måndag 7 december 2015

No hymns at Mass, please

Why do we sing hymns at Mass? The practice has become almost universal during the past 50 years, following the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy.

There is, in reality, no place of them in a Catholic Mass, since the parts that are meant for the people to sing are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, which together make up what is known as the Ordinary of the Mass. In English speaking countries, there were at first no musical settings for the text of the Ordinary, which was recited in a normal speech tone. In order to provide some music, hymns were inserted as replacements for the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons (that part of the Mass known as the Proper), plus a Recessional hymn. Thus evolved the notorious "Hymn Sandwich".

Here in Sweden the situation was considerably better as there was a long tradition of Gregorian Chant in the vernacular. It was a natural and obvious choice to adopt this music and build on the tradition when the vernacular was introduced in the Catholic liturgy. Thus the standard of music in the contemporary Catholic church in Sweden is exceptionally high and retains a continuity with the ancient Latin tradition.

However, the liturgy unfortunately also suffers unnecessarily from the insertion of hymns. There is no need for them. The Entrance, Alleluia, and Communion verses are given in Cecilia, pages 1157 to 1244 (the second group of pages edged in grey) and mostly lend themselves to setting to Gregorian psalm tones. So why are these texts, which form part of the reading and should not be omitted, normally replaced by hymns?

This gives rise to two practical problems. The first is that there are over 500 hymns in Cecilia. Most people only know a few of them, so they tend not to sing. The second is that non-participation in singing is promoted because people are sitting - which never makes for good singing, and because at the Offertory they are looking for their change to put in the collection, whilst at Communion, they are waiting to receive communion and do not have their books with them. If the communion hymn is sung afterwards, it prolongs the Mass unduly and disturbs people's meditation.

The use of  hymns from the Protestant tradition gives rise to further issues of an artistic and theological nature. The overall sound of the Ordinary in Sweden is traditionally Catholic, irrespective of whether it is sung in Latin or the vernacular. The music is melismatic, modal, and non-metrical, with precedence being given to the text. The hymns, on the other hand, are syllabic, metrical, and in a major or minor key. Thus there are two distinct musical genres in use. They do not sit well together. The result is like putting together food on a plate in a bad combination.

The theological ramifications are using Protestant music are subtle and disturbing. Composers such as Cruger, Luther, and Neander wrote fine music, but it is polemically anti-Catholic. Their music carries within it the very spirit of German Lutheranism - so much so that if one enters a Catholic Mass when this music is being sung, it is barely recognisable as Catholic. The same applies to music from other Protestant traditions, for example English Anglicanism and Methodism. It is good music and we like to sing it, but it is out of place in a Catholic Mass.

Conclusion
  • We ought to wean ourselves off the use of hymns at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion,, and the recessional should be restricted to one of the seasonal Latin or vernacular Marian hymns.
  • We need to get to work on producing Gregorian settings for the translated texts for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses.
  • We should think about introducing some kind of service on the lines of "Songs of Praise" where we can continue to enjoy singing the hymns which we like, but which do not belong in a Catholic Mass. Such a service might be held on a weekday or Saturday and be billed as an ecumenical event. Why not?

måndag 30 november 2015

Doro - mobile phone to avoid

Doro produces mobile phones which are supposed to be for people who want a simple device. I have had one since August. It must be the worst mobile phone I have ever owned. The model I purchased was a Phoneasy in gloss red with a camera.
  • The message facility is awful.
  • Very poor predictive text with limited vocabulary.
  • Cannot change language without closing and changing Settings, and it is difficult to find.
  • It takes EIGHT key presses to delete each and every message.
  • Calendar fixtures cannot be copied to another day or time.
  • The online backup facility did not work.
  • Battery life not good considering it is just a phone.
  • Microphone aperture is in the corner exactly where it will be covered when holding the phone.
  • Very poor build quality.
  • Squidgy keys - have to be pressed on exactly the right spot.
  • Red lacquer scratches easily and has started to wear through to the grey plastic underneath.
  • The back detachable cover has started to split at the corners.
There is more but that is enough to be getting on with.

It was not a bargain price and I am already looking for something to replace it.

söndag 29 november 2015

Unwanted children nature's mistake

Following the recent shooting, I got involved in a discussion on the Guardian's web site.This was the response I got to my question about when does a clump of cells become a person.

"At conception. However, being a person does not provide the right to use another person's body. Born humans can't demand the use of other people's organs - even those of their own parents, even if they will die without them. Why should unborn people have more rights than anyone else?"

This raises an interesting issue. If we laid eggs it would make matters so much simpler. They could be kept in the fridge or sold on ebay. Or eaten.

It is something for genetic engineers to get working on. They could try inserting a few chicken genes to see what happens.

torsdag 26 november 2015

Swedish "open door" slammed shut

Sweden has now closed its "open door" to refugees and people who purport to be refugees. The details are not clear yet but this is obviously a complete about-turn. It is an admission of a gross error of judgement on the part of the Swedish government.

There is a lot to be said in this kind of situation for the robust style of British parliamentary debate. In a similar situation there would have been several minutes of booing and jeering the the Commons.

It would have been well deserved. The Swedes can be too polite. There are times when it is necessary to be forthright.

söndag 22 november 2015

Who is bigoted?

It is amazing the number of people who apply the label "bigot" to those who try to warn them about the essentially intolerant nature of Islam. They will have to learn the hard way.

The Syrian refugee crisis has brought this to the surface. There is a genuine desire to extend feelings of compassion, expressed in the phrase "what would Jesus have done?" The majority of the refugees - at least 90% - are Muslims. Surveys suggest that between 20% and 40% of Muslims take their religion seriously, This means that there is always a reservoir of individuals who are radicalised or could become radicalised. That risk continues from generation to generation as relatively few from this group assimilate by intermarriage; in the UK, the radical Muslims are the grandchildren of the original immigrants. Radical Muslim is a misnomer, for these are nothing more than individuals who take seriously one of the fundamental tenets of Islam - Jihad. Thus, an open-doors policy is exposing future generations to risk of the sort of civil unrest and violence that is daily fare in the Middle East.

Of course one should help everyone in need so far as possible, irrespective of their religion, but this does not mean that one is obliged to put our families into danger by inviting enemies into our homes. Jesus never told his followers to do anything like that. There are other ways of providing help, and one might also ask why the forty or so Muslim countries are not offering help to their co-religionist brothers?

There is an irony  in being labelled bigot for wanting to resist the influx of an army of bigots.

tisdag 17 november 2015

Brass neck

Even after the Paris bombings, people are still going around in public with clothing which marks them out as Muslims. Have they no sense of shame at all? Do they lack any sensitivity? Or do they quietly approve of the massacre?

What a display of brass neck. Have they failed to notice that Islam has become a toxic brand?

torsdag 12 november 2015

The left's love-affair with Muslims

The other evening I had a long telephone conversation with a left-wing friend. This is what she did not want to hear.

I am shocked at how the left in general are welcoming an influx of people who espouse the most reactionary, racist and illiberal views circulating on the planet.Antisemitism is embedded within Islam.Committed Muslims worship a man who personally ordered the massacre by beheading of 600 Jews and the enslavement of their wives and children. In the Koran, Jews are referred to many times as pigs who need to be killed.

