plants were removed from the altar step so that communion could be received kneeling. It is astonishing how much harm and confusion the misinterpretation of archaeological evidence has done. We need to get ourselves back on track.

What does Matthew 6 say about liturgy?

Yesterday's Gospel reading was Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Beware of performing religious acts for people to see “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The priest, who has views on the subject, used it as a cue for a brief sermon about liturgy and the need for simplicity and understandability of the texts. However, this passage has nothing to do with the liturgy. Liturgy is the public prayer of the church. All religions have some form of prayer in public.

The performance of the liturgy, like the performance of the ancient Temple ceremonies from which they are derived, is governed by the regulations set out in the relevant official documents of the church - the General Instructions and rubrics of the Missal and supporting guidelines such as Sacrosanctum Concilium and Summorum Pontificum.

The liturgy is prayer, but it is also sacred theatre. It is a set of actions and not a mere recital of texts. Its function is both to raise the hearts and minds of the people to God, and to convey the beliefs of the church in a way that the people can understand. The texts have a part to play, and of course people should know what is being said, but the liturgy engages all the senses; the text is part of an overall experience involving ceremonial, music and art, smell and taste, all within an appropriate architectural setting.

It is true that some people can become over-particular about the way the liturgy is performed. This applies both to those who wish to preserve tradition and those who would cast it aside. On the other hand, care should be taken to exclude that which gets in the way of the liturgy's function - whether it be unsuitable music or sloppy reading or an architectural setting which draws attention away from, or interferes with, the action.

The aim of the liturgy is nothing less than the transformation of the participants. A focus on just the text can lead to an intellectualisation of the faith, which then becomes a set of theoretical ideas rather than a change in state of being. Could this be one reason why we are failing to radicalise our young people?

onsdag 15 juni 2016

Another Bremain own-goal

It is amazing the lengths the Bremainers are going to. This Guardian journalist has recruited the eighteenth-century painter Hogarth in support.

Hogarth was making the point that Britain was dependent on the international economy, which it does. And the international economy does not stop at the borders of the EU. Another own-goal from a Bremainer. You have to wonder why they do it, because there are perfectly good arguments for remaining, which make it very difficult to come down on either side.

tisdag 14 juni 2016

Finally, I have decided which way to vote

Like a lot of people, I have found it very difficult to make up my mind which way to vote at the referendum. A Brexit vote aligns one with the forces of xenophobia, illiberalism and worse. These attitudes are summed up in the rantings of the Daily Mail.

A united Europe is a fine concept which has brought real benefits. A Brexit vote will trigger uncertainty. It will probably lead to the break-up of the EU and a possibly chaotic future.

On the other hand, the economics of EU membership work against the UK for geographical reasons which have not had much of an airing in the debate, but are a factor in the grotesque maldistribution of population and commerce in the UK, which are ever more sucked towards London and the South East.

However, that is not a deciding factor. I do not like the Daily Mail's rhetoric. But what came to mind this morning was a poem by G K Chesterton called "The Secret People". It has the refrain
"SMILE at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet"
The values of the English are far from wholly reprehensible. They are being treated with contempt by the Bremainers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Guardian, which has run a Bremain campaign verging on the hysterical.

Now whatever one thinks of the Guardian, it is, or was consistent in its support for social justice. For at least the past couple of decades, however, its commentators have been consistently and well-intentionedly wrong in their analysis. This can be said of almost every issue they have become engaged in. They have been in denial about the effects of immigration, they have been in denial about the influence of Islam, and their views on issues as diverse as transport policy, environmental policy, housing and the economy have been wrong. Their judgement is not to be trusted. Why is this? Probably because their views are, ultimately, derived from Rousseau, who believed in the perfectibility of human nature, a notion that, against all experience, has its origins in the Enlightenment. This faith, and it is a faith with no foundation in evidence or observation, has been a major influence in the educational changes of the past half-century, as these ideas, seeping out via Rudolf Steiner, become mainstream, disastrously for those who have been the subject of this experiment, who now govern us and tell us what to think.