Objecting to this kind of thing is not racist, but they should no more be welcomed than one would welcome an army of Waffen SS. It is a continuation of the process which began with the ethnic cleansing of Christians and Jews from the Saudi-Arabian peninsula in the seventh century.

The first victims of this, are, as always, the Jews. Both in Malmö and here in Gothenburg, they face constant harrassment, violence and threats of violence (including death and arson threats) and school bullying. It is coming from Muslim immigrants. It is not coming from white power nuts or Breivik types. Half the former 2000 strong Jewish community has fled. Mostly to Israel.

This comes to the second issue, the demonisation of Israel. It is, for a start, a highly selective matter because there are dozens of oppressive regimes about which the same people utter not one word. There is plenty to criticise Israel about but when the spotlight is put on this one country to the exclusion of all others, is has to be concluded that the motivation is nothing other than good old antisemitism. It is a disgrace that the left has gone down this path.

One of the lies that gets put about is that Israel has come about as a result of European Christian antisemitism. That is only part of the truth. More than half of the population of Israel are refugees, or descendants of refugees, from Muslim Arab antisemitism.

This tracks back to the Palestine dispute. There had always been Jews in the area that later became known as Palestine. When the land was conquered from the Byzantine Empire in 637, both Christians and Jews were treated as second class citizens. They were forced to pay special, and very heavy taxes, forbidden to repair their buildings and made to wear distinctive clothing. Both communities suffered periodic pogroms, at least once a generation. This was their condition until the end of the Ottoman Empire, by which time the number of Jews remaining was several tens of thousands.

Arab attacks on Jews in Palestine began in 1920.right at the start of the Mandate period. At that time, the prospect of a Jewish state was next to nil, because the vast majority of Jew were not in the least bit interested. Thus it was based on nothing more than the ingrained hatred of Jews by Muslims, plus paranoia.

There were pogroms in Palestine many times during the 1920s and 1930s, including one which drove the ancient Jewish community out of Hebron in 1929, following a massacre.

During WW2, the Palestinian leader and war criminal Haj-amin el-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and uncle of Yasser Arafat, met Hitler and the Nazi leaders and encouraged them in their good work in pursuing the Holocaust. On his way, he had visited Baghdad and organised a pogrom in which hundreds of Jews were killed (that was in 1941), and afterwards he went on to organise the Bosnian Brigades, who terrorised the Serbs, thereby stirring up the hostilities which led to the tit-for-tat massacres in the 1990s. They did not pop up out of nothing and nowhere.

The unlovely Hungarian government can also be explained by the historical background. The country was not freed from the brutal Ottoman occupation until 1686. Thus, the fear of the Muslim threat from the east is part of the national folk memory. Remember also that the Ottomans remained on the borders of Hungary and were not dislodged from most of the Balkans until the late nineteenth century. We need to understand why they are jumpy. It is not for no reason.

The same goes for Austrian and Poland. Vienna was besieged for months by the Ottomans in 1683 and was only saved at the last moment by the arrival of the Polish army. Had Vienna fallen, there would have been a slaughter of civilians on the scale of that which took place in Constantinople in 1453.

It also needs to be remembered that the break-up of the Ottoman empire and the establishment of modern Turkey was accompanied by the genocide of a total of at least three million, possibly four million, Greeks and Armenians. These events are only just beyond living memory and not forgotten.

This brings us to the present situation in Syria and Iraq. We should stop blaming the troubles on western intervention. It is an obstacle to understanding the nature of this problem. Western intervention has not helped matters but the region would still be a catastrophe. The problem can be traced directly back to the Muslim Arab invasions of the seventh century, referred to earlier. It is a bitter legacy. Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are a witches' cauldron of ethnic and religious animosities. The Ottoman Empire and its predecessors kept the lid on that cauldron. The architects of the post-WW1 carve-up did not understand that. Politicians all the way across the spectrum still do not understand that. Until they do, all interventions are doomed to failure.

Unrestricted immigration from the area is merely spreading the conflict. It begins elsewhere as gang warfare. In the past couple of years it has escalated to the point that immigrant-dense Gothenburg has the highest rate of shootings of any city in Scandinavia.

Should we ignore people in need? No. But the help needs to be given to people on the spot, in fact, where it is most needed and most useful. As to whom is allowed in - they need to be checked and permission given before they start their journey, so that they are not tempted to make cross the sea in toy boats.

onsdag 11 november 2015

Merkel the Ossi

It is not generally known that Merkel was brought up in East Germany. This could explain quite a lot. Here is part of the Wikpedia entry.

Like most young people in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Merkel was a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ), the official youth movement sponsored by the ruling Socialist Unity Party. Membership was nominally voluntary, but those who did not join found it all but impossible to gain admission to higher education. She did not participate in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, however, which was common in East Germany. Instead, she was confirmed. Later, at the Academy of Sciences, she became a member of the FDJ district board and secretary for "Agitprop" (Agitation and Propaganda). Merkel claimed that she was secretary for culture. When Merkel's one-time FDJ district chairman contradicted her, she insisted that: "According to my memory, I was secretary for culture. But what do I know? I believe I won't know anything when I'm 80. Merkel's progress in the compulsory Marxism–Leninism course was graded only genügend (sufficient, passing grade) in 1983 and 1986.

At school, she learned to speak Russian fluently, and was awarded prizes for her proficiency in Russian and Mathematics. Merkel was educated in Templin and at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. While a student, she participated in the reconstruction of the ruin of the Moritzbastei, a project students initiated to create their own club and recreation facility on campus. Such an initiative was unprecedented in the GDR of that period, and initially resisted by the University of Leipzig; however, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed. Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) for her thesis on quantum chemistry, she worked as a researcher and published several papers.

In 1989, Merkel got involved in the growing democracy movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall, joining the new party Democratic Awakening. Following the first (and only) multi-party election of the East German state, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new pre-unification caretaker government under Lothar de Maizière. In April 1990, the Democratic Awakening merged with the East German CDU, which in turn merged with its western counterpart after reunification.

tisdag 3 november 2015

William Smith of Durham

 A pleasanter subject altogether - the Presces and Responses by William Smith, Cathedral organist at Durham.

Lone refugee "children"

There is a flood of what are described as "lone refugee children" arriving in Sweden. Most of them are male and appear to be in their mid-twenties. Some of them have undoubtedly been through the mill, but whatever else they are, they are not children. One must also ask where are the girls?

This is not to say that they should not be given refuge but to describe them as children is misleading and destroys trust in the the authorities and media who persist in using the term. One wonders what else is being hidden. Who is a refugee and who has been sent to form part of a terrorist sleeper cell?

It is not as if it is difficult to establish someone's age if they are between 14 and 20. X-rays of wrists and teeth, and a dental examination will reveal how old they are. Some of these "children" have receding hairlines which means that it is highly improbable that they are not at least 25 years old.

Skallliga ensamkommande flyktingbarn

Titta på bilden av detta "flyktingbarn" Artikeln i Metro beskriver honom som 18 år gammal. Hans historien är visserligen hemsk, men värför beskriver honom som "barn"? Detta är löjligt. Den vikande hårfäste och skrynklig pannan gör att killen ser ut som om han är 25-30 år gammal. Stackars barnet börjar bli skalligt!

Ålder kan konstateras genom röntgenering av handled, tänder och undersökning av tänder. Stoppa denna påstående att unga män är "barn". Folk är inte idioter. Och var finns flickorna, förresten?

söndag 1 november 2015

Turkey sliding into a bad place

Turkey's election result gives the lie to the claim that Islam and a liberal democracy are compatible. If only they were. The root of this is the religion's theology and the relationship between man and God - slave and master. That is not conducive to democracy in the way that the Trinitarian Christian concept of God is - the Christian God becomes man and in doing so, humanity is divinised.

So different are the two concepts of God as to make nonsense of the claim that "we worship the same God". Sadly we do not.

The result is also bad for Turkey from another point of view. Erdogan is a committed anti-semite; this follows logically from the numerous statements in the Koran that Jews are variously pigs, or descendants of pigs. Anti-semitism can be regarded as some kind of mental illness, or a symptom of mental illness, that either affects the sufferers' inability to think rationally, or is a symptom of a general inability to think rationally. Anti-semites make terrible decisions as a matter of habit. It is not good for a country to be ruled by one.

A Gregorian chant repository for Sweden

Swedish texts have been set to Gregorian chant both for the Catholic and national Lutheran churches, as well as for religious communities, although there are important gaps. There is no setting for the Creed, nor for the Entrance or Communion antiphons, or the Alleluia verses.

All of the settings appear to have been written in five-line notation instead of the four-line neum notation which was invented for Gregorian chant. This gives rise to difficulties.

(A) With five-line notation the lines must be closer together. It is more difficult to see a note on a four-line stave than a five-line one. In most cases the upper line, and often the two upper lines, are redundant because Gregorian music does not normally extend over the range provided by a five-line stave.

(B) A five-line stave with clef mark indicates an absolute pitch, whereas the four-line Gregorian notation has a doh or fa clef and indicates relative pitch, like tonic solfa notation. This allows choirs to decide where to pitch their doh, by agreement between them, depending on the state of their voices and the weather, etc.

(C) Neum notation more clearly indicates the shape of the music phrases in Gregorian chant. This promotes a livelier style of singing, as well as making it is easier to recognise music and phrases within the music that singers have performed.

(D) Modern notation occupies more space, and also spreads the text out along the lines in separate syllables. It is then no longer possible to apprehend it as text. Singers then lose the sense of the text, which should not happen in given that it is the text that is important and the music is essentially ornamentation of that text to give emphasis to certain words and phrases.

The lack of compactness means that scores do not always have all the music written out for every verse of a strophic hymn, when each verse may have adaptations to fit the text.

(E) Gregorian notation better preserves the flow of the text instead of breaking it all up into separate syllables and spreading them across the width of the page.

A further difficulty arises due to the format of Cecilia. With 1300 pages, it has had to be printed on extremely thin paper which makes it difficult to handle. The typeface in the standard volume is only 2 mm high ie just over 8 point, and the typeface which appears to be Palatino is light in weight, making it hard to read. Due to its size, Cecilia is also an expensive book – three times as expensive as the average English hymn book from Kevin Mayhew, and it is important to minimise wear and tear to maximise their life.

Cecilia includes a selection of Ordinaries of the Mass as well as a collection of the better-known Latin hymns but these are also in five-line notation. There are also some discrepancies between the music in Cecilia and that in the standard Solemnes editions. This usually does not matter because congregations normally sing the Solemnes version, presumably because that is what they remember. However, it sometimes becomes noticeable when young musicians sing from Cecilia; the Kyrie from Missa de Angelis is an instance of this.

2 AIM
In the light of the above considerations, the aim is to make available clearly legible musical settings, in neum notation, of those Swedish and Latin Gregorian chants in most common use.

It is suggested that a web site be established to serve as a repository for work which has not been included in Cecilia but which would be of use in the Diocese of Stockholm, and to anyone else who wished to make use of it. The site would be moderated by a committee of musicians and subject to quality control and agreed standards.

A model would be the work done by the “Church Music Association of America”. This has music for both the Novus Ordo and Usus antiquior.

The scores made available on the web site would be produced as copyright-free A4 sheets and A5 booklets, available in PDF format for downloading and printing as required. This would reduce wear-and-tear on Cecilia. At some time in the future the work might be compiled into a printed and bound book or separate volumes. The very useful and comprehensive collection in “Plainsong for Schools” would probably have a wide appeal since it fills a particular need.

As part of this project, Gregorian settings to Swedish texts would be prepared, of the Entrance Antiphons, Alleluia and Communion verses, (“Propers”) also in neum notation; in addition, it would be desirable to make available musical settings of texts for special occasions, such as the Maundy Thursday foot-washing.

3 PARTICULAR CONSIDERATIONS

THE PROPER
As regards the Proper of the Mass, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from The Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop.

Does the same instruction apply in Sweden? It is not altogether clear how this might be approached, because the texts from the Roman Gradual are not always those in Cecilia, which are presumably taken from the Swedish Missal. Some of the entrance antiphons are so short that they would not allow sufficient time to process from the sacristy to the altar.

A possible solution might be this. The texts from Graduale Romanum are taken from the Vulgate. They might be replaced by the same scriptural passages from a Swedish bible translation. However, it appears that there is not an approved Swedish bible approved for Catholic use. One option might be to use the 1917 translation, which is widely appreciated for its literary quality. Given the present practice of replacing the Proper texts with hymns chosen with considerable freedom and usually of Lutheran or Anglican origin, any attempt to follow the texts of the Gradual Romanum more faithfully must be more in accord with the principle of Liturgiam authenticam.

The aim would thus be to set these texts to the same Gregorian psalm tones as are used for the Latin settings of the Proper in Graduale Romanum, as well as the complete chants for the Alleluia.

THE CREED
The lack of a musical setting for the Creed needs to be addressed. In the absence of one, people mumble. Neither the Credo I or Credo III settings are suitable for use with the Swedish text without adaptation. The less ornamental Credo I is in Mode 4 which makes it difficult to sing. Credo III is in the easier Mode 5 which is close to a normal major key but the ornamentation, with many porrecti, makes it even more difficult to adapt. One option would be to sing Credo III at all sung Masses. Everyone seems to know it and it can be taught to children. Another possibility is to use the tune used in some Swedish Orthodox communities.

4 PRACTICAL AND LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS

Most of the Latin texts can be scanned from Liber Usualis or Plainsong for Schools. These books appear to be out of copyright. It is usually necessary to carry out some work to the scans so as to ensure clarity. The originals were printed by a letterpress process and the quality of the impressions is variable.

New work can be written out using an ordinary word processor with one of the Gregorian fonts from St Meinrad. The text font should also be standardised. News Plantin is a good font for this purpose. It is a heavier type than Times Roman and makes for better photocopies. It is also slightly condensed compared with Palatino ie it takes up less space, though not as condensed as Times New Roman. It must be purchased from Monotype, however, and the appropriate license would be required.

måndag 26 oktober 2015

Creative earthquakery

Today's earthquake is a reminder that Afghanistan and Iran sit on top of an earthquake zone. Hopefully a big earthquake will destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities sooner rather than later. The Al Aksa in Jerusalem mosque are also on an active fault. With a bit of luck the next earthquake should reduce it to a pile of rubble.