It is a notion that gets subtly demolished by the author A S Byatt in her 1966 novel "The Babel Tower". It has two parallel narratives; that which is presented as a minor one, from which the novel takes its title, refers to an ideal community established according to principles advocated by J J Rousseau, or possibly de Sade. The community ends up destroyed, though we are not told how. To suggest a parallel between the EU and a Tower of Babel is not so far-fetched..

We should not base our decisions on the personality or track record of the views politicians and journalists, but it helps to understand where their views are derived from. The Bremainers are the nicer people, but they are misguided. Brexit it is.

måndag 13 juni 2016

“This has nothing to do with religion”

So said the man's father after Omar Mateen killed 50 people at an Orlando gay club. Although details are still emerging, his father told NBC News that his son may been motivated by witnessing two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago. “This has nothing to do with religion,” he told NBC, adding that the family had been unaware of his plans.

This in an article "Queer Muslims exist – and we are in mourning too", in today's Guardian, in another attempt to distance from Islam terrorist actions committed by Muslims.

It convinces nobody. No comments are allowed, naturally, not on this or any of the several other articles on this incident. You begin to wonder what this newspaper's game is, so determined is it to shield Islam from criticism. The effect is to destroy what remains of the Guardian's credibility.

The misdeeds committed in obedience to the teachings of Islam are getting all religion a bad name. Christianity and Judaism promote can intolerant attitudes too; the Old Testament is explicit on the subject (Leviticus 18:22). It is read on the afternoon of the Day of Atonement and is presumably where the Islamic teaching comes from. However, both the Jewish tradition of interpretation, and Christian teaching always tempers what is written in the Old Testament. The Christian model is this...

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

and this

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

God wants us to repent and forgives the repentant sinner. He certainly does not want anyone thrown off cliffs or tall buildings for sexual transgressions.

onsdag 8 juni 2016

Were the Crusades a bad thing?

This subject came up in a discussion last night, as part of someone's anti-Catholic diatribe. We need to be clear about this. The Crusaders behaved abominably. They were, however, a necessary response to four centuries of aggression, at the request of the Byzantines who were in the front line and needed help. They ultimately failed.

Or perhaps the Crusades have never really ended. The westward spread of Islam was not checked until 1683 when the Ottomans were defeated when they besieged Vienna. The Ottomans were slowly driven back from most of the Balkans and Greece. However, the Christians of Asia Minor - the ancient communities of Armenians and Greeks, paid a terrible price at the beginning of the twentieth century, when three million died in the two genocides of 1915 and 1923, at the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the state of Turkey.

We should no more condemn the Crusades than we should condemn the Second World War on account of some of the acts of the British and US military during the course of that war. Hiroshima, Dresden and Hamburg, for example, do not negate the rightness of the war itself. In the case of Crusades, we are judging men who have been dead for centuries by the standards of today. That is absurd. Bad things were done and we should admit that, but we should stop apologising for the Crusades as such. If there had not been four centuries of Muslim Arab aggression there would have been no Crusades.

Navy's new destroyers will fail in the Gulf

It seems that it is not just transport projects that get messed up by civil servants. Defence procurement is another field of failure. Defence chiefs have told a House of Commons committee that the new £1bn class 45 destroyers are likely to suffer engine failure in warm waters.

tisdag 7 juni 2016

The Zombie Train that refuses to die

The Guardian has published a couple more articles against HS2, one by specialist rail commentator Christian Wolmar, and another today by journalist Simon Jenkins.

The main arguments in favour will doubtless be wheeled out by the commentators: the need for capacity and the disruption caused by upgrading existing routes. HST itself will severely disrupt services to Euston during the construction period. Capacity can be increased at a fraction of the cost by a variety of measures, provided that it is accepted that the additional traffic will run at existing speeds.

It is not generally known that the Midland main line is, or was, four track all the way from London to Trent Junction, between Nottingham and Derby. This is because the additional tracks are separate, having been added for coal trains which trundled down to Brent sidings, on the edge of London, from a collection point at Toton in Nottinghamshire, where the Midland Railway build a huge marshalling yard. Beyond Derby, the main line to Manchester was severed between Matlock and Buxton, but the route remains intact and could be reinstated at a relatively modest cost, thereby providing a complete new route to Manchester with connections from the East Midlands.