Those of us who follow earthquakes will remember that the Israelis have good rescue equipment, including heavy lifting gear, and were amongst the first to arrive after the Haiti earthquake. This means that they combine doing a good deed with keeping their own people up to date in their training.

The Palestinians will then blame the Israelis for not giving them priority when it comes to rescue operations. They will probably also blame the Jews for the earthquake itself.

Guarding the doors of the church

Recent events have focussed attention on the need for security in places where people gather. So far, there have been incidents involving lone individuals, but organised activity is also a possibility; last week, in a quiet suburb of Gothenburg, a restaurant owned by an Assyrian Christian was sprayed with ISIS slogans – “Convert or die”, “Caliphate is here” and the Arabic “N” (ن) symbol applied to Christian property in places which have been taken over by ISIS. There have been incidents in the recent past which might have been prevented by basic security, including Hisingen fire of 1996 which resulted in 63 deaths, and an attack by a nude swordman on a church in South London in 1999. Catholic churches are at risk because they are well attended, especially those which host congregations membership from Syria and Iraq. A particular difficulty for Catholic churches is that their congregations are large enough for strangers to be able to slip in without being noticed.

WE SHOULD NOT BE FRIGHTENED
Catholics should not need to be reminded that this is primarily a battle in the spiritual war against the devil. We can win it. God’s promise to the Catholic Church is that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. However, this demands that we understand the enemy and respond in the right way.

Islamic terrorism works by instilling fear – that is its aim and purpose. If we become terrorised, then the devil has obtained a foothold in our own souls. We must strengthen our own faith and courage. Catholics have nothing to fear. We have the all the angels and saints and the entire company of the heavenly host on our side. We must however, increase our efforts at prayer, including recitation of the Rosary and the prayer for the intercession of St Michael, which used to be said after every Mass. We should also avoid watching and distributing terrorist horror videos. Their purpose is to instil terror. We should not be helping their producers to achieve their aim.

A REVIVED MINISTRY?
For most of the past 2000 years, the Catholic church conferred what were known as "Minor Orders". They were abolished in 1972. One of them was the Order of Porter, Doorkeeper or Ostiarius. It is suggested that what was, prior to 1972, the Minor Order of Porter or Doorkeeper, be reinstated informally. These would consist of young people recruited from the parish and given a professional training in security techniques. Their normal function would be to provide a welcoming presence, to greet visitors, and possibly to carry out other duties such as handing out newsletters or taking collections. They would also perform related tasks such as acting as marshalls at outdoor parish events, as well as at national gatherings of the church.

As Lay Ministers, whilst on duty they would wear cassocks and carry a virge, a staff or rod still used by vergers in the Church of England. Such a ministry would provide a useful focus of activity for young people, both men and women, provide an opportunity to participate in the work of the church and help build team loyalty. It might take the form of a guild named after an appropriate historic person or event such as Sobieski or Lepanto, under the patronage of suitable saints such as Our Lady Help of Christians and St Bridget. A programme of other activities could be developed including sports, fitness training, martial arts, and social events.

The deeper implication of Benedict's abdication

In this video, Michael Voris is heavily critical of Pope Benedict's resignation. What is one to make of it? I have always had misgivings about it myself. For a start, what precedent has it set?

lördag 24 oktober 2015

What happened to sleepy Worthing?

Worthing, on the south coast of England, is one of the places where people go to spend their last few years in peace and quiet. That has long been its reputation. It has never been quite true. Trains between Brighton and Worthing can get pretty rowdy late in the evenings especially at weekends. But this from the local paper a couple of days ago is something altogether different.

Teenage girl cornered by ten men and sexually assaulted while one brandished knife.

Sugar tax doublethink

Proposals are being put around for a tax on sugar. The aim is to discourage people from eating food and drinks with sugar. Advocates of this idea have grasped the obvious point that if you tax something, people are discouraged from doing that particular thing.

So why do governments persist in raising most of their revenue from taxes on successful legal economic activity - on things like work, goods and services? Do politicians have a few missing vital connections in their thinking apparatus?

fredag 23 oktober 2015

Allah rejoices when a Jew is killed

Allah rejoices when a Jew is killed, so it is no surprise to read that at Park View Academy in Birmingham, where Muslim took over the board of governors, is promoting antisemitism among its pupils.

This has resulted in disciplinary action. The next target needs to be the mosques themselves. If their leaders are promoting antisemitism, then they need to be prosecuted and sentenced if guilty. After that, there needs to be a crackdown on distribution of the Koran itself. An authorised version is required, with the bloodthirsty passages removed. If they are not meant to be taken seriously then they do not need to be there.

Tragedy at Trollhättan

The first assumptions following yesterday's school murders at Trolhättan were that the perpetrator was a Muslim. That is in itself significant and indicates the prevailing level of mistrust. It now turns out, however, that the assailant was a weird young man with extreme right-wing interests. Whether he was sane or not, he looks like another in the Breivik mould.

Had it been a Muslim, it would have led to a stepping-up of the wanton unpleasantness that identifiable Muslims have to put up with. That it was not, is, to put it mildly, unhelpful to the immigration debate currently in progress in Sweden. Either way, it is an indication that there is a limit to the numbers of newcomers a community can absorb before the tensions become too great, and that the greater the cultural differences between newcomer and host, the smaller the number that can be absorbed. This is a simple and obvious fact that politicians are ignoring.

The numbers flowing in as a result of the current Swedish open-door policy are overloading the authorities and their arrangements for absorbing newcomers. The costs are sucking resources from the very services for which people are content to pay the highest taxes in the world. High taxes and cut-down services lead to discontent.

Discontent is also fed by the very obvious failure to integrate amongst many of the large number of immigrants who have arrived in Sweden over the past twenty years, the rates of gun and sexual crimes, and the known arrival of ISIS operatives, combined with the soft treatment given to returning "Swedish" members of ISIS, all of whom should be on remand in custody, pending investigation for suspected war crimes.

Thus, yesterday's events are the appalling tip of an iceberg of discontent. Madness begets madness. There are always a few lunatics and paranoiacs who brood for a while and then surface and do something terrible.

It does not get the politicians off the hook for failing to deal with a serious issue.

torsdag 22 oktober 2015

Disgusting cover-up of Mufti's role by Guardian

This article, which is not open for comments, criticises Netanyahu for referring to the role of the Palestinian leader from 1920, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The claim is that the Mufti was responsible to convince the Nazis to go for the Final Solution when he visited the Nazi leaders in 1941. The theory surfaced about a year ago. The timing is right, because the Final Solution was not agreed on until 1942. That does not of course mean that he played a decisive role; it might well have been more like one extra stone that tipped a balance.Certainly he was well aware of what was going on, supported it all the way through and was firm in his opposition to the emigration of Jews to Palestine.

My criticism is of the article's silence on all the rest of the Mufti's previous activities. He was encouraging progroms against Jews in Palestine from as early as 1920, when interest in Zionism amongst Jews was minimal and the prospect of any Jewish state was remote. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, these were a regular occurrence. From 1936, the pressure from the Arab leadership was such as to persuade the British to impose heavy restrictions on immigration to Palestine, thereby closing an important escape route.

In 1941, the Mufti travelled to Baghdad and promoted a coup-d-etat and progrom against the Jews. Throughout the war he broadcast on behalf of the Axis, encouraging Arabs in their antisemitism. After the war his name was on the list of war criminals but he escaped and was never put on trial, having become a pawn in politics designed to appease Arab feelings.

None of this is referred to in the Guardian..

onsdag 21 oktober 2015

Cry Wolf - comments blocked

An increasing number of newspaper articles no longer have an opportunity to comment, or if they do, then it is closed after a short while.Thus the journalists are withdrawing into an ivory tower where they no longer receive feedback from the public at large.

In the internet age, is that people will stop taking notice when what they read does not correspond to what they see on the ground, or to the information that the pick up from the rumour mill.

This affects in particular articles on what is the issue of most concern to most people today - immigration. There is a widespread and well-founded fear of a large influx of Muslim immigrants. Unjustified fear of immigration in the past has given rise to the "Cry Wolf" syndrome. This time there is a wolf.

The trouble is that, as was to be expected, the populist right has picked up the cause and is running with it, whilst the mainstream politicians are either blind, or too cowardly to admit that there is a wolf. This is poisoning the waters of political debate, and at the same time driving out public discussion on other important issues.

tisdag 20 oktober 2015

We must not be terrorised.

Catholics should not need to be reminded that what is happening today with the Islamic invasion of Europe is primarily a battle in the spiritual war against the devil. Islamic terrorism works by instilling fear – that is its aim and purpose. If we become terrorised, then the devil has obtained a foothold in our own souls. We must strengthen our own faith and courage.

Catholics have nothing to fear. We have the all the angels and saints and the entire company of the heavenly host on our side. We have, in particular, Our Lady, St Michael, St Eric and St Brigit, Patron Saint of Europe. Whilst we do not deliberately seek martyrdom, if it comes, we avoid the torments of purgatory and gain the crown of glory with the saints in heaven.

Our first efforts must be to increase our efforts at prayer, including this one which has been neglected for many decades, which was revealed to Pope Leo XIII in a vision in 1884.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,
be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan
and all evil spirits who wander through the world
for the ruin of souls.
Amen.

In this connection, it is worth remembering that at the end of his Angelus message given in St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, April 24, 1994, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to recite this prayer to Saint Michael once again: "The prayer can fortify us for that spiritual battle about which the Letter to the Ephesians speaks: "Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power."(Ephesians 6:10). And to this same battle that the Book of the Apocalypse refers [to], recalling in front of our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (cf. Revelations 12:7). Surely, this scene was very present to Pope Leon XIII, when, at the end of the previous century, he introduced to the entire Church a special prayer to St. Michael: ‘St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil… ’ "

Even if today this prayer is no longer recited at the end of the Eucharistic celebration, I urge all of us to not forget it, but to recite it in order to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and the spirit of this world.”

Comments switched off

The flow of news and comments pieces on the subject of immigration, and in particular, Muslim immigration, continues to rise. Also on the increase is a tendency not to allow comments. In the age of the internet, this will backfire. The mainstream news media are beginning to lose their credibility to the rumour mills. This kind of suppression is a dangerous trend and feeds extremism.

söndag 18 oktober 2015

Churches must take Islam threat seriously

For several years now we have read about attacks on congregations during church services in countries like India and Pakistan, Nigeria, Tanzania and other places where there is a significant Muslim presence. The time has now come when we can expect to see similar things in Western Europe, for example in Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and, probably at the top of the list – Sweden.

ISIS has arrived in force in Göteborg and other Swedish cities. Members of the Islamic group have been present for several years. Their supporters stand in the main shopping centre in Göteborg every week, but the activists have previously travelled away to the Middle East to commit their war crimes. Some have now returned. More have come with the flow of refugees, as ISIS announced they would. Estimates are that several dozen arrived each week. At one refugee residence in West Sweden, a reliable source expressed the view that nearly all the men living there were ISIS; a single Christian from Damascus was found among them and was removed to a safe location. The individual concerned, whom I have spoken to, described constant harrassment.

If you are still sceptical and think this is scare-mongering – last week, a restaurant in the Göteborg suburb of Frölunda, owned by an Assyrian Christian, was sprayed with ISIS slogans – “Convert or die”, “Caliphate is here” and the Arabic “N” symbol applied to Christian property in places which have been taken over by ISIS. These people are fanatical, ruthless, care nothing about human life – their own or other people’s. They are driven by a visceral hatred of Christianity and Christians. Given the established technique of terrorisation, as prescribed in the Koran (3:151, 8, 12), the kind of actions that are possible include suicide bombing, hostage-taking and shootings of congregations at church gatherings or when emerging from services. Worst-case scenarios are the kind of events that occurred at a theatre in Moscow in October 2002, a school in Beslan in September 2004, and a synagogue in Jerusalem in November 2014.

Catholic churches should in particular take this seriously. They are well attended, especially those which host congregations membership from Syria and Iraq. Unlike the small Syrian Orthodox communities where everyone is known and recognised, their congregations are large enough for strangers to be able to slip in without being noticed.

I would expect that nothing will happen at least until the New Year. A major incident now will turn public opinion decisively against the “open doors” policy before ISIS has had time to assemble its forces. This gives church authorities – priests, administrators and the bishops themselves, a brief window of opportunity to take the necessary steps to reduce the vulnerability of people attending church services. This threat needs to be taken seriously and as a matter of urgency. If people say they want to kill you, it is folly to ignore them, especially if they have an established record as killers.

lördag 17 oktober 2015

Islamic body count 200% of Marxist one

Islamic body count.

Obsessions with Jews and Israel lead to trouble

Perceptive comment in a response to a an article in the Guardian. The comment was about an article in the Guardian.

"Countries with a Jew obsessed leadership generally come unstuck.

This is NOT because Jews are so powerful that they are able to disrupt and destroy our enemies. Rather it is because leaders with that kind of madness generally make terrible choices. Jew obsession is a reliable leading indicator of terrible things to come - Syria being an excellent example."

The comment applies equally well to Israel obsession and Iraq is another example. It makes one wonder where countries like Sweden are heading.

fredag 16 oktober 2015

The unfolding mess in Sweden

The unfolding mess in Sweden is the consequence of a national character which is mixture of good intentions and hubristic arrogance about the country's ability to cure all the world's problems, combined with lack of sound reason and an understanding of history. In normal circumstances it could have got away with it but the combination of a grand coalition with current events has produced a series of bad decisions across all policy areas.

Just a thought.

torsdag 15 oktober 2015

What is racism?