South of Rugby - ie the most congested part of the West Coast Main Line, an additional route could be created by reinstating the Great Central and its associated connecting lines. There is a need to relieve the very busy section through Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham International, but that could be more usefully provided by constructing some kind of metro system and giving back the main line for the London traffic.

söndag 5 juni 2016

Why the Introit should be sung

Dominus illuminatio mea.
Today's introit, for the tenth Sunday of the year, was the first verse of Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" It is also the motto of the University of Oxford and appears on the coat of arms. The Latin tune would take a couple of rehearsals to learn, but it is in mode 2, which is one of the easier psalm tones, which is an option if the choir does not have the time or skill to learn the music. It could even have been sung in the vernacular; this version of the psalm in Anglican chant would make a perfectly satisfactory start to the Mass.

Unfortunately, it got replaced by a hymn on a different theme altogether.

Does this matter?
In the bigger scheme of things, possibly not, especially when there are parts of the world where it is not even safe to go to church. However, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal lays down guidelines on the subject. Replacing the Introit with a hymn is a last-choice option, and it is meant to be a related text. The Introit, together with the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory and Communion verses, form part of the readings for the day, no less then the First and Second Readings and the Gospel; they should not be regarded as optional extras. The Introit sets the theme for the Mass and from the priest's point of view, is a useful hook to hang the sermon on.

Related to this is the music itself. For half of the church year - from Advent to Trinity Sunday, and the main feast days, the Introits have special settings which are generally not difficult to learn and get remembered by congregations after a few hearings. Thus they act as "signature tunes" and convey a sense of the flow of the church calendar and the events in scripture that that it recounts. In this, they play an important role in the ongoing catechesis of the people. So they should not be squeezed out by hymns, and certainly not by Protestant hymns, which are grounded in an aggressively non-Catholic spirituality and get the Mass off to a very bad start by putting congregations in the wrong frame of mind. Preferably, the original tunes should be sung, either in Latin, or in the vernacular if the translated text can be made to fit the music without sounding awkward or the text and music being at odds with each other. The translated text can usefully go in the newsletter, where it provides people with something to meditate upon when they take it home and read it.

lördag 4 juni 2016

Are tick bites taken seriously enough?

Last Wednesday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours working in a friend's garden. On Friday morning, ie about 36 hours later, I felt an itching sensation, scratched the area of skin and removed a particle which, on examination, turned out to be a tick. I noticed several other red inflamed areas nearby and took a shower. In the evening I felt the same thing in the groin area and removed another particle which was also a tick, and another again on my back which I never got to look at which might have been a tick, making between two and five tick bites in all.

I went to the local emergency clinic this afternoon (Saturday) and asked the duty doctor for a prophylactic antibiotic. This is apparently against the guidelines which are to wait until a red patch is at least 5 cm across.

The problem with this protocol is that in about 30% of borrelia infections (the tick-borne Lyme Disease) there is no characteristic red patch, so the most advantageous opportunity for treatment is then missed. Also at the early stage, those infected may experience a fever which, however, can be confused with something else. After that the disease can manifest in a diverse variety of conditions which are difficult to diagnose. In the meantime, the infection advances and can affect the nervous system and even enter the brain, again mimicking other conditions including dementia.

It seems that if treatment with antibiotics begins sufficiently early, at the latest during the fever stage, then the patient will recover completely. After that, treatment becomes more difficult and eventually, the organism is well entrenched and hidden out of reach of antibiotics.