"Racist" has become a meaningless term. It is just a way of saying that you disagree with what someone is say without having to bother to say why, whilst at the same time trying to claim the moral high ground.

tisdag 13 oktober 2015

A little reminder from 1967

The events which led up to the 1967 Six-Day War and the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

On May 16, 1967, Egyptian President Gamel Abdul Nasser ordered the UN Emergency Force stationed between Israel and Egypt to evacuate the Sinai. Two days later the Voice of the Arabs proclaimed,

"As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel… The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence." Extermination of Jewish existence.

Now, you could argue maybe they mean the state.

On May 20, 1967, Syrian Defense Minister, Hafez Al-Assad proclaimed, "Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united....I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation."

He exhorted Syrian soldiers to,

"strike the enemy's [civilian] settlements, turn them into dust, pave Arab roads with the skulls of Jews."

On May 27, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser proclaimed,

"Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight."

No, they mean the destruction of Israel as in a battle of annihilation against the Jews where they plan to pave the roads with Jewish skulls and explode the Jewish presence. Their words.

On June 4, 1967, Iraq joined the military alliance with Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. To mark the occasion, Iraqi President Abdur Rahman Aref announced,

"Our goal is clear - to wipe Israel off the map."

The Prime Minister of Iraq predicted,

"There would be practically no Jewish survivors."

Very few survivors. Which would include women and children. In other words, not a Nakba. A Holocaust. In the event, things turned out very differently. If you lose a war that you started, you should not complain but accept the best terms you can get. The best terms were offered but the losers would not even sit in the same room and negotiate. Do such people deserve any sympathy?

Islam as politics

Too many people still think that Islam is just another religion. It is not. Islam is primarily a political programme whose aim is to spread totalitarian theocratic rule under Sharia Law. A significant feature of Islam is its antisemitism, which was present from the outset. Once Sharia Law is in place, Jews and Christians become Dhimmis and subject to the ruinous Jizya tax, humiliating regulations and other restrictions - it is forbidden to repair or enlarge places of worship and all external signs must be removed. Islamic antisemitism has theological roots and from the earliest times Muslim authors were producing texts similar in style and tone to Nazi propaganda. The animosity, which is found amongst around 90% of all Muslims, has nothing whatsoever to do with Israel. Jew killing is regarded as pleasing to Allah.

It is a mystery why members of the liberal-left get so angry and throw accusations of racism when this is pointed out. The Islamic programme contracts everything that left-wing liberals claim to hold dear.

One possible reason is that most left-wing liberals are atheists and do not understand the language of religious discourse. Being a Catholic, other religions often come up in discussion and one needs to read around on the subject to be able to hold one's own in a conversation. I also did a dissertation on religious education, the topic being whether it was possible for a follower of no religion to teach the subject. The conclusion was that such a person would be able to describe ceremonials and customs but would have difficulty in putting across their meanings and significance. Religious language is metaphoric and often poetic. It is necessary to be a follower of one religion in order even to begin to understand what is being talked about

Of course individual Muslims should not be demonised, but the nature of Islam itself leaves individual peaceful Muslims in a quandary, rather like ordinary Germans under the Nazi regime. Some were against the Nazis, some were active, and then there were the little old ladies who looked on approvingly at what the Brownshirts were doing.

Any particular Muslim may be radicalised or may not, but nobody knows who is radicalised and who is not because they do not come colour-coded. One test is to see if the bottoms of their trousers are rolled-up. But even if they are not, their children or grandchildren may read the religious texts and decide to take them seriously. Assimilation by intermarriage does take place but experience in Britain is that it tends not to happen as marriage takes place within the extended family and often with first cousins.

All this needs to be borne in mind when deciding what policies governments should adopt when faced with the possibility of a large influx of Muslims.

The milder Muslim countries

Indonesia and Malaysia are sometimes quoted as examples of moderately Islamic countries. They are indeed better than most.Indonesia only part of the Muslim hegemony relatively recently, and reluctantly, when it was invaded by armies with the express purpose of spreading Islam. Only Bali is now Hindu. That has been the target of numerous bombings. Indonesia's invasion of East Timor was, characteristically, followed by a mass slaughter of Christians, estimates range from between 200,000 and a million.

Indonesia is only relatively mildly Islam because sharia law was rolled back under the Dutch. It is now returning in force, with sharia police in more and more places.

The other milder Muslim country, Malaysia, is also the way it is as part of the post-colonial legacy. Their radical Muslims are busy causing trouble in neighbouring Thailand.

torsdag 10 september 2015

Welcome, Jihadists?

Photographs of a dead child have unleashed a wave of generous feelings towards refugees. . Something is bound to go wrong before long and then the mood will turn sour.

Good intentions need to be moderated with sound reason. Not all the people flooding into Europe are refugees. They will inevitably include amongst their numbers fortune-seekers, people who want to live off welfare, terrorists, jihadis, criminals, psychopaths, and people with infectious diseases. Just as immigrants to the US had to pass through Ellis Island, every single one should be interned pending investigation. Genuine refugees from war zones should be admitted. Economic migrants should be admitted selectively. Criminals, jihadis and terrorists and psychopaths should be returned to where they have just come from.

There is also a need to set firm limits on the number who will be admitted. The capacity to absorb newcomers is limited. It is not doing them or the wider society any favours to raise hopes and encourage people to come, when the end result of the failure will be bitterness and disillusion.

måndag 24 augusti 2015

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane

It has been a couple of months since I last wrote anything in this blog. I have been spending too much time on Facebook. A friend gave me a copy of "The Old Ways" by Robert Macfarlane for my birthday, which I have now read.

The book describes a series of journeys on foot or in sailing boats, each lasting several days, with nights spent in fishermen's or shepherds' shelters or under hedgerows. Mostly, the journeys are in Britain though there is a dangerous excursion around Ramallah..The book gradually shifts focus, to Edward Thomas (composer of the short poem Adelstrop in June 1914). Macfarlane has a fine sense of landscape and the book was an enjoyable read, though I could not connect with his outdoor sleeping habits.

I found some aspects of the book irritating. He has a propensity to use words of extreme rarity, to the point that, presumably at the insistence of the publisher, he had to provide a glossary of well over a hundred; most of them could either have been explained in the text or replaced by more familiar words. He also seems to be part of some kind of in-circle of individuals who indulge in this kind of thing.

Chesterton and Belloc also walked immense distances, but the world was different then; with so much of Britain suburbanised, some of the walks seem oddly detached from the contemporary world. That might be part of their interest, but personally I just find it emphasises the changes which have taken place even in the past thirty years. It left me feeling sad.

onsdag 17 juni 2015

It could have been so much better

Last Sunday, Sverigesradio broadcast the main 11 o'clock Mass from St Lars, Uppsala. This is a flourishing, lively and diverse parish which attracts many new converts to the faith. As the priest said in his sermon, there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners.

The sad thing is that the liturgy there could be so much better than it is. As a world-class university city, the parish should be a shop window offering the very best from the 2000-year-old tradition of Catholic music, a tradition which pre-dates Christianity by at least a millennium. The occasion of a broadcast should have been taken as an opportunity to put these treasures on display.

Unfortunately, the liturgy was barely even recognisable as Catholic. The service began with a well-known Anglican hymn "Holy, holy, holy" to the setting by the Victorian composer Dykes, and there was a popular Swedish hymn at the offertory. The Ordinary was one of the adaptations to the Swedish text to a Gregorian setting of the Latin; worse things have been written to be sung at Mass, especially in English, but they are clumsy when compared with the Latin settings such as Missa de Angelis or Orbis Factor. In the absence of a setting for the Swedish text of the Creed, it was recited.

It could have been so much better. The introit antiphon, which forms part of the readings, could have been sung, either in Latin, or the Swedish text could have been chanted. Why not use the Latin settings of the Ordinary?  Why not sing Credo 3? Everyone knows these. And why not sing simple polyphonic motets at the Offertory and Communion? There is no shortage of talent in the parish.

There seems to be an idea around that Protestant hymns should be used at Catholic Masses as an expression of some kind of ecumenical ideal, or to make former members of the Swedish Lutheran Church feel comfortable in their new Catholic environment - as though nothing has really changed.

The effect is to suffuse the liturgy with a Protestant spirit, since such hymns express the spirit of Protestantism at a subtle level. Their intrusion also has the effect of destroying the artistic integrity of the liturgy - it is rather like inserting a piece by Wagner into the middle of an opera by Handel. It also makes those who do not have a background in the Swedish Lutheran Church - and there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners - feel excluded. St Lars is precisely the sort of diverse parish where the church's official language should be used in the liturgy, to establish a common ground where no one group of people are privileged.

Given the importance of Uppsala as a flagship Catholic parish, those in charge of the liturgy need to re-think what they are doing.

fredag 1 maj 2015

A case of mass gormlessness?

Passengers in London were stuck in a train for four hours yesterday, with the air conditioning out of action. It became sweltering hot and turned into an ordeal.

I was in a similar incident in Sweden but after 15 minutes the adjacent tracks were closed to traffic and passengers were allowed off the train. The incident turned into a trackside party with people drinking cans of beer, walking their dogs in the woods, etc, for the four hour it took for a rescue. In this instance, which was in the middle of London, people could have just been escorted to the nearest station to continue their journey as best they could.

That said, there was no need for anyone to endure sweltering temperatures. In the first place, some of the windows can be opened by a member of the staff, with a key. Where were they? There are also hammers provided for emergency use. This was an emergency. The train companies would have had a hard time prosecuting for wilful damage. Faced with a big repair bill, they would then have made sure the trains were retro-fitted with windows that could be opened.

torsdag 30 april 2015

Successful parishes

It seems to me that four things are necessary to build up a parish.

1) Good quality traditional liturgy. It does not have to be Tridentine form with Palestrina every Sunday (though these things help), but it does need to be as good as possible within the resources of a parish, and significant Latin content is beneficial.

2) Hands-on good works in response to a local challenge.

3) An ongoing education programme for parishioners, including interested non-Catholics.

4) Some social activities - at least coffee and biscuits after Sunday Mass.

onsdag 29 april 2015

What camera?

I have been looking at cameras lately, since my Leica M9 spontaneously cracked its sensor and has had to go back to the factory. Hopefully they will not charge as it is a common problem and Leica are aware of it.

However, the M9 has not been without its problems, mostly due to dust and other muck on the sensor, which was impossible to get off. In the end I took it to the Leica service centre and it took the technician nearly half an hour to clean it, free of charge, I should add.

The only way to avoid dust and muck is to avoid changing lenses as much as possible. That defeats the aim of an interchangeable lens camera. The ideal would be to have a fresh sensor for every shot, which is what you get with film.

The best camera I have ever had was a Leica M2, a 1957 design. It was easy to use and has a hair-trigger sensitive release. The snag is that it has no built-in meter so you have to carry a meter, or guess. There is a clip-on meter, but that makes it clumsy to use. I have a Leica MP, which has built-in metering but the release is less smooth than the older Leica.

Other good cameras I have owned include the Olympus Trip and the Olympus XA series from the 1960s and 1970s respectively. Both are compact and light, and for what they do, they cannot be faulted.

I would much prefer to use film but the infrastructure is not what it was, running costs are high and everything ends up being digitised anyway. My first digital camera was a Canon Ixus. It stopped working after a month after the guarantee ran out as it did not survive a walk on Brighton sea front with salt-spray flying around. It was an annoying camera anyway, difficult to hold, slow to fire and with a viewfinder that was impossible to see in bright light. I was not sorry to throw it in the bin.

One camera that I have had and used for almost ten years is a Ricoh G600. It has a rubber covering and is supposed to be waterproof. I have not tried in the water but it survives rough treatment and rain and I tend to keep it with me. It is a horrible camera to use, though. The shutter release is squidgy and the LCD viewfinder at the back is hard - if not impossible - to see in bright light. It has an appalling dynamic range - if the darker areas are not black, then the light areas are saturated and you get the "white saturation" message. The thing was apparently developed for the Japanese emergency services, but it satisfies the requirement that the best camera is the one you have with you.

I have looked at some of the latest mirrorless SLR cameras. They all seem to have awkwardnesses of one sort or another. I was astonished to see that the sensor is fully exposed when the lens is removed. This is asking for trouble. I would have thought it was obvious that there should have been something to cover it when the lens was off. Given the trouble I have had with the Leica, where the sensor is covered with a mechanical shutter, this is enough to rule them out.

One option I am looking at is the Fuji X100. This seems to be controversial and gets criticised for being retro - comments such as the retro-styling is just a marketing gimmick are frequently made, along with the statement that there is better for less. It has a fixed lens, equivalent to 35 mm, and Fuji's odd sensor array which produces raw images which will defeat a lot of RAW converter software. On the other hand, it has a decent viewfinder and the fixed lens means that it does not have the problem of the exposed sensor. Being now in its third revision of the design, it is emerging as the front runner, and will be a useful camera if I am not taking the relatively heavy M9 around with me, when that eventually returns from the factory.

torsdag 23 april 2015

Smartphones - worst-designed consumer product ever?

My neighbour gave me a Samsung slidephone she had for several years, and I have got another five years use out of it. Must be from around 2003, I would guess which makes it 12 years old. The software flow is a bit annoying but I can live with it.

Last week it took a trip down the toilet and after I had dried it out, it was draining the battery, so I looked at alternatives, including smartphones. For £500 you can get a Samsung S5 which will survive a dunking but it will not go in a back pocket. They are all too big, too fragile, too expensive and mostly not watertight - they should be IP67 as basic. The idea of a qwerty touch screen is madness. If you have learned to type without looking, like I am doing now, you would not be able to use it.

The manufacturers have focussed on selling ever more high-tech and totally failed to get the basic things right. Are consumers THAT stupid? Smartphones must be amongst the worst-designed consumer products ever.

In the meantime my twelve year old phone has dried out and is working fine.

lördag 18 april 2015

News from Sodor

It is 2009 since I last reported on events on the North Western Railway, home of Thomas the Tank engine. A lot has happened since then. Most important was the retirement of Sir Topham Hatt, the Fat Controller, in 2011. His successor is a former manager from the Big Railway, Naomi Toot.