There is another sinister side to this infection: people may seem to have recovered but might not have. In this, Lyme disease seems to resemble one caused by another member of the same Spirochaeta family of bacteria: Treponema pallidum, the organism which causes syphilis and yaws, and another which causes Weil's disease. There is a poem about syphilis called, in this version,
"The Man from Bach Bay"
There once was a man from Bach Bay,
Who thought syphilis just went away;
He thought that a chancer
Was only a canker
Derived from lascivious play.
But now he has acne vulgaris,
(The kind that is rampant in Paris)
It covers his skin,
And his friends all ask where his hair is.
He has pains. in his head and his knees,
His sphincters have gone by degrees;
Paradox incontinence
With all its conoomitance
Bring quite unpredictable - .
With sensations progressing in number,
His aorta's in need of a plumber;
His heart is cavorting
His wife is aborting
Without doubt he's developed a "gummer".
There is more to his terrible plight,
His pupils won't react to light;
Along with his tabes
And saber-shinned babies,
He also has gun-barrel sight.
Though treated in every known way,
His spirochetes grow day by day;
He's developed paresis
Converses with Jesus
And thinks that he's Queen of the May.
Borrelia is less aggressive than syphilis but infections are debilitating and degrade the health of many of the sufferers. Faced with such a risk, and in the absence of a vaccine, one would have thought that the health authorities would lay down stricter guidelines for prevention, including prophylactic treatment of those who might have become infected. That prophylactic antibiotics are effective has been demonstrated by this study here carried out in 2001, which concluded that "A single 200-mg dose of doxycycline given within 72 hours after an I. scapularis tick bite can prevent the development of Lyme disease."

So how seriously should we take this?
A balance must be struck between panic reactions, paranoia and nonchalance. Borrelia is not AIDS, or syphilis as it was before antibiotics. Most authorities seem to agree that tick bites only rarely result in infection but that it can seriously damage people's health. I wonder, too, if infection is as rare as is claimed. I know, personally, two people whose condition is untreatable (one of them a doctor), another three who have been infected and had to receive treatment, and another whose mother was badly affected.That is quite a lot of people considering the small size of my circle of acquaintances.

Even if only, say, 1% of bites result in infection, then with ten bites in a year there is a 10% chance of infection; of course the odds do not increase with successive bites. There is an analogy here with unprotected casual sex. The chances are that you will get away with it once but sooner or later you will get something nasty. Matters are further complicated by the fact that, as mentioned earlier, the initial bite may not be noticed, that the characteristic red spot does not always appear, and that the fever may not develop, or could be mistaken for something else, such as influenza.

It is a increasing problem, as the areas infested with ticks are constantly spreading, partly due to climate change. This year is particularly bad due to the mild winter. It is now in urban areas. I was attacked far from the zones marked on last year's map as liable to be infested, which is why I had taken no precautions.

Perhaps the protocols need to be changed so that treatment is given at the earliest possible opportunity. Since the reservoir of disease is in the wild population, there is little the risk of antibiotic resistance developing. However, the presence of the disease in animals also raises questions about whether it can be transmitted by contact with infected animals used for food, for instance in slaughter, butchery or preparation?

In the absence of anything better, anyone who thinks they may have become infected might take advantage of the principles behind the old "malaria treatment" for syphilis: the organism is killed at 41 degrees. One approach to Lyme disease is what is called hyperthermia ie raising the body core temperature artificially to simulate a fever, for example by spending time in a steam room. Eating plenty of garlic is also reputed to keep the creatures away.

Ramadan tough trial for Muslims

Ramadan starts next week. It occurs about eleven or twelve days earlier each year due to the lunar Islamic calendar. It is a peculiarly tough, indeed, cruel, fast, from dawn to sunset for a month. No water is allowed, so people get dehydrated. After sunset, the practice is to eat a very substantial meal, which means that they get a poor night's sleep as well. Many people will be fit for nothing next day, and certainly not for work. I would not want to be on a bus driven by someone who has been following this regime.

This year it is particularly hard on Muslims in northern latitudes where the nights are short. There are divergent views on how this problem should be dealt with. If Islam was meant to be a religion for the whole of mankind as it claims to be, the curious thing is that this was not foreseen at the outset. Travellers in classical times had long visited the far northern latitudes and the greater seasonal variation in day length must have been well known even in Saudi Arabia. But one can continue in the same vein. The Romans used the Julian calendar with a year of 365.25 days, and the Jews had a mixed lunar/solar calendar which is slightly more accurate. So why, in the seventh century, would anyone have chosen to use a calendar with a year which was eleven days short?

Brexit row over brand protection

As part of the acrimonious Brexit negotiations, there is a row over protected product names such as Melton Mowbray pies and whiskies general...