When she first arrived, the engines were sulky and resentful. They were not going to be ordered around by a woman. Ms Toot took a firm-but-fair approach and did her best to avoid conflict, but when they thought she could not hear, they referred to her as "The Handbag". However, she had a habit of turning up in the shed just when she was least expected and soon found out what they were saying. She was not really bothered by the rudeness. It was just what she expected and she took it in her stride. All the engines were at least sixty years old and they had spent most of their years at a time when women were expected to stay at home and do what they were told. Ms Toot solved the problem by appointing an engineer specially to look after them, also from the Big Railway. He got on well with all the engines, and they called him Uncle Reg.

Despite this, Gordon started to misbehave. It happened soon after his eighty-eighth birthday. He started to be off-sick constantly with boiler-ache. A diesel was brought in from the Big Railway to do his work. This was Basil Brush, but he also started to misbehave soon after he arrived, breaking down two or three times a week, giving off clouds of black smoke and spilling oil all over his engine compartment. The passengers were not happy about having to complete their journeys by bus. Basil also had a huge appetite and drank expensive diesel fuel as if it was water. So Basil was put in a siding and Ms Toot decided to send Gordon away for repairs.

Pip and Emma, with their seven matching coaches in-between were brought in to take his place. They had come before as visitors from the Big Railway and got on well with the other engines. They were an HST and could go really fast on the Big Railway, but, like Basil Brush, they were also greedy for expensive oil, and screamed their heads off when starting. The Sodor railway was not suitable for such fast running so they were sent back when Gordon returned. He had been fixed up with a lot of new parts and was happier and felt better than he had for years.

Thomas was coming up for his hundredth birthday and often had to take a rest from work, as did Oliver, who was well into his seventies. Ms Toot brought in Rattler and Noddy to stand in on the branch lines to keep the services running, but nobody liked them. They looked and sounded exactly like buses and were not comfortable like Dulcie and Isabel, Oliver's auto-coaches.

The truth was that all the engines were feeling their age. They could be out of service for weeks at a time while waiting for new parts to be specially made. This was usually arranged so that it happened during the winter when the railway was quiet, but sometimes things broke unexpectedly. The local council was also making things difficult because it became illegal to give off dirty smoke, though Basil Brush, and Pip and Emma, were just as guilty.

The cost of coal was another worry, with the price going up every year. Gordon was still a big eater even after his repairs, and so were the smaller goods engines, considering the amount of work they did. Something had to be done.

Henry's facelift
Ms Toot and Uncle Reg decided to send Henry away to a factory on the continent for a complete rebuilding. It was at the beginning of the autumn. He was away for most of the winter; he had travelled by road all the way, and his journey had included boat trips across the Channel and back on a low-loader, an undignified way for a steam engine to travel.

He was put back on the rails at Vicarstown and Duck was sent to fetch him. He looked much the same as when he had left until you looked closely. He came back, he had a new chimney, new valve gear and the coal space on his tender had been replaced by a pair of oil tanks. He had kept his green livery and number.

Duck shunted him into the shed and he went completely silent for a whole week. Then a group of people came and filled his boiler with water and started his fire, and he was sent out on tests. He came back with a smug look on his face. He was very quiet, but boasted that he was now as strong as Gordon, drank less fuel than Basil Brush and would never, ever give off black smoke from his chimney.

The other engines became resentful at his stand-offish attitude, as well as the attention he was getting. They jeered when the lights under his running board were switched on for the fitters to work on his valve gear, thinking they were there just to look flashy.

After the tests, Henry was given most of Gordon's work, which left him feeling upset and jealous. But it was not long before he was put back in the shed and stood silent with a sulky look on his face as the other engines jeered and made cat-calls. The drivers would not take him out because the steam got in the way of their view of the signals.

A couple of weeks later, Henry was fitted with smoke deflectors. How the other engines laughed. "Big-Ears", they hooted. After that there was no more trouble. He needed much less attention than any other steam engine. Ms Toot and Uncle Reg were so pleased with him that they ordered three more matching engines, brand new. Henry was re-named Prince Harry, and the two new engines were given the names Sir Topham Hatt and Duke of Cambridge, though of course this Duke was not a real Duke like the Duke of Gloucester, a familiar old visitor. Ms Toot had thought of getting a real Duke but there was no need for such a big engine, because after being rebuilt, Sir Henry could do all the work that Gordon did.

New engines
Four new engines were also obtained to replace Edward, James, Dougal and Douglas. These were of the 2-6-0 type and had the names Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Donald.

Duck, Thomas and Oliver were replaced by Stanley, Stuart, Stephen and Stella, which were exactly the same as the Mickey Mouse quartet apart from the fact that they were 2-6-2 tanks and could work with Isobel and Dulcie, Oliver's auto coaches, as well as Biggie and Ciggie. That pleased the passengers, who liked the old coaches. The eight new engines had the same modern features as Sir Henry, which made them clean, quiet and efficient. The firemen no longer had to shovel dusty coal.

The engines, which were each painted in a different colour, were a simplified version of the similar engines built for British Railways in 1954, and turned out to be quite inexpensive (as engines go), thanks to modern computerised manufacturing methods. All of them burn ordinary diesel oil and their drivers do not have to get up in the middle of the night to raise steam as the water is kept hot automatically by an electric heating system. All the engines shared the same spare parts and would never have to be out of service for weeks, waiting for new parts to be being specially made.

A fond farewell
Gordon worked on for the rest of the summer, though only at weekends and during school holidays. His mood improved when they fitted him with a bronze plaque for his ninetieth birthday. The old heroes were given a grand send-off before being sent to their new home, a museum specially built for them, where they could be kept dry and warm. The museum has a track connecting it to the main line, so they will still be seen in service from time to time but they are now enjoying a well-earned retirement. But for everyday use, a fleet of clean and efficient new steam engines is now in charge of passenger and goods services on the North Western Railway. Since the new engines came into service, people have come from far and wide to see how they perform. The North Western Railway is now busier than it has ever been in its history.

tisdag 27 januari 2015

Holocaust roll-call of dishonour

Whilst the Nazis must bear the brunt of the responsibility for the Holocaust, it would never have happened were it not for the co-players. The Nazis just wanted the Jews out of Germany and, once the war had begun, the countries it was occupying.

But most western countries, including Britain and the US, refused to accept Jewish refugees except under strict conditions which most potential refugees could not satisfy. As early as 1936, the British closed off the Mandate territory of Palestine as a place of refuge, in violation of the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo accords and the League of Nations treaty of 1922, in response to pressure from the Arabs.

The role of the Palestinian leadership, in particular, Haj-Amin-el-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, cannot be over-stated. Even in 1941, the Nazis would have been satisfied with deporting the Jews of Europe to Palestine, but the Mufti travelled to Berlin and persuaded the Nazi leadership not to do that. This was the decisive move that led the Nazis to go for "the Final Solution".

Thus it was the Mufti who did more than any other single individual to bring about the death of the six million.

onsdag 7 januari 2015

Cut the cackle

Cut the cackle about how the muslim community and their "muslim friends" are horrified about the Paris murders and that this will add to islamophobia. How many of these commentators have got muslim friends?

If decent muslims don't like it they should renounce their death cult. But they do not.

Time for tough action. Put every single one of them all on a special register for a start.

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people cam...